How to make a simple Cold Frame

Here is the promised article on how to make a cold frame. This is a simple project that should not take more than 2 – 3 hours. I built both of these in 3 hours, the longest part of the job is measuring and cutting.

Standard pine shelving was used for the cold frame
Standard pine shelving was used for the cold frame
Cold Frame pieces cut to size
Cold Frame pieces cut to size

A cold frame is used specifically to allow for the germination of seeds and protection of seedling in sub-optimal weather conditions. Typically the cold fame is closed just before sunset so that the frame can store heat at night and opened soon after sun-rise, to ensure that the seeds or seedlings are not cooked during the day. This is very important and will need to be controlled as weather conditions change. We typically will have 3 lengths of wood that prop open the lid depending on what temperatures are experiences. During hot weather you will want to have the lid open on maximum and vice-versa for colder weather.

Watering is also important as the seed trays and pots used inside the cold farm will require at least an everyday watering and sometimes more, you will need to maintain a watch and if you see wilting use a watering can with a fine rose to water your seedlings.

Ok onto the cold frame. We used standard pine shelving (2400 x455 mm wide) from our local board centre. I bought 4 pieces but only needed 3, to make two cold frames. The wife is happy as she gets a new shelf in her pantry that she has been pleading for with the 4th piece.

I’m going to give rough dimensions as each person will have their own size requirements, and the two that I made will allow us to germinate over 4000 seedlings in one go. There are not many gardeners out there that need to germinate so many seedlings, unless you are supplying seedlings at a farmers market. So you can adapt this to your needs.

A few screws and some cold glue and the basic frame is completed. Note the handles made from scrap wood on the sides.
A few screws and some cold glue and the basic frame is completed. Note the handles made from scrap wood on the sides.

Basically the design will work on the following principles. The back of the cold frame (South side) needs to be higher than the front (North side) ours is 300mm at the back and 150mm in the front. We cut one of the shelves into two, lengthways to give us the 300mm high back and the 150 mm front pieces. The sides of this cold frame were cut from a full width board and we measured to the same height as the front and back boards.

These four pieces were screwed together with standard 40mm chipboard screws using a pilot hole to prevent the board ends splitting. Handles were cut and screwed on made from off cuts, this allows two people to pick up a cold frame and move it easily.

For the lid of the cold frame we used Thermoclear but you could use any rigid transparent material. We decided to use Thermoclear as a) we had a spare sheet lying around and b) it has a twin wall with wonderful rigid cells running the length of the sheet. It’s the perfect way to make double glazing with minimal effort. Although the boxes are a bit draughty, I felt that this little bit of extra insulation should keep the heat in and cold out for a while longer. When measuring your lid, have the material overlap by 15 – 20 mm all around as this will allow moisture to drip away from your wood and helps to preserve the cold frame.

Edge on view of the Thermoclear showing it being filled with silicone.
Edge on view of the Thermoclear showing it being filled with silicone.

This plastic sheeting is also great, because if you carefully cut through the top layer of plastic you have a hinge and it solves a lot of construction issues with additional hinges and effort. We sealed the ends with clear silicone to create a ‘double glazing’ effect on the lids. Just make sure you dry the silicone in the shade, as it’s amazing how quickly the heat (pressure) builds up in each tube and starts to push the silicone out before it has a chance to dry.

One everything is dry, oil the wood to keep it weather proof, we use Waksol (R90.00 for 5 Lt) but use up whatever you have lying in your workshop/garage.

Close-up of the simple 'hinge'. The top layer of theroclear has been cut to 'create' the hinge.
Close-up of the simple 'hinge'. The top layer of thermoclear has been cut to 'create' the hinge.

The cold frame is then placed directly on a tarp which is laid on level ground, the seed trays and pots (for cucurbits and larger faster growing seeds) are then placed inside onto the tarp. The tarp is there for two reasons, 1) to prevent grass and weeds coming up through your seed trays and 2) it helps to keep the roots inside the cell divisions / pots. If you place the trays or pots directly on the soil then the seedlings roots grow straight into the soil and you destroy half of the plants root structure when you lift them to transplant. In larger more formal seedling operations the seed trays are placed onto a wire frame to discourage the roots from growing through, we are not quite there yet.

