Archive for January, 2012

Backyard chooks cracking the egg market

January 31, 2012

From The Australian newspaper:

“THE humble backyard chook is giving commercial egg producers a run for their money, with the nation’s growing backyard flock taking a chunk out of egg sales at the supermarket.

As the home-grown trend gathers pace, eggs laid in backyards are now estimated by the Australian Egg Corporation to make up nearly 12 per cent of the country’s total annual production.”

Read the full article.

We hit 50!!

January 30, 2012

I’ve been waiting and waiting and today it happened. The first 50 g egg from Lady!

The Girls have been laying for 5 weeks. Lady was the first to lay (from whence she eventually got her name— First Lady). It was only a tiny 37 g but I was so proud of her.

Egg weights climbed slowly into the low to mid 40’s, then the high 40’s and have been hovering around the 47/48/49 mark for the last week. I knew Lady would be the first to hit 50. Good girl!

I did some more research on Barnevelders and it looks like I can expect 180 – 200 eggs per year from 1 hen. So  540 – 600 from the 3 of them. Say, around 10-11 per week, probably less in winter.

It looks like I’ll have more than enough for myself and be able to give half a dozen away to a friend regularly, but won’t be supporting the entire neighbourhood.

I don’t know if egg weights will continue to increase, but I’m quite happy with what they’re producing.

In the words of E F Schumacher: “Small is beautiful”.


January 30, 2012

I’ve been growing amaranth for some years now. I got the original seeds from Edens. They listed 2 types (they still do), grain amaranth & leaf amaranth.

I wanted to grow as many different foods as I could, not just the standard well-known ones, since it seemed that the way to resilience and food security was through diversity—many species all providing some sort of yield instead of just a few. So I ordered both types of amaranth seed.

The plants are hardy summer annuals forming a single tall stem with side leaves and topped by a feathery flower plume. If the top growth is pruned or broken off the stem will branch and produce flower spikes at the end of each branch. Its aim is to produce seeds—thousands millions of  them.

The stems are usually robust enough (I’ve had them a couple of cm in diameter), to grow climbing beans on. Just poke in a few bean seeds around the base of the stem. An example of the permaculture technique of plant stacking.

Grain amaranth has cream flower spikes; leaf amaranth has vibrant purple flower spikes and purple young leaves to match. They look very striking finely chopped in a salad or used as a garnish on soup. Grain amaranth seeds are cream; leaf amaranth seeds are shiny black.

In both species, the leaves and the seeds can be used. Amaranth flour can be bought in health food shops (and, now I think,  the supermarket). It has a nutty flavour and can be substituted for 20% of the normal wheat flour in a batch of bread. It’s protein is about 6% higher than that of wheat flour. I regularly use it in bread. You can also buy popped amaranth as a breakfast cereal. I haven’t tried it.

The leaves of both species can be used in salads, stir fries, soups and casseroles and are rich in minerals and vitamins.

Here are the 2 species growing together:

And a close-up of the flower spike of leaf amaranth:

Since both types are annuals, and hence aren’t available over winter, I’ve been drying the leaves of leaf amaranth to use in soups and casseroles. I don’t dry them in the dehydrator or put them in the sun, but just spread them out on a screen in the living room where they will dry in 2 or 3 days. I used to cut them up finely to dry, but now I’m drying them whole to retain vitamins. Now I have the Thermomix it’s so easy to just chop up dried herbs as I want them. Here are some semi-dried leaves, some freshly-picked ones and the tiny seeds of leaf amaranth:

A close-up of the tiny seeds (about the same size as poppyseeds):

To collect seed, inspect the flower spike regularly and when you see the seeds beginning to fall, cut off the whole head and put it somewhere to fully dry out and the seeds will be released. I get a lot of seeds, but never enough to grind into flour, so I just put them into bread as they are. I haven’t tried popping them yet.

Amaranth self sows everywhere. Once you’ve grown it you’ll always have it. A bonus for me—the rabbits don’t touch it!


January 25, 2012

I don’t buy tomatoes at all (because shop-bought tomatoes should really be called ‘imitation’ tomatoes), so the first ripe, home-grown (‘real’) tomato of the season is eagerly awaited.

This year, the new type I’ve grown, Silvery Fir Tree, has proven to be an early variety. I picked the first one in the final week of last year and they’ve been coming thick and fast since then. I’ve picked 3 kg so far. The taste is not too bad. I’ll definitely be growing these again next year, if not for taste then for their early ripening.

Black Russian have been the next to ripen, but the plants have had a problem with leaves browning and dying. Normally I get a bit of early blight, but this browning off is something I’ve never seen before. The other varieties haven’t been affected as badly. It’s probably a fungal thing.

The cherry tomatoes are starting to ripen, too. This year I grew Black Cherry after a couple of years break and the one I always grow, Red Pear Cherry. All the cherry tomatoes are being dried. I’m really appreciating the Excalibur dryer this year, because although we’ve had a few good sun drying days, I find I’m often having to finish them off in the dryer to avoid them going mouldy.

I’m picking them all slightly under-ripe and letting them ripen inside. I’ve never had any real problems with birds, but you can’t be too careful, not where tomatoes are concerned!

