Archive for the ‘Chooks’ Category

Polypipe chook feeder (or how to outwit a chicken)

October 31, 2016

When I first decided to get some chickens (by the way, for overseas readers, we call them ‘chooks’ over here in Aussie land…..we’re a bit odd that way, you see)…..anyway….so I had to decide on how to present their food to them. After much internet searching, I found someone who’d made a feeder out of some scrap poly water pipe. I didn’t have any scrap pieces but it’s cheap enough to buy at plumbing suppliers or hardware stores, so I took myself off to Bunnings and their plumbing section.

After spending some time playing around with a short length of pipe and various fittings, I came up with the following masterpiece…a T section and two 45 degree sections, on the end of the pipe :

I started feeding the food that had been recommended by the breeder where I bought the chooks. However chooks have minds of their own and know what they don’t like. The feed was a mix of layer pellets and grains. They loved the grains and tossed out the pellets. Back to the drawing board.

Someone gave me a bag of layer pellets from a different manufacturer and they seemed to like them, so I ended up buying those and a poultry grain mix separately. I didn’t want to bother with mixing the two, so it was off to the store to buy more bits for a second feeder. So now we looked like this….grains in one feeder, pellets in the other. So far so good :

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Next problem was with the grain mix. It consisted of sunflower seeds (chook caviar), wheat (nah, won’t eat that…we’re gluten free), sorghum (what’s THAT stuff?), cracked corn (yes, we know all the books say chickens love corn, but WE don’t). So most of it got tossed everywhere in an effort to get at all the sunflower seeds (the books refer to it as ‘beaking’….when they use their beaks to flip aside anything they don’t like). Food all over the ground again. Where did I put that drawing board?

Do away with the 45 degree angle piece and replace with another right angled piece so that they can’t ‘beak’ out the food so easily. Surely this should do it? :

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Well, not quite. Because although they don’t relish some of the grains, they do eat them most times, but only after all the reachable sunflower seeds have been scoffed. As they crunch down on the grain, a certain amount is crushed into powder. The powder collects at the bottom, takes up any moisture in the air and cakes hard. Then the grains in the upper part of the pipe won’t flow down freely. The 45 degree end piece is a better shape for free-flowing, but it allows too much beaking out to occur. Drawing board?

Back in the plumbing section of Bunnings, I found they make little push-on caps for the pipes. I wanted the Girls to have access to the feed but not so they could pull it forward with their beaks and onto the ground. So I cut a ‘V’ section in the caps and put them over the ends of the pipe. Success at last! :

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Now they couldn’t pull the mixture forwards and out onto the ground. There was still a certain amount of powder produced, but all I had to do was take off the cap and flip out the powder with my finger into a container. It didn’t go to waste….the native Bronzewing pigeons loved it!

Problem solved at last? No….what is it they say about not counting your chickens before they’re hatched?

You see, these chooks are timid little wussies. A leaf falls off a tree and they will panic. If anyone but me goes near them, they will run a mile. It’s embarrassing when I have visitors…..they won’t come near. You can’t brag about your beautiful chooks if they’re skulking in the darkest corner and won’t come out and say hello.

So what happened next in the food saga wasn’t surprising. They would feed so furiously in an attempt to get at the sunflower seeds, that they would actually pull off the cap. It would fall on the ground, I’d hear a flurry of panicky cackles and the four of them would head for the hills. Not only that, but as long as that nasty white thing that had attacked them was still lying on the ground, they wouldn’t come back into the run, not even to go to bed, until I’d removed it.

I didn’t want to glue the cap on. That would have made the process of cleaning out the powder more difficult and I’m a firm believer in not glueing anything unless it’s absolutely necessary, because you never know when you might want to take it apart again. Don’t glue, screw.

I got out the drill and the finest bit I had. Drilled a tiny hole through each side of the cap and into the pipe :

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Placed a tiny nail through each hole to hold the cap in place. Voila! (The little bit of elastoplast is there because the hole was still a bit big for the nail) :

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Finally, the problem was solved (I hope) :

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And to use up the extra bits I’d bought, I made polypipe containers for their water and shell grit :

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Don’t get me wrong….chooks are wonderful things to have. They provide fresh eggs, fertiliser for the veggies and lots of laughs. It’s just that I seem to have ended up with a bunch of oddballs.

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Back in business

October 10, 2016

Before I start, I want to say a big thankyou to those who have made such nice comments about my return to blogging. Real warm glow stuff (I should stop more often!). I won’t reply individually to comments, you’ve all got one big thankyou to share amongst you.

So…the first photo on the ‘new’ blog is one I’m very proud of :

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Three beautiful caulis. My first time growing them, although I cheated a bit and bought the seedlings at Bunnings. When they developed huge leaves, on long stalks with no sign of a central flower head, I started picking the leaves for the chooks who love anything in the brassica family. Might as well not waste the leaves, I thought; I didn’t really  expect any flower heads anyway, as I’ve never been very good at getting broccoli to form heads. Then, to my great delight, I noticed tiny heads coming, so I left the rest of the leaves on the plants and waited until the heads were just starting to open a bit and picked them.  Sizewise, they’re the equivalent of a ‘small’ supermarket cauli. Very happy with this effort and will try again next season!

