Kitchen Garden: ‘salad bar’ makes for a happy clucker

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Oh to be a chicken at Finch Farmlet in Chisholm. They have a ‘salad bar’ raised from Clucker Tucker seed mix from Bellchambers in Fyshwick with a dedicated patch of lucerne and clover. The coop has a solar-powered auto door so they can free range along the back fence and under a pomegranate tree.

You can see these chooks next weekend when Christine and Warwick Finch invite visitors to their garden for Open Gardens Canberra. This is one of 15 demonstration gardens chosen under the ACT Government’s H20K Healthy Waterways Program Stage 1. Water capture is integrated into the gently terraced gardens, they have a 5,000 litre rainwater tank and a large koi fish pond into which Warwick was going to plunge after we left.

Warwick and Chris Finch with the chickens and their wire-covered ‘salad bar’.
Warwick and Chris Finch with the chickens and their wire-covered ‘salad bar’.Credit:Jamila Toderas

Chris grew up in Canberra and first appeared in The Canberra Times as a nine-year-old with a two-headed worm she found when digging in her family’s garden in Curtin. Her nanna and pop had a block full of fruit trees and berries in O’Connor and Chris helped her nanna and mum in the kitchen as they stewed, preserved and juiced things. Nothing was wasted. Her parents’ garden supplied fresh produce year-round due to her dad’s crop rotation, digging compost into fallow beds and using the “Canberra Gardener” to guide his plantings. The children climbed the cherry tree and filled their library bags with cherries and they helped shelling peas and were allowed to eat one pod for every 20 they shelled.

Warwick and Chris bought their house in 1990 and are now making a little working property growing produce and dabbling in urban homesteading. There is a constant supply of frozen stewed apple from Pink Lady and Gala apple trees for a crumble with homegrown rhubarb. Raspberries and redcurrants from a hedge last from one season to the next. Chris cooks and freezes silverbeet in muffin tins and makes spinach pie, affectionately known by their daughters as ‘slime pie’. The human salad bar includes herbs in a wicking bed by the deck and large cos lettuce and perpetual leeks.

From a dwarf Meyer lemon tree she makes cordial and squeezes and freezes lemon juice in mini milk bottles – this predominantly ends up in margaritas. She makes quince and fig pastes, jams, jellies and marmalades; zucchini pickles; tomato passata and sun-dried tomatoes from the Mighty Red variety from Rodney’s in Pialligo and Grosse Lisse from urban homesteader Annette Bunfield where Chris also swapped eggs for cranberry mead.

Cos lettuce in the human salad bar.
Cos lettuce in the human salad bar.Credit:Jamila Toderas

The feijoa tree has large fruit, one weighing 140g last season, and apart from eating them fresh, she blends and freezes the pulp for feijoa and honey ice cream and muffins.

Two small cherry guava trees were grown from seed from a friend’s tree in Macarthur. Chris raised them in a glasshouse, then graduated to a shade house before planting out this year. Their skin has a hint of eucalyptus. An experimental espaliered plumcot tree is in a bed with cape gooseberries and three varieties of strawberries.

The chook crew includes two Isa Browns, a black and white speckled Ancona purchased as an egg from a Goulburn poultry auction, a black Araucana called Elvis and Stegbar the Legbar that lay blue eggs, Snowball a white Bantam and a speckled ginger, black and white Belgian D’Uccle hatched in an incubator with a duck and turkey so it has had trouble adapting to life as a chicken.

Christine has created a recipe index of Finch Family Favourites with a print run of three, one for her and one for each of their daughters. Most popular recipes include two from her Mum, an old fashioned tomato sauce and lemon angel pie with Finch Farmlet eggs. I had a slice with a cup of tea and licked my lips all the way home.

Open Gardens Canberra

Finch Farmlet, 68 Hambidge Crescent, Chisholm will be open on November 3-4 from 10am-4pm, garden entry $8. Short talks on water sensitive gardening at 11.30am and 1.30pm each day. Tea/coffee, biscuits for gold coin donation. Supported charity: Aussie Helpers (farmers/drought relief).

Lemon angel pie

(Serves 8-10)

Homemade lemon angel pie with fresh eggs.
Homemade lemon angel pie with fresh eggs.Credit:Jamila Toderas


6 egg whites

2 cups sugar

1.5 tsp lemon juice


6 egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

6 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp grated lemon rind

1 cup whipped cream

Beat egg white until they hold points. Gradually beat in 1 cup sugar. Beat in remaining 1 cup sugar alternately with lemon juice – beat until stiff and glossy. Bake in a slow oven (130C) for 1.5 hours or until firm and lightly browned. In a bowl, beat egg yolks until thick and lemon coloured. Beat in 2/3 cup sugar, lemon juice and rind. Cook over hot water until thick (5-8 minutes), stirring constantly. Cool slightly then fold in cream. Spoon into baked meringue.