The first Green Zebra. These are nice fried:

Still to come are Burnley, Grosse Lisse, Cherokee Purple and San Marzano.

It’s always sad when tomato season is over for another year, but there will be plenty in the freezer for cooking with over the winter and jars of pasta sauce (Thermomix style now!) in the fridge to keep me going.

Thermomix bread & the window pane test

January 25, 2012

When I wrote this post about the success I’m having with Thermomix bread, a reader commented and asked if the dough was sufficiently strong enough, after kneading by the Thermomix, to pass the window pane test.

It was  the first time I’d heard of the window pane test (think what I’ve been missing all these years!).

I made bread rolls yesterday and can proudly report (for Fiona) that the dough passed the test!

I couldn’t take photos because I had too many things happening at once, had doughy fingers and couldn’t find the camera (it turned out it was in the car).

But I found this site with good photos of the technique.

The dough was so strong, I had to really pull on it to break it into roll-sized pieces. I’m surprised because the recipe calls for only 1 min and 30 sec of kneading. Doesn’t seem like a lot when I think of standing at the bench for 15 min or so, doing it the old way.

It makes me wonder how hand-kneaded and machine-kneaded dough stacks up. One day I might do a loaf by hand again, but wouldn’t ever bother to use a bread machine again.


January 23, 2012

When I’m home I usually know when one of the Girls is on the nest. As soon as she leaves, I go and grab the egg. This particular day I was out most of the day. I came home and checked the nest:

A real ‘aw…gee’ moment!

And here they are. My best picture of them so far. They love sitting on their pile of logs. Cheeky on the left (small comb & wattles), Lady in the middle (medium comb & wattles), Molly on the right (large comb & wattles):

Cheeky has become the boss chook. She will gently nudge the others away from the food containers with a tap on their head. If I’m working inside the run or doing something to the coop, she’s always right up front checking out what I’m up to. If I’m putting a treat into their food bowl, she’s grabbing at it while I’m still trying to scrape it in.

She turns egg laying into an Academy Award performance. She’ll sit on the nest for an hour, then get up and leave. I’ll go in and…no egg! Ten minutes later, she’ll be back in there. The grunts and groans would shame a female tennis pro. “Push, Cheeky!”, I’ll yell. “Push!”.

Even without the bonus of eggs and fertiliser, chooks are laugh-a-minute.

Okay, some non-chook stuff.

This is amaranth:

It self-seeds everywhere now. It can get to 2 meters tall, with huge, terminal purple flower spikes. There’s a flower spike just forming on the plant at left. I use the tender tip leaves in salads and stir fries and collect the tiny black seeds. I never have enough to grind into flour, but put them into bread as is. I buy amaranth flour to add to my bread. It has a nutty flavour. I use 1 part amaranth flour to 4 parts wheat flour.

This came up where I’d put the compost from the worm farm:

It looked for all the world like a zucchini, but I didn’t see how it could be, as they get picked and eaten well before the seeds are mature. Finally it flowered and down under all the leaves I found this:

It’s a pumpkin! It looks like one I grew a couple of years ago, called Violina (shaped like a violin).

Not only that, but another plant appeared next to it:

Another pumpkin, a different sort. Gardens never cease to surprise!

Nicole Foss visiting Oz

January 23, 2012

Those of you who (like me)  are trying to achieve self-sufficiency because of the approaching food production problems associated with energy decline (aka peak oil), will have probably heard of Nicole Foss, who writes under the name Stoneleigh at The Automatic Earth blog.

She’s coming to Australia to give her well-known series of talks on peak oil and the financial crisis, “A Century of Challenges”. I’d love to hear her, although I’ve watched videos and listened to her so many times I just about know it all off by heart.

I’ve copied the following info from the Running on Empty OZ discussion group where it was posted today:

A decades-long credit expansion based on a credit bubble grounded in “Ponzi dynamics,” is ending. As a consequence, we are in the grip of a serious deflationary financial crisis. The challenges of peak oil among other energy shortages occurring at the same time as climate change, population growth, food insecurity and political unrest are forming a “perfect storm” and lead many to think that the world they are familiar with is on the  verge of disappearing, with no proposals that will help to develop strategies to secure their future.

Nicole Foss is a polymath who ties together observations of economics, society and the environment so we can better understand our present financial predicament. She is academically well qualified, with a degree in biology, neuroscience and psychology and a later degree in international law. Nicole is co-editor of The Automatic Earth, writing under the name Stoneleigh.

Nicole’s formidable powers of analysis gives us the background we need to make plans at an individual, business and community level to deal with the period of transition we are now entering, where the old policies being promoted by our leaders are no longer working and we need to re-vision our future.

Nicole is visiting Australia from her home in Canada and is a very clear speaker. You may be interested in checking the following links if you have not come across her:

about 10 minutes duration, and

a much longer audio talk.

I can’t recommend the second link highly enough. I’ve downloaded it and saved it to my PC. Unfortunately it’s not a video, so you don’t see the slides she’s talking about, but worth a listen all the same.

Hugelkultur lasagne

January 12, 2012

I’ve begun making my new hugelkultur bed.

