The Winter Staff Have Arrived

Some of the girls, enjoying what's left of the peas and eyeing up the newly planted broad beans, protected by netting.

Some of the girls, enjoying what’s left of the peas and eyeing up the newly planted broad beans, protected by netting.

I don’t know whether I appreciate my chickens more for their eggs or for their winter garden maintenance.

I turned the girls out into the vegetable garden for the winter today, and was happy to see them rooting around for grass grubs, which were a serious problem this year, and eagerly grazing on weeds.

I used to injure myself every spring when it was time to clear the winter’s weeds and prepare the garden beds. Now I employ the chickens in the garden all winter, and my springtime bed preparation is a breeze (comparatively speaking, anyway).

They keep the weeds down and reduce the pest populations, and the love the rich foraging the garden offers, as their summer paddock is practically bare by now.

Of course, there’s always a risk—now and again the chickens will get into the winter crops—but the benefits are worth it.

The chickens think so, too.

 

Sing to Your Plants

DSC_0006smMy plants are fond of show tunes—Oklahoma!, Pirates of Penzance, The Music Man.

At least, I hope so, because I sing show tunes in the garden.

Sometimes I switch up the words so the song is appropriate to the moment:

Oh what a beautiful eggplant!

Oh what a beautiful bean.

I’ve got a wonderful feeling

I’m going to eat like a queen.

 

I sing to the chickens and goats, too, though they prefer folk songs.

Oh my chickens, oh my chickens,

Oh my darlin’ little birds.

You’re revolting, you’re disgusting,

You’re obnoxious little turds.

 

I don’t know if any of my charges like it. I don’t believe that my singing will actually make my plants grow better. But when I’m pulling stubborn weeds, mucking out the chicken house, or trimming goat hooves, I can either grumble or sing. I choose to sing.

Garden Companion

DSC_0033 smI was tying up tomatoes this morning.

I plant most of my tomatoes along one long edge of the vegetable garden. That edge is made of 1.8 metre deer fencing (a remnant from a previous owner who ran greyhounds and divided the property into six long narrow runs for the dogs). On the fence, I’ve run black wind block cloth to give the tomatoes a little sheltered heat island. I train the plants right up the fence.

So, anyway, I was tying up tomatoes when I heard a rustling on the other side of the fence. I assumed a chicken had gotten out, as one of them has developed an annoying habit of getting out of the chicken paddock to eat raspberries.

But then a furry white paw shot through a hole in the wind block cloth to snatch at my fingers.

It was the cat, intrigued by the rustling on the other side of the fence.

When he got bored of attacking me across the fence, he lay against it for a while. When I finished the tomatoes, he followed me to another part of the garden, and lay down in the path to watch me while I worked.

I don’t know why the cat sometimes does this—acts more like a dog than a cat. Most of the time he ignores me in the garden, but now and again, he follows me around as though he doesn’t want to be out of sight.

Must be my annual staff performance review…

Not a Spanish Omelette

100_3995 smContinuing with the egg theme…because I’m getting three a day now, and hardly know what to do with them all…

My husband introduced me to this dish before we were even married. He called it a Spanish omelette.

It is not a Spanish omelette. It’s more akin to a Texas omelette, but without the beans.

But it’s not even really that.

But whatever you call it, it’s good! And simple to make.

Chunks of roast potatoes topped with scrambled eggs and a thick spicy tomato sauce.

This dish can be served at any time of day, and can take on whatever flavours you want in the tomato sauce. This week, I made a sauce rich with an entire colander full of spinach, fistfuls of fresh basil and oregano, and heavy in paprika (including some smoked paprika, too). Sometimes I steer the sauce toward Central America, with cilantro, sometimes toward Greece with feta cheese and olives. The potatoes and egg are flexible, and will happily nestle under whatever you pour on top.

Best of all, it tastes like junk food, but is packed with nutrients and leaves you feeling satisfied. A real stick-to-your-ribs sort of meal.

Omelettes

IMG_3731 smIt’s funny how quickly we can go from being desperate for eggs to having more than we know what to do with. My new chickens have all started laying now, and so this afternoon when I was looking for a quick dinner after getting home late, I found a fridge full of eggs.

Of course, that meant omelettes! Filled with cheese, mushrooms and herbs, they’re a delicious, quick-to-make, high protein meal that everyone loves. I served ours tonight with roast potatoes slathered in ketchup.

 

No Eggs

Photo: Eric Weiss

Photo: Eric Weiss

All day, I dreamed of tofu meatballs with spaghetti. I drove home this afternoon thinking of them. As I did my afternoon chores, I picked the ingredients I needed. I watched the time—meatballs take a bit of extra preparation, and I’d have to start cooking dinner earlier than usual.

The time came, and I washed the vegetables and started to chop them.

And realised I didn’t have any eggs.

I couldn’t make meatballs without eggs—they’d never hold together.

It’s not a problem I usually have. I usually have more eggs than we can eat, and I have to come up with creative ways to use them.

But the chickens are on strike–my lovely hyline chickens that are supposed to lay for years…but only managed about 18 months before they were done. I thought, well, they’re just moulting…they’ll start laying again. Then I thought, well, it’s the middle of winter…they’ll start laying in spring. But, no, they are not going to lay again. They’ve retired already, much to my disappointment.

I have mostly had brown shavers before, and they are productive, but short-lived birds, and I was tired of “disposable” livestock. My attempts with heritage breeds died with the three expensive birds I bought years ago that came riddled with disease and died within weeks. So I was thrilled with the idea of the hylines—a ‘new’ breed with a longer lifespan than the shavers.

Ha. My last brown shaver laid eggs until she was 4 years old, but none of the hylines are still laying.

I have been trying to contact the local brown shaver breeder, but have had no luck, so I still don’t have a young flock on the way to point-of-lay.

And I still have no eggs.

I bagged the vegetables I had prepared and put them in the fridge. I went out to the garden and picked a different set of ingredients, and we had a lovely Indian charcharis instead.

And tomorrow I’m going to try calling another breeder. I may have to drive an hour to get my birds, but I need some new birds. Now.