Taking sustainability to the next level

Hi All,

Don’t you hate people that tell you what you should be doing…that gesticulate grandly and proceed to espouse their perfect plan for the world and how they know just about everything…I call them the felt hatted brigade…they seem to be overrepresented in every single community meeting where anything about sustainability, environmentalism or alternative life in general is being discussed and tend to hog the floor with their wonderful ideas…theories and proceed to vote down anyone who has any ideas that differ from theirs…the felt hatted brigade are “Sayers”…they want to be in charge, in control and in your way (but when it comes time to doing anything they are suddenly most conspicuous by the absence…)…I would rather eat my own feet than become a felt hatter and sit back in my armchair telling you about how fantastic I am because I am trying to do something sustainable and how terrible you all are because you are not living off the grid and grinding your own corn between your original 1970’s Birkenstocks… I hate hypocrisy more than I hate felt hatters (and cyclists for that matter…the felt hatters tend to arrive at their meetings on bikes…). I want to be a “Doer”, rather than a “Sayer” and that’s why we are throwing ourselves, admittedly…sometimes dubiously and often dragging our feet…into living what we say. Today we headed out under the rain filled clouds and stood looking at a trailer load of dried oak leaves. What could we do to ensure that this trailer load of leaf futures was going to break down quickly to become something that we could add to our spring veggie gardens? Ok brain… let’s see if we can’t actually remember some of that horticulture stuff that got crammed into you over the last few years… Leaves = good. Ok…that’s a start…we have the leaves and now we just need to work out how to keep them from flying away in the breeze whilst value adding them ready for the garden…hmmm…my initial idea was to build a cairn of rocks (rocks being freely overrepresented on Serendipity Farm both above AND below the soil…) and tip the trailer load of leaves into this cairn and cover it with a tarp over winter and allow nature to do its stuff. A good idea but it would involve constructing a cairn and finding a way to keep the chooks out of the delightful pile of insect hiding leaves…our chooks are clever girls and good luck to me stopping them scratching their way in!

Steve being VERY patient with my newfound need to photograph everything to do with what we are doing at the moment in the garden…

Using an enormous plastic bag that Glad got with her mattress to transfer oak leaf futures from the trailer and too their new home

An old copper fire hydrant that we found in one of the outbuildings on the property has apparently piqued Steve’s artistic desires… not too sure what this represents but with the amount of rain that we have been having lately it might come in useful should anything decide to spontaneously combust

Ok…cairn + leaves + chooks = bad…it was about then that Steve decided to come up with some ideas…the first being “let’s lug that USELESS mulcher out to the garage from under the house and mulch the leaves smaller so that they don’t take up so much room”… very clever idea! (I KNEW I kept you around for something…) so he lugged the mulcher…we plugged it in…we started it up and dutifully shoved handfuls of leaves into its gaping metal chugging maw… and discovered 2 things

1. The mulcher is indeed USELESS and can’t even chop leaves up and indeed set fire to the leaves it refused to spit out in a vain attempt to drive me to abject apoplexy and 2. It would take us a day to alternately shove the leaves in…clear out the aforementioned fire from the mulcher at regular intervals (mulcher + leaves + fire + electricity = VERY bad!) and in the process we would spend more in electricity than we would pay for a trailer load of mulch!

Here is the offending mulcher.

This (supposed) mulcher is SUPPOSED to be able to handle branches with a 5cm diameter…these are “Dry Leaves”…even a 6 month old baby could do some considerable damage to them…

Steve’s ingenious idea to put an old chicken food bag under the hopper to catch the newly shredded leaves…

Ok so it did manage to mangle a few leaves…but what you can’t see here is the smoke coming from the base of the unit where it declined to expel said mangled leaves and decided to set fire to them instead! “HELP…FIRE…”

Tipping the smouldering leaves (that it took the mulcher an inordinate amount of time to mulch, let alone set fire too) out of the mulcher

My new opinion of the mulcher…

The only part of the mulcher that I saw fit to rescue…I am currently wearing this in my hair plait! Steve can repurpose as much of it as he feels like he wants to but as far as I am concerned…its going to the Beaconsfield Tip Shop!

