Saturday, November 27, 2010

Here They Are.

Eight healthy silkie chicks.  Four white, three black and one brown.  
One last egg is still in the incubator.  I don't hold out much hope for it but can't yet bear to give it up.  The last chick was hatched this morning with a little help from me.  I know you're not supposed to help them along but she'd been struggling for too long and I think the humidity in the incubator wasn't high enough.  Here's a good link for advice on helping the chick along. After hatching she (they're all being called she) wasn't too happy about being alone in the incubator for a few hours to to fuzz up so Little Monkey shared one of his favourite soft toys which did the trick.  She happily cuddled up to it and went to sleep.
Here they are in the brooder box.  It's just an ordinary plastic box lined with newspaper and wood shavings.  We've got a red lamp in there which apparently helps them sleep and not get too cranky.  I've put a spoonful of sugar in their water to give them a kick start and some chick crumble.  Chicks easily drown so I've turned a cup upside down in their water.
Eldest Monkey Boy is happy to sit watching and cuddling individual chicks for long periods of time.  They are very cute and funny to watch.  Littlest Monkey doesn't have as much interest.  But he did make a hen house from cardboard boxes and this little paper chick to go in it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Diary of an Expectant Mum - Part 1

Day 18, Monday:  I've worn a path on the floor to the incubator with my constant checking, worrying and excitement these past few days.  This morning I made a mistake.  I'd read to put damp paper towel under the eggs when you fill up the trays to increase the humidity for hatching time.  But this caused problems.  I suspect there wasn't enough air flow because I'd blocked it with the paper.  The paper also sucked up the humidity and dried quickly.  The temperature dropped and I had trouble getting it back up.  So, now I've removed it and things are back on track but I'm filled with anxiety that they've cooled down too much.

Day 20, Wednesday 
11.20am: Monkey Man thinks I'm bonkers.  He came home as little monkey and I were standing at the incubator and cheeping like baby chooks.  (This despite the fact that I'm losing my voice again and have to teach three drama classes this afternoon.)  But if we look closely the eggs start to wobble and rock when we cheep!  Very exciting.  Must go and do some work and clean the house and prepare dinner and lots of other stuff but will just go look at that movement again.
11.00pm:  Nothing more has happened.  Maybe tonight.

Day 21, Thursday - Hatching Day:
7.00am:  Little Monkeys raced to their viewing chairs at the incubator.  If you look closely you can see two teeny tiny cracks in two of the eggs.  Some little beaks have been chipping away overnight.  Eldest Monkey Boy is concerned that he'll miss all the action today at school but I have a feeling this is going to be a long slow wait.
10.30am:  No progress.  Am fielding text messages from friends wanting updates and promising to let them know when they can bring their kids over for a viewing.
5.20pm:  Nothing!  Well not exactly nothing but it's taking soooo long.  Sometimes we can hear faint cheeping.  We have two eggs with little holes, one egg with a reasonable sized crack and one that is rocking about.   I bet all the action happens tonight or tomorrow when I'm at work.
6.10pm:  Our first black chick born witnessed by Littlest Monkey and myself.  Aaaw how cute.
10.00pm:  Just settling in for the show with a cup of tea.  One of the eggs has a pretty big hole shouldn't be long when... POWER FAILURE!!!  Panic.  I don't remember the last time we had a power failure couldn't have chosen a worse moment.   Luckily next door's lights were on.  I raced over and explained my predicament.  We hooked up a long extension lead and plugged the incubator back on.   All pretty quiet and still in there.  Nervous there's been major damage.  Power returns a few minutes later and chick starts to cheep and wriggle a bit.  Heart starts beating normally again.
11.30pm:  Second black baby silkie hatched.  Off to bed now they are friends.

Day 22:  Friday
6.30am:  Eldest Monkey woke us up with the news that there were three black chicks in the incubator.
9.00am:  They're all in the brooder box.  Chirruping away.  Hopefully some more will hatch today.  Other eggs are cracked so maybe.  Off to work.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ready to Hatch, Green Lunchbox & Redbacks

Chicks Hatching This Week...
Hatching date is fast approaching and I'm getting excited.  I candled the eggs again the other night but didn't really know what I was looking at.  However, they have clearly grown so I am doing something right.  I could see a big dark shadow and the air sac in all the remaining eggs.  We have 9 left after I discarded the 3 that weren't doing anything.

