Monday, September 28, 2009

Time management

I've been contemplating time management recently, due to a series of events which have happened over the school holidays. I mostly feel like I'm chasing time, rather than organising it.

My mum very generously offered to let our daughter sleep over, during the school holidays. Great! She'll be there a whole week, as of tomorrow. What happened in her absence? It's funny, because I now notice there's more time for me to contemplate life strategies better. And, ironically, my mum is now shifting the focus of her daily routine, to the rhythms of a six-year old girl, looking for adventure. She is no doubt, at this very moment, contemplating how much sleep she'll catch-up on, once her granddaughter comes home.

I'm making it sound like raising a child is a burden. It's not actually, because I've also noticed how lost I feel without her. Even Dave says how much he misses her relentless pursuit of playing tag with him. It seems our daily rhythm has changed in the absence of our daughter. We have more time to contemplate life strategies, but in her absence, we miss the bits that make our family what it is.

There's now a realisation, time is what we fill our priorities with.

For each of us at different stages of life, those priorities will change. Grandparents have more time to contemplate routines, than perhaps parents do, in their flurry of responsibilities. Is this a glimpse of what my life will be like, after our daughter leaves home? I've not doubt, it will be. And I believe contentment will be found in that routine too. At the moment though, I am pining for my daughter's distraction - as time consuming, as it is. :)

So what does this say about my routine at home? Well, it's probably good to shake the routine around a little - sometimes - to make new realisations about your circumstances. It's very easy to be distracted by competing priorities. It helps to clear your mind (and plate) to deal with only a few. As long as it isn't life threatening, things can wait until you get around to them.

However, I am glad I've had this week off to contemplate...

1. How generous my mum is.
2. A new financial strategy, which I'll discus in another post.
3. How much I enjoy cooking for my family, and not just to provide a meal.
4. How very lucky I am to have freedom of choice.

For as long as time is my own to choose what manner of activity I'll engage in, I have everything I need to build a routine. Okay, so it probably won't be easy; but at least there's an opportunity to change as life does.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Peeps update

Well it's been over a week (more like two now) since our peeps hatched, so it's time for an update. Below is a picture of our mottley crew after a recent bedding change. Those babies can sure poop! They've doubled in size too.

We have some good news and some bad news to report. We lost a black bantam orpington chick, about 2 days after hatching. I'm not sure what they died of, but I found them laying very still one morning. I cupped them in my hand for about 10 minutes, and when I checked again, they had passed away completely.

It was a little upsetting at the time, but you have to expect some loses - it's only natural.

If you also look at the picture above, you'll notice two (very light grey) araucana chicks to the lower, right hand side. These two were part of the last 3 to hatch, and at the time I noticed they were a little noisier than the earlier arrivals. Especially one, which seemed to flop around the incubator as soon as it hatched.

I thought it was normal at the time. Turned out (24 hours later) both couldn't stand properly and needed their legs strapped together with a band-aide. This process is explained here.

Unfortunately, that wasn't all the bad news to be had. The noisiest chick which flopped around the incubator initially, had a bad case of crooked neck. This is him after having his legs taped together. You cannot really see his crooked neck, because if he sat on his bum and put his weight back, his head would stand up. Read more about the causes and treatment of crooked neck here.

I was deeply worried for him, and even contemplated culling as he was struggling against the more nimble siblings. He would get knocked over, couldn't stand and always ended up on his back, cheaping loudly. Poor baby.

After taping his legs, I monitored him for the next few days. He was getting some food and water, but always had to compete with the other chicks as his head kept wanting to flop between his legs. The material I'd read about crooked neck, seemed to suggest it would only get worse.

Dave offered to "do the deed" one morning while I was having a rest, before he had an appointment in town. Needless to say, I was very surprised when I got up an hour later and saw our little guy, still in the brooder. I was so happy Dave didn't go through with it. When he returned from his appointment, I asked what had stopped him - he said after he went in the room to get the chick, he quietly watched the little fella fight so hard to get at the food and water (with an obvious disability) he thought he deserved a few more days to see if there was any improvement.