Job done, all it needs now is a layer of preservative to keep it looking good for years.
Close-up of the simple 'hinge'. The top layer of theroclear has been cut to 'create' the hinge.

That’s about it for making a cold frame, it’s simple and easy, and will allow you to get a good 5 – 6 weeks head start on the planting season.


Farmers Markets 101

Are you a market gardener, or are you looking at becoming a market gardener?

Market gardening is taking off at a pace that is astounding in South Africa, one can hardly believe the number of Farmers Markets and Local Produce Markets that have sprung up over the last 3-4 years.

Typically one finds that they are either an evolution of the typical Flea Market, all the way to full blown Fresh and Homemade produce markets that are supplied by Market Gardeners, small farmers or home industry type entrepreneurs. This post will focus on the market gardener and some things that you need to do, to literally stand-out from the crowd, while at the same time have your wares and name become a sought after attraction at your local farmers market.

Firstly you will need to understand who your target market will be. If you are selling at a farmers market in a low-mid income area, the chances that you can sell your high-end organic/biodynamic crops at a premium will be limited. However, if your Farmers Market is situated where higher income customers frequent, you will have a much better chance at moving your stock. That said there has simply never been a better time to be a fresh market grower and seller. These markets are thriving and customers are excited about locally grown food.  They will often brag to their guests where and how they purchased the unique tomatoes that are in the salad, or the stunning carrot/pumpkin/bean/cucumber variety that adorns their serving dishes. That bragging will bring new people to your stand, and it can only happen if you are the one that stands head and shoulders above your competition, and more importantly gets customers coming back week after week.

Pile it high and watch it fly
Pile it high and watch it fly

Below are a few hints/tip and suggestions that you can use to be the supplier at your local farmers market that stands out.

Specialise: Look for a gap in the market and capitalise on that gap. Are there already heirloom tomato suppliers at your local market? If there are, how can you capitalise on that? You could offer the makings of an entire salad instead and not just tomatoes. You could can your excess tomatoes into a ‘sous’ or braai relish. Another idea is to specialise in a crop family, like brassicas/beans/pumpkins or chillies. Chillies that are sold loose do well but if you package chillies into segmented punnets with different heat rating or similar heat ratings you will move so many more. In the off season, dried chillies or chilli products are great. Beans can be sold green and dried, speciality beans can be sold off by weight or pre-packaged. I love the sight of buckets of different dried beans that one can buy by the scoop.

Add History: If you can tell your customer about the origin or history of the particular fruit/vegetable you spark their interest, that interest makes sales. A good example would be to say that Carbon won the title of best tasting tomato in the world. Tell a story about your produce, like the Mayflower Bean was carried over to America before it became America and helped keep starvation at bay for the first pioneers.

Add Value: A free recipe card that is thrown in with their purchase for the items that they have bought will always bring a customer back… but only if the recipe is good. Try to keep the recipe simple, but it must make the dish memorable. Offer a bulk discount, one bunch of Purple Dragon Carrots for R10.00 but you can have 3 for R25.00. Or combine 3or 4 items at a special price.

Well labelled produces sells when you can't.
Well labelled produces sells when you can't.

Cross Sell: Group vegetables together that would make a meal, that way customers are more inclined to buy a number of items together, see recipe idea above. If you can’t group them because of your display then offer cooking suggestions with a combination of your veggies.

Banter: Talk to browsing customers and offer tasters of unusual vegetables. While a client is paying, offer cooking/eating advice that other customers can hear, that you can expand on once the paying customer has left. Combine your banter with information and how you grow your produce, tell them what’s coming in a few weeks time, it all helps to sell now and bring them back later.

