Archive for March, 2012

Garlic & The Year of the Pea

March 26, 2012

I planted all my garlic last week, about 60 cloves in all. I always do it at the autumn equinox. Unfortunately, last year’s harvest wasn’t good enough to replant and I’ve had to buy new bulbs. I’ve been getting miserably small bulbs over the last 2 years. I don’t think I’m feeding it enough.

When I first started growing garlic, I did what most references I read said to do—plant cloves on the shortest day and harvest on the longest. Those first bulbs I got were so disappointingly tiny that I was ready to give up. I must have missed harvesting one, because it re-sprouted the next autumn and eventually grew into a giant! So from then on, I’ve planted my cloves in autumn (at which time they sprout within a week) and harvested them when the leaves brown and wither. Longer growing season = bigger bulbs (in theory).

This year I’m ‘doing’ peas. They’re so easy to grow and so useful to have in the freezer, for adding to soups, casseroles, stir-fries, risotto and pasta dishes.

So far, I have 11 varieties to try—for flavour, yield and ease of growing.

Climbing varieties:
Purple Podded
Angela’s Blue (also has purple pods)
Alderman (also known as Telephone)
Field *

Dwarf varieties:
Massey Gem
Blue Bantam
American Wonder

* I call these Field peas for want of a better name. They’re an unknown variety that came up in bales of pea straw I bought for mulch years ago. I saved seeds and have been growing them each year ever since. They’re really a semi-dwarf variety and they bear reasonably well.

I’m growing the climbing varieties in my wire circles where it’s easy to put up a tepee for them to climb on. These are Purple Podded, just starting to head up the strings:

I started sowing on 31st January with Field peas in a wire circle and in a large pot on the deck:

The dwarf varieties are being tried in wicking boxes and wicking tubs and some will also go into wire circles. These are Blue Bantam, in a wicking tub, sown 16th February. They’re flowering already, after 34 days. Looks like I’ll get an early yield. The wire circle helps keep them confined and the crossing sticks give them something to grab on to:

These are also Blue Bantam, in a wicking box. They’re flowering already, too:

As soon as I pick a handful of peas, I take them inside, put a small saucepan of water on the gas, and while it’s coming to the boil, I shell the peas. Toss them into the boiling water, give them a minute to blanch, scoop them out into a bowl of iced water to cool and then it’s into the freezer. Couldn’t be easier!

Chook meets duck

March 24, 2012

Funny looking things. Big flat beaks…big flat feet.

Oy, that’s our food.

Don’t you dare put your head in here.

Prefab chicken coops—a caution

March 23, 2012

Terry Golson at HenBlog has a new post up about the unseasonal weather they’re having. She’s in the New England area of the US, where they’re just heading into spring.

She reports that the temperature was going to get to 80 F that day (that’s about 27 C for those of us who’ve forgotten pre-decimal stuff) and she’s concerned about her animals overheating in the unusually warm weather.

I read her blog because she’s a mine of information about chickens and she noted something I hadn’t thought about in regard to prefab coops:

The hens have no difficulties coping with cold temperatures, but heat is another story. My barns are sited and designed to handle hot weather. They have excellent ventilation, cool concrete floors, and their backs are in the shade. It’ll be warm today, but not in the dangerous numbers, it won’t be humid, and the ground remains cool in the shade, so I’m not too concerned. However, if you have one of those small, prefab coops, with the wooden nesting boxes that jut out of the side, do keep an eye on your hens. A hen might sit in the box of upwards of a half hour before laying. A broody hen will stay in there all day. It can become deathly hot.

You see so many chicken coops with the nest boxes sticking out the sides. Mine is like that, but for some reason the Girls have never gone into that part of the coop and wont use the nest boxes. They prefer to nest on the ground inside the coop at the other end. Maybe they knew something I didn’t know. I hadn’t given a thought to the fact that the nestboxes might become very hot in summer.

Something to think about.

I quite like this idea

March 19, 2012

I’m in the process of finding out how much food I can provide for myself. I weigh what comes in from the garden and also record the weight of food I buy (that’s easy because the weights are all on the supermarket docket).  I don’t record herbs grown and other small quantities of foodstuffs, or the things (like alpine strawberries), that usually get eaten in situ.

I sum up the total food entering the house and work out the % coming from the garden. I’m doing this over one full year.

This doesn’t give me any idea of what other resources I’m providing for myself—things like firewood, water and fertiliser.

So I like Sharon Astyk’s idea of the Bullseye Diet.

Sharon writes a couple of peak oil/self-sufficiency blogs. One is Casaubon’s Book and the other is The Chatelaine’s Keys. She’s written about the bullseye diet at both blogs—here and here.

The idea is a spin-off from the 100-mile diet, which you probably already know about. With that one, you try to source all your food from within 100 miles of your home (or kilometres, if you live in a metric country).

