Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Protecting my garden from my two bantams

My two bantams are much loved, and truly free range. They have at least 500sq metres to scratch about in, and they do a very thorough job. It does seem that they could do with 2000 sq m and maybe even that wouldn't be enough, because they go over the same ground twice or three times in a day.

I get upset when they dig up freshly planted seedlings or eat my lettuces, so after much previous heartache, where they've ruined a bed of newly planted seedlings (raised from seed), I have learned!! Nothing gets planted without adequate protection. My garden is draped with enviromesh, netting and I make use of lots of chicken wire.
Heavy mulch in the herb garden.

This does look a bit odd; for instance I planted bush beans and they all emerged through the holes of chicken wire, which I put down to stop the chickens from scratching off the heavy mulch I had put down. The beans look great so far! Thanks to the chickens I have very few insect problems on the ground. Cutworm, snails and most leaf eating bugs are hardly evident. Because the chickens turn the mulch continually, it can't be accused of harbouring unwelcome pests. At the same time their poops are very useful fertilizer, which is spread evenly over the garden, and is firm enough to pick up if it lands on the pathway. (I remember trying to keep ducks at one stage, and their squirts were a pain.)
Enviromesh is wonderful stuff for the organic gardener! It not only keeps the chickens off the vegetable beds, but also cats, dogs and birds. It is designed to keep insects off (such as the cabbage butterfly), while allowing light, wind and rain through. Unfortunately I don't think one can get it in SA - I've always bought mine in the UK. Once you have it, it lasts for years and years. I also bought fine green netting this year (also in the UK) to drape over my youngberries. It has also been employed to keep the chickens off certain beds which I had covered with straw - and they were most determined to scratch that off!!

Another way of protecting my newly planted seedlings and small plants is by placing slate or bricks on either side. The chickens like moist areas and tend to go straight for where one has just watered the new plant. So the garden is dotted with stones and slate or bricks which not only keep the plants in place, but also trap the moisture for the plants and give them a better chance of getting established.

Before I had chickens it was quite easy to collect a bucket full of snails at a time in my garden. Now it is difficult to find one. They do their best work eating slug and snail eggs, but will eat small snails and even big ones, when there is an insect shortage. As I've said before they are good at catching mice too! This does force me to keep my mind on the delicious egg at breakfast time, and NOT how it was produced!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Butternut and pumpkin seed bread

Baking always perks me up if I'm in need of a bit of a boost. I developed this recipe and it makes a lovely loaf, light in texture and an interesting yellow colour. Yummy.

Butternut and pumpkin seed bread

I Kg stone-ground brown flour

1 sachet dried instant yeast

2 teaspoons sea salt

500g cooked butternut squash (steamed or baked)

¼ cup olive oil (25g)

1 egg

100g pumpkin seeds and some for decorating the top of the loaves

300ml warm water


In a bowl, mix the flour, salt and dried yeast together. Add the pureed butternut, olive oil, egg, and warm water and mix thoroughly. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead well until the dough is smooth and elastic. (You can use a machine to do this). Add the pumpkin seeds and knead them into the dough. Allow the dough to rise for a couple of hours in a warm place.

When it is well risen, punch it down, knead briefly until smooth, and shape into loaves. Press them onto some pumpkin seeds and place on a floured baking tray to rise again. When they are about double in size, bake in a hot oven 450 deg C for about 35 minutes.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Water matters

We've just had some very welcome rain here in the Cape. From now on every shower is a blessing because soon we will reach summer and three months of possibly no rain at all with a dry month or more added on, depending how kind the rain Gods are!
For the veggie patch, herb garden and the olive trees I have water tanks which give me 4000 litres of rainwater. This just about sees me through the dry season. I'm hoping to add another tank in the future, depending on how kind the money Gods are!

It can be quite a struggle to ensure that the garden doesn't die off as it did in the severe drought we had a few years ago. In fact the herb garden has never really recovered and I am trying to establish a secure microclimate by planting hardy shrubs like Artemisia afra around which I can establish softer herbs. This is a work in progress.

All around the garden are bird baths (often used by the dogs on a hot day, returning from a walk!) It's lovely to see the birds enjoying the water on a hot summer day and there are many birds that love the herb garden because it is lush and shady, with plenty to eat as they either share the chickens food or help themselves to fruit or even, in the case of mousebirds, eat spinach.
Under the dripping geyser overflow from the roof there is a water feature which at present houses some very fat tadpoles! The chickens like this water and make a beeline for it when they leave the coop in the mornings.

In one section of the garden is a fish pond which attracts dragon flies - always a lovely sight in summer. I have heard that pond water is nutritious for plants, so I periodically water the olive trees with bucketsful of pond water, and fill the pond with clean water. It doesn't have a pump so keeping the algae levels down has to be done manually (or should I say womanually).

All the water from the kitchen sink is directed into the herb garden. It was very easy to modify the system. I am very careful that no strong detergents or very hot water go down the sink. Luckily the dishwasher and washing mashine are in the laundry room, so the water from them drains away separately. In summer there is a bucket in the shower which fills up nicely from a shower or two, and is then carried out to help subsidise the watering. Lots of extra weight bearing exercise!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lemon balm - herb to soothe

I was amazed to see my two chickens have a feast of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) the other day. The one started chomping at the leaves, and the other soon copied her after first trying a bit of Verbena which was growing intertwined with the lemon balm - and obviously not liking that! I have never seen them eat this before and am extremely curious to know whether they eat it regularly or whether they both needed a "pick me up" for some or other reason.

This is the time of year (Spring here in SA) when the lemon balm is at it's most lush: later it gets straggly in the summer heat. It goes without saying that this is also the time of year to harvest it, when it is at it's peak. The leaves need to dry as quickly as possible, and be kept whole until use. In this way the essential oils are not released and you will be able to smell the lovely lemony perfume up to a year later when you crush the leaves. I like to make a tincture of the fresh leaves. This captures all the elements of the luscious fresh plant.

Lemon balm is remarkably complex in its medicinal actions. Two of the most important actions for me are its anti-viral and its anti-anxiety functions. I put it in my anti-viral mix for the treatment of viral infections or post viral conditions. It is especially rich in rosmarinic acid, which has anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. Apparently this has been tested on mice suffering from encephalitis with excellent results.
Historically lemon balm was believed to be a great remedy for the nervous system and was infused in wine to make a tonic for the nerves and the heart. (Rosemary has been similarly used.) It is excellent for anxiety and depression. It is also a very pleasant tasting herb which when used to make a tea, is very good for fevers and will calm a restless feverish child very nicely! No need for drugs to lower the fever - the lemon balm causes perspiration which breaks the fever.

Maybe my chickens were feeling off colour and instinctively knew that the lemon balm was the right medicine?? I wish I knew!