Return of the gardeners

It’s always with a degree of trepidation that I return to our garden after being away. While three weeks absence isn’t much, it did coincide with the first big flush of spring so the weeds are rampant and the vegetables are hard to find.

On a more positive note our two new chickens have started laying, so the daily egg count is growing nicely. A friend was looking after our tomato seedlings and they have flourished under their care.

I braved the front veggie patch this afternoon. Brave being the operative word. After half an hour of weeding I had scarcely managed to clear a metre of ground. What was more disappointing was that after that work it turned out that the purple podded peas were so spent that it actually wasn’t worth the effort to free them from the weeds.

Thankfully the shallots that I planted at either end of the bed are growing away reasonably well. I have now mulched them with sugar cane waste to see it I can slow down the ever ready weed population.

A further word on these beds that I planted out so hopefully a few months ago. You might remember that I tried out Tino Carnavale’s method of placing the seedlings near strings so the plants could readily climb to the top of their support. Sadly I have to report that for one of my beds this was almost a complete failure. Not Tino’s fault but my first qualification is don’t try this method where the plants will be effected by strong wind.

My purple Podded peas were growing away quite nicely when our spring gale force winds hit. The plants were clinging so tightly that almost all of one bed were immediately snapped off at the base. A second row of peas, planted in the shelter of the first row managed to survive somewhat better and they are starting to produce quite well. The bush peas planted nearby have just about disappeared under the weeds. However my Alderman climbing peas and my snow peas, planted in the more sheltered back garden, are podding quite well.

Probably best of all is that we are still harvesting some asparagus. Just enough to remind us what we missed out on during our holiday.

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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.

New girls1
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!

New girls2
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.

New girls3

Feathers

Honestly,  you’d think someone had been killed in here. One of our younger chickens has started moulting for the first time. Huge patches of skin can be seen! Yikes.

Today I  see that one of the other ‘girls’, the little Arucana, has also started loosing her feathers. The very hot weather is effecting them as much as it effects us. The chickens spent most of the day in the shade next to my stone water trough, drinking as much water as they can.

Another interesting effect resulting from the moult is that the pecking order changes. The black hen who is now moulting was the number 2 chicken. This evening I see her being pushed out of the way by one of the chickens we are minding for our friend. This smaller chicken is normally two places below in the order. Once again I find that chickens are endlessly fascinating to watch.

Coming home to roost

Chickens are everywhere at Chez Fork. We have just returned from the Hunter Valley with five fairly new chicks (about 5 weeks old) from my sibling’s flock.

Five Frizzle chicks!
Five fiesty Frizzle chicks!

 If these chicks look a bit unusual its because they are Frizzles. These are chickens with a genetic disposition to have curly feathers. Here’s a close up of one.

One of the Frizzle chicks
One of the Frizzle chicks

At present they are living in their own pen away from our other girls, for several reasons. Firstly to avoid any spread of disease from either group. Because until they are a bit bigger the two hens might attack them. Also because they could easily get out of the big girls run and become prey to any many of bird, dog or cat in the vicinity. So for now we’ll watch them grow.

And just because I can here are some photos of the other girls. TB had the digital SLR camera out today and took some lovely photos.

The two of us, Letty on the left and Artemesia on the right
The two of us, Letty on the left and Artemesia on the right

Up close and personal with Letty the White Leghorn.

Letty giving us her best 'look'
Letty giving us her best ‘look’

And head of the hen house, Artemesia (Arte), the Ancona. 

Artemesia the Ancona
Artemesia the Ancona

The Minimalist Chicken

The chook shed is looking pristine, at least for today, as I have done a big ‘spring clean’. This includes dismantling all the bits of the laying boxes and floor and then giving the whole shed first a brush down, followed by a good washing with hot soapy water to discourage mites and any other nasties that get into the woodwork.

Clean and tidy for at least half a day!
Clean and tidy for at least half a day!

I’d left the nesting box and floor out to dry in the sun and when I came to put it back together I found this!

It's Mid-Twentieth Century modern style for our chickens!
It’s Mid-Twentieth Century modern style for our chickens!

You can’t beat that minimalist design as far as one of our chooks is concerned! Yes Dotty the Australorp has taste beyond what we ever anticipated.

Yes, that's my egg.
Yes, that’s my egg.

Meanwhile TB has been trying out his new camera taking portraits of ‘the girls’.

She may be lowest in the pecking order but Letty is the fastest when it comes to eating apple cores.

Letty the Leghorn
Letty the Leghorn

Top of the pecking order, Artemesia the Ancona.

Artemesia the Ancona
Artemesia the Ancona

Not to forget the chief explorer and escape artist Dotty the Australorp.

Dotty the Australorp
Dotty the Australorp

All the signs …

Spring is nearly here, just under two weeks to go until the official start of the ‘growing’ season. The wattle is flowering, the chickens are laying more consistently (well at least two of them are), the days are getting longer and most incontrovertible of all, I have an overwhelming urge to go to the nursery and spend up big on any plant I see.

Newly bought seedlings and some early seed propagation in the polyhouse.
Newly bought seedlings and some early seed propagation in the polyhouse.

I’ve found it all so hard to resist. We gave in last week and bought a few punnets of plants, pak choy and lettuces, that will be able to survive in the current low temperatures and will survive the inevitable frosts. And yes, at the back, that is a tray of pea seeds that I planted in their traditional loo roll tubes, yesterday. By the time they are up they will be well able to cope with the outside temperatures. Parsley, at the front, was transplanted from tidying up in the front veggie garden. Most of these are destined for give-aways to friends and neighbours.

