12 September 2008

Organic potatoes and a rooster

It's official. Meet Seth! Hanno said he saw him engaging in some hanky panky with the girls, so it looks like we've got ourselves a light Sussex rooster. Bec, when should I expect Seth to start crowing?

This is one of our young Australorp hens, Mary.

We have never bred chicks before so I'd better start reading something about it. As many of you know our attempts at trying to hatch fertile eggs last Christmas was a disaster. I hope Seth protects his girls well. He is a big strapping boy so I think he would be a capable lad. We have no light Sussex hens but we do have three silver Sussex - Pippa, Poppy and Mrs Rudd, and one buff Sussex - Margaret. I have no idea about the genetics of chooks and how the colours work out, but it will be interesting finding out and a pleasure to add another skill to those that help us live as independently as possible.

Here is my lovely hen Margaret, doing what chooks all round the world do.

And just one last chook photo. ;- ) This is Lulubelle, a barred Plymouth Rock.

More work was done in the garden yesterday. This is always a busy time of year for Hanno as he pulls out old crops, digs up potatoes and plans for the coming season. The weather is perfect at the moment so I know he will try to get as much of the heavy work done as he can before the onset of the hot and humid weather.

You can take a lot of the hard work out of vegetable gardening if you plan well. Getting all the plants in and the maintenance work like weeding and mulching finished before the hot weather, makes it a more pleasant activity. If Hanno can get all that digging, planting, weeding and mulching out of the way, all we need to do in the hotter months is to water, fertilise and harvest. Generally the mulch keeps the weeds at bay while it keeps the moisture in the soil and helps keep the soil temperature constant. You get much healthier root structure under mulch and your vegetables will be better for it.

The bare garden bed in the background is the old potato bed. Now it will be planted with all sorts of summer vegetables.

The most important thing in a vegetable garden though is to build up your soil. Mulch helps with that as well because it breaks down over time and adds organic matter to the soil. That will bring in the worms too. Forget about all those expensive chemical fertilisers. You will get by well enough with straw or hay, a compost heap or a worm farm and a big clump of comfrey. If you have chooks too, that's the icing on the cake because their old nests and the spent straw on the floor, enriched with their poo, will help you make the best compost. If you have an indoor fire where you burn only hardwood, those ashes can also be added to your compost. If you can add lots of compost to your garden every year, in between each planting season, over time you will build up a rich organic soil that will give you fresh wholesome vegetables year upon year. Don't expect great results the first year you garden but if you add to your soil, your garden and the vegetables it produces will improve every year.

Potatoes are one of the easiest of all crops to grow. They need a deep rich soil and a moderate amount of water. The photo above shows some of the dutch creams / nicola potatoes Hanno dug up yesterday. From that small garden bed he harvested over 19 kilos - 42 pounds of very good quality, large organic potatoes. There were a few smaller ones that did not have time to grow to full size, they will be used as our seed potatoes for the crop we will plant next week. Start off with good quality certified seed potatoes, but if you can't get them buy organic potatoes from your green grocer. We use new organic seeds when we can find them, but also organic potatoes from the store and our own small potatoes as seeds and we've never had a problem doing that.

These are the next seeds to be planted. I'll plant these luffas along the lattice, the nasturtiums will be popped in with the vegetables and the giant Russian sunflowers will be grown for the chooks and the wild parrots. I always plant flowers in the vegetable patch. Not only does it bring in the bees to pollinate the vegetable and fruit flowers, it adds beauty to the garden.

And lastly, here is a photo of newly born rats from our compost heap. If you live in an area where there is a lot of wildlife, you need to monitor your compost. It's warm in there and there is food for all sorts of critters. Make sure you don't have any small surprises like these, because they will bring snakes and all sorts of hygiene problems.

Happy gardening to all of you starting your Spring gardens.

ADDIT: For all those backyarders in the UK, Pebbledash has told me about her 18 year old nephew, Ben, who is making these absolutely beautiful chook tractors/hen houses. You can check out his site here.



  1. Rhonda,

    It is so good to see you back in the garden:) I hope this means you are feeling better.

    What kind of mulch do you use hay or straw I couldn't tell.

    I wasn't sure if chicken droppings were good or not?

    Many Blessings,


  2. Hi Renee, thank you for your good wishes. We usually buy mulch hay - not feed quality, it's $4 a bale and we buy enough for a year and store it in the shed.

    Chicken droppings are good for the garden but NEVER use it fresh as it will burn and possible kill your plants. Take the droppings out of the hen house and compost them. Mix with hay, grass clippings or shredded paper, or just put it straight in the compost. Let it sit for a month or so before using it on the garden.

  3. Good to see you out and about Rhonda. Your chooks are looking lovely!
    Diana x

  4. Hi Rhonda
    As a child I loved the sound of our old rooster crowing of a morning.

    Your garden is looking good, you and Hanno work hard to keep it so productive.