This, I think, is a seedling plum :

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I’ve planted it in memory of Bill Mollison who recently went to that great permaculture garden in the sky. The seedling came from a friend’s planter box, which I established for her to grow a few veggies. The contents of her worm farm were routinely emptied in there and some time ago I noticed a dozen or so seedlings that looked like they might be plums. I potted them up and have planted them in various areas in my food forest. This was the last of the batch and I found it when I was looking through my plants for something to plant for Bill.

The comfrey is finally coming back after its winter rest. I must dig up a few more pieces to spread around the food forest. The chooks like it and I can never have enough greens for them :

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I’ve been a bit worried about my little Australian Finger Lime. I wrote about it here. I planted it in a large tub next to the gas bottles, up against the side of the deck :

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It sat there all winter and hasn’t put out any new leaf growth for spring. The nice, bright yellow-green of the leaves has dulled to a darker green; maybe that was a reaction to the winter cold, but it’s in a sheltered spot facing east and we’ve had some warm days and it hasn’t picked up at all. Some of the leaf tips died and I’ve been expecting it to go to god anytime. Then I noticed these little pink things. Flower buds? Looks like it :

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I’m hoping that’s not a sign that it’s making one last try to do its thing before going to god. I’ll be happy to see the leaf colour looking better and new growth appearing. Fingers are crossed.

Tomato seedlings are in the polyhouse waiting to be planted. A bit small yet :

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I didn’t bother to sow seeds in the normal way and prick out seedlings. I soaked the seeds overnight and sowed 3  or 4 to each tube. That way there’s no interruption to growth from potting on. I’ll eventually thin to a single seedling per tube by simply cutting off the unwanteds at ground level. I may put some of those in as tiny cuttings. I’ve done it before and it works well.

We have rabbits here. At the far end of the street, there are huge numbers. The property next door to me has breeding burrows which they don’t bother to do anything about. Between us there are two battleaxe driveways to rear properties. The rabbits cross the driveways and head straight into my place. All that side of the property is my food forest; 150 metres long x 15 metres wide. You can imagine how the bunnies love getting in there! I’ve spent the last couple of months going right along the boundary (all 150 metres of it) and adding chicken wire to the bottom part of the existing fencing. It has done some good, I think. The rabbits still come in from the street entrance and from the property behind, but they’re not coming far in. They seem to realise that they can’t get back through the fence and are keeping their retreat options open by staying close to the exits. So the middle part of the food forest has been receiving less damage than usual and self-sown seedlings that normally wouldn’t survive are growing. This large cluster of self-sown poppies is the result :

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With any luck, the bees will get some pollen and I’ll get some poppyseed for my home-made bread.

This is a blueberry in a large tub. Nothing strange about that. But look at where the arrow is pointing. How did that get there? A single asparagus :

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I just checked the rainfall figures for May, June, July and August and compared them with the average for Melbourne. We had 360 mm and the average is 220 mm. No wonder the lower rear section of the block is squishy to walk on. It’s meant a huge explosion in germination and growth. This is part of the food forest which is on a slight slope and better drained :

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The light-green ground cover is chickweed. The thicker mass in the background is Warrigal Greens aka New Zealand Spinach. All that ground was completely bare at the end of summer. The rest of the food forest looks the same. I’ve been pulling the chickweed for the chooks. It’s flowering now and setting seed, which will mean similar growth next winter. The Warrigal Greens will probably die back if we have a dry summer like the last, but it will leave masses of seed, too. I’ve always envied those photos of permaculture gardens which show a huge abundance of growth. Now I’ve got it too. Must be doing something right (or should I just put it down to a beneficent rain god?)

April update

May 1, 2016

I found a spot for my little Australian native Finger Lime in a large tub beside the deck. It looked so big in its original nursery pot and now looks so tiny dwarfed by the gas bottles. I had planted a half circle of purple-podded peas at the rear of the tub and they had only just germinated, so it will have some company and they will put some nitrogen into the soil for it. I’m still tossing up whether to get another one to plant in the garden near the regular citrus trees :

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Tamarillos are starting to ripen and so are persimmons :

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I wasn’t sure about the persimmons, even though the colour looked right, they were still hard, so I picked just one and left it on the bench for a week and thankfully it softened and became edible. This is what a friend told me to do years ago. She had a huge tree and I can remember visiting and seeing dozens of bright orange persimmons lining the window sills in the kitchen and living room.

