Month: May 2013

You can’t buy these seedlings in a shop

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Celeriac seedlings, with a bit more growing to do yet
Celeriac seedlings, with a bit more growing to do yet

There’s a lot to be said for growing vegetables from store-bought seedlings. It’s quick and easy, and you can be confident that the seedlings are ready to plant right away. It can also give an earlier start, and therefore earlier harvesting times.

The one big drawback, however, is that you’re limited to what’s available in stores.

Every year, the “classics” will be available in any gardening centre: herbs, onions, cabbages, beans, peas, etc. These will typically be the same varieties from year-to-year.

There will also be some less common stuff, based on the latest trends, or on what’s been showcased on national TV gardening shows.

That still leaves a lot of plants that never appear in garden centres, including the majority of the heirloom varieties.

This is where it pays to grow things from seed, purchased from one of the many seed suppliers. The seedlings above are celeriac, for example, which is a tasty addition to the winter table.

I’ve also grown a bunch of heirloom brassicas, parsnips and french red shallots. Yum!

You can, of course, mix-and-match. Which is what we’ve done — I don’t think that’s “cheating”!

Two books on edible weeds

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Everything you ever want to know about eating weeds
Everything you’d ever want to know about eating weeds

Living in the inner city, there’s no shortage of weeds, in the street and in our garden. Thankfully not one but two books have been published to make the best of it:

The first is a self-published book covering common weeds, their identification and use. Don’t be fooled by the name: this book is applicable throughout temperate regions in Australia, including Sydney.

The second book is professionally published, and covers much the same ground, but with more pictures.

Both are truly excellent, and they make you look at “weeds” in an entirely new way. Many of the most common weed plants are edible, as salad ingredients, steamed or in stir-fries. They also have many medicinal uses.

Using the two books, these are the weeds that we identified growing in our garden, or in the food forest out the back:

  • Amaranth
  • Blackberry Nightshade
  • Catsear
  • Chickweed
  • Cobbler’s Pegs
  • Clover
  • Dandelion
  • Dock
  • Fat Hen
  • Onionweed
  • Oxalis
  • Plantain
  • Sow Thistle
  • Sticky Weed

That’s quite a list! With the plants growing at different times throughout the year, we’re going to make an effort to make use of what’s growing wild, to supplement our garden crops.

We’re also using them to give our chickens a green feed every morning, which is probably why their yolks are so yellow!

(The fact that 80% of the weeds out the back are edible does gives pause for thought. Perhaps they were seeded deliberately at some point in the distant past?)

Is this a free range organic egg?

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Is this the egg that it's supposed to be?
Is this the egg that it’s supposed to be?

With a greater focus on sustainability, many consumers are shifting to higher quality, more ethical products. This includes free range and organic eggs, instead of the horrifically cruel cage eggs.

But are consumers getting what they paid for?

As the recent horsemeat scandal has shown, there’s every incentive for producers, wholesalers and retailers to cheat. In the case of meat, they do this even when DNA testing can catch them out. For organic vs cage eggs, it’s potentially worse: no test can tell between the two.

Thankfully the majority of suppliers will do the right thing, but it only takes a bad egg, as they say …

To be confident about what we’re buying, we need to know where it’s come from, and to have confidence in the supply chain.

The most direct approach is to grow the food yourself. Our backyard eggs are a perfect example: we know exactly what they’re eating, and the conditions they’re kept in. When we sell eggs to friends (to pay for chicken feed), they too can have confidence.

Alternatively, one of the community supported agriculture sources would be the next best option.

After that, we’re really relying on the reputation of the provider, which may not count for much.

This is a problem that needs a solution if ethical food is to have a real future…

On dealing with a glut of eggs

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This is what five dozen home-laid eggs looks like
This is what five dozen home-laid eggs looks like

When we started with our chickens we had three: two Isa Browns and a hand-me-down (of unknown type). Once they started laying, we were receiving 2-3 eggs a day (14-16 a week). That was enough for our household of two, plus some extras to sell to friends or to give away.

The hand-me-down chicken unfortunately died, but about a month ago we ended up with four more. With the Church requiring the nuns to leave the convent next door, we’ve ended up minding their chickens too.

So now we have six chickens, for a total of 40-42 eggs a week. That’s a lot of eggs!

Thankfully there’s a ready market for organically fed, locally raised eggs 🙂

We sell them to our friends and workmates, at the price of $4 per half-dozen, the same price as the equivalent eggs in the supermarket. That gives us enough income to pay for the chicken feed, plus a bit left over. So they pay their own way!

Of course, if we fall behind in offloading the eggs, quite a pile results! The photo above shows 5 dozen eggs packaged up, ready to go to friends who’ve placed pre-orders. There’s no danger that eggs will be wasted, even at 40 a week 🙂