Thursday, March 31, 2011

Things that Go Bump in the Night, Grey Water and A Bit of Trumpet Blowing.

The other night I fell out of bed. I'm not talking a little stagger here, I'm talking complete roll, smack, bang, thump to the floor, hitting my head on the side table in the process. And I was sober. Twenty four hours later I was wondering why my back hurt so much and it was hard to breathe. It was a big bang. So I spent lots of the other day hunched over like an old lady and moaning. Relief came when I could find a comfy position in bed with the hot water bottle or in the bath.

Yep, I confess to still having baths despite the fact that I know them to be a dreadful waste of water. I didn't just hobble to the bath after my bed-falling escapade, I admit that I do quite often jump in the bath. I have managed to ease my conscience a little by ensuring that it is never a solo experience. I only ever share with the Monkey Boys in their evening bath. I have to fight them for leg space and fight their lego figurines for elbow space but I still enjoy it. I've eased my conscience a little more by getting Monkey Man to organise a grey water system. It took us a while to figure out a strong enough pump but now we have one that we simply pop in the water at the end and hook up to the hose out the bathroom window and onto our garden. It did wonders a couple of Summers ago for our fruit trees. If you're thinking of doing the same a warning that it's not recommended to put grey water onto veggies and herbs. And you do need to be careful about what you wash with when you use grey water. We use this.
Bath pump with lego props
I also really do love to attempt a complete tune out by reading in the bath (not an easy task when Little Monkeys are playing Star Wars lego battles at your elbow but I manage). Unfortunately, I can't read books that I've borrowed from friends in the bath. Especially not borrowed books from my friend Ms. M. who leaves a book in a perfect state when finished - not a crease, fold, stain or crumb in it. My books end up wrinkled and torn from bath water. Lately, I've been reading ebooks on my ipad. But you can't take a computer to the bath. So mostly I read magazines. We don't subscribe to magazines apart from ReNew (Alternative Technology Association mag) and that doesn't come out often enough to satisfy my bathing and reading requirements. I will read anything I can get my hands on - the supplements from the weekend papers, the school newsletter...I've even been known to read the RACV magazine (roadside assistance insurance). Oh, and when I'm really desperate or just up for some entertainment I'll read the crazy tiny text all over Dr Brommer's castille soap bottle. But the other night (and here comes the blowing of my own trumpet bit) I was thoroughly entertained by reading Grassroots magazine in the bath. Not just because it was filled with interesting stuff about gardening and cheese making and sustainable houses but also because I'd been asked to write an article for it! And there I was in a pic with the monkeys and several teeny chicks along with the article all about how we hatched the chicks in an incubator. We were all very chuffed. Luckily GrassRoots are sending me my own copy (I couldn't wait and purchased my own at the newsagent) because I'll need an un-wrinkled copy for the Monkeys to take along to show and tell.

So if you like to read about self-sufficiency, I recommend you take a look at this magazine. Because although you can find this stuff on blogs, you can't take a blog to the bath.

Monday, March 28, 2011

And my Name is...

A very big thank you to everyone who commented with name suggestions for our last un-named chook. I put all the recommendations to the vote with the Monkeys last night and we made a short-list. Littlest Monkey was particularly keen on ElsieMay's suggestion of "Rock Star". Monkey Man liked Fiona's contribution of Xena. I like crazy names and p3chandan's "Chucky Chicky" appealed. But in the end a consensus was reached with Phoebe's suggestion of "Indie" (short for independent). I tried it out on her this morning while attempting to take her photo. She did jump about at the call of her name which I am interpreting as a positive sign that she likes it. She is prone to jump and run about at any little movement or noise but I am blindly optimistic that she will grow to love and come to me and that jumping at her name is the first step.

The chooks have been in my bad books these last few days. It's not entirely their fault. In fact it's not really their fault at all - they were just doing what comes naturally. They saw lovely fresh, green  seedlings in the new veggie beds that used to be theirs to roam about all over freely. And I'd rather foolishly and lazily draped a temporary bit of wire between the shed and the trampoline. And the gaps in the wire were way too big. I did know this, but they're not usually very adventurous and there's so much grass for them to get through on their own side of the fence (check out the pic below) that I didn't think they'd bother. But the gaps were rather big. Big enough for a silkie chicken to simply step through.

