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It’s Winter, But The Garden is Alive

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The shortest day of the year is almost upon us and although most of the winter is still to come, I’m feeling fantastic! There is so much happening around here and I’m enjoying seeing the progress in our yard and thinking about the opportunities to come.

I got my garlic planted. I didn’t get to plant it as early as I was intending to, but I still got it in before the shortest day and well before I usually do. I am really hoping to survive the rust this season. Starting from scratch with store-bought seed garlic is not fun when you’ve worked to grow bigger cloves of your own! I didn’t buy as much seed garlic this time, just in case. I planted 20 or 21 cloves of Printanor garlic in the vege garden and 2 cloves in The Herb Garden, as a small measure to avoid the rust. It’s better to get something than nothing. Then I planted my giant cloves of elephant garlic: 4 in the vege garden and 1 in The Herb Garden. This is the first time I’ve grown elephant garlic so I’m excited to see how it grows. And tastes. We all know I’m a fan of giant veges

I watered the garlic in with some compost tea. I forgot to tell y’all about my compost tea. When the comfrey was growing like bonkers last season I chucked a lot of it into a barrel and filled it with water. Some time later I added some chicken poop in there for some extra goodness. The barrel has a lid that is weighed down by a brick. And boy, does it need a lid! It doesn’t smell quite as bad now, after brewing for many months. I didn’t use it as much as I should have last season as I kept forgetting about it. That’s what happens sometimes when you put things in a far away corner. I dilute it to about 1 part nutritious, stinky tea to 10 parts water in a watering can and water stuff with it. I am going to make a point of using it a lot more and would like to experiment with some different kinds of compost tea if I have the time.

Who remembers my mushroom-growing adventure? Well, after doing all the required bits and pieces to get my oyster mushroom kit going, which wasn’t quite as ‘easy as growing grass’, I was left with the waiting period. While I got busy with my assignment I forgot to check on the mushrooms and then BOOM! The mushrooms appeared! This is what I found when I finally remembered to check them:

 

I grew mushrooms! Now we just have to wait until they get big enough to eat. Nom nom nom.

On Saturday, The Husband worked on his lumberjack skills. The doomed, unproductive, yellow-fleshed plum tree met it’s fate. I convinced The Husband to cut off more of the top branches before felling the rest of the tree, while The Little Fulla and I carted them off the the pruning mountain. Then, The Husband set to work on the tree with his chainsaw. There is always something to be nervous about when it comes to felling a tree and this time it was the fact that the part of the tree coming down wasn’t a straight trunk, it was leaning towards the paddock fence with the neighbour’s place and had a previously cut bit lower down on the trunk. But, The Husband is honing his tree-felling skills, and is rightly quite pleased about it. He secured the tree to the corner post on the deck with a rope and ratchet, cut a good wedge, made a straight cut from behind, then hauled on the rope, pulling the tree over in the right direction, avoiding the fence, the potting shed, the blackcurrants in the planter, any beings and even all my young plants in the garden bed. He then cut most of the tree up into firewood. We sure are supplying ourselves well with our tree felling at the moment! Don’t worry, we’re not going to fell ALL the trees.

I decided I’m going to keep our second Billington plum tree that is in the planter. I was going to sell it because I thought one tree was prolific enough, but we really like the Indian plum chutney I made and I’m a total fan of the frozen sliced fruit in the less fruity seasons of the year, and the plums just taste so good, even if they all come in a short space of time. So, the potted Billington is going to join its old Billington plum tree buddy in replacement of the felled tree. “But didn’t you buy an almond tree to plant there?” I hear you say… Yes. But, that is going to be planted in the new chicken pen, The Cedar Pen.

Plum Tree Garden

The Plum Tree Garden. The potted Billington plum tree is going to be planted somewhere around where it is sitting here. The mature Billington is on the left.

When I set up The Cedar Pen for the chickens I cleared out a lot of shrubbery because it was weedy, overgrown or needed to be trimmed out of repelling-the-chickens-over-the-fence height. I have been thinking about what I could plant in there, as it is not going to remain so bare. First, the ‘All In One’ almond got allocated a spot in there. Then, I thought, hey, there’s actually space for another fruit tree in here without cutting out too much sun. So, I consulted my Fruit Plan to see where there were harvest time gaps that I could help to fill. I spent some time graphing my fruit plan to get a better visual of which months had low harvesting possibilities, but my two graphs somehow disappeared while The husband was working on computer backup things.

