What’s inside the bird cage?

Not artichokes.

I spent all of last autumn dreaming of artichokes.

In the three years since my last bumper crop, which grew splendidly with no attention at all while we were half a world away, I have tried and failed to get more magnificent edible thistles towering over my veggie patch.

Our garden is a challenging environment for any seedling.  I suspect the sad fate of the last two generations of artichokes can be attributed to the deep gloom that descends on the yard around the time of the autumn equinox.  But there are other possible suspects in the frame…

Yes, rabbits.  My transition to the Mr McGregor, the homicidal carrot fancier in Peter Rabbit is now complete.  But so far I’ve avoided GBH with a shovel.  Instead I got me a fine flock of bird cages.

A budgie lover in Berowra must have had a mass break-out just before the last heavy rubbish day and I was the lucky beneficiary.

But my visions of bounty weren’t to be.  I’m not sure if some small but dextrous herbivore lifted up the tiny food hatch and sneaked in for a unappetising meal of baby thistles or if the artichokes lost the will to live in dank captivity.  On the upside, budgie cages are evidently great at keeping rabbits off your rocket.

Not strawberries

So, there are no artichokes in my bird cages.  And so far, there’s no strawberries either.

My other score from the last council cleanup was a load of aviary wire and some nice hardwood architraves.  A few bucks on hinges and I was able to put into place the final stage of my termite-assisted plan to reduce my erstwhile (and totally pointless) garden path into rotten timber. My aim: to grow strawberries under the flight path of the gate-that-used-to-be-a-bed.  Or more precisely, to grow strawberries for human rather than chicken consumption.

I was pretty happy the outcome of my chookhouse-tolerances joints, held together with an assortment of mixed screws from the jar at the back of the cupboard.

Thus far the chooks haven’t managed to break in but the strawberries seem somewhat oppressed by their location.  Every day is a bad hair day.  I’m hoping they’ll be ugly but productive but the signs don’t look good so far.

On the bright side, lazily throwing scratch mix over the gate has produce a little protected patch of green in the razed earth of the chook yard.  I’m not sure the strawberries enjoy the competition from wheatgrass, but the hens have a hippie feast every time I do the weeding.

Fewer chickens than there oughta be.

Sadly, on one bleak and rain drenched evening in the middle of winter, most of our hens weren’t in the birdcage either.  Only Cyan, bottom of the pecking order thanks to her gammy eye, and Treasure, broody as usual, were in Colditz, the predator proof cage, when a hungry fox came to visit.

Only one of the chooks that had been perched in the favoured roost, the potted fig tree, survived, a fairly run-of-the-mill Barnevelder whose name we could never quite remember.  After the slaughter, we renamed her Xena as a mark of her prowess in battle.  Bold and beautiful Cleo, curmudgeonly Snowball, at least 8 years old, feisty Morgan, shy but reliable Abby and inexpertly named Tigress all disappeared or were found in bits in the yard the next morning by the shellshocked RB.    Given the sad end of Shyla under similar circumstances at the same season the year before, you can only conclude we are poor chicken keepers and, frankly, very slow learners.

So now, come rain or shine, you’ll find our remaining hens locked up every night.  At the moment, it’s a lonely night for Xena, locked up in Palm Beach.  Her mum, Treasure, laid low by has some mysterious ailment, has been in the intensive care ward in the laundry, while one-reviled Cyan has now attained the pre-eminent position of queen of Colditz, adoptive mother to three new day-old chicks.

Fortunately, Xena can always rely on her playdates.  Just like next doors’ kids, the neighbours’ hens nip through gap in the fence and hang around outside waiting for our girls to be let out for the day.  They share a feed and if we’re lucky lay an egg or two on our side of the “magic portal” (to clarify: we get eggs from the chooks but sadly not the kids).

Three cheers for the return of stay-at-home scrumping!  Low-level food thievery without even leaving your own backyard.

And no baby brushturkeys

Until they’re 12 weeks old, the chicks are confined to Colditz along with their adoptive mum, in case they get eaten by a kookaburra or pecked to death by one of their loving aunties.  None of them are taking imprisonment well.

