Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Proof of progress last weekend - the Chicken Coop emerges

Here's an update on one the weekend's projects; the new chicken coop.

The coop is progressing well.  Further materials are needed however.  Maybe it didn't need to be quite so large... 

One of the coop's intended occupants came by to check on progress.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Comfrey - a list of its uses and benefits

Comfrey has become a well used plant around our lifestyle block.  I was previously completely unaware of its existence or uses.  Here are a few things it can be used for;

Comfrey is very rich in Potassium, Nitrogen & Phosphates, so makes an excellent fertilizer in a variety of ways;

Comfrey liquid fertiliser - can be produced by either rotting leaves down in rainwater for 4–5 weeks to produce a ready to use 'comfrey tea’. We have some on the go constantly and frequently use it as a liquid fertiliser.

Use comfrey as a mulch – A 5 cm layer of comfrey leaves placed around a crop will slowly break down and release plant nutrients. It is especially useful for crops that need extra potassium, such as fruit bearers but also potatoes. Avoid using flowering stems as these can root.

Include comfrey in the compost heap - to add nitrogen and help to heat the heap. It’s a great compost activator. Comfrey should not be added in large quantities as it will quickly break down into a dark sludgy liquid that needs to be balanced with more fibrous, carbon rich material.

If you make your own leaf mould potting mix, then add a little comfrey to it also to further enrich it.

It can be added to salads, as it tastes like mild cucumber.

It attracts bees.

We feed comfrey to our chickens.  It is a high protein, low fibre feed source.

It can also be fed to, or made available to, other animals, including pigs. Organic farmers say that the stock will eat a lot of it or perhaps none at all, which suggests that they will eat it if they need what the plant contains.

Comfrey is one of natures greatest medicinal herbs - it has been used since about 400 BC as a wound healer and bone-knitter. Comfrey was used to treat a wide variety of ailments ranging from bronchial problems, broken bones, sprains, arthritis, gastric and varicose ulcers, severe burns, acne and other skin conditions.

A simple practical home use is to use it for any swelling. Bruise the leaves and wrap the injury with a wet bandage containing the leaves.

Apparently both the roots and the leaves of comfrey contain alkaloids, and these have been found to cause liver damage and interfere with iron absorption in high concentrations. So all things in moderation. Also it should never be applied to open wounds or broken skin.

We haven’t really explored comfreys food or medicinal uses, but we are sold on its gardening and stock feed uses.

Friday, January 22, 2010

List of Weekend Jobs on the Block

The weekends are a busy time on a lifestyle block.  The whole family helps, even the little kids who are still very keen to be involved in whatever we are doing.  What's up this weekend?...

Cut firewood for the upcoming winter – we had a large pine tree fall into our property from council owned land a few months ago and have spent many hours processing this up. There’s a good 2 winter’s worth of warmth in it.  Pine is light enough wood to dry well before this winter.

Check fences, troughs, gates etc

Mow the lawns – the perennial chore. But the property looks so much better when the lawns are mowed.

Stay on top of the weeds. Unfortunately the neighbours aren’t so good at this, so our boundaries in particular sprout many weeds. The place is small enough so that walking the paddocks and pulling the weeds out by hand is possible. Woolly nightshade, Californian thistle, blackberry and ragwort are our lifestyle block’s greatest enemies.  This topic deserves a list in itself.

Vegetable gardening – mainly my wife’s domain. This is going well, but needs to be watered and tended regularly at the moment. There’s still plenty of produce to come including watermelon, pumpkin, potatoes, corn and more strawberries.

Trim the boundary plantings. These have grown over spring and summer and the new growth keeps shorting the electric fences.

Continue the construction projects – the new and improved chicken coop is well underway, but needs further materials and progress.

Check and tend the animals - this is done every day, but even more carefully over the weekend.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

List of quotes about rural living and other things that inspire me

“The trouble with simple living is that, though it can be joyful, rich, and creative, it isn't simple”. Doris Janzen Longacre

“As much as I converse with sages and heroes, they have very little of my love and admiration. I long for rural and domestic scene, for the warbling of birds and the prattling of my children.” John Adams

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."  Beckett

“Nor rural sights alone, but rural sounds,
Exhilarate the spirit, and restore
The tone of languid nature.”   William Cowper

“If a man would enter upon country life in earnest and test thoroughly its aptitudes and royalties, he must not toy with it at a town distance; he must brush the dews away with his own feet. He must bring the front of his head to the business, and not the back of it.” Donald G. Mitchell, in My Farm of Edgewood

“It is only in the country that we can get to know a person or a book.”  Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave, 1945

“I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” Robert Brault

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need” Cicero

“If you want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that money can't buy.”

