25 December 2014

2014 - That's a Wrap!

Well another big year is coming to a close.  Day jobs have kept us busy and the months have flown by, but there has still been plenty going on in both the City and Country Gardens:

Country Garden
After a flourishing Spring season with the garden providing pretty much all our vegetables, it's now in pre-production mode for Summer.  Tomatoes, beans, capsicum, radishes, potatoes, corn, cucumber and berries are all growing.  Rocket, lettuce, sorrel, beetroot, rhubarb, strawberries, basil, zucchinis and squash are being harvested now.  And leeks, broad beans,  garlic, celery, peas, silverbeet, kale, broccoli and fennel have all finished but were marvellous throughout Spring.

City Garden
There have been big changes in the City Garden.  Our feathered companions of the last couple of years are no longer with us.  I hasten to add that nothing bad happened, but we decided that sadly the garden is really too small to cope with full-size chickens that lay eggs every day, eat everything is sight and then poo everywhere.  And while the bantams were basically pets, making less impact than the big white chickens, they didn't lay many eggs and we felt weren't getting enough greenery in their lives.  Two families with big gardens, excited children and a commitment to giving them loving homes to our rescue and we are now literally "empty nesters".  

It's so sad not having them there in the backyard, interacting with them all everyday, but at the same time it has provided the opportunity to re-establish a vegie garden, save my fruit trees from chicken-demolition, and once again utilise the backyard as another room, moving seamlessly from inside to outside without dodging chook poo!

Possums still remain a threat, so the vegie garden is encased in wire to try to keep them out.  So far I'm winning that competition, but it's early days!  And I decided that the nectarine tree that they savaged last winter was not going to adequately recover, so it's been removed.  The soil in the garden beds that I've put the vegetables in is in great condition now, thanks to two years of building it up with chicken manure and the straw from their house, and there's more sunlight without the nectarine tree, so the vegies are thriving.

And in the corner of the garden remains the lovely house that we built the chickens.  We didn't feel ready to let it go, so perhaps one day... 
Best wishes for the festive season and for a bountiful year in 2015.  
T x

06 October 2014

Sometimes the tenacity of nature and its ability to survive against the odds is astounding!

05 October 2014

Slow Living Months - July to September 2014

Wow, it's been four months since I last posted.  I didn't intend to take such a long break, but various life and garden issues got in the way and suddenly it's October...  So Hello to anyone out there who is still following the CGCG blog...!

I figured the easiest way to get myself going again, and do a catch-up post on where the gardens are at would be to reconnect in with the Slow Living Journal.  In the past four months it's been handed over from Christine at Slow Living Essentials to Linda at Greenhaven.  I'd like to thank Christine for initiating the group, and hosting it for two years.  It was one of the first places that I started to make blogging connections when I started writing CGCG and I've "met" some fabulous people through it, including Christine herself, and also Linda, who I'm so happy put her hand up to host it after Christine. Thanks to both of you ladies, you're a great inspiration to me!

As for the past few months, maybe I'll just try to bring everyone up to date through all the Slow Living categories:

When we bought our two white chickens the seller told us they were 11 weeks old and would start laying at 22 weeks.  At 22 weeks and 3 days the first one started laying and the second joined her about a week later.  They've each been laying one egg a day every single day since July, so we have been eating lots of eggs, homemade pasta, frittatas, lemon tarts etc.  What a change from the vague laying habits of the bantams!
I also ended up in an exchange program of sorts with a friend who took a liking to my jam and exchanged some great tomato chutney and sauce for it.  I ended up having to make extra batches to keep up the arrangement so he wouldn't get all my raspberry jam, and tried some blackberry jam using frozen berries from the farm-gate shop that I often visit.

As the white chickens kept growing and growing, we realised that there would be a problem once they started laying, there just wasn't enough room in the existing house for multiple chickens to do their thing.  So I built an Eggstension!  I took one side off the "bedroom" of the chook house and fitted it into that.  It took a while for the chickens to take to it, and although it has two nesting boxes, it's rare for them to sit side by side to lay, they seem to prefer to pile up the eggs in one nest if possible, but it has certainly helped give them enough room when needed.

