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Gin & tonic anyone?

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Why does lime season not coincide with gin and tonic season? It’s just not right. 

This is but a small sample of the tsunami of limes coming off my Tahitian lime tree at the moment. We have juiced and filled bags with lime ice cubes, made lime and coconut cupcakes, lime delicious pudding and next on the menu is something Mexican, perhaps, with a whole lotta guacamole. Love a good glut. 

Sunday Mango Magic

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I can’t believe that I once hated the funky taste and slimy texture of mangoes. Now I think they’re divine! So when we went to the Kalamunda Markets last Sunday and saw a stall selling the most ENORMOUS mangoes I’d ever seen, well, we couldn’t resist. They had large boxes of second grade R2E2 mangoes for $20 – BARGAIN!

Despite a few black spots on the skin, which I assume is caused by Anthracnose, a common fungus affecting mangoes, the flesh was flawless and absolutely superb. And jeepers, there was a lot of it! The R2E2 mango has a sliver of a seed, unlike the Kensington Pride variety, which I have planted at Edgefield, so the amount of meat we got off these ginormous fruit was impressive.

We got home and set to work preserving them because they weren’t going to last much longer fresh. Needless to say, we gorged ourselves on fresh fruit but we chopped most of it up and put it into large ziplock bags to freeze. Mmm, mango smoothies. We also thinly sliced a couple to dry in the food dehydrator and I then made a double recipe of Jamie Oliver’s “Black Rice, Hazelnut and Mango pudding”  for breakfast during the week. I could barely keep the kids hands off it!

Preserving takes time but when you can get your hands on in-season gluts like this or better yet, grow your own, then it’s SO worth doing. We actually went to the market to see if we could get a couple of boxes of end of season tomatoes in order to bottle them for the winter but we were too late.

Turns out it was Sunday Mango Magic instead!

 

Day 1: water installation begins

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Day 1: Trenching, pipes + pumps

“My God, the place is destroyed…in a good way.”

It’s been a long time coming but we are finally making tangible progress on turning our water strategy at Edgefield into reality. And it’s a dirty, messy, destructive business.

An excavator spent the morning digging trenches for water pipes and electrical cable in a ring around the house. A little more rain and we’d have a moat! The white/orange clay at about 400-500mm deep is ridiculous! I could line a dam with it. Little wonder I opted for raised vegie beds.

The 5,000L holding tank is now in place on the western boundary and it will be fitted with a pump and a water conditioning device to improve the quality of the well water, which currently has too much salt and iron to use on my vegies. I don’t pretend to truly understand how the device works (and many doubt that it does). But suffice to say, the proof will be in the pudding!

We tested the new zippedy-do-da Grundfos submersible well pump and pumped out all the water from the wells in order to also test their recharge capability. Please God let them recharge within 24 hours or else this entire operation is based on a false assumption. So far so good…

 

 

Edgefield’s water strategy is taking shape

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Slowly but surely we’re making progress on our water strategy for Edgefield. Sounds easy, right? In reality, it’s been probably the most challenging and complex problem we’ve yet had to solve. There’s plenty of water in the Hills, plenty AROUND us, but no reliable and accessible sources actually available right here where we need it. Frustrating for this impatient gardener with big ambitions.

So after MUCH deliberation and not a lot of progress, we engaged Nigel Thompson of Earth and Water to design us the most efficient system using what limited available resources we had. This is draft two and i’m getting excited that we’re nearly there on the planning phase. Next comes the quote for all the hard costs and labour for installation. I am bracing myself ‘cos it’s gonna hurt!

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Thankfully Jeff and I are on the same page about all this and committed to investing in this infrastructure to support our dreams of an abundant and beautiful garden. At the end of it, we will have:

  • a 49,000L steel rainwater tank plumbed to the house for drinking water (with a back up to the reticulation system)
  • a 5,000L holding tank for the wells and a water conditioning device
  • 2 x existing wells plumbed to the reticulation system
  • a reticulation system to the entire block – veggie patch, two orchard areas, planters and baskets around the house, perimeter gardens, THE WORKS! It will utilise, in order:
    1. well water
    2. rainwater tank
    3. scheme water

I am pushing hard to get it all in and functional before Christmas. It has to be. We are going away down south for two weeks and we have arranged house-sitters to look after things for us and promised them the garden would be minimal work, which at the moment it’s definitely NOT.

