Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Girls are Back in Town

It had been almost two months since the catastrophic chicken carnage.  The egg supply had finally been depleted and we were still weighing up the choice between rehoming some battery hens or supporting heritage breeders.  The decision was made last weekend when I was lucky enough to have an abundant supply of burly lads around to move the chook cage to a better location closer to the house.  As it happened, that same weekend there was a notice up on the KFC Project's page for some ex-battery hens.  We set up a pen on Sunday morning then made the long car trip out to Ipswich to pick up the four easiest to catch hens from the latest rescue batch.

Well I say it was a long car trip out there but in all honesty we had a lunch break and then a lovely tea break at a friend's place on the way.  Actually it was the car trip home that could have gone a little faster. The air was frequently punctuated by pungent odours wafting from the back seat as one of the four chickens would remind us that she most certainly did not enjoy being shunted around the countryside for the second time that day.  Nevertheless we did not sink into stupor with the overpowering smells and made it home without careering off the road in a flurry of chicken feathers and cardboard boxes.

 Finally reaching their final destination we opened the cat cage that I had thankfully had the foresight to line with cardboard and took the lid off the cardboard box releasing all four girls into their new life in Elysian Fields of lush green grass complete with seed-heads ready for nibbling and thin patches begging to be racked into luxurious dust baths.  Admittedly it didn't quite happen like that.  The girls remained in their boxes and had to be lifted out, flapping their wings in protest.  They didn't quite seem to know what to do with their new surroundings.  The juicy blades of grass meant nothing to them. The watermelon skins were left lying lonely in the open like tumble weeds in a Western film; only the sound that rang through the air was not the quick-draw shot of a gun-slinging cowboy but the clink, clink, clink of the nearby chain-gang working in the mine.  
The chain gang working hard
The poor girls obviously didn't know any better than to be obsessed with pecking at the bolts on the cage or the holes in the star pickets.  Either that, or they were determined not to be caged ever again and were working fast at dismantling any potential new prison.  The only other feature of their new home that sparked interest was this new-fangled water dispenser thingy in the corner of the cage.  It took one girl at least five minutes of pecking at the overflow spout on the water dish (a repurposed and of course cleaned oil drip tray) before she figured out she could drink straight from the surface.
Did you honestly think you'd catch me looking at that watermelon?

Despite the culture shock of the new place, the four girls are adjusting to their new surrounds.  They've laid 6 eggs in a week and one has even figured out what that straw-lined four-sided, odd-looking contraption is meant to be for.  They did eventually, at least I presume it was them, realise the joy of watermelon after I left the remaining rind in with them overnight so they could try it out while I wasn't looking and not have it snavelled by a crow with a hungry mouth to feed besides its own.  

Next on the list for expanding their culinary repertoire is capsicum.  They ran off today after I dropped the seeded part of the fruit in their midst today as if I had dropped a grenade.  While they were a little less terrified when I put it in their cage tonight their looks were still dubious.  No doubt the rolling thunder and lightning  tonight didn't alay their fears of having entered a war zone.  I wonder what they'll think of tomatoes.

First egg

Friday, 8 November 2013

Bushtucker forage garden beginnings

On the opposite side of the dam to the potager there is an even steeper slope covered in small rocks designed to stabilise the ground during the rainy season.  According to our neighbours and the local landscape supply man the water comes fairly high during the rainy season and prior to the driveway and dam being rebuilt, the house was nearly inaccessible during the floods.  So in terms of an ornamental garden or grazing space it's off the books.  Well, that was until we decided that we'd rather people couldn't see right into our garage from the road and some lateral thinking came into play. 

Living in Logan is bringing us closer in touch with the native fauna and flora and the variety of both of these is amazing to see.  Most Aussies would be familiar with the lomandra (spiny-head mat-rush) that graces nearly every traffic island and the edge of every park pond in Brisbane.  Proudly, we have a small version of this and the increasingly popular dianella growing all on their own in various parts of the property.  No doubt there are many other natives just waiting to come up if left to their own devices.

While wide open spaces certainly have their appeal, I do feel a pang of remorse owning a  mostly cleared block and then reading about all our endangered species of both flora and fauna.  We can shake our heads all we like at new developments, but at the end of the day our's was a new development once upon a time.  So in a small gesture to help rectify the situation we've decided to put the unusable to many good uses by planting a variety of native trees, shrubs and climbers.  In true permie style here's a list of the multiple benefits of the project:
  1. Firstly to screen the view from the road for more privacy
  2. Stabilise the slope to reduce topsoil runoff into waterways, which will incidentally also protect our new fishies in the dam as well as reducing the chance of algal blooms and generally improve water quality
  3. Provide habitat and food for birds, butterflies and other creatures
  4. Replant some local native vegetation that has previously been cleared - most of the plants are native to South-East Queensland and a large number are local to the suburb
  5. Provide a forage garden as a back-up supply of food for us - all plants are edible in some shape or form, although I'm sure some will be more palatable to the parrots, possums and pigeons
  6. Serve as a wind-break for the potager
  7. Cast shade and create microclimate around the dam to reduce evaporation
  8. Be ornamental in its own way
A mandated car trip for an interview over an hour away into the horror traffic and narrow hilly streets of the Northside of Brisbane provided the excuse for a calming visit to the Greening Australia nursery.  (Apologies to Northsiders - nothing against you personally, I'm just not used to the other side of the river, and besides someone did decide to play a game of chicken with me in which I was the chicken and swerved to the wrong side of the road to go around them -madness!).  Run mostly by volunteers, the nursery is a treasure trove of various native species catering to all shapes, sizes, situations - sunny, shaded, sandy or soggy.  To add to this it's also very cheap so ditch the forlorn specimens at those two competing awful gigantic warehouses and pick up some local, native plants for less than half the price - and no, I'm not receiving any sort of commission.  The only draw-back was that individual plants weren't labelled - so instead of having to sit on your living room floor with your list, plants and Google images up on your laptop; take photos of the sign and plant on your phone or camera while you're at the nursery.

Taking the list I'd constructed over a few nights, I headed in and hallelujah they had everything sorted into groups by size/type and then alphabetically! Not everything on my wish list was available (or perhaps I didn't see it) but the vast majority was and I also found a couple of extra ornamentals for the pretty garden near the house.

Looking a bit like a school photo so here we go:
Members of Food Forest/Ornamental Composite Class from left to right:
1st Row: Stylidia graminifolium (Trigger Grass)
2nd Row: Baeckia/Sannantha/Babingtonia - I'm more confused than ever about this now, Westringia fruticosa 'Wynyabbie Gem',
3rd Row and start of the edibles: Atractocarpus fitzlanii (yellow mangosteen), Pipturus argenteus (native mulberry)
4th Row: Pittosporum angustifolium (native apricot), Hovea acutifolia, Micromelum minutum (lime berry), Indigofera australis (native indigo)
5th Row: Davidsonia pruriens (Davidson's plum), Sterculia quadrifida (peanut tree), Macadamia tetraphylla, Phaleria cerodendron (scented daphne), Elaeocarpus grandis (Blue Quondong)
To start with we've purchased mostly top-storey plants which will need to grow and establish before many of the smaller, less sun tolerant plants can be added.  We're fortunate to have the space for some very tall and beautiful trees that would just never fit in a suburban yard unless regular altercations with the neighbours, local council and various inanimate things like plumbing, roofs and powerlines were the sort of thing we enjoyed doing with our spare time.