And there has been!! Yay! His neck still isn't as nible as the other chicks, but he now has control of it. No more flopping between his legs or walking backwards. He gets around so much better - we should be able to remove his band-aide soon. The other chick is already band-aide free now, and gets around like Speedy Gonzallis.

Here is our crooked neck wonder chick today - now holding his head up high. He could not do this a week ago - his head would be laying on the ground.

What started out as a worrying struggle, turned out to be an incredible victory for our two little fighters. Would you believe I prayed that God would show me how I needed to approach life through this new struggle?

After the first chick died and it looked like we may have to kill another, it didn't feel like the victory I'd been planning. At the time, I was struggling with my own health too - my diabetes treatment wasn't working, the work outside was piling up and I felt extremely useless.

Despite all that went wrong however, the victory of those two little chicks over life, put the rest of my life into perspective. If you're given a chance - just ONE chance to live against the odds, then you have to fight for it. There are going to be days you want to let your head flop between your legs, and it feels like you're walking backwards - other's may push against you or stop you from reaching your goals too. But don't give up, because tomorrow you might get control back. Just a little bit, but it may just be enough to stand on your own two feet again.

We couldn't have hoped for a better introduction to hatching our own chicks. By the way, my health has improved remarkably too, along with the chicks; and we're all on the road to recovery together. :)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Trellis time

The last few days have been quite hectic here. Although it's the school holidays now, our daughter's having a few sleep-overs at her Nan's house. So Dave and I have either been kicking back and relaxing, or most likely, pottering around the garden doing odd jobs. Like the make-over of an old garden bed.

Remember this photo from last summer? Back then, I planted some sunflower seeds along these raised beds, to help shelter the Western facing wall (funny you should mention them yesterday, Jacqui) but while the sunflowers helped a little with shading, they weren't planted thick enough.

So this year I decided to try something new. I've been growing some greens over winter in this bed, and a few things have already gone to seed. But I thought I'd try to grow some vines for better shade this summer - time to build a climbing support.

This trellis was very simple to make. I just used 4 x 6ft star pickets. Once hammered into place, I collected some relatively straight sapling trees which had been aged for a few months. If they aren't aged, they tend to be too flexible to hold their form. The span is about 2 metres between pickets, so the sapling wood is there to brace the support together.

I just used plain old wire to attach the wood to the pickets - then ran some old chicken wire across it too. I needed an extra pair of hands to help with the chicken wire, but everything else can be done by one person.

The garden arch between the two trellises, was a gift from my mum who didn't have a use for it any more. Plus the hanging gourds were free, as I grew them in my garden last summer. When the wind blows they twist and twirl.

All up it really only cost me around $30, and that was for the star pickets. The chicken wire had been following us around for years. It was exactly 4 metres in length, which is exactly what we needed.

I've planted some luffa seeds in the greenhouse, which haven't popped up yet. If they do, they should make quite good coverage for these 2 trellises - fingers crossed the seeds will germinate!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I love lavender

There are a few herb bushes that I just adore. It's because they smell so delicious, especially on warm days. One of these plants is called lavender; Italian lavender to be precise. It's not a very big plant, as it only grows to about 30-40cms high, but it has the most pungent smell of lavender you will ever find. I can still smell it on my fingers, after this mornings activities.

Lavender in flower

Because I love this particular variety so much, I decided to see if I could propagate some more. I would love a full hedge of this stuff! So upon passing my recyclables bin this morning, I noticed a yoghurt container which could be put to good use.

Empty 1kg tub of yoghurt

After cleaning it up and drilling a few holes in the lid, I filled it to about a third full of wet sand. I pulled most of the leaves off the lavender cuttings and plonked them straight into the sand. With the lid on, I'm hoping some will take root in a few weeks time.

Cuttings placed in wet sand

But that's not all I use my lavender for. I recently changed rinse liquids from the store bought variety, to just plain white vinegar. It leaves the laundry feeling soft and fresh. Instead of ordinary vinegar smell however, I pop some lavender flowers (or stalks) into the bottle for about a week. Left too long and it starts to ferment.

