Archive for ‘October, 2014’

Pink Pickled Eggs

Feeling overwhelmed with excess chook/duck/quail eggs? Looking for something to do with them besides omelets and quiches? Check this out. Pink Pickled. Eggs. Pretty much one of the more beautiful and fun things in the whole world and it’s really easy.

DSC02195Our chooks are pumping out the goodness on a daily basis

IMG_0731Our solo duck is doing a darn fine job of providing the goods. That is when we can ctually find her nest, as she likes to move it around on a weekly basis to keep us guessing.


To make your own pink eggs all you have to do is hard boil however many excess eggs you have. I find a good fail-proof way of doing this is to pop the eggs in a saucepan of cold water, bring them to the boil and then keep them at the boil for 7 minutes. Then, quickly drain the hot water and refill the pot with cold water – this ‘shocks’ the eggs and helps them retract from the edge of shell making them easier to peel. Ironically, it’s also best if you don’t use your freshest eggs, but ones which are at least a few days old – I’m not sure why but they’re always easier to peel.

In a separate saucepan, boil some beetroot chopped or sliced and cook until the beetroot is soft. You can actually integrate the sliced beetroot into the final egg jar and double up so you get pickled beetroot as well if you like.

Remove the beetroot (you can add it in again later or use it in a different dish) and add sliced onions, spices of your choice, vinegar and sugar. Simmer the whole lot until the onions are clear and the smell is amazing. This is where things get a bit loose, as you can literally choose your own adventure for your taste buds. I’m not overly amazing with following measurements and generally just make it up which usually works. However, if you want some great recipes check out here, here and here – they’ll sort you out. The thing I love about this pickling technique is that if you like curry flavoured eggs, then you just add curry powder, if you want a cinnamon effect, add more cinnamon – you get the idea. You can take it any which way.

Once your pink mixture is done, pop your boiled eggs in a glass jar and pour the pink goodness over the top until it just covers the eggs. I advocate using a glass jar as and use fowlers as I happen to have lots, however you can use a standard glass jar with a screw top lid as well.

Once packed in and sealed, the eggs need to be stored properly. As I use a low percentage of vinegar/sugar I put them in the fridge to prevent them from going off. If you’d prefer to not do this you need to use a higher percentage of vinegar and/or sugar to preserve them safely.





Forget about them for 3 – 4 days to give them time to soak up the flavour and colour, and then open up the jar and feast away. They’ll keep in your fridge for weeks and the pink colour will deepen over time, as will the flavour. We eat them solo as they are, or in salads – but really you can add them to pretty much any dish as a side bit of ‘bling’ to brighten your day/night and your taste buds.

Huzzah for pink eggs! This is one of the ultimate examples of how food can be healthy, tasty and fun – bring it!



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Garlic Rust :-(

Our garlic has Puccinia allii. Big. Sad. Sigh. This a fungal disease that affects plants in the Allium family (onions, chives, leeks, garlic etc). Commonly called ‘garlic rust’ it starts on the foliage of the plants (the leaf) and spreads rapidly by leaves touching and/or by spores being blown from plant to plant by wind – so it can VERY quickly take over a whole crop. Some alliums seem to be more prone to it than others. For example while it’s spreading through our garlic crop devastatingly quickly, the clumping onions in the next row seem to be unaffected by it. So I guess we should be thankful for that.




How does it come to be?

It seems that excess moisture, both in the air and soil, plus over crowding plants are the most common causes of rust. In our own garden I initially noticed a slight discolouration on the garlic’s leaves in only one section of the patch, so I made a point to check on it closely ‘later’. However, it was two days before I got back there and by that time the rust was WELL advanced, but just in that one area. This is the region which I have referred to as the ‘mud pit’, as when the excavator created the terraces, the driver got more subsoil on top than actual top soil – bugger. As a result it’s really heavy, sticky clay in that particular spot, and this is where the garlic rust crept in. Yup, it always comes seems back to the soil.

We also planted our garlic closely – but I’ve always planted garlic closely and have never had trouble with rust before. On top of that, we had a very mild and comparatively dry winter, which is why I feel fairly confident in saying it’s probably the high clay content in our soils that ‘fueled’ it on.

Does it kill your crop?

Apparently it can kill your whole garlic crop if you just let it go and don’t try and slow it down. As far as I can tell there is no reliable way to get rid of it (naturally or chemically), but I’m really happy to be proven wrong if you know of a way? Please prove me wrong. What the rust does do is reduce the vigor of each plant it affects, meaning your garlic bulbs will be drastically smaller compared to healthy plants.

Is there ANYTHING you can do??

One blog I read (I read a lot) mentioned that if you prune the affected leaves from the plants this can slow it down and reduce the rate of it spreading, meaning you’ll still get some kind of yield from the crop. And so I gave them a pretty full-on haircut, which apparently they can cope with (fingers and toes crossed). My hope is that this will help them hang in there for at least another 4-6 weeks before I harvest them.