Boy, it’s going to be a busy couple of weeks on the downhill slide to Christmas!

Homesteading kids

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We have always believed in “family-centric parenting”, which amongst other things translates in our house to everyone pitching in and helping out. Therefore the kids have a few daily chores, to which, as they grow older, we will continually add. Currently, Hugo (5), does the chickens every morning and night (opens/closes the door to their yard, feeds them scraps and collects the eggs) and occasionally waters the indoor plants. Henry (6.5) feeds the dog (morning and night), cleans up dog poo off the lawn and sets the dinner table. Of course, these are on top of general daily clean-up of their rooms and the play room. Standard stuff.

But there are so many more seasonal and one-off jobs required that we’ve created a jobs list (as opposed to chores) with financial incentives attached. It’s only very recently that money has become an incentive at all. Twice now they’ve raided their piggybanks to head down to the Mundaring Sunday markets to buy priceless trinkets for $2-3. The latest shopping expedition was thanks to a recent concerted effort on the homesteading front.

We had friends coming over on Saturday for dinner and I thought the last of the broad beans would make a delicious salad (it did.) The boys happily podded more than 1kg of broad beans for $1 each in reward. Following this they took turns juicing a large bucket full of lemons to freeze in ice cube trays for later use and enough Valencia oranges for freshly squeezed juice for lunch. Brilliant! The lemon and Valencia orange trees are still groaning under the weight of fruit so it will likely be an ongoing job for a while yet.

Often it is harder work making them do the jobs than it would be to just do it ourselves but that’s not the point. I was the youngest of five and my family was relatively wealthy when I was young, but my parents made us work every school holidays in the family business (Waldeck Nurseries) to earn pocket money, even when I was very little. I am now teaching my kids the same work ethic my parents taught me and for which I am grateful.

Besides, I sure as hell didn’t want to double-pod a kilo of broad beans!

Rebalancing

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I spent today in the garden.

I stoked the bonfire we’d had the night before.

I weeded and fertilised the vegetable patch.

I sowed every packet of flower seeds I owned, something I’ve been meaning to do for years. (They’re all  so old they probably won’t even germinate.)

I felt the winter sun on my face, ate snow peas off the vine, picked carrots with my kids, shared seeds with my neighbours.

I feel rebalanced.


Work has been consuming me lately. Every minute of every day, I feel the never-ending deadlines breathing down my neck. My right side is aching from mousing and tap, tap tapping away at a keyboard (as I am now). But today, I remembered that I am the master of my own domain (quite literally I work for myself) so I decided to exercise that glorious privilege of being my own boss and say: “Not today.”

I am a little surprised myself at how much better I feel because of one day in the garden. If only my Dad could read these words! He’d chuckle to himself knowing that while the seeds he planted in me as a kid have taken a long time to germinate, at 39 years old, it’s in a garden that I find myself.

 

 

A glorious winter weekend

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You gotta love Perth in winter. Almost balmy conditions by some people’s estimations, it was t-shirt weather this past weekend and the Thierfelder family made the most of it, gardening and playing outside.

My garden bed construction guru, Brad Miles, returned recently to build me another four raised beds, which doubled the size of my awesome patch to a daunting 8 x 4m long beds. So after bribing the kids with footy fundraising Caramello Koalas, we oiled them ready for filling with soil. It took us two weekends to do it (completely manually I might add). I’m proud of the fact we used every single bit of cardboard and paper I’d been diligently stockpiling for the past few months, diverted from recycling, and used for our very own landfill, together with soil from our property, mulched green waste, straw from the chook yard and purchased topsoil/compost/manure. The aim is to get as close to self-sufficient in that respect as possible but we’re a way off it yet. Building compost bays are on the agenda!