So, today is day 18 and they're due to hatch day 21.  I've prepared a brooder box for chicks (more on that later).  I've stopped turning the eggs and left them on damp paper towel with their pointy ends slightly down.  The paper is to help with feet traction and cleaning up.  No more lifting the lid unless absolutely necessary.  I've filled both trays with water in an attempt to raise the humidity.  Apparently the chicks need higher humidity when they're hatching so their shells don't stick.  Unfortunately, the water mustn't have been warm enough because the temperature has dropped.  I'm not panicking yet though.  Will wait a couple more hours and hope it gets up before panicking.

I've said before, this incubator came with instructions that were unhelpful so I'm not sure if this is right, but I've put the 2nd shelf back on top.  I really couldn't figure out what it was needed for before and it obstructed my view a bit of the temperature gauge but I guess it's there to prevent hatched chicks from jumping up and getting decapitated by a spinning fan!  Unfortunately, it kinda spoils our viewing pleasure, but hopefully we'll still get a good squiz through the grate. 

Green Lunchbox Seminar...
The other week I attended a free seminar run by our local council.   It's called the Green 'Lunchbox' Seminar Series.  The one I attended was on chickens but there's another one to go on "Keeping Cool Without Fossil Fuel" presented by CERES on Tuesday 7 December, 12.30-1.30pm.  So if you live or work near Footscray you might be interested in attending.  You can register here Maribyrnong City Council.

The chicken seminar was presented by Dan from Very Edible Gardens and covered all stuff chickens including: why to keep chickens, what sort of chickens to choose, how to house and feed them, keeping vermin away, straw yards etc.  All in an hour, as well as answering our questions.  VEG also have information about chooks on their website here. And they run lots of courses at various places throughout the year.

and in other creepy crawly news...
Red-back I found a couple of years ago when I was moving bricks.
I cleaned up the garden during the week - you know being Spring I thought it about time I put away the rubbish that had accumulated on the back step and cut the weeds grass, etc.  (I am a bit lazy of a lazy gardener!)  And I thought it about time I cleaned the outdoor table setting seeing as we've had lots of nice weather and we've been plopping our botts on dirty, cobwebby chairs.  Well, I was surprised by three (yes THREE) red-back spiders nesting under three separate chairs.  And an egg!  Now I know red-backs are everywhere and they aren't aggressive, they've obviously been happily hiding there all year but it gave me a fright.  I am a big baby when it comes to spiders.  Scared stiff.  I've been known to burst into tears at the sight of a huntsman.  Little spiders aren't too scary to me but little red-backs are.  Apparently, no-one has actually died in Australia from a red-back spider bite in the last 50 years since they developed antivenom.  You're unlikely to get bitten by one (only the female bites) unless you put your hand right in the web or something.  But still... I don't like it!  A couple of years ago I found one when when I was moving a pile of bricks (see picture above).  But that didn't bother me - red-backs can hide in bricks and rubbish and wood stacks - that's as it should be.  But I'm not happy about them nesting near my bottom.  So now I'm obsessively checking out all the cob webs around the house and ordering Monkey Man to deal with suspicious looking ones.  Just for your information red-back webs are messy and dirty and strong and we have a plague of them in Melbourne at the moment.

Oh, and of course, I'm reminded of the old Aussie song from my childhood Redback on the Toilet Seat which I've had spinning in my head for a couple of days. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Silent Bean-Shelling

Broad Beans
I've read on a few people's blogs recently that their broad beans have done really well this year, and mine too.  It must be all the rain.  Last year I had a meagre crop that was hardly worth cooking up.  But this year I've had masses.  And they were easy to grow and they're good for the soil because they release nitrogen.  Something has been munching on the leaves of mine but it hasn't affected the beans.  And the string-bamboo monument support I built didn't really hold up in the wind but that hasn't mattered either.

I've had a virus for the last couple of weeks and then after teaching Friday and Saturday I completely lost my voice.  Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to speak and having a house full of monkeys to boss about.  I'm up to my fourth day of being speechless.  Well, I can actually now make sounds but they're barking seal sounds.  And it's not good to try to speak when you've got no voice.  Even more damaging is whispering.  So I've been pressing my lips together, stomping and clicking when I want attention and doing a bit of Marcel Marceau.  I am a drama teacher so I reckon I'm a pretty good non-verbal communicator but my monkeys keep looking at me with blank faces and whispering "WHAT?!" 

