Archive for October, 2008

October 2008

October 6, 2008

Just had to post these photos.

This is a little over 12 months since starting our garden.

This is our front yard October 2008 ……….

And our old driveway at the start of the day …….

and after a lot of hard work ……


Spring 2008 wwoofers nature strip makeover.

October 6, 2008

I was going to write the story of our urban farm as it happen, step by step in order, but I just had to post what we have been able to achieve in the last week.

I have had two wonderful Wwoofers staying with us for a week and they have helped us to get so much work done.

The first job was getting rid of the nature strip lawn …….

I hate lawns ………. I see them as a huge waste of resources, they take fuel and machines to maintain, time, energy, can’t stand them.

I have been wanting to get rid of it since we moved in but had other more important tasks to focus on.

Our goal is to plant out the nature strip with native grasses and wild flowers but first that Kikuyu has to go.

just started

just started

First they used pick and shovels to remove the bulk of the grass, normally I would just mulch over grass but we needed to get below the concret edging so the cardboard and mulch stayed in place.

yippy we are half way

yippy we are half way

Many many wheel borrows of soil and grass are removed, then cardboard and newspaper is thickly laid.

last little bit

last little bit

now that's a nature strip

and here is the finished nature strip, we will start planting out native grasses Autumn 2009.

Sustainable Garden Edging

October 4, 2008

When I started looking at how to design our front yard, the saying of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle was important to me.

I thought about the issue of garden edging and how I would follow this principle whilst making raised garden beds.

I asked around sustainable gardening forums, my local permaculture group, family and friends to work out what I could use.

Someone (I can’t now remember who, but a big thank you) suggested logs. Lots of people cut down trees and since we are in the city fire wood use is fairly low, so this resource is left on the side of the road.

Every week we found a pile of logs, sitting waiting for a new home. Our car boot looked a little bit like a fire wood box but it did the job of carting our garden edging home.

This worked beautifully and we almost have our whole garden edged with a local waste product.

Edging our garden with local waste

Edging our garden with local waste

Here Chook Chook Chook…

October 4, 2008

What farm wouldn’t be complete without chooks.

They give us eggs, manure, recycle scraps, eat garden excesses and weeds.

We found a great little hen house on ebay, that was only a year old, complete with feeders. Moved it into our front yard, to become the centre piece of our urban farm.

Our hen house, centre place in our garden.

Our hen house, centre place in our garden.

When I lived in the bush we had a number of different varieties but my favorite was the Araucanas. These birds were feisty, tough little poultry that lay the most gorgeous blue eggs.

Even though I love these little birds they are not really suitable for the urban environment, they are incredibly talkative, flighty and hate being confined …… so what to get?

I thought I would find some little bantams, I have always love bantams, the mini chooks of the poultry world. Asking around some friends I found two point of lay Sussexs, a white and a beige.

Our Bantams

Our Bantams

The ‘girls’ settled in well and started laying tasty eggs within weeks of moving in.

our very first egg

our very first egg

But we had a few issues ……. they were noisy, just before sunrise they started calling out for breaky and kept up this demanding behaviour all day. They always had grain and water but they loved their kitchen scraps. This behaviour did not impress the neighbours and I waking up a dawn to go tend to the girls, didn’t impress me.

Also they kept going clucky. Different breeds of chooks lay a certain amount of eggs before the ‘mother’ instinct kicks in. Some breeds like silky bantams only lay about 12 eggs before they get the urge to sit on their eggs and raise some chicks, other like Iza Browns never have the need to raise young, so they will lay almost every day of the year.

With our Sussexs we got a month or so of eggs and then the girls would sit in the nest box, refusing to eat or drink, pecking us if we wanted the eggs and they would stop laying.

I thought it might be fun to take advantage of the cluckiness so I found someone who had a rooster running with their hens and got some fertilised eggs.