So that's what they did on Friday morning.

And now every single one of my silverbeet seedlings and three quarters of my brassicas seedlings are gone. Completely. Luckily I caught them before they munched the last few broccoli bits and luckily the garlic has not yet sprouted. But now I have to start all over. I'm consoling myself with the knowledge that there are still quite a few white cabbage moths about and waiting a bit longer before seedlings go in is probably a good idea. I'd attempted Hazel's idea of draping a netting over the brassicas but didn't have a veil or curtain big enough. So they would probably have been eaten by caterpillars if not naughty chooks anyway.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Name That Chook!

Un-named Chook
How long does it take to name a chook? Quite a while if you're me it seems.

I have friends who took three weeks before they decided on a name for their baby. They were waiting to find one that suited her. That would just frustrate the heck out of me. I needed to know the names of my babies before I packed my hospital bags. And I became an obsessive nagger with Monkey Man - every day it was "what do you think about this name...etc." Lucky I did though because Monkey Man is the most relaxed person you'll ever meet. My dad reckons if he was any more casual he'd be asleep. If it was left to Monkey Man he would have been deciding the name on the way to the birth. As it was Littlest Monkey was in a bit of a rush and was born in the car anyway. Well actually I'd adopted a bit of Monkey Man's casualness myself and the clock's batteries were dying so I didn't quite realise how long I'd been labouring and I wanted to do most of the the work at home. Before I knew it Little Monkey's head had appeared and I was screaming at Monkey Man to "DRIVE CAREFULLY" but "HURRY" between contractions with my bare bum and Little Monkey's emerging head on view for all of peak hour stuck in the traffic jam on the West Gate freeway that morning. But back to chook-naming...

What to call them? They're 17 weeks old and really ought to have names by now. I've been putting my thinking cap on but am not entirely satisfied with my results. I'm reluctant to enlist the help of the monkeys because they'll come up with dreadful names like they did for the guinea pigs - Cutie and Tiger. Those are embarrassing names. So here's what I've been calling them lately.

Wonky was easy. Lame leg. Poor Wonky - she sits in the chook shed all day occasionally hobbling to the feeder. She can no longer manage to flap her way up to the nesting area and sleeps by herself downstairs each night. None of the others are harassing her which is good. But I can't imagine she'll survive through the Winter.

Golden Girl
This one is called rather unimaginatively Golden Girl. Because of her colour - duh! I had hoped she might live up to her name but she's not really showing much of a personality yet.

This is Beverly. I think it suits her. I thought she'd become chief chook since the roosters went to Mr. P. but this morning the two white ones were giving her the evil eye while standing over her. So I'm not certain who's ruling the roost yet.

Puff and Fluff
I can't tell these two apart. They look exactly the same to me. So I'm thinking of calling them Puff and Fluff. They're the prettiest in my opinion and they seem to enjoy a cuddle. As does Beverly.  Well truth is I'm not sure if they do enjoy a cuddle but they're subjected to one quite often.

And lastly there's this little black one. She's very flitty and a fast runner. Sometimes she'll frighten the others with a big flap and run about like she's catching a fly - but she's not. She will not come for a cuddle and if you manage to catch her she squawks and flaps her wings. If the chicks need to go back to their shed early because of bad weather she is the last to persuade. She is a bit infuriating that way. Sounds like I'm not too fond of her but of course that's not true. I love them all. Nearly equally.

So any ideas on what to name this one?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Nature Strip Garden

I know I promised to make a nature strip garden ages ago remember? Well, I finally made a start on the weekend. I decided that all the ornamental grasses in front of the trampoline that I planted a couple of  years ago to block the ugly view were not such a good idea now.  Not sure what these grasses are actually called but the monkeys call them "tickle grass". Some of them grow feathery bits, others I think are native iris.  Anyway, the chickens sit about under the trampoline now (unless a monkey is jumping - then they do a chicken run back to their shed). And I love to watch the chickens and I think they like watching me back. So I want to improve their view and that spot is a perfect veggie garden spot (actually any bit of free land is becoming perfect veggie patch in my backyard lately.) So I dug the grasses all out and replanted them in the nature strip. And I dug a couple more out from under the lemon tree. What was I thinking crowding so much stuff in that garden?

