Chook lit

The children are adults and left the coop so we thought we’d fill it with chooks instead. I blame my gardening hero Janet Luke – she who has quail, rabbits, miniature goats, bees and ducks at her place. That’s eggs, meat, milk, honey and more eggs. Not sure if she has started killing the ducks yet, but she knocks off the bunnies regularly and is working on a nice fur blanket. She also has a standard size section as opposed to our large allotment sized property.

Cover of Backyard ChickensAfter the mad measuring of space available for potential chicky coop, I turned to library books on chicken coop design.

Alas, despite much considered research, this aspect has proven to be the downfall of Ma and Pa Bishi’s chicken farm. Neither of us thought it through until it was too late and the girls were proving that the darn thing was too high and the pitch of the roof too sharp and they really weren’t all that fussed about going to bed up there, never mind laying their eggs in the right place. Like good new parents we were concentrating on things like chicken selection, rearing, diseases, food etc. and “can I give up some of my vege garden and can we actually squeeze in a two-chook-coop?”

Unfortunately (or fortunately from his point of view) Pa Bishi was the builder and a very proud builder was he! This was his contribution to family history, an ‘A’ frame chicken coop. In the days before the girls moved in he was frequently to be found at the window staring admiringly at his handiwork. Alterations were obviously the answer and major ones at that, but male pride was on the line here. So how to broach this delicately? I don’t know, I’ve never done delicate approaches. But !#@!&#!! seems to have done the trick.

Cover of The Chicken Whisperer's Guide to Keeping ChickensTo date one ramp with grips and a ground level entry have been added and Priscilla the partying chook has shown the cowardly Camilla how to do things when it’s bedtime. Camilla is a bit slow and so far has been physically put on her roost each night. She doesn’t seem to mind and somehow they both get down each morning. I’m a nervous wreck from worrying about the girls and Pa Bishi’s feathers are ruffled, but he’s carried out the necessary alterations to Chez Chic.

Do you manage to successfully keep chickens? Wish you could? Like the concept but afraid to put it into practice? Check out the books above – they are really helpful. The girls are lovely and cluck away in our garden and one day I won’t worry about them at all.

Growing your own… caterpillars??!

When we bought a cheap tunnel house this year it wasn’t to grow green super worms with patterns but the best laid plans of this naive gardener…  I digress, first I went a bit mad and grew capsicums, aubergines, basil, cucumbers and flowers to attract bees, all from seed. By the time the raised beds were assembled and filled it was getting on a bit and the tomatoes had to be bought as plants.

Cover of Green Urban LivingThe basil and the toms took off. The basil plants were the size of small shrubs. I bought the pine nuts, stocked up the olive oil and parmesan and then never quite got round to pesto conversion. Got busy and ignored the tunnel house for about a week.

Imagine my horror when I next poked my head in: the basil was black and all but extinct, the tomatoes had been shredded and the peppers and aubergines looked like they too were on the menu.

But of what? Huge green caterpillars… with patterns. “Skin crawling” tomato eating hook  caterpillars, I think. I won’t give you the gory details of their dispatch, but I should have consulted some more gardening books on tunnel house growing first obviously. Lesson learned the hard way. Next year the aubergine plants go outside once sizable and putting out flowers and can get pollinated out there. No leaving the door open for all pregnant passersby.

If I had just consulted Green Urban Living by Janet Luke first I would have cut some phony white butterflies out of ice cream tub plastic and stuck them all over the garden and tunnel house. The expectant mums are territorial apparently, and would have naffed off somewhere else. Just one of the many clever tips for the urban gardener from this resourceful book. Growing food, keeping chickens, worm farming (not caterpillar) and beekeeping is  just some of knowledge passed on by one who has been there and is still wearing the t-shirt.

The mini orchard is coming along with the addition soon of a peach or nectarine, but not without consultation to the chapter on top fruit to grow in an urban garden and I hope next summer’s weather warrants the step by step instructions on the installation of a water barrel. This book is invaluable and I have borrowed it many times.

cover of Winter Harvest HandbookCurrently it’s  The Winter Harvest Handbook that I have out on loan. This promises “Year round vegetable production using Deep Organic techniques and unheated greenhouses”. I have high hopes of growing something other than future generations of the unmentionables, in an unheated tunnel house through our coldest months.

Do you grow your own? Want to but think you haven’t enough space? Another option is  Straw Bale Gardening. I’m considering having one on the go. Meantime more ‘do’ is needed and less talk, so it’s on with my wellies…

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