Should a gardener keep chooks?

When we first got our chooks (they were day old chicks at the time) in February last year the answer to that question would have been a resounding yes!  In fact I wrote a glowingly romantic Top 5 post about the highlights of keeping chickens.   A year in and I’m not so sure…

You see chooks are very, very destructive.  As soon as your silver beet seedlings go in they will be dug up, pecked over, trampled on, and then ceremoniously buried, as the chicken spies the possibility of a small grub somewhere just to the left of where you planted.  Mature plants are not much better off, their leaves shredded and then finally removed as the chook gets every last little morsel of green.

Not only that but they poo….everywhere!  We have a back door step coated in dried droppings, the trip to get eggs is akin to walking through a minefield and I have lost count of the amount of times I have had to tell my 4 year old not stop throwing the stuff at his sister.  It’s all quite unpleasant really.

All of this would be manageable, with a bit of fencing and good natured humour if it weren’t for one simple fact.  Chickens can fly.  Higher than I thought.  Before I got chickens I thought their main flying efforts would be a little flap which got them not much higher than I can jump, (which, incidentally is embarrassingly low according to the jumping test thingy they have at Melbourne’s Scienceworks museum), but no.  They can get higher than that.  Higher than the 80cm plastic fencing that I put round the garden to secure parts of it.  It may not be normal bird high, but it is still too high for my liking.

So what to do?  I have decided on segmenting off a part of the garden as theirs.  I have filled it with my potted plants as they can’t dig around them as much, and I have erected a new 1.2m fence around it.  (I say “I” but actually it was my partner, but his work counts as mine doesn’t it?)

Just in case the birds are Olympic athletes in disguise I have secured the fence panels with star posts that are taller than the fence, enabling me to increase its height if necessary.  Will this be enough?  I hope so because despite their generally messiness I love them really.  Just like my children.  And unlike my children they give me eggs pretty much everyday.

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Monday Harvest (and brief Summer Review) – 17th March 2013

Apologies for my silence over the past few weeks.  Part of my excuse is that I have had a lot of other things going on.  All positive, albeit time consuming.  The other part of my excuse (actually reason is probably the better word) is that I have kind of given up on my garden for this season and abandoned it to the chooks.  The result of this is some very shredded looking kale and silver beet (where there is anything left of them at all), straw everywhere and something of an obstacle course of chook poo running between the back door and the few remaining veg that the chooks don’t like.

I think my inertia is a combination of it being a difficult year – a cool Spring followed by really hot temperature spikes in Summer with hardly any rainfall – and the fact that I feel sorry for the chooks, let them out of their pen and during their period of release they always manage to destroy the one plant that has survived the climatic extremes.  So now they are free to destroy everything although  I do plan to deal with some of the mess today and reclaim the garden from the feathered horrors.

Golden Nugget pumpkinsThere are some plants that the chooks don’t seem to like (or perhaps that should read – ‘have yet to recognise as food’) and these have made up the majority of my harvests for the last few weeks.

I grew two varieties of pumpkin this year.  Golden Nuggets and Ebisu.  I managed to harvest one Ebisu and two Golden Nuggets before the birds and rats discovered they could penetrate the tough skins.  I planted my pumpkins in the back corner of the garden and I think I would have got a far better crop if I’d given them a bit more attention.  They ran out of both food and water on more than one occasion and eventually the plants succumbed to powdery mildew so all in all I was pretty happy with a few fruit.

In my initial (optimistic) attempts to protect parts of the garden from the chooks I fenced off the cucumbers.  And they really appreciated it:

Cucumbers

This year I grew Lemon Cucumbers, Catalina Pickling, Summer Dance, Lebanese, and another one from a mix which produced big fat prickly fruits. All did quite well and if my fencing hadn’t collapsed I would probably still be getting decent crops…

While I’m on the subject of cucumbers I had a request from a reader for Richmond Green Apple Cucumber seeds.  If you have some spare or know where to get them from then I would love to know.

Buried beneath the peppers in the basket below you will see some cumquats.  My mum is turning them into marmalade and I’ve been pleased with my trees first crops.

