Ducking for cover

Spring has sprung! The daffs and freesias are flowering, the almond orchard’s a cloud of blossom, lamb racks are ripening in the paddocks and our Pekin ducks are fattening up to plan.

I bought the ducks last spring from the Mapua Country Trading Company, then stocked up the pantry with star anise, Chinese five spice powder and soy sauce. I promised crispy roast duck for Christmas dinner. But when it came to the crunch, they were too darned cute to kill.

Pekin ducks have white feathers and questionable flying abilities. Ours prefer to waddle everywhere, as fast as their stumpy feet can carry them. Yell “quackers” and up the hill they come, lurching comically through the long grass, to get their daily bread.

We started with six ducks. A couple of months ago, something ate one in the swamp. We found its beak and its feet in the rushes. Then a second duck disappeared a fortnight ago. The finger of blame was pointed squarely at the border collie puppy, and my poor parenting skills. I’d bought him a squeaky toy mallard from the pet store. When the novelty wore off, he moved on to the real thing. I’d caught him in the act once before. Having saved the drake’s neck, I gave the dog a stern lecture and sent him off to the stables for time out.

As for the missing duck? We went duck hunting. We searched the swamp, the orchard, the stream and the gully. Eventually we found her under the cypress shelter belt, sitting on a nest of 14 eggs.  Nothing says spring like a clutch of fluffy ducklings.

Naturally, I’ll be too chicken to consume any of them. But who cares: soon we’ll be snacking on new season’s asparagus – the first spears are already poking out of the pea straw like little periscopes – and globe artichoke buds in garlic butter. There are sugar snaps to top’n’tail, peas to pod and tender broad beans to flip out of their fur-lined jackets.

September also marks the start of the new sowing season. So get busy. Sow heirloom tomatoes, eggplants and capsicums in trays. Then cosset them indoors, or under a cloche of salvaged window frames, until Labour Weekend. Put in more peas, more broad beans, carrots and Cos lettuce. But don’t jump the gun with beans or basil. Spring is here, but summer’s a long way off yet.

Self Sufficiently Lynda is published each week in Sunday magazine, in the Sunday Star-Times.

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