“Maybe a person's time would be as well spent raising food as raising money to buy food.” Frank A. Clark

“The family that makes the farm an old fashioned home with diversified crops, fruits and domestic animals sufficient to meet the household needs will still find agriculture one of the most satisfying forms of existence.” Calvin Coolidge

Monday, January 18, 2010

List of best rural brands / some of the brands I value

What are the brands that you trust and value? Here's a quick brain dump of some brands (loosely interpreted) that jump to mind for me;

Stihl – everyone round here swears they produce the best chainsaws

Husqvarna – also pretty good chainsaws

Skellerup – the best gumboots available. They last and last.

Stanley – for quality tools

RD1 – these guys have all the gear, and are always happy to provide a bit of free advice

Sir Edmund Hillary – perhaps not a brand, but New Zealand’s greatest ever

Gallagher – really good electric fencing units

Swandri – I got my first Swandri when I was about 12. NZ outdoor clothing is outstanding. Other top kiwi brands include Swazi, Bivouac, Kathmandu and Icebreaker

Sanitarium – good healthy food that tastes great.

Country Calendar – A great kiwi TV program for all the family

Mitre 10 – a man can never have too many tools

Dexters – small, friendly, great tasting cattle breed. We have three.

Cadbury – okay they make chocolate, but plenty of chocolate is consumed on the block. Almost overtaken by Whittakers this year for supremacy in the NZ chocolate market.

More best and most valued brands to come in a later list….

Friday, January 15, 2010

List of excuses to use to leave work early on a Friday afternoon

Try any of these.  Some will work better than others....

“The cows have got out”

“I have to go because my shoes hurt my feet”

“I’m off to go volunteering for the SPCA”

“I have an early tee off time”

“My kid's school just called, she's up a tree and won't come down”

“My goat has gone into labour”

“My wife doesn’t know how to start the barbeque”

“My zipper broke”

“My trademe auction finishes in half an hour…”

“I’m so tired – I got here this morning really really early…”

“Personal reasons...”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

List of things you can build yourself - Part 1

Living on a lifestyle block is a perfect excuse to go a build a few things that complement your block and your lifestyle. You don't need to be a DIY whiz to succeed at some of these projects.  Here's some things we've built so far, or intend having a crack at sometime;

Tyre swing – this was one of the first things we did when we moved in. The higher it is hung from in the tree the bigger the swing arc.

Letterbox – a recent project due to the last one rotting. I built it and the rest of the family decorated it. I think it must be the most stand-out letterbox in town.

Chicken coop – there are many types and sizes. Most are within the capabilities of a DIY homeowner. I’m about to start on a new and improved coop and run for our 5 chickens.

Bird house – another way to attract birds

Pizza Oven – this project is on my wife’s request list. There’s a lot of work in one of these but they make a great contribution to an outdoor entertainment area. Here’s what one could look like;
www.instructables.com/id/How-to-build-a-Pizza-Oven . I've also had feedback that these plans are very good;  http://www.fornobravo.com/store/Pompeii-Oven-Instruction-e-Book-pdf-p-16249.html . You have to sign up to get these plans, but they are free and are very comprehensive.

Wooden compost bin – the one in the picture is modular and very easy to build. To mix or turn its contents you simply take each layer off, one at a time, and shovel out the contents into the bin in its new location.

Workbench – with all these projects on the go you will need a decent workbench…

Check out
http://www.buildeazy.com/ for some excellent free plans for some of the above projects.

List of my least favourite tasks to do around the lifestyle block

Mowing the lawns – they’re huge, and we don’t have a ride-on mower. It's great exercise though...

Cleaning the deck – we let our chickens free range most of the time, but they invariably spend a lot of time around us and frequently poop on the deck.

Finding a short in the electric fence – this can be infuriating…

Trying to get rid of noxious weeds – spraying is our least preferred option. We try to stay on top of weeds by digging them out as they pop up.

Ending the life of a sick and elderly chicken – as a newbie to the rural lifestyle I had never previously taken the life of an animal. Three chickens so far have gone under the axe. Quick and easy for them, but very challenging for me.