I’m pleased with my garlic so far, growing in the new bath. Hope it’s better than last year when the bulbs I picked were so small as to be practically useless :

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Carrots direct sown in a wicking box :

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My local greengrocer had locally grown Pink Lady apples for under $2 a kilo, so I got some to dry. I’ll chop these into smaller pieces in the Thermomix and use them in a mixture of chopped dried apricots and sultanas, which I add to my (cooked) rolled oats for winter breakfasts :

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I dried some lime slices at the same time. Don’t know what I’ll do with these :

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My Jerusalem artichokes were a dismal failure, but then I wasn’t surprised. They were in a terrible spot under gum trees, got very little water through the summer and almost no nutrients. So this is the entire crop. I’m not eating any, but replanting them right away into a large tub which will be well watered and fed through next summer.

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The solitary yellow tamarillo has produced more fruit than the four red ones, which, for some reason, lost most of their flowers during the summer :

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The trouble with most of these fruits is that they’re well out of reach, because tamarillo plants do this :

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A tall skinny trunk with an umbrella of foliage at the top. In The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia, Louis Glowinski recommends pinching out the tip growth when the plant is a metre high to force it to branch. Well, I did that with this plant and it still reached for the heavens (it might have been a little over a metre). Nowadays I pinch out the tip growth when the seedling is only 25 cm high (no mature trees from that experiment to show as yet). Luckily the fruits fall when they’re really ripe, even though they’re usually OK to eat before that.

My Naranka Gold pumpkin has been picked and is maturing enjoying the sun on top of the firewood box on the deck. I hope there’s plenty of seed inside as I’ve now run out and this one is grown exclusively for Coles supermarkets, so seed isn’t available to buy :

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My yacon crop is better this year. I kept it well-watered and fed over summer, so I’m hoping for some decent tubers. It’s planted under a couple of tamarillos (note the trunks either side), so it was always protected from the direct sun which makes the soft leaves wilt readily :

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I cleaned all the old summer crops out of the two planter boxes and planted some kale seedlings :

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But there are still white butterflies about, so :

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The climbing beans did so well in the milk bottle planters, I thought I’d try some peas. Only three per bottle and they’ll require careful tying up since they don’t twine like beans, but hey, anything’s worth a try :

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The strawberry wicking buckets are still producing a few strawberries :

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During the month we had a welcome 50 mm of rain which greened everything up nicely, but we still need much more to make up for the very dry spring and summer months. Melbourne’s average for April is 53 mm.

Last but not least, the Girls have all stopped laying and are having their autumn/winter break. I don’t expect any more eggs until September at the earliest. I’ll be buying eggs for the first time in 13 months. This was the first laying year for the three newbies (Bonny, Missy & Clover) and between them they laid 382 eggs. Five year-old Molly would have contributed some of those, but not many. She’s a senior cit now and just likes to spend her days lolling in the sun. When she does produce an egg it probably surprises her more than it does me.

March update

April 2, 2016

The Big Dry persists.

In the first 8 months of last year, we had 424 mm rain, an increase of 17 mm over Melbourne’s average for that period. In the last 7 months since then, we’ve had only 50% of normal rainfall and that was in the critical spring/summer months, when plants are putting on growth, flowering and setting seed and fruit is swelling. I’ve tried to keep water up to all the fruit trees and berry-producing shrubs and my latest water bill shows I’ve used much more than normal. And that was with 18,000 litres in 3 tanks, which quickly ran out. The 3 large pools at the rear of the property have dried out; the third one (which is up to my waist when full), has only ever dried out once before in the last 16 years.

The rest of the plants—mostly natives and those in the bush have been left to survive as well as they can. Many have died. Even the bracken fern in the bush is looking peaky and when that happens, you know it’s dry!

So, I wait and hope. The ground is cooling down and without rain soon, I don’t expect to find many edible mushrooms, not that there are ever many of those anyway, but it is nice to get at least one hunt-and-gather meal.

Rain or no rain, life goes on.

All the summer veggies have been pulled out and the wicking boxes and tubs topped up with fresh compost. I’ve sown peas at the rear of most boxes, where there is wire for them to climb on :

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I planted my garlic on the 21st of the month….it being the autumn equinox. I had prepared a bed down the back earlier in the year, but it is all so dry down there that I decided to plant it in the other half of the new bath, where the soil is richer and moister :

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That’s self-sown mizuna on the left. The chooks are getting most of it.

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Within 10 days green shoots were showing :

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I am so pleased with my quinces. I put apple socks on some of them, otherwise I wouldn’t have harvested any :

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This is what the birds did to those that weren’t protected :

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When they had turned yellow I picked about half a dozen and left them on the kitchen bench for a couple more weeks. There are still another half dozen on the tree. It was my first real harvest. Not bad for something that was grown from a seed :

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I cooked them in the slow cooker for 10 hours. 700 ml of water, a cup of sugar, a couple of cinnamon sticks, a dash of lemon juice and one star anise (thanks to Y for the recipe). The flavour is superb and while the colour isn’t the deepest I’ve seen, it’s the best I’ve ever achieved :

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If the tree fruits as well next season, I’ll protect more of the fruit and do some serious bottling.

