Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chicken or the egg?

Ledger checking out the bug situation.

Now the new hens have settled in, I’m keenly waiting them to get to that point-of-lay time when they do start to put out the cackleberries.

Hilda, Laura, Gidget III and Philly III are sleeping in the hutch, rather than the perched on the ladder in the run and there's less squawking going on, so it seems they are all calming down.

Of course, Autumn means some will start to moult and perhaps go off the lay – but I’m hoping not the new girls.

If Layne and Ledger could get back in the saddle and start producing some eggs again - even one every couple of days - I’d be so stoked as I need them make my weekend blueberry pancakes!

Meanwhile, when I locked the gals in the hutch tonight I noticed Layne is looking decidedly peaky and Ledger is cuddled up with her in the straw, rather than on the perch she prefers.

So tomorrow I'm make them up some porridge as a treat - Layne does like her oats.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Green-thumb friends

My dear friend and fellow compost-chick Madeleine with Violet, one of her cheeky hens.

Good friends are as precious as great compost - and a heck of a lot rarer.

Life today is so busy we often forget to stay in touch and appreciate the wonderful things our friends do for us. They see us through the happy and sad times, the good news and the dark times. And hopefully, we are there to celebrate and comfort in return.

I'm fortunate to have several good friends with whom I share food, ideas, books, seedlings, op-shopping / tip-rat foraging, recipes, laughter and lots of cups of tea, coffee and the odd biscuit.

In fact not staying in contact with friends is listed as #4 in a new book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Written by Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives.
Ms Ware recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book.

Here are the five epiphanies...

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
"This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it."
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
"This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence."

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
"Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
"Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying."

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
"This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

Let's make an effort and let our friends know how much we love them.

Friday, March 16, 2012

To bee or not to bee

Here's the buzz on bees.

Sorry, i just could'nt resist that.

My colleague Cameron Best wrote a cracker story the other day in Geelong Advertiser about bees being the new front line is in place to defend against the introduction of exotic honey bee pests and diseases.

He talked about how these selfless bees, known as "Bee Force", put their lives on the line in order to protect their species and the state's honey and pollination-dependent agriculture industries.

The villain in this case is the varroa mite, which attaches to bees and devastates bee populations.

As part of the program, volunteer beekeepers have set up hives near Geelong Port, equipped with sticky mats to catch the bees' droppings to allow for an early detection of the parasite.

It's a great article, you should read it and remember around one mouthful in three in the diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination.

If like me you are considering keeping bees, here's a good article from G magazine.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

To market, to market

Farmer's markets are an incredible source of coking inspiration.

From weirdly shaped and wonderfully tasting heirloom vegetables and fruit, to free-range egg suppliers, organic growers and producers who proudly invite you to sample their wares and give great advice on cooking and serving, it's impossible to visit a genuine farmer's market and not come away with a refreshed sense of darn good real food tastes, smells and feels.

So here's some ideas of where to market to market this weekend...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

St Peter of Cundall

St Peter of Cundall has some excelllent advice regarding fertiliser in his latest column of the Weekly Times.
Pours for thought: Gardening guru Peter Cundall applies heavily diluted liquid manure to brassicas.
He gives some wise words on how a slow-acting fertiliser is crucial for adequate plant nourishment in the colder months.

Follow his instructions and we cannot go wrong.
Bless you St Peter.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Breakfast of champions

Growing your food is immensely satisfying, but even with 100 sqm of garden producing vegetables, herbs and fruit trees, I need to buy oats to make my daily porridge fix.

Breakfast is a definite must before I cycle the 25 km or so to work. And it must stick to my ribs, so as I have found to my peddling cost, simple toast and jam / Vegemite won't get me to work on time.

Nor just black coffee, damn it.

So I rely on something that will last the distance.
Kenny's damn fine home-made muesli

Kenny, a cool eatery expert and all-round gourmet dude has just posted on his excellent food blog, Consider the Sauce, a brilliant guide to making his own muesli. Affordable, tasty and healthy, it looks like ticking all the boxes.