I have decided on a ‘Royal Rosa’ apricot tree. Harvest time is November to December (late spring and early summer) and it is supposed to be good in warmer areas. We already have one very young apricot tree, the dwarf ‘Aprigold’ in The Herb Garden, but we could do with more apricots, especially in November when citrus is the only big fruit available in our garden.

Yesterday, The Husband and I worked on curtains for the woodshed. That makes a quirky mental image! No, we weren’t making it look pretty, we were making it more functional. The woodshed had gotten covered in a hotch-potch of more and more chicken wire and plastic netting in attempts to keep the chickens out of there and it was getting rather awkward to get firewood out. I cut a curtain, or screen, for each bay of the woodshed, nailed them on at the top with fence staples then put three nails down the wooden posts on each side for hooking the screens onto. The Husband fitted plastic grommets over the holes to hook over the nails. We just need a few things to finish this project: a couple more grommets, something to weight the screen down at the bottom and some sort of string system that The Husband wants to do so the screens can easily be hoisted up for accessing the woodshed. It sure looks a lot more tidy now.

Speaking of tidiness, I did some tidying up around the back door, which had been gathering more and more stuff. The back door often acts as the front door so the area does need some work to make it better. The wooden box that was sitting just outside the door was holding paper and cardboard for the fire, but didn’t have much left in it and I had sized it up for another purpose. I emptied it out and moved it into the garage to store The Little Fulla’s outdoor toys in, which is a great improvement on the cardboard boxes that they were sitting in. Removing the box means there is more space for walking around the outdoor table and chairs and that the shoes can be lined up nicely instead of being a major trip hazard. I also chucked out one of The Husband’s pairs of old work boots, since they were falling apart and there are two pairs outside. Unfortunately, he found them in the bin and retrieved them. What does a man want two pairs of old work boots for? This is not the last word on that matter. I would like to build a small, narrow shelf to store shoes and things on up against the wall. One day…

What’s next? Hopefully, tree planting, more wood chopping and woodpile tidying, more weed control, spreading hay in the chicken pen and dealing with the compost heaps.

No More Assignments For Twiglet

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I have been working on my assignment. Obviously, that is why I’m on my blog right now. This was my final assignment for my final paper for this course. So, my last assignment ever, unless I nutheadedly decide to do more study some time in the future. This final paper has seen me procrastinating like nobody’s business. It just doesn’t seem as relevant as looking at plants, holding chickens or watching videos with The Little Fulla of himself being himself. I found myself doing almost anything to avoid doing my assignment. Folding washing. Tidying up random things. Rearranging a kitchen cupboard. Cleaning the chicken coop. ‘Accidentally’ going on Facebook. Doing the dishes. Dishes! Doing the dishes hovers around the bottom of my ‘Things I Ought to do’ list. I would much rather clean the chicken coop. Anyway, I finished my assignment last night so now I am freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!

Now, I am playing the game of What Shall I do First? My options range from catching up on housework to catching up on garden tasks to getting some of my 10 million projects started to sitting around like a blob watching presentations on this week’s 2017 Home Grown Food Summit. The results are inclining towards a crazed combination of all of the above.

We were at the Auckland Botanic Gardens last weekend: a happy place that always gives me inspiration, especially when it comes to native plants.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

I could spend so many hours loitering around Auckland Botanic Gardens, but a small child on foot means everything is now done in fast-forward.

The Chickens

I have whittled my flock down to what seems like a rather small number: 8. It probably still sounds like a lot to some people but I feel like I’ve offloaded a lot of chickens in a short space of time! I sold my second black Orpington pullet last week. Now I’m back to two breeds or part-breeds: Australorps and Wyandottes. And Mr Bingley is still hanging around.

Chickens

Hello, Mr Bingley! Yup, he’s still here. Behind him are Lizzie, Georgiana and Kitty. PB is hiding behind the tree.

I celebrated my selling efforts by letting the chickens back into The Orchard Pen, which has grown back some grass and had a nice rest from chickens. Kitty celebrated by going broody and my “Look, it’s a new pen to explore!” plan didn’t prove a good enough distraction to keep her from a stint in the broody breaker. Frodo celebrated by starting to go broody too and ended up in the broody breaker straight after Kitty. I got Frodo in there early before she got too far into the broodiness to stop laying. She hasn’t missed a day of laying yet in 22 days. Wow! This is a new record for her and I don’t know how she’s managing such production in winter! I’m wondering what happens if I manage to break her broodiness before it interrupts her egg-laying hormones. I legitimately asked The Husband, “Will she explode?” I’m happy for her to miss a day of egg laying, I just don’t know how that will fit into her current system of laying every day before having a big broody break. She’s currently in a weird, quiet, trance-like, half broody state but still laid early this evening.