Lavender flowers in empty bottle

Once the lavender is removed from the vinegar however, it leaves a slight lavender scent to it - and my washing. No soapy residue left on my laundry either, which I noticed from the store bought variety once I switched over.

Filled with white vinegar to the top

My other favourite herb bush is called the curry plant. On warm days you can smell the aroma of curry as you walk past it. The surprise is so tantalising, you just have to keep walking past it again and again! Once my curry plant gets bigger, I'll see if I can propagate it too.

Curry plant

If it wasn't for the aroma of certain garden plants around the year, I'm not sure being in the garden would be half as enjoyable.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Living with failure

Do you ever feel that empty pit in the bottom of your stomach, after realising something you've spent a great deal of time doing, doesn't work out the way you planned? If I'm completely honest, I've always been a bit of a perfectionist so learning to live with failure has been quite a bumpy ride.

In the beginning I thought it was just me and my personality - as everyone else seemed to get on fine in their life. If they made a mistake, they'd shrug it off or just try harder. I thought I was the only person in the world who made a big deal out of failure. Of course, looking a little harder, I realise it's not the case.

Would you believe that even my garden could cause me to feel like a failure at times too? I bet you could, as I know I'm not the only one. When a plant dies after carefully nurturing it, or a whole garden is wiped out by natural causes, we instinctively feel impelled to blame something for it. If it wasn't the weather, our environment, or the politicians we elect - then the next culprit is ourselves. We obviously didn't do enough.

This whole process could be avoided however, if people accepted failure as having a useful place in our society. People always adapt, despite failure, if they can accept it isn't the end of all things we hold dear. Success doesn't mean the best thing to ever happen to us. Just as failure doesn't mean the worst.

Next time you're feeling down on yourself, or some aspect in society - take another look at what you're really trying to do. Maybe you don't want to invite failure into your own life, by accepting it exists at all?

As a former perfectionist obsessed with avoiding failure, I'm here to say that it's here to stay. I feel liberated that I don't have to worry about it's presence in the world. I don't have to defeat it or change it; because that way only saps your energy further.

I've been walking around my garden lately, feeling energised by the imperfections and things I haven't gotten around to yet. It doesn't rain enough for my garden, but the dry weather means I get more construction work done. Our retaining wall still looks like a dirt pile - no lush plants yet; but it's not harrowing me to finish it either. It will wait patiently for me, if I have the patience to accept where it's currently at.

It feels great that I don't have to change things which aren't really controlled by me anyway. Things like time, weather and life in general. The things I can change however, feel more meaningful to me. That's because I have the energy and sanity to appreciate them more now.

So next time you feel that empty pit in the bottom of your stomach, make a treaty with it. Let failure have it's time, and conserve your positive energies for the things you are able to make a difference to in life.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hilltop goes on

Our Araucanas have been living in Hilltop for several months now, but the run was only attached for about half that time. Which is a good thing now the warmer weather is coming on. The run gets some shade from the native tree in-front - to the left of the picture.

You may notice that half the run is covered with corrugated iron, and half concrete rebar. That is because I'm attempting to grow a choko over the top, to provide a cooling effect in summer.

My poor little choko is struggling at the moment, only because I recently transplanted it here. I already lost one choko seedling in the move, so this little guy has to make it. I'll mulch and water today, as I've been a little slack. The picture below, shows the side I'm attempting to grow it over and hopefully have it cover the roof as well. I've made a little garden bed with some old bricks. I'll add some herbs in there when my seedlings are big enough too.

I've also carried the garden bed around the back of the run. This is where the other choko plant was meant to grow, but it turned up it's nose and died. But I have some bean seedlings in the greenhouse, and when they're bigger, I'll grow them up the back.

Our newest addition to Hilltop has been our 300 litre water tank - originally purchased to supply water to the builders (of our house) on site. It wasn't big enough unfortunately, so we had to buy a bigger water carrier, but I knew this one would come in handy eventually. I still have to erect the guttering to the roof and run downpipes to the tank, but I'm happy just to have it in place at the moment.