Mulcher + leaves = fire + apoplexy. Our next trip to the tip is going to be to take this monstrosity to its final resting place! Steve’s next idea had more merit (and less hard work…fire and apoplexy potential…) “why don’t we throw some of the leaves into the compost heap?”… That’s a GREAT idea! 1/3rd of the trailer got shovelled off and into the compost heap to be covered with some chopped up green waste in the near future… 2/3rd of a trailer left…what to do…ok, Steve isn’t a 1 trick pony and came up with another idea! “Let’s throw some in with Bob in the outdoor enclosed chook area so that the chooks can scratch them around and break them down whilst nitrogenising them at the same time!”…Oh MAN you are on a roll Steve…so another 1/3rd of the 2/3rd of a trailer that was left got shovelled into a large plastic mattress bag that Glad next door gave us to use to collect the leaves from her ditch and put them into our trailer in the first place. She generously gave it to us and we are making good use of it still. I am USELESS at maths so I can only guess that what we have left in the trailer at this point is about 6/9th so let’s just say that we still have a fair pile of oak leaf futures in the trailer at this point along with 1 very happy chicken who has been confined for her own good due to over molestation by a rooster who is living on very VERY thin ice at the moment…Steve has now become our local sage because he took his outdoor enclosure idea further and suggested that we throw the rest of the leaves into the chicken coop under where they all roost at night and allow them to become pecked, shredded and nitrogenised at the same time so that when it came time for me to clear out the leaves (and hay underneath) we could add them straight into the veggie gardens to overwinter and mature. You can’t use chicken manure green (fresh) because it can actually burn plants because it is so very high in nitrogen so we are careful to compost it before we use it anywhere. So we had an empty trailer, a very happy hen, a chook roost full of oak leaves and a compost bin replete with a good proportion of carbon to be topped off with enough nitrogen to get it all ruminating around and cooking nicely. I LOVE being a doer! It’s so very satisfying to accomplish things and as naturally lazy as I am, I no longer take great delight in spending days on end doing nothing when I could be outside or inside making, learning or doing something productive.

A nice layer of dry carbon to top the clematis prunings that were starting to take over the deck and voila…the compost heap is full again!

You can see one of our first girls in the far nest doing her level best to ignore me putting leaves into the roost. The little fellow staring at me is one of Houdini’s last 7 babies…all of which are still alive and most of them are roosters including this little man. I give him his credit…none of houdini’s 12 (now 11 since “Little Red Rooster” was summarily dispatched due to an overexuberant desire to crow our neighbour Frank into frosty upheaval…) have crossed the line to moving from “outside” to “inside” apart from heading in occasionally to eat. This little man is being VERY brave and after I put these leaves into the coop he spent a happy 20 minutes scratching around through them. Enjoy your time while you can little man…

The close proximaty of the compost bin to the chook coop is NOT an accident. Its a whole lot easier to shovel the chickens most gracious nitrogen deposits and their spent bedding hay into the compost bin when its right outside their door. You can just about see the oak leaves on the floor inside…still got to throw more into where the hen is nesting yet…

Ok, so a hen can only be so brave…

This is the outdoor enclosed coop area, not that its used much because our hens are truely free ranging and get let out when we get up and head back at nightfall (aside from Houdini’s remaining 11 that is the oldest 4 girls roost in a large conifer and the youngest 7 roost WHO KNOWS where they roost…sigh…) and the blue tarp is covering a little structure that we used to house Effel and her 12 babies that we had to move from the front of the property up to the roost because we are NOT going to be having any more ferals…Effel still has 7 babies now and they are starting to be very pretty but today poor overmolested Bob is being kept safe from her would be rapist assailant who spends his days sneaking up on her. You can’t see Bob here because Bob is naturally suspicious of most things (rightly so) and so she is around behind the blue tarp hiding…

“Well done Steve!” Not just a pretty face…and a nice empty trailer all ready to head off to Glads and pick another enormous load of oak leaf futures.

