I went out to feed the chickens the other evening, as usual. Several of our hens have decided they are broody (wanting to sit on eggs and raise young). Two of them had set up housekeeping together in the back of a spare shed, behind a bale of insulation. This particular evening as I walked through the gate, I saw their heads pop up just enough to see me......they instantly decided they weren't coming for food yet, as they had to protect their nest of eggs from me, the egg thief (I was removing eggs and not letting them hatch them).....So, they puffed themselves up in a united front, clucking and generally saying "Go away!" in chickenese. Greatly determined, they looked quite formidable.....(pic taken a bit later when they had returned to the nest, as I didn't have the camera with me right at that moment)....
So, as I did every evening, I picked them both up and gently tossed them out the shed, so they would go eat, and to break their broodiness.....only to find my fierce warrior hens were bravely protecting.......
I just read this really good blog post on how you can get started (or continue) homesteading even if you don't have a spare cent to your name. So many of the things suggested reflect what we have done or are doing here. Kendra does a great job of telling you the four (free) things you need to homestead without financial resources. Hop on over to her blog and read her inspiring article HERE, and then come back and check out my own list of some of the ways I've been able to find free resources or create garden structures for free, or with very little expense, below.
Kiwi Urban Homestead - How to get Good Stuff for Free (or nearly free)
Free Punnets, Seed trays & Plant Pots: When you're starting a garden, seed trays, punnets and plant pots are really useful, but if you're gardening on any kind of real food growing scale, they can add up to a lot of money. Sure, there are a lot of things you can sow direct into the garden, but many crops do better if started in trays or pots then planted out later. Fortunately, many, many people buy seedlings and plants from garden centres (they must do, or they wouldn't still be in business!) and then after they've planted out the plants, they're left with all those plastic punnets and pots. What happens to most of them? They end up in the landfill! I have collected used free pots, trays and punnets from the local dump, from the free bin at local garden centres, and by letting other local gardeners know I'm happy to take pots off their hands. Once, I scored a van-load of pots when my son happened to be at the dump and spot someone about to unload them into the pit! I was able to share them with other new gardeners. Some of those pots and punnets are pictured below in this pic from our new greenhouse, which was built with recycled windows.
Freezer baskets - so many uses!
I've scored quite a number of old freezer baskets from the dump, and they have a lot of uses. In the greenhouse, I mounted two on slides made from pieces of corner moulding to create drawers which hold my smaller pots under the bench, and used a couple on the floor to stack a selection of punnets and small pots in. I also use more baskets to hold small to medium sized pots of plant varieties - this makes it easy to move a group of them in one go by simply lifting the basket. I have also used freezer baskets in the garden upside-down over young plants to protect them from birds who like to dig them up until they get established. This was especially useful for my watermelon plants this past summer.
Freecycle finds: In the past year, I have scored from Freecycle the stainless steel bench/sinks unit used as a potting bench in my greenhouse, a load of brand new bricks used to create garden edging, and a kennel for our dog.
Freecycle has regional groups throughout NZ - you sign up to receive emails of things listed by members, and you can list items wanted or to give away. A great way to keep good stuff out of landfills, and to share unneeded items with others.
Wooden Pallets Untreated wooden pallets have so many uses on the homestead! I have used them to build a fence and gate to keep the critters from the garden, make pallet beds for growing salad ingredients, and to build compost bins. They can also be carefully dismantled and the timber used to make other things. There are tons of cool ideas on the internet for things made with wooden pallets, from garden seats to sheds and houses!
To find wooden pallets, ask companies that ship lots of stock on pallets. They will likely have some that have to be returned or they get charged money, but also often have unmarked ones they're happy to give away. You want unpainted, untreated pallets for food growing uses.
Tyres Tyres are expensive to dispose of, so easy to get for free, but for this reason I advise caution against acquiring very many of them. There is a lot of dispute about toxins leaching from tyres; my own conclusion after much reading is that there is unlikely to be any significant leaching from tyres that have done high mileage, and that are whole (rather than shredded such as for recycling). However, I do prefer not to grow food crops in them. It is also important to be aware that tyres will heat up and dry out soil contained in them in summer weather, and that the shape of the tyre can cause plants to grow a circling root system that stunts the plant. Therefore, I have my husband cut off the lower wall of the tyre when I am using small ones to plant things like wormwood or small bushes within, giving the roots more freedom, or the upper wall when I want to use a large tyre as a planter. I've used a row of tractor tyres to create a visual and physical barrier between the parking area of our driveway, and my front garden. Planted with carpet roses and alyssum they look pretty and attract bees and other beneficial insects. Tyres are free for the asking at tyre shops.