Smuggling the chicks (sexed and vaccinated and genetically disparate) under relentlessly broody Cyan at the crack of dawn was a doddle. Especially compared the sleepless night I spent as a ignorant featherless human trying to keep the wee things safe and warm in a cardboard box under a desk lamp without setting the house on fire.

chicks-in-sunlight-eye-open-crop

They were happy at first.  But these days, the chicks and their mum spend most of their time pacing the length of the cage, apparently hoping to find a hidden exit.  Their only distraction is the thrill of scratching through the bug, straw and leaf litter mixture left in the potato patch after this year’s laughably miniscule harvest of spuds.

They’re particularly plaintive when they have visitors.

I’m not sure if all that frantic peeping is concern that one of their number has apparently gone astray from the flock, or jealousy that the baby brush turkey is free to roam the yard at will.

The little brush turkey spends a surprising amount of time close by, staring intently into the cage.  Perhaps there’s something more to it than the chick crumble dropping through the wire floor.  One night, tiptoeing down to shut in Xena for the night, I saw him roosting there, right on top of the cage.  Strange behaviour from a chick that never meets its siblings or its mother, let alone snuggling together with them at night.

My little herders

We have egg-quilibrium! After a long six months, the eggs produced by the household finally balance out the eggs consumed. At last we can egg-xit the dodgy “free range” aisle of the supermarket (okay, I’ll stop now).
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If we were serious survivalists this would be a tremendous day.  There’s nothing like a sorrel quiche to ring the changes from sorrel soup; sorrel and jerusalem artichoke stirfry and sorrel, mustard and parsley salad.  And lemons.  Lots and lots of lemons.  We’d be hungry but we certainly wouldn’t get scurvy.
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To what do we owe this embarrassment of eggs?  The days are getting longer and chickens do have that proto-third eye (okay pineal gland, but it has photoreceptors) inside their noggins to detect that kind of thing.  But with snow at the Queensland border and  the coldest spell of weather in Sydney for the better part of twenty years, it’s not like spring has convincingly sprung.

My theory is that the egg-drought has come to an end because we’ve gone from being ranchers to herders.
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“Too few and too busy with other endeavours, early colonists lacked the labor force and the time necessary to supervise livestock closely or to contain them adequately within fenced perimeters; livestock were turned out to fend for themselves… ranchers deliberately neglected their livestock and let them roam at will” (La Rocque, 2014, 76)

Sounds like us, alright!  Except we don’t grab a gun and ride out on the range to kill the varmints, which is what LaRocque reckons was was the inevitable outcome of roaming-animal-neglect in the US West.  Although, I’ll admit, when the population of brush turkeys in the chookyard was triple the number of chooks, the temptation was certainly there.

Legal protection for top predators has meant the “git-ma-gun” strategy won’t wash these days, so instead LaRocque advises US ranchers to follow the path of African herders who “have exquisite control over the whereabouts of their animals…[taking them] on daily treks and bring them back at day’s end to a safe haven where animals and humans mingle in a common area.” (LaRocque, 2014, 77).

I wouldn’t say we have exquisite control over Abby (skittish) or Snowball (faster than fluffy greased lightning), but I guess the kids scaring off peckish brush turkeys by leaping around on the trampoline while the chickens have their breakfast might count as “animals and humans mingling in a common area”: “all parties find[ing] satisfaction in a mutualistic interaction of sorts” (LaRocque, 2014, 77).

Has hanging around to watch the chooks eat entirely “resolved [the] ecological contradictions” (LaRocque, 2014, 73) in our backyard? I don’t think so.  The magpies and the brushturkeys still mooch about waiting for me to be so distracted by chicken portraiture that I don’t notice them sneaking in for a mouthful of bean sprouts (Chickens love them.  Who would have thunk it?  Or maybe it’s just our hippie chicks).
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That said, our new herder lifestyle has given us the opportunity to get to know the girls’ table manners a lot better.
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Breeders are feeders it seems – just as poor old Andy Ninja’s lost her spot as Top Chook once she stopped pumping out the eggs, now hen-pecked Abby is back on the lay, she’s shoving the other girls out of the way to get to her tucker.
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And how’s this for a before and after shot?

