‘Clucker Tucker’ seed mix

Free-range chickens scratch and forage, eating a surprising amounts of green plant food in among the protein they find in the form of worms, earwigs and other insects.

P1040086With the ‘break of the season’ rains during the final weeks of summer came the chance to get an early start on sowing winter ‘green manure’ crops; these will chase down any moisture that has escaped below the rooting zone of the vegetables, form mulch next Spring and add nitrogen to the soil from the air through the symbiotic relationships the legumes have with rhizobium soil bacteria that form nodules on their root systems.

Well, that’s what most folk do – around here I plant a somewhat different mix of green manure plants called ‘clucker tucker’ – this mix serves chickens and soil equally.


I buy this ‘clucker tucker’ seed mix in bulk packs of 250g at a time from Green Harvest seeds in Queensland (Australia). Here’s what it says on the packet: -

P1040121“Clucker Tucker™ is a hardy mix of all-important greens to keep your chooks healthy. Includes barrel medic, bok choy, buckwheat, forage chicory, clover, cocksfoot, linseed, lucerne, millet, forage plantain, silverbeet, sub-clover and sunflower. Most have vigorous root systems that will quickly regrow leaves that are cut or eaten. Clucker Tucker™ is a blend of annual and perennial plants, many of which will self-sow. In a forage area, seed can be broadcast; the chooks will need to be kept off the area for the plants to establish. After they have grazed it down, the chooks should be taken off to allow it to reshoot. Where space is limited, grow it in seedling trays and then place in the chook run or bird cage once grown. In a pasture, used as a 'herbal ley' it is a healthy addition for grazing animals. In temperate areas sow March - May or August - October. In subtropical areas sow August - September or May - July. In tropical areas sow April - August. Broadcast seed 2 - 3g/m2 in a forage area. In a seedling tray use 1 - 2g per seedling tray.”

P1040127As the production beds are cleared of summer crops coming to the end of their productive life, the chooks (chickens) are turned in to clean up whatever insects they can find under the mulch. Two week later, the chickens are kicked out and the fenced beds shut off to them. Then the mulch is moved sideways around those plants - such as zucchinis and capsicums (‘peppers’) - still actively producing. The bare soil along the drip lines is now hoed and ‘clucker tucker’ seed mix just hand-strewn into the furrows, then covered and packed back down. A good soaking with rainwater through the drip lines and the job is done.


After the rain

P1040216Weeks of extreme heat and bushfires were followed by a wind storm that swept through the surrounding district, devastating houses and trees and causing power losses. In the garden, the cucumbers, beans, zucchinis and sunflowers all took a flogging but survived, though productivity has been lost.

So it was a relief this past week to be blessed by a gentle Irish rain that fell softly on the garden for nearly 24 hours, notching up more than 107 mm (4”) and bringing much-needed relief from the summer heat. Rainwater tanks are unexpectedly full again. Yet another weather record (“wettest February day in Adelaide in 45 years”) has been broken in a summer of extremes.

P1040223With the pressure to irrigate and save water lifted, the rain provides an opportunity to fix the ugliest bed in the kitchen garden, home to Spring lettuce crops but since standing fallow for lack of spare water. This bed had been set aside for winter planting, but the deep rains have soaked down through the profile and jump-started the autumn plantings.

P1040233So the longed-for Sunday off – the first planned for over three months – must be set aside for some quick landscaping, weeding, tilling and transplanting of seedlings from the seed table to this new bed. Carrots and Chinese cabbage are planted out into soft black moist soil. Garlic chives, spring onions, rocket, broccoli and German cabbage will all follow in the coming weeks.

P1040237Cook and gardener have collapsed into weary silence.

Midsummer garden tour

P1040199A summer garden has its roots in the hopefulness of Spring plantings. So there comes a point in mid-to-late summer where the gardener must face up to the success or failure of months of effort to produce useful crops. Has it been worth it?

Reaching this judgement is a visceral experience formed while moving through the garden on other business and thinking about other things.

P1040090Factored in here are (for me) a sense of what’s changed this year. Have I made progress with the infrastructure in the garden such as the watering system, the netting of fruit trees to win back precious fruit from the predations of wildlife, or the extent of the mulch cover that protects the soil?

P1040079One of the tenants of organic gardening is that one feeds the soil rather than plant. Are the plants healthier and bearing well? Is the soil soft, cool, dark and friable?

All these impressions are integrated over time by the gardener, but the definitive impartial judgement is that made by the cook whose harvesting activities are the final arbiter of whether or not a garden is producing. Are the expected seasonal crops finding their way to the kitchen, the table, the neighbours, the cellar and the freezer?

P1040191In the background, the costs of operating a large backyard garden are high – water, mulch, seed, fencing, irrigation fittings, chook food and shed-building materials cost quite a bit while the income is only that of the displaced cost of eggs, fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be purchased down at the local organic store, plus the unquantifiable health benefits of an active life spent outdoors.

And this year’s report card?

P1040153A sense of weariness heads the gardener's impressions. Perhaps it’s the overhead of building a new chicken shed and restoring the old, or the battle for crop survival in the extreme heat that increasingly marks our summers. The garden feels as though it has survived but not prospered this year – this could all be turned around by a single giant thunderstorm whose rain would work a miracle of growth and energy in the garden that no amount of irrigation water seems to be able to bring about.

P1040119Fruit production – aside from citrus and berries – has been almost non-existent this season. The peach crop was zero and the table grapes failed in some mysterious way. Garlic, onions, zucchinis, kale, cucumbers, basil, silverbeet, pumpkin, asparagus and lettuce have all done well. But beans have struggled and the jury is still out on the tomato crop, due in about a month’s time.

P1040041The fruit trees – including the avocado – are all healthy, mulched and watered, which is something new; in the past they’ve been left to fend for themselves over summer. The lemon tree and banana grove have been trimmed at last, but the raspberries – bless them – are taking over the garden. The bamboo patch has been brought to order after a decade of neglect.


And the cook’s take on the gardener's efforts? Ah well, that’s a subject only a brave man would raise deliberately… She continues to be busy coping with the flow – bottling, pickling, making pesto and kimchee, feeding my greens to the chickens, producing delicious meals. Perhaps I’ll ask her after the tomato crop has come though and her own pressures are behind her when the cooler and gentler days of autumn arrive in a month’s time…


Making grape juice and harvesting sunflowers

P1040098The table grapes have finished but the wine grapes (Shiraz and Grenache) are ripe and ready for harvest. As I have only a single vine of each I’ll turn the tightly-packed bunches into grape juice rather than attempt to make wine.

The process is simple, if messy.

P1040033Pick the grapes, wash them to get the wildlife out, then push them through the juicer, compost the skins and twigs and filter the juice through a sieve.

The juice tastes fine when diluted with mineral water.

But most of this juice goes into ice cube trays and will be stored in the P1040036freezer for making homemade fruit sorbet, along with frozen raspberries, blueberries, mangoes, bananas, peaches, mint and other fruits from the garden. These are whipped up in the Thermomix along with some dried fruit and almonds (to slow down the digestion) and served with whipped cream or fresh fruit salad.

P1040211Despite the hot weather, the ‘Multi-Flora’ sunflowers are doing well and make a charming gift from gardener to cook to brighten up the kitchen table and our frequent trips to the garden.

The seeds from this bank of sunflowers will be dried off and stored for chicken food; sunflower oil provides much-needed fuel for the hens in the cold of winter.

The seeds that grew these fifty or so plants were in turn grown on year after year from a single packet of commercial seed purchased for about three dollars many years ago; seed-saving always repays the effort involved in both quantity of seed available and beauty in the garden.