Still we got a lot done and had fun along the way.

How I plant a tree

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I often get asked gardening questions by friends and was recently asked how to plant a tree (after the tree in question had already been planted, of course.) My friends had just moved into their new house and bought a beautiful mature Chinese Tallow for $500. Now if I had bought a tree for that much money and was unsure how to plant it, I would definitely have asked someone who did, well before it was shoved unceremoniously into a hole dug into Perth’s notoriously bad sandy soil, which is bereft of any nutrients or water-holding capacity whatsoever. To make matters worse, the site was hard up against the side of the house and full of building rubble as well. In it went with a bucketful of Rooster Booster dumped (unmixed) into the bottom of the hole. Hmmm… that’s not exactly how I would have gone about it. To be fair, they were working to a deadline and under an enormous amount of stress, so planting the tree correctly probably wasn’t high on their priority list.

New growth on my friend's Chinese Tallow.

New growth on my friend’s Chinese Tallow.

By the time I saw the tree, almost all its leaves had gone brown and died, perhaps from transplant shock, I don’t know. I scratched the bark and it was still green underneath so all hope was not lost. I suggested they buy several bags of compost and sheep or cow manure and in a roughly 3:1 ratio dig it in around the tree as much as possible to give the poor thing something to put its roots into. Then water the hell out of it to help it get established and cross their fingers.

Happily, my friend sent me this photo of new green leaves sprouting, which is actually quite odd given that it’s deciduous and it’s Autumn, but nevertheless a good sign.

How I plant a tree

Note: this is specific to my site in Mundaring (Western Australia), which has heavy clay soils.

This is not meant as a lecture for my friends nor do I for a moment suggest I have all the answers, but having just planted my own fig tree, I thought I would share how I went about it. How I plant a tree, like many things I do here at Edgefield, is an attempt to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position yet where I’m generating all my own inputs (compost, manure, mulch, etc) but it is my aim. However, I do try and recycle all our household paper and cardboard in the garden though, which puts carbon/organic matter back into the soil. It’s not much but it’s better than nothing.

  1. Dig a a 1.5m x 1.5m x 1m hole.
    I cheated here and got my awesome neighbour, Tony, and his excavator to do the dirty work for me (God bless diesel). Had I attempted to dig this hole by hand in my ridiculously hard clay soil, I’d have wrecked my back and I’d still be at it now. That being said, we have made a very permaculture arrangement and swapped services/time (hour for hour) and not money. Jeff is designing Tony’s granny flat and managing his planning approvals process and Tony is digging us holes with all his earthmoving equipment. Perfect! I only wish we could do more of this sort of barter arrangement. Keeping money out of the equation is such a win/win.
  2. Test the soil pH (mine was acidic so I needed to add Dolomite Lime to raise the pH).
  3. Collect all your inputs:
    • Spray-on Eco-Gypsum solution (clay breaker)
    • Blended cow and sheep manure
    • Mushroom compost
    • River sand
    • Dolomite lime
    • Blood and bone
    • Trace elements (I normally add rock dust but had run out)
    • Manured straw collected from the chicken coop (two wheelbarrows)
    • Ripped up cardboard (Nespresso/cereal/pasta boxes) and shredded paper
    • Mulch (I used some old coconut fibre hanging basket liners in this case)
  4. Spray Gypsum/water solution into the hole and piles of soil (this is not needed in Perth where the soils are generally sandy, but the Hills, where I live, is a whole different story).
  5. Layer all the inputs into the hole bit by bit, mixing as you go.
  6. Plant your tree, firm it down creating a water basin with the soil.
  7. Water well and mulch.
My Black Genoa fig tree.

My Black Genoa fig tree.

Hopefully all the horticulturalists and experienced permies out there won’t tell me I’m doing it all wrong. I’m really just experimenting and learning as I go. It’s not rocket science but it does take time to do it properly.

