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Dublin: 11 °C Saturday 22 September, 2018
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GIY: 'The Khaki Campbell is one of the most prolific backyard ducks'

Some of them literally lay an egg a day all year, contributing food for the table even when your hens have given up laying in the depths of winter, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

DELIGHTED TO REPORT that there are ducks back in our world after a brief hiatus.  Regular readers may recall that Youngest Child received three Indian Runner ducklings for her birthday last year.  (Strangely, most presents in our house come in a cardboard box that is quacking, grunting, chirping, squawking or dripping pooh.  But that’s another issue).

Alas, things didn’t end well for the three ducks. First of all a fox took two of them, and the survivor (Ferdinand) succumbed to a gruesome accident with a toppled hen house caused by Storm Ophelia.

One would think that such a tragedy would make us think twice about keeping ducks at all, but we’re determined folk around these parts.

Prolific ducks

We were at the Cork Summer Show last weekend, with a show garden based on our TV series garden and a partnership with our friends from Field of Dreams (a project in Curaheen pioneered by Down Syndrome Cork, where three acres of land have been transformed into a place of ongoing learning for adults with Down syndrome).

On one of my occasional rambles around the showgrounds, I discovered O’Leary’s Poultry from Macroom selling hens, turkeys and ducks and I returned home in TRIUMPH that night with six new point-of-lay hens and two little Khaki Campbell ducklings.

Though not quite as charismatic as the Indian Runner, the Khaki Campbell is one of the most prolific backyard ducks with some of them literally laying an egg a day all year, contributing food for the table even when your hens have given up laying in the depths of winter.

Poor rep

Duck eggs have a poor reputation, a legacy of the fact that they caused a salmonella outbreak shortly after World War II. This is because their shells are porous and will absorb impurities from the surrounding environment.

It’s important therefore to collect the eggs daily so that they don’t get fouled by the ducks poohing on them and give the eggs a clean before you put them in the egg tray. The eggs are much larger than a hen’s egg and are therefore perfect in the kitchen for baking and cooking.

They are certainly richer than a hen’s egg and for that reason many people don’t like them – I’m inclined to think that they are good to eat if you scramble them or use them in omelettes but I am not a huge fan of a poached duck-egg which is how I generally prefer my eggs cooked.

Considerable charm 

Ducks, unlike hens, are very talkative creatures which lends them a considerable charm – they always seem to be giving out or fed up about something. Ducks also wag their tails or whatever the equivalent duck version of tail-wagging is (they sort of wag their entire backside), though I haven’t yet figured out whether they did that because they were pleased to see me or considered me a threat.

Perhaps because they didn’t have a drake around, the Indian Runners took quite a shine to our goofy Labrador, Sam. They would waddle after him and give out to him a bit, and then he’d play with them a little, chasing them all over the garden. That was fun to watch.

Given what happened their predecessors, we will be keeping a careful eye on these new ones and waiting patiently for the first duck eggs.

The Basics – Growing Cucumbers 

I grow cucumbers exactly like tomatoes, planting them in the polytunnel and allowing them to climb (they can grow up to 2m high). I’ve tried to let them trail along the ground in the polytunnel but they tend to get a bit out of control, trailing in to parts of the tunnel where you don’t want them – so, I think it’s better to go vertical with them.

When I dig the planting hole, I lay a long piece of twine in the hole, put the plant on top of the twine and then firm it in well – the twine is therefore anchored in the soil.  I then tie the twine to a horizontal bar on the roof of the polytunnel.

As the plant grows you basically wind it around the twine.  This is a far sturdier and more effective support than a bamboo cane.

Cucumber plants are incredibly prolific. A single plant produces more than 40 cucumbers over the summer. As a result, they are a hungry plant.

I dig in lots of chicken manure pellets in to the planting hole and when the plants starts producing cucumbers I give it a regular feed with comfrey tea. Unlike tomatoes, they benefit from a humid environment so watering their foliage as well as the base of the plants is a good plan.

Recipe of the Week – Broad Beans with Dill 

At the early stage of the broad bean season, the baby pods can be eaten whole, but they must be tiny to be eaten this way (the size of your little finger).  Here’s a really interesting recipe that does just that and pairs them with dill, also in season. Serves 4.

Ingredients 

  • 450g young fresh broad beans in their pods
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • ½ lemon, juice only
  • 250ml vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp fresh chopped dill
  • a dollop of Greek-style yoghurt (optional)

Directions 

Wash the beans, top, tail and string them where necessary. Heat the oil in a large heavy-lidded pan and add the onions and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes to soften. Add the beans in their pods and the lemon juice and toss to combine.

Add the stock, bring to the boil and cook for 20-25 minutes until the pods are very tender. Cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. At the end of cooking, add the dill. Serve warm. Add a generous dollop of Greek-style yoghurt.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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