Sunday, June 30, 2013

Laying their first egg

Its been a long time since I've shown off my soft feathered girls. My mix of Silver Laced Wynadottes, Light Sussex and Isa Brown chickens have been weathering this year's winter exceptionally well as well as settling in together and finding their pecking order.

While talk-back radio and magazines seem to be addressing so many frustrated backyard chicken owners over their lack of eggs during this winter, my girls have had other ideas.

Sally, my last Isa Brown and top chook of the pecking order, has decided to go straight back to laying after the death of her mate, Molly, and the introduction of new hens, and the arrival of the cold weather. She is my only reliable layer at the moment.

Its all the more impressive to know that she is close to being 3 years old, which is so uncharacteristic of the Isa Browns who are renowned for not laying beyond 2 years.

Then came the last Sunday in June.
I discovered a very tiny first lay egg.
Its a mystery as to who the lucky girls is, but my money is on Victoria the Silver Laced Wynadotte.

The secateurs is for size comparison. Isn't the egg tiny?
A tiny little peck was taken out of the end, obviously out of curiosity as to what had just popped out of her body.

First eggs usually are void of any yolk and very small.
It won't be very much longer and her subsequent eggs will start to become larger and yolk filled.

There were little signs, especially the day before.
I like to feed my girls a little live culture yoghurt a couple of times a week to keep their gut healthy and boost their calcium (I have been really hoping to encourage the laying). While I was hanging out the washing on the line the Wynadottes kept pecking at the empty yoghurt bowls in the garden. So I decided to give the girls a top up. And it really was only my Isa Brown and Wyandottes who were really interested. The Wynadottes stayed on until it was completely cleaned up.

The increased need for calcium in their diet is sure give away that something is soon about to happen as it helps form the strength and structure of the egg shells.

My Light Sussex are a replacement flock so they are a month or two younger than the Wynadottes. But I suspect that I may not get a single egg from them as I think I may have swapped roosters for roosters. More on that to come. Keeping a very close eye on their tails and habits.

Do I have another rooster?

Yolk Colour

I often get asked about how to improve yolk colour. Many people think that if their egg yolks are very pale that their hens must be sick, but that's a myth.

Yolks darkness is just colouring and nothing more. It can be altered through diet or a colouring added to their water supply. It will make no difference to the overall goodness of the egg.

Carotenoids are responsible for the colour of the yolk.

It is true that free-range hen eggs often have a more deeper orange yolk and are more nutritious as their diet is more varied and likely to include foods that encourage the colour.

All commercial egg farmers are expected to produce a national colour standard of egg yolk.
Different countries are attracted to different levels of yolk colour, and it directly affects sales. Yes, it really does! Take it from me, having grown up on a free-range chicken farm, we were given very specific egg production guide lines and a yolk colour chart to abide by.

So which foods help to create a deeper coloured egg yolk?

♦ Go for the orange vegetables (carotenoids) such as carrots, pumpkins, marigold flowers, corn, tomatoes and apricots.
♦ Greens are also contributors such as parsley, basil, cabbage, alfalfa (lucerne) and all other leafy greens.
♦ Paprika spice can also be added to their food.

Creating healthier eggs.

So now you know a little more about colourisation, I'm sure your goal is to get healthier eggs.

Boost Vitamin A.

Beta-carotene and Canthaxanthin (carotenoid) get converted into Vitamin A.
What does Vitamin A do? It prevents the oxidisation of vitamins in the eggs which produces a healthier, more nutritious egg for consumption.

Boost Vitamin B2.

The egg white contains Vitamin B2, but here's the quirky thing.
You probably think that a clear bright egg white is the optimum in nutrition, but in actual fact, the more yellowed the white is the higher the Vitamin B2 is in the egg.

Acacia Tree Root Invasion

During sheep shearing season my parents were too busy to pick us kids up from the school bus drop off point, so we had to bike it home from where the bus would drop us off.

But where did we hide our bikes? In amongst the wattle trees on a hill. Acacia is another name for wattle.