The leaves on the persimmon are starting to colour up and fall and the fruits I’ve ‘apple-socked’ are becoming more visible :

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Are they starting to colour up under their socks? :

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Yep, looking good :

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Now I can see them more easily, I can count them and it looks like about a dozen :

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The critical time will be when all the leaves are gone and just the fruits are left hanging on the tree. I’ll have to pray the socks will do their job and keep birds and possums off, or failing that, sit under the tree 24/7 with a shotgun. This will only be the second year I’ve had a harvest off the tree and it’s 8 years old. Persimmons are one of the most beautiful fruits I’ve ever tasted. This variety isn’t the one that’s eaten when it’s crunchy; it’s the one that goes soft and the inside is like rich apricot jam. You slice off the top and spoon it out. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Tamarillos are starting to ripen, too. There won’t be as many this year as something caused most of the flower buds to fall :

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My Naranka Gold pumpkin has lost most of its leaves and I’m hoping the single fruit will be ripe enough to contain fertile seed. I used my last seed to grow it and haven’t seen any more for sale (it’s grown exclusively for Coles) :

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Seedlings of kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage are waiting in the wings. I’m keeping them in the polyhouse as there are still white butterflies about :

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I’ve sown carrots in 2 wicking boxes and leeks are on the way for winter. There are a few green capsicums still on the bushes and chickweed has self-sown in a wicking box. The chooks will get most of it, but I’m cutting it for scrambled eggs for me.

All I’m picking now from the garden is silver beet, a bit of rhubarb and some Asian greens. Oh, and Bonny the chook is still laying but only a couple a week now. But there are tomatoes, tomato puree and beans in the freezer, 2 large jars of dried tomatoes in the cupboard and pickled cucumbers in the fridge. Summer’s bounty is over until next season.

Brassica time

March 14, 2016

Brassicas are all those members of the cabbage family—cabbage itself, plus broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and all the numerous varieties of Chinese and Japanese greens.

In this part of the country brassicas are generally considered winter vegetables, so sowing seed should commence in late summer and autumn, to get a winter and early spring crop. I’ve heard that some gardeners sow as early as mid summer, but I’ve never managed it, because tending to summer veggies usually takes all my time and effort.

However, I’m into it now and have been sowing seed daily, some direct sown and some in punnets to be potted up later.

The wonderful thing about brassicas is that they germinate so quickly. Here’s some of my seedlings; the fastest (black kale, on the left) took 2 days and the others took 3-4 days. As well as the black kale, there’s Wombok Chinese cabbage, Dwarf Siberian kale and mustard Osaka Purple (just coming up on the right) :

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The problem with brassicas is that they are the food plant for the Cabbage White Butterfly, which lays its eggs on the leaves and the green caterpillars which hatch set to straight away and demolish all the leaves. I can keep my seedlings in the polyhouse until the cooler weather puts an end to the butterflies (or they’ve laid all they can manage and have gone to god with the satisfaction of a job well done), or I can put them out in the open when the butterflies are still around and monitor them daily for a caterpillar squashing session (of course I can net them too, but that gets a bit cumbersome). I like to get them out as soon as possible because they tend to get leggy in the polyhouse, owing to the shadecloth over the top of the plastic (which I can’t get at to remove now and in any case it gets far too hot in there in summer without it).

There hasn’t been nearly as many white butterflies around this season as normally, but there are still a few to make life difficult for the ardent brassica grower. So inspecting and squashing becomes part of the daily routine.

If I get in early before the eggs have hatched, I can simply rub the eggs off the leaves with my thumb. They’re quite easy to see (glasses on) and are usually on the underside of the leaves (the butterfly thinks I won’t see them there, but she doesn’t know I have a (slightly) bigger brain than her and worked that one out long ago) :

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Sometimes I’ll leave eggs on a few trap plants to hatch and wait till the caterpillars get to a reasonable size, because the chooks love them as a treat.

I’ve also direct-sowed a lot of seed too. This is Mizuna, a Japanese green that comes in both green and purple-leaved varieties. This was mixed seed collected from the garden, but it seems to be all green :

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I’ve sown it in the second-hand bath which I received from a family member for Christmas. I harvest it by cutting handfuls of leaves just above the growth point with scissors and it keeps growing back :

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That’s a really good net—the openings are too small to allow the butterflies in and it will also keep the rabbits from browsing the leaves around the edges. In a couple of weeks I’m going to plant my garlic in the other half of the bath.

This is broccoli in a large tub :

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Although all these self-sown seedlings are very close together, I’ll be continually thinning them and either eating the thinnings or giving them to the chooks. They love all brassicas, especially kale.

February update

March 3, 2016

It seems safe to assume that summer is almost over, with less than three weeks to the autumn equinox, although 30º+ temperatures are predicted for the next week.