With the bullseye diet, you draw a series of concentric circles. The inner one represents your home. The outer ones progressively can represent your town, bioregion, state, country or whatever you choose. In each circle you list the things that you can source from that area. It gives a more accurate idea of how you’re going with self-sufficiency and energy use.  (When resources travel from where they’re produced to where they’re consumed, they use energy. With oil supplies in decline, we want to try and use less energy).

I going to draw a set of circles on a large sheet of paper. The inner one will represent my home property and inside that I’ll list what I can provide from there. I’ll add non-food items as well.

The next circle, I’ve decided, will be a 50 km radius from home, which I’ll call my bioregion. That will take in all the eastern and south-eastern areas of Melbourne’s suburbs and beyond, right down to Bass Strait. Quite a lot of the outer area is still farmland.

After that, I think my next circle will encompass all of the state of Victoria. The next one will be Australia and the outermost one will take in the rest of the world.

I’ll try and include all the resources I use regularly. I won’t know where some of them come from so I’ll have to do some research or make an enlightened guess.

I’m hoping it’ll give me  a better idea of where I’m at, self-sufficiency-wise and where I can possibly make changes, i.e. can I source a distant product closer to home, and so on.

Oh, the ignominy of it!

March 15, 2012

The Girls are moulting. So no eggs. Chooks can’t multi-task. They can’t grow new feathers and eggs at the same time.

It’s been an eggless fortnight. I cooked the last 4 in a humungous omelet earlier in the week.

It drizzled rain this morning, so not being able to work outside, I thought I’d cook.

I had a mind to make a batch of peanut/choc-chip cookies in the Thermomix. I dutifully got all the ingredients out of the cupboard and weighed them out. Chopped up the peanuts (in the Thermomix) and turned the sugar into caster sugar (Thermomix again). Then went to the fridge to get the eggs.


Double duh!

I’ll have to buy eggs!

Since getting the Girls, I’ve become so used to a fridge full of eggs. Giving them away even. It’s hard to open the fridge door and see that forlornly empty egg carton sitting there.  So it’s down to the free-range egg farm at the end of the street to eat humble pie. (I must ask what they do when their chooks moult. Maybe I don’t want to know; probably they get hauled away and disposed of. I was a bit put out to discover that in winter they keep the lights on in the shed 16 hours a day, just to keep the chooks laying. That’s not my idea of a normal chook life).

Meanwhile, if you want to see the epitome of a moulting chook, here’s Frogdancer’s Hazel.

Since Frogdancer includes knitting amongst her many accomplishments, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hazel sporting a rather fetching little matinee jacket in the next few days.

Insect-repellent plants for the Girls

March 12, 2012

I picked up a plant of Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) at a Sunday market recently. This completes a trio of insect-repellent plants I can use to chop up and strew around the chook coop and run.

The other two I have are Tree Wormwood (Artemisia arborescens) and Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare). I’m still on the lookout for Common Wormwood (Artemisia absinthum), which apparently doesn’t grow as tall as Tree Wormwood and spreads by suckering.

I cut back my Tree Wormwood the other day and put it through the shredder. The chemical-camphor smell just about took my breath away. I spread a bucket of the mulched material inside the coop and around the nest. The smell was so powerful I wondered if they’d refuse to sleep in there that night, but they put themselves to bed without any fuss so it must have been OK (can chooks smell?).

As they sit on the nest enveloped in this hospital disinfectant-type stink, I hope that any insect nasties on their bodies will run screaming in horror.

I took cuttings of the Southernwood and they grew roots in 22 days. Wormwood is also easy to strike. I grew the Tansy from seed the first year, but so many seedlings came up from seed the next year, it was easier to dig them up and transplant them.

Southernwood cuttings after potting on. Pretty foliage:

Wormwood planted outside the chook run:

Tansy in the garden:

The Girl’s very own lawn

March 5, 2012

I wrote a little while ago about buying a bag of lawn seed and sowing a square metre or so of grass for the Girls, with wire mesh over the top so they can’t dig it up by the roots.

It’s worked well. The seed germinated beautifully in a week. I threw in some clover seed and an assortment of extra seed I had—kale, chinese cabbage, carrots and parsley. A few surprises germinated as well—pumpkins and tomatoes. They must have come from the tray of  worm castings (+ worms) that I’d given them previously.

It was looking very lush after the recent rain:

They stand looking at it longingly through the wire panel that keeps them off it. I think it might be time to remove it and see what happens.

Wow! Is this for real?:

They spent the next half-hour happily ‘mowing’ their lawn. It’s good, because now they have fresh greens, including the big tub of water covered in azolla (just to the right in the picture above), and I don’t have to bother about picking greens every day for them. And if I want to go away for a day or two, picking greens for them is one less thing I have to ask a neighbour to do.

Molly and Lady are moulting at the moment so there are no eggs. They’ve laid only 2 in the last 10 days. They’re still pooping though, and that’s the main thing. It goes into the compost tumbler with mulched-up green stuff and it’s making a nice rich topping for the wicking boxes and tubs.