My aim to reduce our electricity consumption continues, and although we didn't manage to sort out our winter heating issue, we did manage to make a significant reduction on last winter's electricity bill through the other initiatives we have put in place.  The heating remained an issue as I had selected a gas heater and was just about to buy it when I started reading that the best option is to actually buy electric and install solar panels to run it (or at least offset the cost) rather than gas, which is quickly getting more expensive, and obviously far less environmentally responsible that solar.  So now I need to start researching again, and in the meantime the coldest of the weather has hopefully passed, so I have another summer to resolve the issue as well as work on the other solutions that will reduce the lack of heat retention that our house currently suffers.

I also made a huge leap forward with a new job that meant the end of long commutes to work every day in my car.  In fact, not only can I do a short commute on the tram, but I've been walking home a few times a week, and now that daylight savings has kicked in I'm planning to start cycling.  I can't tell you how happy this makes me, I absolutely hated driving to work!

The Country Garden is producing well, and providing around 75% of our vegies at the moment.  

The City garden has been a bit hit and miss lately.  On the positive side, the new chickens are settled in and proving to be delightful and inquisitive companions.  They are working hard to improve the soil in the garden by digging and contributing to the compost, so I'm happy that the soil which was a problem a year ago is in much better condition.  On the downside, big chickens who lay every day are constantly ravenous for food, eat everything in sight and then poo everywhere!  The garden also continues to be attacked by possums, who have severely damaged the nectarine tree so that I think it may not recover, and have even been getting stuck into the leaves of the lemon tree!  I had hoped to be able to restart the vegetable beds this Spring once the soil was improved, but have realised that I'll need to build a very well netted structure to keep fluffy and feathery creatures from attacking everything.

The Country Garden is looking lush and producing really well.  But the truth is that I haven't actually worked in it for the last couple of months due to what can best be described as a philosophical difference of opinion about organic vs non-organic.  I haven't wanted to write about it, and still don't as it was quite upsetting, however we have now resolved the issue with some creative solutions. I returned to the garden last weekend and realised just how much I had missed it and the connection with my aunt there.

The Country Garden is overflowing with Purple Sprouting Broccoli, as well as celery, beetroot, silverbeet, kale, peas, fennel, leek, turnip, sorrel, garlic shoots and lots of herbs.  Two beds were planted out with a winter green-manure crop, which has just been chopped into the soil, and we have now crossed our fingers against any late frost and planted the first potatoes and tomatoes, which may still need to be covered for a few weeks.  We lost a first crop of broad beans to some sort of fungus, but a second crop is growing well, although may have been planted too late to produce, in which case I'll call it a manure crop and dig it into the soil too.  Also planted in the last few months were several gooseberries, which are all sprouting leaves now.  The stone pine tree planted a couple of years ago is now about 120cm tall, with quite an impressive recent growth spurt, but I suspect it will still be ten years or more before there are any pine-nuts to be harvested from it!

After noting in my last Slow Living journal that I'd restarted this scarf seven times then given up and started with another pattern, I decided I didn't like the second one, so had one last try with the first pattern, but counted the stitches out very carefully at the beginning, and it worked.  Ta-dah, my first completed knitting project with holes in it that are supposed to be there!
After the scarf I looked at my stash and realised I had enough sock wool from various previous pairs of socks to make a bright mixed pattern, so these are on the needles now in a race against warm weather and my traditional loss of interest in knitting in summer.

My street herb garden had become very drab and unhealthy by the middle of winter, so I took it all down, and repotted everything, adding lots of home-made compost and a good drink of seaweed solution.  I kept all the pots in the sun wrapped up securely in wire to protect them from the marauding possums (and white chickens!) until they started to regrow in the warmer weather.  I've just re-established the garden out on the footpath, using a different hanging system that lets the pots sit much flatter than they were before, so they don't overflow and dry as quickly when I water them.  It's looking more lush every day, and I've seem several people stopping by to check it out and take a few sprigs.

