Archive for October, 2011

It’s a beginning…..

October 29, 2011

I’ve had the girls for 5 weeks now and I think that makes them about 17 weeks old. They aren’t vocalising much, just a few quiet ‘buk-buks’ to each other. It’s me that’s doing most of the clucking.

I was sitting on the deck this morning with my usual cup of coffee, when one of them put her head in the air and decided it was time for her ‘Joan Sutherland at La Scala’ impression.

“Buk, buk, buk, bwaaark; buk, buk, bwaaark, bwaaark!!”.

She must have thought, “that was a bit of all right”, because she leaped onto a log and did an encore, louder and longer.

I was gob-smacked; the others looked at her in stunned amazement. One gave a sort of strangled cry (more practice needed there, I’d say) and then, as if in shock, they all fell silent for the rest of the day.

Still, it’s a beginning…..

Later on, after lunch, I came out and saw them looking interestedly at a baby rabbit that had got into their playground.

The playground isn’t a secure site (sounds like a web page!). It’s fenced with steel panels and roofed over with a bird net. The gaps in the panels are barely 4 cm wide, but the little bunny easy slipped through.

Which explains why, when I sowed some clover seed down the back inside a square formed from the same panels, something kept eating it. I blamed possums climbing in, not believing that such a small baby rabbit could be out on it’s own.

Just so you can see how tiny they can be, here’s a photo of a baby rabbit skull I retrieved from under the woodheap where it went to god. I’ve kept it for a friend who collects skulls. She’s quite normal, just an amateur naturalist. (No, that’s interested in nature, not running around without her clothes!).

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Wonder when it’ll happen here?

October 24, 2011

The lights are going out all over Britain. Wonder when it’ll start happening here?

Of course in the cash-strapped UK they’re trying to save money, not trying to put less CO2 into the air. Not trying to do anything realistic about climate change. Oh, no!

It’s always amazes me that while we (well, most intelligent people), acknowledge climate change and the future problems it’ll cause, plus the fact that it’s almost certainly down to human activities, we just don’t seem able to do the hard yards and ban all unnecessary use of electricity & oil.

Remember the days when we didn’t have night sporting matches with all those blazing lights? Or when the shops closed at 5.30 pm and weren’t lit up all night? When TV and radio stations shut down at midnight? When we didn’t have huge plasma TV’s, dishwashers & dryers, petrol-driven lawnmowers, leaf blowers and line trimmers?

Is it any wonder CO2 levels from burning fossil fuels are increasing?

Turning out a few street lights isn’t going to help. It’s about as useless as putting low-energy light globes in your house. But it makes us feel good and while we’re doing the useless little things, we don’t have to think about doing the big things that will really matter.

If climate change causes the extinction of Homo sapiens (Wise Man?…..you’ve gotta be kidding!), then it’s probably no more than we deserve.

Basil seed mats…update

October 20, 2011

I’m going to start potting up the basil seedlings so thought I’d post a final photo of how they went. The first post on the subject is here.

This is how they looked today, 5 weeks after sowing:

Before I sowed the seed mats, I’d already sowed basil in the normal way and these were potted up a week ago:

There’s 24 seedlings there. I added another 16 today and there’s still more to be potted up.

I can see jars and jars of delicious pesto in the distance!

The girls love grated carrot so I sowed a huge patch of carrot seed today:

This prickly little guy turned up in the bush yesterday. It’s good to see that some of the native animals are still present:

The connoisseurs guide to chicken droppings

October 18, 2011

One of the chooks did a sloppy mustard-coloured poo.

Omigod, I thought, she’s sick. WhaddoIdo?

When in doubt, Google.

Can you imagine people actually photograph chook poo?

Look at this.

It turned out the sloppy poo is normal. Called a caecal poo. Happens about once every 8 droppings.

Whew!

