Tag Archives: Farm Life

Evolving design: backyard farm with permaculture design ideas

It’s fair to say that I’m still learning a lot about the micro-climate of our back garden after five years of growing here.  I’m also still learning a lot about permaculture by revisiting and thinking about the principles a lot.

With the chickens now a new part of it, I did a quick messy sketch, to review where things are at, and to think about where things are going.


The chicken coop is located in shadiest spot of the garden, on the lower level, underneath a large lillypilly tree.  This is also a favourite climbing tree for our children. I like the feel of this as the central point of the garden, and there are tomatoes shoved in underneath the plum tree nearby, and anywhere there is a spare space, so the edges are suitable mixed.

With temperatures at the moment over 40 degrees for many days in a row, shade is really important for chickens, so having the tree as shelter was obvious, but the location decision was made simple because there was no room anywhere else.

With the chickens now involved in the garden, planting around their coop for shade is important (currently using hessian and shadecloth attached to the wire) as the summer sun rises over the hills in the east then bakes both levels of our garden.

So my thinking is a comfrey border around the chicken yard, and much more vertical space for climbing fruits and trying out some berries. Also mulching over the invasive lawn on the lower lever and putting in more raised beds at some stage would be great.

The south-eastern corner is the wild zone. There are native trees, and some drought tolerant plants including hollyhocks, protea, native violet and grasses that provide sheltered passage from the moss-rock wall where blue-tongue lizards are often seen. You can often hear and see them crunching over dry leaves going to and fro. Between the rocks are tough plants including natives like wooly bush, running postman climber alongside pincushion and king protea to attract birds.

The only struggle is the baking hot summer sun on the raised veggie beds, so insulating them a little is in my thoughts too. The two beds that are wicking beds fair better in the south-eastern corner, but the one near the gravel garden struggles.

I feel very contented now the chickens are here, no eggs for a little while yet, but their personalties are already making a huge impact.

And… the fig tree we planted into a barrel has baby figs!!

Branch by branch: backyard chickens

I can hear it. That sound, of happiness and curiosity that I’ve missed so much. Those dark intelligent eyes and witty ways. Absent from my daily life for five years.

Three chickens joined the garden yesterday, and my heart is brim full. Still cautious and alert in their new surroundings, so only a quick photograph snapped of Chickpea:


This morning was the first morning they were there when I went out into the garden (usually around 5:30am).  Part of my routine  in the veg garden was attending to them and it’s hard to describe the feeling of happiness. It just seems to be part of sunrise, part of life, part of the rhythm of morning, to be greeted by chickens.  It feels like an age old tradition, marking the dawn and dusk.

From memories of their presence in past times on the farm, to travel memories;  disembarking an overnight train from the hot hustle-bustle of Mumbai, up towards the cool mountains and on first stepping off the long haul journey of the night,  emerging out of the hot train to the cool sound of happy chickens on the train platform. They are just a delightful presence. Eggs are a bonus, I’m in it for their personalities. 🙂

I love how chickens so aptly, make you feel like a stupid human too. Chickpea has already proven that she is the clever one. Escape from the pen is a simple task by leaping up onto the roof. They will soon free range with supervision, but in these first few days making sure they know the coop is their base is important.  So this morning was quickly rigging up some rooftop discouragement and coaxing her back into the pen with a freshly-picked strawberry. She will already come close if she sees me with a strawberry. Today I sacrificed a lot of strawberries for new friendships.

There are three ladies, all big and beautiful Australorps. Chickpea is black, Betty is a blue and Penelope is a splash. They came from a local family-run farm property five minutes away and you could tell the owner loves and cares for her chickens. Although alert to their surroundings, they are surprisingly calm.

They will be such an important step in the garden in terms of contributing to the slow progress of permaculture design. It’s actually working now, I can feel it, but I can always see ways of using the space better and learning something new about what I’ve observed. Creating some vertical growing spaces are in my thoughts as well as planting crops near the new coop.

Oh, and every new coop needs a name, so that was made very early this morning.

the bothy

I am just finally able to feel it – it’s a backyard farm. Things grow here.

Tree planting day

Update- June 2008
Plans are underway in my head to organise a planting this year to add grasses and ground covers to the site. The trees that were planted are looking really great and I’ll add a photograph here very soon to show their growth in the last two years.

Update- April 2007
Even with the harsh meanness of this past summer, we have estimated roughly a 50% survival rate of the tree plantings without any supplemental watering. This is really very very good and shows how well all our helpers planted them.

Richard and Angela’s tree planting day

Saturday 12th August 2006

Saturday 12th August turned out be a beautiful sunny spring day, perfect for releasing some trees into the wild.

Early on the planting day

Our faithful volunteers arrived, shovels in hands probably wondering why we had chosen not to mention that the planting site was just short of Himalayan altitudes, as hinted at below.

Ok, so it’s wasn’t that bad, but after 3.5 hours I was glad the sun was setting and we could get onto flat ground. It looks like we planted about 120 trees which is brilliant.