Stack it High: A Madeiran friend of mine says that veggies only sell if the pile is high. So don’t put out a few of your veggies, stack them out and way high. It’s visually appealing and helps to draw the feet… those feet need your veggies. If you have crates, fill them and then tilt the crate up so the customers will notice your amazing produce. Next time you are browsing a farmers market look at who is busiest and what their stand looks like. I can almost guarantee they have produce stacked high. If you can bring feet to your stall, others want to know why everyone is there, that’s when you start selling.

Colour: Try to arrange all colours together to create a mass of individual colours, Reds together, yellows, greens etc. This is more visually appealing than a kaleidoscope of colour that tends to confuse the brain. This will also get you noticed from across the farmers market.

Use bright colours to attract people.
Use bright colours to attract people.

Be ahead of the pack: Try to get your new produce onto your display as early in the season as possible. If you are the first one with a particular type or cultivar at your market you start to build a loyal client base. Capitalise on this and work it. It may require you to plan ahead and invest in cold frames or tunnels. If it’s worth it, do it. Also, don’t drop out of the market suddenly, your clients can be very disappointed. Make sure you can supply the whole season, it need not be the same produce but your face needs to be there, with the same, new or different produce.

Mailing list: Work up a client mailing list that you can send out every Thursday/Friday with a produce list for Saturday and possible idea’s that they can cook up with your produce. This will ensure that a higher number of clients are coming to your stall for your produce. You may even find over time that they will drive out to you during the week to buy straight off the farm, or you can use the newsletter to start of a box-scheme.

Quality: It goes without saying, your produce needs to look as good, if not better than the stuff at your local supermarket. It’s a Farmers PRODUCE Market, not a place for you to sell soil samples and the occasional earthworm. You may think it shows freshness, your potential clients only see extra work and ‘dirty’ produce.

Glistening: Take a hint from the flower sellers on the street corner, mist your produce often. A spray bottle is cheap and will make your produce look so much more appetising while at the same time keeping it cool.

Signage: The little bit of effort you put into making nice signs for your produce will pay you… literally. Some hardboard, a few lengths of wood and a small tin of blackboard paint will allow you to chalk up specials and prices for your produce. Many people will walk past a stand with no prices without bothering to stop and ask.

Smile: This should go without saying, shake hands and tell them your name, this makes it a personal shopping experience for them, and helps to bring them back.


Book Review: The Garden Guardian’s guide to environmentally-responsible garden care

This is one of those books that every natural gardener needs to get. It’s the refreshing breath of insightful knowledge that one needs when looking at how to naturally control pests and diseases in your garden.

Johan Gerber’s Garden Guardians is now well ensconced on my gardening bookshelf for me to use and learn from. I am particularly thankful for the very impressive collection of full colour photos that this book contains. I have found it quite useful to look and identify  the symptoms in the photo’s and then cross reference this to the treatments listed earlier in the book. The photo’s are clear, and cover almost every aspect of plant health that one may possibly encounter in our growing conditions. This is a book that is well worth the space in your library and will become the reference that you will turn to when you are puzzled by that strange rot or gogga that is destroying your precious plants. By using this book you will be able to identify and decide on a course of action to halt the damage without resorting to detrimental chemicals in your garden.

The chapters on Natures little helpers was for me the best part of the book as it introduces one to insects and organisms that most people overlook and has given me a re-awakened appreciation for my gogga’s. Gardening is not just about the plants in your garden, and Johan’s book highlights this to the conscientious gardener like no other.

Something that has been lacking for gardeners is easy (and impartial) access to information on the various chemicals that are all too easily available to the gardener, and specifically what their actions are on the general environment. Too often I hear of people being incorrectly advised on chemicals to use in their gardens, in this book you will have a quick and handy chemical reference that you can turn to with simple and succinct explanations on each of these chemicals.

The only complaint that I could possibly raise, is that diatomaceous earth with only but a passing mention has not been covered in this book. The only reason that I can think of is that it’s a relatively newcomer in South African gardening circles, however I’m sure that this will be better covered in updated editions.  We have had some wonderful results with DE and will soon be offering it on our site.