  5. What did you do with the baby rats?

  6. Hi Rhonda,
    we have had a number of roosters in the past, be warned they can be nasty. We had one who was a delight, he let the kids pick him up, was happy to be hand fed and was never any trouble. Even with his good nature we kept his spurs trimmed as a rooster's spurs can be incredibly sharp. As he was such a docile boy I decided to keep some of his sons but each and every one ended up being aggressive and had to go. Becareful as your placid rooster can quickly turn nasty and start to fly at you when the Spring weather warms up.

    Having said that, we loved our old boy and his crowing. It was very country and I much more pleasant sound than lawnmowers and chainsaws. We didn't have any complaints from neighbours.


  7. Hi from Georgia, USA! I am enjoying your blog! I grew up on a farm in Kentucky, but now live in the suburbs outside a big city and miss the country life! When I was small, my grandparents, who lived 2 houses down the road, had Bantam hens - small, reddish, with feathers all the way down their legs. Someone then gave my dad some Black Crested Polish chickens. They were tall and regal, with shiny black feathers and a big white plume on their head - they looked rather like some sort of Vegas showgirls! Well, of course they got out and got mixed together with grandma's chicks and you wouldn't believe the peeps we got the following spring! We had many calico chickens of all mixes of colors and sizes - some with topknots and head plumes (also in various colors) AND with the feathered legs! It was quite a display! I called them my clown chickens! They looked like they were dressed for Halloween! It was fun for me as a child, after many years of the plain white standard stock! Best of luck with your upcoming chicks! Marla

  8. My grandma always told me that if you have a rooster or two in your flock of hens, the eggs they produce will be healthier for you to consume. Something about there being more lecithin in the egg? I'm not sure about that and haven't Googled it to see if its true. Yuck -- rats! They freak me out! Glad you killed them!


  9. Watch that rooster if you ever have small kids about. We had one attack a 4 year old...it can be quite scary....oh but I do miss my hens though!

  10. wannabehippy, they were drowned and put back in the compost heap to decompose. Not nice, I know, but better than the alternative.

  11. Hi Rhonda!

    When you and Hanno were setting up your garden beds, did you cement the blocks together, or just nestle them close and fill with dirt?

    I am looking at alternatives to railroad ties (which are going for about $25 a piece here) to build a raised bed in addition to growing some things in straw bales again this winter & next spring.


  12. you make me want to do so much more........thanks for the link, those hen houses are so cute.......

    Gill in Canada

  13. Hello Amber. Those cement blocks are just set into the ground slightly, on sand. They can be taken apart and moved to different locations and different shapes. We bought them from the factory as seconds at a much reduced price. I really like the idea of straw bale beds. Good luck with your garden.

  14. Hi Rhonda

    Just wondering if i could have your recipe for the cookies you made yesterday please. They looked yummy, searched your blog but couldn't find recipe.
    Thx so much

  15. Hi Rhonda
    Just recently found your blog & love it & all the useful information you share - thank you ! My first potato crop is about ready & I am wondering how you store yours in the heat (I am in Perth so we have a hot summer ahead like you !) Any tips will be appreciated !

  16. To amber@mmm
    I would recommend researching the railroad ties and whether they leach the chemicals (creosote I think) they have in them. I've heard that before, but have never researched to see if it's true. If it is, you wouldn't want to grow veggies in beds made with them.

  17. I rearly enjoyed reading your blog today utill I got to the end and saw the rats. I have a great fear of them. I don't mind any other animal but not rats or mice.

  18. Jen-
    Great point--one I had not considered.

    We have used ties in various landscaping projects over the years, but not with vegetables.

    If I decide not to go with blocks, I will definitely research treated woods before choosing that route.

    Thanks again!

  19. drowned? I'm shocked. It would be far more humane to crush the head or chop heads of. This is what we do. Much quicker, they never know what hit them.

  20. My roosters (that we had to get rid of, the neighbors didn't like...) started crowing at about 3 months old. It was a funny sort of crow, it reminded me of a teenage boy when their vioce is starting to change. A very funny sound.

  21. Hi Rhonda,
    Try as I might I can't grow potatoes......the bush turkeys love them and have dug them all up before they have been in the ground 24 hours. Do you have any bush turkeys around? Do you have any tips for keeping them away from the newly planted vegies?
    Lovely looking chooks by the way :) Every time I see pics of your girls the envy grows!
    Sneaking off to shoo bush turkys from the garden and deal with green eyed monster now.
    Glad to see you are better.
    Love Jen x
    PS also have a book recommendation for you..
    "Art, Life, Chooks" by Annette Hughes.
    Loved it, she's from up your way too!

  22. Hi Rhonda,

    I asked my dad this morning and he said usually around 6-7 months the roosters start crowing but it really depends on the actual rooster in question as they are all different.

    We recently lost our lovely indian game rooster that was on my blog a while back. Foxes I suspect.

    I have just been reading the rooster warnings. We haven't had any trouble with roosters, even as a child and my dad keeps a lot of poultry. My children chase our roosters out of sheds and the house yard when needed with no worries, we must have about 10 or more roosters here at the moment. But having said that, roosters are still animals and animals can be unpredictable, so it is best to be aware.

    I have to tell this. My dad gave my cousin an Indian Game rooster when he was at uni in Newcastle and Robert said he was guard rooster and would chase his mailman and strangers away from his house if he wasn't home!