If I had attempted to explain all this to my friend with the Chinese Tallow tree, she’d have laughed at me and thought I was insane. So I only geek out on gardening/permaculture stuff with like-minded people.

Lovely lawn

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I was alone in my defence of lawn during my Permaculture Certificate III course, but I stand by it. Staunch permaculturalists see lawn as a water guzzling, unsustainable, environmentally detrimental, useless waste of good growing space and on many of these points I must agree. However, lawn has its benefits and none are so important as when you have little kids. It’s where we play chasey, kick a footy, cuddle and wrestle, eat lunch and morning/afternoon tea, soak up the sun, play totem tennis, wash the dog (occasionally). It absorbs heat and I find it calming and attractive. That said, I think large swathes of lawn, especially if it’s unused, is a complete waste of space and water. Lawn will never be the hero of my garden but it does have its place.

And so last weekend we laid 32sqm lawn at our current house as part of our improvements and preparations for its rental. It was the last job left to complete the new garden area. My sister, Kathy, ordered a massive amount of Sir Walter soft buffalo for her place and got such a good price ($9.50/sqm) that we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add to her order. So suddenly we had some work to do! We removed about 10cm worth of clay soil using elbow grease, shovels and wheelbarrows (why am I paying for a gym membership?) Then we bought in a trailer and a half of landscape mix, spread it out, levelled it, rolled out the lawn, filled all the holes and seams, used a 44 gallon drum half-filled with chook feed as a makeshift roller, watered it in and we were done. Man, DIY takes a long time! But it looks awesome…and Zen is a happy dog.

The cost of growing your own food

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Interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald aimed at urban beginner gardeners, which makes a compelling economic argument for growing your own food (if you do it right), to say nothing of the multitude of other benefits it offers.

Read the full article here >>

“According to a survey released in March by the think tank The Australia Institute, 52 per cent of Australian households grow their own food and 91 per cent of these agree it saves them money.”

“The benefits of an abundant veggie patch have financial benefits beyond just saving money on food, says Pen. ‘‘There are physical, mental, community and skills-building benefits that translate to economic benefits down the track.”

Winter Wonderland

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Edgefield is so beautiful this time of year. There’s something beguiling about winter in the Perth Hills: dripping trees, misty mornings, citrus trees groaning under fruit, mushrooms popping up and the last splatters of russet-coloured leaves clinging to the trees. Inside it’s all roaring pot belly stove, red wine and slow-cooked casseroles, long cuddly bedtime stories and blankets precariously hung between couches to make cosy cubbies.

It’s also a time of exciting action on our building site with timber frame walls going up yesterday and structural steel framing being installed as I type. The concrete was ground down to its pre-polished finish last week and looks amazing. It’s just the standard plain grey concrete mix with white quartz and blue metal aggregate strewn through it. Indestructible! Just as well given my crazy boys.

 

Jeff and I have been busy too, slowly fixing this place up. We finished building a new fence last weekend, reusing the existing fence panels but concreting in solid new posts and a gate. From what we thought was an awkward, small triangle of land, we have created a substantial, north-facing herb and vegie garden with a new patch of lawn connected to the patio and a gravel pathway leading from the laundry to the new clothesline. It’s a wonderful space which adds a lot to the useability of the outdoor area. Herbs and vegies (mostly greens and beetroot) have been planted, ferricrete purchased ready to do the pathway but we’ll wait till Spring to lay the lawn. It’s looking really great and I’m so happy to have a little garden to potter in again. After some time off, I’ve caught the bug again. Garden, old friend, I’ve missed you. Pots just don’t cut it.

Itching for a concrete slab

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We’re back on schedule according to the builder’s program, as opposed to being ahead of it, as we were. But how can I complain about that? Progress has been slow and steady (I’m just really impatient). The brick build-up was finished last week, filled with truckloads of river sand, then compacted ready for plumbing pre-lay, which looks like it was finished today. So we are a go go for a concrete slab on Monday. Pity it won’t be finished tomorrow as I’m dying to have a “slab on the slab” party. So bogan… but I’m just trying to fit in around these parts.