Free compost, mulch or soil building materials: the best way to improve your garden is to build the soil, using lots of home made compost, manures, mulches and organic materials. I regularly source the following free and locally:
Sawdust mixed with horse manure and urine - local stables clean it out of the stalls and pile it up, and let me bring home as much as I want. I've used it as a mulch, a compost ingredient, or just piled it on top of cardboard to create a new garden area from lawn. It breaks down into really nice soil.
Pine peelings mixed with calf manure - the local dairy farmers clean out their sheds once a year, and are happy to give it away. I haven't found this to be the best source or materials though - I mostly use it for extra carbon in compost piles, or on pathways.
Dead leaves - these are the most fantastic compost ingredient or mulch. I visit local streets where thick layers of leaves fall in autumn and bag up and bring home as much as I can. I reuse animal feed sacks or plastic bags, and then use the stockpile as I build compost piles. My worm bins enjoys a generous covering of leaves too.
Cardboard and newspaper - local supermarkets and stores have and endless supply of cardboard and newspapers. I use thick layers to suppress weeds when building new beds, or to start lasagne beds, or on pathways before covering with woodchip or other materials. Shredded paper is also a use compost ingredient, though I also use office paper that has gone through my shredded inside - avoiding glossy papers and inks.
Pine needles - local forestry plantings have thick layers of pine needles just lying around - I collect these and use them to mulch my berry beds, which thrive as a result. They can also be used to mulch pathways, in compost etc.
Wood chip - wood chip is to me THE premiere garden mulch and material - it's whole shredded trees, including leaves, bark, timber etc. It improves garden soil like nothing else. For the real low-down on woodchip, watch the free movie at www.backtoedenfilm.com. Local contractors who prune or clear trees from roadsides etc, and then shred them are the best source. Some will drop a load off for free. Others have wised up to the value of this great material, and will deliver it for a donation of beer for their social club.
If you want to collect materials from private land, farms, forests, etc, do be sure and find out who owns it, and ask nicely first! Keep some spare bags and gloves in your vehicle too - you never know when you're find materials. I had to wait for my daughter to complete a competition in a rural town one day, and notice leaves lying under the trees by the edge of the park. I took home two sacks full. :-)
Free Bees & Honey - We've even managed to add beehives to our homestead without expense - our first two hives were given to us by a neighbour who was moving away, whom we had helped out from time to time. When one of those hives swarmed, we captured the swarm, which gave us three hives, and after splitting the queen cells from the brood and bees left behind by the swarm, our numbers increased to six. We have all the honey we can eat, and then some, increased pollination, surplus hives to sell and the proceeds provide more gear as needed.
Free ducks, chickens, sheep and worms - I read on Facebook that a couple in a nearby town had too many ducks and were giving some away, and that's how I added David, Delilah and Jemima to our homestead. A few months later, Delilah hatched out 12 ducklings, and our duck flock grew. They are terrific at getting rid of slugs and snails in the garden, and fun to watch splashing in their pools. And they produce eggs and meat. We also started our chicken flock with chicks we were given for free. The great thing about livestock - once you have them, they multiply for free, if managed properly. I started my worm farm with an icecream container of worms supplied by the local librarian. Our sheep flock did take a small investment in the first 5 lambs, and later a ram, but I haven't paid for a sheep, or lamb/mutton to eat in the past 5 years. Neighbours with unused land have provided extra grazing, and in return our livestock keep their sections tidy. Animals are a real blessing on the homestead - providing so many useful resources.
Use Bonus Points: I use accumulated Fly Buys points to subscribe to NZ Gardener magazine and Lifestyle Block magazine - excellent sources of inspiration and information for the homesteader and gardener. There are various schemes around that reward you for things you're doing anyway, such as buying food or fuel, and with a bit of thought they can be turned into more free stuff for the homestead.
Above all keep your wits about you, a smile on your face, and your eyes open! There are useful free materials everywhere - you just have to notice, and ask or collect. A smile goes a long way, as does treating other people well - lending a hand when they need it, being kind, sharing what you have. When you treat others well, they're all the more likely to think of you when they have something you might be able to use. Also, most gardeners are a generous bunch - willing to share knowledge, ideas, and seeds and cuttings. If you see something you'd like to grow, or want to know more about - ask!
Homesteading and gardening without money is possible - but you do need some patience, as when you can't just go out and buy materials, it can take longer to get things to where you want them. But in the end, it brings greater satisfaction!
Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list. If you've got other ideas or experiences for free items for the homestead or garden, please share them in the comments! :-)
Expecting a P.R press release in the local papers about the Herb Tree I created that won a prize in the Yates Vegie Challenge, I just about fell off my chair when I read this headline.......
"Supermum does it again!"
The "again" part references an award I won in 2013 as "Vege Gardener of the Year." Despite a couple of inaccuracies (the website given for example, or crediting me with expanding the online group of vege gardeners I'm part of), the article was mostly all true. Except maybe the "supermum" part. Believe me, I'm just an ordinary gal, with too much too do, and not enough time, like most everyone else! Neither my house nor my garden are perfect, despite my desire that they were, and probably never will be.
It's kind of fun to be in the papers, and if it encourages or motivates someone else to give gardening a go, then I'm all for it. Just remember, you don't have to be a "super" anything - you don't have to have a large garden, much money or a lot of time or expertise to have a go at gardening! Gardening is fun and rewarding, but very much a learn-as-you-go adventure!
So, if you ever invite me over, please don't feel intimidated by me; don't polish the furniture or hide the ironing, or apologize for the weeds! And if you ever come and visit me one day, I'll try not to let that "supermum" image push me into doing those things either!
I'd rather we could all just relax and be "real" with each other. And real people aren't perfect!
My garden has plenty of weeds, tasks undone, things I meant to get to urgently but haven't for one reason or another, piles of materials for projects I might get to one day, plants I should have trained or pruned but haven't yet, and food I meant to harvest but haven't and it's now past it's best. I frequently feel "behind" in what I intended to do.
But you know what? Despite all that, my garden is pretty cool! There are things growing, there is food waiting there for me to pick and eat. There are bees and butterflies and other amazing critters darting about. There are flowers looking pretty, herbs waiting to heal, and hidden things to discover every day. Gardening is a great form of therapy - and you get tomatoes too! And strawberries...and beans.....and watermelons.....and beetroot.....and new potatoes......and chokos.....and sweetcorn......and yacon.......and cucumbers.....and - well you get the point!
So, I will hereby forgive myself for all the things I was going to do and plant in January but haven't, go ahead and toss out the seedlings that are never going to do well if I plant them now, and start fresh in this new month. And I will take time every day to enjoy what IS doing well out there. I'm not supermum, and that's ok!
How about you?
On this cold, overcast Sunday afternoon, I watched the first two episodes of a new TV series - "Living with the Amish" - with my daughter. In it, 6 young people from England spend several weeks living with various American Amish families, getting a taste of the lifestyle. A very enjoyable program! But what is one to do in response to something like that?
When the credits rolled, I found myself slipping on an apron. After asking one of the guys to fill the woodbin and light the fire, and my daughter to bring the laundry in off the washing line, I headed into the garden and picked a bowl full of tomatoes, some celery, parsley and a marrow. After spending a few minutes checking on the progress of our monarch caterpillars and sampling some beans and strawberries, I headed inside to begin cooking dinner - making a tasty pasta sauce from the things from the garden, adding stored garlic and onions, home-canned tomato sauce, salt and molasses.
While that simmered on the stove, I pulled from the freezer some of the lemon peel I had put away for just such a reason, and began a batch of home-made lemon cordial. Going to the store cupboard I pulled out a catering-size can of pears, bought in bulk at a sale and put away. After mixing flour, baking powder, butter and sugar together, I spread it over the pears and slid the fruit crumble into the oven to cook for dessert.
Popping back out to the garden, I cut a watermelon from the vine, and brought it inside to be cut up later and enjoyed, the thought of all that sweet juice making my mouth water!
Feeling peckish, I took out a slice of homemade bread, spread it with home made grape jelly, and enjoyed nibbling on it while stirring things. That done, I mixed up a large batch of museli - wholegrain rolled oats, various nuts and seeds, with some oil, honey and brown sugar melted together and stirred through - in a baking dish, ready to slide in the oven when the crumble came out.
Supper almost ready, I hung the still-damp washing on the ceiling-mounted rack above the fire, where some sunflower heads also hang in paper bags to finish drying. Raising the rack back up on it's pulleys, I contemplated the simple pleasures of a warm house, the smell of good food cooking, and family gathered around reading and chatting. Feels good. Almost a little bit Amish.
Recently I gave two public talks entitled "Grow Your Own Food - Gardening on a Shoestring Budget." I have now uploaded a copy of the power point presentation I used, along with the detailed hand-out booklet, which you may find useful. To download them, go to my Freebies page. If you have any questions about anything in the slides or hand-out, leave a comment here.
