Tag Archives: food

Chicken Tractor

This is a Chicken Tractor (capitalisation required) and is just as cool as it sounds (a nice relative statement).

Chicken Tractor

I totally built it.

Which is a bit of a lie – significant help was given at different stages (big ups to Sara, Chris, Sven and, especially, Leen).

This is what the area looked like before any work started:

The pre-existing raised beds were pretty big and had been there for almost 10 years. Deconstructing them was really hard work (we saved as much of the wood as possible so we could re-use it in other parts of the garden). We had to move tons and tons (that is a very literal statement) of earth in order to clear the way. It was far harder and took far longer than I thought it would – this was the result:

The bed on the left was built using the reclaimed wood and is a long-term bed for such things as brassicas and potatoes and the like. We left a lot of the earth in place so we could essentially carve out the patterns of the chicken tractor beds, thus minimizing shovel work and so forth. It was a semi-successful idea.

The following photos show the rest of the construction:

Like the Marshall Plan, only cheaper.

Ugly but planting underway

(The huge pile of dirt in the distance is all the top soil from the previous beds. This would eventually go onto the new beds and other growing areas)

Not too pretty, but starting to take shape

There are many other in-process shots, but I’m sure you get the idea.

I built a second long-term bed further towards the garage, again using reclaimed wood:

These ancillary beds are planted with perennials like asparagus in the back two lots (companioned with tomatoes) with rotational crops in the front.

An interesting comparison is the building time. This bed took me a casual weekend, maybe 10 or 12 hours from scratch to finished. The chicken tractor gardens took roughly 4 months of part-time work, 3 days a week on average.
Now on to the money shots:
You can see the space between the two garden areas here, filled with composting and worm farm wonders.
The basic intent of the tractor is a rotational garden that is sustained by and sustains a population of chickens. The chicken run is lifted and transferred around the raised beds every 6 – 8 weeks, so the chooks can turn the soil, eat, shit and play (while shooting heaps of eggs out their fannies for we, their garden comrades) and replenish the soil. Basically it is designed to be a closed loop system – nothing needed from outside and no waste produced.
There’s heaps more. The amount of food this baby will yield will be staggering. Now that it’s complete and has been getting its act together it has become almost terrifying how fast everything is growing.
It was built on permaculture principles and is sustainable, organic and pretty bloody sensible.
The sunrise design of the beds is pretty cool, I think. The wooden sidings are untreated macrocarpa sleepers. Most other untreated timber would rot significantly within a few years but these sleepers will last for years and years and years. It’s worth mentioning that they are very heavy. Very, very heavy.
Each bed is 3.8 metres long and 1.2 metres wide. the length was dictated by the space available but the width is a good guide line for raised bed construction, basically enabling almost anyone, excluding the tragically short, to reach any point in the garden without having to step on it, thus compacting the soil.
Under each of the macrocarpa sleepers is a one foot deep trench filled with gravel; this is to retard rotting from the wood sitting in pools of water while also raising the water table under the beds themselves.
The spaces between the beds (wide enough for a wheelbarrow) are filled in with gravel, insuring it will drain well when it rains, feeding the trenches under the sleepers and supplying the gardens with plenty of rainwater. Also stops the place turning into a bog.
You can’t see my parents house  to the left of the gardens, but it’s very large with a huge roof area. I’m going to hook up a water collection tank from the roof which will ultimately feed the garden.
Also some grey water systems off the kitchen – but that’s another thing altogether.
There’s still a little more garden building to do – where the topsoil pile is is going to be a rock garden, I just have to move the remaining topsoil to another garden, on another property, I’m putting together. Plus a few fancy touches to make it ever so much prettier (I know, how can that be possible).
I can’t express how much time and work went into this, I have muscles and calluses that barely hint at it. It’s invisible now but in order to dig the trenches and make sure there was an adequate depth of soil under the beds I had to dig out 80-year-old compacted gravel from the old driveway. Apparently if gravel is left to its own devices it evolves into concrete.
It is quite a remarkable thing for me to look at and think, I did that. This was all done at my parents’ house (and was financed by them – at least the materials, I did the work for free) in an effort to put into practice some of the things I had learned while getting my Permaculure Design Certificate in February ’09. Permaculture is, and the course I took in it was, an amazing thing I’m deeply glad I got involved in, also something I recommend to anyone curious about it. I’ve been meaning to write something about it for ages but have been daunted by the scale of it in my head; I’m sure I’ll get there in the end though.
I’m quite proud of this whole thing.

