The Sustainable Firewood Woodlot.

As the nights begin to cool many people start to focus on firewood, but for those of us living off the land and reliant on our wood burners this year’s wood should be in the shed and ready to burn. Leaving it till the cold sets in could leave us with smoky fires which struggle to warm the house or a hefty heating bill. Better still we aim to have at least two years’ worth of wood cut, with at least one years’ worth dry stored. The just in case factor. 

What trees are good firewood trees? 

Honestly, whatever you already have growing… 

The existing trees on your property are your first resource. I’m not saying go and cut them down, there are other, better, ways to get firewood. Look at pruning them, lifting branches, thinning if planted to close. If they are able to be coppiced learn how to do that and you will have renewable, sustainable firewood* But learn what your trees are and how best to manage them. Buying a property with trees is an amazing resource and removing trees should only be done if they are a risk or negatively impacting their surrounding environment. 

We believe that if you are going to plant trees, they should have many uses, multipurpose. The main uses would be edible crop producers, fodder and forage for livestock, timber or woodcraft sources.  

Fruit and nut trees can cover all three of these uses and are great firewood. Planting a large orchard and nut grove or including them in hedgerows, will eventually yield a decent supply of wood just from the pruning’s. 

Coppicing trees such as Alders, Birches, Hazels, Sweet Chestnuts, Poplars etc.* these provide a, usually, fast-growing renewable and sustainable resource for timber, nuts and fruits in some cases and livestock food as well as firewood.  

Fodder trees are well worth looking into if you have livestock, they are a great resource in times of drought but also provide diversity and added nutrition for your animals. If planted in areas where they are protected but next to or in paddocks, they can also provide shelter and shade. Two factors which are unfortunately often not provided for on many farms. An excellent small tree for fodder is Tree Lucerne (tagasaste) it is a high protein feed, drought hardy, fast growing and good firewood. Many of the fodder trees also fit in the fruit and nut category and can be coppiced. Mulberry is another high protein feed and if you can beat the birds has very tasty berries. It is also apparently, one of the top heat producing woods. 

Many people think gums when asked for firewood trees and they have their uses, but are not really for us. Having experienced the effects of root rot on a massive gum from our neighbours property, which took out our fence line but thankfully fell away from the house. They are also heavy feeders, sucking nutrient out of the surrounding soil, which can be mitigated by planting a nitrogen fixer/mineral accumulator such as Acacia. They are fast growers, but if not dealt with at a decent size they can get oversized and felling becomes an issue. As they age, they can also start dropping limbs which is a hazard for you and your livestock. We have a large gum at the end of our paddock which is now in this scary stage, with many broken limbs on the ground beneath it. If you are keen to grow the larger trees Acacia would be family to look at, they support the soil around them via their nitrogen fixer/mineral accumulator properties, are fast growing and make great firewood which is hot burning and easy to split. We especially like the Black wattle and Tasmanian Blackwood. But there are also Oaks, deciduous Beech and Maples, which can also be coppiced and are good firewood 

Finally, we will look at native trees, Manuka and Kanuka are great fast growing pioneer trees, they can be used with other small trees like Tree lucerne (not native), Mahoe, Kowhai and Pittosporums, to fill in the gaps while larger slower growing trees like NZ Beech and Mahoe are establishing, then felled for firewood etc. when no longer needed. Personally, we would not grow the slower natives for firewood, as it does not really fit into the sustainable woodland concept as they are generally not able to be coppiced. Only small number of native trees can be coppiced Mahoe, Pittosporums and Pohutukawa are among them. 

Wood stacked outside to season.

Harvesting and Drying your Firewood. 

‘Cut at low sap’ is some traditional advice, this would mean cutting your firewood in winter to early spring depending on the tree, while they are dormant. There are several reasons for this: 1. Traditional woodlots were also often Coppice Woodlands*. The trees were coppiced in winter for various timber uses and regrowth from the stumps occurred in spring.  

2. Tree sap ‘runs’ when they are actively growing, however there are differing views on how that effects the moisture content of the tree. One view is that apparently over summer they can contain up to 50% or half their weight in water. While they are dormant the sap supposedly flows to the roots, lowering the moisture content of the tree. The opposing view put out by forestry industry is that there is no real difference in seasonal moisture content and that trees in fact hold a relatively constant moisture content all year round. It is believed that cutting down a tree in sap run can actually speed up seasoning/drying time, due to the tree effectively ‘bleeding out’. 

3. Deciduous trees lose their leaves over low sap/dormancy and this can lower the weight of the tree and make clean up easier. However, if you are making full use of the tree, Ramial wood mulch can be made from the branches under 7 cm diameter, with or without the leaves. In full leaf there will obviously be a higher green matter content to the mulch and the fresher the branches the more nutrient available for the soil. 

4. Firewood can be hard and heavy work, cutting, moving and stacking firewood over the cooler months, which are often quieter farm wise, can be easier than doing it in the heat of summer. You have a higher appreciation of the results when you enter the warmth of the house after hours in the cold. 

There are of course other factors for timing of firewood cutting. Pruning done at any time is potential firewood or wood mulch and can be specific to what season suits each particular tree. Fruit trees are good example of this with stone fruit usually pruned in summer to avoid disease. Weather being another factor, in very wet climates the drier months might be the only time to get firewood done. But the general time frame would be cut wood in the winter or early spring, dry over summer and into the shed by March ready for those cooler nights. 

So, the trees are down or the branches are pruned, what now? 

The wood needs to be cut and split into sizes suitable for your woodstove, often we will just ring it into the right length and leave it in piles until we are ready to shift it. It is thought that by leaving the wood in the elements the rain will wash out the sap which keeps it green and speed up seasoning. However, most trees are best split fresh as they can harden over time and if you are hand splitting with an axe it is easier to split the wood fresh. We then stack the cut wood on pallets to keep the wood off the ground and allow airflow underneath. A tidy outer wall layer is stacked with attention put into stabilising or ‘locking in’ the corners with crossover pieces. It’s a bit like building a 3D jigsaw, most of the wood is either flat, triangular, half round or round and can be fitted together to make a stable structure. The gap in the centre is filled with the odd pieces, short bits and knobbly bits etc. These are put in randomly but the space needs to be filled as you stack the walls and be relatively close packed to support the walls. Air will still flow through as there will be many small gaps in the stack. Once the stack reaches about 1.2 metres we level it off and place several sheets of old corrugated iron on top, weighed down with some heavy chunks of wood.  