In fact, the very road we rode our bikes home along we affectionately called 'Wattle Tree Hill Road'. Back then no country roads in South Australia were named. Today its a different matter in order for emergency vehicles to find farm residents.

All the locals knew our road because it is really rather unique.
Its a road that is literally stuffed with wattle trees along the whole length.

We always wondered how they grew so well.
Now I know thanks to my neighbour's very friendly tree!!!

I spent my entire Sunday afternoon trying to find the reason why there were little acacia/wattle trees coming up right throughout my lawn and garden beds. I have hacked out a few runner before in the past when digging holes for new plants. But this dig takes the cake!

Acacias have a very aggressive root system which makes them ideal for the Australian climate. Their propagation is throughout their extensive root system. Every part of the root system needs to be removed otherwise it will simply spring up again as a great survivalist.

No sooner did I think I had found the main root, it would branch off and I found I had to dig my lawn up in a completely different direction.

I have notified my neighbours about their tree. They are very fortunate not to have the invasiveness occurring throughout their yard, although I found it springing up behind their rubbish bins along the fence line.

If you are considering an acacia for the your yard, please check with your local nursery about the less invasive varieties available.

When acacia wattle trees first appear they look very fern-like.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Brown Turkey Fig

This week I have planted our first fig tree, Brown Turkey,
(I actually wanted Black Genoa but they were too popular and sold out!)

I have been promising the kids a garden that even Adam and Eve could feel right at home in, and manage to spare their blushing with appropriate foliage. Of course I'm talking about figs.

Its a fruit that has got my children all excited ever since last summer when figs were in abundance at the shops. I have been planning to get one "one day" ever since, but knowing all ficus (fig) plants to have very aggressive root systems which love to invade drainage pipes, I wasn't sure how I was going to ever have one in my garden.

Potting Fig Trees

So I began researching dwarf root stock fruit trees. Searching for possible miniature figs that could be contained. In actual fact, all fig trees can be grown in containers or large grow-bags which will produce a healthy yield. They are so adaptable unlike other fruit trees. Figs will dwarf in pots.

That is why it is hard to ever find a "dwarf fig" tree anywhere, although they are known to exist, such as Ficus Petite Negra in the USA (max. height of 3m) or the Dwarf Brown (max. height of 2.5m).

The most important things to remember with potted fruit are:
  1. Consistent moisture content (never over wet)
  2. Placed in full sun
  3. Well fed twice a year
  4. Right soil pH (for being able to take up the fertilizer correctly)
Caramelised Figs

Brown Turkey Fig Characteristics
  • One of the most popular and prolific bearing variety of figs.
  • The fruit have a beautiful brown, purple and green exterior.
  • Pink juicy flesh with a sugary sweet flavour.
  • Ideal for eating fresh, for cooking and jams.
  • Does very well in drier inland areas; hardy in difficult conditions.
  • Tolerates poorly drained soils.
  • Loves richly fertilized soil.
  • Too much nitrogen will produce lush foliage but little or no fruit.
  • Crops over a long period of time. Up to two harvest seasons in warmer climates.
  • Fruits: February to May (Australia) / August to November (Northern Hemisphere)
  • First crop will be small, but subsequent crops should be generous.
  • No pollination required.
  • Deciduous (looses leaves in dormant time).
  • Plant during winter months during dormancy.
  • Soil pH: 6.0 - 6.5
  • Full sun.

Fig Tree Care
  • Mulch well around the tree to reduce soil moisture loss.
  • Give your tree well rotted compost and aged sheep or cow manures.
  • Keep well watered in summer but not water-logged.
  • Apply a seaweed solution monthly.
  • Figs have a shallow root system, so try not disturb them by digging around the base.
  • Figs require very little pruning. Can be left for 3 to 4 years before a trim in required.
  • Prune only in winter. A hard prune will mean the next crop will be reduced.

Nutrition Facts

► High in fibre.
► Vitamin B & C
► Great source of essential minerals, including iron, potassium, phosphorus and calcium.

