Monday, 27 August 2012

Whats been growing in August

Ok- so its not the end of the month yet.... so technically this post should be 'what is growing in August', but I have chosen the past tense for a particular reason......Just when I was looking forward to some tasty Asian greens with oyster sauce and some wonderful sauteed cavolo nero.

No unfortunately its not a hoard of hungry caterpillars that have inflicted this damage on my poor garden....

Changing the subject.. choooks are wonderful creatures that supply fresh and bountiful eggs (when they aren't either broody or moulting and its not the middle of winter) and a copious supply of poop fertiliser packed full of chookie goodness and (normally) left conveniently for you to collect off the back door step. They also have an amazing brain and eyesight that is constantly alert and on the look out for the slightest opening to get into anywhere they know they are not allowed to be... house, vegetable garden etc. It amazes me how they can also hone in and charge straight for the tastiest plants and spot an unripe raspberry camouflaged amongst the leaves and not visible to all but the most observant eye.

Our chook proof fencing system consists of star pickets with hanging panels of flexible wire trellis hooked on. The panels are supposed to overlap and each panel has a garden stake wired to the bottom to allow it to hang straight down and stop the girls climbing under. The system allows the panels to be removed whenever access is needed to the garden beds and can be rearranged so that sections of the garden can be opened up for the girls to turn over when required. It works 95% of the time its just the 5% of the time that you have to worry about.... especially when they are left unattended for any amount of time and they manage to spy a gap between the panels they can squeeze through (which is obviously what must have happened the other day). I caught them at it again on Saturday morning.. and the rest is what can be seen above. The only positive about it all is that the renewed burst of energy and generally destructive behaviour has heralded the start of the spring lay. B has been busy producing for a little over week and judging by her pushiness S must be due to start any day.

Aside from the chook raid its not exactly been the most successful month to date. The potatoes I planted out in the lane in the autumn had started to wilt so I dug them up. I reckon I got well over a kilo of potatoes but they were mostly much smaller than I expected. The snow peas are also taking ages to transform flowers into fully grown peas. Here's waiting for spring!!

little potatoes

Friday, 10 August 2012

sharing the spoils

A while ago I heard about a great idea to collect excess and unwanted fruit and other produce from home gardens and distribute it to the needy. This idea recognised that many people particularly the elderly with established gardens are capable of growing more fruit than they can possibly handle. Foodbank in Victoria has been involved with this idea, first in Wodonga in country Victoria and more recently with a  similar initiative called Urban Street Harvest in the inner west of Melbourne.

While I am not exatly needy, over the past month or so I have managed to scrape into meeting my challenge of eating one home grown ingredient by utilising my own personal network for a home grown version of this idea.

A few weeks ago I got a massive bag of oranges from my friend. They were given to her by someone else with a tree. After taking her share passed them onto me. As a result I have come up with a couple of creative uses for excess oranges.

1. New favourite salad of the month: Orange, avocado and rocket salad (this is based on a ruby grapefruit salad recipe) very simple- rocket, avocado, walnuts, spring onions and orange slices with a vinaigrette dressing.

Orange, avocado and rocket salad 

2. New favourite dessert of the month: Orange and polenta puddings (based on a recipe using mandarin that featured in a Sunday Age Magazine from 2004)

*The bonus for this recipe is that it requires 2/3 cup of marmalade (perfect to use one of the collection  of homemade marmalade jars I have been gifted!)

2/3 cup marmalade
1tbs water
8 orange slices (rind removed)
1/3 cup polenta
1/2cup juice
125g butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups of self raising flour

Step 1. Grease 8 individual single serve oven proof dishes or pudding moulds.
Heat marmalade and water together over medium heat until melted and smooth. Divide into the dishes and top with a slice of orange.

Step 2. Combine juice and polenta and set aside.

Step 3. Beat butter & sugar until smooth, add eggs one at a time. Fold in half the polenta mixture, the flour and then the remaining polenta mix. Spoon mixture into the dishes.

Step 4. Place the dishes in a pan and add water to reach halfway up the sides. Cover with foil and place in preheated oven (180deg)  for 20-25mins. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before turning out.

This dessert was great served with some of my 'home made' marscarpone. (this was made using UHT cream with the addition of starter culture from my recent cheesemaking adventures. The marscapone was set using a highly technical method of placing a sterlised jar containing the cream and starter with a hot water bottle in a 'cool' bag to maintain the temp at 37-45deg for around 8 hours)

As a bonus in addition to the oranges I also got some cumquats. I didn't have time to turn the cumquats into jam so I passed them onto a colleague at work - who did manage to transform them into jam and gave me a jar! how good is that! Thank you E!

Monday, 6 August 2012

A noise in the night.

Last week I had an experience I seriously I hope I never have again. Fast asleep a noise came into my consciousness.

Although I don't own a rooster I am used to being awoken by what I refer to  as 'the whining chook'. Its always a sign I am enjoying a sleep in and those outdoors let me know about it.  "Bawwwwk bawk bawk" (which roughly translates to "let me out NOWWWWWW. I have not been fed so it must be a weekend. I want OUT Now")

But this sound was different.... it was the same voice... but it was hysterical.... It was the same frantic sound that comes out when the girls  (for whatever reason of momentary excitement) attempt to flap and  fly across the yard, but this time it was much more intense, like lives were depending on it. The sound an animal makes when it expects any breath will be its last, an unmistakable urgent sound that at once reminded me of the sound of my pet rabbit being dragged over the back fence by the neighbours cat many years ago.

It was dark and time stopped still as I ran through the house and flicked on the back light. All that time I prepared myself - for what I could imagine was happening.... one chook dead (headless??) or mortally injured the other carried off in the jaws of a fox. It had to be fox. It was the end of Boss and Spazz. I had to be prepared.

When I reached the pen the girls were still screaming, the neighbours dogs were barking and I reckon half the neighbourhood was on the verge of waking up. From the lights out the back I could see the girls on the ground, they were still screaming, puffed up like an angry rooster, wings flapping. It seemed whatever had caused the disturbance must have high tailed it out of there...... and after a few seconds I reached down the touch the girls and reassure myself they were completely safe and unharmed.

All of  us were still in shock. I gathered them up one at a time and took them into the shower in the laundry, where they used to live before they were big enough to fend for themselves out in the elements. I threw down some paper and wood shavings and after they started happily pecking on the wood shavings (eating wood shavings where they sleep is part of their nightly routine - even after they have had a feed- go figure) I pulled out the magic red cup- which is what always has their favourite mixed grain. In an instant the happiness had returned and it seemed all the trauma was forgotten. I guess to be a prey animal living on the edge of your existence- every time one of your comrades is picked up and eaten you can't really afford to dwell.

To be honest we are not really sure if there was a fox or not. Something had been digging up the back in the corner behind the shed but to get in there is no mean feat that has even the cats beat. But regardless its been a wake up call. According to the Victorian Department of Primary Industries there are more urban foxes than rural cousins. Its likely that the work on the regional rail link may have displaced the fox population that has happily lived down in the rail reserve with its plentiful supply the resident rabbits and sent them packing and hungry into the neighbourhood.

The girls are lucky that they live in a somewhat 'over engineered' pen with a wooden frame going around the base, wire below the surface and a row of bricks, rocks and concrete rubble testing the the digging skills of any animal. To add to the fortifications we have now added a horizontal board of treated pine nailed along the back fence creating an additional digging barrier to anything trying to get in.
Security features: wire roof, wooden frame, recycled heavy duty mesh and corrugated wall

After all the drama I hope the girls are grateful and can pay me back on the investment with just an egg of two.