Monday, April 30, 2012

... on gardenness and chickening.

It was raining like billy-oh in Brisbane on Saturday. Not the best day to be trying to catch chickens and move them and their coop to the new house here, but we managed it! The box of wet grey ladies chatted amiably amongst themselves on my lap for the half-hour journey from my Ma's place to ours.

"Brrrrrr! Brr brr brr brr brr!" (Where do you think we're going?)
"Barrrhhhhh bhhhh bhhh bhhh BHHH!" (I don't know. Does anyone know?)
"BrrrRK!" (You're standing on me!")
"Rarrrrk. Rark. RaaaaaaARK." (Sorry. Not much room in here, you know!)
"Brrrrrr br br br BRK!" (Shh! We've stopped!)

The poor ladies... we had them out of their damp box and into their coop with a fresh dry nestbox and food and water in a jiffy. They took one look at the magpies strolling nonchalantly about the lawn and went into a meltdown.
At one stage all four of them were jammed trembling into the nestbox! At Ma's place we had a particularly vicious magpie who made it his mission to terrorise the chooks. He'd zoom down making his attack call, beak snapping, and woe betide any chicken who found herself in the open. The maggie would even approach anyone hiding behind the feedbins and pull at feathers. He was a really nasty character, so I could understand why the poor ladies were frightened.

However! I'm sure they'll be okay once they realise that their coop is safe. I'm mildly optimistic that maybe the maggies here won't be so intolerant of chickens! This lot of Pekin bantams are recent purchases - and unfortunately they came with a host of parasites to be sorted out. That pale one is anaemic and has a dreadful case of scaly leg mite which I've begun to treat - hopefully she'll come good. They're already taming up quite nicely and their arrival really makes this place feel like home - and the back yard is starting to look like the little urban farmyard we're aiming for!

Speaking of which, the spuds have come up. I was a bit worried that the seed potatoes would have started to rot away with all this rain... nope!
I'm also pleased to report that a choko that I bought at the supermarket has sprouted, so it looks like my dream of having a front fence sprawling with a choko vine might just come true.
And today? Today is 'Operation Herb Garden' day, so that's pretty good, isn't it? I'll report back later!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

... on speaking too soon!

... and the next time I looked, there they were! Hello zucchini!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

... on what's going on in the garden?

My thumbs have a greenish tinge! There has been the planting of a punnet of silverbeet. I believe they're Fordhook Giant.
There has been the cutting and drying of two types of sprouting potatoes, Sebago and another one with a red skin and lovely pinkish flesh, the name of which I don't know.
There has been the planting of these potatoes into some spud bags from the Diggers Club. I'll be removing that straw from the top - it's been hot here for the past few days and I wanted to keep the moisture in the bags for a bit.
There has been the purchase and installation of a large Aerobin compost bin. It's the type that has a collection tank at the bottom for the lovely compost liquid that you can use to give your plants a boost.

Thankyou C for making me such a lovely concrete slab to put the compost bin on! Now it won't slide down the hill when it rains and a torrent starts up through this spot. 
What else? My kale seeds have come up! I'm quite happy about that as they only took a couple of days. I haven't grown kale before but I love it panfried with gnocchi and smoky bacon.
No sign of the zucchinis yet though.  
Patience! Not my strongest trait, I must say!

Friday, April 13, 2012

... on a garden. A garden!

Things are feeling a little more settled here - I'm not feeling quite so displaced! This morning I did something that's been on my wish-list for a very long time, and has made this place feel far more like home.

I've always been somewhat keen on growing vegetables - when I was a kid my Dad had a Howard rotary hoe (imaginatively named 'Howard') and our whole front paddock was given over to vegie growing. One of my favourite tasks was to tuck a chicken under one arm and go and de-caterpillar the cabbages and broccoli. Being able to eat beans straight off the bush was just fab, and shop-bought vegies (or heaven forbid, frozen!) just didn't compare.