Otherwise the basket is filled with chillies (and the odd capsicum).  Most of these are from pot grown plants which I overwintered.  This years plants are doing OK but have yet to produce much in the way of ripe fruit.   I have planted this years in my garden beds and most have a decent amount of fruit developing despite the chooks digging around their roots.  The varieties below from overwintered plants are: Padron, Joe’s Long Cayenne, Hungarian Yellow Wax, a couple of round varieties – one hot, one not, and an orange capsicum (from a mix).

Mix of Chillies

Otherwise I am harvesting parsley, mint, curry leaves, kaffir lime leaves and not much else.  Sadly none of my eggplant have set fruit this year - I’d be interested to know if that had happened to any other Melbournians?

As always head over to Daphne’s and check out what others have been growing in their gardens.

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Musing about Preserves – Peach & Chilli Chutney

This year might not have been a great year for veg in Melbourne but if my friends tree is any indication it has been a wonderful year for peaches.  She had loads and loads of beautiful, big and incredibly sweet peaches.  Just luscious.  I was the happy recipient of a large bag of these peaches and while the kids and I made a large dent in the bag eating them fresh there were simply more than we could manage before they would go off.  So I turned to my preserve books only the be met with, well, not very much at all.

Personally I think the best method of preserving peaches is probably bottling them but these were a little past that point – they were pretty soft, and I was concerned they would collapse in a sloppy mess in the preserving jars.  Bottling not being an option I pondered both sweet and savoury treatments but my books didn’t offer much in the way of either.  So I decided to try both.   I made some into Peach & Ginger Jam and the rest became Peach & Chilli Chutney.  Sadly I failed to document the Jam recipe – I used a basic  jam recipe (ie weight of fruit = weight of sugar)  and then just chucked things (ginger, chilli, salt) in until I got the ginger, sweetness balance right .  Or rather it seemed right.  I do find it hard to judge what the jam will taste like cold when I’m tasting it while cooking.

The chutney though I did document. (And I think it is probably the nicer preserve anyway).  I used a Nectarine Chutney recipe from my CWA cookbook as a base and then adapted it – primarily by the addition of lots more chilli than the original recipe included.

Peach & chilli Chutney

This is what  I did:

Peach & Chilli Chutney

  • 1.5kg chopped peaches
  • 3.75 cups soft brown sugar
  • 3.75 cups cider vinegar
  • 1.5 tspn grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tspn ground cinnamon
  • 6 cloves
  • 2.25 tspns salt
  • 12 fresh chillies chopped (more if you like really hot chutney)
  • 1 tspn chilli powder
  • 2 apples grated
  • 2 onions finely chopped

Place all ingredients into a large saucepan.  Bring to the boil and cook uncovered for a couple of hours until the mixture thickens.

I started with fewer chillies than above, tasted my chutney as I went and added more chilli along the way.  In my experience the chutney tastes hotter when warm so I tend to add slightly more than I think is perfect.

The variety of chillies you use will have a huge impact on the heat of finished product – the above recipe was made using medium heat chillies (Joe’s Long Cayenne) and I think the chutney is a little too mild for my tastes so if you want  a hot chutney then use hotter chilli varieties.

Pour into hot sterilised jars and seal.

 

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Posted in Fruits, Recipes, Summer Harvesting | Tagged | 6 Comments

Monday Harvest – 3rd & 10th February 2014

Last Monday I sat down to prepare my Harvest Monday post only to find my camera was refusing to talk to the computer and I couldn’t upload my photos.  Fortunately the camera has decided to be social in the intervening period.  My harvests this week were much the same as last week anyway.  cucumbersMostly I harvested cucumbers.

Lots of different sized and shaped cucumbers.  On the left are a misshapen Summer Dance, a very over sized Catalina Pickling, a normal sized Catalina Pickling, one I can’t identify (from a mixed seed packet) and two lemon cucumbers.

The lemon are my kids favourites, particularly when cut into segments and sprinkled with salt.  The Summer Dance is my favourite for its crisp cool texture.

Thanks to Bek for the Summer Dance and Lemon Cucumber seeds.

We are still at the stage of enjoying eating our cucumbers fresh but I don’t think it will be too long before I start preserving some.

Sadly cucumbers (and hopefully chillies) are one of the few crops I’ll have enough of to preserve.  Melbourne’s temperature spikes and runs of warm nights have played havoc with many of this years crops.  (My tendency to let the chooks dig wherever they want hasn’t helped either….).

