Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Harvesting sweet potatoes

The time had come to dig up some sweet potatoes. We had waited well over 3 months since planting. Our first planting location was around the edge of the banana pit. This is a classic permaculture type of set up. The idea being that the sweet potatoes will help stop invasion of unwanted plants such as grass. From my experience this works well.

That said, I would not use a highly invasive sweet potato in this area again. I have three types of sweet potato growing on property. The first one is a small leaved plant which produces white tubers with a white skin. I have been very pleased with this plant as it is not very invasive; which is what you want when you have a banana pit or don't want the plant to take over.

The second sweet potato is a more of your classic looking plant with medium sized leaves. The plant produces white tubers with a purple skin. This plant almost over took my banana pit. Not to mention about the same space again to the right of the pit (where some grass was).

The third sweet potato is again a classic looking plant. The tubers produced have an orange flesh with the same coloured skin. It has similar rampid tendencies.

As the sweet potato vine had intermingled with the banana, it was a bit challenging to remove the tubers without significantly impacting the banana roots. The main part of the banana pit was compost created at the site, basically heaps of horse manure with grass and a bit of deco. This has turned into a beautiful rich soil. The raised edge around the pit comprised of clay and deco, a rather poor soil (or so I thought).

Upon harvesting the sweet potato from within the banana pit as well as along the edge of the pit (with the so called poor soil), I was extremely surprised to find that the harvest was far greater from the clay/deco mix as opposed to the rich compost. The harvest ratio was about 10 times greater for equivalent space. In the picture, the pile on the left is from a space about the same as the area which the pile takes. The pile on the right is from about 7 times the area of the first pile.

It should be noted that sweet potatoes have significantly better nutritional value than "normal" potatoes. Not only that, for the home gardener, they have the benefit of being able to store the tubers in the soil and harvest when needed. Thus they make a fantastic survival food with a significant enough planting area. Just make sure to harvest the tubers within two years, otherwise the tuber quality can significantly deteriorate.

As for a recipe suggestion, try using them in a pumpkin soup. Basically replace about half the pumpkin quantity with sweet potato. We prefer to roast the pumpkin, sweet potato, onion, and garlic for our soup. Sweet potato is also exceptional eaten baked with half a tsp of fenugreek and some olive oil. Yum! :)

What water shortage?

Things had been a bit dry the last month or so. The soil had started to crack in places and the lawn was going brown. That all changed a couple of days ago. Now everything is saturated including the garden. Our rain gauges have not been able to keep up, so we have had well over 160 mm. Based on the depth of the water in some of the buckets, it has been closer to 300 mm of rain.

Our poor chooks have been getting quite wet. We had put the chook house on top of some piles of dead grass last night in order to help them get higher. I certainly need to build the permanent chook house.

I had been doing some research into getting a dam pump and a new rainwater tank. I think that we will just go for another rainwater tank (5000 gal) until we get some of the dams built. With a new tank our water storage capacity will be around 15000 gallons or 68100 litres. That *should* be heaps of water to last a several months of no rain and being able to irrigate the main veggie garden. However once I get more fruit and nut trees in, the water from dams will be critical to successful growth.

I went for a walk this morning around the property and the area. There were rapids in a couple of spots along the creek in our gully. Very tempting to get my kayak out and do some playing the in the white water.

I have uploaded a video of the creek as it exits the Maculata Grove property. As can be seen and heard, there are fairly significant rapids being generated.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Chook Breed Research

Like many new things I do, I usually do a fair bit of research upfront. In this case choosing a chicken breed was particularly important as they are live animals who need care and housing.

Our requirements were to get a breed which was dual purpose. That is, they can be used for producing eggs and meat. As the males do not produce eggs, they are expensive to keep around for no food-related benefit. Since we plan on breeding our own chickens, we will undoubtedly end up with many surplus cockerels. Speaking to some members of the Lawnton Poultry Club, more than 50% of fertilised eggs develop into males.

In addition, given that we are planning on eating surplus birds, we want a chicken that has a bit of meat. Thus bantams are out.

So with those requirements our choice was narrowed down a fair bit. After a bit more research I found the following high level dual purpose breed breakdown:
  • general purpose breeds: Houdan, Dominique, Wyandotte, Sussex, Oprington, Plymouth Rock (aka Rocks or Barred Rock)
  • better for eggs: Australorp, Rhode Island Red
  • better for meat: Langshan and New Hampshire
Of the breeds listed above, I was starting to lean towards Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock, New Hampshire, Australorp, or Wyandotte based on reading various blogs and other information, including the ability to acquire the breed in Australia.

However when it came time to choose, I found the site to be the most beneficial as it provided a tabular comparison of all the breeds. There is also a shorter dual purpose table, but I have not provided the link.

In Australia, the Rhode Island Red, Australorp, and Wyandotte breeds are more common, thus generally not as dear as the others.

In the end, our decision to go with the Rhode Island Red breed over others was their egg laying capability, hardiness, large size, excellent temperament, free range or containment adaptability, and attractive plumage (i.e. not simply one single colour). As a bonus we found out that due to their size, they cannot fly that well. Thus even short fences present a significant hurdle to them. This has already been handy during the process of fencing of the veggie garden from their incursion.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Rhode Island Red Chooks

Today was the day that we finally got chooks at Maculata Grove. I would have liked to have had them sooner, however I still had not built any housing for them. Truth be told, I still haven't. However we were able to acquire a "portable" chook tractor from a neighbour of ours which we are using to house the birds.

We decided to get one cockerel (now named Rusty) and four pullets (to be named). The breed we decided upon was Rhode Island Red. I will explain more about the reason for choosing this breed in another post. We were very lucky to find that we have a breeder of RIRs just down the road in Yugar.

Two of the hens come from one line and the other two pullets come from another line. As well, Rusty comes form a different line from all of the pullets, so we will be able to breed them. The plan is to use the offspring cockerels for meat and the hens for more eggs or sale to people who want a Rhode Island Red chook.

Thus far our experience has been really good. The chooks were very clam about being transported and even though a couple of them got free, they were very easy to catch and put into their pen. Rusty has already been claiming domain over the girls and one of them laid us our first egg. Not a bad start. :)