One of the things that's been on my to-do list for ages is 'Have an awesome vegie garden.' This new house - it's built on solid clay, and by 'solid' I mean 'there's a brickworks down the road'. Clay is not really a friend to gardeners, so I pulled out my trusty Stephanie Alexander's 'Kitchen Garden Companion' book and asked her advice. Stephanie always knows what to do. The solution jumped out. Clay = don't dig down, build up. No digging required!
Click on this - it'll probably be big enough should you like to read it.
I love Stephanie Alexander. She's a national treasure. For those who don't know, Stephanie is a cook, writer and gardener who has started a program for Australian primary schools where the kids build a kitchen garden and grow some vegies, learning about where some of their food comes from. They harvest their crops and cook them, finding out about nutrition and health too. You can find out more about it here.

So, here's my opportunity to try Stephanie's recipe for a no-dig garden. The idea is you build up layers of material (lasagne style) and the growing plants get their roots down into it and ideally, thrive. You can even do it on top of concrete - a garden for anywhere! Our clay soil is almost concrete - I don't know how the grass survives.

First layer = a good whack of newspapers/cardboard. I don't want the grass growing up through the vegies.
I did get a little distracted by this article about Tom Waits, but hell... gardening is for enjoyment too, right? I added him to the pile once I'd read it.
I'm using bales of hay/lucerne as the edges for my garden. They're somewhat temporary and will break down into lovely rich mulch in a year or so. Plus I can try a bit of 'straw bale' gardening (growing things straight into the bale) as a side project.
Next is a thick layer of lucerne. Stephanie describes the process of disassembling the bale as 'peeling away like big Weet-Bixes' and she's completely right. Water it down with a couple of watering-cans full of seaweed mix, too.
Then comes a layer of manure (I'm using sheep) mixed in with Hydrocell. This is a very interesting product - it retains water and releases it slowly to the plant, meaning you don't need to water as often or as much. It's available at Centenary Landscaping Supplies here in Brisbane - and it was tricky to find. I'd looked about at various hardwares, garden and produce shops before Consulting The Internet to find a supplier. Darn it, I should have done that first.
Next is a thick layer of straw. Stephanie's recipe calls for 'pea straw' but you just can't get that in Brisbane. Ordinary straw will have to do - I hope that's not a fatal error. Wet it all down with a few more cans of seaweed fertiliser.
 Then, yet another layer of the manure/Hydrocell mixture.
 The whole lot gets topped off with a thick layer of compost and watered. Apparently it'll be ready for planting straight into the compost mix in a few days - I'll give it a week.
So... here begins my no-dig vegetable garden experiment. One thing though... this costs an arm and a leg. I estimate that the materials to make two square metres of garden cost around three hundred dollars. If I'm not able to report back with some promising vegie-garden news I'm going to... be... very... disappointed!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

... on changes.

It's been an up-and-down week for me. I've moved house - mostly. It's funny - the new house seems completely full and yet I know there's still an awful lot of things left in my little shed out the back of my Ma's house. Packing up a place that I've lived in for ages (and loved) has been a bit of a bummer. I haven't enjoyed the process at all (although I have found a few things I thought I'd lost!) but the sadness has been tempered by the notion of the beautiful new house I've moved into. C and I are discovering the lovely times of day here - somehow the main room captures the best parts of the whole day - it's filled with beautiful light in the mornings and in the evenings. I know that as soon as we've lived in it for a little while longer, it'll start to feel like 'home'.

But there's been more sadness. Sometimes having chooks can really wrench at my heart, for they become pets as well as livestock. I don't know who it was that said "If you have livestock, you're going to have deadstock." but that's what's been happening. Four chooks have died from various ailments in the past few weeks, with the most recent departure our beloved and handsome Pekin rooster, Boyd, who had some kind of fit and just... expired. He was a lovely little feathery man. It's such a shame. My Ma has resolved never to get attached to chickens ever again, a resolution I know she will uphold until the next time the produce shop has silver-laced Wyandottes for sale.