If you are looking at growing any food crop (actually any garden plant, as they are all covered in this book) without resorting to detrimental chemicals, this is the book that you will need to have on your shelf.


Poultry for Sustainability

Am I the only one, or have you also noticed in recent years that young girls are ‘developing’ at an earlier age? My firm belief is that this phenomenon is intrinsically related to the amounts of hormones, antibiotics and associated junk that have been fed, injected and variously sprayed onto the food that makes up the bulk of modern diets. This in turn is passed onto us and our children. Generally we have no way of monitoring or ascertaining what pesticides, drugs and poisons are being added to our foods, we just believe that ‘they’ would never do anything that is harmful to us. Mmmm, somehow methinks that people are too gullible. ‘They’ are more concerned about profits and fast turnaround times than the health and wellbeing of the dutifully trusting public.

Proud Koekkoek Cock
One of my Koekoek Cocks.... a good looking bird if I may say so myself

So, where does one start in the first step of providing a healthy source of meat for your family? One of the first animals that most people on farms and smallholdings decide to acquire, are chickens. The reason for this is generally the ease of obtaining birds, and for many the perception is that they do not require much in the way of housing or feed. Or so it’s believed, very few people realise that a poorly managed flock becomes a constant financial drain on the resources of a farm, especially one that is trying to be self-sustainable. What people do is either get a few birds from a local auction, get ‘passed on’ birds, or they pick up some day old chicks from a roadside vendor, all in my opinion are poor choices.

Black Australorp pair
The beautiful Black Australorp is a firm favorite in South Africa

Most people believe that any bird will do, and they like the idea of a multi coloured flock running around their farm. The problem here is that you never know what kind of bird you are getting. A mixed flock may look nice and homely, but invariably it has major limitations. Not all birds are equal. Generally if they have been bought off auction, it’s the runts and poor layers are sold off, this is not even thinking of the sick and diseased birds, or the diseases and parasites that are transferred in an open auction environment.  So you are literally starting off on the back foot, with poor stock. It is very difficult to build up a sustainable flock if your foundation birds are made up of the unwanted birds from another flock.  The day old chicks on the roadside are very often males only. Battery birds are sex-linked to be able to sex the chicks on day one, the females are kept for mass egg production and the males being worthless, are sold to vendors that sell them off to the passing trade. These males make very poor meat birds, and not much good for anything else. I have a friend that recently bought broiler birds from a local auction, they looked fine and I could not tell what breed they were. However the lady that sold them assured us that they were top quality broilers. Three weeks later, these chicks have not gained much weight and honestly look as if they are still only a week old. So, the lesson here is, when you are at an auction and looking at any kind of livestock. Beware! Don’t take what’s said for granted.

It’s always best to do a bit of research into what kind of bird is needed for your family, before you rush out and ‘just quickly get some birds’. Are you looking for egg production, a meat bird, would you prefer a dual purpose bird that is good for both meat and eggs? Or are you a vegetarian that does not want the birds for any kind of consumption but would rather have a scratcher to assist with bug control in the veggie garden? There are chickens for almost every requirement that you may have, but how do you find out what is the right bird for you? This is an individual choice, and needs to be made with some kind of plan in mind. Setting out your goals and requirements are paramount. From there you can work out what is needed in a breed to sustain your family.

White Leghorns are great producers of white shelled eggs
White Leghorns are great producers of white shelled eggs

Our first flock of birds was a rush purchase for egg production. We bought a flock of 30 laying hens from a friend at work. Based on our understanding and calculations, we would be able to run a small profit from almost day one. The birds were duly delivered and we waited expectantly to make our promised deliveries of free range eggs. However, the birds were just not laying as expected. After much discussion amongst those in the know, we found out that a diet of grain and free-ranging was not conducive to high egg production. These birds have been specifically bred to be fed a high protein diet, they required 18 hours of artificial light every day and they needed to be housed in closed batteries. Not something that we wanted. We wanted real free range eggs, locking them up to increase production went totally against what we believed. Once we realised our error, we could not even slaughter the birds for our own consumption as they were not meat birds, they were purely egg layers.

