Friday, November 19, 2010

chapter 20: Eating your greens...reds, purples, yellows and oranges too.

Chapter 20:Eating your Greens...Reds, Purples, Yellows & Oranges too.

Taking (Chicken) Stock of Life and Death
A month ago we noticed Charlie (one of our remaining three chickens) had gone 'dickie'. We had noticed that she seemed a little out of sorts, but it wasn't until Gramps 'the chook whisperer' pointed it out in no uncertain terms for all to hear at a recent bbq "You've got a dickie chook there lovey". Joe smiled with discombobulation. Behind his polite smile, he was thinking 'what the hell does dickie mean?'
"well matey, it means her organs are systematically shutting down and she's only got about a week to live, you can tell by the frumpy tail and the colour has gone from her cone. You'd best put her in a box in a quiet corner or she'll be pecked to death by the others."
Joe had grown close to Charlie, particularly because she was named after his father...I could see him thinking 'surely it's not that bad. Jo's dad is prone to exaggeration. Perhaps Charlie is just having a bad day...too much porridge can cause bloating...?'

But dickie she was, and within the week Charlie passed away in a cardboard box on the back porch.

I called Joe to break the news..."can you pick up some milk on the way home, I haven't paid that bill yet,  and by the way Charlie's dead."

After letting Joe down lightly, I thought about the kids. How were they going to take it, they had grown so fond of the chickens, perhaps they are too young to understand. Later in the afternoon when Joe arrived home the whole family stood around the hole under the lemon tree. Joe shook Charlie out of the box and she landed with a stiff thud in the shallow grave, a moment of silence followed until Joe said with a sense of ceremony "would anyone like to say a few words?" After a brief pause our 4 year old (N), spoke up " um, well are we gonna pull her feathers out?" he said shrugging his shoulders. "Why sweety? " I replied.
"Well, we are having chicken soup for dinner; we may as well just add her to it."

Kids eh..Joe sent us all inside as he slumped on his shovel in a state of grief and disbelief at our sons carnivorous pragmatism.

But this was more than a month ago and with only two hens left and eggs at an all time low, Joe quickly recovered after we purchased 4 more hens, Thelma, Louise, Georgie and Noella.

Bean and gone

Talking of has beens we had our first major spring harvest last weekend. Our broad beans were ready for picking. Broad beans are not commonly found in the shops but are a delicious bean and very easy to grow. Plant them on St Patricks day (Autumn) and they will be ready for harvesting in early Spring. You can eat them straight from the shell or freeze them for later use as we decided to do. Alternatively you can leave the mature pods to dry for planting next season or adding the dried beans to next winter's dishes. Simply soak the dried beans overnight. The mature plants grow up to a metre in height and yield about 15 pods, each with 3-5 beans. We harvested enough to fill a wheelbarrow.

Shelling the beans was a fun family affair and is set to become a favourite annual tradition.

Another handy broad bean tip is that the roots draw nitrogen back into the soil. When harvesting, don't pull the plant out by the roots, simply cut off at ground level leaving the roots in, in time they will break down providing a rich source of nitrogen in your next crop. Follow a crop of tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkins or melons (heavy feeders) with a broad bean crop to replenish the soil.

Colourful crops

With spring well and truly in the air the garden is quite a buzz, literally. Our bottle brush trees are covered in bees from dawn to dusk and the other flowers throughout the garden are coming into bloom. The poppies, nasturtiums, roses, camellias, lavender, black-eyed Susie's, hibiscus and geraniums are all doing their colourful thing. But its not just the flowers being colourful in the garden. This month we've pulled up our purple dragon carrots, plucked our purple king beans, had our first ripened red, cherry tomatoes, red lettuce and budding beetroot stems and lets not forget the greens. Silverbeet, coriander, rocket, basil and beans all look great in green.

purple King Beans

we simply call this our handsome lettuce.
Kapow! Purple Dragon Carrots...

Seaweed in the mountains

Seaweed is a great fertilizer for the vegetable patch, but as we are in the mountains, we have been making the most of our trips to the coast when we visit Joe's family. On our last trip north, Joe and his sister filled the entire boot of the station wagon with garbage bags of seaweed from the local lakes.

After rinsing it in the rain, to wash off any salt, we added it to the pumpkins, tomatoes and potatoes. the potatoes and pumpkins are absolutely thriving! best of all it's free, and can even be used to make a liquid fertilizer, seaweed tea.

Straw and your strawberries
If there is one taste that defines spring, it simply has to be the home grown, hand picked, delicious taste of ripe red strawberries. the only problem is getting them before the snails do. Strawberries are a hardy plant to grow, but the strawberries themselves can fall victim to rotting if allowed to sit on the soil, and become easy targets for fat little snails.

Its worth padding some straw beneath the berries to elevate them from the ground. this reduces the likelihood of rot, and munching mollusc's. In fact, growing them in hanging baskets is a sure fire way to save your berries from the snails and slugs. this is definitely on our to do list, although we plan to leave some in the ground to grow runners and new plants for next season.

Possums in the patch
If you have ever visited the mountains, it’s quite possible that you have crossed paths with the semi-famous Possum Man. Known throughout the district for his cunning possum catching talent, The possum man can be called on his possum hotline (somewhat like ghost busters we imagine), will arrive in his hand painted possum-mobile and (for a fee) proceed to trap your furry possum fiend and then let it go again in your backyard, thanks to the Blue mountains City council’s policy on protecting those poor, poor little possums that wee all over our car, eat our garden and thunder across our roof at 3am in the morning.
one of our cheekiest possums

Since moving here possums have had a go at most things that we have tried to grow including our chilli bush, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs. They have dined on our entire lettuce crop and munched away our heirloom ‘lazy housewife beans’ down to the very last stalk. They even have the hide to do so right in front of us, causing Joe to fling into a wild frenzy of maniacal fist waving and chasing them around in the dark, before near breaking down in tears at the state of our helpless seedlings. It can just about break a man’s spirit.

possum solutions
The possums are here to stay but we have learnt how to live with them. We now cover most of what we grow with bird netting but we have also discovered some things that you can grow that the possums don’t seem to bother with and we feel obliged to share these with you.

Possums have not bothered the zucchinis that grew rambunctiously all over the yard last year. They don’t eat our leek, onions, garlic, shallots, coriander, rosemary, pumpkins or melons, perhaps because of their coarse leaves. Interestingly, with the onset of spring, the possums have become much less of a problem. In fact, we have been able to successfully grow leafy silverbeet, lettuce tomatoes and potatoes uncovered over the last month, and not one leaf has been munched.

The famous gardener, Jackie French, seems to believe that possums don’t like ‘foraging’ for food in dense vegetation, and we have tended to notice the same. This may also explain why the possums have left our sweet potato leaves, which grew abundantly all through last summer. Just don’t leave your harvested sweet potatoes out over night, as they will happily eat them for you.

Even flowers occasionally fall victim to hungry possums. They have eaten all of our beautiful geraniums down to the stalks but don’t touch the nasturtiums or lavender.

Although our grapes are still too small for the possums or birds to care about we plan to net each bunch with stocking as we lost at least 70% of our grapes last year to them. We are not sure if it will work but are going to give it a go.

Next blog we are going to mull over mulberries, talk lavender champagne and get cheesy making our own ricotta.