In the meantime, if it rains and our main water tank to the house overflows, we'll run a garden hose up to this tank and fill it. I like to have water for the plants and this tank will be very useful in that regard. The veggie patch is located under Hilltop, so I can gravity feed any water directly downwards too. One final picture to show however:

This is the finished coop construction. Notice the brick pallets leaning against the front? They're temporarily providing some shade to the corrugated iron until we erect a trellis to grow a passionfruit plant over. It won't be directly against the structure however, it will be closer to the hillside.

I have to say I'm becoming a little more realistic with our construction projects. This particular one took us longer to make than the original permanent coop, but it was also a little more complicated. Overall, it was worth taking our time in the end. Once the plants grow, it will be complete!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New scoops from old bottles

I'm sure this isn't a new idea, but I wanted to share one of my recycling projects, involving an empty 2 litre tomato sauce bottle, purchased from Aldi. It's made of a good sturdy plastic to use in my chicken feed bags, and a really simple project to make. All you need is a marking pen and a sharp blade. Use the marking pen to draw the piece you will cut out - ensuring the handle is on the top, like so:

The next part can be a little tricky, depending how sharp your blade is. I found most of it easy to cut through, except for the joining seam at the base. That took a little more persistence, but the project still only took about 5 minutes to complete. When you're finished the scoop should look like this:

I've made these scoops before, out of old 2 litre cordial bottles (seen below) but they have a thinner plastic, so I need to be more careful when using them. Also seen below is the leftover bit from the Aldi tomato sauce bottle, which my daughter has now dubbed her "mini" scoop. Great for playing in the garden with too.

Just a final word of caution when using the blade though, be sure to cut away from yourself, or directly downwards onto a cutting board to keep your fingers safe.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Land management series

I have created a new label called "Land Management", and it's all about the valuable lessons I've learned on our 5 acres of bushland. But I will also touch on my 800 square metre block of suburbia too, as the same principles apply - only on a smaller scale.

While many people long for acerage of their own, I have to tell you, there's a clear advantage of having "limitations". Less land isn't really an impediment, but rather a numbers game to exploit. You will only ever have to fund 800 square metres, or whatever your block amounts to. It's also a reasonable size in which two - even one - person(s) can manage.

So let's start playing the numbers game...we'll round our imaginary suburban block up to 1000 square metres. I know most will come well and truly under that number, but it's easier to do the calculations that way. So you own 1000 square metres in suburbia. I own 20,000 square metres in the country. Oh yes, I can see you all secretly envying that larger number - imagining the orchard and farm critters wandering around the place. But did you miss the maths?

If you are struggling to keep up with 1000 square metres of land currently, times it by 20 more blocks. I certainly missed the maths when I imagined acreage all those years ago. The thought of freedom to do whatever I want, beckoned me out of my suburban limitation. Sure, there are certain advantages to having more land - but you can't escape the equation that more land equals more money you have to spend.

Which is something that has only dawned on my husband and I, recently. We thought we could skimp on spending money here. But we were also applying that "estimation" of skimping, based on the only understanding previously - a suburban block. Oh dear...what we would skimp on a suburban block - times that by 20!!
We were quite naive. And as much as I respect what permaculture principles can add to a landscape, lessening the energy output (and theoretically, the on-going cost) I can't get animals to dig me a dam or build my fencing for the cost of their food bill. This is where you need to hire experts, or go back to suburbia.

This is the decision Dave and I are now faced with. If we don't cough up the money to pay for experts to put in the infrastructure - we're actually adding more energy output, with the same two people managing land the size equivalent to 20 suburban blocks. I respect the fact, many landowners can actually get willing workers (aka: volunteers) to help in their land management practices, but that's not really an immediate option here. We're only ever going to be a hobby, lifestyle property - at least for the short term.

If we did get into setting up accommodations for volunteers to come stay and help us in the long term - it will only be after we've put in the infrastructure, and done the relevant training to teach others with. In the meantime, who funds and looks after the property - we do.

But let's be fair, Dave and I have cut costs in a very successful way too. As you would be familiar with already, Dave and I have been building quite a few of our own retaining walls. And there has been a great deal saved in the process too. We estimate at least $10,000 - at least!

