Sleeping disorder

A change of location is always a bit unsettling, but our new chickens are having some unexpected problems – “just where are we supposed to sleep?”

I assumed, incorrectly as it turned out, that they would prefer to sleep in their straw filled carry box. No. This is where we found them the first night.

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Sitting on top of the nesting box

Obviously our girls are of an age where they prefer to roost. So today we spent some time re-arranging the pen and adding a special roosting area. Cue this evening.

I was running late shutting the chooks away for the evening. So they decided for themselves. If in doubt, sit on the roof of your pen!

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What? this looks good to us

So finally having managed to persuade them to go inside their safe house for the night we have our fingers crossed that the chooks will finally get onto the right perch.

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Chickens, Choughs and chickpeas

It’s been an interesting week at Chez Fork. The older chooks have finally started laying again after nearly 6 months rest and our little black hen, having laid eggs for a month has now decided to go broody and get some ‘me’ time in the nesting box.

Earlier in week the chickens got quite a shock when a family of six White-winged Choughs decided to drop in for a breakfast visit. I know from a health perspective that having wild birds in the chook pen isn’t ideal, but when we let the girls into their larger run there isn’t much we can do to keep other birds out. In this case the choughs weren’t accessing the feeder, but were cleaning up some partially wet pellets I’d cleared out of the feeder earlier in the day.

Choughs
The choughs are very relaxed about helping themselves to some chook pellets

We have seen the chickens drive wild birds out of their pen so we found it a bit odd that they seemed quite intimidated by the choughs. I mean there are four chickens and even our smallest chicken is twice as big as a chough.

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The confab at the Chez Fork Corral “What do we do now?”

On the cooking front I’ve been testing out some new recipes developed by the Queensland Country Women’s Association to promote a healthier approach to the afternoon tea table. The recipes they have been promoting include Bean Brownies and Orange Pistachio and Chickpea Cake. As you may gather from the title, the recipes incorporate alternative ingredients, as well as lower quantities of sugar. These two recipes are also gluten-free. I tried the bean brownies first. Although the flavour was good I found the actual brownie quite fragile in the way that most gluten-free baked goods are. As we do not have problems with gluten I plan to re-make this recipe using plain flour.

From the outset the Orange Pistachio and chickpea cake was much more successful. For a start I didn’t waste any time going gluten-free, I just substituted an equal quantity of plain flour for gluten free flour. I also used tangerines rather than oranges, as I had some that my friend had given me.

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Dense and moist with great flavour

This cake has proved popular with all who have tried it. It has a moist crumb which is flavoured with the pistachio nuts and citrus. To finish it off I made a drizzle topping using some more of the tangerines. This one is staying in the repetoire.

Finally tonight we had a hearty vegetable soup including lots of greens from our garden.

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Broccoli, broccoli leaves, bok choy flowers and leaves and parsley

Add in some smoked ham hock, courtesy of my partner’s annual pig processing and for additional flavour some of the dried mushrooms we foraged for earlier in autumn.

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Ham hock and veggies ready for the soup

Finally we had an extremely tasty bowl of hot soup.

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Soup for dinner!

Spr-inter

Yep sprinter is definitely here! I’m a firm believer in Tim Entwisle’s re-definition of Australian seasons. We are not quite finished with winter but the garden is well into spring, never mind the calendar.

I may not have heard the Bronze Cuckoos yet, but the Spotted Pardalote’s are actively inspecting our compost heap and drilling test nest burrows and the magpie’s are mating on our neighbour’s lawn (don’t look Gladys!).

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The female Spotted Pardalote sitting just above the nesting hole
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The male Spotted Pardalote waits near the nest

Elsewhere in the garden I am seeing the first flowering of the hellebore plant’s that our friend J and neighbour V, gave to me two year’s ago. Unfortunately my plan for a woodland vignette has descended into a replica of a miltary redoubt, surrounded by wire and posts to keep the marauding chickens out.

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Hellebore under siege

Never believe anyone who tells you that chickens and your garden can cohabit happily. For along with all those tasty insects, they will devour your favourite plants. Our chickens appear to have inherited the palates of dissipated Roman emperors. Nothing is beyond their capability to eat, should they desire it. So far they have demolished both the leaves of my waterlily and the known toxic Small Leafed Nardoo, (Marselia angustifolia), toxic to humans that is, but obviously not to chickens. I placed both of these plants in my stone water trough, thinking that they might help oxygenate the water, but once the chickens found them they were decimated in days.

Meanwhile in the front garden my Blue Veronica (Veronica perfoliata) has put on several flower shoots and the yellow-flowered Bulbine Lily (Bulbinopsis bulbine) is thrusting out of the ground bearing fattening buds.

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Veronica perfoliata with flower shoots
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Bulbinopsis bulbosa, the yellow flowering Bulbine Lily

The flowers of the only Australian ground orchid in my garden, the Blunt Greenhood orchid (Pterostylis curta), have pushed up above the rosettes of leaves filling their terracotta pot. I have also sunk a pot of these orchids into the front garden. I will soon plant them out properly as I see that they have managed to survive the winter frosts (so far).