Although my tomatoes have really only just started to produce a decent number they also seem to be almost finished as they haven’t set much in the way of new fruit since mid Jan.  Most of the tomatoes in the picture below are either Tigerella or Tommy Toe.

Tomatoes

As are most of these, but I have also been harvesting the odd Yugoslav as well:

Summer harvest basket

Other than cucumbers and tomatoes most of my harvests have been flavourings rather than substantial amounts of veg.  Basil, parsley, tarragon, kaffir lime, curry leaves and some Thai Basil (thanks to Yvonne for the seeds) and chillies.

thai Basil  Joes Long Cayenne chilli

After some great suggestions when I showed pics of these last year and a lot of googling etc I think I have identified the chillies as Joe’s Long Cayenne.  They are longer and fatter than the normal Long Cayenne but these aren’t fabulous examples.  These came from an overwintered plant which is producing lots of shorter, wrinklier and curvier chillies than it did last year.

And now time to head over to Daphne’s to see what other’s have plucked from their gardens this week.

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Musing about Preserves – (Caramelised) Onion Jam

My daughters school held a BBQ at a local market yesterday.  Unfortunately the weather was pretty damn hot (41C), and patronage at the market was down on its usual numbers.  As a result we had quite a few sliced onions left over.  Naturally (read foolishly) I decided to ignore climatic conditions and spend 3 hours stirring a pot over a hot stove making onion jam (albeit with glass of sparkling wine in hand).  While I was stirring my mind turned to what makes a good preserve, and in particular a good chutney or ‘savoury’ jam.

For me it is all about the right mix of sweet and sour coupled with a pleasing texture.  I have any number of jars of mediocre preserves sitting unopened in my cupboard because they fail on one or all of these points.  As a result I am on a personal mission to find the perfect preserve recipe (for my tastes) for every fruit or veg I could possibly get in large numbers.  This may take a while as I have only ticked off one -  I am very happy with my adaptation of the recipe for Bread & Butter Cucumbers  from Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion.  So that’s cucumbers sorted.  But what about other veg?

Yesterday was my 2nd attempt at making Onion Jam this season.  The first attempt, whilst enjoyable, wasn’t exactly what I was looking to create.  I used a CWA recipe for onion marmalade from a preserves book I was given for Christmas.  The recipe can also be found here.  Whilst I enjoyed it I found the flavour a little raw, despite cooking it for a good 3 hours.  This time though I decided to sauté the onions (and a little thyme) in a small amount of olive oil before adding the sugar and vinegar.   I think I’ve got a lot closer to what I was trying to achieve (although I think it could have benefitted from a little chilli – but then again what couldn’t?).  I should really have cooked mine for a little longer as it isn’t exactly set.  I reckon it will still taste delicious in a bacon sandwich though.  Here is my revised recipe:

Onion Jam (makes about 2 litres of jam)

Onion jam

  • 2kg sliced onions
  • 2kg sugar (I used a mix of white and dark sugar as that is what I had in the pantry)
  • 1 litre apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tblspns salt (this is a reduction on the 3 tbspns for half the quantity of onions specified in the original recipe – I’m not sure what impact this will have on its keeping qualities).
  • 1 tblspn olive oil
  • Leaves from about 10 sprigs on thyme

Saute the onions and thyme in the oil until they colour slightly (this will take quite a long time).  Add the remaining ingredients and cook until the jam reaches setting point – about 2.5 hours.  Seal in sterilised jars.   Note: This makes a very sweet onion jam.

In the original recipe it suggests that this will store “in a dark cupboard for a long time”, however I am not knowledgeable enough about preserves to know how reducing the salt and adding oil will affect its keeping qualities.  If you know I would love to hear from you.

I would also like to know about any perfect recipes you have for dealing with a particular crop.  A recipe you wouldn’t want to change, that you are pretty much 100% happy with, that doesn’t need tweeking and you happily eat every single jar of, every year that you make it.

My next post in this series will be peaches – I have been playing with the base recipe on The Witches Kitchen’s excellent post about mango chutney and in a week or two (when the chutney has matured a bit) I should know how successful I have been.

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Posted in Alliums - Onions, Leeks, Garlic, Recipes | Tagged , , | 9 Comments