Thank you for being patient over summer while finished my series of science fiction novellas while I took a break from regular posting here. I am pleased to say that “Our Vitreous Womb”, a story set in a distant future society built purely off biotechnology, is on track for eBook release in April 2023.
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My experimental farm has not been completely neglected during the summer months. Rather than post on one single topic today, I thought a quick update on some recent developments might be more fun.
In the six months since I started moving my goats to a new strip of paddock every three days I have observed some remarkable effects.
Firstly, milk production has held up for longer than the previous years when I was rotating between large paddocks every few months. I am still milking 6-8 L from my three adult does every second day, which has barely dropped since I weaned the kids months ago. The most interesting experiment was making a double sized cell at the end of the paddock, which should be enough to keep the herd well fed for a week. After three days in the double sized cell milk production dropped dramatically.
The most notable thing with the new system is that the goats are hardly eating any of their mineral lick (the only supplement they get). This suggests rapid rotation is improving the mineral cycles in the paddocks. The diversity and vigour of the paddock plants is also improving. This includes the spread of “weedy/unpalatable” species like bladey grass and molasses grass, but these patches seem to be acting as nurseries for fodder shrubs and trees. The bunya seedlings exposed to the goats are growing well, with minimal grazing impact.
Moving the fence now takes me about an hour every three days, which is more pleasant than the massive fence clearing job I had to do every few months with the previous system when the vegetation was allowed to overgrow the lines entirely.
On top of this new system, I have started actively herding the goats through my overgrown old vegetable garden. Only about 20% of this area was cleared for crops, which I have protected behind uncharged electric tape (and waving a bamboo stick at the goats when they approach it). After an hour gorging themselves on weeds I only have to wave my hat at them and they all go home without complaint. The richer feed they get is balancing out the lower quality feed in their daily paddock. As the weather turns dry again I plan to walk the herd over most of the property to reduce fire risk.
Now I have loads of vetiver grass bordering my vegetable garden, I experimented with using the hand cut mulch in a deep drift to help clear weeds before planting crops. The end result was a flop. Moving the soggy, half decomposed mulch was a pain. Weeds grew through it anyway. The mulch on the paths between the crops had the same issues, especially if running grasses got into it. My old system of putting a mound of charcoal/ash/goat manure down the middle of the growing beds and sowing on the edges, then leaving the paths bare to grow a crop of immature weeds before hoeing them down works much better.
I might experiment with mulching down the centre of the bed, but I am not sure it would serve any real purpose. That leaves the vetiver grass biomass in need of a new role (since the clumps need to be cut regularly to stop them turning into rat condos). That leaves animal bedding (especially for kid goats and nesting geese) or thatching the roof on the bamboo huts I keep promising to build one day.
Tulbalghia is a south African relative of onions, sometimes used as a leaf vegetable. I started hybridising a few species in the genus to see if I could make a perennial alternative to garlic chives (or maybe even a new root crop as some species have swollen bases).
After a few tries I got a feel for hand crossing the flowers and collected a decent quantity of seed. You never know if a project like this will fail at the many stages involved (pollination, seed set, germination, hybrid fertility, vigor, pest and disease resistance, or the usefulness of the end products). The hybrid seed is germinating strongly, so I will have to report back on the later stages as they unfold.
Nearly a year ago, after falling off the healthy eating wagon, I did some self-experimentation to see if I could reprogram my lizard brain to no longer want junk food (ice-cream in this case). The idea was to reproduce the effect of eating a bad prawn, getting mild food poisoning, then being unable to eat the offending food for years. The best additive ended up being tannin rich, unripe persimmon, a relatively safe substance that nevertheless twisted my guts up when discretely blended into said ice-cream.
Since that time I only had one moment when I ate some ice-cream, but the whole time I was suspicious of it and didn’t end up enjoying it at all. Any time I think about buying ice-cream I can easily locate that same feeling of visceral, gut-reaction suspicion. I think I have to call this experiment a win. Coupled with the higher production of goat milk I have been living off banana and yoghurt milkshakes for about half my calories for many months.
I should be back to my regular fortnightly posting schedule. If you have any suggested topics for the year ahead feel free to comment below.
4 thoughts on “A Summertime Update in Four Parts”
My first time reading your blog Simon,well done..good information and you write very well. Will go through and read the others..
Wonderful. Every now and then I do an index post to make the clunky website easier to browse older posts. https://zeroinputagriculture.wordpress.com/2021/08/02/index-post-august-2021/
> If you have any suggested topics for the year ahead feel free to comment below
1) Bringing rigour to amateur horticulture/agriculture
a. labelling systems
b. recordkeeping systems
c. hypothesis vs. theory
d. generating hypotheses
e. testing hypotheses, experiment design
2) Balancing theory & practice, or reading & doing
3) 5 favourite books
4) 5 most useful books
5) 5 most important books
6) Favourite sources / source review: Linda Chalker-Scott, Mark Shepard, Joel Salatin
7) Detecting woo in ag – moon planting, naturalistic fallacy, etc.
8) How to get rid of woo in permaculture – too many “crystals” people and thinking for it to be taken seriously by people who know science.
9) How to obtain seeds/cuttings from far away. Finding them, relationship building, commercial sources.
10) Proper relationships with weeds – they’re not our enemy, and they’re not “just plants in the wrong place, healing the soil”. Some reduce biodiversity (that’s my criteria).
All excellent suggestions! I will definitely delve into many of these topics in the coming year.