Last weekend Jeff and I spent a pretty penny at Bunnings on DIY materials to start fixing, tidying up and improving the current house in readiness for its eventual rental when the new house is completed. We’re moving the house block fence line to incorporate an awkward triangle of land that sits adjacent to the patio. It was part of my former illustrious vegie patch, which was displaced by the new driveway. Fortunately, it is north-facing and perfectly located next to the back door so it will make a delightful, albeit small herb and kitchen garden.I’m itching to plant out my herbs which I dug up and put in pots at the end of summer.

While I’m enjoying the respite of no gardening and keeping busy with a thousand other tasks, I feel somewhat lost without something to pick, plant, stake or weed. My garden is an integral part of me and my life I’ve now realised. It’s in my DNA and I can’t fight it. Why would I want to? There’s no place I’d rather be on a clear, cold, sunny winter’s day than pottering in my garden.

Edgefield Design Session #3

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The kids were in bed, it was a rainy Sunday afternoon and I’d been to the library earlier in the week returning with armloads of divine inspiration. So with a cup of tea (or was it a beer?) we set to work on finishing the second draft of the permaculture plan that will turn our muddy, cleared back block into a green oasis of fun, tranquility and abundance. It’s so much fun to dream, design and then do!

House footings and an asparagus patch

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We’ve started Edgefield’s new house project with a bang, I’m thrilled to report. In a week and a half, our builder and his earthmoving team, have managed to complete a massive site works program including:

  • laying all the services (water, power, phone/broadband)
  • building a new driveway over the top
  • clearing all remaining vegetation and levelling the block
  • putting in an extensive network of sub-surface drainage pipes to drain off all the water that accumulates in winter as it’s a low-lying back block that sits in a small valley with heavy, clay soil
  • marking out and pouring the concrete footings
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Footings are in: 16 May 2014

Sand pad and bricklaying of the brick build-up will happen on Monday with the concrete slab scheduled for Wednesday. Aah, progress. It’s a beautiful thing. Yet seemingly, so often it’s elusive on residential building projects. 

Jeff and I have previously built two houses together: one was a spec home built by project home builders, WA Country Builders, in Drummond Cove, 10 minutes north of Geraldton on WA’s north coast. It couldn’t have been easier, but we weren’t emotionally invested in the slightest. The other was Flinders St in Mount Hawthorn: the blood, sweat and tears custom design project that nearly killed us. We can look back on it now with some distance and say the result was worth the pain…perhaps. We built a beautiful house of our own design of which we are very proud and we sold it for a profit that got us where we are today. However, it was a traumatic experience with a builder who was in over his head and seemingly incapable of communication. Needless to say, we learnt a lot and have taken that experience with us into this project. So hopefully, this one will go a little more smoothly, if experience and organisation is worth anything.

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Henry and Basil the class bear sitting in the excavator.

Asparagus patch

My old asparagus patch was in the way of the new driveway so the three-year old crowns had to be lifted and moved to a permanent new location. I attempted to dig them out myself, shovel in hand…silly woman. I quickly realised how futile that was and so asked the earthmoving guy in his big excavator to dig them out for me. God bless diesel: they were humungous! They looked like giant sea monsters. There is no way I could have dug them out or lifted them for that matter. So today Jeff and I took on the gargantuan task of planting them. Unfortunately the trench I’d asked the excavator guy to dig for me was insufficient so we had to dig it by hand. God almighty this clay soil gives you a workout! Who needs to lift weights at the gym when you can dig holes?! Several hours later we got the six monster octopus crowns partially planted (will finish tomorrow) with a trailer load of mushroom compost and mixed manure, dolomite lime and gypsum sprayed all over the clay base and sides. They should now be the happiest asparagus alive (as long as I got them in the ground quickly enough.) The first residents of our future new vegie patch.

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Asparagus: the first residents of the new vegie patch

 

The dulcet tones of a bulldozer starting work on our new house

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First two days of work on the new house. No, I won’t be posting photos of every little thing that’s done, it’s just kinda exciting that it’s finally underway.