Now I've mentioned before that I'm a lazy gardener and I was true to my word on Sunday morning as I was attempting to dig holes for these plants. The nature strip is rock hard. What's more there were lots of rocks (well biggish stones) and roots and it was hot and... I know, I know - I'm a lazy whiner! All you proper gardeners out there would be appalled at the job I did. I dug little holes that surely won't be good for expanding roots. I dragged the plants to the front with not too much care 'cos I was getting hot and bothered and just wanted to finish. And I did not even dig up the grass that is sure to encroach on the bushes and cause problems soon. I did a miserable job but at least I did it. 

And what about those herbs I promised I hear you ask? Well I only managed to successfully propogate Vietnamese mint (see what a great gardener I am!). Some of you would consider mint a weed and advise that it is rather foolish to plant it in a garden 'cos it will take over. Well I'm not one to take advice when I have my mind set on something. So in went the mint. Yesterday morning I persuaded Monkey Man to take me to Bunnings. Secretly I prefer to visit these sorts of places on my own but Monkey Men can be handy when it comes to hauling bags of Mushroom Compost into the boot. And while I was there I happened to pass by the nursery section. Although I'd said that I wouldn't spend any money on the nature strip garden I convinced myself that it was absolutely shameful to have a bit of the nature strip dedicated to herbs and only house Vietnamese mint. So I purchased some sage and rosemary and popped that in too.

My friend Ms. C. lives in a rented place with a concrete and stone courtyard and she claims to have been dying to get her hands dirty in a garden. So I took up her offer to help pull up some of my weeds yesterday arvo. We only did that for a little while though (I'm lazy as I've said and I think Ms. C. was only too happy to get into some fun gardening not the boring stuff). Instead of doing the hard work that needed doing (ie remove the rotten cooch grass behind the water tank that's grown so tall it's reached the top of the side fence - see how lazy I am) we went out the front to the nature strip with the monkeys. We had a lovely time planting herbs and seasoling and watering and digging in a little mushroom compost. Yep, I know I spent more money by using the mushroom compost that was intended for the veggies.  But I really felt that it was unfair for all those transplanted plants to be so unceremoniously uprooted from a nice fertile soil into that hard rock nature strip that hasn't been dug up for decades. I wonder how many decades it's been? It deserved a teeny bit of love.

Anyway, I'm blushing to show you an honest photo of this nature strip. I attempted to  deceive you with a couple of close ups and shots of the leaves.  But you can see the grassy mess. I must dig it up and lay out some mulch and encourage Monkey Man to repair the garden sculpture (a whole other story there but if you look closely you'll see a splash of orange). But those are bigger jobs that'll require a cool day and a month of iron supplements in the lead up and maybe the consumption of a strong gurana and caffeine infused energy drink beforehand.
I think that's the native iris
Look there's a herb! Sage
All right here's a bit of it. Those sticks and attractive black stockings to the left are supporting a tree in case you were wondering. And the orange sticky bit is the sculpture which I'll blog about another time.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Kids' Lunch

Toasty Egg Pies
Gotta say, making kids' school lunches every day is a drag. I don't mind the actual making bit it's the trying to think of what to make that's doing my head in. My monkeys are creatures of habit. Eldest Monkey Boy will pretty much try anything for dinner but lunch is a different matter. I insist that the monkeys have at least one vegetable with their lunch. Last year Eldest Monkey had hommus and cucumber sandwiches pretty much every day. This year he'll eat a cheese, vegemite and grated carrot sandwich. Every day. Surprisingly, fussy Littlest Monkey has become the best lunch-eater I could imagine since starting school. He's eating everything I give him - so long as it's in a sandwich. A couple of times a week I try to ease my conscience by presenting them with something different - a veggie pancake or noodles or a rice paper roll or mini pizza for lunch. And often these get returned uneaten. So I resort to the same old sandwich.

