Today is Wednesday 19th August, the first day that we have been out doing actual farm work. It was refreshing to get moving and the sun shone radiantly all day. We began our day by harvesting some veggies for the veggie boxes that Kate and Mark give to the supporters of purple pear farm. It was a nice fresh morning and it was really cool to see how much you can harvest out of such a small space. We had boxes full of broccoli, beans, silverbeet, rainbow chard and pak choi, potatoes and a few random cherry tomatoes.
We then moved on to a quick demonstration of how to shovel manure (one of the jobs on our roster is to keep the cows/horses stable yard tidy), Mark showed us a very effective technique which involves jiggling the shovel under the cow pat to get it all on there in one piece! We dawdled over to the goats and fed them some African olive branches which are classed as a noxious weed here in the Hunter. The goats love it! Once the goats have grazed all the leaves from the branches they are fed through the chipper and the remnants used as bedding in the goats enclosure. Once soiled, this goes into the compost system and will eventually feed the gardens and fruit trees. We learned about using the chipper safely and had some morning tea. Once refuelled with hoe made cookies we were set to the task of sprucing up the raspberry patch which had been let go over the Winter. The grasses and weeds dominated the trellis’s, so our task was to get in and tidy it up. With 7 of us we got through it pretty well, the grass is very thick and we will have to do some more work on it tomorrow to dig all the deep roots out.
Out tummies were happy after a delicious lunch of lentils and rice, green salad, broccoli and roast potatoes. We had a nice long break and then it was time to move one of the chicken domes over to the next circle in one of the mandala gardens. We discovered one of the chickens was a little ill with a case of sour crop so we gave it a little massage and took it to Kate to get some more TLC. The mandala and chicken dome system works super effectively. The circle which we moved the chickens over to was a garden of annuals that were all finished producing and needed to be cleared. The foliage was thick and roughly a metre tall, for us to get in there and clear it out would be quite a task. So instead, the chicken dome is moved onto it, providing abundant food for the chickens, they also eat any pests and insects, scratch and manure on the soil and do all the work for us, all while producing eggs. It takes about 1-2 weeks for them to fully clear the circle. The circle we moved them from was ready to be planted into and that is what we did next.
Starting from the centre and spiralling out, it makes sense to plant the annuals with the longest life span or only have one single harvest in the middle so you don’t have to walk into the middle of the garden more than necessary (in this case it was purple cabbage), in between the cabbages we planted tatsoi, its ok to plant them in between because the tatsoi will mature and be harvested well before the cabbages. Once it’s gone the cabbages will fill out the space and mature. Using niches in time and space like this is how you can maximise the yield within a small area. The next circle was planted with beetroot and the outer edge of the circle we planted broccoli, broccoli can be harvested multiple times so it makes sense to have this on the outside where it’s easily accessible.
As I learn more about the mandala garden system it’s a really effective and cohesive way of gardening and producing a lot of food. Everything is there working as one system. The compost pile is right next to the gardens, the chickens are there helping the garden, there’s even resident guinea pigs that help keep the grass under control. It’s a pleasant place to be and work, it feels like a natural setting as opposed to rigid rows of crops that need constant maintenance. Kate and Mark let the ‘weeds’ co-exist with the annuals. As long as they don’t impede the growth of the crop. They let Mallow grow amongst the brocolli and the red spider mites love it, they swarm the mallow and kill it, leaving the broccoli alone. There’s nettles, dandelion, dock and a plethora of other species which are seen as beneficial to the garden, providing nutrients and cover for the soil, habitat for the insects/predators and food for the chickens. Getting rid of these species that grow naturally would take time and effort, only for another ‘weed’ to sprout up in its place. It’s better to leave it there and let it do it’s thing, giving all the benefits I mentioned.
We have been given a veggie box from the farm for our use, we are going to have a communal cook up tonight. I’m really looking forward to a well deserved nights sleep! 🙂
Bye for now.