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.
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.
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.
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.
Up close and personal with Letty the White Leghorn.
And head of the hen house, Artemesia (Arte), the Ancona.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Top of the pecking order, Artemesia the Ancona.
Not to forget the chief explorer and escape artist Dotty the Australorp.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Winter is what we make it and some days the chooks even give us an egg for breakfast!
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.