I tried again in Spring, again sharing the few that had germinated through the local community produce share. I’m hopeful of finding out whether others had luck, because… one of mine made it!!!
As long as I can keep the chickens out of this bed, I think this little okra will be ok.
Growing is about failing, and failing is learning, because failing puts the details in your face, and asks you scrutinise the situation right there in front of you. ‘Why didn’t this work?’
Moving on from failure, also requires you to stand back and look at the bigger picture, looking for a pattern, a clue to the myriad of complex interactions that take place just to make one tiny thing happen. ‘What am I missing?’
You learn something about the universe in these observations, something a bit hard to explain, but this recent article about The physics of life in Nature magazine by Gabriel Popkin stirs up what I feel.
So get out there, get your hands dirty and fail, because when one seed grows you will treasure and value it more than anything you own.
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!!
Having been here at our house for around five years, after downsizing from a large property, it has felt at times like a slow journey to transform a garden devoid of anything but a few fruit trees into a backyard farm. Looking back at what I began back then, learning about building soil in the Winter of 2012, it seems a long time ago.
From building soil, raised beds, setting up worm farms, a small compost bin, planting fruit and nut trees, getting into a rhythm of learning about growing my own seedlings and establishing some zones in the garden, and reading a lot about permaculture and how to transfer that thinking in a practical way, into a small space. It’s been a constant and ongoing thing. It’s not there yet, but that’s the whole point. It never will be. Constantly evolving and growing.
I now grow so many heirlooms seedlings, (mostly Diggers varieties) with such success that I regularly have heirloom seedlings to share regularly though the local community share table, and I’ve started a small monthly seedling and produce share at my work too.
And now, a major milestone is on the horizon. Chickens will be joining us in our backyard very soon! At this point, the backyard farms begins to be feel like one. Just the thought of having chickens again makes me feel wonderfully excited.
I think there will be differences in keeping chickens in a backyard (no wedge-tailed eagles or foxes trying to raid the coop). I expect to have to unlearn some of things I think I understand about keeping chickens. So despite keeping chickens on the farm, I’m not approaching this venture like I know what I’m doing. I’m on the wait-list at my local library for the book Backyard Poultry Naturally by Alanna Moore which has some great reviews. There is always room for re-learning what you think you know.
With less space, more care and planning is required to give chickens what they need for happiness. This is why the long wait to bring them in. I’ve allowed the garden to mature into shady pockets, the soil to build and deepen, trees to grow and for intentional little wild zones to develop, just right for curious and clever chickens to explore when they free range.
In the past few years brown snakes have been nesting on the vacant block next door (none sighted this year so far), so keeping our back garden rodent free is a priority. This is why I invested in a grain feeder . On the farm, we weren’t so careful about the odd grain scatter, snakes were a daily encounter by the dams etc, but it feels important with children around, and a smaller enclosed space, to not invite snakes to a dinner party by encouraging mice. So, a bit of an investment to begin with seemed like a sensible idea.
So now, the tomatoes have the first blush of summer, the trees are laden with plums, daily small harvests of zuchinni, speckled bean pods hang on the vine, oranges and mandarins are green with future promise, corn nods its head in the breeze, strawberries burst into sweetness… and as soon as we have the coop set up and ready..the patter and scratch of chicken feet and their gentle happy ways will add to the cycle.
It does take time, all of this, but for me, growing is part of being connected to not just food production, but the small and beautiful details of life.
Infinite in diversity
Harvest picked by hand