Orchard Pen

The chickens are back in The Orchard Pen: Lizzie (front) and Georgiana. The parts that had hay spread around when the chickens were last in there have grown some nice grass. I think I shall spread some hay in the empty Cedar Pen.

I got a good, sunny day to do a full coop clean and spray this week, which always makes me feel satisfied. Then Georgiana gave me a nice assignment-finishing present today: her first little egg. Yay! On one hand, I wasn’t expecting her to start laying in winter but on the other hand it’s about time! She is 32 weeks old today. Words like ‘slacker’ were starting to come to mind, so I am very pleased that she has joined the layers club.

Georgiana's egg

Georgiana’s sweet little egg.

PB is getting a proper name. It has been so long that it’s hard to stop calling her PB, but I’m going with something not too much different: Jane B. She is still getting bigger and is currently being super-scared of me when I’m in the pen. Partly, I blame her nutty ‘brother’, Mr Collins, but I think it’s also because I keep taking her friends away, first, Mr Collins, and then the black Orpington. Georgiana was the same when I took some of her buddies away around the same age. Hopefully Jane B will settle down now that I’ll have a bit more time to just hang out with the chickens. She still sits in my arms nicely and eats from my hand when I get her out at night but she’s scared of me during the day.

Jane B

PB shall henceforth be known as Jane B. She is almost 15 weeks now.

I have been asking members of a Wyandotte group about my SLW pullet, Lorelai, aka Slow Feather Butt, and opinions are still divided as to whether she is a boy or girl, so I will have to wait some more…

The Garden

The garden has been getting scarce attention lately owing to sickness, winter weather and that assignment. It is due for so many things and I’m looking forward to getting some quality time in my garden. The Little Fulla and I did a little bit of weeding today and the other day we had a family leaf raking session out the front, as the walnut tree has suddenly decided to dump copious amounts of leaves on the drive and thereabouts. So far, some of the leaves have been put on the compost heap and some have been dumped on top of the weeds in front of the compost heap. More raking will be needed to keep the leaves clear of the gate. I am hoping to plant my garlic tomorrow and am finalising my Vege Plan, which is a lot less orange than I thought it might be. I have been eyeing up the space out the front in front of my corokia and flax hedge as a place to plant Atlantic Giant pumpkins as well as another variety or two. I just need to deal with the weeds.

I have so many plans for things I want to do outside. I have been giving a lot of thought to shelter plant options, as we are getting a lot of wind through the backyard since a) we cleared out some shrubs/trees that were giving shelter on the west side and b) the neighbours cut down some good shelter shrubs. I am also thinking about trellis ideas along the paddock fence on the east side of the vege garden. The Great Vege Garden Expansion Plan still has stages that need to be done and I have a lot of plants that need to be planted in various places. I need to hack away at stumpy in The Herb Garden.

The Husband keeps throwing a rope up into the doomed plum tree and I keep telling him that we need to cut more off the top before any felling attempts. It doesn’t look like there’s much of it left but it is actually quite tall. The Husband has also been working on tidying up the ‘firewood storage area’ at the side of the deck. In a bid to dry out the wood that keeps getting pounded by the rain, he knocked up a quick shelter with lengths of timber and some black plastic. I am trying to bite my tongue because I know that the wood needs to dry out, but a) the black plastic is cutting out some light from the lounge, b) it doesn’t look very good, c) it keeps falling apart and d) I have longer term plans of paving the area and putting clear or white corrugated roofing above it to turn it into a BBQ and tidy firewood shelf area. We have almost used all the firewood in one bay of the woodshed in the chicken pen, so we could just move all the wet firewood there…

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Stumpy needs to be evicted from The Herb Garden. He just keeps getting wet feet.

The doomed plum tree

The rest of the yellow-fleshed plum tree still needs to be removed. Just not in one foul, misaligned swoop.

Firewood area

The Husband’s firewood area at the side of the deck. In the high winds yesterday one of the wooden supports between the black fence and the deck roof fell down and the black plastic that was covering them blew off. It’s a work in progress. Of sorts.