The ‘bald patch’ in the middle of the garlic bed is now being monitored vigorously for further signs of the dreaded rust, which sadly there are.


The healthier sections of the garlic bed are being closely watched with a hint of paranoia thrown in for good measure. I’m going through the patch daily and removing leaves here and there, hoping that this will help the crop hang in there long enough to get a decent yield. But honestly, I have a sinking feeling in my stomach.

EDIT (Nov 2019). This season we had garlic rust again (bummer) and did further research where I found this very useful factsheet from the Australian Garlic Industry Association. It lists a number of ways to treat rust with fungicides, including with copper oxychloride (250g per 100 L of water) and lime sulphur (1L per 100 L of water). We gave our crop one spray using copper oxychloride (which we also use to prevent leaf curl on our nectarine tree) and have been impressed/relieved with how it’s slowed the spread and impact of the rust on our crop. We’ll still need to harvest it a tad early, but it’s helped significantly. Please read the factsheet for complete instructions before applying it to your own crop.

Disease Prevention

Watering: Don’t water your garlic in the evening/night as this moisture will linger overnight and allow the perfect environment for fungus to creep in – water in the morning so the plants can dry out throughout the day. You can also consider installing drip line irrigation to avoid all overhead watering. Of course if it rains at the ‘wrong time’ (in the evening) there’s not much you can do about that.

Soil: If you have heavy clay soils, you can do things like add sand (works on a smaller scale), compost, ramial woodchips and plant your garlic in mounds. However we did most of these things and still got it, so choose another area of your garden with better soil if you have it or consider container gardening for this one crop. Like I said, currently our clumping onions are doing just fine in the same location, so it seems that garlic is particularly sensitive.

Tools: When dealing with any type of plant disease it’s important to sterilise your tools/materials that came into contact with it, i.e. secateurs and a bucket in this case. Make sure you wash your hands before working in other areas of the garden and change/wash your clothes as well – just to be extra careful.

Crop Rotation: To prevent lots of different soil diseases, rotate your vegetable families each season. In terms of planting garlic in the infected garden bed in the future, I read mixed views on how long you should wait until you do so. My research and experience (with white root rot, another garlic disease) leads me to think around 7 years. Luckily we have other spaces so it’s not a death sentence for alliums in our garden… Hopefully. Our market gardening friend – Suzi, has actually made the choice to stop growing garlic due to disease issues which are so common in heavy clay soils (which she also has). I’m hoping that we don’t have to resort to this and will definitely be giving it another crack next season in a different garden bed and with improved soil and new garlic stock.

Wish us luck!



khaki Campbell Ducks

Back in December, I was admiring 30 ducklings at a friend’s place and was quite taken by their fluff and squeak, so I took 4 of them home. Ducks were not in our short, or medium term, plan – but it’s funny how quickly you can justify something, ‘just because’. I was told they were khaki campbells, however they turned out to be ‘bitzas’, as in a bit of this and a bit of that.

Unfortunately (for them) they ended up being mostly boys so two were eaten, then one was taken by the local grey goshawk and the last one (who we thought was a girl) turned out to be a boy. But we kept him, named him Song and got him a mate called Bruny, named so as she’s brown and ‘browny’ was a tad too obvious as a name. She’s a beautiful pure bred khaki campbell from down the road. We’re hoping they have babies so we can eventually just have two girls for eggs and company.

IMG_1174Our two ducks, Song and Bruny… Running away from me

The low down on the khaki campbell breed

Khaki campbells were our desired breed as they’re known to be homebodies (so don’t try and escape), are prolific egg layers (yum) and most importantly, don’t trash the vegie garden so can free range permanently – snuffling for bugs and slugs and depositing their poo across the garden.

Khakis were originally bred in England and are a combination of mallards, rouens and runner ducks. They generally come in three colour varieties – khaki, dark and white. The drake (the boy) is usually mostly khaki colored with a darker olive green head lacking the white ring of its Mallard ancestors. The duck (the girl) has the usual underwhelming colour scheme and is khaki (brown) all over. I think our drake must be more mallard than anything else as he has the white ring around his neck.


Their Character

One of the key reasons we wanted khaki campbells was because we were told they were very gentle, wouldn’t destroy the garden, are great with kids and are pretty chilled out. While ours are all of these things, they REALLY don’t like people. This is because they weren’t hand raised, instead they roamed free in their exclusive duck gang. The fist time they encountered a human closely was when they were around 4 weeks old and I picked them up and took them home. In complete contrast, if you hand raise them they’ll ‘imprint’ themselves onto you and in some cases think that you’re their mother/father or mate and want leave your side.

Eggs Galore!

The egg production of the khakis is awesome with the breed laying an average of 320 eggs a year, so having a couple of ducks laying over winter (when the chickens stop) is a wonderful thing and something we’re aiming for. Apparently they’re not the most desired meat bird as they’re not as ‘fat’ as others, but Anton swears they’re pretty tasty.


