Simple living in a beautiful land

I acknowledge the Gundungurra people as First Peoples and Traditional Custodians of the land on which I currently live. I pay respect to Aboriginal Elders and recognise their connection to country.

I also pay my respect to the land itself, because of its astonishing natural beauty (can you believe this view is just ten minutes drive from my house? Jaw-droppingly vertigo-inducingly lovely).

This is a place where you can take a deep breath.

Here I am no bigger or more important than the birds and creatures around me. I am an observer. A caretaker.

I respect the land also because of what it gives us, in return for hard work, and our careful attention.

Nurturing the land: cell grazing

I am lucky: I live on just under two hectares of land, which includes a dam, a large number of trees (both native and introduced) as well as grassy fields and vegetable gardens.

Our goats are lucky, too! In spring and summer time they visit different pastures on our grassy areas, each patch enclosed by a portable electric fence. Every four days we move the fence, and they don’t return again to the same ground for a few months. This is cell grazing in action!

We have a couple of great reasons for doing this: the biggest is controlling parasitic worm loads. Worms are very dangerous for goats (and sheep and alpaca) and failing to control worms can kill a goat.

By moving the goats frequently to fresh pasture, they are always eating grass that is uncontaminated by worms.

Worms get onto pasture when infected animals (sheep or goats) leave their droppings on the ground. In ideal conditions (wet, hot weather) worms will hatch and begin to climb onto blades of grass, ready to infect new hosts. But this takes more than four days, even in perfect conditions. Thanks to cell grazing our goats have already moved on by the time worms become active!

Parasitic worms that are dangerous for goats (and sheep) are not dangerous for other creatures. In fact, if these worms are ingested by our chickens, wild ducks or other birds, or by kangaroos and wombats instead of our goats: they die. If they hatch and fail to find a host (only a sheep or goat), they die. It’s not much fun to be a parasitic worm!

All this bad luck (for worms) means that after three months without seeing one of our goats, most of them are dead. This is why we wait before allowing the goats to graze the same patch. Again: cell grazing!

Normal worm management in our area is drenching (chemical worming) once a month during ideal worm conditions in order to keep the worm count low. (Worm count is the number of eggs counted in a sample of some droppings).

With cell grazing, we have needed to drench our goats only twice in two and a half years.

It makes a massive difference.

The second good reason for moving our goats around like this is to rejuvenate the grassland. Our goats are good eaters, and the natural consequence is we get lots of goat droppings wherever they go. Goat owners lovingly call these “goat berries” because they are basically just little cocoa-bean-sized bundles of goodness.

Unlike cow or horse poo, goat poo is dry, grassy, and totally inoffensive. If you squish a goat berry, it’s largely fibrous and will crumble (unless it’s super fresh). Within about a week it starts to disintegrate into the grass, and you can hardly tell it’s there. This stuff is gentle fertiliser applied directly to the grass: no spreader required!

We haven’t added commercial fertiliser (like Dynamic Lifter or liquid seaweed fertiliser) to our grass since we got our goats, which is awesome (we have a lot of grass!). After the 2019 drought we needed to replenish the grass quite a bit, using our ride-on mower and a spreader. Since our goats arrived, they are fertilising all our patches of grass the most natural way they know, and it’s evenly applied. Perfect!

Garden bounty

Okay, so people obviously don’t eat grass! But we are eating the vast majority of our fruit and vegetables having grown them on our land.

We’ve always had a knack for growing garlic (I’ve written about our harvests here and here and here in past seasons, for example). Now Stephen is really ramping up the volume with other crops as well.

We seem to grow enough of the following to have year-round availability (in other words, we don’t buy any of these foods or vegetables any more):

  • Green beans (what we don’t eat we pickle as dilli beans or freeze)
  • Garlic (we chop finely and freeze flat in bags to always have garlic at hand)
  • Eggs, now that we have four young hens laying every day
  • Broad beans (mostly stored frozen after shelling, for convenience)
  • Popcorn (yes, really!)
  • Zucchinis (very close to all year thanks to the greenhouse)
  • Silverbeet, lettuce, spring onions (a.k.a. shallots in Sydney) and salad greens
  • Figs (we didn’t previous buy figs before but we certainly have all we can eat, now!)
  • Beetroot (eaten roasted and pickled)
  • Raspberries and Youngberries (we store excess frozen or as jam)

We are getting close with tomatoes, but we do still buy tinned tomatoes and tomato passata, just in much smaller volumes. Stephen is over-wintering tomatoes in the greenhouse so that we get fresh snacking tomatoes most of the year!

We also have plenty of sweet corn (enough to freeze but not to last all year), cucumbers (getting close to growing these in the greenhouse), carrots, potatoes (we store enough for all but a few months of the year), green peas (not enough to supply our frozen pea needs due to voracious household consumption) and celery.

We still buy the following in normal quantities as we work towards growing more: onions, broccoli, capsicums (in the greenhouse), mushrooms, and avocados. Really, this list is getting rather small, and thank goodness as the cost of buying fresh food has been dramatically increasing!

All in all, Stephen’s hard work results in an enormous bounty from our land.

Fruit is a little harder to do, but we’re working on it. There are some times in the year where we buy little to no fruit. During berry season, we mostly just eat berries! During apple season, we just eat apples. Sometimes we have fresh figs, but mostly these get dried or turned into jam.

At other times of the year we eat dried fruit (often purchased, like apricots and sultanas) and we purchase some bananas, commercial apples, oranges, mandarins or grapes for our “daily fresh” (bananas and citrus are harder to grow here).

In years to come we hope to have more fruit from our orchard, which currently contains very young tress. Pears, plums, apples, apricots and peaches are all still a few years off yet.

You might wonder, “how on earth can I do this, this is just so big”?

Well, this didn’t just happen for us overnight. We’re not trained horticulturalists. We started in a typical suburban Sydney block that had a lawn, just like a lot of people.

Our very first step: we bought a chicken coop with three hens: bam! Self-sufficient for eggs.

Then we added some vegetable garden beds on top of the lawn to start growing some vegetables.

Yes, we absolutely failed to grow many things (we still suck at broccoli!) and we totally let things go wild when we got busy and it didn’t always work as intended. But those failures didn’t cost us a whole lot; some seeds and some time.

Nobody came along and mocked us.

But we learned a whole lot. And we got our hands grubby, and we exercised our bodies, and honestly, even if you fail to grow a thing, you have still won when you spend time in your garden, attempting to nurture something that grows.

When you succeed, it’s amazing.

Here are a couple of things we found easy to start with. You don’t need a whole hectare for this, just a square metre or two in a sunny spot. You can do it!

  • Leafy greens and herbs (biggest bang for buck). Herbs are expensive! Easy ones include oregano, rosemary, basil, parsley. Leafy greens are sometimes hard to get and wilt in ten seconds, so growing your own means you ensure your supply. Plus it tastes so much better if you grow it!
  • Zucchini (massively productive). One plant is all you need. Two is more than you need. Give zucchini to all your neighbours and also feed your chooks.
  • Spring onions (cut and come again). No need to buy a whole bunch, just cut a few blades for your salad or dinner, as you need them. We have these growing in our footpaths, from seed that blew out of the garden bed. They practically grow themselves!

I really love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment! :)

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