While I make my own porridge (fill a bowl ¾ full, add enough milk to wet it without leaving a puddle, about 2 tblsp then add two chopped up apples from my trees or cherries or peaches when they were in season, sprinkle on some nutmeg or cinnamon, microwave for 3 minutes and voila! )

If you make too much just give it to your chooks.
You don’t have hens?
There’s always the compost heap…

Monday, March 12, 2012

New girls on the block

Hilda checks out her new home in Jan Juc.

The new gals – Hilda, Gidget III, Philly III and Laura – have settled in a bit.

After arriving last Friday evening, they tumbled out of their cardboard box and into the run. After much blinking, clucking and investigating their new home, these new point-of-lay hens seem to spend a fair bit of time roosting on the old ladder by the lemon tree in their pen – partly because they like the view, can eat insects off the lemon leaves and partly because the older hens Layne and Ledgergirl can’t harass them up there.

But tonight I grabbed each one and put her in the lockable chook shack hutch as they are all going to have to get along at some point.

And you know what?

All six snuggled down in the straw, as happy as pigs in mud.

No doubt tomorrow they will be arguing and feathers flying, but tonight at least, there’s peace and quiet from Cluckingham Palace.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Autumn = Risotto

Here's a risotto recipe based on a Donna Hay classic - mine uses heaps more garlic and greens but less stock.

Autumn is bliss.
Sunny days, cool evenings, a chill in the air.
Good surf starts rolling in, the tomatoes are over and your beans and peas start climbing towards the heavens.
Time to check you have ordered firewood, give your woollen dressing-gown a nice wash in wool mix so it's ready for the first chilly morning and think about moving past steamed veggies and salads for dinner.
So here's a cracker recipe for risotto I made it for some friends last night.
It's great when you are busy talking non-stop; discussing books, chook raising, politics or where to go snowboarding / surfing / cycling, as you just combine the ingredients and put it in the oven.
I love using my gorgeous, reliable blue Le Cruset casserole dish as I can cook the bacon, garlic and mushrooms, add the rest of the ingredients, before placing it in the oven. Once its cooked, it can go on the table and everyone can help themselves.
(In this instance I used beef stock as I thought I might give the hens the leftovers and I obviously do not feed them anything containing poultry.)

Baked mushroom, bacon, kale and spinach risotto
1 Tblsp olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
400g button mushrooms, roughly chopped
4 rashers bacon, rind removed, roughly chopped
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
4 cups chicken stock
100g baby spinach leaves
20g finely chopped kale
1 cup (80g) finely grated Parmesan
20g butter
Sea salt and cracked black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (355°F).
  2. Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan or casserole dish over medium heat.
  3. Add bacon, cook until nearly brown
  4. Add garlic and mushrooms and cook for five minutes or until browned.
  5. Place in a medium ovenproof dish with the rice and stock and stir to combine.
  6. Put the lid on or cover tightly with aluminium foil and bake for 40 minutes or until most of the stock is absorbed and rice is aldente.
  7. Stir through the spinach, kale, Parmesan, butter, salt and pepper.

Serves 4 (Leftovers freeze just fine, but it's unlikely you'll have any!)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Vasili's March Newsletter

How can you not love Vasili?!
I'll try this recipe tomorrow and let you know how I go...

Friday, March 9, 2012

Vale Philly

Philly in the foregorund, looking for a tasty cricket.

This morning I buried Philly.
She was really Philly II, her predecessor was named after Australia’s first world champion surfer, Phillyis O’Donnell winner of the 1964 Women’s World Surfing title.
Poor little hen, she had been looking very  tired the past few weeks, so when I found her lifeless body, still warm, in the chook shack this morning, I felt sad but relived she was out of pain,
But as a friend reminded me, since she had been rescued from one of those horrible caged chicken farms a couple of years ago, she has led a pretty good free-range life.
Her galpals Ledger and Layne were pretty distressed, clucking as I removed her.
She is now buried between compost bins two and three, with a pumpkin seedling planted om her mound.
But after work tonight I went by a chook supplier my great girlfriend Madeleine recommended and bought four point of lay Rhode Island Reds.
Now I hope Layne and Ledger are far too busy dealing with the invasion of Philly III, Gidget III, Laura and Hilda to mourn their little mate.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Comfrey and Joy

Rich in nitrogen and potassium, comfrey is a great herb to grow as it's a proven compost activator.