It was really cool to see something happen so quickly on the farm. Usually, Richard and I work for hours and see nothing. Having some friends mad enough to give up their Saturday for an afternoon on the slopes with shovel in hand and a fair bit of crawling around was fantastic. It is truly humbling.

Surely Richard and I owe them all a day of hard gardening at their places in return, so thanks go out to: Roxanne, Sarah, Zoe, Craig and Graham for all their hard work and for giving up their Saturday.

Molly and Elf also flap and ear and wave a paw in friendly greetings to Molly & Stanley, their new dog friends.

We finished off the evening with a campfire at which a few family and friends with handy excuses to pop in after the planting arrived, but that was nice. We know Saturdays are really precious so we are even more humbled that people sacrificed theirs for the sake of planting some trees or coming up for the campfire. As I’m writing, there is a good downpour of rain outside so I think all will be well in the new forest.

The only energetic task of the night was leaving the fire to rummage around in the dark for adequate toasting sticks. My favourite quote overhead on the night was “Marshmallows are a food group”. See, it’s true, campfires always bring out the inner philospher in people. Rumour was that a certain folk band might turn up to play a tune or two, but this was not to be, so since everyone was too weary to object, it seemed only right to subject everyone to my crappy compilation cd’s, who needs a subwoofer when you have a steel barn to amplify your tunes!

Reports from my sources suggest that the campfire was a particularly well stoked one, its smokey molecules lingering on fibre and hair for days. Hmmm….

But … surely that’s what farm life is all about, getting dirty and smelly and eating charcoal for dinner.

The sky is falling…

“Well, it’s been a while since I…”  –> this a phrase I’m overly familiar with at the moment, but indeed it has been a while since I wrote.

I can’t complain though, it’s a beautiful but time consuming role of mothering a 7 and a half month old that keeps me busy, but I still find time for the animals – just not as much as they were accustomed to.

We have just returned home having been overseas on 5 week UK jaunt. As no one would be staying at the farm this time, deciding what to do with all our animals was a major feat of planning. We decided the only quick way to handle our flock of chickens was sadly to sell them – including Rajiv our handsome rooster.  We did however, decide to keep Rose, the Sussex Hen.  Rose, along with the dogs Molly and Elf, seven cows and a goat all went to our friends place. Imagine releasing such a menagarie on your friends!!  Incredibly, they still want to be our friends after 5 weeks with our mad animals.  Apparently all were well behaved!!

Gandalf looked after the farm and had visits from my mum.

We were able to bring Rose and the dogs home on our first weekend back, but ass you can imagine, transporting a goat and seven cows requires a little more organisation, so we’ll be bringing them home soon. The farm is eerily quiet.

I’ve also been worried about Rose this past week, as she’s been a lone chicken with no little friends to scratch around with. So today, I bought two little brown hens to be her friends.  Fionna helped pick them out (I think).  Richard has called his Betty and I’ve named the other ‘Henny Penny’ (“Goodness gracious me! The sky is falling”) – so that I can read the book to Fionna. 😉

Mood: Sad. Merlin has gone to the wild roads …

Merlin has left this world.

When I moved to the UK in 1998 to live with Richard, I endured three months without a pet (the first time in my life without an animal) before we finally decided to adopt a cat. Merlin would be Richard’s first pet.

I had always wanted a black cat and had reams of Arthurian and Celtic names lined up. In my family we always adopted animals from animal shelters, so I knew not to expect the exactly the criteria I was looking for –  I would happily compromise on my ultimate cat because of the overwhelming desire to give a loving home to a cat who needed it. Any cat, not matter what age, colour or temperament would have been ok and I knew it was likely that we would come with a cat that day.

We walked into the cat home in Bedfordshire where there were lots of other hopeful adopters – and I probably gasped out loud. There in a cage, sad a beautiful proud black cat called, 3 years old called Merlin. I could not believe it! My heart was pounding as I was convinced that other people in the room were about to adopt him and I would miss him by a whisker. I was whispering to Richard “this one, this one” and Richard was of course browsing around at the other cats. I knew Merlin was for us, but didn’t want to draw attention to him, fearful that the families hovering around would see how warm and friendly this mass of shiny black fur was. I hoped Merlin had some sort of cloak of invisibility so that I was the only one who could see him.

I think Richard went up to the cage, and Merlin nuzzled his finger. This was the winning act of communication and Richard was hooked too. I knew Merlin was for us and it became apparent that most people in the room were after younger kittens anyway – my heart didn’t stop pounding until we signed the adoption papers – he was ours – perfect age, perfect colour, perfect name.

That was the start of our life with Merlin. He moved with us from Bedfordshire, to a rented cottage in Lancashire, then again to our cottage in an idyllic little hamlet in Lancashire where he had the most amazing life – chasing trout in the stream, leaving catprints in the snow, curling up by the open fire in winter, lazing in the sun in the stone circle on a warm summer day, stalking rabbits in the green grassy fields – he was such an adventurer. He had the devotion of a dog and would sit by our sides in the garden and follow us everywhere.