And there’s Bob! Everything is ticketyboo on Serendipity Farm 🙂

I opened up a 5kg sack of dog biscuits and had a look at the sad little generic discs that tumbled into my dog biscuit storage container…they smelled like they contained predominately bone meal and some form of grain. Dog food isn’t subject to any form of compliance aside from ensuring that what it says on the side of the packet regarding the energy/protein etc. ratios are somewhat accurate so who would know what goes into man’s best friend (and Earl’s) regular nibble? I decided that aside from the packet that has to be thrown away being made of unrecyclable plastic (BOOO! To the manufacturer…) that our boys deserve better than that. They only eat these biscuits when they are trying to make me feel guilty for feeding them something that they are suspicious of or when one of us heads off and leaves the other here with the dogs…in other words, they eat them to spite us and to make us feel guilty. I am always up for a challenge and so headed off to my best mate “the internet” to find out if I could take minced meat, combine it with some form of healthy grain and end up with something that would be better for the boys AND would be better for the environment… if I could get our fussy dogs to eat it so much the better! I ended up finding this site…


These dogs eat better than some third world humans! Anyway…I scrolled down the page and found the recipe for “Bake your own crunchy dog biscuits” and checking the ingredients I figured that I could sub fine chicken mince from our local pet food shop for the sausage mince and instead of garlic granules I used nutritional yeast and I didn’t bother with the water, I just kneaded the mince into equal proportions of wholemeal flour and voila…a gazillion dog biscuits AND the dogs beg for them! I am paying the same amount for the chicken mince and wholemeal flour as I am for the branded dog biscuits and I know exactly what is going into them. I am going to mess about with this recipe. I am going to add grated root veggies to these cookies and I am going to stop buying the dog food that travels thousands of kilometres to get to me and that does sweet bugger all for my dogs (aside from giving them an “out” for their doggy angst against my tyrannical rule…). A win-win situation for me, the dogs AND the environment…a true red letter day for sustainability on Serendipity Farm

An enormous glass jar full of dog biscuits…

They are an “interesting” shape because I made them into round discs and then decided to break them up further. The next time I make them I will use the bone shaped biscuit cutter that I bought specifically for this purpose but COMPLETELY forgot about when I was making these dog biscuits…sigh…

Just a very quick aside here for all of you Americans…biscuits are what you call cookies…scones are what you call biscuits…the lord only knows why you couldn’t just use the good old English word for them but it does cause no end of confusion when we are hunting around online for recipes!…these are good old Aussie Dog “Biscuits” not cookies…feel free to call them whatever you like if you choose to make them as our uber fussy dogs can’t get enough of them…

I just thought that you might like to see a REALLY big picture of them…you can almost see the nutritional goodness in them can’t you? 😉

As you can see…they are actually desirable to dogs…our boys are uber fussy and for the last 2 days have been refusing their dinner because they have crammed themselves full of these biscuits in preference! Now we can make our own dog biscuits and we can even use our own roosters to do so if we have to dispatch tough old birds thats one less plastic bag a fortnight and a whole lot of satisfaction knowing exactly what we are feeding to our boys. Taking sustainability to the next level? We are blasting it out of the stratosphere! 😉