I'm six weeks into a new day-job, and my head is filled with new discoveries.  It's very refreshing to focus on something that is really fascinating and poses many challenges with a big delivery schedule ahead.  

I've enjoyed some fascinating architecture in the last few months - including a private tour of Perth Arena, and then a visit to Exxopolis when it was in town.  Exxopolis is the wildest creation!  If you ever have a chance to experience, I can highly recommend it, it's like being in another world - an adult jumping castle on steroids  :)

I hope you've had a great few months.  Don't forget to stop by Linda's Greenhaven blog and check out what others have been up to.

03 June 2014

Slow Living Month - April and May 2014

It's the start of a new month, so time once again to link in with Christine and the gang for the Slow Living Essentials Monthly 9 Link-up for a combined April and May journal.

01 June 2014

City Garden - A First Day of Winter Comparison

The definite highlight of the City Garden is the beautiful Crepe Myrtle tree (that I've written about here before).  With our unusually warm May weather this year, the tree is only just starting to turn colour, which feels to me that it's much later than in previous years, so I thought I'd look back on photos from past years.  Surprisingly, I seem to have photographed it on 1 June on several occasions so can actually directly compare!  

Here's what I found:
29 May 2010
1 June 2011
2 June 2012
1 June 2013
Today (1 June 2014)
There are definitely more green leaves left on it today than in the last few years, but probably quite similar to 2010; and the grey weather today is not as bad as it was last year!

Can Anyone Identify This Weed?

The two new and growing chickens have voracious appetites, and are constantly on the hunt for edible greens in the City Garden.  So we've been supplementing their diets with regular trips to our local parkland to gather bagfuls of grass for them.  

We are very careful to select areas that aren't near garden beds that get sprayed, or will be affected by runoff from drains or streets nearby, or if the creek floods.  We also try not to mix in any weeds unless absolutely sure what they are.  

But in one good harvest patch there are heaps of a particular type of weed that I can't identify.  There's loads of it, so if it's edible I'd be happy to help the Council by harvesting some of it.  It looks a bit like coriander.  The closest I can find in The Weed Foragers Handbook (a fabulous reference book by Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland) is hemlock but I'm fairly sure it's not that, and haven't seen any witches lurking around!!

Any ideas?

30 May 2014

A Small But Beautiful Diversion

Every now and then there's a bit of a diversion on CGCG to include images of beautiful timber boats, a subject that is dear to my heart, coming from a sailing/ boat-building family, and having built a little sailing dinghy myself.  So I can't resist sharing the brilliant result of some good friends after their five-year quest to build Lucy.  She was launched a couple of weeks ago in southern Tasmania and is absolutely beautiful.  Congratulations to K and G on the most amazing achievement! xx

23 May 2014

This Week in the Country Garden

The blog may have been neglected lately, but there's been plenty of work going on in the Country Garden!  We have had very unseasonably warm weather for the last couple of weeks, so there is still quite a lot of growth, but time will tell what the effect will be on harvest outcomes, I suspect there will be some impact. 
The garlic has sprouted in a (slightly!) straighter
line than last year
The Cavelo Nero is growing well, as are
the silverbeet and spinach.  These three are
now the current mainstay of vegie supply
Five weeks ago I hoped that we'd have one last
week of tomatoes.  We're down to the last bush,
but it's still producing enough for a couple of
punnets weekly, hopefully for at least one more
I planted one bed out with random seeds of
radish, rocket and lettuce - it's going mad,
best radishes we've had for years! 
The last couple of capsicum plants
No peas yet, but lots of flowers on this lot, and another bed
full, planted a few weeks later that will hopefully be OK in
this strange weather
And the flamingoes have a new friend :)

  • Lots of Purple-Sprouting Broccoli at various stages, but still quite a way from flowering
  • Broad beans are shooting up
  • Lots of beetroot, turnip and celery seedlings
  • Two beds allocated for potatoes (to be planted in Spring) now planted out with a green manure crop
  • Blueberry and raspberry plants are pruned for winter, and some gooseberries that will join them have been ordered
  • Stacks of sorrel, lettuce and rocket along with various herbs, including lots of things that are now self-seeding in the beds
  • Perfectly (well...!) straight lines of leek growing steadily

How is your garden growing this season? 

