Good Earth Uncut
Saturday, 16 July 2016
This Week in the Sustainable Family Food Garden
This Week's Tasks In The Family Food Garden
Only Pruning, and Mulch Spreading, Are Possible, This Week
*It's way too wet again, once more, this week, to be forking, sowing or planting in the open food beds, but it is a good time to be spreading triple washed potting sand or sharp striking sand out across our bogged out paths and along those garden access lines where it has just become too muddy, to be passable.
*Use the sand on mulched paths whose pine bark litter is intended to be carted to the garden, for mulching purposes, later in the year, but on grassed paths or access lines which have had sand laid down already - but which are now covered with mud and slush - use softfall pine bark as the relieving litter.
Then - later in the coming summer, or next autumn - the sand and pinebark mulch mix will combine, when shovelled off, to form a great base for a raised bed growing medium.
*As long as you can find ground that is firm enough to support your stance, or the legs of the ladder - pruning is one other job which can be tackled just a few days after such a week of saturating rain and storms.
*If the ground is just too soft or slippery to support the legs of your pruning step-ladder, lay down some pine-bark mulch or some thick, old fashioned hessian potato sacks set beneath each ladder leg.
It's an easy enough matter to scrape up the mulch, afterwards, or to recycle the muddied bags, as compost heap covers.
Pruning Repairs For Wind Battered Trees
*It's not just those fruit trees in need of a midwinter shaping (as described last week) which may be wanting some attention from the secateurs, right now, after such a mad week of wind and gales.
Check all of your evergreen trees, shrubs and vines for broken limbs and fractured branches, as well as making sure that you cast your eyes back again over any deciduous trees which may have been pruned, already, this winter.
They may now need some follow up treatment and repair work, in the wake of the gales.
Wind Lodged Tree Rescue
*If a large, precious, much loved evergreen specimen citrus or olive tree has been partly lodged by the gales, and is leaning over at an angle, being partly blown out of the loosened, sodden soil by the winds, it can be stabilised by a combination of of:
- Pruning off a third of the foliage weight on the lower hanging side.
- Supporting the tree with multiple ties made at successive 300 mm heights - rising up all the way from the trunk base to the upper reaches of the foliage - pulled to a set of three stout, heavy supporting stakes driven in at a sixty degree angle - leaning away from the tree - with the stakes spread in an arc around the far side from which the tree has been blown.
- Before tying the tree to the heavy timber or steel pipe support stakes, use heavier loops of rope tied to a block and tackle that has been anchored to something substantial (like a car, truck, large shed or an even bigger tree trunk base) - if it is a fairly substantial specimen which has been lodged - to pull the tree back to as close to the perpendicular, as possible.
Root Fungus Attack Risk For Lodged Fruit Trees With Partially Exposed Root Balls
*While it's worth trying to save a tree or shrub of high cash replacement value, or of special significance in our family history, be warned that attempting to save a lodged evergreen shrub or tree, especially an olive or citrus, may mean putting in time and effort which might only lead to disappointment, for - once their root systems are disturbed in any major way - many evergreen species are staring death in the face.
We must stake our trees properly, in preparation for the kind of crazy, wind bruising and buffeting weather endured across this week. A stake must be sufficient to prevent the still maturing tree from being lodged, or blown down.
Protect The Exposed Roots Of Lodged Trees From Fungal Attack With Potting Sand
* If you have that special family “tree of memories” which is well worth making the attempt to have saved, one way of helping to minimise the risk of fungus attacking the now exposed roots, is by using totally clean, fresh, absolutely non compost-contaminated or soil-tainted triple washed potting sand, to fill the opened gaps and spaces left exposed around the partially lifted root system.
It is recommended that - if possible - the sand used to fill the gaps between the roots and around the base of the tree first be cooked or baked on hot coals, or else be sterilized within a special "sand and soil oven", but few family gardeners will have access to dry wood, for an open fire, in such a season, or to professional soil baking nursery facilities.
Build Up The Sand Around The Partially Lodged Tree Base, To Cover the Entire Root Ball
*Mulch the site with potting sand before you come to stand or work around the tree or start to undertake the remedial tasks described above- covering the whole area with a fungus preventing sand mulch - building this mulch up to a level that will just cover the uppermost portion of the slightly lifted, raised root system of the partially lodged tree.
*Building up a sand retaining border – set around the tree – may be required, if the tree is leaning at a really pronounced angle, and where one side of the root ball has been lifted higher than 100 mm above the old, pre-existing ground level.
*If the tree has been blown down to an angle greater than thirty degrees - and one side of the root ball has been lifted higher than 300 mm above the old ground level – then saving the specimen many not be possible.
This Week with the Poultry Flock
“Mid Winter Blizzard Rescues For Your Flock”
It is snowing in Tasmania, as I start to write this week's mid-winter poultry column, but merely saying “it is snowing” is not really describing the actual present ultra-polar state of the weather, with any kind of useful image or accuracy.
It's not just snowing as I write: a blizzard is blasting down the south face of Mt Wellington even as come to this keyboard with the still-thawing fingers that were frozen totally numb - five minutes before - in the swift few moments it took to pick the shungiku and mizuna leaves wanted for my lunchtime sandwich, as well as for the daily flock greens.
The winter-greens foliage was just so cold to the touch it felt as if it had come straight out of a bucket of dry ice, and it says volumes for the common-sense of growing ice hardy Asian options - as our easy winter picking greens - in place of lettuce.
Farm and Garden Forage Hens That Are Bred For The Winter Cold
Our farm and garden, open forage bred Huon Blues and Barnevelders do not mind the snow, although each crop of new season's pullets needs a few hours of flurries to have the chance to get used to the idea of it.
I love to watch the younger, immature birds chasing about the litter yards and farm paddocks - when it snows for the first time, each winter - all the while laughing as I observe the first year layers trying to catch the already melting snowflakes in their beaks.
One imagines that the silly birds must be thinking - as they continue to chase the ever elusive bounty of their own peculiar kind of “cargo cult” delusion - of a kinder kind of poultry keeper, up in the clouds, who is shaking down some more of that sometimes supplied overcooked rice, once more, for their feed.
Essential, Extra Long and Insulating, Under Fluff
Hens can cope with extreme cold, during the day, okay, while they are moving about on the forage, and feeding.
They will cope with daytime cold exposure especially if they are bred - like the Huon Blue and Barnevelder - to have longer, warmer, self insulating layers of underfluff kept dry beneath the thicker, wider, longer, waxy, highly glossed and shining plates of the outer feather scales that overlap, snugly, like roof slates, forming a waterproof outer coat for the warmer poultry undergarments that are all kept dry beneath.
This essential thicker depth of feather fluff is a form of poultry underwear that is essential for survival in the heat of summer, as well as across a colder winter, but we will talk about the dual purpose role of the thicker feather underfluff – which I have purposely bred into my open forage farm and garden flocks - another time.
The critical colder winter difference factor for homeflock fowls – particularly for those breeds which lack the thicker, longer, especially bred, self insulating underfluff – is the quality of their warming winter mash, and the relative warmth and insulation factor provided by the night time safety shed or perching pens in which the flock returns, to roost.
The “Blizzard Booster” and “Rainstorm Rescue” Mashes
A video shot this morning - which Jo will post this weekend, on the Good Earth Subscribers group facebook site – shows me feeding the Huon Blues pullets and Black Barnevelder hens a brand new, specially concocted, ultra warming, mid winter “blizzard rescue” mash.
While the ordinary range of warming morning mashes (as described in my book on feeding fowls) will serve our flocks quite nicely, most winters, in Tasmania and across South- Eastern Australia, for the kind of sub-arctic polar season we have been having, in 2016, you need something with a little extra tang and bite, something fired up with some extra-boosted herbal health and ultra spicy punch, to help warm the hens, from inside-out.
One of the reasons why our 24 week old Huon Blue pullets have been laying like clockwork, each day, since June 20 – despite the rain and cold and snow and sleet - are the thrice weekly “Rainstorm Rescue” and “Blizzard Booster” internal organ-warming mashes which we have been feeding the flock, every other day, to help keep the fowls shining, inside, even if the sun won't come to light the outside parts of their day.
The recipes for my new “Rainstorm Rescue and “Blizzard Booster” mash mixes will appear in next week's Poultry Grounds piece, while we will be posting a video, on the that same weekend, showing you how the writer makes his own flock mashes, live, and in person!
Essential Insulation Factors in Our Winter Flock Roosting Sheds
Boosting mashes can help to bring on an earlier lay, and hen keep our early laying pullets producing through the coldest spells and winter blizzards - but only if the flock stays warm and cold protected, also, at night.
We need to keep our winter based poultry sleeping quarters insulated, but insulation protection is a quality which is often lacking in homebuilt pens and locally designed Australian chook sheds.
It is a shed-build factor which is missing - some people think - for a very good and justifiable reason, in those parts and places of the country set in a climate which experiences the long, hot, baking summers that Australia is so well noted for.
Such heat stress risk factor - which climate change is now making even longer, hotter and ever more dangerous for the fowls - should not be overlooked or ignored, but what many people forget is that a shed which is well insulated for the winter weather can be designed and built to be cooler, as well, in summer.
This double season, two sided insulation potential is all too often forgotten or ignored by those who still insist on buying or building those hideous kinds of single skinned, all-metal sheds – which conduct the solar heat, almost instantaneously, straight into the shed interiors – that can become a death cell for the birds that are caught and cooked, when left shut inside on a baking day.
All too often, in recent years, have I seen such sheds- often retailed as small bird aviaries, and then converted by their owners into chook houses -left standing out upon an urban lawn in the full merciless glare of the summer sun, while also being left devoid of any kind of shade protection.
Such all-tin, often kit built sheds can be utter death traps for our fowls.
Designed overseas, for a kinder climate, too often do such flat pack sheds come supplied with just one open, wire mesh panel, at the front, lacking any kind of flow-through ventilation port supplied for the sides and back of a unit which is often just one meter deep, and which - if the poultry keeper has made the mistake of positioning the shed to be facing full north, or north east, or worse, to the north-west, on a sun drenched back lawn, or in in an open site, across the full blast of summer - may be filled with sunshine that leaves the hens nowhere to hide or run, to escape the heat.
If you have bought such a flat pack, kit built, all-metal pen for your pullets, make sure you cut out 300 mm wide by 150 mm high ventilation slots in both the eastern and western facing sides, with a triple set of vents cut into the wider, south facing back panel – all set around 200 mm below the roof line, and make sure you cover these slots with 10 mm wire mesh covers, to prevent sparrows and starlings, as well as rats, cats, quolls and feral cats making an entry into the pen.
If you screw or bolt a wooden frame to the outside rim of each vent, then metal or wooden hinged or sliding shutters can then be fashioned, to keep the eastern, western and southern vents blocked, across colder winter days and nights.
Metal Sheds Are No Guarantee Against Red Mite
People have been building all metal sheds in Australia, for donkeys years, due to termite issues, on the mainland, and that is fair enough, though a metal clad shed with a termite prone, all wooden framework, rather seems to defeat the purpose of the metal cladding choices.
In Tasmania, however, potential termite impacts on timber built sheds are not an issue.
On this island we do not have the “dry wood” termite species - which can eat away the timber frames of building and structures, so swiftly, across so many parts of mainland Australia - yet many Tasmanian poultry keepers still build or buy all-metal sheds, citing a superior form of parasite proofing, but that is a very dubious and debatable claim.
As I have discussed in other columns, at this site, metal cladding offers no guaranteed defence against mite, as I have found red mite nesting between closely overlapping pieces of dusty corrugated iron and sheet metal.
Warmer Winter Quarters For A Better Winter Lay
While you can't beat feeding out a good hot “Blizzard Booster”to the fowls - even as the snow flakes are peppering their backs - a rescue mash is only one half of the answer to the issue of keeping our new pullets laying, as well as helping to bring the older birds back into lay, sooner, in the spring - after such a remarkably wet and colder winter as we have been having, in 2016.
The number one secret, beyond specially boosted mashes, to better late winter and early to mid spring laying for all breeds of fowl - and for all ages of birds - are warmer night quarters for the flock.
The kind of really well insulated, double panelled, draught proof, shuttered tight, cosy and convivial night quarters – of the kind which you often see on offer for flocks being kept in the northern hemisphere - are rarely provided for homeflock fowls in Australia.
Safely Heat Vented Australian Standard Summer Sheds May Not Make Warmer Winter Quarters
Our number one climate issue, in the “antipodes” is ensuring that the perching space in sheds is sufficiently airy and open, being ventilated well enough to provide the kind of free air movement required by hens which - in most parts of this island continent (including Tasmania) - may have to endure a run of nights above 28 degrees C in mid-summer temperatures: nightly readings which might be following in the wake of many days rising well above the 38 degrees centigrade mark.
Nothing will kill a daytime, pre heat-stressed, night perching hen faster and more surely than having her head stuck up high within a stifling, stratified level of hot stuffy air that is trapped beneath the roof of a night pen which lacks sufficient cross ventilation openings.
As a result of this higher risk of critical summer heat-risk factors for fowls in Australian home flocks, many family keepers tend to build the freely vented, standard kind of twelve foot wide by by eight foot deep (9 sq meters) by six foot six inches (two meters) high, litter on earth floored, low angled, skillion roofed chook shed which has become an icon of the outback and wider Australian rural landscape.
