At our farm, everyone — and every animal — contributes to the quality of our flowers.
They aren’t just super cute (and devilishly clever) but they are also some of the hardest-working members of our farm. Aubergine and Clementine are our own personal rototillers! When we need new flower beds, we bring our two lovely ladies into the patch to do all the hard work for us. After a few weeks, they will have eaten everything, root and stem. This is especially important as we have couch grass on our property, and bringing in a rototiller first would only spread the roots around even more – compounding later weed issues. We knew it was meant to be when they first arrived, the first thing they went for was the blackberry! On top of that, everyone knows their efficiency with food scraps, and they are happy to gobble down any vegetarian leftovers that we can’t put into the compost pile.
We bring our pigs in to start a bed, and we bring chickens in to finish them. Once a crop of flowers are finished, we use our chook ‘tractor’ to allow our chickens to move across the bed day by day, eating up the last big of greens, gobbling up any bugs, and scratching away at the soil, helping turn it over before we go in afterwards with compost, fertiliser, etc. This gives them a lovely mixture of food to supplement with their standard feed, resulting in tasty eggs and meat and happy, healthy animals.
Other than helping stock our meet freezer every year, our lovely black-faced Suffolk sheep also save Chris hours of mowing time on our outer paddocks and enjoy eating flowers that we regularly need to dead head. This is on top of the lovely natural fertiliser they provide to keep our paddocks healthy and rejuvenated. Basil the ram, as well as Marjoram and Rosemary (Marje & Rose) the ewes, are important parts of our farm family.
John Snow (our solitary alpaca-boy) has two primary jobs on the farm: protect the lambs and poo lots. They look after the sheep, warning them of any dangers such as foxes or dogs and we have witnessed them first hand attacking foxes getting too close to our chickens and little lambs. They are beautiful boys, and it was lovely seeing John actually go over to one of the ewes/lambs who had fallen over on to their back and was having difficulty getting up, actually nudging her over to help her back onto her feet!
On top of this, they are one of the best fertiliser suppliers possible. First, they poo in piles! You can’t imagine how much time is saved when all your shovelling is already in lovely little mounds, ready to be collected. Secondly, it is actually ready to add directly to our beds and compost, not needing any extra time to break down or age, unlike many other animal manure that are too ‘hot’ and can burn plants, and contain a variety of weed seeds.
Compost is the lifeblood of our farm – it gets added to our flower beds in between plantings, is used to make our seed sowing and seedling mixes, and is a fantastic way of using up a variety of materials that would normally go into the rubbish and sent to landfill. We were shocked at how much less waste was going into our weekly bins as soon as we began our first compost pile many years ago. In fact, the compost pile was the very first thing we built on our newly purchased property – while we were still renting elsewhere. We actually now find that we don’t have enough to supply our needs – and we have engaged in partnerships with local food businesses to collect their food scraps and coffee grind to help boost our composting stock.
The use of soil blocks was a game changer for our farm, as it has resulted in many positive benefits. First, it saves money! No expensive seed and seedling mixes needed. Next, it means we know exactly what is going into our mixes, and we avoid any issues of nasty chemicals or ethical issues around where the ingredients have come from. It has also vastly decreased the need for purchasing plastic ‘cell’ trays that are normally required, and as is well known, these have a short shelf-life and require frequent replacing. Instead, we actually can use a variety of recycled trays, such as those used by groceries for packs of meat, to old canteen trays or plastic container lids instead. Lastly, it has been a big time-saver, as it takes less than half an hour to prep literally hundreds of blocks ready for sowing.
Here at Fleur de Lyonville we don’t have any town water, and are extremely thankful to have a clay-based dam that we reckon is at least partially spring-fed, as we have yet to dry it up! Between this and our rain tanks, we know that the water we use on the farm is untreated and natural. The use of drip lines has allowed us to be much more efficient with our water use, decreasing the waste you get with traditional sprinklers and spraying. Chris has become a bit of a drip-line ‘guru’ and actually finds it quite relaxing and enjoyable setting up the various systems for our flower beds and setting up timers so we can devote more of our days and nights to other jobs.
Seed Saving & Self-Sowing
Wherever possible, we collect our own seed for future plantings and allow flowers to seed themselves. We have found this a useful technique that pays off in significantly healthier and longer-lasting flowers.
Flower varieties, such as nigella, bells of Ireland, chocolate lace, green ammi, and cosmos, have been much more successful with us “letting them do their own thing!” It’s been our experience with many flower varieties that going through the effort of buying seed, making soil blocks, sowing the seed, and then looking after them like a newborn, often ends up with nothing happening! Some flowers are better off growing where nature planted them, not us!
Seed saving ensures that we have fresh seed that will have higher germination rates and the plants from these seeds will be more acclimatised to our area and region, thereby being stronger and healthier. In fact, we actually have our own ‘self-sowing patch’ where we let several varieties go crazy each year! Then, all we need to do is pull several out for transplanting, leaving others to go to seed for future years.