Not only will it enrich your compost heap by breaking down the ingredients, it’s also a great mulch as containing so much nitrogen, when decomposing it will not leach it from the soil as does high-carbon mulches like straw and leaves.

Comfrey’s high potassium content helps to increase flower and fruit production making it especially beneficial for flowers (attracting those fabulous bees), fruiting vegetables (such as beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and cucumbers), berries, and fruit trees. 
I’ve heard anecdotally from other greenthumbs using comfrey to mulch root crops such as parsnips and carrots or leafy greens like lettuce, tatsoi and spinach may encourage them to go to seed prematurely.

Hens like it too! I also pick fresh bunches for my chooks who enjoy the occasional peck.

It does die back in winter but will zip back into life come spring.

Beware, it can take over so I try to keep it in the areas when I ave my compost bins. Everytime I add some vegies, paper or green waste to one of my seven compost bins, a few comfrey leaves are added. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Poultry Patrol

A great article about the feathered army of sentinel chickens that alert health authorities to the presence of mosquito-borne diseases could go on an extended tour of duty after last week's record rainfalls.
Stationed at Victoria's northern border towns, the front-line flocks help scientists detect diseases such as Barmah Forest virus, Ross River virus and the potentially fatal Murray Valley encephalitis.

Read more:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Winter on the Farm

This is a lovely cookbook that reads like a memoir.
A rare combination of a love letter to cooking, family and farm.
Evans most recent cookbook (July 2011) gently showcases the food he cooks for his family at Puggle Farm in Tasmania, also the setting for his popular TV series 'The Gourmet Farmer'.
When it’s time to swap cotton sheets for flannelette, thongs for boots and your straw gardening hat for a beanie, you can’t but help thinking of hearty soups, slow braised casseroles, yummy puddings, velvety roasted vegetables… and treats to eat while drinking hot tea.
I for one have become addicted the delicious, healthy and dead-easy-to-cook Paprika Braised Chickpeas with Kale - a single great reason to grow this vegie. 
Another cook book you will actually use, again and again.

Monday, March 5, 2012

You say tomato...

Making your tomato sauce out of ingredients you picked a few moments earlier is one of life’s heady pleasures. In fact it’s so damn good it’s a wonder the club of Rome haven’t put out an edict banning the activity.
After all the rain, Sunday's sunshine was bliss.
So I spent most of the day harvesting some of the nine varieties of tomatoes I grew over summer – as you can see this batch was mostly cherry and Tommy Toe.
It’s great as a pasta sauce base, or as a pizza spread or to enjoy on home made bread fresh out of the oven - Alas, I gave the chooks the leftover bread before I remembered to photograph it for the blog.
This time I used an adaptation of a Stephanie Alexander recipe From The Cook's Companion – it works a treat.
And the photo? It has not been digitally altered, this is a the colour of the tomatoes and they smell and taste amazing.

2 kg ripe tomatoes, roughly sliced
4 brown onions, sliced
10 garlic cloves, crushed then sliced
1 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil - check out olive oil via consumer watchdog CHOICE 
Salt and black pepper, freshly ground
A large handful fresh basil or oregano leaves torn into small pieces – I like to add both

Heat oven to 180c
Tumble tomato, onion and garlic with oil and put into a casserole dish with lid
Bake at 180C for at least one hour until the tomatoes have collapsed, their skins are wrinkled and golden-brown, and juices are flowing – it will smell divine.
When tomato and onion are soft, press everything through the coarsest disc of a food mill. If I am making a pasta sauce straight away then I’ll add the skins to give some more texture…
Season to taste and add the herbs.
This freezes well.