The Darebin Backyard Harvest Festival is on every November. It’s a series of open gardens and workshops all about sustainable urban gardening. The events are all free for Darebin residents. I went to a permaculture workshop a few weeks ago, and a backyard chickens one yesterday, with Justin of ChookChat, who lives just a few blocks away from us. It was an excellent event – informative and entertaining. I am now even more determined to get chickens! My dad found an old broken coop on the curbside, and is restoring it for me. Recycled! Sustainable! Chicking!
The battery rescue chickens are ISA Browns – a breed developed to lay a lot in their first two years, and not much after that. Heritage breeds lay less eggs per week, but will lay for many more years. So I think I might get a mix – two rescue girls and one or two heritage. Hopefully they will all get along – I hear that introducing new birds to a flock can be quite stressful!
One of the biggest dangers for urban chickens is foxes. The fox population in Melbourne is huge – much bigger than in the country. Wherever you are in Melbourne, you are never more than 600m from a fox. Some estimates say there are up to 10 foxes per square kilometre. We will have to do some serious fox-proofing. And hopefully Dame Maggie will help protect the flock. Not chase them. I’ve been taking her to Ceres a lot to get her used to being around chickens. She loves watching them.
Now that the new fence is up, I’m starting to think about how we will plant along it. I want a little mini grove of fruit trees – I’m hoping for two espalier apples, an apricot, a nectarine and a plum. All either dwarf or pruned to stay reasonably small. I’d like a very small, skinny food forest – underplanted with nasturtiums, comfrey, alpine strawberries and horseradish.
The only problem is the ground along the fence is rubbish. I can’t even call it soil. It is heavily impacted clay (had a concrete slab and shed resting on it for 40-odd years), with bricks and bits of concrete smushed in there. And the clay is clay. We could ditch the music studio and start a pottery workshop. But clay can be broken, as long as it’s the right clay. Sodic clay can be broken with gypsum, but non-sodic clay can’t. Time for some kitchen science!
I got a lump of clay from the backyard and popped it in a glass of water. Now we watch for dispersion. If the soil just sat there, or fell apart, then it would be a stable aggregate that wouldn’t respond to gypsum. But that big cloudy halo means that it’s unstable – and gypsum can help break it up.
So I’m off to Bunnings to get some liquid claybreaker. After the builders have cleared all their stuff from the area, I’ll pop in some sleepers (or maybe use the bricks I unearthed) to raise the soil surface, and then dump a trailerload of compost in there when we fill the veggie beds. Then maybe a summer green manure before the trees go in.
The slab is laid!! And we have a fence again so Dame Maggie won’t keep escaping to play with next door’s toddler (our neighbours have been so amazingly patient and lovely). Our garden, however, is a disaster, as you can see.
It’ll still be a few weeks before I can put in my raised beds, which might be too late for a decent tomato and pepper harvest. So I have potted up some of my seedlings as a backup. Seven tomatoes, three capsicum and an eggplant. And a zucchini. And a cucumber. I’m putting them in potting mix and chicken manure, topped with potash, coffee grounds, crushed eggshells and rockdust. And mulch. And watered in with seaweed and worm tea. I also rescued the rhubarb from being covered in concrete, and stuck it in a pot for the time being – it actually looks MUCH happier than it did in the ground, which says a lot about the sandy soil in that bit of the backyard.
In other news, the potatoes are looking great, and the stick of a blueberry that I had almost given up on has suddenly sprouted leaves! Hurrah for spring!
Here it all is! I have learnt some good lessons for next time. I planted all the cloves I had, instead of just the fat ones. This led to lots of small heads of garlic. Next time I shall plant in raised beds where the soil is more fluffy, and only the fattest cloves.
The Purple Monaro was by far the most productive. But all in all, a pretty good first garlic effort, I think! I’m going to cure and plait the nice fat heads, and peel and freeze the rest.
Head over to Daphne’s Dandelions for more Harvest Mondays.
Spring is such an exciting time in the garden. The bare sticks that we put into the ground in winter have turned into roses! They have the most gorgeous citrusy scent.
And I have pulled a couple of experimental garlic plants. Some are nice and fat, and others are small and weedy. But they’ve all fallen over and look very sad and limp, so I think I’ll harvest them this weekend. Or should I wait? They’re not getting much sun now, as the raspberry bushes have leapt up.
The concrete for the studio is being poured next week!
Studio Update: it is pegged out. Now we are waiting for the concreter. I’m not going to meet my target of having the raised beds in by Cup Day, but hopefully some time in December, so it won’t be too late for a summer crop of tomatoes and capsicums. Fingers crossed!
I’m a bit late planting potatoes, but our summers seem to be dragging on into April these days, so I’m sure there’ll be plenty of time to make some nice fat tubers. I’m growing in two potato grow bags, using a Diggers combo pack that I’m splitting with my mum. So seven different varieties – Nicola, Pink Fir, Pink Eye, Royal Blue, Low Carb, Dutch Cream and Malin.
I mixed sugarcane mulch, compost and manure, and added rockdust, coffee grinds and potash. Filled the bags about 1/2 way and planted my spuds between 10-20cm deep. Now we wait.
The studio construction is poised to start – just awaiting a builder’s permit which of course was delayed by some entirely unnecessary administrivia. In the meantime, I have been thinking a lot about chickens.
My parents’s next door neighbour, Sabine, recently adopted three battery rescue chickens. She has a tiny little courtyard of a garden in Clifton Hill, but manages to cultivate the most amazing range of fruit and vegetables, mostly in pots. She also has a beehive. And now, three chickens.
Battery chickens are culled when they are 12 months old, as their laying productivity starts to drop afterwards (not by much, they still usually have four or five steady laying years left in them… or more). They are ground up and sold for pet food or fertiliser.
But $5 can get you one of these chickens yourself (the $5 goes mostly to the running costs for the rescue people, plus worming and vaccinations for the chickens). At first, the chickens look pretty sorry and naked. In the battery cages, the chickens pull out each other’s feathers (due to overcrowding and boredom). Their beaks are clipped. They don’t know how to walk around (their cages are all angled so the poo rolls away) or scratch, or eat food scraps. They have never been outside.
Within days, Sabine’s chickens were scratching around. They learned to go into their coop at night. They started laying the first week she got them. Their feathers are starting to grow back. They are the most docile, relaxed, happy chickens I’ve ever seen.
There is some debate about rehoming ex-battery chickens. Some say that by rehoming them, we’re just allowing the cycle of cruelty to continue. But battery farmers don’t make their money from selling 1 year old chickens. They make their money from selling battery farmed eggs. So the best way to combat that industry is to produce your own eggs, and give the excess to friends. And isn’t using their chickens to do it kind of awesomely ironic?
I want some.