Homestead Update

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Well, things have been certifiably nuts around here of late. I have been sick and fatigued off and on as I try to figure out what food or foods are causing me issues. That is making it difficult to get things done and it seems time is whizzing by while I’m scrambling to get a grip. On top of that, I am looking to go back to the workforce soon, which is not something I was planning to do just yet. And as a last kick in the pants our only car suddenly became in need of major work, which isn’t worth it, so we have been trying to get our heads and pockets around acquiring a new car. Here are some updates on different things going on at Twiglet Homestead.

The Chickens

The first thing of note is that Lydia is no longer with us. She was my second egg eater. I tried to retrain her and had some success while she was in the big cage, but as soon as I put her back with the main flock, she went feral with her laying and wouldn’t lay in the coop. She laid under the shelter, ate her egg then alerted everyone else, including me, to what was going on. When I ran over some other hens were pecking around in Lydia’s hole, but, fortunately, Lydia appeared to have eaten the whole egg, as she was wont to do, so the others didn’t cotton on. But that was it. No more time and effort trying to win a losing battle with this determined egg eater. No more endangering my other hens with that habit. I could not keep her somewhere all alone. A couple of people offered to re-home her but they were too far away. There was no place for her here. I had to get The Husband to do the deed. I just couldn’t face culling Lydia. I did, however, manage to add one more chicken to our freezer collection… It is sad. Lydia was my good little layer, full of character, loud announcements and cheekiness. I had been through a lot with her: bumblefoot ops, making foam shoes, doing many, many foot dressings, watching her get demoted from top hen spot for being over-dramatic and having her pout at my feet, seeing how nutty her offspring could be (ahem, Mr Collins…). She was the only hen I’ve taken to the vet, where I learned some excellent information. She recovered so well. She was great entertainment. She was my most consistent layer. Unfortunately, she just became consistent with egg eating too. She will be missed.

Lydia

Farewell, Lydia, you crazy, cheeky chicken.

I’d like to say onward and upward, but, with our above issues, the flock is going to see some more changes. I need to cut costs and there are tough decisions going on, especially if I am to hatch some eggs in spring. Who will stay and who will go? It is a harsh decision-making process. We shall have to wait and see.

Chickens at the fence

Don’t look at me like that, chickies, I have tough decisions to make.

Ok, enough bad news already! One good thing is that the hens are still laying, some of them just a tad less frequently as the daylight hours decrease. They’ve laid 5-7 eggs in the last week. Some people’s hens are off the lay for winter so I’m totally stoked to still have some eggs! Lizzie has become almost as a good a layer as Lydia and her eggs are bigger. Kitty is a good, sensible layer, Mary has become a sensible layer too and Frodo is an awesome layer when she’s not being broody. Also, PB is doing well. He is 13 weeks old now and hasn’t succumbed to Mareks as yet, so things are looking good. The thing is, although he is big, I’m really not sure about his maleness once again. If he is a boy he has an extremely pale and small comb and wattles for his age. I have been watching him a lot and I really don’t know what to think right now! Maybe in another week I’ll know. Georgiana is PB’s buddy but PB sometimes gets to hang out with the others too. The new girls are doing well and getting handled while they’re easier to catch in their temp ‘quarantine’ pen, which has now been moved right next to the main pen so everyone can get to know each other before the great integration. The little silver-laced Wyandotte is my favourite, with a chilled out, friendly nature and lively foraging abilities. At first I was a little worried about how she would cope being the smallest, but she is a goer! She is actually the dominant one. It is funny to watch the wee thing dominate a big Orpington, however, I’m now concerned that she may be a boy. Blagh. Not another mind-battle! My suspicions are due to curly tail feathers, slow-developing rear-end feathers and upright posture. If she is a he I can swap her for another pullet but that would be a shame and it would mean more quarantine. Since Wyandottes are a new breed for me I will just have to wait and see.

Getting to know each other

“Stop digging, the human’s looking!” “No, human, we are definitely not digging a tunnel to the other side… La la la…”

New girls looking

Hello, other chickens!

 

The Garden

Much of the vege garden has been put to bed for the winter. I have been putting used chicken bedding on top of the empty beds to help suppress the weeds, protect the soil and add some organic matter for next season’s crops. There are still some crops slowly chugging along. Growth has slowed down a lot as the cold finally hit and the wet weather has continued to give little time for the soil to dry out. Just when things get sunny, the rain bounds back in again with complete disregard for my gardening needs.

Vege garden 1

The parts of the vege garden not containing crops have had used chicken bedding (wood shavings and poop) tipped on top. I will see how this works out.

