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.

Winner winner, veg for dinner!

Long time no see! Spring has sprung and we are finally enjoying all that daylight savings brings, namely longer after-work hours to potter around the garden and sunnier weekends for projects and catching up with friends. Hotdiggity! We’ve got many end-o-winter vegetables coming to fruition and we are eating most meals with something out of the garden (even juicing the cabbage leaves!) and giving plenty to friends and family.  Our hothouse has begun to burst with teeny seedlings as the temperature gets warmer and we’re well and truly on our way to growing most of our summer seedlings from scratch! We recently installed a new edition to the hothouse, an ex-hair salon product stand shaped like a guitar, which also holds a surprising amount of seedling punnets and utilises otherwise dead-space inside our little seedling hangout. Our worm farm has become two farms and we’ve harvested buckets of worm-sludge for fertilizing our seedlings and trees, which has worked as brilliantly as our compost bins at re-purposing many kilos of green waste and kitchen scraps!  Also, we have built a mini-deck in our backyard so we can hang out there on a summers day with a beer (or cup of tea since we are now OLD) and ponder what to plant next!

Since our lucky lady Laverne passed away, our head-honcho Alpha-chook Thelma also took a turn for the worst and passed away the other day from a condition knowns as Marek’s Disease, which is degenerative and causes paralysis. It was sad to see her so frail, but I suppose she would’ve never lived long enough for the symptoms to present themselves in the battery farm she was from. Poor little dear. It has made us ponder vegetarianism on ethical grounds, as we could not even bring ourselves to euthanise her (even though it was for mercy), and I have not been able to eat chicken since.

However on a positive note, we have had some new editions to our suburban hippy life… BEES!! Yes, that’s right, BEES!!! One afternoon, putting kitchen scraps in the compost became an arduous task when we found hundreds of bees making a superbly constructed bunch of stalactite-esque honeycombs in there! We promptly called Mark from Leopold Honey who we’d met at the Geelong Show and was selling some hive gear. He dropped around with some suits and helped us smoke the bees until they were high & stupid on honey and move the honeycomb and queen into our bee box! Then, all the lovely worker bee ladies followed her scent right on into their new digs! We even picked up some drone bees in our hands, who are all apparently idiots with no stingers! We are completing a Bee Keeping Course in November so we’re all ready to learn more about taking care of our lovely bee family. We’re always spotting them collecting pollen from our flowers or fanning their hive to keep it cool on hot days. Little legends! Stay tuned for honey tasting and honey beer come April!

In other news, the Geelong Show proved to be a lot of fun on a beautifully sunny day. We went along mainly to eat a Dagwood hotdog, but also look at the animals, the horticulture section, the cooking & crafts, and complain about how expensive rides and showbags have become since we were kids. Yes, we are old! And …Bel won some prizes! Hazar!

Our beautiful fruit trees are flowering and starting fruit! Our kiwifruit are now in their 2nd year at our place and since they were quite established when we planted them, we are estimating they’re almost 4-5 years old. However, no fruit as yet! Any strategies to help get them to fruit? We’ve tried adding Sulphate of Potash but no luck! 

Also, our gorgeous Japanese Satsuma plums not only looked spectacular in bloom, but also set fruit for the first time ever!This news is exciting to no one but us, mainly because we will be baking some Blood Plum Clafoutis, making Plum Jam and generally high fiving the amount of stone fruit we’re privy to in our garden. We are going to attempt* to weigh all our harvests so we get an indication of how much fruit on average each tree produces. Not quite sure if we’ll count the stuff we pick and eat straight off the tree.  Just the other day, we harvested several broccoli heads over 1kg each! Amazing! We are having such brilliant luck in the garden, but not so on the track as we have not won a single race all Spring Racing Carnival.

Well… like Joni Mitchell said ‘we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden’, so we’ll have another installment soon and we hope your harvests have been as fruitful this Spring!

Death at the Family Farm

Our lovely little hen Laverne died this morning, almost 2 years after we rescued her from her fate as pet food at a caged egg farm.

Laverne dust bathing and battling illness

Laverne dust bathing and battling illness

She’d been sick the past few weeks, had lost her appetite, had some diarrhea and spent most of the days huddling under the trees and drinking water and food that was brought nearby.

However, recently it seemed like she had taken a turn for the better and on her last day was upright again, frantically scratching up my newly planted silverbeet seedlings, snacking on grain bread and following the other hens around the garden. It all seemed to be looking ok until she was found in her permanent slumber this morning. Since Craig’s been away for work, I had to bury her myself. It must’ve been some sight to see in our backyard upon sunrise, a redhead in purple PJs and gumboots sobbing uncontrollably while digging a deep hole, shooing the inquisitive neighbour’s old dog away incase it decided to attack her body.  The other girls seemed to sense what was going on and started crowing almost like a rooster does. Bizarre.

Laverne's last day out

Laverne’s last day out

I placed some straw bedding down, laid her in her little nest, sprinkled some seeds near her beak and covered little Laverne in straw and earth. Poor little lady. A Lime tree which we grew from a cutting has been planted on top of her resting place and will hopefully prosper and flourish like our little girl has done since the day she arrived at our place. We will always remember the day Laverne found a mouse in the bushes and straight-up murdered its ass.