At the beginning of the school year I fantasized about presenting my kids each day with a wonderful smorgasboard of lunchy tidbits in a brightly coloured bento box with matching insulating sleeve. And I wasted quite a few hours online investigating just where to get the perfect BPA free lunch box without spending a small fortune. I also spent quite a bit of time perusing these wonderful websites Laptop Lunches and Vegetarian Lunchbox and Vegan Lunch Box (I even bought this one's book which is fab). I was pretty sure I was going to be a damned near perfect school-lunch making mother. But I'm not.

I seem to remember that my mother had the same problem when I was a kid. She used to make me freaky weird sandwiches that I'm sure she'd read about in a '70s Women's Weekly. Like walnut and vegemite or jam and sultanas. Which I suppose was better than my best friend Jeanette who had a white bread vegemite sandwich and cheese in a plastic stick every single day of her entire primary school life.

Well tomorrow I'll try again to be perfect mum with these concoctions. I've used silverbeet and chives from the garden and they're all binded together with an egg and cheese mix so there's no way Little Monkey can pick out the green bits without leaving the entire thing. Which he's quite likely to do actually. After taking the snap for this blog post tonight I thought I might have a little nibble on one just to see if it was OK. It was good. So I ate the entire thing. And then I thought seeing as the damage had already been done and now I had an odd number I might eat another one. So I did. Now there are only four left - just enough luckily to fill two monkey lunchboxes. And if they come home untouched I might just help myself to them.

Toasty Egg Pies (makes 6)

6 slices of bread, crusts removed
silverbeet (finely chopped)
chives (chopped)
3 eggs
splash of milk
parmesan cheese, grated

Butter the slices of bread and squash each piece, buttered side down, into a muffin tray to make the cases. In a bowl mix the eggs with a splash of milk. Add the silverbeet and chives (or other veggies of choice). Pour the egg mixture into each bread casing and top each one with the grated parmesan cheese. Bake in a moderate oven until the egg has set.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Garden Worms and Chook Worms

Worms from my worm farm
I've been neglecting the garden lately. Because I enjoy being out there I always feel a tad guilty about all the other things I ought to be doing. Like planning classes or cleaning the bathroom or making dinner or playing star wars lego battles with the monkey boys. So the other day I put my nagging aside, turbo tidied the house and put on the gardening gloves.

Since building the chook shed and re-locating the kids' slide, there's room to make some new veggie patches and I set to work on these. The chooks have been having a wander over this ground for the past couple of months and I figured eight chicks doing their business on them must be good. But the soil didn't look good. All compacted and hard to dig into. I suspect no-one has dug this ground for years and years actually. But I got out the pick ax (whoo whoo) and worked up a sweat. I do have an ear infection at the moment so every time I stood up I felt a little dizzy and needed a sit down again. No it wasn't Veggiegobbler Wonder Woman. More like Nana Veggiegobbler with a big heavy tool needing constant rests and cups of tea. Anyway, I laid little rows of bricks around the edges and then got the little shovel and sat down to dig it over some more. And do you know how many worms I found?


That's right not one! What's going on there? I've been reading all over the place that all good gardens have lots of worms. I've seen pics of Mark's Veg Plot's compost bin and he has bucket loads of worms in there. So I thought I might have a look in my compost bins. I might just get lucky and find enough compost ready to go on these beds. I got the twisty gadget from the shed to turn it over (something I rarely do I admit - I leave the erky jobs to Monkey Man) and gave the bin that's having a rest a bit of a turn. No worms in there! The second bin that we're currently filling luckily revealed quite a few fat, juicy worms. And just as I was giving it another turn it also revealed a little mouse that I'd managed to freak out. I got over that quickly enough and had a bit more of a turn and then I discovered a whole nest of  little mice which freaked me out a tad. And provided the chooks with a bit of entertainment for a few minutes.

So I went back to my soil turning and a nasty little thought popped into my head. A couple of weeks ago I'd given my chicks a worming treatment. Monkey Man teaches saxophone and one of his students happens to be a vet. Always one to take advantage of free professional advice I consulted her about  Wonky and her mate who were looking a bit off colour. She noticed the runny chook poo and recommended a worming treatment. In fact she gave me a free syringe full of the stuff which I obediently popped into their water. And which I suspect has rid my chooks of worms (no more runny poo and everybody looking happy) but could it have also rid my new veggie patch of worms too?

