Sustainable Darebin and chickens

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.



Soils aint soils

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!

Harvest Monday: GARLIC

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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.

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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.

Roses and garlic

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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.

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The concrete for the studio is being poured next week!