I added up my rainfall figures on the calendar and the total came to 5 mm. Surely there was more than that! Melbourne’s average for February is 46 mm. I can see the effects, in the dead and dying plants in the garden and also in the bush. I only water food plants, nothing else. The big 9000 litre tank is down to half and I’ve stopped using it, because it’s my drinking water (I won’t drink mains water with its load of toxic fluoride). The 2 smaller 4500 litre tanks are being topped up from the mains supply. I do this because it’s easier to water from them with a low pressure sprinkler than it is to water directly from the mains where the pressure is so variable.

I’ve been more than happy with yields from the garden this season.

Strawberries are still going strong in their wicking buckets, although the fruits are smaller now. They’ve been bearing for at least 6 months.

Cherries. The tree is in it’s second year and I got many more than last year. I can’t seem to find a photo of those. I expect most of them didn’t make it into the house.

Tomatoes have almost finished and I stopped weighing them when I reached 25 kilos. I cleaned some self-sown parsley out of one of the wicking boxes and topped it up with fresh compost. A few tomatoes germinated and have grown quickly :

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I’ve staked them and might get a few more fruit before they succumb to the cold. No idea which variety. It will be a surprise!

Pears. I’ve been really happy with yields from the two trees. A Bartlett with a Josephine for pollination—both planted in the same hole. I’d let them get too big (visions of huge old pear trees dripping with fruit) and so too big to net and the birds/possums have always got them all. Last year I cut them back really hard, so now they’re not much taller than I am. They flowered and set fruit, but instead of netting them (my biggest net was over the apple), I put the little apple pouches on each fruit. It has worked and nothing has attacked the fruit :

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I checked out Louis Glowinski’s book on fruit growing to see when I should pick them (pears ripen inside, off the tree) and the trick is to grab the hanging fruit and pull it up into a horizontal position. If it’s ready to pick the stem will snap at the abcission layer (the layer of weaker cells at the top of the stem). So each day I go down and tweak all the fruit. It’s working and this is the yield so far from the Bartlett :

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The fruits of the Josephine are smaller and maturing a bit later, but so far I have these :

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Pepino. There are huge fruits forming on the pepino in the wicking box. This box is at ground level so the wire is to keep hungry rabbits at bay :

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Beans. A slow start when most of the early-sown seed rotted, but it’s picked up and I’m eating beans with every evening meal now. Beans are one thing I never buy (along with tomatoes), so I really look forward to bean season.

Cucumbers. Lots of success with those and there are 16 jars of bread & butter pickles in the fridge. There were more cucumbers than I could eat fresh and I discovered that the chooks loved them sliced down the middle. They eat out all the seeds and flesh and leave only the paper-thin skins.

Berries. Raspberries and blackberries fruited for the first time and although the yields weren’t large, it means two additions to the diversity of food from the garden.

Apricots. A reasonable yield from one seedling-grown tree and about a dozen from the named variety, Moor Park (only in it’s first season). These are the apricots (and cherry plums from the self-sown tree) :

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Zucchini. A disaster. I got two. I pulled them out early. Male and female flowers just didn’t manage to co-ordinate themselves.

Pumpkins. Pulled out most of those, too. They were in a hugelkultur bed where the underlying wood hadn’t broken down and the ants kept bringing up the sand around them. It doesn’t hold water and I couldn’t keep enough water up to them to maintain growth.

But….there’s still one left in a recycling crate and it’s doing well. It’s the variety called Naranka Gold which is commercially grown exclusively for Coles supermarkets. I grew it last year but it went in late and didn’t produce any fruit. This year it’s climbing all over the wood heap (the leaves are meant to be that variegated yellow colour; it’s not a deficiency) :

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and hidden under the leaves is this :

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Quinces. The quince tree was grown from seed. From memory I think I planted three seedlings close together and they have all suckered into a large clump. It’s huge now and has flowered and fruited each year. I don’t really bother about it and last year the parrots got all the fruit. This year, since it’s next to the pear trees, I put apple socks on some of the quinces as well, so it looks like I will get a few :

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The remains of a couple that didn’t get ‘socked’ :

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Under-ripe quinces! Bleahh! Parrots apparently have no taste buds!

I’ve had more problems with roots entering the wicking tubs. Regular readers might remember this post where a grapevine found its way into the drainage hole at the bottom of a tub. It happens because there are zillions of ants here. They bring the sandy soil up to the surface around the base of pots and because it’s moist around the drainage holes, roots slide their way in. I don’t notice because the base of the tub eventually gets part buried in the sand. But I did notice that there was one tub that I could never seem to keep moist even though I watered it every day. It was nowhere near the grape vine and over 10 meters from the nearest tree. I thought the plastic in the bottom was probably perforated and it wasn’t functioning as a wicking tub any more. It’s a 51 cm diameter tub and very heavy. There’s a capsicum in it at the moment. I yanked it forwards from the back and it came away from the ground easily. No root problems there, so I cleared away the sand from around the front. See that thing that looks like a giant worm :

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That’s a tree root that has come out of the soil, done a 360º about face and entered the tub! What a cheek! I cut it out and sniffed it. Eucalyptus! From now on all the wicking tubs will be raised up on bricks, well off the ground!