I've been having a bit of a google about trying to find out whether this is the case and I can't find anything. But it does ring a bell to me. I seem to remember reading not to put dog poop from dogs that have been recently wormed in your specially designed doggy poo worm composter. So it makes sense that you don't put wormed chook poo on your garden where you want worms. But intestinal worms are different from garden worms aren't they? Well, the damage has been done now. I do know that I ought to put crushed garlic in the chook water every so often as a natural worming treatment and this is what I'll do in the future. Meanwhile, I've put some manure on the new beds and hope to attract some worms there soon.  Does anyone know for sure about this? Any advice?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Goodbye My Fuzzy Roosters

It's bigger than the others.
It's got bigger dangly bits.
And it's started to cock-a-doodle-doo.

Yep I reckon it's a rooster.

Anyone who's been following this blog for a bit knows that we managed to hatch eight silkie chicks in an incubator late last year. I've always known that some of them would be roosters and have tried not to get too attached to them in the knowledge that they would not be kept.

Well the chicks are 15 weeks old on Friday and I reckon we can safely say that two of them are roosters. It's time to bid them goodbye. My friend Janine who is a bit of a chicken fancier and knows silkies, predicted these two were boys from about week 2. She says you can tell by the shape of their beaks.

Silkies, unlike other chickens, are apparently very difficult to sex. The experts reckon you sometimes need to wait until they start laying eggs or crowing until you know for sure. Even then the hens will sometimes surprise you with a crow! But I think it's a bit easier with ours because they were all hatched within a couple of days of each other. Two of the white ones are much bigger than the others. And today they were all standing out in the rain (as they do) and one of them started to crow.

So I can hear why roosters are not allowed in our suburbs. Although the crowing was nothing compared with our neighbours yappy, annoying little Jack Russell terrier. But I won't be un-neighbourly and whinge - and to be fair it only barks at night when it's been locked out. Right outside our lounge window while I'm trying to watch trash TV. Incessantly. But it serves me right I suppose for watching trash TV.

Our neighbour Mr P (not the neighbour with yap-dog but the one on the other side with goat and Italian garden expertise) has claimed the roosters. This helped me decide in the beginning to hatch our own rather than buy pullets. Knowing that there was someone who wanted the roosters that materialised. But as time has gone on I've become a bit reluctant to relinquish them. Every time Janine has come over she's asked when I'm going to be rid of them. She could see I was forming an attachment and they've been pretty obvious roosters even to a complete novice like me for a while now (remember this post?).  But I'm not entirely certain that Mr P will take these roosters to his relatives on the farm as he's said. He's already breaking the rules and has one rooster wandering about his block. He may decide to keep them himself.  Which will be OK, but they won't have the luxury they've come to expect here and I might worry. And I'm certain that too many roosters together is a big mistake. But worse than that is the niggling fear I have that perhaps they will end up as a feast on Mr P's table. 

Best for me not to think too hard on this one.

So I've warned the monkeys that the two we suspected are roosters are actually roosters and that we will be saying goodbye soon. They have taken it very well and are happy that we have managed six hens when we thought we may get three if we were lucky. Well, I think we have six hens. Can't be sure, but none of the others are showing any rooster-like signs. Except for Wonky. Wonky is under-developed because she has a lame leg. But she has a suspicious looking comb on her head. For now she is safe to continue to wobble along. I doubt she'd survive 5 minutes with Mr P.
Goodbye boys. Hope you're treated well.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hope Grows - Brussell Sprouts

Brussell Sprout Seedlings
I was reading Sweet Bean's blog and she's got a little thingy going (all you real experienced bloggers probably know the word 'meme' but I'm still new at this business so I'll call it a thingy) where you post at the start of the month about a garden project you're hoping to have happening for the following month. And then the next month you show everyone what's happened. She's calling it 'Hope Grows'. So I thought I might jump on board that one 'cos any motivation in the form of forced reporting back and potential public humiliation is bound to be helpful to me. I was raised Catholic - need I say more?