Why go to all this trouble you might ask?   Firstly, firewood is an extremely important resource for us, it not only heats our home, but all our hot water via wetback and we use our woodstove for cooking, we do have a gas stove but the gas is an outside expense and the wood is a homegrown sustainable resource. Secondly, the structure that is created is very stable and can be built in the paddock where the livestock are, the cow might occasionally try to knock it around a bit but the structure stays standing. The size of the stack, which is the width of a pallet and usually 3 or 4 metres long, means we can stack for drying a large quantity of wood, approximately 2 cord, in a relatively compact space. Most firewood stacking advice that I have seen says to single width stack, while this works, for us it would take up too much area, not be as stable in the paddock and be difficult to put a corrugated iron ‘roof’ on. 

The stack is levelled and a corrugated iron ‘roof’ put on to keep the rain out and increase heat inside the stack

The corrugated iron provides a heat sink which warms and dries the air inside the pile, while keeping the majority of rain off. Yet the outside of the stack is still exposed to the elements especially wind and sun. We find the stacked wood is ready to be transferred to shed storage in about 3 to 4 months, it will be bone dry and excellent burning. Bone dry wood burns hotter, longer and, when the fire is shut down, turns to charcoal which creates a low burn to last through the night. Once shed stored it should stay dry, but it pays to check the roof for leaks and have a shed that is North or North West facing for maximum sun and that allows air flow. A simple cheap design is a corrugated iron roof on four poles/posts 2m or taller. Cover the floor with pallets to let the air flow under and keep the wood off the damp cold ground. Hurricane netting can be used around the outside ‘walls’ to hold the wood in but still allow air flow and if necessary, a wall can be built on the prevailing rain side or to the south, as long as the sun side is left open. Any wood on the outer edges that gets rain wet will soon dry on a sunny day as long as it was seasoned/dried before going in the shed. The 1000l pod cages (without the plastic tank) or the big wooden produce bins can be used, but make sure to cover the top with corrugated iron or something to keep the top rain out. 

Burning wet or unseasoned firewood firstly produces less heat and secondly can cause creosote buildup in your flue, especially with softwoods, which can cause chimney fires. A good example of this is when we first moved into our property in the winter. The note from the previous owner said we would need to clean the flue every month to keep the fire burning well and that the drier wood was in the rear of the middle bay, which involved climbing over wood to get to it… We thought what the hell, well used to wood fires, it should only be cleaned once a year and why would I want to climb over wood to get the firewood. But once the stack of wood by the back door was gone, we realised the issue. The whole three farm shed bays of firewood, which was pine, had been wet stacked. It was moldy and damp. This was causing excessive smoking and clogging of the flue, and we wondered about the health impacts of burning moldy wood. Luckily after a few days of wet weather it cleared for a couple of weeks and we pulled out the front of one stack to open more wood up to the sunshine and air. Each time we went to get firewood it had to be checked for dryer pieces, while still not bone dry it was a lot dryer than before. As the wood dried out the smoking and flue issues eased as well. Our primary wood shed is about 100 metres from the house, this is not ideal and we will build one closer. It is a good idea to have at least a weeks’ worth of wood close to the house in the event of bad weather. Trudging across a paddock in the rain with a wheelbarrow load of firewood is not cool for you or the wood. 

There are many views on firewood and systems to manage it, but this suits us and provides us with loads of well-seasoned firewood throughout the year. By planning a sustainable woodland or large multipurpose orchard and nut grove, we can provide ourselves not only with firewood but food, livestock food, garden mulch and stakes, fencing materials, timber and a beautiful landscape. 

*more about Coppiced Woodlands in a follow up article 

A shed full of dry firewood is a great comfort as the cooler months approach

A Year of Growth

This past year has been a time of great change for many people and through it we have seen a surge of people choosing to live a simpler life. Whether it be moving from a city to a smaller town or rural land, or getting back to growing and cooking your own food. Spending more time with family and even homeschooling, to leaving it all behind and choosing to live off grid in a remote location. 

For us here at Fodder Farm it has been an eventful year. It was late February 2020 when we first viewed our new property, a hot sunny day, driving from the dry brown of Manawatu to the depths of a remote valley in the Ruapehu district, green and fresh in the heat of the day. There were a few must haves on our property wish list, water, more land and hopefully trees for both beauty and firewood. If we could buy a property with these three requirements, we would have great a basis for continuing our homesteading journey. Having just experienced drought in the Manawatu the past year, water and summer-safe were certainly top of our list. This property had all these and an off-grid house which was an added bonus. The remote location was a big factor to consider, the closest town and high school being one hour away. But with property prices getting excessive, this one would leave us with some funds for improvements so we decided to take the plunge. But plans were stalled for a while as our nation went into lockdown. Selling and buying during lockdown is not something I would recommend… 

With only one viewing possible it wasn’t until the end of May that we saw our property again, on moving day. Straight into a very low power lifestyle, only one solar panel with a battery and a 2kw Honda generator. A wetback woodstove for water heating and cooking, plus a barbeque and double gas ring. The wetback was brilliant giving us lots of hot water, but one cold day, after days of the fire cranking, the hot water blew out the vent, exploding onto the roof in a great steaming gush. Damn it. After that the water only reached low heat out of the tap as the tempering valve had seized, causing more issues with the cylinder over heating as we couldn’t drop the hot water fast enough. We stopped lighting the fire for a couple days, which was a bit chilly, while we brought a new valve and installed it. Apparently just one incident shouldn’t have wrecked the valve, it must have already been on its last legs. It was a costly fix, but never mind, it was a relief to have the hot water for showers and dishes up and running again.  