Treasure – pre and post egg laying.  If you’re ever wondering whether to serve omelette at your next dinner party, take a Dulux colour swatch to your chook’s comb.  Is she Pastel Barren or Fiery and Fecund?

As I’m idling at the bottom of the garden waiting for the girls to finish their meal, I’ve started to think we herders need a new term for talking about our animal friends.  From the wonderful Mildly Extreme blog I’ve learned that evocative word koremorebi for light filtering through the leaves.  I wonder if Japanese can offer me a word to describe the exquisite glow of sunlight filtering through a flushed and fertile comb?

LaRocque, Olivier (2014) “Revisiting distinctions between ranching and pastoralism: A matter of interspecies relations between livestock, people, and predators Critique of Anthropology 2014, Vol. 34(1) 73–93

Bandicoot in the Sacred Garden

Is it just me, or does this sound like the title of an atrocious 1970s Australian erotic film? Admittedly I’ve never heard a bloke describe their wedding tackle as any kind of marsupial.  Is this a failure of the national imagination? Possibly.

Anyway, the “sacred garden” is not as lewd as it sounds – it’s the name our eight year old has given the veggie patch that shelters beneath the frame of our ancient trampoline.

I’m not quite sure why she views it as a holy site.  It could be the shape.  In the organic gardening world, it seems, circles, mandalas and spirals have some mystical life-giving power that doesn’t flow through your old fashioned rectangular plot.   I’m skeptical, but at this stage in our death-match with the brush turkeys I’ll take any advantage I can get.  From chook dome to remodelled tramp to recycled children’s bicycle wheels, there are no corners here.

And the Mandala of Aviary Wire does seem to have worked its magic on my brassicas, despite extreme flimsiness.  Having been abandoned by the side of the road after a rich and full life getting between bouncing children and broken ankles, the trampoline net is more a spiritual than a physical barrier to aerial raiders, held in place by optimism and zip ties.  But to date, my newly planted garlic – positioned, of course, in a protective ring around the broccoli – has remained in the ground and my crop of red mustard and baby bok choi, while small, is perfectly formed.

It’s not looking so good on the broad bean front, despite a lavender and rose geranium mulch that makes the chook dome smell like a seniors’ underpants’ drawer.  I’d like to think a benevolent long-nosed bandicoot is squeezing in under the wire to snaffle the curl grubs amongst the asparagus crowns.  But I suspect that in reality I’m hosting rodents with keen insights into the politics of eco-nationalism.  “When you go in and take the beans, Rupert, make sure you leave a cone-shaped hole.  That way the marsupial-loving hippie will never dare leave rat poison out again.”  If only I owned an infra-red video camera with a motion sensor I might find out for sure – or at least collect some footage of hirsute visitors for that retro Ocker erotica.

 

Brush turkey mathematics

Four hens + eleven teenaged brush turkeys + several decoy eggs in the henhouse = one fresh chicken egg a day.  I can’t quite nut out this equation.  There are three intractable maths problems here.
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One is agricultural-cum-mathematical.  Why are three of our pampered pets failing to lay eggs?
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The second is at the point where philosophy meets mathematics, along the lines of “how many angels can dance on the head of pin”. Just exactly how many brush turkeys can occupy one suburban backyard?  And why are there so damn many of them?
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And then there’s the ethological question.  Given the apparently infinite number of turkeys, and clear evidence that they are unrepentant egg eaters, why are we enjoying any omelettes at all?
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What with the festival of poultry diseases we have been hosting lately, it’s not a big surprise that only sprightly Shyla continues to lay a regular egg.  She’s an Australorp, a new fangled breed, presumably with disease resistance as one of her mod cons, while, say, Treasure with her tedious moulting and brooding, is a Light Sussex, a breed that’s been around since Roman times.  I reckon that kind of pedigree is going to her a proclivity to old fashioned things, like the distinctly medieval-sounding fowl pox.

Being Top Chook doesn’t hurt Shyla’s capacity to pump out eggs. She makes sure she gets the best snacks by belting up to the garden gate as soon as she hears me coming and bounding in the air to grab scraps before I get a chance to dish them out.

But I’m not sure the other girls are getting quite enough to eat.

Now, I’m not saying that they’re wimps.  Even ancient, diminutive Snowball the silky bantam will frighten off nosy megapodes that try to butt in while she’s in the middle of breakfast.  But the trouble is, the chooks never sit down for a three course meal.  They’re snackers.  A few minutes of frenzied eating, and they wander off to nibble grass, have a dust bath, or in Shyla’s case, follow me around hoping I have better treats – say, limp grapes or weevil ridden grain.  If that’s not forthcoming she’ll taste-test the wet washing or have a red hot go at pecking my butt.

Shyla’s certainly not one to let starvation diminish her egg supply.  But by the time the other hens realise seconds wouldn’t go astray, it’s a teeny bit late.

No-one is 100% sure why there are so many damn brush turkeys in Brisbane and the northern suburbs of Sydney.  “I’m supposed to be the expert on brush turkeys and I still can’t explain why that’s going on,” commented Professor Darryl Jones of Griffith University, talking to the ABC.  He reckons numbers in Brisbane have increased by 700 percent in the last 20 years.

In the early 1990s, scientists thought moggies snacking on the unprotected chicks would put a stop to the urban invasion.  Nope.  The cluey babies will listen out for the alarm calls of just about any old bird, and as long as there’s enough cover they’ve got a chance.  Fox and dingo baiting mean grown-up life has been less brutish and short, and the water-wise mulching habits of modern gardeners have made mound building in suburbia extremely convenient.  The odd gormless adult bird might be taken by an ambitious powerful owl, willing to have a go at prey “at least 103%” of its own body weight, according to the remarkably precise estimates of scholarly birdwatchers.  But let’s face it, these owls are just not powerful enough in the brush turkey execution caper for my liking.

If anyone knows about megapodes it’s Dr Anne “Brushturkey robochickGöth, working down the road from here at Macquarie University. She’s explored every aspect of the weird story of how brush turkey babies, all on their own, dig their way out of their giant natal compost heaps – “the most nonavian life history you can get among creatures that are still feathered and lay hard-shelled eggs” – and then figure out without any parental guidance what they should eat and what will eat them, not to mention what the hell other brush turkeys look like without a glimpse of their parents or siblings.  Its no wonder they have a thing about mirrors.

Dr Göth’s erstwhile colleague up in Queensland, Prof. Jones, comments “fortuitously her arrival [in Sydney] coincided with a marked expansion of populations in the vicinity of the northern suburbs of the city” (2007, 3).  Mmmm.  Coincidence, eh, Dr Göth?  The gardeners and chicken keepers of the north shore are deeply, deeply suspicious.  Anyway, whether or not she has been deliberately breeding an evil army of brush turkeys in her secret underground lab, Dr Göth is on the money about the cause of the population explosion in my back garden – the ready supply of chook food.

So onto the final maths problem.  If there is an apparently infinite number of megapodes in our backyard, how come they haven’t spotted Shyla’s daily egg, sitting there, sometimes all day, next to its plastic companions?  Can’t brush turkeys count?

Rumour has it domestic chickens are a dab hand at maths.  Three day old chicks can figure out where to go left or right for a bigger pile of edible stuff even when items are added one by one, and each pile is hidden behind a screen.  This research by Rosa Rigosa from the University of Padua has been reported in the Telegraph under the headline “Chickens are cleverer than toddlers”.  But on my reading, 3 day old chicks should be put in charge of pairing our socks after washing, as they seem to a better grip on arithmatic and object permanence than the adults in our household do.

I have looked and failed to find for research on megapode counting skills. Dr Göth obviously hasn’t started work yet on this critical issue in animal cognition.  So I can’t tell if our continuing egg supply is a consequence of brush turkey innumeracy or if they are just lulling us into a false sense of security before brutally snatching away our remaining hope of home grown-protein. I guess we’ll have to see how this one plays out with our convenience sample in the back yard lab.

And if 1000 words on brush turkeys is barely enough for you, why not go read some more?

  • Goth, Ann and Maloney, Mary. Powerful Owl preying on an Australian Brush-turkey in Sydney [online]. Australian Field Ornithology, Vol. 29, No. 2, Jun 2012: 102-104
  • Göth, Ann and Uwe Vogel (2002) Chick survival in the megapode Alectura lathami (Australian brush-turkey) Wildlife Research 29(5) 503 – 511 Published: 30 December 2002
  • Göth, A., Nicol, K.P., Ross, G. & Shields, J.J. (2006). Present and past distribution of Australian Brush-turkeys Alectura lathami in New South Wales – implications for management. Pacific Conservation Biology 12, 22–30

The first winds of autumn

It’s been a dispiriting harvest.  No zucchinis.  Not one microvegetable.  I managed to get the plants to grow, thanks to divine intervention – well, an arresting children’s painting of Cyclops on my cardboard sheet mulch.  Not to mention, those secular forms of protection: chicken wire, veggie netting and steel reinforcing wire – in fact everything short of kevlar, plexiglass and concrete.  So my zucchini plants survived, but perhaps traumatised by their oppressive high-security environment, they steadfastly refused to reproduce.

I remember my allotment-owning pal Mary’s desperate missions to dispose of her harvest of marrows: abandoning big bags of courgettes on her friends’ front steps at the crack of dawn and legging it before her mates, undoubtedly already in possession of a fridge bursting with zucchini, could refuse.  Websites and blogs abound with strategies for hiding surplus zucchini from disgruntled family members in breads, slices, chutneys, muffins.  Whereas I can only fantasise about concealing pulverised marrows in my children’s ice cream.

Everyone else’s garden seems to have rampant marrows as eager to breed as randy rabbits, whereas I have somehow I have managed to create zucchini plants with the delicate sensibilities of the giant panda.

After the trauma of the zucchini experience (not to mention the underperforming watermelons, the disappearing peaches and the epic potato fail) I am considering giving up on planting altogether.  Instead I think maybe I’ll just edit the plants that arrive under their own steam.  Feral gardening.

For instance, I’ve recent realised the the garden is awash with purslane, an edible weed with a whole lot of omega 3 fatty acids.  Flavour wise, it doesn’t rock my world but since the brush turkeys and possums seem feel the same, I may have to work up an interest. I’m still still waiting for the sweet potato vines to hit their stride so I can make free (or more precisely, make stir fry) with their new growth and my warrigal greens have once again been murmalised by something with a sharp eye for bush tucker, so even with the fair success of “lettuce under a draining rack” strategy, the salad bowl is currently a bit bare.

Along similar lines, I’ve finally reconciled myself to the self-sown jerusalem artichokes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love jerusalems with a mad, colon-exploding passion, and I’ve tried to grow them in many locations around the yard.  They are almost unkillable.  Eight foot high plants don’t normally take to container gardening, but back in my expat days I got a decent crop out of a modest sized pot under grey British skies.

Given their invasive qualities – leave just one small tuber in the ground and next year’s crop is sorted – my first plan was to grow them in places where little else would thrive.  I set up a kind of slow motion, plant-based reality TV show: The Great Australian Weed Off. Running bamboo, gigantic grass grass that grows through concrete, versus Jerusalem artichoke, towering beauty that sneers at weaklings who need full sun, regular watering or fertile soil.  Which would survive on a permanently shaded rubble filled slope subject to occasional flash flooding?  I had faith in my sun chokes, but given the number of critters that range this place cruising for food, the bamboo’s quotient of deadly cyanide seemed to be its ace in the hole.  My artichokes disappeared without a trace.

So when some artichokes popped up on the northern edge of the veggie garden, springing from a few peelings I threw to the chickens when the chook tractor was in that neck of the woods, I was not so much delighted as resigned.  My dream permaculture garden would probably not include gargatuan invasive plants blocking the autumnal sunlight.  But after a decade of watching fastidiously planned planting schemes going to hell, my gardener’s hubris is slowly waning.  Who am I, an organism entirely lacking in chlorophyll, to decide what grows where?