The Universal, All Australian Standard Outback Chook Shed
This classic kind of all Aussie poultry out-house is usually sheathed with fence planks and recycled weatherboards, or with those too familiar battered sheets of buckled metal which represent a third-time-reinterpreted, triple-generation tip-rescued, well holed and tar speckled, many times painted, corrugated “tin” or galvanising roofing.
Being fully enclosed to the west and south, but having solid sheathing reaching up only to hip level on its eastern and northern sides - with the outside nest box set in the north-eastern corner, and the door beside it - the standard Australian outback farm and garden chook shed will have a dusty, top netted, open run attached to its eastern face, and will be using “galv” wire netting for the upper half of eastern and northern walled sides of a universal farm flock shed design that has been copied and repeated, all across this country, for the past one hundred years and more.
Because the nesting box hangs on an outside wall, with perches bolted to the shed rafters, and are left hanging - to be swung up out of the way when the litter is being removed or renewed, or when maintenance cleaning is under way - it's the kind of open spaced, empty shelled, non cluttered poultry pen design which I have recommended, for years, as an easy-build, easy-clean, low maintenance poultry house design.
All of these easy care features leave us keeping our fowls within a an everyday sensible, universal kind of no fuss, simple-build, single-skinned, non insulated, easy-care design of shed that can be cooled and shaded by overhanging trees outside: usually planted to the west and south.
It has become an Australian standard because its fully vented, cross-shed, open air movement is essential to our flock survival on those warm, sultry, still and clouded, muggy summer nights which are such a risk for homeflock hens.
Such heat stress dangers are increased especially for older, heavier birds as well as for ultra-high-lay younger commercial hybrid pullets that have become exhausted by their greed-bred, egg producing efforts - and taken right to the edge of the critical heat-stress zone - across a lengthened run of still and stultifying, baking days.
Where Strength Becomes A Weakness
This kind of open, single skinned, multi vented, partly-open shed design is perfect for the outback heat and for milder weather in autumn and spring, but it has one major, inbuilt, open winter chill weakness which – in this country and climate - usually becomes apparent only across the sort of extra-cold, unusually polar-inspired kid of English winter we have been having - for that one year in ten, in S.E Australia - this year, in 2016.
Don't fret, however, for I have four easy winter chilled chook shed solutions on offer - to help you cover the winter chill design flaws of your own structure – should you have the kind of ultra-aussie-outback chook shed that I have been describing.
They are, in brief:
- The Cubby House Sub-Shed Solution
- The Winter-Spring Then Summer Combustible or Compostable Inner Shed Lining Option
- The Extra Cosy Winter-Quarters Alternative.
- The Ultimate Post-Election Discard Insulation Sheeting Rescue.
We will look, in detail, at each easier option, next week.
This Week in the Poultry Grounds
Multi-Purpose Floating Rafts For Rain and Flock-Forage Resistant Litters
It rains and rain and still keeps on raining, here in Tasmania, with all of last year's entire twelve months of rainfall now dumped upon our poultry grounds and gardens, in just six weeks!
The Huon is in flood again, busy “running a banker” now at lower levels where the overspilling flood margins of the river are meeting the waters cascading down from the hills and upland slopes as every runnel, dip, crevice and channel fills to supply an overspill that is now running in sheets, across the ground, cutting into the soil and coursing down and around obstructions to be taken into places where – in thirty years at the farm - I have not ever seen the run-off waters go streaming in their spread, before.
One of those new lines of overland flow has cut its course almost sideways down and along the contours of my poultry grounds - as it has dug in and around several crests and what should he been deflecting slopes - to scour a line that now bisects the ground covered by of two of our larger, permanent, netted spring and summer breeding yards for the hens.
I chose the site of those yards for the way in which the slope was supposed to divert any potential runoff waters away and around a long, gentle, south east sloping fall of the land.
One is not best pleased, then, by the mini scree-field of mud and litter left spread in the wake of what people are calling a “once in one hundred years winter” of floods and gales, though the gathering pace of climate change soon might make a pure nonsense out of all such declarations.
While a few hours of shallow dyke and channel work - building bungs to be planted down to ground holding Tree Lucerne, or Tagasaste, in the spring - will ensure that such an overland flow inundation exercise is not repeated on that particular piece of higher ground, right now we must do something about the fact that the breeding yards will not dry out for months to come, yet must be sorted to suit the breeding season that is just about upon us.
The litter that was present in the yards had been rendered useless - swamped out by the mud and mush - good only for the longer term purpose of leaving it buried for the worms to work and weather, underground, in time to produce some premium humus, by the end of next summer – but that ultimate beneficial outcome does nor help us in our more immediate needs.