Around the garden

October 17, 2011

These purple podded peas are doing well. The colour will make searching for them amongst the foliage much easier:

The flowers are so pretty:

I love watching the girls dust bathe. They dig a large hole in the sand and all three crowd into it, tossing sand all over themselves. They aren’t vocalising much yet (as in clucking like a chook), but this exercise was accompanied by what I can only describe as the chook equivalent of moans of delight:

The leeks are starting to put up flower stems and getting tough, so I’ve picked them, sliced them and put them in the dehydrator. I’ll use them in soups & casseroles:

I’m putting two new wicking boxes up near the house. I’ve put them up on poly boxes to keep the rabbits off. I’m going to plant these up with Green Harvest’s Clucker Tucker mix for the chooks. At the moment I’m walking all the way down the back to pick greens for them every morning. The boxes are close to the chook run, so will save me some energy:

Nuptial flights and chicken dinner

October 15, 2011

Last evening I was at the computer, clicking away and chasing links when I realised it was well after 7 pm and heading into twilight. The chooks were still in their outdoor ‘playground’ and needed to be shooed into their secure run and locked in for the night.

I dropped the mouse and went outside, only to be hit in the face by a horde of flying things. As soon as I saw the carpet of insect wings and staggering ants on the deck I knew what was happening. It was Nuptial Flight Night.

The house is surrounded by ant nests. I don’t know which species, but I think they’re sugar ants. They move enormous amounts of sand, bringing it up from below and making neat little volcanic cones of sand grains around each hole. Yet I rarely ever see any ants around the holes. I tolerate them because they don’t do any real harm; they don’t bite if you do encounter them and don’t come into the house. And ants predate termites. I reckon that as long as there are ants near the house there won’t be any termites.

But once a year they appear in droves just around dusk. This is the time of the annual nuptial flight. It’s synchronised and happens all over the property at the same time with this species and probably all over the neighbourhood. From nests tens of metres apart, winged males and winged virgin females emerge from their holes and take to the air where mating occurs. The ants fall to the ground and the males die, their job over. The fertilised females bite off their wings and seek out a spot to begin a new nest and lay eggs. The morning after one of these events, the deck will be covered in discarded wings.

I went to get the camera, with flying ants hitting me in the face and falling into my hair. While I was taking pictures, I noticed there was a commotion in the chook run. Ants were flying and falling into the run. The chooks were doing somersaults, plucking them out of the air and racing one another to snatch up the fallen ones. It was an unexpected protein supper and too good to pass up.

The ants were flying slowly enough that I could swipe them out of the air with my hand and into the chook run where they were quickly snatched up. I wished I’d  had a ping pong bat. The deck was covered with them. I got the dustpan and brush, swept them up and threw them to the chooks. No sense wasting good protein.

The Noisy Miners were having a beanfeast too, snatching them out of the air. It was 10 minutes of glorious mayhem with chooks running and jumping every which way and me yelling, “go get ‘em girls….oh, well done”. Eventually it got too dark for us to see anything. The chooks retired to bed with full tummies and I went back to the computer and Google.

There’s a good site here with an explanation of the phenomenon.

I’ve noticed this event happening for several years now. I don’t know what triggers it but it’s usually at the end of a warm spring day. I watched the moon come up later whilst lying in bed and it looked full, but when I checked it was 2 days after the full. So the full moon doesn’t come into it. Most sites I looked at attribute it to just warmth and humidity.

Some ants in the picture don’t have wings. Maybe it’s not their night for sex on the wing.

One very surprised duck!

October 13, 2011

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’d increased the size of the chook run by clearing away a bit of the natural bush behind the secure run, fencing it off with a low fence and covering it with a bird net to stop them flying out.

Here’s what it looks like:

There are wild Pacific Black Ducks that visit regularly. I usually feed them with rolled oats in a dish of water (they’d gag on the dry stuff). They’ve been fascinated by the chooks. The chooks, for their part, gave them an interested first glance, saw that they had funny beaks and funny feet and decided, “nah, they’re not our type”, and now ignore them. The ducks stand outside the fenced run and stare at the chooks. It’s quite funny to watch.

I opened the back door, which looks out over the chook run and looked at the chooks. They were in the secure run looking towards the bird net-covered run.

I turned to see what they were looking at and…..

He wasn’t stuck in the net, just standing there on his big flat feet, looking rather bemused.

Urban Permaculture DVD now available

October 11, 2011

It’s just been announced at the Permaculture Research Institute’s website that this long-awaited DVD featuring Geoff Lawton, is now available.

I’ve ordered my copy early, even though it won’t ship till November.

There’s a short video trailer at the website and I’d recommend anyone living on a suburban block who doesn’t know much about permaculture should get this video.

I already have Geoff’s Soils and Introduction to Permaculture DVD’s and this one will be a valuable addition to my collection.

Geoff’s enthusiasm is infectious and his knowledge boundless. You’ll want to rush outside and put these ideas into practice right away.

Have rabbits & butterflies given up sex?

October 10, 2011

I can’t believe it’s spring and there are NO Cabbage White Butterflies flying and NO baby rabbits eyeing off the greenery.

It’s warm enough, so where are they? This year I actually WANT Cabbage Whites. Can you imagine that? I want nice, fat green grubs to throw to my chickens. The rabbits I can do without.

I suspect they’ll both be along sooner or later, so, in the case of the rabbits, I’m trying to get as much planted as possible, so the plants will grow big enough to withstand the rabbit attack when it comes.

Even so, I’m not taking any chances and everything I plant is being protected with wire guards. It’s a real pain in the neck to have to do this; it takes twice as long to plant anything.

Today I put out 8 borage seedlings and there are another dozen growing on, to go. I also have plenty of calendula and a few nasturtiums. The nasturtiums self-seeded and were dug up from a spot where I didn’t want them. Usually, I just sow the large seeds direct; in warm soil they germinate easily. I want all these mainly to attract bees to the garden, although calendula petals are edible and look attractive in a salad, as do nasturtium flowers and of course, nasturtium leaves are edible, too.

I’ve also started putting out tomatoes, since they were big enough in the pots, and everyone else seems to be planting theirs. This year I’m growing Grosse Lisse, Burnley, Black Russian, Black Cherry, Red Pear Cherry, Roma, San Marzano and Green Zebra. There’s also a single Purple Cherokee I bought at a Sunday market and a couple of Silvery Fir Tree which I’m growing for the first time (because the foliage looked nice in the picture).

The red cherry tomatoes  will go into the grey water line. They did very well there last year and I won’t have to worry about watering them. Some of the tall varieties will go into the deep wicking tubs and the rest into the main garden. The smaller-growing Roma and San Marzano will go into wicking boxes. In total, I think I potted up about 50 tomatoes. I’ll plant some in a friend’s garden and give a few cherry varieties to a neighbour for her kids to enjoy picking.

And finally, because no post would be complete without ‘the girls’, here they are, resting from their labours:

Who’s a clever plant, then?

October 6, 2011

I was sitting on the deck enjoying the morning sunshine and a cup of coffee, watching the chooks cavorting in their new play area, when I noticed the nasturtium starting to climb up from the wicking tub beside the deck. The plants self-seeded there from last year.

Nasturtiums put out long growths and will cover a huge area of ground if there’s nothing to scramble up and over. They’re often listed in gardening books as climbers but they don’t possess tendrils like other climbers, for example, a passionfruit.

They have a clever way of hanging onto things to get where they want to go, though. Each leaf, if it comes in contact with something it can grab, wraps itself around the object and supports the growing stem. This one is just starting to curl around the wire:

This one’s done a double back-flip and is securely fastened to the wire. No falling off now:

This is very clever. It takes energy to make plant structures like leaves, flowers and seeds. Nothing in nature wants to waste energy making unnecessary bits of infrastructure. Before you ask “how can a plant ‘want’ anything?”, think of it this way. Organisms that use energy wisely, grow and proliferate successfully. They’re good at getting their genes into the next generation, which is what life is all about.

Energy wasted on unnecessary infrastructure is not available to make offspring for the next generation. If energy is scarce, those organisms may not be so successful in the game of life.

What the nasturtium is doing is using the available energy to make one structure which does two things—photosynthesise and support the plant. A typical tendril would only provide support. A typical leaf would only photosynthesise.

If you know your permaculture you’ll know that one of the design principles is: each element should perform more than one function. Here’s an example of a plant practising permaculture.

So there’s a clever plant!