Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lessons learned

I don't mean to harp on about it, but I was talking to my mother again recently and naturally the topic of the Victorian bushfires came up. I thought I would share some insights she gave me about the process of coming back to normality.

She told me about an interview of a survivor of the fires she was watching, and how the woman was telling her story and appearing to laugh about it. It's very deceptive she said because on the outside it looks like she's coping. After cyclone Tracy, my mum shared how the survivors used to tell jokes about their predicament amongst each other too, because after you lost everything laughter is all you had left. Either that or crying, and some people weren't ready to do that yet.

Crying means finally accepting what you've lost, so you laugh about the horror instead. It's not such a bad way of coping but we shouldn't automatically assume that laughter means acceptance.

That insight from my mum really touched me, because even as I watch the survivors tell their stories now I think how well they were coping. In reality though, it probably hasn't even registered what they've lost.

I've learned so much from my mum as we were sharing - stuff she hasn't told me before. I asked if she could write her book about cyclone Tracy, that she's always been meaning to do. For her she said, it's a very difficult process to want to go back willingly and re-live those events. Even so I said, people forget about the reality of tragedies because all history records are the statistics and dates. We forget about the people and what happens to them, so when another tragedy happens we feel unprepared to cope again.

I'm sure like many people far removed from the tragedy, we hope that society doesn't become so complacent about such disasters again. But for a survivor I'm sure, it's something they would rather forget ever happened. At least that is how my own mum has coped. In her mid 50's she's still learning to cope too.

We reached a point in our conversation though, where she admitted how worried she was that upon watching the Victorian tragedy unfold, how detached she felt emotionally. The more they reported the more she detached. She began to feel like she'd lost all her capacity to care. Then it hit her, she said, having been through her own natural disaster that as the horror unfolds you learn to detach from your reality. How could you go through all that and remain sane, if at some point you didn't detach your emotions?

So she was in her own way, "feeling" for the victims of the bushfire, only from the perspective of a survivor who is still dealing with the ramifications of her natural disaster story.

I just thought I would share these insights so perhaps we can step back a little as a community, and let the survivors of this recent event, come to grips with their reality again. It's not for us to feel happy or sad for how well or poorly they're coping. We must remember they're still going through the process of acceptance.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Does size really matter?

My newest members of the flock - Lavander Araucanas...

It occurs to me that on our 5 acres of bushland we probably take "space" for granted. When we start thinking about economising space, we rarely think less than 10 square metres at a time. Somehow in the 2 years living here, everything has escalated in size! I use to dread it for all the work it involved, but now I think I'm probably very fortunate. Not probably, but certainly very fortunate.

One of my principle loves here though, and something I'm fortunate to be able to do on the scale that I do, is keep chickens. I'm really only limited by how long it can take to build another coop and the time it takes to be able to afford it. But time and money is something even those on suburban blocks have to contend with. One thing which cannot be changed however, is space available.

So I was wondering what ingenious ideas others have used to economise on space, in regards to keeping chickens?

My first love affair with chooks started with these black pekins; the new blue cockerel is now 18 weeks old...

One idea I have heard of recently, when collecting my new chickens, came from a lady who lived in a Suburban backyard, yet had countless amounts of chickens - including roosters. How was this possbile?

Well I met with her at her mother's property which was a few acres in size. Her mum was a lovely lady who described her daughter's passion with poultry as something she's helping her with. The daughter in question was a grown woman (perhaps around the same age as me) only she had 3 kids. They all came out to gran's property where they all shared the love of chooks.

I must say, it was really great to see these kids handling the chooks like they were pro's and talking to gran about what the Araucanas had been up to on their suburban block. They would often take a few chooks back wtih them, and when the neighbours (or they) had enough it was time to swap them for some more.

A close-up of my strapping young blue pekin cockerel. I really love this little guy. He's so considerate of his pekin hens that they actually prefer his advances over any other rooster.

I thought this was actually a great way for a poultry enthusiast to keep more chooks than a suburban block could allow. While there was a degree of imposing on Gran's property, the exchange was getting to see the grandkids thrilled with another visit and immediate dialogue about something they had in common. All this for only an hour's drive, and after school so the kids could take part. I thought it was brilliant!

This is a blue cockerel and black pullet of the bantam orpingtons, easily becoming one of my favourite breed of chook...

What other ideas are out there for people limited by space? Or indeed, is there value in keeping only a limited amount of chooks at a time? Personally, I'm planning to rotate my breeds and any that prove to be too high maintenance, will be sold on. Even though I have more space, I'm still only one person who has to manage what time and resources I have. So in many regards small flocks do make a lot of sense.