My last post was about the brassicas I'm planning on planting. Thanks for all your wonderful suggestions about how to deter the dreadful cabbage moth. Since that post last week I've done absolutely nought to prepare for them. In fact, I've been watching each morning as the teeny seedlings I've managed to grow near the upstairs window have progressively gotten a little bit droopier and a little bit leggier. And I've been reprimanding myself (See! More Catholic hangovers - self-flagellation, guilt) for not popping them into bigger pots or hardening them off and putting them in the veg patch or doing something with them. 

Amongst the broccoli (love), cauliflower (use every week) and kale (never tried but know I'll like), I've also managed brussell sprouts.  Now I can hear you all over blogworld "oh yucking". Who likes brussell sprouts, I hear you say.  Are you demented, your monkeys won't eat brussell sprouts! Truth is I have no idea why I chose a packet of brussell sprout seeds. It could be that I was on a Diggers seed buying frenzy and purchasing online is still a novelty to me and so I popped it in the basket with other goodies without thinking about it too deeply. Could be I was deluding myself that I'd concoct some delicious, nutritious brussell sprouty meal that would have myself and my monkeys salivating. The fact is I'm not that keen on brussell sprouts. I don't loathe them like some I know, but I've not cooked much with them and have rarely bought them. I've never fed them to the little monkeys and Monkey Man does not like them but will eat them. Because for him food is fuel.
So, my hope for the month is to grow some brussell sprouts. Without the cabbage moths getting to them. And then to cook them up in some sort of meal that the little monkeys like. Perhaps I'm hoping for too much. Well the cooking bit is certainly optimistic because I know it'll take more than a month to grow a brussell sprout - I'll make that my hope for the following month. Or will it take longer? Not sure. OK so following the growing bit, my hope is that some time over autumn or winter I will make a meal with at least one brussell sprout in it that my monkeys will eat...without too much whining.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Brassicas & Preparing for the Big Caterpillar Squish

Broccoli seedlings
I've tried to grow brassicas for the past two years and have pretty much failed. It's those dreadful white cabbage moths. And as I've mentioned on a few occasions here, I'm lazy. So I didn't do too much to save them. I did scatter about some eggshells which was supposed to trick the territorial moths into thinking they had a lot of competition and lay their eggs elsewhere. Didn't work. What I mostly did was got very cross when I saw lots of those little caterpillars all over the cauliflower leaves and I squished them. But I'm a bit squeamish. So I wasn't a very diligent squisher. And I squished them with my gardening gloves on or between two leaves because I didn't want to get caterpillar squish on my soft city fingers. 

I attempted to persuade the Monkey Boys to help me squish them but they were also too squeamish. What's the point of having Monkey Boys if they won't help you do erky jobs like squishing garden creepy crawlies that are eating your potential dinner? I thought all little boys liked doing that sort of thing? When I was a little girl I distinctly remember the boy from the tennis club happily pulling wings off flies to our squeals of horror. And I remember Michael Walsh from grade 2 removing the goldfish from the tank and squishing it dry. Actually, maybe he wasn't the one who squished the goldfish but he definitely did spit on his hands before he had to hold mine in the compulsory, tummy-pain-inducing, Friday morning bush dancing class. I tried to avoid boys for much of my childhood. And some of my adulthood if truth be known! Anyway, I digress...

... I have to do something about those moths and their munching caterpillar offspring if we are to enjoy some winter veg. Because I am determined to give brassicas one last good go. It is now autumn (my second least favourite season) and I have a couple of trays of seedlings I've managed to grow inside ready to soon be planted in my new veggie patch (yep I dug up a new patch when we relocated the kids' slide for the chook house). 

I'm thinking of planting all the brassicas together and covering them with a big mosquito net that I've been storing under my bed for just such a purpose. But Jackie French reckons it's not a good idea to plant them altogether - a magnet for pests she says.  She suggests mixing them with lots of other companion plants and flowers that'll be distracting.  Hmm that starts to make my crop rotating plans even more confusing.  However she also suggest that you let a couple of the brassicas go to seed because the pests will feed and lay eggs on them because they're lazy too.  That sounds more my style. 
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