Cooking on the woodstove

We had no fridge for about 5 months, but the generator ran for about four to five hours a day to keep the chest freezer running and to get the washing done. Connecting the larger solar kit took a while with rewiring needed throughout the house. But we certainly gained an appreciation and understanding of electricity during that time. While the solar was important the outside fencing was urgent, we had boundary fencing and some interior. But keeping the pigs out of the vege garden was an issue, especially when the young ones found if they ran fast enough, they would often make it under the electric fence without getting zapped. The occasional squeal let you know when one got the timing wrong. Containing the chooks was another urgent matter, with no chook coup they had taken to roosting in the low tree branches. It took a bit of convincing them that the new chook shed was a much better place to sleep and lay eggs, with a few chooks refusing to give up their wild life. No matter what, each night they found their way back to the trees to roost, even pruning up the lower branches failed to deter them. 

We are fortunate to have gravity fed spring water to the house and a creek fed line for the stock and gardens. We asked the previous owners if the spring ever dried up, “never ending supply of water” was their answer. You can image our surprise when a couple of months later the house water stopped. We had not yet investigated the spring, but a quick glance at the tank on the hill and the indicator told us it was full every time we checked. It still indicated full on the day the water stopped… 

David set off to investigate, first the tank, which was in fact empty. It seems maintenance had not been carried out for quite some time as both a Mahoe and a Himalayan honeysuckle had managed to grow on top of the tank, their roots running down inside the tank and preventing the indicator from lowering. He removed the mass of roots from inside and cleaned the tank thoroughly. But with only a slow flow it would take a long time for the tank to refill, so David put the house onto the stream line temporarily with two filters, but drinking water was collected from a small rainwater tank off the shed. We had not been shown where the actual spring was located, which meant the pipe had to be followed. This would have been an easy job if it wasn’t for the fact, it was on the neighbours steep pine block hill. Scrambling amongst the fallen pines and rampant blackberry turned finding the spring into a mission. He walked up and down through the clawing blackberry struggling to follow the pipe, finally finding a second small tank and further on the spring. It was only about 10 metres up from the fence line hidden amongst the Punga, about another 100 metres up the road from the tank. 

Location sorted David set about improving the flow collection as half of it was missing the drum. Thus improved, pipes cleared of air and the water was flowing faster than before, on measuring the flow we calculated it would provide us with approximately 2500 litres per day. Now when we look at the tank indicator, we know its full. It’s a great thing knowing that you are responsible for these amazing resources, that with care and maintenance they will provide you with your needs and knowing how to fix them gives you self-reliance, an important point when you live a far distance from town.  We were pleased to have another resource in abundance, firewood. Not only was the property covered in trees, including old Man Pine, Gums and Blackwood but the four-bay farm shed had three whole bays stacked with pine. We were told (in a note) that the driest wood was stacked in the back of the middle bay, this involved climbing over two metre high stack of wood in front to get the ‘dry’ wood… 

Not really something we wanted to do, but what was more of an issue is that it appeared the wood had been wet stacked, so it was moldy. This area is rainforest land, high rainfall. Which means we want our wood to be fully sun/air dried and then stacked dry in the shed. Damp moldy wood burns poorly and soots up the flue, we were cleaning it fortnightly just to keep the fire burning. Luckly, we had a two-week break of fine weather which meant we could open up the middle bay exposing as much wood as possible to the sunlight and air, this quickly dried out the pine and it could be burnt more cleanly. 

Grazing the Long Acre (road side)

Grazing was another issue. Our livestock soon brought the pasture back to fully grazed status. Soon we were making use of the quiet gravel road by grazing the Long Acre, letting to stock wander up the road for a couple of hours each day. Moving in winter we needed to buy in hay, but following the drought in other regions hay was in short supply and getting it proved difficult and expensive. On a couple of occasions, we travelled to buy hay only to find that the quality was poor, to the point where the cow wouldn’t even eat it. But chooks needed nesting hay and the pigs needed bedding for winter and farrowing so nothing was wasted. We finally found a local hay contractor who had some bales left and dragged home large squares two at a time on our trailer, using brute force to shove them off the trailer and into the hay shed. Then a lucerne grower advertised some wrapped silage bales, these are heavy wet bales and our Ute would only handle one at a time on our rugged road. But it was good nutritious fed for ewes which were raising lambs, so each fortnight we dragged one into the valley. 

We had arranged to have our pines harvested in October. There was some grazing in those pine paddocks, but lack of sunlight and proximity to the pines meant it was sparse and not so palatable to the stock. Though the cow did well on the juvenile mahoe which grew amongst the pines. October arrived and no harvesters came, then into November and they did the required council paperwork. Before Christmas they said, but still no harvesters came. We had noticed as spring progressed that our pastures were not bouncing back with the spring growth, we were used to in other areas we have lived. Arranging a Reems soil test, we were shocked at the results, the supposedly fertile volcanic loam was severely lacking in many bio-available nutrients. Possibly due to our high rainfall but also perhaps to past farming practices. This started us on an investigation into what would be needed to bring its nutrient level up for healthy growth.  

The vege garden rampant in its mid summer growth

Having previously travelled many hours to Paeroa to get a more bio available lime and paramagnetic rock dust, we balked at the cost of getting enough product to bring up the PH from 5.04 to the recommended 6 plus for optimum plant growth. We looked into straight Ag lime as it was readily available but at a recommended 1-2 ton per hectare to lift the soil pH by 0.1 points, that would mean 10 to 20 tons just for the house paddocks. As we had nowhere to store it and no means to unload ton bags and hand spreading being our only real option of application, it just didn’t make sense to apply lime. This led us to researching other ideas on soil fertility, which led David to Korean Natural Farming (KNF). A way to produce our own amendments, often from ingredients already on the land or readily available. The recommended dilution rates were astounding 1/1000, so calcium would be 1l calcium solution to 1000l of water spread across our house paddock. 

