And passed! It was a huge undertaking, but doing it online was the only way it could be possible in my circumstances. I am just too busy to attend a major course like this in person. I already knew quite a bit about permaculture and how to use permaculture principles on our farm before the course. But still, I learned a tremendous amount from it and am very grateful for taking it. That experience will hopefully transform our farm into something completely sustainable and self-sufficient for our most necessary needs.
I haven’t made much progress this year in planting fodder trees because I need to build swales first, which will help them establish better and survive our hot and dry summers. And I learned how to do that through this permaculture course. An example of what can be done with swales in a hot arid climate can be found here:
We also got a very important piece of infrastructure in, a solar powered well, with a 900 gallon tank, near where I want to plant the fodder trees. This will allow continuous drip irrigation in the summer to also help them get established.
I have managed to collect the seeds I want for this purpose: tree lucerne, mulberry, honey mesquite, honey locust, I also built a shade house that will allow them to grow a year or two in pots without being burned to death by the hot sun. I just need to buy a heat mat to get them started indoors this winter so that I can put them in pots in the spring and into the shade house by summer. While they are growing in pots, I will be digging swales, no small task.
Another fodder system I plan to build, which will be the primary system until the trees are established enough to harvest from, is a sprout fodder system. You can buy these for a considerable amount of money. But it is my plan to build an aquaponics system that will allow me to sprout barley grain. I will sow barley grain each day in enough trays to provide a day’s worth of feeding. And in seven days, I will feed it to them. This system can also work for horses. Though barley is not recommended for horses, once it is sprouted, it is considered very safe and nutritionally dense and can replace a significant portion of their hay. Cost-wise, it is significantly cheaper. They do need some low quality hay for roughage. But in our case, we usually have enough of that in the pasture. We just don’t have much green grass during the hot summer. The nice thing about recirculating aquaponics, is that its water use is actually very low compared to conventional agriculture.
As I see the pasture improve and we are able to use more of our own fodder trees, I plan to transition this aquaponics system to growing mints and sweet potato greens. These are very fast growers, high in protein. I do not know if they grow biomass as fast as barley sprouts. I would like to experiment to see. But they are a more sustainable, long-term perennial option for us since we won’t need to purchase grain for sprouting. And they do grow very fast.
UPDATE: But after watching these videos; http://pacapride.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/barley-fodder-videos-including-our-fodder-room-walkthrough-and-bonus-cute-stuff-too/
I now realize I won’t be able to maintain the desirable 60-65 degree temperature range for growing barley sprouts year round. Growing mints and (in summer) additional sweet potato greens will be more practical in my situation. I want to build a large fodder growing system in a new greenhouse. But it will be a while before I can do that so I plan to build a smaller 16-20′ one attached to the shade house. I will build two 2′ wide levels 16-20′ long using sun-resistant organic certified pond liner that I can purchase from an aquaponics store locally. The fish tanks are already in place there as a part of a flow-through drip system to the shade house garden. I will incorporate them for this too.
The shade house I built this year. You can see the IBC-tote fish tanks in back, containing bullhead catfish. I will attach the fodder grow beds to the frame outside of the shade house. There is enough shade cloth to cover the additional beds, protecting the mints from the hot summer sun. I am also planting mint in the 50 gallon tanks above the IBC fish tanks.
And another inspiring video by Geoff Lawton (you can sign up for all his free videos here):
And about his very inspiring Zaytuna Farm: