2013: Year of the Golden Girl Chickens

Happy Lunar New Year -year of the snake, a chickens 3rd worst foe! Since we’ve spent a busy January madly harvesting, pruning, digging and constructing in our garden, we forgot to post an update, so here it is.

So far in 2013, a lot has happened in our suburban hippy farm. We’ve added a second box to our bee hive, harvested around 6 zucchini’s a day since Christmas (yes, 6.. that’s not a typo), we’ve installed an irrigation system for two of our five large vegetable beds, and we’ve helped friends build some walls of their straw bale house. But most notably, we got more chickens!!

Whole Lotta Rosie- our new golden girl chicken Rose

Whole Lotta Rosie

After a trip to a cage egg farm, Craig bought four chickens home. They were so lovely, we named them after the golden girls: Sophia, Dorothy, Rose and Blanche. Sophia is a bit ballsy and has a tuft of white/grey down feather across her back, Dorothy is a giant (with a bald bum, apparently akin to Bea Arthur’s thin quiff), Rose is the most timid and shy, and Blanche is very affectionate (tart!) and brazen just like in the show!

Louise and Shirley both look so feathered and healthy compared, we’ve taken to referring to them as either ‘the old girls’ or ‘the fatties’, I’m sure they’d be keen on neither of those nicknames.

Sneaky Sophia and the giant zucchini!

Sneaky Sophia and the giant zucchini!

Initially, Louise greeted our new editions with consistent fly kicking to the head, but after being plied with ample food, Louise and Sophia (the bossies) have taken to escaping from their massive run and mowing down our kale, spinach, silverbeet and even our new drip line irrigation system because it was looked at them funny… crazy ladies! Amongst all this absconding, the daring duo laid a neat dozen eggs under an echium bush over the last two weeks, which we found just as we were planning a trip to the supermarket to get some more eggs. Thanks ladies!

Double decker bees

Double decker Bees!

Just when we thought we were busy buzzing around a hectic social calendar and gig-list this summer, our bees have been working overtime and even into the night on a hot summer evening to build up the second tier of their hive. Their honeycomb is looking marvellous, the sweet honey inside the comb is very runny and delightfully sweet to taste.

In other news, our new drip irrigation system is working wonders and saving us heaps of time watering the night before a hot day (it normally takes us around 30-60 minutes just to give all the fruit trees and veggie beds a quick drink).

The back veggie patch

The back veggie patch

It’s just non-pressure compensating drip line from Mitre 10 (around $25 a roll) combined with a whole bunch of clips, corners, T-style connectors, tap connectors and some fake lawn pegs (similar to tent pegs) to hold them in place. We highly recommend it, as it’s a great idea for anyone who wants to plant a veg patch or even just some fruit trees but is afraid they might neglect them, or water to much/not enough, and its also very water wise if you slowly drip water into the soil on dusk (little evaporation) and mulch around 10-15 cms with pea straw (this also saves weeding! Double win!).

Zucchini harvest after 2 days: Help!

Zucchini harvest after 2 days: Help!

Last, and probably least exciting for most… our garden is going gangbusters with a ridiculous amount of harvesting done each day. We are getting an eggplant a week, 3-4 good harvests of beans, around 8-10 medium to huge tomatoes each week, 5-10 pumpkins kicking on, 15 corn stalks burgeoning with technicoloured delights, basil bushes, apple cucumber, parsley growing like weeds, 15 odd celery and around 40 beetroots finally looking ready, 6-7 zucchini’s per day (we have to harvest daily as they grow from small flowers to regular size overnight- we harvested one zucchini which had been left for 2 days and it weighed 2.5kgs and was the size of a small baby). We also found out that just like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower can be ‘cut and grow again’ as we uncovered what was thought to be a weed was a mini cauli growing out of a cut-off stalk! Ok! Party. Bonus.

Zucchini noodles with creamy basil & spinach pesto sauce

Zucchini noodles with creamy basil & spinach pesto sauce

We’ve also acquired a ‘vegetable spiralizer’ which turns carrots, potatoes and most importantly, zucchini’s into angel hair, spaghetti style or tagliatelle thickness ‘pasta’ strands! Our first meal using this divine gadget included spinach, basil and silverbeet pesto harvested from our garden blended with silken tofu, garlic, paprika and pinenuts to create a creamy super-iron and calcium rich pasta sauce. Hot diggity! We’ve also made zucchini chocolate brownies at least three times, in massive batches.. which have each lasted only one day, but they’re mostly zucchini so it’s practically dieting to eat half a kilo of brownies for dinner! Honest!

Our fruit harvests have been great too, although a small harvest for some plants, which have fruited for the first time this summer, including 10 apricots (that were saved from grimy possum paws), a dozen gorgeous Santa Rosa blood plums, and 2 baskets of nectarines and peaches. We were surprised to harvest 3 yellow nectarines… from a tree that was still clearly labelled from the nursery ‘peach’… D’oh! However, they were delicious!

Looking forward, our 3 apple trees and pears are ready to rock and our citrus forest of kaffir lime, tangelo, lemons, limes and oranges are all getting some cool teeny fruits ready for their winter fruiting time, so we’ll be counting the days till our next flourless orange cake. We hope your summer is as fruitful and Vitamin D filled as ours has been & keep on rocking in the free world, where not much is free except smiles, hugs and the occasional zucchini if you’re dropping by our place. Peace.

Springing into Spring

Lemon & Mint Broadbean Smash topped with an Egg

Lemon & Mint Broadbean Smash topped with an Egg

Today, we ate one of the most heart warming, and glorious fast-foods ever made with produce from our own humble garden. We made our own variation on Jamie Oliver’s home-grown broadbean smash on toast, with home-grown Meyer lemon juice & hand-picked mint, topped with an egg from our ladies. Delish! The broadbean patch almost appearing overnight from left over beans that dried and dropped in place from our patch last year, and the eggs were found in a bunch hidden under an echium/nettle patch in the girls run so it’s entirely an accidental lunch. For free!

2kgs of accidental Broad Beans!

2kgs of accidental Broad Beans!

Just last week, we clocked 2 whole years since we moved in. After taking a pic of our garden this morning, in full bloom with nasturtiums, cornflowers and alyssum planted alongside our cabbages, broccoli and herbs, it really feels like home. Not entirely finished, and probably way too much veg garden for us to handle alongside the behind-garage mini orchard and patches, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

We’ve ripped down a gorgeous but non-productive garden, hauled away hundreds of rocks (PS if you need garden rocks, come on down, we’ve got enough to last till rapture), dug up concrete, compost bins and even a soup ladle (!?), torn down pest trees and ivy and re-built everything from scratch and brought in loads of soil for our raised beds.

Floweries and Vegies, live together in perfect harmony

Floweries and Vegies, live together in perfect harmony

We can truly appreciate why some people have lawns- they’re seemingly easy. Mow, fertilize, weed, forget. But they are super boring and taste pretty horrid. Our remaining lawn patch even has the occasional broccoli or silverbeet seedling growing right smack bang in the middle of it! For the time it takes to mow our  ever-decreasing lawns, it takes that time threefold to weed, seed, feed and water our productive garden. However, for all the work involved in keeping a vegetable patch healthy & thriving, we wouldn’t trade it for the world. Every meal we eat that we’ve helped grow seems not only to feed our appetites but also our souls. Hippy dippy stuff, I know but try it yourself & see that it’s true, its addictive, and awesome sauce. Plus it’s organic, fresher, tastier and the food miles are no more than 20 metres and we can burn the calories we’re about to scoff with more gardening! Win Win Win!

Our bees, fanning the hive & bringing back nectar

Our bees, fanning the hive & bringing back nectar

Our bees are thriving, and regularly hanging out in our garden, smooching flowers in our overgrown (to 8-9ft!) espaliered apple tree and veg patch. They also don’t really enjoy us coming right up to the hive, so we weed & take care of that area on dusk, when they’re all partied out. Next week, we start our bee-keeping course so stay tuned for some information, and possibly injury photos if we mess it up and get stung. Our families and friends are at once frightened and concerned about us keeping bees, but also shelving that thought to make way for the kgs of honey happiness that will be happening around April 2013. Did you know that bee’s spend their entire lives working to get 1/10th of a tsp of honey and most of the bees are workers, who are female! Go Ladies! Even if we get no honey, the joy we get from watching the bees forage around, communicate by dancing (!!!) and share their pollen/nectar feasts with the masses. Hooray for bees!

Happy Gardening!!

The Fart Egg!

Controversy struck our hen house recently with the discovery of a ‘Fart Egg’.  This a real thing! Who named it?! Some agricultural bogue with a sense of humour? So, WTF is it? A fart egg is where a hen lays a teeny tiny egg (comparative to their usual size) that contains no yolk! You learn something new every day!  Now we’re not quite sure who has the guts to eat it!  Also, some news in the gallina realm is that Laverne is really sick & has hardly been moving/eating for a few days now. Not sure why, but we’re afraid she may be on her way out. We’ve had them quite a while and the hens have lived a good life with us, but it certainly makes you wonder whether or not you should ‘put her out of her misery’ or just let nature take its course. Tough call. Especially when most people’s calls are ‘KFC’.

We’ve planted up our main vegie beds with a whole bunch of brassicas, beets, and a few other randoms in order to ensure some bumper crops are ready to roll around Spring! We’ve also been using our home grown pumpkin, and chillis (yes still hanging in there in winter) for our own home-made pizzas!!

Home-made good times! Our summer Pumpkin, ham, Mozzerella, caramelised onion & rocket + hot salami, mushroom, capsicum & Parmesan!

Home-made good times! Our summer Pumpkin, ham, Mozzerella, caramelised onion & rocket + hot salami, mushroom, capsicum & Parmesan!

The only problem we’ve had is that by the time we get home, its too flipping cold to get out in the garden with a miners light & hack some leafy greens off.. so some of them have happily gone to seed! Our Meyer Lemon tree has been absolutely booming! Our last count was 12 lemons! Not bad for a foot tall tree! We had to celebrate by making lemon delicious pudding (good idea!) and drinking some tequila with lemon (bad idea)! Some new additions to our garden include a Kaffir Lime plant & Scotch Bonnet chilli (perennial) so we will be trying heartily to keep those alive so we can enjoy them both in delicious Thai curries! See the pics below!

In addition to these new plants, we have been discussing whether or not to acquire a hive of bees. In part because we love honey & have fended off many sore throats with this and our ‘Brewtal’ nettle concoction, but also since a hive would also help to pollinate our fruit trees & flowers! Since our Wormies have expanded to two farms, they are known as ‘The Crips & The Bloods’, so we’re not sure of what we should name a hive of bees, should we decide to get ’em. Any ideas? There were also elementary plans to house some rabbits in our backyard to help keep our lawn trimmed and also for food. These plans were quickly shelved when we both realised we’re not capable of killing, skinning and gutting a rabbit. Or anything else for that matter. Yuck!

Also, throughout the winter of our discontent, we have endured high winds, mild to heavy frosts, stupidly cold, dark mornings and the worst of it all: the cold. And one case of man-flu. We’ve both been sniffing on and off for the last part of July. However, we have discovered something which was previously the garden bastard and is now the garden saint: Nettles! They appear to be a cure-all for a number of ailments and have long been known for their health benefits including iron, iodine, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and more (see HerbsareSpecialfor more info).

Nettles! The cornerstone of our Brewtality beverage!

Nettles! The cornerstone of our Brewtality beverage!

We have been juicing up nettles (whole including roots) from our garden with a masticating juicer (slow grind, retains more nutrients/enzymes) along with ginger, garlic and chilli to make a disgusting liqueur we have affectionately titled “Brewtality”.. not just because it tastes like the earth’s sphincter but also has some slightly unpleasant side effects when you consume too much. We have used Nettles as a cold cure, a hangover cure (its also a natural liver/kidney cleanser), and also a stingy weapon against people we don’t like. If you are thinking that this is possibly the ultimate natural body tonic and potential fountain of youth, just take a look at our radiant faces and grab some nettles and find out for yourself! But not too far from a toilet!

Next month, we’ll be sprouting tomato seeds & beginning our crop rotations for spring/summer, and hopefully be a lot less sick!! Adios!

The girls of summer

Summer rocks my socks! Last night an incredible deluge of rain followed a cracking good thunderstorm, during which I made ratatouille for 11 people at work almost entirely from veg from our garden!

