Lifeboat Farm

Making compost lasagne
May 3, 2012, 8:58 pm
Filed under: Environment, Garden, Pasture

One of the key principles of both organic and permaculture farming is to minimise external inputs to your farming system. Given how important soil is to farming and gardening, growing your own soil is a great strategy. Autumn is an ideal time to get some compost put away for the coming Spring. Whether it’s to top up the garden, or to fill up new garden beds, there’s no such thing as having too much compost under construction. At its simplest, a compost pile uses the same processes as nature to break down organic matter; Bacteria and small critters digest the organic matter, leaving behind rich soil.

Almost any organic matter can be composted, but a few ingredients make the whole process of creating soil that much faster. You can get also get technical with the ratio of carbon to nitrogen in your compost, but experience (and your nose) are really all you need to perfect your technique.

Carbon sources are things like leaves, dried grass or hay, wood chips, or even paper. Nitrogen tends to come from fresh green matter like plants, or animal manures. My favourite ingredients (and what we have to hand) are horse manure from the paddock or stable, old hay, straw from the chicken house, and soil from the last batch of compost as a starter.

We spread the ingredients in fine layers, just like making a lasagne. In the early stages, most of the bacterial activity will happen at the edges of the layers, where the different ingredients meet, so lots of thin layers will compost quicker than a few thick ones. The layers of previous compost act as a starter – providing lots of bacteria to kick-start the composting process.

Here are our latest farm helpers Tanya and Andy, layering up the lasagne. It’s a pleasant morning’s work, building the pile. The individual ingredients don’t smell, and as long as there’s plenty of air getting to the pile, it won’t either.

You can use almost any system to contain the compost. We use some spare boards and some old bits of warratah to retain them. The pile can be open to the weather, but if you’re expecting torrential rain it might pay to cover it with some old carpet. You want the pile moist to do its job, but not soaked.

The chickens quite like helping and will gladly spread the new compost everywhere in search of tasty bugs. I don’t want to deprive them, but that’s why we use the boards – to keep everything in place long enough for it to compost.

After a few days, the pile will start to heat up. That’s a good sign that the compost heap is getting into action. You should be able to put your hand right into the centre without it getting burned (seriously, it can get that hot). If the pile is too hot you’ve probably got too much nitrogenous matter in there, so ease back on the animal manure next time, or add more carbon to the mix. Ideally the pile will get up to 65 degrees C to kill any pathogens or weed seeds in the mix.

In about a month we’ll turn the compost to help aerate it and by Spring there should be a few cubic metres of rich, dark soil to fill up  new garden beds or spread on the pasture – all home grown.


A wee flood
March 3, 2012, 4:45 pm
Filed under: Environment, Weather

This is our neighbour’s place in the midst of the so-called “weather bomb”. Their usually small, tranquil stream had grown considerably.

3D Printed coffee grinder part
December 6, 2011, 5:09 pm
Filed under: 3D Printing, Environment, Technology

My friend Eddie has a small coffee grinder that has given him many years of faithful service but a broken part has rendered it less useful than it could be. I’m not sure what the official term is, but I’ll call it the sweeper. It’s the part that sweeps the ground coffee out to the exit chute as it is ground. I thought I’d try to 3D print a replacement part.

3D Printing precision parts can be tricky as there are limitations when you are depositing layers of molten plastic on top of one another to make a part. Luckily, the most precise bit of this part is the brass hex bush, which I could re-use. I used the basic measurements of the broken sweeper to create a quick model in Google SketchUp. You can use any of the more complex (and expensive) design packages, but for 99% of the work I do, SketchUp works just fine (and it’s free).

Here’s the printed part, fresh off the Makerbot 3D Printer. It needs a few stray bits of filament trimmed, but otherwise ready to go.

Tidied up, with a quick sand and trim (you wouldn’t want any bits falling off into the coffee). The brass bush will just friction fit into the new sweeper.

And here’s the new sweeper installed and tested with some coffee grounds. The tolerance is pretty tight so as not to leave any coffee behind. I used ABS plastic for this print as it’s the most food-safe feedstock I have. It melts at 220 degrees Celsius so even if any bits do get into the coffee grounds, the extraction water wouldn’t be hot enough to melt it into the finished coffee.

And that’s it. One less appliance heading to the landfill for want of a single broken part. Best of all, now the part exists digitally, anyone who needs a spare can print their own. I’ll upload the part to Thingiverse on the off-chance someone else in the world needs one.

First snow of the Winter
June 2, 2009, 9:26 pm
Filed under: Environment, Weather

It was quite cold last night – we had a fair bit of snow. To our Auckland friends, complaining about the frost all I can say is “harden up!” 🙂


Morning gave us a beautiful view of snow on the Tararua Ranges.


Carpeting the Weeds
September 28, 2008, 10:30 pm
Filed under: Building, Environment, Garden

We had a very busy Sunday in the garden, carpeting over weeds and planting a bunch of new native trees. Here is a section of our native garden after I cut back the out of control weeds (yay spring flush).

Next we laid old wool carpet pattern side down (to protect the plants from the 70’s patterns) and cut slots for new and existing trees and shrubs.

Here’s the finished strip with a few new plantings. We’ll cover the carpet with mulch and while it takes a few years to rot away, the carpet will suppress all the weeds. We’ll need a few more trailer loads of carpet to finish this garden bed but it’s a start. Luckily the local carpet retailer is keen to see the old carpet they uplift recycled. It’s a win-win when you feel warm and fuzzy about recycling but still get to deal out some death to the weeds. Eventually the shrubs and trees will be big enough to crowd out the weeds. One of our older gardens needs almost zero weeding, it’s so densely covered with natives.

300 Poplars to plant
September 15, 2008, 2:00 pm
Filed under: Environment, Trees

This is what 300 poplar stakes look like. We’ll be planting these around the farm over the next couple of weeks to provide shelter from wind and sun to the animals and pasture.

Tree Lucerne in Flower
July 12, 2008, 2:28 pm
Filed under: Environment, Garden

Our Tree Lucerne is bursting into flower. This will become a great source of Winter forage for the bees (we’ll be getting them in Spring). I’m establishing a nursery to grow a few hundred new Tree Lucerne each year as a nursery crop for all the native plantings we want to do. Tree Lucerne is pretty special when you consider it fixes nitrogen in the soil, sends down very deep, stabilising roots, provides wind and sun shelter, animal fodder, firewood and it grows quickly. It’s ideal as a windbreak or nursery crop as you can do so much else with it.