Around the middle of last year I was given a small pot with one sick-looking leaf in it. I think the owner thought I might be able to bring it back to life. The label said ‘turmeric’.  I was rapt. I’ve been wanting to grow turmeric for ages, but couldn’t find any greengrocer selling the rhizomes to plant. I tipped it out of the pot. The ordinary roots looked white and healthy; there was no sign of a rhizome. I hoped it wasn’t sick but just heading into winter dormancy, so I potted it into a slightly larger pot, left it in the polyhouse and kept it just moist.

In spring, to my delight, a little green shoot appeared. I fed it some Dynamic Lifter and began to water it regularly. The green shoot grew and another appeared. Eventually I repotted it into a much larger pot. This is it now :

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If it grows any bigger there won’t be room for both of us in the polyhouse. Even if I wanted to put it outside, I can’t lift the pot. I’m hoping it’s making lots of turmeric rhizomes because I’ve promised to share with the original owner. Has anyone grown it away from its normal tropical home? Should I put it outside for the autumn/winter? I thought it probably wouldn’t like a low-humidity Melbourne summer, that’s why I left it in the polyhouse and misted the leaves every day. Here’s hoping for some nice rhizomes I can dry and crush.

My blueberry seedlings are growing and reaching the stage where I want to put them in their final growing spots. There are four left out of the six I had in October :

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I bought some large plastic pails and drilled a drainage hole a third of the way up from the bottom (so they’ll be wicking pots) and used them this season for tomatoes :

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They worked well, so I think I will use them for the blueberries. Not sure whether I’ll put them on the deck (it’s looking like a forest up there now), or stand them in the garden somewhere. They’ll be too tall for the rabbits and they’ll be easy to get a net over when they’re fruiting. One thing I’m going to do is buy an acid potting mix (for azaleas/rhododendrons) and use that, as blueberries like an acid soil and the chook poo compost I use for veggies tends to be alkaline.

Eggs. Bonny is still going strong with an egg every second day. She’s been laying constantly for just on a year now; surely she will take a break soon. She’s full of beans, eating like a horse and charges at me, pecking my foot, every time I go into the run. The other three stopped laying and moulted after Christmas. I’m not expecting any more from them until spring.

Well, I think I’ve just about covered most things. All I need now is some rain. A lot.

January update

February 3, 2016

It rained at last—48 mm in all—over the last four days of the month. Melbourne’s average for January is 47 mm, so a good result all round. Within a day all the tip growth on the native plants was showing fresh and green and the tomatoes, which I thought had been getting plenty of water, started to split their skins.

I’m getting plenty of tomatoes now, after a bad start when rats ate all the first lot of seedlings I put out (in one night!) and set me back a couple of weeks while I put down poison every night and watched and waited until it was no longer being taken. I found six dead rats and the chooks earned their keep by catching and killing another. I mixed the bait pellets with peanut butter, placed it on jar lids and hid these behind the line of wicking boxes and tubs which run alongside the base of the deck (which is where I’d planted the tomatoes). I put it out at dusk and removed any uneaten first thing in the morning. My only concern was birds eating it, but they couldn’t have entered the small space where it was hidden. I’d seen the rats running along there, so it was the best spot to put it. A good result and the next lot of seedlings I put out remained untouched.

Tomato harvest so far :

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The cherries will be dried, the paste varieties frozen for winter casseroles and the rest eaten fresh and fried. Loving fried toms with my evening meal at the moment!

Recently I was gifted another second-hand bath from a relative who knows I collect them :

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This makes three now. I use the first two to collect rainwater and grow azolla for the chooks. I need more growing space above ground, so I think I’ll use this one to grow veggies.

He also brought 3 bags of dried cow poo pats (they run beef cattle in Gippsland), so I’ll use those as a basis for the growing mix. That’s the black stuff in the bath.

I watered the cow pats to get them to absorb water and soften. I’ve covered them with all the organic material I can muster—mulched bracken, weeds, soft prunings, leaves, etc, and I’ve added some worms from the worm farm to let them break it all up. With any luck, I’ll have a whole new veggie bed to put my winter kale and broccoli in.

I would have liked to have made it into a wicking bed, but I wanted to get the material composting as quickly as possible and I didn’t want to spend time on the fiddly job of measuring and drilling drainage holes and getting it set up. Instead I’ve positioned it so the plughole end is higher than the other end, meaning that water won’t completely drain away, so a shallow, boggy layer will be maintained in the bottom. I can always stop up the plughole later and drill drainage holes to increase the depth of the boggy layer.