We now had to rethink our entire poultry set-up. What we wanted was a hardy dual purpose bird that would do well free-ranging, with a grain based diet to supplement their protein requirements. In addition it had to have a high egg and meat production that would provide us with a good protein source. Personally I am partial to indigenous animals so naturally we had a look at what was available. I started speaking to an expert poultryman and he was able to supply me with some day old Koekoeks, these birds were considered for many years as one of South Africa’s finest dual purpose breeds. The Koekkoek was developed in Potchefstroom by line-breeding three top class heritage breeds. The Black Australorp (Meat and Eggs), the Plymouth Barred Rock (Meat and Eggs) and the White Leghorn (Eggs) from this mix the Koekoek was developed and a unique South African breed was developed that fit the bill for a locally robust and productive bird. Unfortunately, it has now fallen out of fashion due to the commercial Ross, Cobb, Hiline and other breeds that are now used for concentrated meat and egg production. The Koekoek has over the last 6 years been the main breed that we have worked with on our property. We have been through a number of generations of this amazing bird that is a consistent layer and a wonderful meat bird. As to being hardy, I can attest that we have had birds that have easily survived -8 C winters with no additional heat or supplementation.

A good looking Plymouth Barred Rock Cock
A good looking Plymouth Barred Rock Cock

My advice to new or prospective poultry owners is to firstly understand what you want from a breed, each breed has strong and weak points. Then find a breeder, or two (try get Cocks and Hen’s from two separate lines) that keep the breed you are looking for. A good place to start is the classifieds in agricultural magazines or The South African Show Poultry Organisation. First decide if you want to buy adult birds or if you are prepared to take on chicks and raise them. If you take chicks they will be cheaper so you can get more birds for your money, but you will need to have the correct set-up to raise them. Such as infra-red lamps, drown proof waterers, chick food dispensers, a cosy well ventilated draught free place, and the right food. All of this comes at a cost and needs to be factored into the equation. Depending on the season, it can take you up to a year to get them to the point of laying your first eggs. Birds generally start laying at 6 months, however if you start them late in spring or summer you could have birds that don’t come into lay before winter and you might have to feed them the whole winter before you get your first eggs in spring.

If however you decide on adults, expect to pay a premium, as the breeder has already got them to a breeding age, taken the mortality losses and fed and cared for them. Expect to pay at least a few hundred rand for a trio of pure-bred birds. The cost however will be paid back in higher egg production and better slaughter weights than anything generally available from an auction. One word of caution when purchasing from Show Poultry breeders. Make sure that you ask for commercial stock and not show stock. Don’t fall for the idea that you need show quality birds, show birds often do not have the ‘working traits’ that one would need for self-sustainability. Many working breeds have been reduced to pure show breeds and do not have the desirable traits that the traditional working birds used to possess. This I believe is a failure on the show breeder’s side as the original robust genetic integrity has been traded for prestige on the show bench. Very good examples of this can be seen in the low fertility or inbreeding found in Indian Games (Cornish Hens) and Wyandottes. Two of my favourite breeds, that I have stopped working with due to the poor genetics available in South Africa.

Golden Wyandotte hen showing the beautiful lacing on their plumage
Golden Wyandotte hen showing the beautiful lacing on their plumage

The satisfaction that you gain from running a purebred flock is immense, excluding the additional benefits of quality meat and eggs, you are able to use the birds in trades with others looking for high quality birds. We have used our birds to trade for other desirable breeds as well as selling birds directly for an additional income or to pay for their own keep. The difference in quality is clearly apparent when two birds of differing quality are placed next to one another. To have a flock of birds that even a novice can see are superior is a worthy achievement. I want to encourage you to have a good look at the heritage breeds of poultry that are available in South Africa. Within these breeds lie the future of your self-sustainability. They are genetically robust, they are able to provide and reward your families with quality meat and eggs, and this for very little input and maintenance as opposed to factory breeds. Lastly, you will have the honour of keeping alive rare and fast vanishing breeds that may very well provide the basis and genetic blueprint of future breeding stock.