Please share your thoughts and ideas, so we can all learn from your experience.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Late summer garden '09

Time for some truth shots. My early summer garden started out gorgeously, thanks to some much needed rain. But then as summer progressed the conditions dried and I was unable to keep the moisture up to the vegetables.

So what happened after 3 months of warm, dry conditions? Take a look at my butternut pumkin vines.

The butternuts have been the hardiest crop. Despite a touch of powdery mildew, they have fruited and produced a good crop. They are still fruiting. One of the vines has died back completely but I didn't water that one at all. The pumpkins are what I watered the least, but they have still managed to survive and produce, without being overrun by pests & disease.

Another vine crop that did well considering I didn't water them at all, was my large bottle gourds.

There were 4 vines planted in this space, but now only 1 still grows. The gourds themselves however are drying in the sun where they lay. There are several fruits over the wall, where the dead vines had dropped them. If this was a crop I could eat, I'd be planting them everywhere. But as they're more for craft projects once they've dried, I'll keep one crop a year.

The brandywine tomatos did okay for the first few weeks they cropped. But due to the humidity and irregular watering, they have succumbed to many tomato diseases.

As they're planted around the chicken coop however, the chooks love eating the fruit still on the vine when free-ranging in the afternoons. We did get a few edible fruits early on but I must say, the flavour wasn't that great. I put it down to the conditions they were grown in however, not the particular variety of tomato.

My Sunflowers have died back, as expected after they flower. I've got the best seed-head inside, drying for next seasons planting.

But I've also had a few visitors, helping themselves to the seed heads too. I suspect cockatoos as they've been hanging around a lot lately, which they don't normally tend to do. I haven't seen them raiding them yet, but their presence has been noted in the early mornings.

Never mind though, I have a few more heads I can cut off now and dry for the chooks. But now down to the real sad performers this year. Just look at my pathetic apple cucumbers.

They cropped quite a bit, but as I couldn't seem to keep the water up to them, the fruits were often tasteless. Another free feed welcomed by the chooks! But I've learned that cucumbers need a lot of moisture and I need to review how I'm growing these plants next year.

Another poor performer has been my sweetcorn crop. I don't think they fancied the humidity or constant heat, which shows in their sunburnt leaves. These guys need more shelter from the sun than I've given them this year.

The pumpkin vines began to trail through the corn, but I don't think it was enough to retain the moisture or shield the roots from the intense summer sun.

You can see that I've gotten a few husks appearing, but they will be chook food for sure.

Not is all dead and shrivelled up in my garden though. My citrus trees made it through their first summer - not surprisingly the Eureka Lemon, Tahitian Lime and Kumquat have just thrived despite the hot conditions. The oranges and manderines were a bit more temperamental and attacked by pests. They are doing okay regardless.

A lovely surprise now greets me when I visit the garden though, and that's the Marigolds.

They remind me there's still life in the garden and I've given something else for the bees to eat.

Nonetheless, I'm going to have to implement new ways to address my vegetable garden to get the most out of a growing season.

Monday, February 16, 2009

After surviving

Not many people would know it, but my first Christmas Day was spent in the arms of my mother, as she walked around the ruins of cyclone Tracey, in Darwin. We were living in Darwin at the time and I was just 6 months old. My older sister was nearly two years. Everything we had was destroyed.

But the stories I have heard, told by my mother, bring with it a mixture of fear, dred and would you believe it - a good dose of overwhelming respect and love for the surivors.

But there's another side to life after you survive something so totally devastating - and yes, I'm thinking now to the Bushfires in Victoria that has claimed so many lives too. And that is the overwhelming desire to forge ahead. So many people I'm told through my mother's stories, yearned to grab hold of something again and shape it back into something they recognised. After the immediate threat to their lives was over, they wanted desperately to bring normality back.

But when they rebuild - and they will rebuild - the survivors will tell their own stories. Not of the brutal tragedy itself, but of the people who touched their souls during the time they lost everything. My mother still remembers the name of the Salvation Army guy who collected her from the phonebooth that she collapsed in - calling for help. This was after we were evacuated from Darwin. She didn't know anyone where we were dropped off, she wandered off in shock with her two young daughters in tow. During the whole event she had forgotten to eat and drink. It was the needs of her two children which brought her to the phone booth in the first place.

She called the Salvation Army phone number asking for help - where she met a complete stranger on the other end. He didn't know her but then he knew she had been evacuated from Darwin. He told her to wait at the phone booth and found her unconscious with her two crying daughters by her side.

Now I can't remember any of this, and funnily enough there are gaps in my mother's own recollection of after the cyclone. She doesn't remember the Salvation Army guy collecting her from the phone booth for example. Or even how she found herself in the warm bed, with my sister by her side. It's scary to think such a tragedy could do that to a human being, but survival is strong and recovery in those who do, extremely determined.