So, I've had lots of contemplating time this week.  And on Tuesday I picked the massive crop of broad beans and proudly brought them in to show.  Eldest Monkey Boy was most impressed - "Did that really come from our garden?"  "It wasn't from the market!" said Littlest Monkey.  And then I sat in the sun and started to silently shell them.  I remember reading Funkbunny's Kitchen Garden post a bit back about how she sat in the sun with her little boy and did the same and how happy it made her.  Well it worked for me too.  Before I knew it Littlest Monkey came up and asked if he could help.  "Of course" I nodded.  Littlest Monkey is a chatterbox.  I knew this before I was speechless but having no voice has confirmed that he doesn't actually need to have a conversation.  He will yak-yak away non-stop without expecting any response.  Then Eldest Monkey  sat down beside me and started popping broad beans too.  He volunteered that he thought it was fun.  I reckon it was too.  
Little Monkeys in deep concentration shelling broad beans.
Now, my sister the dietician said she wasn't a big fan of broad beans.  (Actually when she wasn't wearing her professional food face I heard her mutter under her breath "YUK eeyuew, can't stand them!") But I reckon, cooked right, they're dee-lish.  There were lots of recipes I wanted to try out in my books but I managed to narrow it down to one.  Before I tell you what I did though I'll give sis her say.

NutriNic says: "Broad beans are a good source of fibre. A 75g serve of broad beans contains about 3.2g of fibre. Getting enough fibre helps prevent constipation, haemorrhoids and diverticular disease and may be protective against bowel cancer. A high fibre diet is also associated with a lower risk of heart disease, helps control blood glucose in people with diabetes and can assist with weight loss.  How much fibre do we need?  About 30g of fibre a day is recommended but most Australians only eat about 20g.  A little warning though, if your diet is low in fibre increase the amount of fibre slowly to help avoid abdominal discomfort and wind." 

Smashed Broad Beans with Pasta
This wasn't actually the recipe I started out making.  I had planned an Iranian broad bean dish with egg.  But by the time I double peeled all those beans the kids were crawling up my leg with hunger and I knew 45 minutes baking in an oven wouldn't do.  I abandoned my plans and smashed up the beans to make an omelette for them.  It was OK, a bit bland and not worth sharing the recipe.  But for myself I made up this simple little pasta dish which was lower in kilojoules and fat and I'd recommend.  So here goes.
Serves 1

•  1 cup of double peeled broad beans
•  1 tbs chopped dill
•  1 tbs chopped parsley
•  2 tsp olive oil
•  salt & pepper
•  100g dried pasta

Double peel the broad beans by first removing them from their pods.  Place them in a boiling pot of water for about 30 seconds.  Remove to a sieve and run under cold water.  Remove the transparent outer shell by making a little nick with your fingernail and squeezing the bean through.
Cook the beans in a pot of boiling water until tender.
Cook the pasta.
Coarsely smash them with a fork or mortar and pestle.  Combine with olive oil, chopped herbs and season well with salt and pepper.  Mix through the pasta and serve.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Little Fishies

Here are the Monkeys adding fish to our pond.  We let it settle for a couple of weeks before purchasing some fish.  I chose Murray-Darling Rainbow Fish 'cos they're native and apparently will leave  tadpoles alone.  The pond had already attracted lots of mosquito wrigglers (or "Wiggles" as Littlest Monkey called them).  Littlest Monkey and I went hunting around the garden for some more rocks and a log which we put in the pond to offer some hidey holes for the fish.  Littlest Monkey let them acclimatise to the water for 30 minutes and then when Eldest Monkey Boy came home from school, they were set loose.  These fish are small and silver and impossible to see now that they're there.  Monkey Man reckons I'm dreaming if I think frogs are going to jump their way to our pond in inner Melbourne.  I have my doubts too but I like to dream so we'll see. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Candling Eggs

Yeah, OK it's a ridiculous photo that is completely indecipherable but this post would be really boring without some sort of image! Although we didn't have any success capturing the image, we did have success candling the silkie chicken eggs.  I'd read that this was something I ought to do.  Apparently, dud eggs can develop a build up of gases and explode in the incubator causing a big mess.  I was nervous about candling them -  I thought I wouldn't know what I was looking at.  But the thought of an explosion forced me to investigate this candling business and I discovered it's dead easy.  No need to buy or even make any equipment.  You just need a fairly strong LED torch (I used the light from  Monkey Man's bike) and darkness.    We candled the eggs at day 8.  Being nervous and loving a bit of a research job, I'd spent a bit of time beforehand on the internet figuring out what I ought to be looking for.  There are plenty of good YouTube videos that were fascinating.  You can get information on the Backyard Poultry site including here.  And also on this Backyard Chickens site there are some good photos.  So on day 8 I took six of my eggs out of the incubator and popped them into an egg carton.  It takes a bit of time for eggs to cool down so no need to rush too much but I thought it better to do shifts and keep half warm.  I turned off the lights,  put the torch on an egg and gently turned it around.  Sure enough we could see red veins and a dark shape - and it was moving!  We candled all the eggs and only found 3 that don't seem to have taken.  I've pencilled a ? on these eggs and will check back in a couple of days before discarding them.  I was so excited and relieved to see life and know that I was doing something right.  And I've finally managed to capture the attention of the monkey boys!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Eggs are Incubating.