Vege garden 2

There is actually still some green stuff in there! The kale is getting rather stripped as I keep feeding it to the chickens – they love it. We still have kale in the freezer from the season before when I whizzed and froze HEAPS. I put kale flakes in my scrambled eggs and we chuck it in mince dishes, rice, curries and fritters, among other things.

So, what’s still growing? There are a few carrots left. There is beetroot, which I have grown for the first time. I’ve never been a beetroot fan but in the last couple of years I’ve tasted some nice dishes with fresh beetroot in them. There are leeks. Huge leeks. A leek can go a long way so we’ve been putting them into all sorts of things: fritters, patties, various meat dishes, soup… There are still spring onions and lettuces. There is still a swathe of parsley. And there are the brassicas: bok choy, cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli. Annoying critters are still eating some holes in them so we obviously haven’t had enough cold weather yet. The first few frosts took down my capsicums though. And guess what? I bought my seed garlic early this year! I got some Printanor, the main good culinary variety grown here and some elephant garlic, which I haven’t grown before. It is bigger and milder than normal garlic and is actually a different species. I need to figure out when to plant them. After last season’s rust disaster I’ve been thinking an earlier planting might give them more time to get growing well, but I can’t plant them if the ground is too soggy.

I have been slowly picking away at the weeding around the garden but haven’t had much time for more exciting things like planting. The Plum Tree Garden has been weeded and is looking tidy, if a little plant-bare. The Maple Garden has a downright terrible population of weeds. It looks pretty good at a glance, thanks to the ridiculously well-growing native sedges and other plants in there, but a closer look reveals swathes of weeds lurking underneath and swamping the ground covers in there. I have started picking away at it, even though I’d rather walk past with a hand shielding my eyes saying, “La, la, la…”

Plum Tree Garden

The Plum Tree garden looks tidy, because I’ve just finished weeding it. It just needs more plants. And we need to finish chopping down the unproductive yellow-fleshed plum tree on the right. And plant the almond tree. After we dig out the blackcurrant planter box which has become rooted into the soil. Oops!

Wood Projects

We bought a ‘new’ dining table a little while back and need to sell our old drop-leaf table. The top of it was really looking worse for wear so I have been resurfacing it, just casually, as if I’ve actually done anything like that before. It may not be perfect, but it’s been a good learning experience and it looks heaps better than it did before, which will hopefully be reflected in a better price when I sell it. I have a lot of other projects to do around the house but it’s one day at a time at the moment. I will post about some smaller projects later. Meanwhile, an exciting trailer load has appeared in our yard. The Parents’-in-law found a bunch of wood framing instead of the usual pallets, and I have great visions of using them for a chicken pen, perhaps even a chicken tractor…

Dining table

The old dining table has been getting some attention.

Crafts

I am working on The Little Fulla’s green knitted jersey at the moment. Progress is very slow due to lack of time sitting still. And the fact that I chose a cabled pattern, so knitting it requires concentration and peering at a chart. Concentration is not one of my strong points at this current point in time. Let’s just say there have been more than a few re-done rows. Meanwhile, the great knitting and crocheting women of The Husband’s family have been yarning up a storm with all sorts of lovely projects popping out.

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The Little Fulla’s snail-paced jersey. The colour in this photo really isn’t right but it shows the cabling pattern well. I may or may not be about to undo a row that I did slightly wrong…

Let’s hope the madness dies down soon. Tomorrow we go car hunting…

Easter at Twiglet Homestead

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Belated Happy Easter to one and all! Things have been all go here at Twiglet Homestead. Easter was a flurry of family time and catching up on housework, tasks and projects that had fallen behind in order to get the big Cedar Chicken Pen project completed; all wrapped up in a bundle of soggy ground. I managed to make hot cross buns. The first batch were what I like to call rock cross buns thanks to an overheated proving session in the oven, but the second batch were large and tasty. Somehow I even managed to make my own Easter eggs for the first time. They weren’t perfect specimens but they were tasty.