I am also trying to be a bit more logical in assessing what we have in the garden and what we need to source for the garden. A case in point are the strawberries. Our current crop are well past their use-by date as can be seen in the spotty, virus laden foliage. These have to be rooted out, quite literally and replaced.

Bad strawberry!
Bad strawberry!

I have some previous years runners in pots, but I still have to check whether they are clear of viruses. I did buy four new plants of the strawberry variety Hokowase, which originated in Japan and friend M says she will give me some of her runners. So once I wrestle with digging out the old plants, tossing them in the bin to avoid any further infection and replacing the soil in the brick niches I will be able to replant.

I’m working off, or perhaps working up, my spring gardening urges by reading gardening books and listening to gardening podcasts. Top of the reading list at the moment is A Year at Otter Farm, by Mark Diacono (Bloomsbury Press 2014).

A year at Otter farm, cover illustration by Andrew Lyons.
A year at Otter farm, cover illustration by Andrew Lyons.

Yes, I was sucked in by Andrew Lyons’ beautiful cover illustration, but equally so by the fact that Mark has a recipe for Jerusalem artichoke cake. Anyone who grows these yummy tubers will know that, like zucchinis, you can never have too many recipes for using them all up! This book ticks all my boxes. It’s seasonal, the recipes are sorted by main ingredient and the recipes are sensibly listed on the page where the vegetable is discussed. Such an obvious idea and yet I think this is the first time I’ve seen it in use. Mark is also growing some of the less common veggies and it’s great to get his growing tips and learn from his experience. While Mark is living in the UK it is easy enough to follow the seasons through the book by simply ignoring the month listed at the chapter heading.

I’m also going overseas for my favourite podcast over at You Grow Girl. Gayla Trail’s blog (Gayla is based in Toronto, Canada) was one of the first gardening blogs I found all those years ago. I must say that I had not been catching up with it recently so I was pleasantly surprised when I dropped by the other day to see that she is now podcasting. Her podcasts go under the title of What’cha Growin. I like what she is doing – I’ve listened to four podcats so far – Gayla has some really interesting guests. Some are experienced, others raw beginners from both rural and really urban gardens – have you ever had a gunshot victim laid in your garden while waiting for the ambulance? I’ve been really disciplined starting from her first podcast, but I’m building up to episode 7, when she interviews Alys Fowler, one of the UK’s leading veggie garden promoters.

Bring spring on, I’m ready!

 

 

 

Whiling away winter

It’s always slow in the winter garden, not that nothing is going on, but there is less of that urgent feeling you get with gardening in spring. I think the chooks feel the same way. Our egg supply is so intermittent that we actually had to buy eggs last week – oh the shame! Not that that has stopped them from taking the opportunity to jump out of their fenced in area to grab some of that ‘greener grass’ before they get spotted and herded back into their enclosure.

Chooks on the run, out and about in the back yard.
Chooks on the run, out and about in the back yard.

There are also those clear sunny winter days that Canberra residents love so much. If the wind isn’t too strong we’ll sit outside and soak up some warmth. It also gives us the opportunity to spot some visitors, such as this Grey Butcherbird.

A Grey Butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus).
A Grey Butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus).

Actually the Butcherbird was sitting just above the foraging chickens and I couldn’t help but think it was calculating if it might just catch out one of our chooks – even though they are about five times the size of this fellow.

We are also trying to keep up with our bike-riding, despite the chill winds. We took a bento box lunch to a nearby lake last week, but forgot the chopsticks. Well at least there were some shrubs nearby – needs must!

Lunch by the lake with improvised chopsticks.
Lunch by the lake with improvised chopsticks.

Of course there is also the chance to eat some hearty soup made from our own garden veggies. I was particularly keen to try this roasted beetroot soup recipe which I found in the magazine Kinfolk that I bought in Tokyo (something to read in English!). It used pomegranate molasses as an additional flavouring! We have, so I now find out, not one but two unopened bottles of pomegranate molasses collected on our various travels. What an opportunity to use some.

So things don’t always go quite the way you expect. I supplemented the beetroots, of which we have only a few, with some carrots which we have a lot of. The roasting went fine until I got distracted, sitting in the garden, and returned to find my veggies were more char than roast. I was able to peel the worst bits off, although this did reduce the size of the meal. I used just 2 teaspoons of pomegranate molasses, instead of the quarter cup I had anticipated, oh well. To finish it off we grated some of our freshly dug horseradish into some cream and swirled it in. It was a great combination of flavours, even though we only ended up with one serve each and no leftovers.

Roasted Beetroot soup flavoured with pomegranate molasses.
Roasted Beetroot soup flavoured with pomegranate molasses.

Winter is what we make it and some days the chooks even give us an egg for breakfast!

Some winter sunshine on a scrambled egg from the 'girls'.
Some winter sunshine on a scrambled egg from the ‘girls’.

 

 

 

 


Happy Eggiversary!

One year and 528 eggs later!
One year and 528 eggs later!

It has been one year since our chooks laid their first egg.

In that time the three ‘girls’ have laid 528 eggs, or a very neat 44 dozen eggs. On her arrival our Ancona Artemesia, took over leadership of the flock and laid our very first egg. Letty the Leghorn weighed in with the largest egg at 100 grams; while our ever reliable Australorp Dot has been our most consistent layer and produced the greatest number of eggs.

We just want to say, ‘well done those chickens!’

My Black Hen

My black hen, Dot, has been the mainstay of our chook pen since the start of April. She is the only one of our three chooks who is laying eggs.

Dot, the Australorp, with our Ancona Artemesia, in the background.
Dot, the Australorp in the foreground, with our Ancona hen, Artemesia, in the background.

The other two hens have been moulting. There are feathers everywhere and pale and drooping combs. We are hoping that one of the others will start laying again soon so Dot can have a break.