    We are getting about 8-10 eggs day here at the moment, soon to increase as the younger pullets start to lay. It is so nice not to have to buy eggs anymore! (plus I know what has gone into them, a definate bonus)
    Bec xxx

  23. Hi Rhonda.
    So glad to hear that you're feeling better. I can't agree with you more about planning ahead and getting the work done as soon as you can. I'm in a very hot and dry part of the US, and if I don't do my work in the spring, well, I just melt!
    Everything looks great. Just thought I'd drop in and say hi.

  24. Hi Rhonda, your rooster will probably start crowing pretty soon, if he's up to hanky panky with the hens then his testosterone levels are going up! We ended up with a rooster instead of a pullet last year, finally managed to give him away and then another one walked in one day! Had to give him away as well. I loved having the roosters around, they really did make a difference to the chookies!

  25. Lovely piccies of the chooks. Doesn't Seth look grand! I find all your gardening advice especially interesting so I hope it'll be going into your book - which I can't wait for!

  26. Hi Rhoda,

    I've thought about getting chickens or ducks for a while now. My neighbors would be up in arms if I got a rooster as I live in Suburban Atlanta. The Dervaes have ducks and they always say how healthy duck eggs are.

    I really do have to be better at mulching my beds - you're right it would cut down on the weeding! Beautiful potaoes!

    When you get a chance, can you write about crop rotation in raised beds. I'm a bit confused about this. Is it necessary as I add new compost/soil at the beginning of each growing season.


  27. I had my own compost rat experience and blogged about it here, but mine were a bit older than yours. Yuk.

  28. Rhonda, I really didn't need to see that picture of the dead baby rats. I'm sure you know what you are doing, and I know things can be unfair in nature, but that picture is really awful. Sorry.


  29. Hi Rhonda,

    I got into the habit of chucking potatoes that were going off onto my compost heap, but now I've got loads of potato leaves and flowers growing out the back of the heap! Do you think the potatoes growing in there would be okay to harvest?

    They have purple flowers with yellow centres, if that helps identify the type.

    A new season starting for your garden - it all looks fantastic :-)

    Blessings xxx

  30. If you feed your chickens scraps and use the compost in your garden beds, beware the Mystery Plants.

    My mother always loved them and chose to keep them. Vegetable seeds can survive a chicken's digestive tract, and out of three-year-old chicken manure she still managed to get four tomato plants and two squash plants on one memorable occasion.

  31. Hi Rhonda,
    I love your blog, your chooks are just beautiful. Thanks for sharing all of your compost advice in this post too.

  32. I have every confidence in Seth's ability to take care of the ladies. I'm really looking forward to hearing how it goes. The garden looks great. I'm just curious in case I can get a garden again some time in the future. What do you do with the baby rats?

  33. Hi Rabbit, we killed them. :-|

    Thanks Bec. Seth hasn't made a sound yet. I doubt it will be too long though.

    Jen, we live on the edge of a creek with rainforest all along it, so naturally there are bush turkeys. We often see them out the front and they sometimes come in the front garden but the dogs have always scared them off.

    Manuela, we don't do the crop rotation thing. We gave that up when we needed to grow food all year long. The foods we grow usually fall into the Solanaceae family - potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant etc. We always have a lot of potatoes and tomatoes growing at any given time. This has caused us problems with the tomatoes on occasions - they develop wilt diseases. So when that happens, we rest that bed, build it up again with compost, worm castings and mulch and a few weeks later, it's fine again. The other crops have never been a problem.

    Jeni, when you harvest your potatoes, brush off all the soil and lay the potatoes out in the sun for a day to dry them. Then store them in a basket, in a dark cupboard. Don't put any plastic near them as that makes them sweat and go rotten. Any smaller potatoes can be used to plant up your next crop.

  34. Hello Rhonda, I realized while reading your latest post that I have been reading your blog for an entire year now. I enjoy all your post and love the recipes.
    What kind of chook is Margaret? I have a Rooster that looks just like her and while I have seen no pictures other than yours that match him I think he might be a Partridge Cochin.

  35. Hi Barbara. Margaret is a buff Sussex. Buff is the colour, Sussex is the breed. Sussex chooks have a black necklace. If you look at Seth - he is a light Sussex - he has the black necklace.

    Partridge is usually a black mane with orange body. It's quite spectacular. We used to have a partridge pekin rooster named George. He was such a lovely fellow.

    This is a great chart to identify breeds and their characteristics.

    Here is a page with a partridge rooster. It's about half way down.

  36. I am new to this blogging thing and hope it is okay to comment on an older topic, but I have a question. I am about to begin a composting pile and was wondering if it should be in the sun, shade, or does it matter? Maybe someone out there knows the answer. Cathy

  37. Im glad you liked the pin cushion and needle book Rhonda- i admit i was a bit dismayed at being chosen as your swap buddy having seen your lovely needlework on your blog.
    to the person talking about the railway sleepers for garden edging- you can actually buy concrete ones now that are made to look like timber ones. they are pricey though but they wouldnt rot.


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