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Buds of the Blunt Greenhood orchid, Pterostylis curta

We have taken advantage of this wonderfully sunny day to plant out lots of Native Bluebell’s (Wahlenbergia sp.) that my partner has a real knack for propagating. I’ve also committed three Eremophila and a Correa, grown from cuttings to the ‘mercies’ of the real garden, death by being ignored in a pot being the alternative.

Alas the weeds have also registered the upswing in the season. At least I can feed them to those marauding imperial chickens!

A small announcement 

Our newest Australorp has asked me to make an announcement on her behalf. 

Today she laid her first egg!

To be honest we thought she might. All morning she went into and out of the hen house. Then she explored the fence line,  eventually jumping over into the garden several times. In the end we decided to put her and the other hens into the smaller enclosure, hoping she would use a nest box. In fact she tried all three boxes, finally selecting the central box. The outcome was a creditable 55 grams.

In ground

The tomato harvest continues and this week we picked several of the Soldackis and prepared them for later use. I decided to roast the tomatoes with a bit of olive oil some salt and pepper. A slow cook resulted in two jars of pulp.

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Two jars of roasted tomato pulp

To date we have collected nearly 200 saffron flowers or about a gram of the spice. This is our largest harvest to date and we’ve even had to find a larger jar to store the threads in! We still expect to be picking flowers for another week at least.

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A picking of saffron, one of our better day”s harvest

Our chickens are, for the large part, taking it easy. Of the four of them only the smallest new chicken, called Little Frizz, is laying eggs. It seems amazing that this funny little animal is doing all the hard work. I do worry that her poor feather coverage will make winter very hard for her.

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Little Frizz in the back garden

However it’s not all harvesting around here. Given that “April is for alliums”, as Tino was reminding us on Gardening Australia the other week, TB has been out planting onion seedlings and garlic bulbs. After a week the garlics are just starting to push through the soil and the onions are standing up.

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A garlic shoot just peeping out of the ground

Chickens – a truce is declared!

I reported at the end of October of the arrival of our 5 new chicks. Since then they have grown quite rapidly and we have been working to introduce the new fowl to our two existing hens. I must say it hasn’t always been a pretty sight.

Our boss hen took her pecking order very seriously and made sure that all the chicks knew, exactly, who was in charge. The youngsters were so scared of her that they all huddled as far away as possible when she came anywhere near them. It seemed unlikely that the two groups would ever get together.

We also know that we have a young rooster somewhere in among the newbies. We have heard some very adolescent-sounding crowing early in the morning, but as soon as we get close to the pen he goes stum.

This week we finally took the step of bringing the two groups together in the same pen overnight. It didn’t go well. TB went to check them before we went to bed and discovered that all the chicks had somehow gotten out of the main pen and were forlornly sitting on the edge of a big flowerpot – well except for the littlest Frizzle who has such fine feathers that it has problems getting up off the ground.

Next morning revealed where they had pushed through the mesh in the corner of the pen. Duly re-nailed into place we tried again. It wasn’t much better the next night, except they didn’t escape, they just huddled underneath the hen house. Then on the third night they actually entered the pen without any herding and they went into the hen house. Now they are even roosting in the hen house. As you can see a strict hierachy is being maintained. And yes the littlest frizzle is still having trouble getting onto the perch.

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All quiet in the hen house – for now

Random harvests

There is never a ‘right time’ to leave your garden over summer. We had taken two weeks off early in December to catch up with family and returned home to a garden that appeared definitely the worse for wear.

Because of the valiant efforts of friends and neighbours we still had something to return to. But several short very hot days had blasted  any lingering traces of November’s rains away.

The first task I chose was to start tidying up the yard. Those chick peas that I planted way too late last summer needed picking. You know what, they actually produced a crop. A whopping 23 seeds, each of which was a quarter of the size of your average bought chick pea.

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A massive chick pea harvest – not

Then there were the raspberries.They were set to be the largest crop we had ever harvested. Of course they would reach perfect ripeness the week after we went away. By the time we came back they were totally dessicated on their canes. I did not want to lose all that crop and cursed that there was no way to have picked them earlier. Then I looked at them again and realised that they had just been naturally super-dried. I tasted one, and another, they still retained that intense raspberry flavour.

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One bowl of very dried raspberries

I  picked the berries over and removed them from their stems. Thankfully this is as easy as releasing the moist ripe berries from the canes. A quick toss in a metal mesh sieve removed the remaining dry bits and the few pieces of left-behind stem. We plan to pulse them in the spice grinder and use them as a base to make raspberry ice-cream.

Next task will be harvesting the broad beans (fava beans). Most have dried in their pods and I think I’ll hang the remaining stems up to dry as well. At least we managed to harvest several bags of young beans earlier in the season and they are tucked away in the freezer.

Sadly the snails and slaters (wood lice) have once again decimated my new beans. I think I’ve planted at least 6 well-grown seedlings and a further 9 seeds after all but one plant got ring-barked at its base. I think I’ll try more seeds, but this time inter-plant them with my Golden bantam corn. The corn is in a slightly drier part of the garden. I can only hope that the new plants will have a better chance there.

On a more positive note some of our garden visitors have been enjoying themselves as we try and give our garden some much needed water. Here young magpies are playing in the front garden. I’m pleased that I decided to leave the white paper daisies to spread across the newly planted garden while the tube stock plants are still small.

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Everyone enjoys playing under the spinkler on a hot day!