Picking the Fruit

► Choose fruit that is slightly soft to the touch and smell fresh.
► Avoid hard or dry looking figs.
► Ripen at room temperature.
► Can be frozen for up to 6 months in a plastic bag.

♥ Don't be worried about purchasing a small potted fig from the nursery. Figs are very fast growers. If you buy during winter your plant will look like a tall straight twig stuck in a pot. By summer it will be bursting with leafy green foliage and attempting its first fruits.

Smaller fig trees can cost as little at $11.98 at Bunnings in their Pick 'n' Eat range.

♥ If you have pets or free-range chickens in the area of your new fruit tree, a little protection may be needed to keep it safe until it becomes more established. Chicken wire or veggie shade cloth secured to stakes around the tree will not only keeps out pests but also protects it against strong winds.

♥ I have chosen a different potting mix this year for my pots:
Osmocote Plus Organics Potting and Planting Mix.
25 Litre bag retails for $11.98 at Bunnings.
Contains a great mix of composted manure, seaweed, blood and bone, calcium, gypsum, fish and molasses.

Its worth spending a bit more!


Mid-October 2013 - first year's growth - 4 months after planting
It literally started its life in a pot as a 'stick'. Now look at it. Amazing transformation!

4 months

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Espalier Garden Bed Project - Part 2

Its time for Part 2 in building an Espalier Garden (catch up with Part 1 here).

The garden bed has been built, the soil delivered and settled, now its time to build the espalier frame and plant our fruit tree.

Why Espalier

Espaliering your trees whether they be fruit or ornamental can either be done on against a wall or a formal frame like we have done. It is one of the best space saving techniques for any garden which also adds a wonderful living feature to the draw the eye. Espaliering fruit can increase the yield as well as dress up or hide an unsightly part of the garden or wall.

My aim has been to incorporate as many fruit trees into my garden while leaving enough room for the kids to play cricket and room for the trampoline. Most of my fruit trees have either been dwarf potted varieties or close grouped (up to 3 in any one hole).

With gardens getting smaller and smaller, espaliering your garden is the perfect solution, even if its just down the driveway. Wherever there is good sun - plant.

Apple tree espalier on garden fence. via
Time Creates the Art

The process can take years depending on how quickly the plants grows. Regular tending is imperative, with pruning of the unnecessary branches and the training of the right height branches to each new level.

Bending and tying must be done carefully and selectively.

Never tie the branch so tightly that the branch cannot thicken up with growth.
Choose ties that stretch or can be loosened throughout the growth period. (e.g t-shirt material or stockings)

To bend a branch down gently, attach a piece of dowel or light weight (I've seen a potato inside of a piece of stocking) to the branch and bend gently only a few centimetres and allow gravity to assist over time. Encourage the branch over time to bend a little more while it is still young and thin enough to manipulate, until it reaches the wire that it is to be trained permanently to. Then simply remove the dowel or weight and tie to the espalier wire.

Choice of Tree

One of the biggest worries about creating an espalier is choosing a tree that will work for your space.
Should it fruit, flower or be a permanent cover?

I was concerned that plum trees might not espalier well, but on further research I found that there was no limit on choice. Just about any tree or shrub can be espaliered into any shape.

Remember that non-citrus fruit trees are deciduous which means that they will lose their leaves during certain seasons so be prepared for bare times which will reveal the wall or garden behind.

Bare rooted trees in their bags. via
When to Plant

Winter is usually the best time as many trees go dormant during the season. Always research your choice of tree ahead of time to know their peak growth period to avoid planting during that time.

In the first month of winter the bare rooted fruit trees and deciduous ornamentals become available in the nurseries. If you have never shopped for bare rooted trees before it may be quite an experience to learn how they are displayed in the nursery - usually buried in damp sawdust closely together. They are simply pulled out and bagged up for you in more damp sawdust to transport home.

Remember to never let your bare rooted trees dry out prior to planting.
It is best to plant on the same day if possible.

