Making use of downtime

Of course just as I got over the jet lag and knuckled down to the grindstone to get some serious vegetable bed preparations done, the Victorian flu hit me squarely. Literally, in the chest. House-bound, totally out for the count for four days, and with so much to do! Not to let it get me under, I sat myself down, sniffing and coughing, with nice hot cuppa tea and got some studying and planning done.

Student for life

Chooks should be high on our agenda for this spring – in fact, we bought the coop kit in January already! But life kept getting in the way, and besides, when the long trip materialised, we realised the chooks would just have to wait until we get back. So now that we’re back and I was forced to sit still for a long while, I started studying Harvey Ussery’s book titled The Small Scale Poultry Flock. My word, I think I’ve learnt a thing or three on every single page. Man, this guy is Ussering in an exciting new phase in our lives! The book is highly recommended – I may even pen down a review sometime when I have a downtime again.

Plan - Harvey Ussery

Talking about studying, I am hyper stoked to report that my application for Permaculture Teachers Training has been successful – so I’m looking forward to some learning, sharing and meeting more like-minded people at the Ballarat Permaculture Guild in November.

Veg planner

Yes, you read correctly – veg planner, not veg planter! We have come to the stage where our random vegetable plantings aren’t working that well. Either we end up with total chaos in one bed, or we have half a bed that’s empty because we can’t clear the remainder of it yet. Our crop rotations have also been very hit-and-miss, relying on memory and bed availability. Besides, to keep track between what’s happening in Homeland’s semi-ordered beds vs what is happening in Dreamland’s forest style beds was becoming a nightmare. So we needed to start planning our vegetable planting and rotation schedule a lot more thoroughly.

For this I wanted a large pin-up board, but nothing I could find was big enough to fit however many rows in however beds times 52 weeks a year. Plus we needed some flexibility for changes, new beds and who knows what we dream up down the line. But then I got a brain wave! We have this huge portable dart board “screen” that we wheel out mostly when we have guests around the barbeque. But for the most part, it stands with its ugly backing facing the backyard, right next to a cupboard where a lot of our small implements, boots and hats are kept. So it is huge and pretty central – what more do you want?

Plan - board

So a large part of my downtime was spent drawing lines on large pin-up sheets and cutting and labelling literally hundreds of little colour-coded strips of cardboard. We use different colours to denote different types of vegetables e.g. roots, cover crops, fruits, etc., and different lengths of cardboard proportional to how long it takes that particular plant to maturity. So now we can do proper crop rotation and companion planting planning all together on one large sheet! Besides the planning, it also creates a great project plan to make sure we have continuity in the beds and that we do the proper bed preparations and plantings in time.

Plan - vegetables1

Now to go and do the planning according to plants that survived our journey, the seeds we have ordered and the vegetables we want and need in their respective growing seasons. I like!

Provencialise the front lawn

Since I have done the market gardening course, I have been advocating that we should use the largely unused front lawn for vegetable and herb production. And every time my suggestion ran slam bang into a brick wall… the lady loves her space and her vista (despite my arguments that neither of those would disappear.)

But while we were in Provence, my idea finally got its big break! As we were wandering awe-inspired through the vegetable garden at La Mas de la Rose, Patricia dropped the bomb: “Well, if you can make it look like THIS, you can get the front lawn.”

I didn’t need any more inspiration! So to alleviate the boredom of cutting and labelling hundreds of little pieces of cardboard, I came up with a Provencial design for the Homeland front area. Besides enlarging our vegetable production, it would introduce some highly necessary shade and coolness to an otherwise hard sun-baked area. Mind you, Provence has very hot dry summers, so their style of gardening should work well here too.


There is just one little catch. In order to get that Provence look right, you need to get that terracotta edging right. I can still figure out how to do the pergolas and the light beige paths very cost-effectively, but those neat little Provencial edgings may be prohibitively expensive, especially with so many edges involved. What about miniature lavender and rosemary edges? That’s pretty Provencial too! We can actually grow our own cuttings, and it will have a very useful by-product too. Little bags of lavender and rosemary herb mixes anyone? Flowers for the bees? Ha ha, the debate continues…

Chook tractor

While working through Harvey Ussery’s book, I stumbled on the idea to build a portable “chicken cruiser” (that’s what he calls it) that we can employ in the Homeland vegetable garden. This is, in addition to the free-range chooks and ducks that we are planning for Dreamland. Harvey’s book contains so many pointers on how to make such a tractor strong enough to keep predators out, but lightweight enough to be able to move it around. He also explains exactly how the employ the chooks for this important job. So I got drawing again! (Sorry the lines are a bit faint, but that’s what they taught us, with some painful physical enforcement, in technical drawings 101 way back in secondary school.)

Plan - chook tractor

Building this “mobile working holiday home” for a couple of chooks is actually less demanding work than de-weeding and preparing beds, and I can build it all in the shed – it has to be portable after all. So I may just get this little “high priority interrupt project” off the ground while I’m recovering from the flu. So there will be a new type of label on the veg planner – “chooks” – which will indicate when who will have which timeshare on which bed.

Watch this space for this exciting development!


About (207 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

8 Comments on Making use of downtime

  1. Henriette Emilie // September 3, 2018 at 7:14 pm // Reply

    One of the periods in my on and off homesteading life was when we kept a small flock of chooks. To fit in with locality, British breeds – Buff Orpington, Legbar and one rescue Polish hen that I had put together again after a dog attack. As the wise groundsman said to me once. “There’s a lot of death with chickens”. But also great delight. Recommended!

    • Hi Henriette, we get Buff Orpingtons here too, but they didn’t end up high on our list (can’t remember why now…). I’m quite excited to get the whole chooks thing going, but it’s a longer process that I first thought – watch this space 🙂

  2. Hope you’re feeling better soon! We’re super excited about Spring even though, we’re only really likely to see it in November…

    Have you decided what breed of chooks you’re going to get?? Would love to hear more on this. You’ll wish you got them sooner 😉

    • I’m much better already thank you. Yeah our spring is the same – the signs are out there, but it really only arrives briefly in November. Oh the chooks – that’s a whole story in itself – a LONG story! But to give you a glimpse ahead, we’re really interested in Plymouth Rocks (for this part) – more about that in a post soon 🙂

  3. Your lavender edges sounds great, and a lot more ‘bio’ than terracotta!
    Impressed that you can still do technical drawings Martin! I, for one, know how long ago it was!

    • Hi Jannes, I also think miniature lavender edges is the way to go! Ha ha remember mr van der Linde’s classes and the moustache man next to him (forgot his name) Forbid you had a smudge on a drawing – must say I didn’t use baby powder this time round. 🙂

  4. Hope you feel better soon. Proper ‘flu is rotten. I always get up with far more plans than I’ll ever carry out. Here’s hoping that the veg. read the same books as to maturation time!
    The trouble with formal veg gardens is keeping them looking neat and tidy, perhaps you can morph into a more pottager style without her noticing! I used to volunteer at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens, a rather unlikely situated listed walled garden. They grew some lovely and interesting things (lovely light soil which I envied – mine was clay) but since the garden was primarily for visitors the produce was not always harvested at the optimum time. There are some lovely ornamental veg varieties though.

    • Thanks, I’m better and back on the chicken tractor and vegetable beds already! Yes, the veg tend to take their own time – I guess with your equally erratic weather you must find the same?
      Our raised beds are a bit more organised (or they try to be :-)) but at Dreamland we do more pottager style veg garden anyway – a bit of a wild mix of things that are good companions. It worked quite well the first season, so we’ll probably carry on doing that.

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