Pasture looking a bit sparse, firewood shed in the back ground

At the same time, I was reading ‘For the love of Soil’ by Nicole Masters. She spoke of ‘tweaking the soil’, small amounts of nutrients rather than the tons conventional farming spread across the land. This would minimize the damage to the existing soil life and support plant growth. Having a preference for natural living, this ‘first do no harm’ approach sounded more like us. David started making and using the KNF preparations. He investigated collecting and growing on Indigenous Micro Organisms (IMOs) and our eyes opened to the fungal world around us. We searched old native forest for fungal rich soil and leaf litter and added them to our composts and made IMO brews. We started to see results, the garden started to look better, the plants had thicker healthier leaves and stronger growth. The pasture growth increased and took on a more vibrant colour, its bounce-back after grazing increased significantly.  

We had created new garden beds during winter and early spring, feeding them with compost and some bio available nutrients before mulching and planting, but we had noticed that often the plants would ‘sulk’ for a while after planting. It seemed that as they got their roots down into deeper soil they would really come away, we figured that the deeper the roots got the more nutrients there were available for them, yet soil testing only took in the top 10cm of soil. We found the KNF brews helped with the establishment of the young plants but it made us observe the older established plants on the property. Most of these were in good health, showing no signs of nutrient deficiencies, it was the shallow rooted plants which seemed to struggle. Which also highlighted the fact that we had a lot of pooling happening especially in the paddock, which would indicate compaction, the large amount of dock and buttercup would support this observation. So, these observations told us that the nutrients were there we just needed to make them accessible, or bioavailable, and open up the soil. David had started studying Dr Elaine Ingham’s work and the ‘Soil Food Web’, we had a microscope so he began investigating the soil and composts for microscopic life. The difference between the ‘normal’ garden soil and soil from the base of old forest trees was tremendous. The old forest soil was teeming with life, a whole underground ecosystem. Forests exist in a balance of life and death, there is no added fertilisers, they self-perpetuate. If left to its own devises a landscape will re-establish into its natural state through succession, from the cover weeds to grasses and herbs, to woody perennials, to shrubby small tree to larger trees etc. As the progression happens, be it grass lands, forests or alpine slopes each level of succession adapts the soil, changing the ratios of bacteria to fungi, with old forest being the highest number of fungi. 

Old forest floor

Pasture should be about a ratio of 50/50 bacteria to fungi, but unfortunately many pastures are lacking in both of these and therefore the underground livestock of Nematodes, Protists, Micro-Arthropods etc. Which are necessary for a healthy soil. The soil scientists themselves will say that they are still learning, still trying to understand the functions of each tiny piece of the puzzle. They study these microscopic ecosystems and the effects changes have on their biome through the lens of a microscope. Where Natural Farmers will use observation, physical results and tradition to show them the way. Combining the two methods gives you the best understanding and functional results to continue to provide your plants with the accessible nutrients they need to be able to support you and your livestock’s health. 

Health, that is another big topic, we live a relatively ‘clean’ lifestyle for reasons of supporting our own health. Low sugar/low carb, avoid additives, preservatives, eat mostly homemade everything and as much as possible, homegrown. We avoid damaging chemicals, opting for natural products or, again, homemade. This has evolved slowly, replacing food or household items bit by bit. Sometimes I lapse back into old habits (especially while moving house!) but having lost about 15 kg in the past 4 or 5 months I think this time we will hold the line. It is an interesting thing I find, that when you are on the right path things seem to flow better. You feel better mentally, doors open and opportunities arise, sometimes in completely unexpected ways. We have learnt on our life’s journey to go with the flow, we still work towards goals, but are open to what life might throw at us. Sometimes those curve balls turn out to be a blessing. 

Majestic old trees

I have found that moving to such a rugged and quiet location has reconnected us with the land. I would say we have always observed and lived in our landscape but now that immersion has deepened and the connection has strengthened.  It is a landscape of steep hills and large trees, we often hear the changing of our surrounds, trees falling, earth moving and have had to clear the roads to pass. We have experienced wild weather bombs and clear star-studded nights with no lights to dampen the amazing glow. I have seen shooting stars and a meteor explode above us. We hear the Morepork call in the night and wake to the rooster’s crows. We have stood in awe of great Starling murmuration’s in the evening sky and chatted with cheeky Fantails and shy Robins as the Welcome Swallow’s swoop overhead. We have watched herds of wild Fallow deer graze the slopes across the river and listened to the bleat of goat kids calling for the mums. We have walked through old forests, breathed the cool cleanness of the air, awed by the majestic height and girth of these wonderous historic trees. We have been entranced by the filtered streams of sunlight, turning the gloom into a place of magic, teeming with life, the beauty of the fauna, flora and the fungi. And we have stood in the mysterious depths of our ravine, marvelling at the sheer rock faces towering above and the stillness of the massive eels in the dark depths below. 

We realise that we are but a small part of this tremendous ecosystem of our earth. And know that for us this past year has been one of great growth and of change for the better. 

The Land Dream – A Homesteader Point of View. 

We hear a lot about the ‘Great Kiwi dream of home ownership’ and about how hard it is now to step on the property ladder. We hear of the housing crisis and we see people living in cars and garages, to people living in mansions. We hear about the lack of houses, that we need more houses in less space, cram them all in like sardines! But for homesteaders like us, it’s not so much about the house, but about more the land…

With land you can grow your own fruit and vegetables, raise your own meat, care for that piece of the earth in a way that nourishes it and your family. Raise your children to understand where their food comes from and to appreciate the effort it takes to produce it. The flow on from this is better physical health, better mental health and better earth health.

But how in this time of housing shortages and great land demand do we find our little piece of paradise?

The first step is figuring out what you want from life….

Do you want to earn the funds to pay someone else to set up or do the work on your property?

Do you want to work all week at your ‘real job’ and then all weekend at your ‘home job’?

Is your dream to not ‘go out to work’ but create your living from home?

Or do you want to let it all go, this consumer world and seek freedom?

These questions are the basis of getting you to think about your work/life balance, finding your focus, because if you don’t know what drives you, be it money, space to breath, sustainability, love of the land or freedom, knowing where your food really comes from, you won’t know where to head.

Next, what do you want from your land?

A place to escape to, no real expectations in regards to production?