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The hot cross buns didn’t last long around here.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s been going on around here. It rained A LOT. Ground got very soggy. The Father and The Little Brother-in-law helped out with outdoor tasks. Lots of family visits. I’ve been doing small projects and bits all around garden: weeding, cleaning up vege garden, pruning, selective mowing… Ground is still soggy in places but sun is shining. The Husband hurt his back again. I finally cut my hair after 4 months. Mr Bingley got sour crop. I was about to help Mr Bingley throw up when The Husband arrived home and threw up on lawn. Weirdness level: high. I’m not sure if PB, purebred chick, is a boy or girl now. His/her nutheaded hatch mate, Mr Collins, is surely a boy. Mary, daughter of Mr Bingley and the late Legolas, started laying. Even more of a difficult layer than Jane. Laid first egg in woodshed after sneaking around wire. Repeated attempts to fence/block off woodshed resulted in much hoo-ha and grand finale of Mary on garage roof. Mary finally went in coop to lay. Drama queen Lydia started singing egg song VERY loudly outside and inside coop in Mary’s face until she was removed from the scene. Must make compost bins so The Little Fulla stops pilfering rotten feijoas from the compost heap. Knitting slippers for The Little Fulla. Need to harvest more feijoas, figs and walnuts. Need to make Vege Plan for next season. Need to finish pruning fruit trees while sun is shining. Need to properly close off woodshed from chicken access. Need to write comprehensive list of all things that need doing…

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Mary is shy, subordinate and agile – all signs point to a nutty layer.

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Mr Collins (left) is a boy, or I’ll eat my hat, But PB doesn’t look as boyish anymore. What are you going to be, PB?

Also, The Husband got curious and bought some scales. My giant pumpkin weighed 42kg!

The Opening Ceremony

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Welcome to the grand opening ceremony! What an exciting event we have here today! You may not know what all the fanfare is about but you will in a minute. Alright, everyone get ready – here come the VIPs!

That’s right, folks, today you have the privilege of witnessing the official opening of the second chicken pen, henceforth to be known as The Cedar Pen. (Unless the cedar tree gets the chop. But it won’t for now.) This event is the culmination of months of tree pruning, ivy clearing, stump removing, fencing, old fort sawing and nailing, raking and rubbish removing. Countless hours have been spent preparing this place for the chickens. A proper job has been done of it. No temporary pens over here anymore. Not only do the chickens now have an alternate pen to give the other one time to recover, a decent chunk of the garden has been ‘dealt with’. It has gone from one of the bushy, overgrown corners that I was hoping to avoid for a while, to a useful area. I would like to plant some more chicken-friendly, non-escape-promoting plants in there at some point, but that is more of a fun job for later.

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The Cedar Pen is on the left of the garage and carport.

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There was a lot of wire netting in this project.

And now for a little history of the chicken pen area to see how far it’s come in two years:

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When we acquired the property, there was a mish-mash fort and a lot of bushy stuff over there in the corner.

For the record, rubbish findings in this area, aside from the usual and numerous pieces of plastic and twine, included a ball, a frisbie, a hunk of black plastic sheeting, a pair of half-degraded undies, a plastic container, a dinosaur figurine, a collection of shiny, flat blue marbles and a stainless steel set of two cups and one plate.

The chickens are absolutely loving having new ground to dig around in and a new place to explore. Mary and Georgiana were late to the proceedings. Contrary Mary got scared and that scared Georgiana, so they scuttled to and from the coop to the orchard until I closed off The Orchard Pen. Those two make each other bonkers sometimes. It is just lovely to be able to watch the feather children out the window, all happy. Except for the rainy part. The next lot of rain has hit us, bringing more surface flooding. Yikes! Thank goodness I finished the pen when I did. At least I won’t be worrying so much about their feet now that they’re away from the old, decimated, poopy, wet ground of The Orchard Pen. Jane is so excited about the new pen that she was still foraging in the steady rain yesterday.

 

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Frodo and chicks discover the new pen.

 

The other day, The Husband was asking what all my chickens names are. He got a bit lost somewhere along the way after the Bennet girls started to appear. I rattled off my Pride and Prejudice crew: Mr Bingley, Jane, Lizzie, Mary, Kitty, Lydia and Georgiana. “Now, I just need a Mr Darcy”, I said, with a smile. He knew that I might already have a Mr Darcy in a little chick that I like to call PB.

“What about Mr Collins?” He said.

“I don’t want a Mr Collins!” I replied.

“Haven’t you already got a Mr Collins?”

Pause.

“Yes! No! Oh, no…”

The other chick, Lydia’s ‘Junior’, is almost certainly a boy, and is totally a Mr Collins. He’s a nutcase! The temporary name ‘Junior’ has all but disappeared because I can’t stop thinking of him as Mr Collins now. I have been mostly handling the chicks during the day but have moved to evening handling because chickens are more calm in the evening. A couple of nights ago I got Mr Collins out of the coop for some handling and he screamed blue murder, disturbing all the other chickens and quite possibly the neighbours. I got a bit of a shock after having just handled PB, who was nice and calm. I took Mr Collins away and even took him in the house for a little while to give him some decent handling. Most of the time he cheeped loudly, “Cheeeeeep, cheeeeeep!” He is almost 6 weeks old and is not sensible at all.

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Mr Collins has his mouth open because he’s cheeping, of course. Settle down, dude!

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PB is lovely AND pretty.

Now that I have completed The Cedar Pen, I’m not quite sure what to do next. As in, there are so many things that need to be done I barely know where to start. I have trimmed the hedge along the front fence, started weeding, harvested more walnuts and figs and made hot cross buns. And now I must get going, for the weeds are mocking me, the fruit trees need more discipline, there’s an barren plum tree to fell and the vege garden needs some love. Oh wait, there’s an ex-tropical cyclone coming. This morning I awoke to the news that yesterday’s surface flooding was just from a rain band and the actual storm was hitting this afternoon/evening and was purported to be a 50-year storm. It now sounds like it might not be as bad where we are but I’m still praying! There are poor people on the east coast still suffering from the damage of last week’s flooding who are in the line of the storm. Ok, I’ve battened down the hatches. Time to tackle some indoor tasks and projects. Opening Ceremony over!

My ‘Busy Season’ in Pictures And Very Few Words

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Assignment: Finished. One more.

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Second chicken pen: Much work. Slow progress.

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Ivy on cedar: Ha! I’m winning.

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Donkey Farm.

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Chicks: Growing. Boys.

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Hens: Minor foot issues resurface.

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Kitty: Floofy character.

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Mr Bingley: Moulting.

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Second chicken pen: MUST FINISH.

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Jolly camellia: Get it out.

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Rain: Too much.

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Vege Garden: Soggy mess.

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Beans: Fun shelling.

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Pumpkins: Giant. Mini. More later…

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Walnuts: Harvesting time always soggy.

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Feijoas: One harvest. More now.

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Sludge = feijoa chutney. Hopefully.

 

Tree Business

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I have been taking care of a lot of tree business around here lately. Trees have been pruned, trees have been given final notice and trees have been bought. We decided that the yellow-fleshed plum tree was going to get the chop due to its pollination-related performance issues. I haven’t been able to ascertain what cultivar it is, only that it is similar to a Santa Rosa or Fortune, but it is not quite either of those. Not knowing exactly what it is means I wouldn’t know exactly which other plum cultivars would pollinate it, and since we don’t want to end up with three plum trees anyway, its days are numbered. What use is a fruit tree that doesn’t fruit? It’s a bit like people, really. We may look good and seem like we’re going somewhere, but without the right input our efforts amount to nothing. However, if we get alongside someone else who has a vision, passion or skills compatible with our own, then we bear fruit abundantly, and that makes a difference to the world around us.

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The yellow-fleshed plum tree (right) is going to go bye-byes when I’ve finished working on the second chicken pen. I need to finish pruning the Billington plum tree (left).

To replace the plum tree I have bought an ‘All in One’ almond tree, which is rated highly for home gardens, especially in warmer areas. It will just have to wait until we’ve chopped down the plum tree to find a spot in there somewhere. Meanwhile, the Billington plum tree put on heaps of growth after its big pruning last year and I have started pruning it into some semblance of control.

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The ‘All in One’ almond tree awaits the removal of its predecessor. It has a few good branch options, so I have to decide at what height I want the main structural branches coming out of the trunk.

My other option for replacing the doomed plum tree was another apple tree. Not to be pushed aside, the ideas rattled around in my brain and I found a place for one too! While we were in Auckland, we found, bought and manoeuvered into the car a Cox’s Orange Pippin on a semi-dwarf MM106 rootstock. Knowing what the rootstock is is an essential point when buying fruit trees. The future site for the apple tree is in the future triangle garden outside one of our lounge windows, a garden which I have been thinking about for ages, which has been waiting for me to move my pallets of potted plants, which have been waiting for me to clear the plant-growing alcove, which has been waiting for me to move the pruning mountain, which I did, but now there’s an even bigger pruning mountain. Everything in the garden moves in ridiculously complicated triangles and circles at the moment. Anyway, the apple tree is going to provide shade to the sunniest and hottest window during summer, then will return some of the light when it drops its leaves in the winter. Plus, it will give us tasty apples. We had a Cox’s Orange Pippin in my childhood garden and it is well-known as one of the best heritage apples. The advantages of the MM106 rootstock are that the tree will grow to about 4.5m tall; not too tall but tall enough to provide good shade, and resistance to woolly aphid, which the other apple tree in the chicken run is currently having issues with. Here is a handy chart I found featuring the main apple rootstocks available in New Zealand.

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The ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ apple tree awaits the removal of two pallets of potted plants so that I can form a triangle-ish garden between the black fence on the left and the corner of the house. This lounge window is in much need of shade during the summer.

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The pruning mountain in my future plant alcove. At least it’s a nice shape. Can you tell that I formed this one?

The other main tree business that has been underway is the pruning of the cedar tree. It has had most of the branches within reach of the telescopic pruning saw cut off, mostly by me, and a little by The Husband. These branches are massive. Cedar trees can reach 12m wide and our tree is no exception. The branches are heavy as well as very long and had to be taken off in sections so as not to damage anything as they fell. The lowest branches stretching over the chicken run, the neighbours’ place and the garage have been dealt with.

Now I can really see how the cedar tree has affected the growth and fruiting of the apple tree: it is on a distinct lean towards the paddock and most of the branches and apples are hanging over the paddock since the cedar has been crowding it out and shading it for probably quite some time. The whole area is looking better with more light coming through. When The Youngest Brother-in-law was here last night he commented that the backyard was looking nice and open. It’s nice when people notice the difference that a lot of hard work has made. Swathes of ivy have also been hacked down from the cedar tree and the small, insanely twisted Pittosporum crassifolium (Karo) behind it that was splurging over the fence into the chicken run has been cut down too. There is another young Karo still in there so I will leave that one.

After the last session of hacking, which may have gotten a little too vigourous, I developed some bad ivy rash, despite wearing longs, so I will not be hacking ivy above ground again. My eagerness to get things done makes me cycle between going full guns blazing at the ivy and being extremely scared of it. I think we have gotten rid of most of what we can cut down anyway, aside from what The Husband may like to prise off the trunk for me… Now all that remains is for the rest of the tree to be dismantled, which, unfortunately is really not a job we can do ourselves. While we await an option that won’t make our pockets explode, I am getting a move on with chicken-wiring the fence around the Cedar Tree Garden. I am trying to convince The Husband to help dig and pull out the rest of the ivy from the ground so it doesn’t attack me while I’m crouching down, stapling the chicken wire. Well, I was, but now The Husband has a back injury so I’m on ivy ground-clearing duty again.

I have also spent a lot of time raking up all the pinecone scales and cedar needles from the second chicken pen area. The Little Fulla has been helping, which mostly entails wheelbarrow rides, stopping him from putting all manner of things in his mouth, stopping him from climbing up the fort ladder, regular snuggles and stopping him from putting more things in his mouth. The purpose of all this raking is to get the sharp pinecone scales out of the future chicken area to minimise injury and potential subsequent infection to the chickens’ feet. It is also making things look a lot more tidy. Another great side effect is that I have gained barrow-loads of mulch to put onto the Plum Tree Garden. This is making the garden look good and helping to suppress the weeds. Re-purposing for the win!

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The Plum Tree Garden is looking a whole heap better with heaps of cedar mulch.

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I am currently feeling very pleased with the clean, sweeping line. I just need to put a bit more mulch at the back.

I haven’t been much of a mulch afficionado in the past, basically because I wouldn’t spend money on mulch. I knew it was good, but it was just an extra expense, however, my eyes have been opened to the great benefits of mulch. Ok, so I’m thinking about my free mulch, but still… The pinecone/pine needle/sticks mulch is really helping to keep the weeds down, which means: a) I don’t have to spend so much time weeding or b) I don’t have to spend time and money with a side of guilty feelings spraying the weeds. And less weeds in one garden bed means less weeds to spread to other parts of the garden. Another free mulch, the used chicken bedding of wood shavings and poop, is helping to suppress the weeds in the Herb Garden and elsewhere, albeit not quite as effectively. Both these mulches are also helping to retain water, which has been hard to come by these last few months. In the Vege Garden, I was surprised to see the vast difference that mulch can make in water retention. Since the potatoes were harvested from The Corner Bed, I have been piling used chicken wood shavings and hay on top of it, and when I went to plant some brassicas in there, the soil underneath was still moist, even though it hadn’t been watered for quite a while. In contrast, The Long Bed opposite it was very dry and had to be watered. Yes please, I am getting on the mulch train. Especially if it’s a free ride. But I might even pay for a ride to Mulchtown.

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