Catching vermin – they get into the chicken coop, the compost, and goodness knows what else. Especially in winter.

Restocking the firewood basket in the middle of winter when it’s raining

Paying someone to do a job for us – There’s plenty of things I can’t do, or have stuffed up trying to do them. Sometimes we have to get an expert in…

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Native Birds around at the moment

What a privilege. We have plenty of native birds around at the moment, including;

Grey heron / Kotuku - these are loud and quite majestic. They have nested in the same tree since we have been on the property

Tui - these are drawn in by the nectar they find in the flowering flax

Morepork - we can't see them, but can hear them at night

Kingfisher - they have a nest in a tree right next to our house

Wood pigeon - large and noisy

Pukeko - we're not so keen on these. They do have plenty of personality though.

The List of Upcoming Lists

Here are a few of the lists I intend compiling. Many are already works in progress.

- Best reasons to own a lifestyle block
- Worst jobs that we have to do on the block
- Best rural brands / the brands I value
- Things you can build yourself
- Best shelter trees
- Best trees for producing firewood
- Tools and equipment you probably don’t really need on the block
- Money saving devices or ideas
- Great organic options and ideas
- Pleasant Surprises we’ve had
- How to attract native birds
- Safety Tips
- Security Tips
- Best books on lifestyle blocks and rural living
- Best recipes we’ve used using homegrown ingredients
- List of Great Quotes

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Any List Requests?

Please leave me a list request in the comments section if there is something you would like me to compile a list on. No promises, but I'll probably have a crack at it.

Things you can do with/for the kids

Another list that could be endless and will definitely be added to in time. We've done each of these things.

Hang a tire swing from a large tree – you’ll be able to get a free used tire from a tire retailer. The only cost will be the rope and the eyelet fitting that pokes out of the tire.

Build them their own raised vegetable gardens – this encourages them to take real ownership of their garden and pride in the produce that results

Give them their own animals – School run calf club is a great and long run idea. Kids raise their animals, and in many cases keep them well past Calf Club day. We’ve raised lambs and chickens so far. The kids take much greater ownership over the feeding, watering and caring of the animals if they are their animals.

Mow a bike track – Lower the lawnmower a couple of notches and mow a track around the house. If the kids have mountain bikes the track can extend into the paddocks also. ”Build a track and they will ride on it”.

Camp out – You live on a lifestyle block so you can definitely find a suitable camping site. It can seem like a real camping trip to the kids, but you still have the shower and other facilities right there if required. If it rains, and you’re a bit soft, you can call it quits and come inside.

Most valued tools and equipment on the block

I’ve started with a list that could be endless. I don’t even have all of these things, or some I do have are broken. But I wish I had the whole list.

I anticipate that a follow-up list will be required in due course….

The list then, in no particular order…

Good gumboots – don’t settle for the cheapies; they don’t last
Shovel - for manure, compost, dirt etc
Wire/bolt cutters
Craft knife – these are great for cutting flax and other fibrous plants
Pruning saw
Buckets - you can’t have too many of these
A good torch – things often happen at night, well away from the house
A length of good quality rope
Chainsaw – plus all the associated safety gear
A set of crescent spanners
Fencing pliers
Fine nose pliers
Pipe wrench
Some hot tape
Electric fence unit
Sprayer (not for nasty toxic sprays of course)
Voltage meter
Stock yards
Good waterproof gear
Compost bins
Somewhere to store the tools and equipment

A bit about us

We live in Waiuku, which is just out of Auckland in New Zealand.

We have a small house on a 5 acre bit of land. We've lived there since mid 2007.

I'm married and my wife and I have two children, girls aged 7 and 5.

We're commited to becoming more sustainable, living healthy lifestyles and eating healthy foods. We want our children to adopt healthy lifestyle practices.

Currently we have the following animals on our block; 3 dexter cows (2 heifers and 1 steer), 2 quickly growing lambs, 5 laying chickens, 1 golden retriever dog and 2 cats.

Our property needs plenty of development, hence the opportunity to try out new things and make lists about them. I have a huge list of potential lists to post.

First Post

I love living on my lifestyle block and I love lists.

I'm good at making lists but I'm pretty average at living the rural lifestyle. I'm learning quickly though and hope to share my experiences and adventures with others.

Please join me to review my many lists that explore the opportunities that living on a lifestyle block with a young family offers.