I’ve been growing New Zealand spinach for some years. It self-seeds readily and took over much of the bare ground around and under the fruit trees. I left it there because it was such a good ground cover, is green and lush through the winter and the rabbits don’t touch it. I pick the young leaf tips and steam them as a green :

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But it’s shallow-rooted in the compacted soil there and doesn’t like to get dry, so with 3 months of below-average rainfall it died right back and became a tangle of dead stems. I decided to remove them as they were a tripping hazard and I knew it would regenerate from the thousands of seeds it had dropped, but when I got it all out I decided I liked the look of it better, walking wasn’t a hazard (especially not knowing if a snake was hidden under it!), so I’ve decided to keep it that way and not let it regenerate. I’ve raked all the litter up around the fruit trees as mulch, out to the drip line, which looks much nicer and makes it easier to add compost and wood ash and gives a cleared space for walking around them. I’ll just maintain a minimal layer of gum leaf mulch there to walk on and absorb the force of heavy rain. I’m still trying to find a ground cover to put under the fruit trees that the rabbits will leave alone. I don’t want to use Warrigal Greens again, because it grows so quickly and rampantly and will just take over again. I’d like to put comfrey there, but the rabbits demolished that too. Everything I like, they like.

I’ve had one zucchini from six plants and that was one I hand pollinated. When there were male flowers open, there were no females. Then when the females came along, the males didn’t show. They’re getting regular water and fertiliser, including extra potash and they’re varieties that have done well in the past. I’m really wondering if it’s worth growing them in future. It’s annoying, when others seem to have zucchini coming out of their ears.

I had a pepino growing in a wicking box on the deck for a couple of years. I pruned it back very hard, not really caring if it didn’t re-sprout and it didn’t. So I put another in a wicking box beside the chook run. It’s doing really well and there are some huge fruits forming (arrowed) :

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When the pepino was still small, I planted a tomato at the edge of the box. It’s been overshadowed a bit (well squashed out of existence really), but not to be outdone, it’s produced a couple of huge fruits. From memory, it’s a Black Krim :

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Always curious as to what that black thing is she’s pointing at us. Is it something to eat? :

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The Girls have been laying continuously since March last year. I lost the second of the original three in that month so was down to one original and the three New Girls, who arrived in November 2014. Last year the four of them managed 339 eggs between them and I didn’t have to buy eggs at all over winter. Since Christmas only Bonny has been laying but I’m expecting her to stop any day. Who me? :

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With four consecutive spring/summer months of well-below-average rainfall, I’m learning some valuable lessons about growing my food. The main one is to keep fruit trees small by regular pruning, or else buy plants grafted onto dwarf rootstock. Small plants means a small root area, so it’s easy to keep the water up to the plant in dry times. It’s also easy to get a net or shadecloth over the plant when it’s fruiting, or a scorching 40+ temperature is forecast.

This was bought as a dwarf nectarine. It’s been in the ground four years and is still only 80 cm high :

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Mind you, it hasn’t had a lot of attention; it’s in sandy soil without much nutrient, but it’s behind a row of wicking boxes and tubs so probably receives some nutrient run-off from them and gets watered when I water them. In its first spring it produced flowers along every branch :

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Because it was so small I didn’t allow it to set any fruit. The following year there were many fruit, so I thinned to just a few. As you can see the leaf growth has a compact weeping habit. The fruit was hidden under the leaves so I didn’t bother to net. Bad decision! The birds (or tall rabbits), got them all.  This year, as soon as it started to set fruit, I put a net over it. There weren’t many, but they were bigger than any of my other stone fruit and they ripened beautifully on the plant :

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I’m giving it regular feeds and water now, to try and speed up its growth a bit. This winter I’m going to buy a couple more. It’s a variety with white flesh and I’d like one with yellow flesh if they’re available.

Oh, and the label said it would get to about a metre and a half tall and wide. Just right!

I finally got around to pruning my Red Delicious apple so I could get a net over it. It didn’t set as much fruit as in previous years (the pruning was a bit drastic), but I was determined not to let the parrots have it :

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Only about two dozen apples in all but worth keeping for myself. I’ve been keeping the water up to it to swell the fruit and the rain helped, too. I tried one after taking the photo and it was crisp and crunchy and sweet enough that I can begin harvesting. I’m not a great apple eater, but I’ve set myself one a day :

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So the second month of official summer has passed. My calendar follows the solstices and equinoxes, so my summer started on the December solstice and ends on the March equinox. I’m counting the days—48 to go. It’s not that I don’t like the warm weather, but being on a bush block in a designated bushfire zone, summer is always a worrying time.

Spring at last!

October 1, 2015

Well…the mornings are still colder than I’d like, but there have been some warm days and all the fruit trees and wattles are flowering and we have passed the equinox.

So what’s happening at the foodnstuff residence?

Asparagus. I’m eating about 3 meals a week. When there’s not enough for a meal on any particular day, I just stand whatever I’ve picked in a cup of water until there are enough. They will continue to grow (elongate) in the water but don’t seem to get any more woody at the bottom :

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Raspberries. The raspberry bed is in its second year now. The original five plants have morphed into a random cluster of suckers, which, I’m hoping, will all flower and produce much more than the couple of cups I picked last year. The whole bed is permanently under a net now, because the rabbits love raspberry leaves (and of course the birds will love the berries) :

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I’ve had to put a net over the rhubarb. The rabbits were eating all the leaves. I know I only eat the stalks, but no leaves…no photosynthesis…no stalks :

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The lettuces in the milk bottle planters are thriving. I’m going to put up three more with alpine strawberries in them :

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I love the lacy look of this purple mizuna. It’s in a wicking box with purple bok choy :

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With all these fancy hybrids around now, veggie gardens are looking so attractive it’s a shame to have to pick the plants and eat them.