One of our favourite summer things to do is to let the chickens out for a scratch around the garden, pick some veg for our dinner and enjoy a beer on the patio. Tonight, after work, in my suit, I sauntered out to the garden to check up on the girls and I noticed there were quite a few more toms ripe for the picking. Well.. an entire basket .. FULL to my delight. In fact, I was so distracted by the tomato harvest that I somehow stepped in dog and chicken poo at pretty much the same time, and we don’t even own a dog! Way to punt the cherry off my sundae guys!

I also noticed a few other things going on around the garden:

An unknown animal has decided to munch on one of our pumpkins (and quite a few tomatoes), so we will have to perhaps try to deter a possum or plant some rat bait, depending on whomever is the culprit. We have also tried an experiment with our tomatoes, trying to force their ripening by putting them in a zip-lock bag with a banana- and it worked! But even still, we’d rather they ripen on the vine! Since our tomatoes have been going gang busters, we have either made them into a delicious roasted tomato pasta sauce, or ate them raw in salads with a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper. However, I recently noticed something quite peculiar when I bought some tomatoes to work to give to a friend who is also a qualified chef. She said thanks and asked me “What type are the tomatoes… Are they ‘Truss’ tomatoes?? I started thinking about the apathetic supermarket veg section which has sometimes two varieties of tomatoes- a disgusting hybrid tasteless variety they oft call ‘gourmet’ tomato (sometimes sold for twice the price with the truss/twig still attached) and roma tomatoes, both tasting like garbage. This makes us feel a little sad for consumers who don’t know what kind of yummy amazing heirloom non-hybridized tomato varieties are out there!! This summer we are growing around 8-10 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, not including the random ones that have sprouted from last years seeds, and each are tastier than the next! So we highly recommend that you get out there and try to grow some old-fashioned varieties like Zebra, Tigerella, Amish Paste, Black Krim, and see for yourself how delicious tomatoes can be!

Not only are our tomatoes going great guns, so are our girls! Our chickens recently had a holiday, during which time we went to New Zealand. No, not with the chickens. But they came back with more feathers and a penchant to scratch up any green patch they could find. However within days of our return, we found ourselves with two escapees and again had to re-fortify the chicken pen.
It won’t be long until we change their run to the side of the house, to provide them with a new area to peck around, and also some protection from the whipping autumn/winter winds.

Summer has also provided us with some new skills and inspiration, since we constructed our side fence (see pics above). We’re pretty proud of it since we’ve had no previous fence-building experience but since completing it, our next step will probably be world domination with mad skillz like that! We are looking forward to the culmination of our ‘catch crops’ of cabbage, kohlrabi, tomatillos, beans, spinach and silverbeet that we planted around the same time as the tomatoes.

Hope your summer has been a rad one & get planting for autumn!!

Food Glorious Food!

Since moving into our new home, we decided to get cracking ripping out the lovely old garden and putting in a new, more productive one! After much hard work, many trips to Bunnings, we are excited to have our first vegie patch in our new home up and running!

So far this summer, we have given away a few zucchinis, eggs, nectarines and had  still enough to add to most of our meals. We also took some of our produce down to the inaugural Belmont Food Swap and swapped our goods for some Lemons, Mizuna (yum!), and Rhubarb,  and bought some Borage Seedlings, Leek Seeds, and some Plum Syrup super cheap! We have also swapped vegies/eggs with our lovely neighbours over the back fence, and will hopefully be swapping tips on how to grow vegies as amazing as theirs! The concept of sharing and sense of community has been fantastic, especially talking to locals about the climate/seasons, hearing their stories, and seeing the excited faces on kids who have come to visit our chickens!

While we are in the process of tearing out trees and overgrown carpet roses & shrubs to make way for our new garden design, we are also madly trying to propagate seedlings for the next season- autumn/winter. More to come on seed raising later! We recently stained the existing trellis at the entrance of the ‘secret garden’ using Bio Natural Wood Oil which is non-toxic, environmentally friendly, smells amazing and seeps into the wood to protect it from the elements- great stuff. Also at the entrance, we have placed two metal arches that were given to us (thanks Bel’s Mum & Dad) and have started to weave our grapevine/passionfruit/kiwifruit over  the structure, although with recent rains and heat- our wayward pumpkin is taking over. Next on the list- building a permanent gate to prevent our sneaky chickens Thelma & Louise, and Laverne & Shirley from escaping out of their pen!