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.

Weather

Another day of icy Antarctic blasts after that tempting warm spell late last week. Today we had 37 mms of rain in the gauge so that at least is a positive. The long term forecast is for an El Nino this year so we can expect above average temperatures and a lot less rain. So any soil moisture we can get now, along with run-off into the dams is welcome. On the negative side – the strong winds have torn several holes in the polyhouse roof which will need fixing quite quickly.

Fixing a hole where the rain gets in ...
Fixing a hole where the rain gets in …

Luckily the only seedlings I have in there are tough old brassicas, Kailan (sometimes spelled kailaan), or Chinese Broccoli, which will be able to stand the cold for a while.

Small but tough Kailan seedlings
Small but tough Kailan seedlings

Walking around the garden after the rain I spot some self sown seedlings. Two brassicas, one Red Russian Kale and this Red Mustard – a favourite in salads.

Self sown Red Mustard
Self sown Red Mustard

Saving the best until last, another one of the hen’s started laying today. Which just puts the pressure on the last one to get a move on. Hooray fresh eggs again!

Plummy accents

I wrote earlier this year about using up some plums my friend had given me. I never did get around to showing you the ice cream I made, mainly because I made the spicy plum ‘swirl’ mix and then froze it until I got around to making the ice cream several weeks later. Now I will warn you that the photo looks somewhat alarming. I made a custard as the basis for the ice cream, but my hen Letty lays eggs with such dark yellow coloured yolks that they made the ice cream very yellow.

Yellow ice cream courtesy of Letty's eggs
Yellow ice cream courtesy of Letty’s eggs

¬†I don’t think it looks so good with the plum mix – at least it tastes great.

Plum swirl ice cream, lurid but tasty!
Plum swirl ice cream, lurid but tasty!

Our other plum taste this month is the Sparkling Plum wine that TB made from plums we were given in early 2014. The colour may be pale and interesting but the alcohol level turns out to give quite a kick.

Sparkling Plum wine, taste with a kick
Sparkling Plum wine, taste with a kick

Now we just need to put the rest of the vintage aside for special occasions.

 

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

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’.

 

 

 

 


Re-eggnition!

At last. After a wait of nearly 4 months another one of our hens has finally decided to start laying again. Of course for reasons known only in their chooky minds the girls decided to lay in the box they generally ignore, rather than the one with the nesting material.

Re-start of the egg laying! 16 July 2013
Re-start of the egg laying! 16 July 2013

I’m sure Dotty, our Australorpe, who is the only hen to have laid any eggs since the start of April, will be relieved to be getting some help at last.