Petting dos & don’ts

I feel great nostalgia for the pets of my childhood. I’m convinced that Rosie the labrador was the greatest dog that has ever lived – and I don’t mean that I’ll just stick up for her memories and life out of loyalty, regardless of evidence of other doggie greatness, I mean that I believe, fully and unreservedly, that Rosie is the greatest dog that has ever lived. I have kick-ass anecdotes made entirely of love and awesomeness that have never been surpassed. Feel free to test me, it is a competition.

Recently I stayed at home with my parents for a couple of months (a frankly embarrassing length of time for which I have several excellent excuses) which gave me ample opportunity to observe and interact with the current dogs, all personal-like. They’re two yappy little motherfuckers (poodles by breed, of the size that would comfortably fit into the tumble drier), called Mort and Sophie. They’re apparently unrelated, a recently learned factoid that made me feel a bit guilty for the multiple slippers I’ve thrown at Mort every time he starts humping Sophie.

“They’re terribly intelligent, darling”, pronounces my Mother when I question their dogworthiness. “At least Sophie is, Mort can be a tad retarded on occasion, but honestly just look at his coiffure.”

They emerge from the local dog-groomer bi-monthly, smelling very nice and looking ever so pretty, something I can’t deny, yet it throws into strange relief the memories of me and my sibling’s getting our hair cut at home with such paraphernalia as bowls and scissors, until, near grown, we fled home hoping to discover a social life undetermined by our weird looking heads.

“Stay still, dear… oh no, look what you made me do,” tolled the social death knell.

So some envy may have biased my failed relationship with pets, generation 3.

The dogs were taken to ‘Obedience School’ for some training, yet all they seem to have learned is to wait, sitting down, as their food bowls are put in front of them, whimpering until the key word is uttered and they can chow down. They pretty much just stare at you blankly if you expect them to do anything else.

Honestly, they’re idiots. Occasionally cunning idiots but, as I’m fond of pointing out to my mother, cunning doesn’t necessarily denote intelligence. My nephew can cunningly and consistently crap his nappies 2 minutes after they’ve been changed, no matter how varied the changing times or places. Very impressive, but the important thing to remember is that it’s his pants that are full of shit.

But embarrassment catches me up and pokes me in the sternum with the stiff finger of ‘so you think you’re so smart’ once more: My parents were away and I had to go around to theirs and hide the dogs in the laundry. Easy enough to do, you just have to get these beef-jerky treat things and bribe them into the laundry and close the door, they always fall for it. This stops them spending the next two hours yapping at the neighbour’s butterfly infestation. While I was at it I figured I’d try that discipline thing and get them to wait for their treat while reinforcing my obvious superiority. Firm commands of ‘sit!’ and ‘stay!’ were successful so down go the treats. Sophie and Mort are swapping their eyelines between the jerky and me, almost vibrating with the need to devour the food. I wait just a few seconds, getting a momentary feel for the joys of power over lesser creatures, before generously saying ‘eat!’. But they just sit there staring at me. I say, ‘Go on, you can eat now’, then, ‘go!’, ‘eat!’, ‘food!’ ‘alright!’ They just stare at me dubiously, like they’re thinking, ‘come on, we’ve got like one trick, stop fucking around and give us the word already’. I’m just staring at the beef-jerky saying random words, ‘yours… consume…  now… hairdrier… shamrock… sphagnum… …um, please?’

I eventually had to kind of push them right to the food and make encouraging noises and eating sounds while rubbing my belly. It was quite embarrassing for me and obviously confusing for the dogs. I swear they were looking at me differently afterward.

I asked my mother today, when I swung by to welcome her home, what the magic word was. Apparently  it’s ‘okay’.

I’d been hoping for something like ‘menopause’.

I don’t think I’ll give it another try, I really couldn’t cope if it didn’t work out again, the implications would be difficult to blot out. And those poodles can generate some pretty mocking looks, the bouffant bastards.