Our fertile silkie chicken eggs arrived last week.  Yippee (how exciting) and Yikes (what am I doing)?!

I've surprised myself by being quite anxious about these little chicken embryos and the responsibility of it all.  And I've been having dreams. The other night I woke up in a sweat having dreamed that one of the eggs had exploded and there were bits of skeleton all over the incubator and the eggs had no shells on them just black cacky stuff and teeny skeletons!  I'm manically checking the temperature gauge on the incubator and ticking the monkeys off if they run around nearby.  No balls in the house (never a good idea anyway), no rough stuff in the lounge room, no opening of the drawers of the cabinet the incubator is on and of course no touching the incubator!  Oh and no shouting - only whispering nice, words of encouragement to the eggs!   The monkeys of course are completely disinterested in the whole thing!  Who am I doing this for again?  Hopefully, they'll at least feign an interest if and when they hatch. 

The eggs were  posted out by Shani at Shrimani Farm.  Here I am with shaky hands unpacking them and putting them in an egg carton pointy end down to settle for 12 hours.  I had previously set up the incubator to make sure the temperature was right and remained stable at 37.7º.  With a pencil I've marked a 'X' on one side and '0' on the other so I know what I'm up to with my turning.  I'm keeping a record so I don't get confused.   I need to turn the eggs at least twice a day - and I'm managing three turns approx 8 hours apart.

But on day 3, I started to pay attention to the humidity level and got myself in a flap because it appeared to be way too high.  I had foolishly put a blanket around the bottom of the incubator and didn't realise I was blocking some air holes.  I had also filled two of the water chambers and I think I should have only filled one.  Now I know it's my own stupid fault but the instructions with this incubator were inadequate - nothing about how much water and they recommended sitting incubator on a blanket (on not around!)  Anyway, excuses, excuses.  I felt a bit sick in the tummy and posted my mistake on the Backyard Poultry Forum  and the helpful chicken fanciers (snicker) who responded thought it'd be OK.  This is an invaluable guide on all things chickens.

Anyway, for a couple of days I was faffing about and cranky with everyone.  Not only couldn't I manage to get the humidity levels right, but the temperature was sitting on 36ºC when it should be 37.7º.  All the advice is to leave the gauge alone.   And then it occurred to me to check the thermometer with the wizzy temperature gauge Monkey Man has at the front door.  Of course the hydrometer was wrong all this time!  The humidity in the incubator was sitting where it should be between 50-60% and this gadget gave me a more accurate measurement of the temperature.  One piece of advice I have learned for next time (HA!) is that you should run the incubator for a few days with some unfertilised eggs from the fridge.  I did do a test run with the incubator but not with anything in it so there's a lesson.

So now I've managed to stabilise things I think.  It's day 7 and there's 14 more days to turn and fret.  It's all a bit tricky this incubating business and I'm not expecting a huge success, but I'd be rapt if we ended up with a couple of healthy chooks at the end of it all.  And I have a back up plan if by some huge luck we end up with too many.   Roosters go to our neighbour with relatives on a farm and extra chickens go to a friend's family who are also wanting some silkies.  Wish us luck and check back for updates.

Monday, November 8, 2010

International Food Night - Indian

We have this tradition at our place of every now and then having an international food night.  Actually it was my sister who came up with the idea and we happily adopted it.  The monkey boys have a map of the world pinned up in their room.  They pick a country and we find out about it during the day and prepare a meal for that night.  We decorate the table and dress up as best we can.   We haven't done it for ages but the monkeys had been nagging and so on the weekend we did Indian.  I love Indian food and luckily we live right near West Footscray which has a strip of terrific Indian shops with groceries, clothes, DVDs, restaurants and all things Indian in Barkly St.

In the morning the kids made Indian flags and maps to decorate the room.  Later, we decided on a menu and the little monkeys and I headed to West Footscray to get the groceries - and most importantly for them, choose the desserts.  We got side-tracked by the clothing shops and the monkeys tried to convince me to buy them entire outfits including bracelets.  Much to the horror of another customer in the shop who informed me she would be ashamed if her boys wanted to wear girls' things.  Luckily my monkeys were too excited by the sparkle and dazzle to notice what she said.  They were eventually happy enough with bindis to decorate their foreheads and some candles for the table.  We had a great time exploring the shops and came back with papadams, bread, samosas, ingredients for dahl and a selection of little sweets.  I've learnt with these nights that if I want to have any fun I have to compromise and not try to make everything myself.