Goodnight, our little punk rock chicken. We’ll miss you’re crazy antics and company.

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!

Hey Winter, Long Time No See!

After a long hiatus & busy summer/autumn harvest, we’ve started hibernating for winter, ripped out the old plants and started on the new seedlings for this upcoming season.

Lots of things have been happening but we’ve been too busy in the garden to blog about them!

Our ladies have finished moulting and gone off the lay. Thelma now has a punk-rock haircut and attitude when it comes to scuffling over bacon fat and other scraps the chickens are privy to, often fly-kicking her clucky companions in the face to show them who’s the boss. It’s certainly not Tony Danza.

We’ve been cooking with our garden goodies and also juicing them up as well with our new juicer, making green juices with fruit, kale, carrots, beetroot and nettles. We quickly learned that too many nettles makes the juice taste like grass & has to be drank like a shooter of vodka but without the courage to sing karaoke afterwards. Also, some new arrivals to our garden include a gorgeous Smyrna Quince Tree, which we can’t wait to fruit and give us some delicious fragrant fruit for preserves, 7 Rhubarb crowns (after the cheeky chickens jumped their pen and ate our previous plants to nubs), and a Kaffir Lime for adding to some delicious Thai Curries.

We also completed a Cob Pizza Oven Workshop, getting our hands dirty and making a pizza oven from clay, straw and sand. It was a lot of fun, we learned a lot and can’t wait to make our own at our place! As the days get shorter, the nights get colder and the rain pelts down harder, we are looking forward to our favourite winter snack: fresh home-grown broccoli lightly stir-fried in garlic butter with pepper and salt! In the next few weeks, we are looking forward to picking our first tamarillo’s (yes they’re fruiting already!) and getting a big haul of dirt into our back garden and planting some of the last of our fruit trees. Until next time, garden hard, rock harder!

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!!

November Rain

Yesterday it rained. Hard. Like the movie… Hard Rain.. except Christian Slater was replaced by Craig with a dirty, dirty Movember moustache. Most of November has involved sprinklings and torrents of rain, which have worked wonders for most of our garden and flooded some other parts. The rain & sun have also brought extraordinary growth in our veg garden and it’s all bursting out into flower & fruit, which is fine by us. November has seen heightened security around the perimeter of Fort Cluck since our chickens tunneled out, strutted up the street like a bunch of D-list celeb’s trying to get into a nightclub, towards a semi-busy road and pecked around in our random neighbour’s garden, before our other neighbour’s grandson’s promptly escorted them back into their yard where they pouted for three days like the cast of the dumbest series in history: Prison Break 3 ‘Back in Prison Again?’. Give those girls an inch… they take over half of Belmont and then take a steaming turd on your driveway.

Things that happened in November:

  • Pulled out 6 trees along the North side of the house, ready for some deciduous trees (white & black mulberries, fig, quince) to go in to provide us with some summer shade (and fruit!) and winter sun to warm our house with some passive solar planning. Beats looking at blinds any day!
  • Harvested LOTS of broad beans (leaves starting to get a few ‘rust’ spots), aka Fava Beans, lettuce and our first onions!
  • Permanently planted 5 blueberries after residing in pots for aeons (Denise, Northland and Brigatta) and also our resilient Mananzillo Olive
  • Finally got a smart meter installed!!! After only 10 months wait. Pfft!
  • Finished our back garden tiers, Eco-Oil stained and mostly planted out with companion flowers, amaranth grains, Jerusalem artichokes, alyssum, marigolds and rosemary
  • De-Mited our chickens after an outbreak of Red Mites, brought in by flying rats aka Festy Pigeons
  • Some of our lovely friends & family have caught the gardening bug, which is just awesome to check out their blooming gardens and swap seeds
  • Watched our Tamarillo’s grown another foot in height!! Yowzer!
  • Much more goodness… see below:

As we’re not quite sure when the globe artichokes are ready to harvest, we’ll have investigate further before we chop the heads off. Maybe we’ll have the artichoke hearts with some Fava (Broad) Beans and a nice bottle of Chianti, like a vego Hannibal Lecter.

Recently, we’ve tried a method of planting – The Three Sisters – that is supposed to be the ultimate in companion planting, derived from Native American folklore which places a focus on symbiotic plant relationships (we hope Pachamama is happy). Planting all together Corn (tasty, stalky support sticks for…), Runner Beans (who grow up the stalks and fix nitrogen into the soil for…) Squash (pumpkins & zucchini who provide large-leafed mulch to ward off competing weeds & keep the ground moist). We’ll know in 9-12 weeks how it all goes.

We are looking forward to December when its a little sunnier, and a lot more veg are ready to eat! We are hoping to have a summer harvest party to celebrate a whole year in our …well.. not-so-new place.  Our house is modest, a bit old-fashioned, but warm- we’d like to think that’s kinda like us too! We love it here. More updates closer to festivus for the rest-of-us!