That isn't a number to be dismissed easily, however, there has also been another cost. Less time doing the things we really want to do here, and stress juggling responsibilities. While there can be a lot of fun building your own retaining walls, when the projects run into years to complete, you do reach a point the exercise starts eating into other useful endeavours - such as growing your own veggies, fruit trees and preserving the harvest.

So this is what my new "Land Management" series will discuss. The pros and cons of land management practices - all of them. Because somewhere in the middle of the right and wrong decision to make, is a process of learning. :)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Incubator review & results

I was able to switch off the Hexabator today, for the first time in 3 weeks. So how did it perform in the end? I'm happy to report, of the 17 eggs left, after I candled them at day 10 - all 17 chicks have hatched successfully. And may I add, they all managed it by day 21 too.

The fact they all hatched on their due date, gives an indication I had the temperature set correctly. It's always an anxious time when using an incubator for the first time, because you need to test how it performs. Well, now I know to set the temperature around 37.7 degrees celcius according to the digital thermometer - and have the sensor (of the thermometer) at egg level.

And here are all 17 chicks, squeezing into a girls' size beanie. I put the beanie in, because I wasn't happy with the temperature inside the brooder. It should be around 35 degrees Celsius, but it was more like 30 degrees instead. When I noticed the chicks were all stumbling over each other, huddling for more warmth, I went looking for a stuffed toy. I couldn't find any that were the right size and wasn't my daughter's favourite, so then I saw the beanie she'd left laying on the ground.

Her messiness turned out to be a blessing as the little chicks love to sleep in it together. I'm going to look at buying a ceramic light-bulb in future too, as it seems the energy-saver isn't quite warm enough in the brooder. The old incandescent bulbs used to work a treat, but I blew my last one and you can't buy them any more. Se la vie, as they say, but there are other alternatives, thankfully.

As for the Hexabator incubator, I'm really happy with the choice I made. You could say it was a 100% success rate, of the eggs which managed to develop by day 10. I was expecting a few eggs not to be fertile, as my Gold Lace Wyandottes had only been breeding for a few weeks before I started collecting the eggs.

Well, now I'm off to find a good beanie knitting pattern, so I can make a few more!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

We have babies!

Eight babies arrived overnight. Four hatched by 5am this morning, but it doubled again by 7am.

Looks to be 3 araucanas (yellow) and 5 unknowns - could be bantam orpington or orpington x wyandotte. We still have babies hatching in the incubator. I hope they make it as I had to clear some of the babies out this morning, as they were knocking the unhatched eggs around a fair bit. They're now in the brooder (above). Of course, whenever I open the incubator, I lose humidity and that's essential to help the remaining chicks to hatch successfully.

So fingers crossed for the next batch which have pipped their shells, but not out of the woods yet!

Saturday, September 12, 2009


The brooder is now warming up...I've been hearing baby chicks all day...5 eggs have pipped.

That's 3 araucana eggs, 1 bantam orpington and 1 orpington x wyandotte.

No babies have emerged from their shells yet, but I'm expecting big things tomorrow!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Day 18 - first attempt

Today is day 18, out of 21 expected for the incubation period. Poultry eggs can hatch anywhere between 19 and 24 days, and I've already noticed some of the eggs rocking. This is a sign that the chicks are moving and preparing to exit the shell. Of course, I'm not expecting anything for at least another 24 hours.

But day 18 is important for a few reasons. Firstly, it's the day you stop turning the eggs. Broody hens will often turn their eggs daily when sitting on a clutch, but when in an incubator, you have to do it for them manually. I have to do it by hand - usually once in the morning and once in the afternoon. This turning stops the chicks sticking to the membrane inside the egg. You want to give them the best chance of survival on hatching day, because it's quite an ordeal for a little peep.

The second reason day 18 is important, is you want to make sure your brooder is set up properly. The brooder is where they will live for the next month or so, after hatching. Without their feathers to regulate body temperatures, an artificial heat source is required to keep the chicks warm for about a month - until their feathers grow in.