We loaded up our trailer with all of the rusted up heaps of chicken wire that my dad had for some reason decided to encircle the entire side garden with and staked into the ground with various chunks of wire ranging from coat hangers through tent pegs…fire pokers and most interestingly an old pogo stick! Aside from marvelling at the why’s and wherefores of my father’s gardening skills (or lack therein) we had to get rid of the tangled mass of debris and the local tip recycles metal so after adding a bag of shed rubbish and various bottles, bags etc. that the chooks have been kindly digging up in the garden (cheers dad!) and topping the teetering pile with 3 armchairs…1 that Earl redesigned with his teeth and 2 that we bought with the dogs new sofa and we couldn’t use in the house, strapped them all down and headed over to Beaconsfield to walk the boys and visit the tip. Beaconsfield has a thriving tip shop and so the chairs should find a new home, the metal will be collected and taken for scrap metal recycling in Georgetown and the few bags of sundry shed rubbish will head off to landfill…we spend a lot of time trying to find ways to recycle, reuse and repurpose just about everything that we can (so much so that I have bags waiting for my first attempt at plastic lamination waiting in my pantry cupboard until I get up the nerve…) but there is inevitably a bag of waste that has to head to the tip. At least we are trying to minimise it I guess. We also wait until we have a full trailer to go to the tip with so that we are not wasting fuel, or a tip pass on anything other than a full load. We also wait and walk the dogs at the same time to make sure that we do as much as we can while we are over there. It’s funny how our habits have changed since we moved out here and how we now think and do so many different things to when we lived in the city. I really love finding out other people’s ways of dealing with waste and debris. Christi who lives on the border of Washington and Canada in the USA, of “farmlet.wordpress.com” blogging fame told me about how her grandmother used chicken gizzards and lamented her wasting them. A most bodacious blogger living the Spanish dream “chicaandaluza.wordpress.com” who along with Christi is a fellow compatriot of the worldwide school of sustainable real living, told me that chicken gizzards are highly prized in Spain…Now we just need to get together and work out some of the recipes that Christi’s gran and Tanya’s fellow Spanish compatriots would have used to turn our gizzard waste into food futures saving a wasted opportunity to use this resource that Christi and I both find ourselves inundated with of late. The sharing of information, tips, hints and recipes is what makes blogging imminently satisfying and ultimately profitable to the information highway and anyone who wants to find out how to do things. My rss feed is cram packed full of totally amazing blogs and websites that someone out there decided to create for the purposes of sharing what they know. I can’t even begin to thank all of you caring, sharing people out there because most of what I know about what we need to do to survive, and thrive on Serendipity Farm comes from people like you and I am using my newfound skills wisely young padawan’s!

Just to finish up I have 2 photos of the dogs and their happy places. Bezial loves to lay on the mat just inside the sliding door that leads out to the deck. He surfs the sunbeams and can often be found laying on his back and twitching his legs fast asleep while he is chasing dream rabbits

This is the little sofa that we bought along with 2 armchairs (now at the tip shop in Beaconsfield) that fits perfectly on the tiles next to the wood burning stove. This is Earl’s newfound favourite place to lay and despite us not being able to trust him with the cushions for long periods of time he is the picture of doggy happiness whenever he can leave off nibbling the cushions for 10 minutes or so


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anthropogen
    Jun 17, 2012 @ 00:21:57

    If I ever make it to Tasmania I’ll have to drop by and visit Serendipity Farms (maybe with a few stray Moringa seeds accidentially in my pocket), your endeavors look more and more interesting every day. P.S. My brother is working on building a 1-3 person bicycle – powered mulcher… I’ll keep you posted.