A layer of sticks for the base:

Over that, a layer of mulched-up green stuff, mainly lemon balm which needed a good cut back:

Then a layer of leaf litter, raked from the walking tracks in the bush:

I’ll keep building it up in this way. If I don’t have green mulched material, I’ll use the grass clippings I get every 2 weeks from a friend’s garden. I’ll water the bed with the liquid from the composting toilet. This will add extra nitrogen to help the breakdown of the woody material.

Photo shoot

January 9, 2012

Some photos from around the garden.

A view of the wicking box line. Butter beans in the front, followed by beetroot, bread wheat, lettuce and capsicums:

Close-up of the lettuce. This was self-sown. Lettuce seed is so easy to collect and I have lots of it. Bread wheat in the background. I’ve grown ordinary wheat successfully before, so thought I’d try the high-protein wheat I bought for the bread. Every 100 g I can grow means an extra batch of bread. (I still have to buy the bread flour from the supermarket for the other 400 g flour in the batch):

Lemon Verbena is my favourite choice for herb tea in the morning. It has an attractive terminal flower head. I’m drying the leaves for use over winter when the plants have died back:

This is the first time I’ve tried basil in a wicking box. That’s a silver beet in the centre, trying to muscle its way in. It was only a tiny seedling when I planted the basil and wasn’t growing at all. Now it’s taken off. I wonder if it likes the basil as company:

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), a local native plant. It likes water and has established itself around the pool edges. It flowers in summer and the bees love it:

This is the only apple on this particular tree. I’m very excited about it because it’s a seedling from my Red Delicious tree. Apples don’t come true from seed, so I have no idea what it’s going to taste like. I’m hoping it will be good, because the tree itself is huge and will be a bonus for the garden:

Green Zebra tomatoes, close to ripening:

This is ordinary wheat, planted in a wire circle. I last grew it in 2007 and found a jar of it in the cupboard. Now that I have the Thermomix and can grind my own wheat into flour, I thought I’d start growing wheat again. This is probably a low-protein variety so will be good to make wholemeal flour for baking things other than bread:

Butterfly Bush (Buddleia sp.). I was given this plant by the Mornington Community Garden Group after I gave them a talk on permaculture. Very pretty:

These are Silvery Fir Tree tomatoes. There are 8 fruits on this truss and many more trusses on the plant. It’s the first time I’ve grown this variety. Hope they’re tasty:

I offered to sow a pot of coriander seed for a friend. I just pushed the large seeds into the soil and noticed that in every spot two seedlings appeared where one seed had been sown. This is like silver beet where each seed is actually a composite of many seeds and more than one seedling will appear. I checked it out and coriander ‘seed’ is actually a fruit containing two seeds. You learn something new every day!:

Remember those tomato cuttings I took? This is one of them, planted in a pot beside the chook run. It’s almost as tall as the plant the cutting was taken from:

This self-sown pumpkin has appeared in one of the compost bins. It’s probably come from pumpkins my neighbour gave me, in which case it’ll probably take over the garden. Hers was an immense vine and they got about 30 huge pumpkins from it. I’ll let it go and see what happens. It’ll have to be gently trained to go where I want it, so that I can still access the garden!:


January 6, 2012

I’ve been meaning to do a post about hugelkultur for a while, but don’t really need to now, as this post from the Permaculture Research Institute says all I could say, and more.

I made a half-hearted attempt to make a hugelkultur bed some time ago, using litter (leaves and small sticks), raked from the walking tracks in the bush area. I did it on contour and started to dig a swale beside it. I threw grass clippings, which I get from a friend’s property, on top and actually planted some potatoes and asparagus seedlings.

The potatoes grew well but I didn’t bother harvesting them because I had so many coming from other areas. The rabbits ate the asparagus down. I expect they’ll re-appear eventually (the asparagus, not the rabbits). The potatoes will re-shoot, too.

The problem was, the bed was right down at the rear of the property, in a spot where I don’t go much. I was just interested to see what I could grow there on natural rainfall, because there’s no way I was going to connect up a dozen hoses to get water there.

I won’t abandon this first attempt, but after reading this latest article, I want to have another go, this time in an area closer to the house and the food forest and intensive vegetable gardens. In permaculture terms, it would probably be Zone 2.

I’ve chosen an area alongside the main pathway that goes from the house down to the food forest and the rear of the property. I track up and down this path several times a day, so I’d be able to check on plant growth regularly. The hose from the water tank to the original vegetable growing area, located within the food forest, runs right beside the path, so I’d be able to water if necessary. I want a permanent mound garden to grow pumpkin, zucchini and cucumber and this would be an ideal spot. There’s dappled shade from the eucalypts above. What’s growing there now is just some native grasses and mat-rushes and there are so many of them in other parts of the property that they won’t be missed.

Firewood is valuable here (the only form of heating), so I won’t be using big logs, but I have a mountain of small sticks and kindling wood and plenty of twigs, leaves and dead bracken (the green bracken gets chipped for mulch). The small stuff will break down more quickly, too.

So…a new project…a proper hugelkultur bed. I like new projects!

The location…on the left of the path