Researching natural swimming pools

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I’ve just started a concerted research effort into natural swimming pools and found this great article from American website Houzz. Jeff and I have decided to ditch the conventional pool we’d earmarked for the new house in favour of a chemical-free, biologically filtered swimming pool. Preliminary research suggests it’s similar in cost to build and maintain as a regular pool. The difference is the maintenance is done on the water garden instead of filling the pool with chemicals. Sounds good to me!

This idea may take us a little longer to bring to fruition I’d imagine but I think it will be so worth it. It fits seamlessly with the beautiful, natural aesthetics we’re trying to create at Edgefield and our permaculture ideals. But seriously, how cool do they look and how gorgeous would it be to swim in?! Add it to the wish list…

 

Where does the name “Edgefield” come from?

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I’m often asked why we called our property Edgefield and where the name comes from. It’s actually an amalgamation of ideas that we knew just fit, as soon we said it out loud.

Jeff’s surname is “Thierfelder“, which in German means “animal fields“. My maiden name is “Waldeck“, which is also German and means “corner of the forest“. Our property is also bordered on the southern edge by a thick bush reserve. So “edge” + “field” certainly fits the bill. In addition, there is a link back to Jeff’s former home in Oregon, USA.

There is a wondrous place 16 miles outside the city of Portland called Edgefield. It is a gorgeous, rambling 300+ acre property dotted with attractions including a winery, breweries, bars, pubs, restaurants, accommodation, stunning gardens, a theatre, artisan shops and galleries, golf, spa, concerts, and more. Jeff and I stayed there for a romantic weekend back in 1999-00, oh so long ago when we were first dating. It was a delightfully memorable experience and became a highlight in the “story of us”. And so it was fitting for it to continue as a part of our story here in Australia.

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You can read all about the fascinating history of Edgefield here. Historically, the property was a poor farm in various forms for more than 70 years, from its earliest beginnings in 1910, through The Great Depression where its numbers swelled, to its eventual salvation in the late 1980s by the McMenamin brothers. The McMenamins were building an empire of neighbourhood pubs in Portland and Edgefield was seen as a distinct departure from their successful formula.

Amongst the ruins of  Edgefield they saw a fabled gathering spot, a village populated by artists, artisans, gardeners, craftspeople, musicians, and folks from surrounding communities. On their journey of discovery, the brothers’ definition and expectations of a pub broadened. At the absolute core is a welcoming gathering spot for people of all ages. It needn’t depend on trendy décor; rather the people who have gathered and their conversations create the finest atmosphere (though, good music, good beer and good food often will enhance the experience). From this core, radiated such new rays as breweries, movie theaters, lodging rooms, artwork and history. But all this proved to be just a foundation for what a pub could be.

Finance came through and the gamble worked. Edgefield is now one of the jewels in the McMenamins crown.

A blending of art and history has become another of the property’s attractions, another McMenamins’ first that germinated at Edgefield. A team of more than a dozen artists was turned loose on the place, armed with tales and photos of the poor farm, its residents, and the surrounding area, with the directive to celebrate the rich past while doing away with the property’s institutional feel. Now, it’s hard to find a surface not enlivened by an artistic flourish and nod to the past. McMenamins Edgefield continues its emergence as a pub of a most delightfully broadened definition, a village of artisans and publicans. The ever-evolving mélange of personalities, events, landscape and architecture makes for a truly extraordinary setting, inseparable from its poor farm past, and soon to be augmented by new lodging rooms in the 1962 county jail facility, and who knows, maybe a 360-degree bar in the old farm silo.

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Where food ethics meat reality: killing our own chickens

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Toni Carroll, my friend and “chook mentor” who, thankfully, walked us through the whole process.