For the present, we had to lime and then bury the slush beneath something cleaner, drier, and far healthier for the hens to work and scratch in their daily forage.
What was needed in those yards - last weekend - was a quick, bulk, on site solution, as there were more than 200 square meters of squelch to deal with, and you could send a whole convoy of truckloads of pine bark mulch down south, yet still not have sufficient for one's needs.
Jo' s most inspired use of bush mulch was a real godsend, as the bush built litter was gathered and used exactly as it was naturally layered and tangled - left all piled across the span of years, gathering height beneath the gum tree stands – and os one of those delightfully elegant, double ended, pereculturally logical tasks which serves two essential purposes, in the one act.
Gathering that litter provides a much needed interim source of mulch relief for the poultry yards at the same time as its shifting clears away a potential fire hazard of bush debris that was beginning to pile way too high, so close to the cottage and the poultry pens.
The raft solution is a wonderful answer to our farm flooded yards because you do not have to do anything to the litter (except shift it a few yards) in using its natural composite mix of long and shorter lengths of branch and bark sheet, and of coarse and finer particles of bush mulch, to build a “floating” raft” of quite light and airy, but tightly interwoven, chook-claw rip-resistant mulch laid right above the silt and flood-mud level of the yards.
Different Litter For Different Needs, at Different Times, In Different Settings
No one would think – after writing so many recent columns on the best means and mulch materials for rapid poultry-yard conversion into compost – that I would now be praising the more stable and inert, forage-scratch and spread-resistant, qualities of a poultry mulch.
It's all a matter of horses for courses, of finding the right mix for the right purpose.
There are times when we want out poultry litters to be as open and friable and as freely shifting as possible - to aid the work of the fowls in turning and throwing and converting that litter into a rich dark, swiftly composting growing medium - and there are times when we want a litter for its “holding and stopping” qualities, a time when we need the mulch to be able to hold its ground, to be able to resist the forage work and impact of the poultry flocks.
A Longer Term, Scratch-Resistant Surface Litter T Protect Young Trees in Larger Runs
Jo's floating raft of litter is a great innovation in the poultry grounds as it can be used for two distinctly different purposes.
Firstly, the bush raft can be used as a longer-term “scratch and toss resistant” top layer, a semi-permanent protective cover of tightly interwoven branches, bark, leaves and native grass fragments that will help protect newly planted trees and shrubs open to the occasional possible scratch impacts of just a few hens left free, by day, to wander a larger area of open forage.
Secondly, the floating raft of tangled bush litter can be used as a shorter term solution for flooded poultry composting yards, being set down as a base layer of mud separating material, one that will support a finer particled, working forage-litter spread on top of a woven “bushwork bench” which will still prevent the fowls from digging their way down into the mud and slush that has been buried, left lying underneath the floating layer.
Where Nature Does the Basket Work For Us
The true beauty in this bush litter raft material method is that nature does all of the more patient, finer, art and craft work of interweaving the mutually supporting litter fibres and layers for us.
Across the last few weeks we have been using such a litter at the farm, exactly as it was deposited, shifting great wide pads of the stuff - that is moved by being lifted onto the end of a long handled, round-tyned pitching fork – over onto a ground sheet, or into the special cattle-barley grain sled converted from a re-intrepreted wheel-barrow bucket.
A sled is a much better tool for moving materials down the kind of winter slippery-slope we have been crossing in our recent works – the sort of “slide slope” which would see a heavily loaded wheeled buggy or barrow wanting to run away from you - or down into you - as it is pushed or pulled towards the work site.
Thus does a bush litter raft – one that has been pre-built and all inter-tangled and woven across the seasons - form a perfect “rough brushed carpet” of intertwined bark, branches, leaves, weeds, seeds, grits and gumnuts that typically collect and tangle around the base of any large, mature Stringybark or ribbon barked Eucalyptus woodland species.
A Perfect Summer Mulch for Blackbird Hunted Urban Fruiting Shrubs and Trees
If you leave this magic bush-carpet in place for twelve months or more - to cover flooded winter yards, while acting as the kind of free draining, breathing, rain percolating layer whose function and importance have been described elsewhere, on these pages – then, over time, it will become transformed into the most perfect coarser, darker, yet still inter-layered and blackbird-scratch resistant, roughly graded, composted medium of a kind which makes the very best form of surface summer mulch for fruiting trees, bushes and vines.
That's what I like best: a multi-purpose litter medium which has just as many applications, at the end point - once broken down and weathered – as it serves different needs and functions, at first use.