Fertigation is where irrigation meets fertilisation – think poo in water all mixed up. As ducks need water to be happy, we gave them a pond, i.e. an old bath in the ground. Being ducks they LOVE to poo in the water so it quickly turns dark brown and will stink if you don’t empty it regularly. We empty ours weekly and have it placed high on our slope so we can use gravity to direct the flow onto our young edible forest garden and other perennial crops. As it’s a strong mix of poo and water I wouldn’t go splashing it on your lettuce leaves, unless you remember to wash them thoroughly.

IMG_1170Song and Bruny hanging in one of the favourite places, you can see the water is ready to be drained onto our garden

Do they fly?

Theoretically, no. However Song (the drake) likes to take daily flights across the valley, just like a ‘proper bird’. We were shocked at first, but he comes back every time as I think he’s got the hots for Bruny big time. In contrast, Bruny doesn’t budge, I assume this is because she’s a pure bred khaki campbell so lives up to her breed description.


If you want baby ducklings then you may have a problem. While they lay heaps of eggs (usually 1 a day), they don’t actually like to  sit on them. Generally, mechanical incubators or broody chickens are used to hatch eggs instead, this takes around 23 to 28 days.

In the vegie garden

Our ducks free range around our vegie garden and young orchard which we love. However, we’ve had to protect our young seeds/seedlings from them (and the garlic patch) as the ducks just want to snuffle right at the base of the plants or areas we’ve just cultivated, presumably because there’s increased bug/slug activity. Happily, a really short fence (around 40cm and only 10cm for the garlic) which we can still easily step over (or individual seedling protection) has stopped this. Overall, compared to other breeds (I’m told the muscovy duck is ruthless and leaves no survivors in the vegie patch), the khaki campbell is an angel and we’re stoked we can pretty much let them roam free and express their “duckness”.

IMG_1181Unlike our chickens (seen in the background) our ducks get to roam free amongst the garden

We love our ducks and often find ourselves pausing and watching them waddle around, snuffling and quaking. Slowly, ever so slowly, they’re learning to like us, or at least tolerate us, which is exciting. They’re a fantastic multi-purposed animal to have in your food system with numerous benefits and a huge amount of character to keep you smiling. So yup, we’re on team khaki campbell!


Three Sisters

As our Spring crops are gradually going in, we’re making space for some sister action to take place, all three of them – corn, pumpkin and beans – together like they should be.

These three plants are a guild of plants traditionally grown in Native Amerrican agriculture. Dating back to around 5000 years, it is so successful, it’s now on of the most popular “pin ups” for companion planting around the whole world. The symbiotic relationship between these three plants is particularly wonderful, here’s how it all works.


Image from here


Traditionally grown on a market garden scale, a large amount of diverse food is harvested from a relatively small space. Image from here

Structurally, the corn does what it does best, and grows tall and straight providing the perfect climbing pole for beans to grow up. The beans provide nitrogen to the soil, being heavy feeders, both the corn and pumpkin lap this up for their own use. Meanwhile the squash (generally a type of pumpkin) sprawls in and around the base of these two plants acting as a living mulch with its big, shady leaves. It also helps suppress or slow the growth of weeds due to this pattern of growth.

Apparently corn lacks the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, which the human body needs to make proteins and niacin, but beans contain both and therefore corn and beans together provide a balanced diet. And of course, if one of the crops fail (due to pest or disease) it is ‘backed up’ by another two – so you never go hungry, clever.


If you take a look of each of these plant’s root profiles you’ll notice they all have different root ball shapes where they inhabit different levels of soil meaning they’re not competing for nutrients. So clever, so sophisticated. Image from here.

three_sisters_bed_001A smaller three sisters patch. Image from here.

 The other great thing about this guild (there are many) is that you can plant it on any scale, so even if you have a small urban garden (like we do) you can still have a productive patch in a relatively small space. We’ve allocated a garden bed roughly 5m x 3m which will include around 16 corn and bean plants and two sprawling pumpkin plants. However we’ve also planted it in smaller beds like the one shown above.


 The startings of our three sister garden, still inside – but not for much longer.

Being in a cool temperate climate, we’re yet to establish this year’s three sisters garden outside, but we thought we’d get a head start and get the corn and pumpkins going inside first. They’ll be moving outside in the next week where we’ll direct sew the beans at the base of each corn plant. When you’re planting this guild, be sure to give the corn a head start as the beans grow so fast they’ll quickly catch up to the height of the corn. If you’re in a warmer climate, you can direct sew all three seeds at the same time straight into your garden area, they’ll all go gang busters. Where ever you are, make sure your soil has LOTS of food i.e. manure, compost, as corn and pumpkin are hungry plants and require healthy, nutritious soil to thrive.

To see and learn more about the three sisters, you can watch this short video I helped make back in 2010 about companion planting that features this mighty fine guild, plus a couple of other combinations and related gardening tips.

Utilising companion planting in your urban garden or small farm is a clever approach to getting the most of the area your working with and maximising the benefits for both you, your soil and the plants. Get into it!