It’s Spring festival time in our part of the world and a couple of weekends ago our local Council ran the annual Spring Fair at Fagan Park. Normally I stay right away from this sort of event especially this one that attracts around 10,000 people, but when we were invited to bring our chooks along for the day as part of the Eco Garden display, we decided to make it our inaugural visit.
Fagan Park lies in the beautiful semi-rural area of Galston in Sydney’s north west which is about 20 minutes from our home. The original and magnificent property including the family homestead ‘Netherby Cottage’ was kept in the family until the 1980’s when it was bequeathed as a parkland area for the local community. It is now managed under the care and control of our local council and provides a fabulous green space with passive recreational facilities, remnant pockets of important bushland and sweeping views of the surrounding area.
About 12 years ago a lower section of the homestead grounds was converted into a sustainable demonstration garden, now called the ‘Eco Garden’. And our close friend Tanya is the head garden co-ordinator. How good is that!
When the Eco Garden was originally established Permaculture principles were applied in the installation of a series of vegetable beds, path ways, a food forest with a fantastic array of fruit trees, a large rotunda for educational classes, a herb spiral, banana paw paw circle, a couple of ponds, sheds and compost bay. Since those early days, the garden has had fluctuating interest and has mainly been kept alive through the dedication of local volunteers. In recent years, mainly due to a global interest in all things green and sustainable, the garden has received a renewed interest from council which has helped fund a couple of part-time eco gardeners.
Tanya won the position of head garden co-ordinator a few years ago and I can assure you, she was the right choice for the position. With a strong interest in Permaculture and a passion for plants and gardening her work is a testimony to the garden’s current condition.
We have watched as Tanya has grown into an incredibly capable and resourceful gardener with an insatiable enthusiasm for getting the job done. As she slowly returns to work after having her second child Aiden, we can’t wait to see what magic she’ll unfold next in the special community space called the ‘Eco Garden’.
With the Festival rapidly approaching and the garden looking it’s best, the Eco Garden was in need of one final touch….a couple of demo chooks. Let’s face it, what would a Permaculture garden be without a couple of clucking chickens and what better chickens to fill the niche but our two very own hens, Dusta and Pipsqueak.
Although they were mostly confined to a pen for the day they happily accepted their position as official grass scratchers and spent their time dining out on bugs, grubs, ants and comfrey leaves. The day wouldn’t have been the same without the company of a local scarecrow and lucky for Dusta and Pipsqueak that their vision is not 20/20 as it was actually the scariest looking scarecrow I’ve ever seen with it’s screwball eyes and taped head!
There’s something about animals and children isn’t there. They’re like two inseparable magnets but what a great way to provide a safe interactive environment for kids and for some, an exciting chance to see chickens up close for the first time. As usual the little ones had lots of important questions like ‘what are their names’, ‘do they have teeth’ and ‘where do the eggs come out’ and from the more clever teenagers…’why did the chicken cross the road’. Don’t we just love them!
As for the adults, there was definitely a genuine interest from many about the pros and cons of keeping backyard chickens and generally there is quite a bit of interest here in Sydney at the moment.
Earlier this year I wrote a post about some of the realties of keeping chooks called ‘Chook Poo on Your Shoe’ and you can read it here if you like and once again talking about both the benefits and disadvantages of keeping chickens was actually an important part of the day’s exercise. It seems that quite a few people have a very romantic idea of fluffy chickens wandering through their glorious gardens and manicured lawns, thoughtfully and delicately selecting a worm here and there and interacting with the children in some fanciful way. As chook owners and animal lovers we can certainly attest to the many pleasures that any pet can bring when well cared for and properly housed but we’re also fully aware of the havoc that a single minded chook can cause to any garden if left to their own devices. They can turn a healthy lettuce into a pile of shredded wilted mush within seconds and cannot be trusted for a minute to tend to the vegie patch on their own!
But if people understand that the humble chook does have an important role when properly integrated into the urban backyard and by applying Permaculture principles can provide many services such as manure, compost ingredients, a soil aeration service, pest management, feathers, food and companionship and entertainment. Likewise, an integrated and well designed garden can also provide many benefits to the chicken including lice and other pest management, diet variety and nutrient intake, muscular exercise and weight management and general overall wellbeing and contentment.
I was glad we had the opportunity to share our hens and knowledge with members of our community on the day. Both the hens and I thought it was well worth the effort and the girls were especially chuffed as their admirers rewarded them with an endless supply of young comfrey leaves poked through the wire cage, and I with rich golden egg yolks the following day.
I hope you’ll join me next time when I tell you about….a magnificent new pest in our garden.