When we got home I set to work making the meal and the monkeys looked on the internet at images from India and gave me the 7 day weather report.  We made papadams together (watching them explode is pretty exciting for kids) and they set the table.  They were very excited when I suggested we all use the very special glasses.  We lit incense and dressed up and played Indian music and ate a lovely feast.  And everyone ate lots and tried new things including spicy samosas and happily ate red capsicum! 
Chana Dal and Funugreek Leaves

I've cooked lots of dahl but tried a new recipe from Footscray Food Blog which was terrific.  It was Chana Dal and Funugreek Leaves.   I only added a smidge of chilli though because I didn't want to put the kids off.

I didn't manage to use anything from the garden - does a sprig of mint for garnish count?
Mangos are in season at the moment and I bought a box the other day when I was at the market to share with a friend.  The mango lassis I made for the kids were a big hit.  Here's what I did.

Mango Lassi
Mango Lassi
•  2 mangos
•  1 cup plain yoghurt
•  1 tbs caster sugar
•  1/2 cup milk
•  ice
•  sprig of mint to garnish

Place chopped mango, yoghurt, milk and sugar in a blender and blend until very smooth.  Remove to a jug.  Place ice cubes in the blender until crushed and then mix with the drink.  Place in the fridge to chill.  Pour to glasses and decorate with a sprig of mint.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Flatbread with Silverbeet and Bocconcini

I haven't been harvesting much from the garden at the moment apart from herbs and the ever reliable silverbeet.  There's plenty of newly planted stuff though and it looks like lots of broad beans will be ready soon.  So today, here's another recipe I made using silverbeet and mint from the garden.  Littlest Monkey Boy was very hungry and that might have had an effect on why he loved this meal even though it was green.  In fact he usually would put up a protest and refuse to even try it or pick off all the green and just eat the bread.  But he ate the lot.  He said in a surprised voice: "I thought it would taste yucky but it's yummy ... it doesn't look yummy though."

Flat Bread with Silverbeet & Bocconcini
•  about 4 cups of chopped silverbeet with stems and middles removed
•  1 onion thinly sliced
•  1 cup of bocconcini shredded
•  12 or so leaves of torn mint
•  1 tbs olive oil
•  flat turkish bread
•  salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan boil some water.  Drop in the chopped silverbeet and bring to boil again.  Remove to a colander, run under cold water and then squeeze dry in a clean tea towel.  In a frypan slowly cook onion in the olive oil on very low stirring occasionally until golden brown.  Add the mint and chopped silverbeet stirring until combined.  Add the shredded bocconcini.  Heat the turkish bread in a dry frypan or under the grill.  Slice the bread in half and fill with the silverbeet mixture.  Season to taste.


Thursday, November 4, 2010


Weedy, uncared for pond site - before.
I'd been thinking for a year or so that I'd make a pond out near the fernery at our back window.  I'm the type to think and read and plan for ages without actually doing.  Then one day that's it - it'll have to be done in an instant.  And I get very impatient if I can't finish the job straight away.  Makes it very frustrating when living with a Monkey Man who starts a job and nearly finishes it and then leaves it for MONTHS and MONTHS and sometimes YEARS (plastering the extension, finishing the bathroom, putting up the architraves...)  Yep, we live in an unfinished renovation.  Monkey Man is very handy but very busy and likes to do everything himself.

Anyway, I was hoping to make the pond using recycled materials - the kids old clamshell sandpit and some black plastic Monkey Man has down the side.  Unfortunately, the sandpit cracked while attempting to squish it into the hole we'd dug and the black plastic was full of holes.  Monkey Man tried to convince me that the holes would be fine with a bit of gaffer tape!!!!  Needless to say I ended up buying some pond liner and will re-think a use for the old sandpit. 

Monkey Man's not too happy about digging in the rain.

Monkey Man had a gig in Albury for the weekend so I managed to guilt him into doing a bit more digging for me before he left ... in the rain!  But then it really rained and I had to put a stop to my weekend gardening plans and watched as the hole filled with water before I was ready.  But I've finally finished.  The water tanks were still overflowing even after filling the pond.  I've added a few plants and we had lots of rocks lying around the place.  After a week or so I'll go with the kids and find a couple of fish.  I've read that native crimson-spotted rainbow fish are the go because they eat mosquito wrigglers but don't go so much for the tadpoles.

So here's the finished pond.   It looks better in the photo than in real life unfortunately!  I still need to add quite a few more plants to grow over the black plastic bits that are visible.  But it'll do.  Nothing fancy, no pumps or fountains or cascading bits but maybe enough to attract a frog or two and some water for the birds and insects.
Finished pond.
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