The moral of this story is, not everything is lost that day you lose everything. Although battered and bruised, the heart desires to grap hold of something and forge a future ahead. Let us be determined for them, more than we pity what they've lost. For their strength and their reason for living is what they manage to claw back.

I must say that I'm overjoyed at the donations and desire to help those in need - even the animals who are also casualties of this tragedy in Victoria.

Hope continues...let us feed it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Change of clothes

I've given our blog a new set of clothes for a while.

Something different for 2009.

Not sure if I like it yet - but we'll see if it grows on me.

Chook friends - old & new

Time for an update on our little fuzz-balls!
(Gold Laced Wyandottes)

That was 5 weeks ago now, and they've grown...and grown...

This is the same chick in the first photo (at the front). She was the first to hatch. Yes, I'm certain it's a girl. I'm starting to tell the differences and by another week, I'll be sure.

Early prediction is 3 definite boys, 2 definite girls and I supsect the last is a girl too - but needs another week. You can see in the above picture how the boys standing up straight (left) are all a bit leggy. They are all legs and not much body to them yet. The girl is at the front and I suspect the other two on the right are girls also. Notice how they have a heavier body to their leg ratio?

But now onto our new poultry freinds, who arrived last week. They are like no other chook I've kept before, and I think I've fallen in love with the Araucanas.

Here is a shot of the two pullets. They were taking a dust bath at the time, so it was hard to get full body shots. They have a lovely hairdo on top though!

And our boy is just as gorgeous. For those who don't know much about Araucanas, I've provided a link to a breed profile here: Araucana

We're looking forward to our green eggs & ham for breakfast, that's for sure. I will post pictures when the first eggs arrive! They are about 16 weeks now I'm told, so not too far away.

We've given the trio names already. Parffei, Latte and Agape. (Pronounced: Par-fay... Lar-tay... Agar-pay) We had a merry old time, coming up with those names. Had our daughter in stitches. The boy is Agape, which is Greek for love. He'll be giving plenty of love around in future. We hope!

Thanks for the continued interest in our feathered friends.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A coop named Serendipity

I have dropped off the blogosphere for at least a month now - but I haven't been sitting on my tookus! The recent rain has actually brought me inside today, and given the opportunity for an update. I've had some even newer chooks arrive this week, so the need for accommodation has intensified. Will update on the new chooks soon - when the weather clears.

Anyhoo, we had some pallets sitting around the place which needed remodelling. The pieces fitted so well together that we decided to call the coop, "Serendipity". Everything came together as if it was meant to be.

Enough talking, more pictures!! And there are a LOT of pictures.

Firstly, I had to remove various nails and staples from the pallets to clean them up. These sides actually came like this and were about to be binned by a local business. They were happy for us to take them away.

Now put two sides together.

Then make a box. Dead easy!

Put two pallets on top of the box, that are equal dimensions but constructed with much thinner wood. These are upside down at the moment, but for good reason.

Take whatever hinges are on hand - I had on old one that went in the middle and two newer, flimpsy, indoor hinges.

Three hinges in total, and being a one person job these hinges are extremely handy for the following steps.

Step one to making a dead easy gable, is fold sides together like a book.

Raise slowly.

Then whulla! Dead easy gable.

One of the reasons this coop is named serendipity, is when I put the original box together, the two short sides were taller than the longer sides. What to do? Well, use the extra lip to hold the gable in place, then screw in place. Making a recycled project had never been so simple. It had to be Serendipity!

Of course I secured the gable with a block in the middle and filled in with plywood.

Here is where I'm up to at the moment.

I really like the colours. That's Mission Green in the gable, and Terracotta for the base. It looks like I spent hours painstakingly putting it together, but in reality it only took 3 days - a couple of hours a day. The beauty of pallets hey!

This is only half the project though. Imagine this section sitting on top of another box. The two sides that have the netting at present will be taken out, and doors put in their place. I should be able to stand up in this one. I'm going to build a run which attaches to the coop also - extending the gable roof. For the moment though, once the roof is on it will hold some chickens securely

If you're wondering where to find these kinds of pallets, ask at your local tyre place or mower shop. They aren't like your normal brick pallets as these ones are often used for shipping equipment and thrown out after being unpacked. All the pallets used in this coop have been sitting on our verandah for weeks, until I formulated a plan. You may have to do this also because every packing pallet is different.

Bear in mind though, pallet wood isn't like hardwood and shouldn't be left on the ground for extended periods. It won't last long in moist conditions. Either build on top of hardwood legs, or keep off the ground some other way. Our half coop is going to be living on the verandah until I can get the hardwood base built on site.

But that's another story....