Enough land to produce fruit and vegetables for you and your family?

Or meat and dairy?

Perhaps you would like to make an income off your land? Either part-time or full-time?

Write a list, brainstorm anything you are interested in, put it on a piece of paper. Then think what do I already know, what would I need to learn, how much do I really need?

 

 

This is a big question; how much do I really need?

We all have stuff; we have dreams and we have wants, the trick is getting what we need.

Distinguishing between wants and needs is a big step towards living a life on the land. I say this because the reality is you can live a life on the land in the midst of a city, if you have the right attitude. Urban homesteading is a growing practice, with yards being turned into vegetable and fruit gardens, food forests, chicken runs or even small livestock farms.  Koanga’s 200 square metre urban garden is a great example of this, showing how much is achievable on an average section.

There are many small homesteads, one example we know personally is Anythyme Homestead which on a quarter acre, has many fruit trees, berries, herbs, a greenhouse and vegetable garden. She also currently has 53 animals. Chooks, rabbits and a couple of KuneKune, but she has also incubated and raised quail, turkeys and ducks. All of these livestock are raised for eggs, meat or for sale. With the use of a crow collar Anythyme homestead even runs a rooster with her chooks. This is what you can achieve on a section in the midst of a town.

But what if you want sheep, cattle or goats? How much land do you need?

While it depends on the quality of the land and grazing, a basic example per acre would be 3 to 5 sheep or one cow. Any more and your feed supplements would increase, therefore making it less cost effective. While having one cow might sound appealing, they are herd creatures and therefore need company, so if owning a cow is on your plan you might need to up your land requirements.

20190613_195747
John Seymour’s The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency. One Acre Holding. 1976. not entirely accurate for how we live but an inspiring image for many people.

The one-acre homestead can still provide you with a large portion of your needs, providing you are willing to put in the time to establish and maintain it. This is where re-thinking how you eat can help. These days we have easy access to a large variety of fruits and vegetables, but it wasn’t that long ago that we were eating a simpler diet. In 1987 when David started work as a produce assistant there was a much more limited range available and seasons had a huge influence on availability too. So, when you plan your fruit and vegetable areas think about fruiting times to spread the harvest, plant what your family actually eats and consider perennial vegetables like globe artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes and asparagus. Also cut and come again crops like sprouting broccoli and cutting celery, bunching onions, silverbeet and mesclun salads help spread the harvest from one planting. But most importantly just eat seasonally!

Chickens are the first livestock most people get, whether you raise them for eggs or meat as well dictates which breeds you should have. Some like shavers are bred for high volume egg laying, cobb are bred for meat birds while the larger heritage breeds are generally dual purpose. Poultry in general can be raised on a small area and their manure can go back into the property to help maintain fertility.

Rabbits are a high producing meat source that also only take up a small area, their lean meat is best in saucy meals we have found, but it is also very filling.

Pigs are also suitable for the smaller land area, we raise Kune Kune which are a grazing pig, so while we need less supplementary feed they do take longer to mature to a decent size and take up grazing space. (Yes, you can eat Kune Kune, in the US they are often farmed for meat production)

Sheep and goats can provide you with meat and if you have the right breeds, milk! While you might only be able to carry a few, these can still provide lambs or kids to raise up over summer and then be sold or processed when the grass growth slows off.

 

 

 

Do you need more land?

We do. We have done our calculations based on what we eat and what level of self-sufficiency we wish to achieve. Being a low carb family of four, we would consume about 1kg of meat per day (plus lots of vegetables, dairy, eggs and some fruit and nuts). That’s approx. 30 kg of meat a month.

Which could factor out at:

Rabbit x 4 @ approx. 1kg each     or 48 per year

Chicken x 4 @ approx. 2+ kg each    or 48 per year

Lamb/Mutton x 8kg      or approx. 4 lambs per year

Beef x 8 kg     or approx. 96 kg per year

Pork x 4 kg     or 3 to 4 pigs per year depending on size.

Plus, we want to be able to run a dairy cow or two.

This would put us at needing probably about 5 acres. Yet we are only on two, with over a ¼ of that area taken up by the house, sheds and fruit and vegetable gardens.

This brings us back to the big dilemma; how do you get the land you need?

If you are in the position to just go and buy it or arrange a mortgage then good for you, however many people are not. For many a combination of rising living expenses, plus land and housing property price increases have got to the point where it is no longer achievable to even save the funds needed for a deposit. This has led to many people embracing the tiny house movement, simplifying and decluttering their life so that they only require a small space to live in. Often this can also mean they spend more time outdoors and have more time and money to do the things they enjoy. These tiny houses can include little cottage or bach like buildings, earth-built homes, like cob or earthbag, or more commonly mobile homes, like buses, trucks and of course the trailer built tiny house.  But even if you can manage to build or buy a tiny house you still need a place to put it. There are people who are willing to ‘rent’ you some land for mobile homes, but this can still be fraught with uncertainty. All it takes is a complaint to the council and you could be moved off the land at short notice. Buying your own section carries the same risk, but it also allows you the security of aiming towards compliance from the council. It seems some councils are struggling with the rise in tiny houses at a time when they should be actively embracing them to help curb our current housing crisis. The more people who follow this route and actively work with the councils to find solutions to any issues raised, like grey and black water, sewerage and septic systems, the easier it will be for others in the future. But councils also need to take action and adapt to the way the world is heading, they need to be more inclusive of these alternative ways of living, building and waste management systems, some of which have been used successfully for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

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John Seymour’s The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency. Five Acre Holding. 1976.

Land sharing is also rising in popularity, while many may think of the hippy communes of old, this is often not the case. Probably the most common form of land sharing is community gardens, this allows people in more urban areas to gather and grow food together, sharing both the work load and the resulting harvests. The really great thing here is that it allows people who may be in rental or apartment situations the opportunity to learn and be actively involved in managing a productive garden and piece of land.