I have a picture of my table lamp (with an extendable arm) placed directly over the brooder barrel. It has an energy-saver bulb, which doesn't generate as much heat as the old-fashioned light bulbs - but with the barrel shape of the brooder, it captures what heat is generated, perfectly.

This brooder is where I've raised all the chicks to date. It's only a half plastic barrel, normally used as an animal feeder for livestock, but I find it makes a very durable brooder too. When in use, the lamp will be extended lower, and if required, a sheet placed over the top. So what does the inside look like?

I've lined the base with an old cot sheet, and I have several rag towels in storage, intended for the same purpose. Chicks need to develop their ability to stand rather quickly, so it's best to provide a non-slip surface for them to practice on. Old towels provide something for their feet to grip on to, but they also make a great waste collector as well. I change the towels at least twice a day, soak them like nappies and then do a big wash when I have enough.

Some people use wood shavings in their brooders, but I find it gets into their food and water supply too easily. As the chicks grow older, I often pop in a sprinkling of wood shavings on top of the towels, to help absorb some of their messes.

The other important additions to the brooder is food and water containers. Never provide a water container that is deep enough for a chick to drown in. It doesn't even have to be deep water for a new hatchling to drown. Mine is a very small drinker, and only allows for a small beak to sip from. It's seen in the picture above. I've also used an old coffee lid as the feeder.

I provide chick crumbles for the first week and then try introducing lettuce and other organic edibles. A little bit of yoghurt doesn't hurt them either - just the plain stuff, about once a week. I often use a desert spoon and let the chicks eat it off the end. Once they get a taste for it, it's gobbled in a matter of seconds!

Well, fingers crossed for Sunday! All I have to do now is wait...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Plans for Spring 2010

It's just turned Spring in Australia this year, but already I can see how unprepared I am for the growing season. Right now I have several seeds in the ground as we speak, two lots of potatoes emerging - plus my sweet potato; but I'm already considering buying seedlings from the nursery at this stage.

It has become apparent, I haven't organised space to prepare a large range of my own seedlings properly. I do have a 4 tier plastic greenhouse from Bunnings, which is mostly full at the moment; seen here...

...but find it, cannot be kept in the open, where it receives the most sunlight. If the wind gets a hold of it, it will topple over - this has already happened to me before. So where it sits now (under the eave of our verandah on the Eastern side of the house) it only gets a few hours sunshine in the morning.

One thing I have realised, is that without an adequate heat source, I can't really grow seedlings in winter. This year I tried it in my plastic greenhouse, but nothing really grew until the days got warmer. This is normally when Spring arrives, but by then, you really want seedlings to put in the ground.

I'm not overly concerned, I just realise that by next year I need something else organised, or it will be off to the nursery for seedlings again. I actually enjoy growing my own plants from seed, and would like to see myself doing it every year from now on.

So what do I need for a better system? I've been doing a bit of research, and it's obvious I need either a greenhouse or a bushhouse - or a little of both. I haven't made any firm decisions yet, but thought I'd share some of the ideas I've found on the internet.

I love the idea of greenhouse structure you can walk into. It has the benefit of having an entire room under climatic control, but it also provides a lot of room for seedlings to grow. I would like to build my own, as other's have done before me, so here are a few great links for building your own greenhouse:

How to build my 50 dollar greenhouse
The Frugal World of Doc
The Dream ONE! A strawbale greenhouse * drools *
Gardening Australia Fact sheet
Solar greenhouse basics

The last link in the above list, gives a great description of how a greenhouse works best - using the sun. Although it has information based on the US climate zones, it's otherwise a good start on understanding the basics.

But then if you don't want to go to all that trouble building a whole structure, or you're limited by space - I've seen the mini greenhouses around too.

I've seen these for sale at many hardware stores and nurseries. The image above comes from the Yates website, where you can buy it on-line. Clicking on the name will take you there. I've never used one of these before, but maybe one day I'll come across a second-hand unit?

You can always make your own versions of the above mini greenhouse too; like Little Farm in the City did, in one of her blog posts. I thought it was a great idea, and even made a version of my own - but I've had limited success germinating seeds. I used a container with heavier plastic, and I either cooked it too long in the sunshine or it got too cold in the shade - making the soil go off and killing the seeds.

