Chooks usually get a bad rap when it comes to intelligence, and I’ll admit they’ve never struck me as being the smartest of birds – although there is evidence to suggest that, like sheep, which also have an unfortunate reputation when it comes to intelligence – chooks are a lot smarter than they seem. But over the years we‘ve kept chooks there have been a few who have stood out as definite personalities, and some can certainly have distinct characteristics. There have been some that proved permanently flighty, and overly protective of their chicks, while others have been pretty laid back about the whole mothering experience. Interestingly these are often the ones who prove to be the most successful mothers, as well as the ones whose offspring tend to be the most laid back. Nature or nurture?
A surprise this season has been witnessing the cooperative approach to motherhood displayed by two hens who decided to share the nest and so were both involved in hatching the very few eggs we left them. Of the two chicks that hatched, only one has survived – we think the other was probably inadvertently squashed by one or other hen – and parenting duties have been shared, resulting in what I think is a ‘smothering’ and it will be interesting to note how this chicken develops once the mothers abandon it, which they eventually will do.
This season we have a population explosion resulting from several chooks going bush to lay their eggs, and our failure to find them in time, but among the crowd Sandy Chook stands out. At least she does at the moment as the berries are ripening. She just loves berries, and is wise to the time when I start picking them. Needless to say the boysenberries, strawberries and raspberries are all covered so neither she, her feathered cousins, or the tiresome, invasive and determined blackbirds, can get in to nick them, but she always has her eye to the main chance and would be in like Flynn if she could. As would the blackbirds who are cunning personified when it comes to locating the smallest hole in the netting in the hope of sneaking a feed. I do give Sandy Chook the ones that have been half-eaten by the expletive blackbirds, and naturally enough she’s wise to this too so hangs around in daily expectation of such largesse.
For the rest of the year she’s mostly indistinguishable from all the other chooks when it comes to personality, although she always stands out due to her colour since most of our chooks are predominantly black, but come summer and berry time I can guarantee there will be a loyal, hopeful and expectant follower on morning berry picking tasks.
By the time March comes around all the daily harvesting of produce does become a bit tedious and rather a grind, but there are compensations. One of them is having a steady crop of raspberries and strawberries for weeks on end.
The strawberries have been into their second fruiting for a week or so now and are producing well, while we have two varieties of raspberries; one an early fruiting variety, and the other that produces in autumn. Despite the weather being far from autumnal so far this year, the latter variety is going gangbusters and there are loads more berries to come. Which is lovely, and I’m definitely not complaining, but at the same time I’m rather over having to devote time to picking them each day, and the scratched arms that go with the territory and are an occupational hazard.
I was in the UK last year from early May, but for almost the entire month John continued to enjoy a generous handful of raspberries for his dessert each evening, something he gleefully told me each time we spoke, and the way things are looking this year will be no different – unless the weather changes dramatically of course which isn’t looking too likely at the moment.
As for the tomatoes, still they come, although they are slowing up rapidly. I’ve chopped, sliced diced, and cooked them up with the usual onions, garlic, chilli, capsicum and zucchini; made relish, and given masses away, and once again the freezer is chockers, so the pressure is off when it’s time for winter-warming casseroles and pasta dishes.
This year though we also have more than a few containers of raspberries and boysenberries jostling for freezer space, which is of course a very satisfying position to be in as we head towards cooler weather, darker days, and the inevitable colder nights. In the meantime the Tomato Cookbook has pride of place on the bench as I seek out new recipes to keep pace with these fabulous fruity vegetables while they remain so abundant.
At least not when the temperatures are as warm as they’ve been this summer, and there’s a lot of harvesting to be done. I’m rather over getting up at 5.30 every morning to walk Della dog, and then start the picking.
Breakfast has become a hasty meal for the duration, fitted in somewhere along the line before it gets too hot.
We had an abundance of boysenberries this year – which is excellent as I love them but they are a pain to pick. Literally. The raspberries are chugging along quite steadily and will continue to do so for at least another four months due to the different varieties we have growing, one of which is an autumn produce. All very yummy and delicious but picking them is also a pain so for these two berry varieties long sleeves are essential and in the weather we’ve been enjoying this is not comfortable. Hence starting as early as possible.
Despite removing some of the thornless blackberry vines last year we still have one, and of course there are plenty of berries on it which are just ripening nicely. At least I can strip off to short-sleeves when picking them.
And the plums have started as well so it’s all on to beat the birds although we did cover the greengage tree after the parrots decided to breakfast on these plums a few days ago. This is the first year we’ve had fruit, and they are prolific – as are the plums that pollinate the greengage – the Prune D’Argan which according to the book we have is the oldest known plum tree in the world.
Last but not least are the tomatoes, which are a bit late getting underway but have now started, and there are loads, so the kitchen bench is currently full of bowls of assorted produce that I shall have to work up enthusiasm to do something with.
So where is John in all of this? Well, he’s not been slouching around. All the watering is down to him – which includes all those native trees and bushes he’s been nurturing so carefully, which he’s grown from seed or cuttings, as well as the rest of the garden. For some it’s a hand watering job with buckets of water.
So as I swelter over picking produce I keep reminding myself I will appreciate all this bounty in the winter months when I go to the freezer(s) and from the selection that’s there, pick out a container of some of this home-grown produce to make those winter-warming casseroles and crumbles.