Stage 1 - Espalier Frame Building


  • (2) 90x90mmx3m Treated Pine Square Posts
  • (1) 45x70mmx3.6m Treated Pine top beam
  • (4) Quick Set Concrete Bags (2 bags per post hole)
  • Bitumen Paint (for long term weathering)
  • Nails (for top beam) +Hammer
  • Spirit Level
  • Spare pieces of wood for stability
  • Water
  • Stirring stick (to mix water and concrete in hole)

Janine painting on the bitumen to the top beam.

Stage 2 - Wiring the Espalier

Materials (for 4 levels)

  • (2) Galvanised Wire Rope 5mm dia x 10m
  • (8) Wire Rope Grips 5mm
  • (8) Eye Bolts with nuts (152mm allows for tightening. 120mm requires hook tightening extra)
  • Chalk + String + Spirit Level
  • Wire/Tin Snips
  • Pillars
  • TIP: 50cm distance between wire levels is ideal.

Stage 3 - Bare Root Fruit Tree Planting & Pruning

Planting Tips
  • Do not add any fertiliser to the hole as it can burn the roots.
  • Add a little compost to the hole and mix with existing soil.
  • Make the hole wider than the root.
  • Choose the side carefully for the best planting direction.
  • Do not cover the graft point at the bottom of the trunk.
  • Push down well with foot after back filling with soil.
  • Water in at the end of planting.
  • Snip the main stem off to restrict height.
  • Snip out any unnecessary branches.
  • Tie first level to the wire with either t-shirt type material or stockings.
  • Never use twisty ties, tight plastic or wire around the branches as they need room to grow.
  • North facing plot is ideal (Southern Hemisphere).
  • For fruit trees there must be another pollinator tree nearby.
    I have planted a Satsuma and a Santa Rosa plum as pollinators.
  • Fertilise in August and April every year. (Australia)

And here is my first espalier plum tree...

My Satsuma plum tree looks very bare right now, but I have great hopes for her in the next few years to come.


Planting around the espalier to finish the espalier garden off.
I have plans that will make my chickens very happy girls indeed!


Golden Egg Tee Shirt Shop

If you love your chickens, you are going to love checking out Golden Egg Tee Shirt Shop.
Its a one stop online store for all things chicken themed.
There's so much in store. I love this one!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Manure Guide

The by-product of keeping animals is the one thing that all gardeners love. All that good food going in will come out as a second blessing. Manure means food for plants. Well fed plants means a great garden and a better harvest. But there are some rules about using manure correctly and knowing which types work best for the type of gardens we grow.

Some swear by horse manure, while others would never touch it, preferring chicken or cow manures instead. Every gardener has their preference but they all have some fabulous benefits.

Three Basic Elements

Manure provides three important elements:
Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) are essential for maintaining plant health.
This is written as N-P-K in many gardening books and on fertilizer containers.

  • Nitrogen promotes strong roots, green stems and lots of leaves. It produces the protein to help the plant build living tissue.
  • Phosphorus helps to move the energy throughout the plant.
  • Potassium (e.g.Potash and Epsom Salts) is a little more a mystery to modern science, but we do know that it helps plants to grow faster and stronger, fight off disease, resist pests and produce more crops.

Which Manure?

Did you know that...
Rabbit manure is high in Nitrogen?
Pig manure is very acidic?
Alpaca manure is the least smelly and lowest in organic matter?
Pigeon manure is premium gold for the garden? (4.2 - 3.0 - 1.5)

Do not use household animal manures, such as cat and dog as their faeces are likely to contain more pathogens harmful to humans. Always stick to 'barn' animals and birds.

Some manures improve the soil structure while others improve the vigorous growth.
Choosing a lower N-P-K level manure with a higher organic matter can be excellent for soil structure.


Applying manure prior to planting and at different growing stages will help your plants take up nutrients.

Remember to check your soil pH levels regularly as heavy applications of manure over a long period of time can make the soil acidic.

All manure should be dried before being dug through as fresh manure is likely to 'burn' plant roots.

Fresh chicken manure around the base of a tomato plant will mean plant death by the next day. But applying dried chicken manure to the soil prior to planting will result is a flourishing tomato plant and harvest.