The issue for me however, seems to be gaining enough heat to cause seeds to germinate in the first place. Something that won't overheat quickly either. Here's an inside solution I've seen working too:

This image was taken from the PVC plans website, and was credited to the Dickey Family. These are only images, not plans for construction. It gives an idea how fluorescent globes can help the germination process along. Having once owned an aquarium however, and attempting to get enough light to grow aquatic plants - I wonder how much electricity it would use, trying to germinate seeds inside...?

I'd much prefer a passive solar solution, if I can manage it.

There seems to be a tonne of ideas out there, and one may be suitable for our situation. I would like an area completely dedicated to growing plants, either from seed or cuttings. This would also require a shade house of sorts, but I've also heard Jackie French places her pots under the shade of a tree to harden them off too.

Decisions, decisions!

At least I've got a whole year in which to plan and build this one. If you've got any great ideas you've come up with yourself, please feel free to leave a link in your comment. :)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New chooks in the a-frame

Okay, I've been holding out on you lot - I actually bought some new chicks about a month ago. The only reason I jumped at it, is because a local breeder was advertising "Barnevelder" chicks for sale in our area. I have plans to house them all, but nothing as extravagant as a full-scale permanent chicken coop.

When I initially bought them, they were 4 weeks old - now they're just over 8 weeks. I don't have a group picture yet, but I have a couple of close-ups of individuals.

I ended up with 2 roosters, and these are the two boys. One is obviously darker than the other, and I don't believe they are pure Barnevelders. More like someone else's breeding experiment. But they are still welcome here, as their natures are gorgeous. Especially the lighter coloured male on the left.

He comes right up to you, I can pat him on the chest and everything. The darker male is more skittish and the only flighty one of the lot. I ended up with two girls also, who don't seem very Barnevelder coloured either. Here is a picture of one of the girls (front) and the lighter coloured boy in the back.

Obviously, they're more ginger in colour than the traditional Barnevelder double-lacing, as seen in photographs here. Although one of the girls in particular (below, left), seems to have more "partridge" feathering. Not a very good photograph, sorry...

The two girls (seen above) aren't as flamboyant as the males, but they both have gentle and friendly natures. I'm told by the breeder, they do lay a dark brown egg (like Barnevelders should) but as the chicks grow out more, I'm beginning to realise they don't really have that much physically in common with the Barnevelders.

I guess this is a case of buyer beware. I wasn't familiar with Barnevelder chicks before and at 4 weeks of age, they weren't fully feathered either. If they weren't such friendly peeps, I would be tempted to feel disappointed. But then it's just another lesson learned. That's why I collect so many different breeds of chickens - to learn from them and about them.

I'll update later, when they've gotten bigger and their lacing more distinct - I hope. :)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Blog roll

Just to let everyone know, I'm slowly adding my blog list to the left-hand menu bar - but it's not finished yet. I haven't decided on the final set-up as I'm not sure how to categorise them all. Sorry for the hold up. If your blog hasn't appeared on my list yet, I'm getting there. :)

How was your Father's Day, yesterday? We had a great one! After the cake, we went outside to move a few enormous tree logs from the gully - it was the spotted gum we felled recently.

Well, our daughter got covered in sand and played on the log bridges we'd made. She thinks it's a giant playground, but then so would I if I was her age again and full of beans. We got covered in sand too, as we moved 2 enormous logs with a crowbar lever and brute strength. Needless to say, fun was had by all...

Looks like rain is due again today - we cleared the gully just in time. :)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Father's Day 2009 style

Today is Father's Day, and look what we made for Dave...

A chocolate mud cake, decorated with party lollies. It wasn't meant to be pretty, just fun to do and yummy to eat! We're waiting for him to get home from work (very soon) so we can taste it.

What can I say about Dave as a Dad? Well, to be honest, after 5 years of trying to conceive in the first place, I didn't think he was ever going to become one, LOL. But once we got those magic double lines on the pregnancy test, there was no stopping him!