In an epic show of ultimate cat love, when we moved to Australia, Merlin came too, at great cost and endured two more house moves until he finally had his own farm. He was the king of calm and could handle anything life threw at him, adaptable and sweet with it, always offering up a wet nose when you needed an emotional lift, or a comedy leap if you needed a giggle. He was a classy cat even though there was nothing remotely pedigree about him. He was incredibly affectionate and a champion mouser – although sometimes he went a little too far and once brought a mole into the house. At this point Merlin got given one of his only rules – we came to an agreement that Wind in the Willows creatures were absolutely not to be killed.

About a year ago, age started to catch up with Merlin and he began to decline. There was always a bit of cheeky Merlyness around, but it was fading as his body started to get weary and battle with his spirit. A year ago we had a conversation with the vet as his kidneys were not good, and he rallied over the winter in 2007 and seemed stronger. However, this summer came and more recently this terrible heatwave and he became even worse, his back legs started to give, he could not cope with infections and he has been deterioating in body and spirit. It got the point where it was clear that Merlin was no longer happy on this earth. We made the dreaded appointment that we knew he would not return from after 10 years with us and 13 years of life on earth.

And there ends Merlin’s story … except…

There is a beautiful book called The Wild Road by Gabriel King that every cat lover should read. In fact, I think I’m going to read it again soon. That’s where I like to think Merlin is. On the Wild Road with all the other cat spirits.


Goatee oatee

Fionna is finally interacting with the animals and vice versa.

Mostly this is good.

She’s had a one minute long giggle at the dogs, Molly & Elf and she’s seen her first kangaroo.  Merlin has had his tail pulled and Gandalf has had his ear yanked.

Also, a mouse has visited her room and a white-tipped spider made it to within 30 cms of her and Merlin hid under our bed one night and was later caught sleeping next to Fionna her in her cot.  Hmmmm….back to the good interactions perhaps…

Her favourite four-legged friend is definitely Tara the goat though – probably because everytime we see her I sing: “My highland goaty-oatee-oatee-oatee-oat” etc… he he  good thing our neighbours aren’t too close with my singing.



And then there were 7

Three new tiny extra tiny calves arrived today, two black heifers and a red hereford/dexter steer. I got home after dark and so have only seen them in these photographs. We’ve named one of them already, the red and white steer who we’ve called Perky – short for “per kilo”. I know. How can we? Well, I really don’t know if we will eat him, but that was supposed to be part of the plan. However, I hadn’t planned on our “chosen one” for eating being so … distinctively cute. I’ve never seen a face like it.

Hmmm…problem number 1 – I am already in completely in love with him.

Perky is the one on the right below …




Super-furry animals

The most important survival skill for a furry animal surviving in a human-dominated wilderness is to know where to get extra warmth to sustain you through winter evenings.

Example 1 – Molly and Elf demonstrate here that they have adapted well.

molly elf & fireside

Example 2 – Merlin understands the basic concepts of fire too.

merlin & fire

Gandalf, however, grapples to understand the concept of the fire and has been  on what can only be described as an endless quest for a source of warmth…

Quest 1: sock basket

gandalf socks

Gandalf’s conclusion:  grumpy and still cold, in trouble from humans for making hairy socks

Quest 2: wet washing

gandalf washing

Gandalf’s conclusion:  Grumpier and even colder – also in trouble from humans for making hairy washing

Quest 3: baby belly

gandalf belly

Gandalf’s conclusion: warm but grumpy, can’t sleep,  got kicked in head by thing within, humans laughing.

News about new moos

The new cows arrived today. The friends we bought them from followed us to our place and after a small misadventure to do with our steep driveway and a float-load of cow bulk came the unavoidable need to release the cows half way up the driveway. It looked like we were about to see the sequel to the Big Jack runaway episode of last year because the cows decided to have a run over the rolling hills of the neighbour’s property. Watching them speeding off into the distance on the wrong property was not a good feeling.

After much cross-country following and calling by Richard and friends – I lost track of time but possibly an hour or so later – the cows were finally convinced to follow our friends back over the hills into our property and into the safety of the cattle yard.

I must admit that the sight of seeing the little cows hoofing it into the distance on the wrong property made me panic into forgetting I my burgeoning baby belly and running across the yard to collect lucerne bales to tempt them back. I am paying for my exertions now with stomach muscles I never knew existed. I allowed myself a reality check and decided instead to use my belly bulk half way down the driveway as an effective belly-boulder roadblock. It was either that, or possibly go into labour 10 weeks early. 😉 I was *so* relieved that the three of them managed to get the cows back and that in my small way I could at least help.

So, panic over, it was definitely a relief to see the little cows safe in their yard this afternoon. We’ve already started to bond with them and dote on them.

Here are some photographs.

cows 3

cows 2

Tiny & Lady: