Up to now, we’ve been planting a variety of stuff for the chooks – wheat, barley, oats, lettuce and spinach to name a few, which they then demolish with great enjoyment and great speed too. We’ve recently started sowing these same plants in feeding frames, and they are now starting to provide food to the chooks.
But what about native plants? Now, firstly getting good information on these plants and secondly getting hold of the plants themselves turned out to be quite a mission. After searching for a few days, I even took the liberty of emailing Mr Pascoe himself. He replied with a very brief message listing two nurseries that supplied tube stock of Kangaroo grass and Wallaby grass, which are two wheat alternatives traditionally used by the aboriginals. Buying a wheat type plant in tube stock seemed a bit strange, especially if the chickens are going to devour it. Hopefully with our frames we can keep them growing perpetually. But another problem was that these nurseries were both on the other side of Melbourne. I was really keen to do this experiment, but driving more than two hours for 20 little plants did not seem to make sense. I mean, we are trying to reduce our ecological footprint. Spending a lot of fuel (and time) for a few plants that were to be devoured by the chooks just doesn’t make ecological sense.
So the search continued… Eventually I found some Warrigal Greens (also called New Zealand spinach) seeds at Rangeview Seeds. They don’t grow very high, so I figured that I could plant them along the low sides, so the chooks can eat whatever grows out, similar to conventional spinach or the thin leaf lettuce we use in the other frames. So those seeds were ordered and they arrived very swiftly. I eventually found Geelong Native Plants, like on the 5th page of working through the search engine. They stocked some Wallaby grass and they’re located on the road back from surfing. Their grasses were also in tube stock, but at least the nursery is on my way. It’s a bit better than driving more than 2 hours for an experiment! However, when I phoned the nursery, the lady who runs it didn’t sound too enthusiastic about my idea. She said that she had chooks as well and that they ate the bugs on and in the ground between the kangaroo grass at her place, and not the actual plants… So I realised it’s all a bit of a long shot, but I’m sure they’ll eat the seeds. Anyway, the plant side of the experiment won’t cost me too much if I can source it locally. The frame itself will be very reusable. If the native greens don’t work out I can always resort to the conventional stuff we’ve been growing in the other frames.
I thought this was going to be a short post, but like it so often happens – there’s always the story within the story. So this past Saturday the tides and winds and planets all lined up, and I didn’t need to rush back, so I could stop at Geelong Native Plants on my way back from a quick surf. I must have driven past there a million times, but I’ve never seen the sign. Well it is kind of hidden away. At first, it looks like you’ve driven into someone’s home on a bit of an acreage, which is exactly what it is. This is no commercial setup – the nursery is a small area behind the house and the chook yard, with a greenhouse and a very interesting collection of native plants exquisitely neatly laid out. In fact the whole yard is neat, homely, green, stuff growing – you can see some lives here that knows how to grow and care for stuff. The lady who runs the nursery, Christine Russel, has such a wealth of knowledge of the local plants, where they grow, their growth habits, when they flower, which ones bees like, and on and on and on. We talked about compost and chooks and biodynamics and who knows what else – she even taught me a better way to make lavender cuttings. What an interesting visit. Highly recommended if you’re in the area and you need native plants. Take your time, it’s worth it – well for me it was.
In the end I walked out there not only with my 6 wallaby grasses, but also with a hoard of other plants to fill in the gaps between the natives in the Dreamland shelterbelt – Boobiallas (6), Coastal tee trees (4), a few year-round flowering Goodenias (6) for the bees and a few Manuka tea trees (4) too – and a wealth of new knowledge. So far we’ve had mixed success in the shelterbelt, most likely due to the gum trees across the fence in the school yard. The Boobiallas I got from Nick down at Otways Indigenous Nursery in Aireys Inlet are growing very well, as are the She-oaks and Wattles I got from him. However, the bottle brushes and Lilly pillies which I got from a conventional nursery, not so much… never mind not growing at all, they hardly survived the mild frost we had this year. The lesson I’ve learnt is that in such a tough area, it’s better to plant hardy native plants.
New natives planted in the shelterbelt
Later that day as I planted the native feeding frame and the shelterbelt, the weather was incredibly dynamic. We got squalls of rain bucketing down and then it would clear to bright sunshine and 20 minutes later it would do the same again. Micaela helped to plant the little natives, which of course had to be irrigated and protected too. That’s a golden rule in our place – any plant that doesn’t have a little dripper, doesn’t survive the dry summer. The chooks don’t really go into that area, but the ducks frequently forage around there. I can just imagine what they would do with some freshly watered young tube stock seedlings. So the young seedlings had to be protected too. With the frequent rains, I unfortunately didn’t have my phone to take photographs as she planted and neither of the beautiful rainbows. Now I wish I had run and fetched it, but then I was too caught up in the moment – it was as if nature was blessing the planting of the native plants and giving them fresh rain to kick-start their lives at Dreamland.