The next meat bird that many people try, are turkeys. Here is a bird that is almost guaranteed to frustrate, as they are notoriously difficult to raise and breed on a sustainable basis. Nearly all of the turkeys that are sold in our supermarkets are Large Breasted Whites. This is a highly selected variety of turkey that is unable to reproduce, the turkey hens need to be artificially inseminated to produce viable eggs. Basically the ability to self-perpetuate has been destroyed in favour of faster growth and more breast meat. The mind boggles at what needs to happen on a turkey farm ensure the successful production of the next generation of ‘healthy meat’. We won’t even go down the mental logistics that this act requires, suffice to say it does not bode well for the genetics of turkeys, where nearly all the birds bred by this method are from an incredibly small gene pool. With such limited genes in the global turkey population, all it will take is a viral outbreak to wipe out an industry, and bring upon the world a disaster of tremendous proportions. The same applies even more too chicken populations, thankfully without the artificial insemination issues….. yet.

Turkey Tom in full display for his girls
Turkey Tom in full display for his girls

With free-range turkeys the story is a lot different. The Tom’s (the males) have a harem of female hens that they preen, puff and generally show off for. Egg production is a hit and miss affair that may or may not work out. Often the turkey hen forgets where she’s laid her eggs and starts a new batch elsewhere. Two year and older hens seem to have better success and hatch rates. Once the little chicks hatch, this is when the next danger period starts. They are notoriously prone to the slightest infection or draught. A common saying goes; ”If the weather report says bad weather will arrive tomorrow evening, the chicks start dying tonight.” However once they are past the initial few weeks, what a pleasure. Being able to watch the fluffy little chicks transform into beautiful glistening bronzed adults, with sunlight reflecting off their iridescent feathers, more than makes up for all the hassles of the first few weeks. Turkeys are predominantly grazers and go through a surprising amount of green food, always make sure that they have some form of greens available. Winter may be a problem, what we do is plant a lot of cabbage and other brassica’s to supplement our birds in the dry winter months. One thing I can say is that free-range turkey is without a doubt the best flavoured meat that you will ever taste. Unfortunately, there is no way to get real free-range turkey meat than to do it yourself.

Finally, a word on using your animals for the table. This issue is by its very nature, sensitive. I for one look at the issue from a sustainability and health view. Trying to become self-sustainable and being an omnivore presents unique challenges. Some will vehemently disagree with my beliefs and frankly they have the right to do so. Each person has their own self entitled belief system that is shaped by their perceptions and worldview. My belief system allows me the luxury of meat, for others it may not. The fact that our family consumes meat is compounded by the need to provide this protein source in a healthy and ethical manner. Either I buy plastic, hormone laden meat from a shop or I produce it myself. The idea of eating meat that has been unethically raised revolts me and I take great pleasure in being able to feed my family with healthy meat, meat that has been bred and raised on our own property, where the animals have led a contented life without the multitude of stresses that occur in an unnatural factory farm environment.

The slaughter of these animals is a solemn and dirty task, there is no pleasure in this act. It is however required to get this food source onto the plates of my family. What it does do for our family is underpin the cycle of life that we as humans are so quick to gloss over, or are even loath to consider. Especially when one picks up a clean and sanitised pack of chops, or de-boned chicken breasts off the supermarket shelf, without a second thought as to what was required to get this protein source to our tables. Uniquely, every one of my children understands exactly where the drumstick or chop that lies on their plate comes from. They have been intimately involved in raising and feeding our animals, and as such understand the work involved to get this food onto their plates. This in itself provides a profound respect and insight into the value of our animals and what I believe is an integral part of the noble pursuit of becoming self-sustainable.