The girls sat, together and hatch two very cute little babies.

a little chick is born

a little chick is born

It was very special have my toddler watch a chick chip its way out of an egg, in her own front yard.

mother and baby

mother and baby

When the chicks were a few weeks old we decided that the Sussex bantams would be best living somewhere else, so a friend from East Gippsland bartered a few trays of herb seedlings for our chooks.

exploring the garden

exploring the garden

We decided to buy four High Line Browns, a breed very similar to Iza Browns. These hens a serious worker chooks, lay almost all year, are quiet, tame and their food to eggs conversion rate is very efficient.

Our High Line Browns have been fantastic, most days we get four eggs, enough that we can regularly give eggs away and we have no shortage of friends who are available to look after our chooks when we are away.

We have our chooks in a deep litter system, meaning that we put a layer of mulch like material on the base of their pen, we use either straw or tree mulch. We rack it out regularly, usually every week and put it around trees or into compost bins.

Chooks are a must for urban farms, even if you only get two, the value of a few eggs a day, weed and scrap recycling and the wonderful rich manure is a very valuable contribution to sustainability.

You can buy chook houses quite cheaply on ebay and friends have purchased hens of Abundant Layers in the Hills just outside of Melbourne.

Another place to check out is Backyard Poultry, an onine site all things chooks.

Go on, give chooks a go!

watering our urban farm

October 4, 2008

People started to stop and ask what I was doing as soon as I spent time out the front.

My first task was to spread out the mountain of mulch over our front lawn.

Neighbours would slow down as they approached, look out the corner of their eyes, trying not to outwardly stare. I would always say hi and if they stopped, walk over to introduce myself.

I would explain that I was creating a garden and the lawn needed to go. Some tried to be helpful “you do know you can get a spray to do that?’ or ‘that’s not going to work, it will grow through’ but most just nodded, a little surprised.

One women stopped by, looking rather stern, after she found out I was creating a garden she went on to inform me that WE have water restrictions in Melbourne so why would I even consider making a garden. I gently explained that I was installing water tanks, a grey water system and with the garden methods I used water usage would be less then a conventional garden. Well, not happy that I seem to have an answer for her, she went on to say “well you will be in trouble if it doesn’t rain’, to which I responded “we would all be in trouble if it didn’t rain, in fact we would all die”. It took a few moments for that to sink into her mind, then she was off!

Now I realise that I didn’t make a friend here but would I really want to have such a negative person tut tutting to me on a regular basis about my urban farm?

Like most environmentally aware gardeners we set up water collection, used grey water and put on lots of mulch.  We also used curved garden beds to catch run off, this also gave us an interesting garden layout and somewhere for children to run around and play hide and seek.

garden beds curve to catch rain fall run off from the south and rich run off from the hen house.

garden beds curve to catch rain fall run off from the south and rich run off from the hen house.

Other water wise methods included using wood chip mulch for our pathways to soak up water and to be usable composting areas. Once a year we dig out the paths, either putting the composted wood chips onto the garden or into compost bins and then refill the pathways with fresh wood chips.

We also have a pond made out of an old children’s plastic sand pit shell. This collects rain water, allows quick watering of thirsty plants, grows some beautiful water plants, offers local wildlife somewhere to drink and a home for some local frogs.

Our new pond

Our new pond

We are allowed to use mains water twice a week for two hours and we did use this options a few time last summer. We have underground soaker hoses in some garden beds that can be connected to mains water or in the future will be connected to a main water tank.

We found with just 1000litre of rain water storage and our grey water redirection that we got by last summer, this summer we will have a 4000 litre tank, 1200 litres storage in wheelie bin tanks and pickling drums, redirected washing machine, shower and our bucket in the kitchen sink catching the fresh water. I don’t think we will need to rely on mains water at all this year.

Worm Farms

October 4, 2008

Late Autumn

A few weeks after we moved into our home we bought a worm farm and two compost bins from ebay.

A friend from our local group of Permaculture Melbourne gave us the worms.

At this stage we didn’t have chickens so the worms were well feed and what they didn’t like went into the compost bins.

Worms usually like to eat anything that have once lived, except citrus and onions. Most people also give their worms paper but our paper went into the compost bins for some much needed carbon.