    • narf77
      Jun 17, 2012 @ 09:07:57

      Tell your brother I bow to him! He can harness people power, sell subscriptions in advance for his mulcher (who needs the gym when you can feel sanctimonious about your personal endeavours for greening the world whilst getting buff at the same time? May as well take advantage of the smugs lol) AND make a fortune selling the patents…I have tried hard to get viable Moringa seed online but they never germinate and my guess is that they are probably garbage seed 😦 Tasmania is pretty hard to get anything into as we don’t have foxes like the mainland…honey problems like mainland hives or termites and fruit flies like the mainland and they want to keep it that way. Oh well…we will just have to get adventurous and go hunting further afield for weird and wonderful seeds, scion material and cuttings. You would be amazed at what Tasmanians throw out and take for granted! (native Tasmanians are very closely related to rednecked hillbillies…sigh…) and while we were at the tip dumping some blackberries we found approximately 150 strawberry plants that had been dumped…what a bonus! Now I have instand ground covers for part of our plan! 🙂 Now I am going to attempt to grow some chia (like you mentioned), some amaranth and some quinoa. No idea how it will go but at least I can trial it. I was reading about Pistachia vera and found out that they need a period of chilling before they will set the nuts and that there is a farm in Western Australia (my home state) selling Pistachio nut kits to small farmers…might have to use some of the rocky and hilly back block for more than olives and figs! Cheers for all your amazing posts sharing some of the worlds most interesting ethnobotanical trees and prospective small agroforestry products. We are very interested as you just don’t hear about these things unless someone like yourself posts about them. I am going to pass your site on to a student where I am studying who is really interested in ethnobotony especially psychotropic plants and he is going to LOVE it 🙂


  2. Soulsby Farm - A Very Small Farm
    Jun 17, 2012 @ 23:54:31

    I want to get a chipper!


    • narf77
      Jun 18, 2012 @ 06:34:59

      Hey Mr. Soulsbyfarm…cheers for the comment and you are WELCOME to it! I will even pay you $20 crisp plastic Australian dollars to take it off my hands…the postage might make it somewhat expensive and the fact that it does sweet BUGGER ALL to process any of the debris that you would be wanting to chip, but hey…there is good and bad in everything and the only thing missing from it is the little elastic bit that holds bags on the bottom bit as that is in my hair! 😉


  3. christiok
    Jun 18, 2012 @ 05:35:49

    I feel your pain over that mulcher, Fran. Ug. Nothing worse than crummy machinery. And I love that you found all those strawberry plants at the tip (which we just call “the dump”, but I think the tip is so much nicer:) We are just now picking strawberries from the hoophouse and they are so good. And very good ground-cover, too, I’d guess. By the way, I used the chicken innards of our last store-bought chicken in my chicken soup broth, and it is was good. Richer. Then I gave the boiled innards to Ruby the dog and she was stunned and very happy. Win, win, win:)


    • narf77
      Jun 18, 2012 @ 06:31:03

      Well done on the gizzards Christi…we are going to do the same and the intestiney bits that can’t be put into soup are going to be burried (when we can find a bit of soil to do that in lol) for enriching the soil. That mulcher is toast! We are working out where to put all of the strawberries but my idea is to plant them out into the garden and cover them with some chicken wire to give them a good start. At the moment, everything edible is getting sampled by various wildlife and the other day an Eastern spotted quoll, an endangered member of the Tasmanian Devil family had a go at one of our poor ducks. She is still alive but it tried to take her off at the neck! the ducks have most wisely decided to start sleeping in the locked coop with the hens!


  4. Allotment adventures with Jean
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 05:59:28

    Love reading about your chickens and the rooster who thinks he’s Rudolph Valentino. I followed the saga about the oak leaves with interest and admire your fortitude. Should make great compost once it’s rotted down. Love your doggie bed. In the right place, near the stove, especially during the winter.


    • narf77
      Jun 19, 2012 @ 06:24:24

      Hi Jean 🙂 The rooster is now sitting in a pool of stock 😦 He was terrorising our chickens and one of them hadn’t come out of the coop in days for fear of him killing her with “love”. We already have a kingpin (Big Yin) who is a wonderful caring rooster and this young fellow was very big and actually hurt some of the chickens so he had to come to an untimely end! We have last years oak leaf mould that reduced down incredibly to the most delicious leaf compost that we are hoarding to add to our new veggie garden bed soil and Earls bed is his castle…aside from the fact that right now at 6.25am he has taken over OUR bed and poor Steve is laying upside down to keep a bit of doona! 😉


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