EDIT: 27 March 2011. In Spring of this year (Sept-Oct) we will be supplying day old heritage chickens of a variety of breeds. If you are interested please sign-up to our newsletter (On the right side of this page) and we will keep you informed as to what we have available.


Book Review: Animal Vegetable Miracle

Have you ever wondered what it would take to live entirely off the land? It’s not as easy as one thinks, in this insightful book Barbara Kingsolver and her family decided to take a year and become true Locavores for that year. (Locavore = People who only eat products raised or grown in a set distance, typically 100-200 Km radius) This is an entertaining book that follows this family from spring to spring and takes you through the first asparagus of the season all the way through to a zucchini glut and back again. Her husband and oldest daughter also have their say with informative and frank discussions on self-sustainability and other essential issues. One of the things that really struck me was her being listed as one of the 100 most dangerous authors in America, mainly because she was advocating the need for people to understand where their food came from.

I read this book twice, back to back, I enjoyed it so much. I found it very instructional and found myself drawn deeply into her world. Primarily I think because I could understand exactly what she was trying to achieve, as it’s very similar to my families own ideals.

In addition, we often use some of the recipes in this book, specifically the 30 min Mozzarella recipe, which is a firm favourite with our pizzas.

Is it a worth while book? Simply yes. It will appeal to almost every person that has the remotes interest in food and more specifically it will bring about an awareness and understanding of what is sitting on your plate.


The Wilson’s get rid of the (City) menace

[Below is an article written by one of our clients, Tristram and his family have made the break and are settling down in their own piece of paradise. This is his initial post describing their beginning, we at wish him and his family every success and joy in their courageous descision]

At the beginning of 2010 we made a conscious decision to leave the city to start on our journey of self sustainability. We took a conservative approach and retained our suburban home whilst taking up residence in our very basic small country cottage. The idea being to at least start the journey and make that first “city” break, sever the ties as it were.

The advantages (depending on how you look at it of course!) was to be able to leave behind the clutter, gadgets, crime, and general consumerism. We became sick of crime, not only because of feeling threatened, but because of having to constantly watch your back and be “expected” to do neighborhood watch.

At the end of last year we had made a decision to home school as we had totally lost faith in the sausage machine education system and were keen that our children get as much time to be children. The underlying pressures (peer and marketing/in your face advertising) in a City environment certainly don’t promote this. Children need to be able to free play, to be able to create, and more importantly to self stimulate (boredom is a swear word!). It is also important for them to develop self confidence through making things and seeing the result. For this, the countryside is a canvass of opportunity.

So, I had 2000 square meters and a small house to start with. My first priority was to get the veggie garden going and so I demarcated an area of 3m x 20m. Up until this point I had been reading and tinkering around with a small veggie bed to give myself the best head start. A small garden is a good start, firstly because it is easily manageable and secondly it teaches you how long growing times are, what seeds look like, and collecting them. It also teaches you as to what is eating the veggies and moulds and how to overcome these issues. Yes, I had my fair share of issues; letting the mint get out of control, snails, caterpillars, aphids and generally not keeping on top of things!

View of all our vegetable beds
View of all our vegetable beds

I decided on 10 beds which would be laid out down the left hand side of the property as it is the “driest” part in winter and closest to the house. The grass had to be cleared, irrigation installed, and compost laid down. Unfortunately I had none of my own compost yet, so had to get in a truck load. This was after doing a little research and listening to some recommendations from the locals into organic compost.

In the meantime I had got a few old pallets together and set them up against the back fence and added some sides. Initially, to start the heap, I went to the local dump to collect greens (fresh grass and leaves) and browns (dead grass and autumn leaves) and layered them with some horse or cow manure and kitchen scraps and a little wood ash in between. To maintain this, I am adding my lawn clippings and any other of my neighbors’ dump material.

