Our five acres of bushland is located in the Lockyer Valley, in Queensland, Australia. We're closer to the mountains of Toowoomba than the plains of Gatton, and it has the most bizarre climate as a result. On one hand, we can experience the tropical conditions of far North Queensland during summer, but on the other end of the spectrum, we can experience cooler conditions more typical of Southern Australia, during winter.
It makes for an interesting planting regime. Our biggest hurdle has been battling humidity and wilt during summer - plus the ravaging nature of fruit fly. It's fair to say in our first few years of growing things, we've had our share of casualties. In fact, anything which did manage to survive, was attacked relentlessly by pests.
Pineapple grown from a pineapple top
But our stratagy has always been to plant more things. I know it sounds crazy, but anything we did lose went straight back into the soil. Even sick chickens which didn't make it through the night. The more oragnic matter we returned to the soil however, the more the soil improved. Our food production results, only began in earnest, after three years of failures. Our stratagey of growing things, even though they died, was working!
We expect the system to take at least another two years work, before we see the full benefits of production.
As for the community we live in, I would say it's a mixture of down-to-earth people with a sprinkling of fly-by-nighters. In other words, they come, they play on their motorcross bikes, and then they move back to the city. It's not easy terrain to live on. It can absorb a lot of money - I don't think people realise how much until they're living here. We certainly have spent more than we anticipated, and we will be investing for many more years to come. But the trick has been developing dialogue with some genuine locals, who are happy to either lend you a hand or share their knowledge of what works. It's that local knowledge which can save you from making some very expensive mistakes.
Of course, in the beginning of our venture here, it was all about the chickens! How can you have land and not have chickens? We didn't realise how quickly we'd become attached and it wasn't long before we started building chicken coops.
First attempt at building a permanent coop
Our first venture was "Middle Ridge", thus named, as it sat on the same level as the house - on the ridge of a retaining wall. It was designed around a wooden babies cot which needed to find a use (other than cluttering the verhandah). The construction took quite a while, as we had to fit the design around the cot. It was definitely a great coop, but it wasn't long before we started dreaming of more...
Second coop with Emperor mandarin in front
"Hilltop" was born on the hill above the house, and it was much easier to build. By far it's our favourite coop because you can do everything you need, standing up! By the way, are you wondering why we name our coops? Well, it's a lot easier to tell the family which chicken coop to drop the scraps (or juicy worms) in, when you've got a name to call it by.
The vegetable gardens are doing better with every growing season. What started out as clay fill for a retaining wall, was tractored over by our first ever chickens. The leftovers from their scratch mix, soon sprouted and we had a green manure crop growing.
A-frame chicken tractor at the end of a long veggie bed
Year by year, we added mushroom compost, from the local mushroom farm. We also added stable horse manure, lurcern bales and any weeds which grew were pulled and dropped to decompose. Our goal is to grow as much mulch material as we can to sustain the property.
We're hoping to do this with Lemon grass, Vetiver grass, Yarrow, Comfrey, Canna Lillies, Tasgate and Pidgeon pea trees...to name just a few.
Of course, now I'm getting ahead of myself as many of these plants are growing already, but not in enough quantities. We still have several years of trialling afterwards to see what plant materials do best. Some will be drop mulched - or dropped close to where the plant is pruned. We have them strategically planted near our fruit trees for this very purpose. Other mulches however will be taken straight to the chicken coops to be dealt with by the chickens. They will eat any seeds or bugs, and scratch it up to a managible mulch.
It's good for the chickens and it's good for the garden!
But really, this is just the beginning of the story. We moved Easter 2007, so the work is merely a few years old. To this end, our History Page will be updated for the duration of our stewardship here.