When I set the goal to grow 1000 kgs of food this year, I realised I would need somewhere to record my harvest weights as I went along, and so I decided to use a garden diary. But I quickly realised that a garden diary is an essential tool that helps me in so many ways!
I started off with a very lovely, purchased 2013 Garden Diary from NZ Gardening Magazine. I love to look at it for ideas and all the lovely photos, but there was nowhere enough room for me to record everything I wanted to. After gluing and taping in extra photos and notes, I realised it would be simpler to just create my own. So I grabbed a spare ring-binder, sat down at the computer, and put together what works for me. What's in my garden diary? Join me for a wee look inside my 2013 Garden Diary....
Right in the front of my dairy is a Moon Calendar planting guide. This one is simple to use, and was printed free from NZ Gardener magazine's website. They have since changed their site, and it's no longer on there, so you can now download it HERE.
I use this guide to tell me when is the best time of the month to plant above-ground crops, root crops, or just concentrate on other garden chores.
I use tab dividers in my binder - each with a month of the year on it - to make flipping from month to month easy.
In the front of each month's section are photos and notes from the 1st of the month showing me what was happening in my garden then. I started doing this for myself, and later began putting photos on this blog each month, so now I just write the blog post, print a copy, and put it in my diary.
These photos and notes are very helpful - it is encouraging to look back and see how the garden has grown month by month, and it's also a useful memory jogger down the track - for example if I want to remember in which month certain plants were at their peak, or started to have problems. Or to track the growth of biennial or perennial plants.
Next in each section is a monthly planting guide, which I get emailed to me free from www.gardengrow.co.nz. These lists are a great starting point to guide one in what to sow or plant for your region. As my experience increases, I learn more about the best plants and timing for MY garden, but this guide has been invaluable this year.
I use a two page per month spread like this to track daily weather conditions, monthly rainfall, and anything else I care to note. The green lines show me at a glance the days of the month best for planting above-ground crops, and the orange lines highlight the root crop planting days. I print these pages free from the internet - there are several sites with variations available. I got mine HERE
I use these diary pages to make some notes each day on things I've done, anything of note, something I learned, or just about anything else! Again, free pages are available from the internet. I got mine HERE.
In some sections of my diary there are also pages of notes on particular crops or experiments in my garden, such as the Green Bean Experiment, or my Sweet Corn crop.
I created some pages on my computer. The first is one to record what I sow or plant during the month. I find I refer back to these pages often, especially any time I wonder just how long ago I planted a particular crop.
And pages to record my harvest weights...
A "To Remember Next...." page is handy to jot down info that is relevant to that particular month of the year, so that next year I will hopefully see timely pointers.
I have additional pages for tracking egg production from my chickens, and information relating to my sheep. The great thing about a garden diary is you can personalise it to anything YOU need to help you on your own homestead.
A Notes & Ideas page is handy to jot down those great tit-bits that I pick up here and there along the way.
I hope you have enjoyed this wee tour of my Garden Diary! I do find it a very handy tool to keep track of and plan my garden. I also tend to add in other notes and pages printed from the internet, but have to limit myself as my binder can only hold so much! I already had to change it up from a regular size binder to a larger one!
The local knowledge you start to acquire as you do things like track your weather is an enormous help in the garden. For example, I have noticed over the last few years (due to lambing in spring) that we always have storms and gales in September, which is the month of the Equinox. Knowing this, I can plan accordingly, ensuring things are anchored down well, plants that need it are well staked, animals have shelter etc. A local friend told me recently that strong winds are also normal for the end of November. I hadn't particularly noted that before, but she is right to point out that things like corn and broad beans, which are normally very tall by then, are likely to be blown over if not well anchored or staked. Forewarned is forearmed! Keeping track in a garden diary helps you become familiar with your own typical weather patterns, and reduces how often you're caught by surprise.
Personally, I wouldn't be without my garden diary!
This year, I've grown purple cauliflower for the first time. Purple coloured veges add some interest both to the garden and to the plate, and also veges with the redder hues to their leaves are reputed to be higher in nutrients in winter than green veges and so something we should all eat more of in the colder months (think red cabbage, purple lettuces etc).
But there is one thing I don't understand....
When I grow purple cauli, it's head is a beautiful purple colour. But when I cook it, it turns a pale green! And yet when the cooked, now pale green cauli is served on rice, it stains the rice purple!
It's a mystery to me! Any scientists out there who would care to explain?
Pictured here - a mixture of purple cauli and regular broccoli, cooked (the paler florets are the cauliflower).
This page is my blog formerly known as Kiwi Urban Homestead.