This week I hung out in Kew Primary’s garden and vegie-patch with Grade 1 teacher, Katie Braemar, and six new arrivals to the school: Henny, Penny, Clucky, Ducky, Pecky and Mabel! Those aren’t their official names, Katie tells me – the kids are going to name them next week – but they’ll do for now.
There are two types of chook wandering around the newly built chook house: one is…well…blackish and the other is sort of orange-y, but beyond that I haven’t a clue. Fortunately, my expert guide informs me they are an Australorp/New Hampshire cross and a New Hampshire/Rhode Island Red cross.
The most important thing, though, is that the chooks are laying eggs! Three of them have started already and the other three should be joining them shortly.
‘They lay one egg every 25 hours, Katie tells me, ‘and once they go into full production we’re hoping to have enough eggs so that Sally can use them in the canteen – for the fried rice – and have extras to sell. Eventually, we’re hoping they’ll be completely free range and will have the full run of the garden.’
Glancing around the garden I can see some long strips of chicken wire that have been recently affixed to the fence, but I wouldn’t be confident of letting them out quite yet; half a dozen chooks and a playground full of kids doesn’t strike me as a good mix.
[Much laughter] ‘No, not all. Earlier this year when the vegie garden was quite overgrown I spotted a capsicum amongst all the leaves. On closer inspection I saw there were whole plants full of these vegies and after I’d picked a few I wondered what else was growing. To be honest, I was like a little kid – so excited that from these tiny seeds, yummy fruit and vegies were growing. It’s been great fun for me learning about how food grows, as well as getting my class involved and it’s a lot of trial and error as well which I’ve enjoyed. Then I thought, why stop at vegies when you can have chooks and fresh eggs daily!?’
So how are the kids involved?
‘The Green Thumbs – one of the Grade 6 Leadership groups – is responsible for feeding the chickens each day, grain, pellets and calcium grit, and for keeping their water topped up. Teachers can bring their classes to the garden and show them around and we’re hoping eventually it can be used to teach the kids about life cycles, the environment and sustainability.’
‘At the moment we’ve got broad beans, silver beet, celery, lettuce, potatoes, garlic, strawberries, corn and herbs – rosemary, coriander and mint. We’re hoping to sell the produce for a gold coin donation and maybe next year have a cook-up once a month, a make and taste, where kids get to pick the vegies and make something with them. I made coleslaw with my kids last week.’
‘We’ve got a huge water tank, a compost bin and a worm farm and some seedlings for more vegies, tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini and spring onions. Oh and our very own scarecrows made by the kids. And the chicken house is fully fox and rodent proof too.’
As an entirely urban and hopelessly un-green person, I am super impressed by the garden and its contents, and even more so when I discover how it was funded. Apparently, the current Grade 5 girls raised almost $6000 from a lapathon last year, which covered the cost of the brand new chook shed – and its inhabitants! – and some much needed garden maintenance. Well done girls!
As Katie goes off to her staff meeting, I am left in the garden speculating how I can get a picture of the aforementioned chooks without them doing a runner into the garden and beyond. Every time I open the shed door they rush at me en masse and when I half close it and stick the camera through the gap they peck at me.
In the end, the kids come to the rescue by poking bits of straw through the chicken wire on the other side so I can quickly snap my photo of Henny and Penny…or is that Clucky and Ducky…? Who knows?
We didn’t have chickens at my school, or a kitchen garden, just a lot of privet hedge and an unpleasantly smelly gerbil in a tiny cage (from which I developed a lifelong rodent phobia) so I’m glad my very urban kids get to feed the chooks now and again and steal the odd strawberry when my back is turned.
With special thanks to Scouty and Harry B for their expert chook distracting skills.
Katie Braemar has a great blog and you can read all about how her class made the coleslaw from fresh produce grown on the garden by clicking here: