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Antics of The Week

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This week has been full of all sorts of activities, despite battling through more winter sickness on the weekend. Oh, the things we get up to. City folk and more consumer-driven folk must wonder what on earth I’m thinking sometimes, but I have so much fun making our lives more healthy, saving money and learning all manner of homesteading skills. The only upside of sickness is that we can’t go out much so we are getting some little things done around the place. When we don’t have a small-child attachment.

Tasty Food Stuff

The week started with an experiment in making a gluten-free, dairy-free happy-study-finishing chocolate cake to share with my Crafty Women on Crafty Night. After cutting a handful of foods out of my diet I am down to my last two suspects: gluten and wheat, which are similar, but I intend to get to the bottom of it. This week I was supposed to be adding gluten back in, without wheat, by using foods like barley. But, things got a bit too busy, too busy to think about what to do with barley and too busy to want to risk getting sick. I will prattle on about food intolerance issues another time. Back to the cake. It wasn’t bad for gluten-free, but it needs some improvements, the main one being less vinegar. I suppose I’ll need to do another cake experiment…

We ate our first homegrown oyster mushrooms this week. They are tasty! They’re a bit more mild than field mushrooms but I still love ’em. I ate some for lunch today, fried in pork lard. Then some for dinner, fried in beef dripping. Happiness! This week I instigated the lard experiments, which I will post about later.

The Husband also got busy in the kitchen, using a big stash of our frozen tomatoes to make 10L of tomato soup. The smaller garage freezer has become our preserving freezer and it is now half full of soup. And there are still more frozen tomatoes that need to be used!

Vegetables and Light

We’ve had to buy a few more veges over winter and have been unpleasantly astounded at the price of some veges, in particular broccoli and cauliflower. The last growing season was a poor one, followed by a rainy, gloomy Autumn and this is further impacting on the increasing price of store-bought veges. Although I don’t have the time to grow everything I want from seed at the moment, buying seedlings to grow is still a lot more cost-effective than buying veges from the shops. At Bunnings you can get a little punnet of 6 vege seedlings for $1.96 or thereabouts, compared to $3.50-$5 for one head of broccoli or cauliflower from the supermarket. And the supermarket broccoli is puny as. I bought one punnet each of red cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower from Bunnings to add to my brassicas in the garden. I will let them get a bit bigger before planting. It has been a pretty mild winter so far, with only a few frosts, so I might as well make use of the milder temperatures to keep adding cold-hardy crops to the garden.

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I also found myself in Mitre 10 Mega one day, where I bought a light for the back porch. This is the final light I needed to add to the house lot of light fittings that I have been gathering and storing for some time. The next step is getting a quote for an electrician to install all the lights in the house, a few of which will be in new positions, and to do a few other little electrical jobs.

As I was exiting the garden centre section, because, obviously, I ended up there, I found seed potatoes! I had been carefully thinking about which potato varieties to grow next season, with input from The Husband, since he was not impressed with Ilam Hardy last season and loves Agria. It’s always good to have more than one variety and to try out new things, so I am planning to grow Agria and Summer Delight as my major main crops and either Liseta or Allura in the planters for a quicker-maturing, early crop. Summer Delight was one of the varieties of seed potatoes available at Mitre 10 Mega, so I bought one 1.5kg bag. It is way early, but I thought I had better get them while I could, as I didn’t see that variety last season. I can always plant them a bit earlier with some protection. They are now chitting in the garage.

 

Tackling the Windows

A less fun activity this week was the commencement of window cleaning. Our windows have gotten so, sooo bad. Today, I finished cleaning all the windows in The Little Fulla’s room. I did such a good job, and, yes, there was a toothbrush involved, that it took ages. Well, the frames were bad! His room is at the shady end of the house. If I can get two or three window cleaning sessions in each week it won’t take too long to get the whole house done, right? I hate window cleaning. I don’t mind the actual glass cleaning, but the window frames? I’d rather clean the chicken coop. One good thing to note, though, is that I used homemade cleaners instead of nasty chemicals. For the frames I used a little vinegar in about 1/4 bucket of warm water and for the glass I am experimenting with 1/4 cup vinegar in 2 cups of warm water with 10 drops of essential oil (I used lemon). The oil is supposed to help prevent streak or water drop marks and I’m pretty happy with it so far. Who needs chemicals, man?

The Chickens

The chickens have been trucking along well through the wet winter weather, enjoying the goodness of The Orchard Pen. But on Staurday morning as I fed the chickens, I discovered that Kitty had a problem. She was barely eating, but pretending to eat, and it was glaringly obvious because she is one of the three who love to eat from my hand and get first dibs. Then I noticed that her crop looked huge. Into Chicken Hospital she went with suspected sour crop. It seems she had been drinking a lot as her crop was so full but there was only a little bad smell and spew was not forthcoming. During the day she got rid of some crop contents from both ends on her own while being kept off food and water, other than epsom salt flushes. As her crop started to go down I realised it was probably more of a case of impacted crop merging into sour crop. This means no induced spewing but massaging a few times a day. And we all know what a sour crop chicken means around here… A spewing human! And sure enough, The Little Fulla was that human yesterday. What is it with these chickens? It’s like they know things. Needless to say, we missed our planned family trip to Auckland yesterday. I hope Kitty recovers well as she is very dear to me. She is the easiest to treat of my oldies and such a lovely girl.

 

Kitty and co

Has Kitty (front) been pigging out on hay or has she eaten something weird that got stuck? Time will tell. Get well soon, pretty Kitty.

A Stone Mission

One evening we found ourselves on a stone mission. I bought a pile of used small river stones on Trade Me for $40, with the intention of using them in The Driveway Expansion Plan. That’s a new plan. Actually it’s not new, it just has a name now. We will need some more firm gravel as well, but this was a good start. The Husband went to get the stones with the borrowed trailer one day after work. But the pile of stones was a bit bigger than I thought it was. He came home in a fluster because they wouldn’t all fit in one trailer load, it was a lot of work shoveling them and he had to take the trailer back in the morning. We both shoveled and raked the stones off the trailer onto a tarp as fast as we could, which was not very fast at all, then bundled up The Little Fulla, took our shovels and headed off on a family stone mission. We shoveled the next load of stones onto the trailer, which came up to about 3/4 full. Shoveling stones is a lot harder than shoveling dirt. They look small, but they are heavy! Especially when they’re dirty and wet. It was hard work, but we gained a big pile of stones for a good price and got it done before the darkness of night descended. The arrival of more rain has helped to clean some of the stones.

At the moment, we have a short driveway with the only proper parking being the carport at the end of it. The Husband parks his work van on the drive behind the car or on the grass on the west side of the drive when it’s not too soggy. But sogginess has become a very real thing around here with all the rain we’ve had. When the road flooded and we had to do some awkward maneuvering for me to get the car out one night, wading through water with The Little Fulla in tow, it became clear that we needed to do something about parking space sooner rather than later. I have always intended to turn the bit of garden on the west side of the carport into a parking space. The main reason nothing has been done about it yet is camellia stumps. Always the camellia stumps! There are a bunch of small stumps in there that need to be dug out. Now there’s a tarp with a pile of stones sitting on top of some of them… Aren’t we good at making piles? We could be pile-making specialists. Need a pile? We’ll make one for you.

Stone pile

Our latest pile: The Stone Pile. The Husband had a small not-paying-attention-to-wife’s-directions moment, hence the wayward stones at the front.

That Patio Woodpile Area Thing

We have been continuing to chop or saw up wood from the long/large bits of wood woodpile beside the ‘covered’ patio woodpile.

Chopping woodpile

The long/large bits of wood woodpile. It looks pretty messy, but it’s a LOT better than it was before.

The patio woodpile area that The Husband has been fiddling with is not going very well. High winds keep blowing his wood and plastic covering off, leaving the wood wet again. The good news is, the wood is going to have to be moved into the woodshed now, for I have done things. Good things.

I have been watching auctions for loads of pavers on TradeMe since The Husband started doing his weird patio woodpile thing. There is a paving company that has a bunch of $1 reserve auctions every week for pallet loads of various styles and amounts of pavers. Some go for well over $100 and the cheapest I saw was $40-something. I found a small load of end-of-line pavers that I really liked the look of, worth $252, and got them for $2. Two dollars! That was totally meant to be. Now we just need to pick them up…

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.

Small Projects Abound

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A lot of small projects have been done in the last few months. So that they don’t miss out on being in the blog, here is a roundup of some of the smaller indoor and outdoor projects that have been going on at Twiglet Homestead.

Towel Rail

Our whole bathroom and laundry area needs a BIG renovation. I would love to get my fingers into that, and have my thoughts in it, but we’re not in a position to be able to do it any time soon. Thus, I am sticking to small amendments that make the area more functional. I have installed another towel rail in the bathroom, as we needed more towel rail space, particularly for The Little Fulla’s towel. The rail is a basic 60cm chrome one that just fits into the space where I wanted it: within easy reach of the shower/bath and low enough for The Little Fulla to dry his hands on his towel since he can’t reach the hand towel. The Husband didn’t even notice the new rail until I pointed it out, which I am taking as a good thing: it fits into the bathroom as if it was always there.

Towel rail

A small but functional project: a towel rail for The Little Fulla’s towel.

Small Shelves

The Husband came home one day with some little shelves, which I wasn’t particularly happy about. First of all, he paid a wad of money for shelves, which I was prepared to make, and, second of all, they were white. I am not a fan of white furniture. I can appreciate it in some other peoples’ houses, but I like natural wood. Rustic is my middle name. Well, it could be. Apparently we desperately needed a corner shelf to sit the Wi-Fi box on so The Little Fulla couldn’t reach it. I suppose I shouldn’t have mentioned the words ‘corner shelf’ to The Husband, even if they were in the same sentence as the word ‘I’, but this all came about because of my great lounge and computer desk-rearranging fiasco of last Christmas, so I suppose The Husband did have a point about how soon I would realistically get time to make something like this…

Anyway, these little white shelves aren’t too bad. It was a set, so, after positioning the corner one for the Wi-Fi box well beyond the reach of The Little Fulla, who has a long reach, I decided what to do with the other four little shelves. The smallest two were positioned near the corner one. Together, they add some interest and volume to that corner of the room, while hopefully detracting some attention from the cords and heat pump, as well as being out of reach of the small, fidgety child. I was allowed to put some ornamental things in front of the Wi-Fi box. I just need to cut some of the seedheads a little shorter and straighten the cords a little more. I suppose the white does brighten up the corner.

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The other two white shelves, which were a little longer, were positioned in The Little Fulla’s room, above the change table, so we could put things up there that he couldn’t reach. Do you sense a theme going on here? I have been wanting some shelving up there for a while, so these will do for now.

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Glass Bottles and Shelf Feature

This little project was something creative I came up with. I had a black rack that was a holder for four mason jar drinking glasses, but we never used it to sit the glasses in so it was just taking up space in a cupboard. After acquiring some small, decorative glass bottles or vases left over from The Little Sister-in-law’s wedding, I knew what to do with it. I filled four bottles with curious, found items, bought two hooks and screwed them into the wall above the fruit bowls where there was an empty space yearning to be filled. Some time later… I have just finished the second part of this project: installing a small wooden shelf above it. I found a stained piece of wood in the garage, cut it shorter and roughly sanded it to retain a bit of a rustic look. Then I found some black wall brackets to tie it in with the black rack. I was planning to use the shelf to hold at least some utility things, but it has suddenly filled up with rustic, decorative items, which I am never short of. I know they contribute to a homely atmosphere that makes me feel happy. The Husband likes to call them ‘fluff’.

Rustic shelf feature

Now, THIS is my kind of shelf, complete with rustic, ornamental ‘fluff’. I do like my rustic decor.

Rustic shelf feature 2

The wall above the fruit bowls did need something on it.

Garden Produce Board

The garden produce board sits on the pantry door and lets us know what veges and fruit are available for use at the current time. In the first version, everything was written on with whiteboard marker. Later crops were added outside of alphabetical order, which was most disturbing to my sense of orderliness. For the new and improved version I used magnetic strips and the label maker to make movable crop labels. Stroke of genius! Now I can keep them all nicely in alphabetical order and can make more if more crops are added. I was looking for small magnetic buttons to put beside crops that are available for eating, but I’ve been drawing a star with whiteboard marker, which is working well.

Garden Produce Board

The Garden Produce Board. The magnetised crops can be moved around when needed. I just have to watch out for the little fingers encroaching from below.

Rain Barrel Cover

We had a little project session back on Easter Saturday. Well, some of us did: The Father, The Little Brother-in-law and I. The Husband had a sore back and the other females were on a shopping mission. I was happy to be in the yard with tools in my hands. The Father and The Little Brother-in-law began to dig out the last stump in The Herb Garden, but the ground was still soggy and the water table high, so they could only do so much.

The Little Brother-in-law then took on another project: making a cover for the rain barrel by the carport, which is destined to be moved but needed a cover regardless. The Mother was getting nervous about the prospects of The Little Fulla disappearing into the rain barrel. The Little Brother-in-law made a valiant effort at a plywood cover for the rain barrel with a hole for the downpipe, considering he had very little time to do so. There were several issues with the design though: 1) I couldn’t easily lift it up in order to dip a watering can in the barrel (yes, the barrel should really have a tap instead…), 2) The Little Fulla could push the lid sideways and drink water out of the barrel and 3) The Little Fulla was in danger of pulling the rock off the top of the lid, which was weighing the lid down.

The next day, after The Little Fulla’s water barrel drinking incident, I made version two of the rain barrel lid. Don’t worry, I had to re-do my project from the same day too. My suggestion of wire netting had been pooh-poohed by all but The Father, but I was intent on testing out my idea now. I had a small piece of wire netting leftover from fencing the chicken pen so I made good use of it. First, I fastened some thick wire around the rim of the barrel then fashioned it into a hook facing inside the barrel. I likewise fashioned and attached another wire hook on the other side of the barrel. Then I positioned and trimmed the netting with plenty of overlap for the top of the barrel and to fit around the downpipe, finishing by bending in all the cut ends and bending the wire to fit nicely around the barrel. The wire hooks hook over the cover and can be lifted to take the cover off. It isn’t perfect, but it’s holding up until we can get a proper covered rain barrel.

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The wire netting rain barrel cover, holding the fort for now.

Chick Food Box

When the little chickens were chicks I had their food container of chick crumbs in the big cage in front of the woodshed, with the door held ajar enough for them to fit in but not the bigger chickens. This ensured that the laying hens wouldn’t get any of the chick food, which contains a coccidiostat. I hooked it up with metal clasps so that I could easily remove the food container and put it in the garage at night. That way the fat, greedy slugs don’t get at it. This was working well. The chicks knew how to get into the cage and they were safe from the big chickens while eating. But the big cage needed to be moved. It was taking up space in one of the precious shelter zones (important in ridiculously wet weather) and it needed to be cleaned and sanitised, ready for other uses if necessary.

I tried using the wooden food box that I had altered for said purpose, but the big chickens could squeeze under it and reach the food. My project for Easter Saturday was to add two vertical planks to the middle of the food box to leave a rectangle or square gap on each side that the big chickens shouldn’t be able to fit through. Well, it was a fail. I watched one of the hens squeeze her front end through one of the gaps and pounce on the chick food. So, while I was in project re-do mode I did version two of this one too. I unattached the two vertical middle planks and one of the horizontal planks from the front of the food box. Then I used the remainder of the piece of chicken wire from the rain barrel cover (how convenient) to cover the front of the food box. I stapled it onto one side then stapled the other end to a sturdy piece of wood that I had cut to the height of the food box, leaving a gap for the chicks to get through. The netting cover hooks onto a couple of nails and can be opened for easy removal of the food vessel. I often saw a fat, greedy slug en route to the food container when I whisked it away for the night. Ha!

Coop Renovations

Since I can’t afford the big, walk-in chicken coop that I want at the moment, I have settled on making some little renovations to my coop, for now. There were eight nestboxes, four on each side, which was way overkill. So, I took out the dividers for the nestboxes along one side, which the hens barely ever laid in anyway, which was easily done with a little unscrewing. Now there are four nestboxes and the hens still usually want to use the same one. Not even the same one, just whichever one the other hen is in. One day I witnessed my first hen climbing incident. Kitty wanted to lay in the first nestbox where Frodo was laying. So Kitty attempted to climb onto Frodo. This didn’t work well at all considering the nestboxes are only just big enough for one hen. Frodo is also my biggest hen at around 3kg. And Kitty is my second biggest hen. It was funny. Kitty is lovely, like a calm, poofy cloud. She just sort of floofed onto Frodo. Anyway, now there is more floor space for those that sleep on the floor.

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Kitty floofed onto Frodo.

My next coop renovation was unscrewing the centre roost and replacing it with two, easily-removable roosts for more roost space and easy cleaning. First I did the main roost. I found a nice planed, rounded-edged piece of timber in the garage, measured it to fit inside the coop walls then cut it to size so that it fits quite snugly. Then I made two roost holders: one for each wall. They are pieces of wood with a slot cut out wide enough for the roost to rest in. I did it all with hand tools: measuring, sawing, chipping out the little rectangles of wood with a flat-head screwdriver and hammer, sanding and screwing. I gave all edges a light sand. This roost is wider than the old one with more rounded edges and positioned a bit higher and more to the right to allow more space for the second roost. The second roost isn’t as wide, because some of the chickens don’t like the wideness, and is low to the ground towards the non-nestbox side of the coop. I haven’t taken photos of the coop with both roosts installed, but the second roost is installed in the same way as the first, sitting on wooden holders. After I had installed just the top roost, only Lizzie and Mr Bingley were sleeping on it. Then one night I found they had some new roost buddies. Mr Bingley had the two then-little chickens beside him, one on either side. It went: Mr Collins, Mr Bingley, PB then Lizzie. It was very cute. Kitty is a big fan of the lower roost as she is the guard chicken and sits close to the door. This is a funny position that she has assigned herself. She is the last into the coop at night, although she isn’t the dominant hen, and makes noise if anything disturbing is going on.

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The first new roost after it was installed.

So, what’s next on the projects list? I’m not sure what order things are going to end up getting done in, but a few things on the near horizon are:

  • Making a spice shelf for the kitchen wall.
  • Doing family photo frames for the lounge.
  • Finding something nice to decorate our bedroom wall.
  • Buying one more light for the back porch, then getting a household full of lights installed.
  • Filling The Little Fulla’s sandpit with sand and sorting out a cover.
  • Making a chicken tractor (a run with coop on wheels) that can be used for a breeding pen or various temporary housing needs.
  • Disposing of the pruning mountain.
  • Setting up pallets for growing potted plants in the alcove where the pruning mountain is.
  • Building more vege beds.

The list goes on and on, in addition to other tasks like sowing and planting crops, garden maintenance and house maintenance. Never a dull moment out here! There is always something fascinating to work on.

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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