The three cockerels cock-a-doodle-dooing sealed their fate. We’d bred them from our own flock. They were handsome cross-breds out of our spunky Silver Spangled Hamburgh rooster, Dirk Diggler, and half Isa Brown half Coronation Sussex hens (I think). It was time to put into action what Jeff and I had been reading, watching on TV and talking about for a long time. Authors Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food), Joel Salatin (Food Inc and numerous books) and Matthew Evans (Goumet Farmer and The Dirty Chef) to name but a few had, over time, influenced us in a way that had made us want to get closer to our food, or rather, to source it closer to home. And how much closer can you get than raising it yourself?

At the moment, raising and killing our own fowl for meat is about as far as we are willing and able to go. The romantic notion of pigs, a cow for milk / beef or various other animals is unviable on our current 1-acre smallholding and we’re ok with that. This was, in itself, a very large first step for us and one of which we’re rather proud. It’s funny how killing your own animals for meat IS such a big deal. Probably the majority or the population eats meat but we have become so removed from that first step in the process that it has become thought of as an extraordinary act of brutality at which most people cringe. But now that we have gotten over the “hump”, done the deed once, I think it will become a much less gruesome task and one that I associate with fresh, delicious, complex meat for cooking and eating rather than the thoughtless killing of another animal.

I called Toni Carroll with whom I’d become friends through various chicken-related adventures and she came over on Sunday, 30 March to show Jeff and I how to kill, gut, clean, skin and pluck our young roosters ready for eating. While I admit it was a confronting task, at the end of it I was surprised to say I didn’t find it as bad as I thought I would. The most difficult part was breaking its neck. This is an optional step but one I wanted to learn how to do and it seemed easier than trying to chop the head off a live chicken, which I imagined would flap around like a crazy thing while I was wielding a cleaver. Not a comforting thought. So Toni showed me how to break its neck by holding on to its legs, lying it flat on the floor of the garage with a broom handle over its neck, standing on both sides of the pole and simply pulling the bird up hard till its neck snapped or stretched. Then came the worst bit. The inevitable convulsions of a dead but seemingly very alive bird which flapped, writhed and gasped for air. Despite assurances from Toni that it was very much dead and just its nerves were jangling, I found that part uncomfortable. Funny really given that I’d done the very same thing with a million fish before in my lifetime. Hopefully, this will become “normal” for me too over time.

Jeff had a go too but he opted to go straight to the beheading. And what I feared might happen, did. While making a clean cut, the convulsing bird slipped out of his grasp and went flip-flopping headless across the yard. I’ve got to say, it was a hilarious, if somewhat gruesome sight. Jeff and Toni got spattered in blood but he quickly retrieved the bird and we bled them into a bucket.

So onto the next step. We decided to skin two of them for a casserole and pluck one, leaving the skin on for roasting. I boiled a large pot of water and dipped one of the birds into it for about 15 secs before plucking, which I found surprisingly easy. Toni demonstrated on one and Jeff skinned the other. The gutting was unpleasant because of the smell but was over quickly. Then it was good wash under the tap and we were done. Toni advised the birds needed to rest for 2-3 days either in the fridge or the freezer to allow the meat to relax from the rigor mortis. 

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Plucking one of the cockerels ready for roasting.

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The look on Jeff’s face says it all: blergghh!

Then came the best bit – eating. On Sunday, 6th April, I prepared the most delicious casserole I think I’ve ever made, if I do say so myself.

Jo’s recipe for Edgefield Homegrown Chicken Casserole

Ingredients

Two whole chickens cut in quarters
Bacon
Mushrooms
Pickling onions
Garlic
Thyme
White wine
Vegetable stock and water
Tomato paste
Salt and pepper
Kale

I think that’s it for ingredients from memory. I just flew by the seat of my pants in terms of a recipe and it turned out great. The meat was really delicious. It was darker in colour, had more texture and was firmer than shop-bought chicken. The flavour was slightly gamier and more “chickeny” – just as Matthew Evans had described. Major thumbs up from all around my table so I was stoked.

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So all round it was a very positive experience and one we are now prepared to continue doing, which is good because I’m rather enjoying breeding chooks and with that comes surplus roosters. This is by far the best thing I can think of doing with them.