So the jerusalem artichokes have been left to tower over their neighbours, and it seems like it’s been a good year.  The plants have put on great show, looking exactly like the cousins of the sunflower that they are.  I’m too impatient to wait for them to die back before I start harvesting, so last weekend, I burrowed around to get the first couple of tubers of the season for a gourmet touch in my potato dauphin.

Since they’re so danged delicious, why harvest so few?  It’s not that I’m worried that pinching more tubers will kill off the floral display or thin out the harvest.  It takes a lot more brutality than that to cramp the style of a jerusalem artichoke.  It’s the flatulent dinner guests that trouble me.  There’s no getting around it: jerusalem artichokes will make you fart.  And as a longstanding vegetarian I should know.  Baked beans have nothing on it.

Jerusalems (like the completely unrelated globe artichokes) contain a sugar polymer called inulin, which is totally undigestible, making it high in fibre, a handy sweetener for diabetics and a probiotic which feeds the bacteria in your greater intestine.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  In the thrall of this glowing nutritional report card, Mother Jones recommends using jerusalems, with its high fibre, high iron, high calorie payload  as a substitute for potatoes.  A huge bowl of mashed jerusalems – my idea of heaven!  But best not consumed before, say, a graduation ceremony, a silent Buddhist retreat or a solo piccolo performance in the Sydney Opera House, since when those friendly bacteria consume inulin they produce enough gas for a live re-enactment of the Hindenberg Disaster.

I love this vegetable so much I’m not willing to give it up.  My other half has worked this out, and now inspects any autumn stew with deep suspicion.  I’ve heard rumours about ways of deflating artichokesslow cooking, long keeping and pickling.  I’m not convinced by any of these.  In my experience, slowly and gently does it: a diced tuber in a vichyssoise, a handful roasted in the oven, one or two thinly sliced in a stir fry.

And make sure the next day is spent outside, in the fresh air of the garden. Or in the company of artichoke loving friends.

Ecosystems of evil

Okay, I know there’s no such thing as evil ecosystems.  You create plenty, and things come.  Plenty of chicken food and regular eggs, you get nine teenaged brush turkeys, slouching around your backyard, eating anything that’s not nailed down.  Lots of grapes vines and your resident possums bite their way through the mesh exclusion bags and let in the fruit flies.  A yard littered with the sulphurous fermented droppings of a cocos palm (not to mention the ordure of those brush turkeys), you get loads and loads of flies.

I’ve had a red hot go at taking an aesthetic approach to the flies, with their sparkling metallic blue and golden armour and crazy eyes.  I’ve tried to think about them as simply part of the cycle of life, but I am starting to stare pointedly at my watch, waiting for the arrival of the cavalry, a wheeling flock of insectivorous SBBs (small brown birds) that will weave through the undergrowth and snatch the pests from the air without breaking formation.  I want one of those neat and tidy ecosystems, the ones where the annoying insects become a food source for endangered and good-looking avian visitors.

But no – desite my native shrubs and the absence of a horde of noisy miners, our place is rich in  bombastic generalists and SBBs are thin on the ground.  Your kookaburra – good for tidying up your left over sausages. Your cockies will make short work of the peach crop.  But both of them bloody useless at disposing of flies.  The garden skinks have been a disappointment as well.  Allegedly they are avid carnivores, and flies are a favourite treat, and we’ve got more Lampropholis guichenoti in the backyard than we have five cent pieces rattling around in the bottom of the washing machine.  But they, too, have failed to come to the party.  Once again, Gaia appears to be napping on the job.

While the Cocos palm absolutely and definitively a weed (I like the nuggets of invective in the Grow Me Instead Brochure – “a blot on the landscape” “can give the appearance of a garden planted with telegraph poles”) my hatred for this vermin-attracting plant was masked for a while by a sense of gratitude.  After all, it did save the house and possibly the family from being crushed under a giant gum tree.

I was at work one day when RB called.  “I don’t want to worry you but a tree’s just fallen on the house”.