The beds were laid out 1mx3m. I opted for drip irrigation with the main line running down the side of the property and the smaller feeder/drip lines running perpendicularly off of this and over the beds. Each bed has 3 lines running along the length with drippers spaced approx 300mm apart (I figured this would be a good standard spacing). I bent wire into 300mm long “hoops” and pushed them into the soil over each dripper which helps to keep the dripper line straight, and when the compost was laid down, helped me to locate where the drippers are were (I figured this may be good when it came to planting, i.e. plant near the dripper!). 100mm of compost was laid over the top of each bed, burying the lines under it. There was a little experimenting here as this is a half mulching and half raised bed method where the set up is fairly minimal. I took up the grass which is very intensive, but I had no cardboard or plenty of newspaper to sheet mulch. The flexible polypropylene irrigation piping was purchased in rolls from a national agricultural supplier who had their “own” brand of drippers.

Irrigation pipes into beds
Irrigation pipes into beds

Then came planting. I had various sources of seeds, and although wanted to plant the basics, I was keen to try out different crops, specifically heirloom. The reason for this was to rediscover crops that had been lost through the modern marketing forces of today, and of course variety.

I decided to plant about 10 -12 rows, depending on the crops, along each bed. Although many people write about companion planting, I decided to basically plant whatever I felt like next to each other, onions being the exception! I will fill in with some of the pest preventing plants like chives, nasturtiums and marigolds etc later. I started with carrots, beans, peas, beetroot, NZ and Swiss chard spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, chives, radishes, lettuce and cabbage.

The challenge has been to try to figure out how many of each variety to plant for my family of four, and how to stagger the planting times to ensure a continuity of crops. Here I have flown by the seat of my pants and letting experience be my guide. There are always ways to improve, for instance I got caught out with frost with my beans and had to make a simple tent system until I work out something more permanent. Common sense and a little creativity is all that is required; see what you have lying around.

I set out an excel document, documenting each bed; what had been planted, where and when, and who’s seeds were used.

Time passed and the crops began appearing. Peas had to be staked and the crops checked for bugs and a bit of weeding etc.

After about a month and a bit I am already eating lettuce, radish and NZ Spinach.

So let’s see what happens! Watch this space.


Book Review : “The” Encyclopedia of Country Living

This book is a tomb, a reference work of note and well worth every cent that you will pay for it. Running to well over 900 pages this book covers almost every aspect of living off your land. From buying land, planning a veggie garden, planting an orchard, raising and using livestock their by-products and even home birthing. The book is filled with everyday recipes under each topic and has a friendly personal writing style that quickly sets you at ease. The explanations are in simple language and in many instances are referenced with personal anecdotes.

Just after receiving our copy, my wife Nicola was paging through it, she happened upon this passage and had to sit down she was laughing so much.

“Catching a Goat

How do you deal with a goat that jumped the fence and is happily munching your neighbour’s roses and does not want to be caught?

1) Try the grain-shaken-in-a-can-bit. Turn the grain so he can see it.

2) If he’s leery, walk past him carrying the grain but completely ignoring him. Go pick up some curious object beyond him and examine it. Then put down the object and walk back past the goat, still carrying the grain, and still carefully ignoring it. Whistle if you can. The goat will be overcome with curiosity and follow you. Slow down. At a point of closest approach dive for legs or horns, whichever you think you have the better chance of grabbing. I love horned goats because in desperation I can usually catch them by those handles. Then yell for help.

3) If that didn’t work, rope him and put him up for sale.

4) If you can’t rope him, shoot him and make goat sausage. (recipe and methods on pages 628-633)”

In this style the whole book is filled with good advice, humour and practical ‘real-world-useful’ information. In our house we refer to The Encyclopaedia of Country Living as “The Book” and when an unusual question comes up, like how do you make sausage casings? It’s the first place we turn to. If you live on a plot or farm, and even if you are a homemaker and desire to do things yourself you will find this book a worthwhile asset to your bookshelf.


The Edible Quote

“The art of taxation consists of so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing.”

~ J.B. Colbert, French Statesman, circa 1665