Then we have the land owners who invite others to live on their land, lease land or simply use it for shared food production. As long as you have people you can connect with or have a good working relationship, this option can have great benefits for all parties involved. The work load of a homestead or farm, large or small can be quite heavy. While paying people to help with this labour might not be practical, allowing them to live on your property with an agreement to help lighten the load may work well. It was common for families to work land together in the past but these days this often does not happen. So, opening your land to other people and families could be the answer for those that are struggling. The WWOOFing initiative has been a popular choice for people on their O.E’s wishing to experience life on organic farms in other countries. HelpX is another one which has a broader range of ‘volunteer work in exchange for free accommodation and food on farms, backpacker hostels, lodges, horse stables and even sailing boats.’ Since these two systems are so successful, why wouldn’t work in a longer-term scenario? As long as you choose like-minded people.

We can also take a step back here, as there are those who live in an urban environment who choose to do a similar thing, house share.  Whether this be flat mates, extended family or just like-minded people sharing a house, it can provide lower expenses and work load. If you are currently in ownership of an urban property, look at what you have first. Can you restructure it to become a food providing space, do you really need that lawn? If you are interested in only really growing fruit and vegetables then the average yard size is probably all you really need. Houses too, can be restructured to provide a more suitable food production space, adding a greenhouse to the northern side can increase your yields dramatically and extend your growing season.

Then you need to consider your neighbourhood and greater surrounding area. Having neighbours who are like minded can also lead to a pooling of resources or green trade.  By utilising each person strengths and resources a cohesive community can be created. This could be in the form of: one person has fruit trees, so they trade/swap that fruit for veges from another neighbour or for help around the property. Perhaps even for childminding while they get jobs done, simple things that once were not even thought about it, was just part of the wider family and community working together. I do believe that this is part of the issue, often we have been taught that we need to succeed and be independent, to go out into the world and make our mark. But this has come at the cost of staying close to family and support networks, of working together to achieve our goals.

 

But neighbour’s working together, can also extend to rural properties, especially if a larger property owner has sub-dividable areas or smaller sections they could sell off. By increasing the population of the surrounding area, they can also increase the employee availability. Many rural areas have suffered from a loss of population with people leaving to move to the cities, but by allowing land to be used in alternative ways, perhaps this could be reversed. Encouraging those people who choose to live of their land back into these areas could strengthen the community for all.

With this in mind, there are other ways of achieving your land goals. Like the pooling of resources and skills to buy a larger block of land which has the capabilities of supporting all of those living on it. Generally, ownership here would come under co-ownership, which can take on two forms;

  1. Tenants in common each have a share of the property. This can be equal shares or differing shares. If a tenant in common dies, the share needs to be dealt with by Will.
  1. Joint tenants each own an equal share of the property. If a joint tenant dies, the share is passed to the other tenant (they will become the sole owner).

But there is also the option of a trust owning the land and leasing it back to the trustees or other parties. Often these leases will be for 99 years etc., are resaleable and also inheritable. This allows the leasee’s to build on the land and develop it in accordance with the trust’s conditions/values. An example of a Community Land Trust is Kotare Village in the Hawkes bay. Often these situations will contain common land which is shared by all those in ownership or leaseholders.

The last option I have here is relocating. If you currently own land in a high value area consider the possibility of relocating to the regions and utilising the lower property prices to increase the size of your holding. But even in the regions the land prices are increasing to the point of being twice the ratable value in many areas. There is only so much land for sale and with more people looking to return to living off the land, demand for lower priced parcels of land can be high. But if you are in a position to move this option could also leave you left over capital to develop the property into a functional homestead. It may also allow you to decrease your debt load.

Decreasing your debt load is an important issue when looking at developing a homestead, whether rural or urban, and restructuring into a more self-productive and sustainable life. The less you owe the less you have to earn, the more you can produce yourself the less you have to buy in. The less you have to earn the more choice you have as to how and where you spend your time.

 

 

For us, here at Fodder Farm, it has been a long journey to get where we are, with many steps back as well as forward. But we have learnt a lot about land, our needs and to be flexible in how we meet the challenges before us.

One of our primary goals is to produce our own ‘clean’ food, to the point where all meat, dairy, fruit and veges come from our own endeavors and land. There may be some exceptions, bananas and avocados spring to mind, as we prefer the cool higher country regions for our location. As we calculated above, for our family, we would need 5 or more acres to achieve this, we currently have 2.  So, we are looking into the value of our property and the value of land around us and further afield. Leasing has not been an option and as we like to live where our animals are, both to decrease travel and to allow for frequent monitoring of their grazing and health, it really is not suitable.

That leaves us with a couple of options

  1. Find a suitable piece of land within our price range.
  1. Find people with similar goals and style of living to co-own a larger property with us.

With this in mind we have to remain flexible.  Factors for us to consider are the council by laws, land availability, location and possible land partners.

I believe flexibility and an understanding of how much land you need to achieve your goals, is the key to achieving your land dream. For some of you it might simply be about restructuring or refocusing. But for us it is simply more land however that pans out. If you have any thoughts or experience in this area, we would love to hear from you.

 

Further reading:

https://cohousing.org.nz/ 

https://homelegal.co.nz/blog/joint-tenancy-vs-tenants-in-common-know-your-ownership-before-you-get-owned/ 

http://kotarevillage.org.nz/introduction-to-community-land-trusts/ 

http://www.equilibrium.org.au/ 

http://wefs.co.nz/what-is-a-csa 

https://www.gardeningnz.com/community-supported-agriculture/ 

https://www.buildtiny.co.nz/faq 

 

 

Planning for Autumn and Winter Planting

Whether you are thinking of planting a home garden, an orchard, food forest, hedgerows, shelter belt, or a firewood or fodder/forage woodlot, planning for your Autumn and Winter planting is a must. (As my Husband always says… ‘Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance, the five P’s’ but I think I might change it to Planning Planting Prevents Poor Performance…). Planting at this time of the year allows for the plants to develop a good root structure prior to spring growth. Also bare rooted plants are available over the winter months and this makes the larger deciduous trees more affordable, especially if buying through mail order. As long as the roots are kept moist at all times this method of buying trees and shrubs is very convenient and easier than lugging around heavy planter bags.