04 May 2014

Supporting Sustainable Farmers

*An update on this post:
A couple of days ago Madelaine reached her ambitious target of $60,000!  What a brilliant outcome that so many people have had faith in her to succeed.  And with one week to go, Bundarra Berkshires are really close to reaching their target of $15,000.  Their project is an exciting one that will enable them to continue to grow their business.  I spoke with Lauren about it last week and she's very committed to this project, so if you're interested in high quality, ethical and (in Lauren's words) bloody delicious food, then please check out the link here and consider supporting them :)

There are a couple of great project proposals on Pozible at the moment that I'm supporting and urge you to take a look at if you're interested in sustainable and innovative farming.

The first project is from Bundarra Berkshires, who I've written about before here.  Lauren and Lachy's proposal is to raise funds to build a commercial kitchen and drying room alongside the butchery room that they've already established, in order to add charcuterie goods to their range of amazing pork.

The second project is from a young farmer from Hollyburton Park, who I've only just heard about.  Madelaine has developed her own organic chicken and egg business on her family's farm just north of Melbourne.  We bought some of her eggs from a farmers market when ours stopped laying (again!).  Madelaine is seeking to raise funds to buy an egg sorting and cleaning machine to enable her business to continue to grow.

Crowd funding on sites like Pozible allows people to support all sorts of projects by pledging money in order to reach a particular goal, so you don't pay unless the project is successful.  It was first used in a farming context by Jonai Farms to build an on-farm butchery.  They reached the target, and the butchery is now completed and operational.  It's another great way of connecting city and country.

27 April 2014

Some New Members of the City Garden Family

We've had our two little Pekin Bantam chickens for over two years now.  They are well and truly part of the family and have been a fantastic addition to the City Garden.  

However the reality is that as a heritage breed that still have the instinct for being great mothers very strong in them, and being jumpy little things, we don't actually get many eggs.  When they are laying, the eggs are small (about 40g each) but delicious.  But they only lay every two or three days; are very often broody, which I've written about before (so stop laying); at this time of year they moult slowly but steadily for seemingly months (so stop laying); and are very easily put off by a myriad of other little issues that upset them or their routine (so stop laying!).  With them heading into their third laying season, they are also likely to lay even less eggs this year.
A small but delicious bantam egg
We've been vaguely thinking about getting another one or two chickens for a while now.  For all the fun of having the two Pekins, the idea of actually getting a regular egg supply from our own chickens is pretty tempting and really, the point of it all.  So we've been looking at which type might be the most appropriate, and considering how best to integrate a couple of newies with Red and Blacky, without it turning very nasty, and without the garden being completely decimated (we got the bantams primarily because of their feathered feet which can't do much digging damage to the garden).

This weekend we were driving in the country and stopped off at a farmers market just to get some morning tea.  But there was a woman there with a stall selling 10wk old  pullets, just the most average white and brown cross-breeds (New Hampshire crossed with Rhode Island Reds or Leghorns).  We chatted with her, thought about it, walked off, had a cup of tea, thought about it a bit more, and then went back.  By then she had just two white ones left.  So we bought them!

On getting them home, they were put into a cage in the garden so that they could see the Pekins and each group could get used to the other, without danger.  Once it got dark and the Pekins went to bed in their house we sneaked the two newies into the house, and after a bit of initial ruckus they all settled down for the night.  This morning, after a bit of surprise at discovering the two extra bodies in their house, everyone got up and jumped out into the garden.  The newies settled in and started eating and exploring straight away.  While the two groups have been a bit wary of each other during the day, there hasn't been any grief, and just a few minutes ago the two newies managed to find their way back into the chook house and everyone is settling in for the night.

This might actually work, and I can't wait to get some eggs that actually fill our beautiful egg cups!