Sunday, January 16, 2011

Box of chicken

So yesterday, I bought a box of chicken. How this differs from your average pack of white wings sweet chili tenders is that this box of chicken was much larger, less frozen, moving and occasionally making noises. What can I say, I'm not your average kind of guy.

I loaded the box into the car for an obligatory game of corners. Obligatory, because chickens have no sense in how to deal with motion that is not their own. No matter how carefully you take the bends, at least once you're going to hear them slide across the box, pile up against the wall on one end, then question what just happened: "Bwaaaaaarrk?".

Forty minutes later that ordeal was over for them, but they were faced with a full day of fresh new ordeals. You might not think settling into "The Hilton" would be such a challenge - but these are chickens, and they have their own special kind of difficulties. I opened the box to see three sets of beady eyes looking up at me questioningly. I proceeded to unload chicken.

When placed into the coop, two of the birds, which we've named Barbecue Chicken and Roast Chicken, were content to sit on the spot that I'd placed them and take things in from there. The third, Chicken Rissole, felt no such contentment, being the first bird to take a full tour of the ground level and the entire run. It was a clear sign that this bird was most likely going to be the trouble maker.

Having co-existed with an entire flock in a small space for a while, the first priority for these birds was a dust bath. It could have been co-incidence, but Rissole chose to take her bath in the dirt right at the door to the run. The other two were quickly organised to followed suit, digging in the same spot. But after years of chicken keeping I am, of course, suspicious. I've found that one of the few intelligences these birds have is figuring out an escape to the vege patch so-I-can-rip-shit-up, and I know my white tailed friend is there testing her first boundary.

But the true challenge of the day would turn out to be summiting the ladder to the nesting box. The birds, young and inexperienced, left it far too late in the evening for the demanding climb of seven steps. I saw them scuffling around on the bottom steps shortly after sunset (occasionally stepping on each other) and didn't think too much of it until later in the night. I set out with a torch just to make sure things had gone well, only to find Roast had settled down for the night on step six, while Rissole and Barbecue were asleep, tightly squished on step four. I thought about leaving them to finish the ascent after a good night's rest, but then, to much protest, placed them one by one into the nesting box. Two of the birds, being obstinate, settled themselves tightly in the doorway for the night.

This morning I was slightly panicked when after a reasonable sleep in, I came outside to see no chickens. I was only somewhat relieved to find that the chickens were having similar difficulties finding the exit to the nesting box, and were presently sitting squashed on a small corner perch that I've never seen used before by a single chicken, let alone three. Being the patient teacher that I am, I took the nearest chicken's rump in my hand a pushed it gently to the doorway. Roast, unsure of what was going on had her feet planted firmly on the floor, pushing a pile of bedding before her. It took some encouragement (and by that I mean a good deal of pushing) to get her to step through onto the first step of the ladder. As if they finally realised "Heeeey, there's a door there", the other two quickly jumped down and jostled to be the next through, avidly pushing Roast the rest of the way down.

Its clear early on that these are going to be an entertaining bunch.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mouldy pumpkin leaf salad with a hint of dairy

A few sad-looking stragglers of last year's crop.
I never used to like pumpkin very much at all. It was one of those childhood things where the taste didn't really come into measure - it was just entirely too orange and squishy-looking to be something that I would consider edible food. When the folks somehow managed to dodge swatting hands and fly the aeroplane through, it only seemed to vindicate my intuition on its appearance - because regardless of whether it did actually taste bad or I just thought it tasted bad - i wasn't going to be brainwashed by whatever cult these guys were in.

It wasn't until I started the plot some twenty years later that I discovered the overwhelming cost/benefit ratio of pumpkin that would have me voluntarily eating pumpkin in most meals for a whole year. For nearly no cost of time or money, I could grow enough pumpkin in three months to last till the next season - gladly spending the zero effort required to preserve them for that long.

So in they went again!

...Only that its not going quite the way I'd hoped.

Usually the main obstacle in pumpkin season is the constant heat wilting the leaves and stressing the plants. I nowadays always plant pumpkin in the understory of my orange trees and amongst my "corn field" for some protection. However, all that we seem to be getting so far  this year is a cool, "watered down" excuse for summer. When summer has occassionally been seen hiding amongst the blackened clouds, the yard turns into a sauna. The end effect is that the pumpkin, shaded and wet, never properly dry out - perfect conditions for the growing spots of death that's now slowly strangling the plants.

Powdery Mildew and I, we know each other on a first-name basis. I had hoped I had it figured out last year... only saving seed from the pumpkins that weren't targeted by my old aquaintence. But now i realise it must have just been a clever ploy of microclimate that saved those plants, and the mildew laughs at me from its newly infected hosts.

So I've been out there armed to the teeth with milk spray (1 part milk, 6 parts water) which is pretty useful for holding off the spread of powdery mildew - when the weather gives me permission. Then I've had to remove all the ailing foliage and hope theres enough green left for them to pull through. But I'm beginning to think all that I'll get out of the pumpkin plants this season is salad of spotty, mould covered pumpkin leaves that smell vaguely like off-milk.