So where do we start…

Evaluating your site’s conditions is the first step. Sun direction, wind direction, wet or dry, soil type and temperature all influence what you can plant and where. A useful tool for this is a site map or plan, if you do not have one already a simple method is to use Google Earth Pro to print an image of your property or area you wish to plant. You can then either draw directly onto the image or use translucent paper to trace the key objects like fences, buildings, existing trees etc.

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Printed Google Earth image of Fodder farm, over drawn with property boundaries, fencing, existing structures, sun and wind direction and any other key points.

Next, finding your focus for your property will help decide what you wish to plant. Are you looking for low maintenance, but attractive? Functional? Self-sufficiency? The time you have to spend on creating and maintaining the planting will greatly influence the style of planting too.

Also spend some time investigating garden/landscaping philosophies. There are many different methods and ideals, finding one that resonates with you can inspire ideas you may never have considered otherwise. These can range from ‘conventional’, to relaxed go with the flow, or to Permaculture, Regenerative or Biodynamic.

We are Homesteaders so this means our focus is on creating a functional property which supplies most of our food, home and medical needs, it also needs to provide us with an income. Our philosophy is to do all this as naturally as possible, but we are also realistic and if a ‘conventional’ approach is needed we will resort to that. We do not follow any one established philosophy but take many great ideas from across the board and adapt them to suit our family and property.

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Plan for Fodder Farm traced onto translucent paper. Included is what we have already achieved and what we are planing.

When choosing plants for your site make sure you consider its full growth potential and the possible impacts this may have on other plantings or structures etc. This could include shading, root invasion (especially for willows in water pipes), crowding out, incompatibility, etc.

However you choose to manage your property there are some pretty consistent processes when it comes to planting.

  • Clear the area to be planted. There are two main reasons to do this, firstly it removes competition for nutrients and water allowing the new plant to establish well. The other reason is allelopathy, this is when a plant releases a growth inhibitor toxic to prevent plants growing around it. A good example of this is walnut trees which release a compound juglone into the soil surrounding them which is toxic to many other plant species, this often results in bare patches under the trees. This can also occur with many conifer species and also Gums which suck the ground dry. Some grasses have a similar action, rye grass, which is very common in most New Zealand pastures, is being studied for its effectiveness as an herbicide. 1

(note; this doesn’t apply if simply inserting a plant/tree into an existing garden with compatible or support plants)

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Blueberry planted into a mulched garden.

  • If using a loose mulch this can be applied to the area some weeks or months prior to planting along with manure to create a ‘bed’ into which planting can be done. This method has the benefit of improving the soil prior to planting and reduces the work at planting time. Another method is to cover the area temporally with a plastic sheeting, cardboard or another solid material to ‘smother’ the existing plantings at least a couple of months before planting.
  • Ensure the area to be planted is moist and if the plant is bagged it is also moist. Dig a hole wide and deep enough for the plant’s roots to spread out. If the plant is bare rooted create a small mound in center of hole for the roots to spread over. Ensure the plant will sit at the same ground level height it was in the bag or ground and carefully full back in around the roots firming as you go. If planting into clay soils or other poorly draining soils plant into mounds to allow for better drainage. If it is a grafted tree site the graft so it is facing south.  Consider the shape of the plant when placing it, they tend to grow more on the sunny side so place it to achieve balance or if in a windy site consider placing any lean towards the wind. For fire wood trees consider where it will eventually be dropped and place any lean or weight in that direction.
  • Stake if necessary, this is often needed for bare rooted fruit trees as their roots have been trimmed or larger trees to give support until established.
  • Water well and mulch around plant, this could include spreading out wet newspapers, cardboard, old carpet (wool) etc. and covering with wet straw, bark chips or old sawdust (untreated) or compost to 90 -120 mm depth. This will protect the roots, keep moisture in and control or suppress weeds. But keep mulch away from the stems of the plants.
  • If planting where there is livestock ensure plantings are protected from their reach.

apple tree
Apple trees in the main garden at Fodder farm

Many properties or paddocks I see are devoid of trees, some believe that the trees and shrubs take up valuable space or grazing. But what they do is change the space to create vertical productive space, micro climates to support other plant species, they can provide food for you and your livestock, bring in the bees and other insects for better pollination. They can actually help protect the area from drying winds and excessive sun, or absorb wetness and redirect surface water; it is all about choosing plants which will suit your property and needs. So plan, plant and enjoy…

Fodder and Forage

Fodder and Forage for Horses – a Natural System

https://grdc.com.au/resources-and-publications/groundcover/ground-cover-supplements/ground-cover-issue-79-new-farm-products-and-services-supplement/turning-rye

Fodder and Forage for Horses – a Natural System

Foreword…  I do not presume to know a lot about horses, their dietary and other needs, but at the encouragement of a horse owner I have forayed into the equestrian world to expand on our fodder/forage and hedgerow information. Please feel free to share feedback or information you may have in regards to this topic.

Rebecca Stewart.

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Photo credit – Cecilia Fisher

Many of the recommendations on our Fodder and Forage page are for ruminant animals – cattle, sheep and goats. However, horses have a very different digestive process therefore need to be addressed separately. There are many different thoughts on how horse nutrition should be managed and I will not enter into these here. This article is to discuss a system, which is more our focus, of providing constant free choice forage feeding. On the advice of a horse owner I have been investigating the ‘Paddock Paradise’ system developed by Jaime Jackson. This system aims to mimic the natural grazing/foraging of horses in a fully natural environment, but within the confines of a smaller area. There are other terms for this method, creative pasturing and track grazing etc., but the effect is the same, allowing the horses more room to move without excess grass.

