Friday, July 24, 2009

Garden Roundup (No, not the Herbicide)

School holidays have slowed my posting down a bit, as you might have noticed! But I have managed to do some gardening-related things. On Wednesday I spent a couple of hours at Flower Power at Enfield. This large nursery has a big shrub section, lots of pots, and a really impressive array of seeds from many companies. Being winter, the flower punnets were all of the pansy tribe. I picked up some some white "face" pansies, as well as thyme, apple mint and winter savory. Most of these were planted yesterday.

The only disappointment was the offering of currants and cool-climate fruit trees. These generally do not cope with the humid Sydney summers, and fruits that require chilling simply don't get it here. Then there's the fruit fly issue. This plant choice doesn't inspire confidence in the nursery, but my experience with the staff was of friendliness and helpfulness.

In one of my rare forays into composting, I built a small (1 sq. m) heap last weekend. They boys helped by hosing the layers, then each other. (Sydney in winter, where boys end up running around wet with no clothes on!) I've obviously managed to get the proportions of materials correct, as it heated up very quickly. It was gratifying to see steam rising from the air holes on the next cold morning! The pile has already collapsed about 20cm and is still very hot.

I have followed Yolanda's advice and planted my remaining dozen peas into an egg carton. I have a horrible feeling that either rats or pigeons (which are just rats with wings) have been eating the seeds in my garden.

This week's garden harvest has included beetroot for borshch, lettuce for a salad, and lots of chervil for a potato salad. The air is filled with the sweet scent of my fringe wattles. And best of all, Lizzie has started laying pale brown eggs.

Monday, July 6, 2009

First Frost, and Other Blighted Hopes

Frosts in Sydney are infrequent and light, like the one that left its touches on my heaped lawn clippings this morning. Our humidity is often too low for frost to form in winter, or it's cloudy, which keeps the temperature too high, or else it's windy. I'd be surprised to see more than half-a-dozen frosts a year, and the ground never freezes.

The results are in from my Great Pea Experiment. Not a single pea came up and there was no sign of any peas in the ground. Perhaps a bird is eating them?

So I did what any gardener would do. I took a deep breath and... sowed another batch.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

In Which We Meet Lizzie, and Learn More About Chooks

Lizzie has been named after a bluff elderly steam lorry in Thomas the Tank Engine. Unfortunately, while she looked reasonably sure of herself at the hatchery (she pecked the Sprig!), she is being thoroughly bullied by Annie. It's called the 'pecking order' for a reason, and 10,000 years of domestication has not civilised it yet.

If you are thinking that Lizzie looks more like an oversize quail than a respectable bird at point-of-lay, that's because there was an outbreak of feather-picking in this group of pullets. It's a more aggressive manifestation of the pecking order, and is caused by boredom. I'm satisfied that the hatchery is as good as they get, but a hatchery isn't a place for grown-up hens to live. The feathers will grow back.

I had better explain that any bird past about 18 weeks is considered at point of lay, though most won't lay until at least 21 weeks, often later, depending on breed and conditions. People have told me that if a layer is already present, younger birds will reach point of lay earlier. I hope it's true of our new girl! Annie lays 4-5 eggs a week, which isn't quite enough for us, especially as the Sprig's favourite food is "dippy egg with soldiers". I'm pretty partial to boiled eggs myself!

There's a mystery there, though: Annie's eggs weigh under 50g, but take longer than three minutes to become a "three-minute egg" (ie, firm white, soft yolk). I wonder if this is something to do with the very low proportion of thin albumen in fresh eggs.

If you look at Lizzie's picture, you will see a small pale-pink comb and undeveloped wattles, not much larger or darker than Annie's looked at 10 weeks. A sexually mature bird develops a red comb and wattles, which then grow larger remarkably quickly. Annie has been laying for about 8 weeks now:

I rather like her red bonnet!