Here’s ordinary old green mizuna, direct-seeded into a wicking box. Too late in the year for it really…..it will flower before I get much from it, but the Girls will enjoy it :

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Direct-seeded calendula. I’ll really have to make that calendula flower ointment this year :

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Red-veined sorrel. It was looking rather tired. Amazing what a dollop of chook poo will do :

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I’m trying carrots in a wicking box this year (there’s a self-sown lettuce trying to muscle its way in) :

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Brillant red flowers on pineapple sage. I must plant more of this :

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Tomato seedlings waiting for the real warm weather :

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This is my new friend :

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A King Parrot. He’s been coming nearly every day recently, sometimes with his lady friend. He’s very tame….she’s a bit more reticent. When he can’t see me outside, he props on the laundry window ledge and whistles. When I come into the laundry and he sees me, he gives what I can only describe as a joyous shout. I go out and spread a handful of sunflower seeds on the deck railing. He’s no more than a foot away from me. So beautiful!

This quince tree (grown from seed) has become such an attractive specimen that I wouldn’t care if it didn’t produce any fruit. It did produce last year but something ate all but the few I managed to rescue. I hadn’t bothered about bagging the fruit because….well, who would eat a raw, unripe quince? Something was either very hungry or has no taste buds to speak of :

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My little cherry is out in flower. Support for a net is already in place as soon as fruits start forming :

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Pear blossom is beautiful :

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But apple blossom wins the prize every time :

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Last but not least, the Girls are still producing 8 or 9 eggs a week; even 4-year-old Molly is still doing her bit occasionally. Grated carrot and yoghurt goes down a treat :

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July update

August 10, 2015

Despite the cold and the rain, I managed to get a few jobs done last month. The first was to get the dwarf Stella cherry ready for the new season…..its second year of growth. I dug a small swale behind it so I could keep the water up to it in the summer :

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Then I installed a support for a net :

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I picked only about eight cherries last year and I’m hoping for a bigger crop this year.

I bought a dwarf Granny Smith apple and planted it on a hugelkulture mound. I’ll eventually put in a couple of posts and a wire framework and have a go at espalier :

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It will get more TLC here because I’ll be planting my zucchinis on the mound when the weather warms and there’s a sprinkler system from the tank in place. The original Granny Smith I planted is right down the back where I never seem to want to drag the hose and the apples are always small. It’s too big for a net, but I try and protect a few with bits of netting, otherwise I generally leave them to the birds.

I also bought 5 bare-rooted, thornless blackberry canes and planted them on a new hugelkulture mound I’d been building up for a few months, with raked leaves and sticks from the walking tracks in the bush :

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This mound is on contour and on the slope that leads to the first of the three pools on the property. Although I haven’t yet dug out a swale in front of the mound, water is already collecting there and running underneath the mound and into the pool.

I’d love to have nasturtiums growing everywhere, but the rabbits love them as well. The only place I can keep them is inside a wire circle. These are keeping a Cox’s Orange Pippin apple company :

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Fortunately, the rabbits don’t like Warrigal Greens, so they’re doing a great job as a ground cover in the food forest :

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These climbing peas have just started to flower :

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Attractive foliage of Jagallo Nero kale :

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And Red Russian kale :

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I’m not picking much from the garden at the moment….just some greens and a few yellow tamarillos. The red variety has produced very few fruits because of an aphid attack last spring when they were flowering and most of the flowers dropped off.

On the chook front…..two of the New Girls have started laying again and I’m getting about 8 eggs a week from them. For the first time since I started keeping chickens, I went through the winter without having to buy eggs. Good one Girls!

I gave the pepino in the wicking box on the deck a haircut :

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It will be interesting to see if it recovers.

The blueberry in a pot on the deck is flowering :

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In the bush, Victoria’s floral emblem, Pink Heath (Epacris impressa), is flowering :

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And a large patch of native Nodding Greenhood orchids :

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Meanwhile, I’m hoping for spring and some warmer weather.

Winter eggs

July 4, 2015

I’m rapt that I’m still getting 3 or 4 eggs a week, despite the short winter days…..the first time I’ve had it happen in four years of chicken-keeping.

It’s all down to little Clover, my favourite of the three New Girls, because she was the one the others always bossed from the beginning. When she laid her first pointy one it was a novelty, but this is the last two week’s worth of pointyness from her :

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I don’t know why they’re like this now or which end comes out first; I’m just happy to be able to have my scrambled egg treat each week. Go Clover!