 

 

By fencing the outer edge of paddocks or pastures to create separate walking tracks and allowing limited access to pasture the ‘Paddock Paradise’ mimics how horses would forage in the wild, spending only brief spells on open grass land due to avoiding predators, often early morning or twilight when the grass sugars are low. Planting these tracks with various trees, shrubs, herbs and wildflowers gives the horses a more natural browse system and the ability to self-medicate. Strategically placed hay slow feeders and water encourage the horses to move around the tracks. In the wild horses would naturally roam many kilometers per day, but domesticated horses are often kept in smaller paddocks with easy access to food and water in close proximity. This can decrease the amount of voluntary exercise and therefore result in less burning of the calories consumed. Another point to consider is that exercise, especially voluntary exercise on pasture or tracks, is very important for the overall mental well-being of the horse, as is companionship.

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Photo credit – Tanaya Jade

Many of the articles I have referenced below are from other countries, there is limited information on this topic in regards to New Zealand so I have gone back through our fodder and forage lists in regards to horses. Including a diverse mix of plants around or in your horse paddock is beneficial no matter what method of grazing you use. Options for the planting and protection of these plants could include fencing off or hot-wiring part of your race/track or boundaries to create hedgerows. In paddocks, corners can be fenced off providing a cost-effective area to be planted or shade trees with under-planting through the center of paddocks, again with adequate protection.  Consider soil, moisture and aspect when deciding placement of trees or hedgerows, observe where your problem winds come from and what areas need more shade or shelter, but also which areas you do not want shaded. All plants benefit from mulch to retain moisture and also eliminate competition from grasses as they become established. This could be wood chip (add nitrogen, e.g. manure, to eliminate nitrogen leaching if mulch is fresh), wet cardboard with added mulch on top, natural carpet, old silage, hay, straw or stable muck, or just green waste (make sure no pest weeds are in it).

The Fodder/Forage Hedgerow.

Fodder is feed that is harvested and taken to the animal, forage is browsed on by the animal while still on the land.

Tree Lucerne – Tagasaste – NZ research indicates digestibility of 82 per cent for plant tips, and 59 per cent for stems up to 8 mm thick. Figures for crude protein content varied from 18 per cent to 25 per cent for tips, and 8 per cent for stems.

Japanese Fodder willow – is highly palatable and contains salicylic acid which is the natural origin of aspirin. All willows are edible.

Basket Willow/Osier – is highly palatable and contains salicylic acid which is the natural origin of aspirin. All willows are edible.

Mulberries – considered high value forage/fodder in many countries. They do produce berries which are edible but may pay to be aware of if you need to limit sugar. Though in a fenced off hedgerow access to berries would be limited anyway.

Rugosa – Apple rose – highly palatable fodder/forage, also medicinal.

Hazel – the leaves and small branches have forage value, while the nuts, which are edible for horses, are high in protein and fat, in a fenced off hedgerow access to nuts would be limited.

Copper Beech – hedged – nontoxic, colourful hedgerow or addition. There is some discussion on whether the nuts are safe or not.

Wattle– Coppiced – Acacia sp. Are considered to have good forage value, are fast growing and nitrogen fixing.

Alder – Black or Italian – coppiced – Alnus sp. are considered to have good forage value, are fast growing and nitrogen fixing.

These are primarily smaller trees or shrubs or can be coppiced to keep lower. But there are also larger trees which can be used as shade and shelter within the paddocks or track areas.

Poplar sp – commonly used fodder tree in New Zealand.

Chestnut, sweet. – nuts are high in starch which could cause issues in some horses. But tree is non-toxic.

Linden – leaves are highly palatable.

Weeping Willow – is highly palatable and contains salicylic acid which is the natural origin of aspirin. All willows are edible. Excellent for wet areas.

Tortured/Corkscrew Willow – is highly palatable and contains salicylic acid which is the natural origin of aspirin. All willows are edible.

Birch, Ash, Liquidambar and London Plane tree are other options which are considered safe.

 

New Zealand Native Forageable Hedgerow

Flax and Karo are considered to be natural wormers.

Toe Toe, Cabbage Tree, Kohuhu, Lemonwood, Griselinia (highly palatable), Hebe, Ake Ake, Manuka are all classed as non-toxic and will be browsed by most animals.

Five Finger and Seven Finger are also considered non-toxic and browsed by animals, however there is some concern over the berries being toxic as they are both in the ivy plant family.

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Photo credit – Melissa Mence

Edible/food-forest Hedgerow

Fruit trees – Apple, Pear, Peach, Plum, apricot etc.  These are not recommended as they can be toxic to horses.

Mulberries, Rugosa – Apple rose (or other rose species) and Hazel are mentioned in fodder and forage above.

These options are all considered non-toxic…

Feijoa

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Photo credit – Tanaya Jade

Hawthorn (medicinal also)

Currants

Blueberries

Gooseberries

Grape

Kiwifruit

Globe artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes

Strawberry.

Berry brambles – Raspberry, Thorn-less Blackberry etc.

 

Herbs are also worth considering as many have medicinal properties, these herbs listed are considered safe for horses.

Fennel

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Photo credit – Sarah Harding

Comfrey

Chicory

Echinacea

Calendula

Dandelion

Plantain

Peppermint

Parsley

Marshmallow

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Photo credit – Mandy Thompson

Chamomile Flowers

Lemon Balm

Goldenseal Leaf

Meadowsweet Herb

Marjoram

Rosemary

Coltsfoot

Yarrow

 

 

 

 

I would like to thank members of Homesteading New Zealand for contributing such beautiful photos of their horses.

Further reading…

https://www.equinerehab.co.nz/Services/Creative-Pasture/creative-pasture.html 

http://www.horsehaven.co.nz/grass.php 

http://www.hiralabs.co.nz/horse-pasture/ 

 https://permaculturenews.org/2010/06/04/grazing-and-browsing-forage-trees-and-shrubs-for-horses/ 

https://www.horsejournals.com/horse-care/illness-injury/prevention/forage-feeding-your-horse-bring-back-instincts 

http://www.horsecouncil.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Plants-Poisonous-to-Horses-Aust-field-guide.pdf 

https://www.specialitytrees.com.au/collections/horse-friendly-trees-0ggsx 

https://listentoyourhorse.com/herbs-and-medicinal-plants-that-horses-will-eat/ 

https://www.victoriaferguson.com.au/can-horses-self-medciate-pasture/ 

http://calmhealthyhorses.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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