The SES was summoned: a marvellous mob of guys and gals with chainsaws who belayed themselves to the wonky car port and swarmed over the roof of the house, making short if noisy work of the tree.  The big gum had lost its grip on the ground and fallen sideways towards our verandah.  Fortunately a forked branch wedged itself across the Queen palm, holding the eucalyptus suspended just a smidgen above the roof. The sum of the damage: one branch lightly brushed a gutter and gave it a bit of a bend.

So, thanks for that, Queen palm (and, needless to say, the SES. You are legends.).  We’re grateful for the structural integrity of our roofline.

But if you think it’s going to stop us chopping you down, you couldn’t be more wrong. The possums might view your fruit as ideal picnic food but you’re a hazard for the flying foxes.  It’s a worry when you rely for 30% of your diet on something that gives you acid reflux, damages your teeth, chokes you and leads you to stumble around on the garden being mauled by suburban dogs.  Even Maccas isn’t that bad.  That’s an evil ecosystem if ever there was one.

And that’s leaving aside the trip hazard for someone as poorly coordinated and lazy with the garden broom as I am.  So unless I hear about a recipe for cocos palm wine before I afford a tree surgeon, Cocos palm, you’re cactus!

Jailbreak!

Cucumbers will go to desperate lengths to flee an attack-flock of brush turkeys, eh?

So is it better to die fighting than live in chains?  I’m not sure where my zucchini would stand on this one.

I’ve managed to keep the plants alive under an ancient perforated veggie net, held up by a rusty drum stand and contorted steel reinforcing wire.  Shyla the Australorp sneaks through to lay the odd egg but so far the brush turkeys haven’t spotted an entry-point.  Which is lucky, because if they made it in, there’s no way they would ever find their way out again.  I’d arrive in the garden one morning to find a turkey skeleton splayed out underneath the enormous hole these leaves are bursting through.

The bees don’t seem to have found the great big holes in the netting either.  Or perhaps the local pollinators suffer from claustrophobia.  I’ve seen loads of male flowers but the little golden zucchinis just seem to wither on the vine.  I’m trying to figure out if it’s (a) the plant aborting seedless, non-fertilised fruit (b) blossom end rot, thanks to insufficient calcium (c) rampant powdery mildew, caused by constrained circumstances (d) despair induced by a life Inside or (e) all of the above.

It hasn’t been a good year for jam making, either.  Here’s the breba crop which was looking so lovely mid-winter. Not really worth setting aside a day in the kitchen for preserving this one.  On the right, “dried figs”, but not as we know them.  A few hot days saved me the cost of a dehydrator, but I’m not sure gastronomy is the winner here.

And a sad discovery this morning –  the lone survivor of my bumper crop of coyly fleshy persimmon flowers ripened, unattended, and was demolished overnight, probably by a young possum taking a leisurely midnight stroll from his summer house above the air conditioner in the granny flat.  Only a few days back I was thinking if might be time to wrap the precious persimmon in one of the net exclusion bags sitting neatly folded on the bench in the toolshed.

Zero tolerance, it seems, is the only solution.  Imprisoning the chickens is mean,  imprisoning the possums and the brush turkeys illegal.  Whereas imprisoning vegetables, pollination issues aside, seems to work quite well.

Small scale vegetable prisons seem to do the business for seedlings and your slender or ground hugging plants, but now I have the frame of an aged trampoline at my disposal, I’m thinking big. And I’ve started looking at the superannuated chook tractor with a new eye.

Yes, it has traditionally been Andy Ninja’s lofty sleeping quarters, but with a bit of dusting off, what a fine brush turkey exclusion zone it would make.  Perhaps, Andy, it’s time you reconsidered the virtues of Palm Beach, the vernacular modernist architectural masterpiece I painstakingly made you and your feathered friends a year ago, now sadly abandoned by every damn chicken in the flock.  Even the brush turkeys don’t try to sleep there.

Now there’s an idea: if the new improved carceral complex with its walk-in prisons doesn’t protect my veggies from assaults by poultry, maybe I should start planting them in the chook house.