Our worms thrived, every week I would pour a watering can of rain water into their home, open up the tap and feed my plants with the wonderful worm wee that came out.

Every time we put a plant into the ground we put a handful of worms.

By spring our whole garden was moving with little red composting worms.


Wwoofers to the rescue

October 3, 2008

Ok, so it’s all mulched, that was the easy part …… next?

lawn no more

lawn no more

The plan was to develop the front yard into a Urban Farm. We had 15 metres across and 9 metres deep plus 30 metres along the driveway. No backyard would be available as it was being developed into houses (the block originally went right through to the next road).

My wish was to start in the south east corner of our block (the house faces east) working our way across the front yard, make wonderful raised, no dig garden beds.

All good plans usually end in a reality check and mine was that we had no money, no materials and I was recovering from a flu that left me feeling a little overwhelmed at creating the garden.

The other reality was that we had over a dozen fruit trees, either bare rooted or in pots, desperately needing to be put in the ground.

So what do you do when you are creating an urban farm and you need help?

Invite wwoofers!

What you ask is a Wwoofer?

Wwoof stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms, Wwoofers are what we call the wonderful people who are these willing workers and we can Wwoofing the action of doing the work!

Wwoofing started as a way for people interested in learning about organic farming to help out at working organic farms and learn ‘on the job’. Wwoofing then expanded to include travelers wanting to learn not only about organic farming but about how other people live. Wwoofing is now global.

A Wwoofer usually helps out for 4-6 hours a day in exchange for education and board.

I had been a wwoof host on my country property in East Gippsland for a number of years, I hadn’t really thought of inviting wwoofers to my Melbourne home, didn’t really think anyone would be interested – how wrong I was.

Within what felt like days I had my first enquiry, a young woman traveling from Korea came to stay.

Together we dug the first hole, planted the first tree, a lemonade tree and re potted all the trees just in case I couldn’t get the trees into the ground by the end of winter.

Next, two koren students on uni break asked to visit. Wow could these women work. We got half a dozen trees in along the driveway and completed two no dig garden beds.

These women did look at me a bit strange when I explained the gardens vision, I had promised to send them the pictures which is one of the reasons I have done this blog. All of our wwoofer visitors can now see what they helped build.

Since then we have had many wwoofers visit, some for a few day, some for a few weeks, some even stayed for a few months.

Without Wwoofers what we have today wouldn’t have been possible.

flat, green and no life in sight.

October 3, 2008

That’s what we started with.

Our urban farm day one

Our urban farm day one

Couldn’t even find an bug, just a compacted green lawn with a millimetre of dirt, then solid clay.

Oh and did I say lawn, I meant 50 years worth of mowed Kikuyu grass, one thick mat of the most invasive grass, the type that puts fear into the hearts of gardener.

Now there is one rule I live by:

No poisons, ever!

I have sat with very knowledgeable farmers and gardeners and all have a laugh when a ‘newby’ ask how can they get rid of Kikuyu. I heard and read many interesting ways of getting rid of this menace.

So this is what we did …….

Mulched all the trees that needed to be removed from our block (that’s another story) and put all this on our front lawn.

Ordered another large truck of mulch and that also went on our front lawn.

We then spread it to about one foot deep.

That was it and IT WORKED!

On two occasions we saw a sad and sorry piece of Kikuyu poke itself through, dug it out and never had a problem again.

Hello world!

October 3, 2008

Welcome, I’ve started this blog to share our adventures of setting up our urban farm.

In April 2007 my family moved in to a very well loved, old weatherboard in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. The year before we had moved from our home in East Gippsland.

We had missed the bush, so we thought we would recreate a little country oasis in the city.

I spent many hours designing and redesigning our urban farm. Like most gardeners, I look at a plan, then go with what feels right.

What we have today is a wonderful little oasis, growing and changing every day.

Please enjoy the following photo’s and stories.

Best Wishes

Deborah and Pete

Urban Farmers

If you wish to apply to volunteer at our urban farm property please read, Volunteering at our Urban Farm.