Ready or not, here she comes...when our daughter was born, I remember after a few pushes, Dave suddenly yelled, "I can see her eyes, she's looking at me!" Then 2 seconds later, "...Hi, I'm your Dad!" He was so excited. He was also the first to hold her. Dave was so proud and full of smiles - he even wanted to do the night feeds, with the aide of a bottle. How you saved my sanity...

This photo was taken in the nursery when she was a few weeks old, it could've been after a feed or he just wanted a daddy hug. There can be nothing more precious in this world, as a father's love for his little girl.


You are a great Dad, Dave, and we honestly couldn't have done it without you. Big kiss and hug from all of us - yes, even the chickens!!! I asked...they said it would be okay, just because it's Father's Day. :)

First incubation attempt - update

Exterminate..Exterminate! The Darleks decree - these eggs are inferior and must be exterminated.

Seven were clear when I candled them at 10 days. Which now leaves seventeen viable eggs left in the incubator - out of the original twenty-four.

Unfortunately, not even the Doctor could save them in time.

Okay, if you're wondering about the figurines, Dave is an old Doctor Who fan. When our daughter caught sight of the Darlek and K9 figurines in the packet, she begged and pleaded with her father to let them out of the box!

Girls will be girls and boys will be boys - I have my incubator while they have their figurines.

Well folks, only seven days to go now!!!

For some awesome pictures of what to expect when candling eggs, visit here. These are not pictures of my eggs, but it's still a great example of what to look out for.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Importance of local information

As we live on the outskirts of a very large shire, our Council provides a mobile library service once a fortnight to our area. We've been using it quite regularly over the past 18 months. Well last week, Dave came home with a ripper of a book that I wish we'd stumbled across years ago.

It's called, "Living in the Lockyer", and published by The Lockyer Catchment Centre, Queensland.

What's so remarkable about this book? Well it explains the local topography in a way that encourages better approaches to land management. It's not heavy on the scientific lingo, but rather tells a story about how this area evolved into what it is today.

Most remarkably, is how the societies which lived here generations ago; actually changed the rural landscape forever. Large farming families on large blocks had to make a reasonable living for themselves. It started with the traditional pursuits of livestock and crops, in which much of the lower landscapes were cleared for that purpose. Years of overgrazing and cropping however, saw the local soils gradually lose their fertility. When it became difficult to continue farming in this way, the families then turned to the higher landscapes for logging purposes.

This is where our block fits into the equation. I'd heard from the locals that this area was once heavily logged. As such, we don't have much understory plants to speak of now and the local spotted gums (eucalyptus trees) have taken over the landscape. Most of our weeding pursuits in the garden involves the removal of sapling trees around the house.

How our block was advertised on the net - typical scrub country

Of course our goal here is to gradually improve the soil fertility and how we manage the land. Which ironically, this book says is the solution to areas which now encounter land slips, soil erosion and weed infestations. They say the solution is in the hands of landholders looking for a lifestyle block. Because the years of mining soil fertility and local flora has to be undone. It now needs intensive restoration.

It was such a buzz to read this book. We've been attempting to do the very things which will undo the damage. You cannot live here and not notice the soil erosion with each storm season. You cannot avoid the lantana outcrops either. They're everywhere. It was so encouraging to read local information, gathered by the managing body of the catchment area, to see we are heading in the right direction.

Give us another decade or more, and we may just have some of the damage rejuvenated. Or at least I hope we can. I made a pact with our 5 acres when we first decided to build, that I would give something back for the house that would sit here. I don't want to leave another legacy of depletion behind us.

So I am eagerly reading the book, front to back cover. It even has examples of systems which have worked for locals here already - and how they've chosen to deal with soil erosion and land slippage. One of the big shortcomings is in our local soils - there is a very thin layer of topsoil, if any at all. Storm water skids over an impermeable surface, but doesn't do any damage once it's allowed inside the soil.

Typical soil erosion and land slippage for our area

Improving soil fertility, improves it's ability to absorb and hold water. The thicker the topsoil, the more water it can hold. Our pursuit now is to fix that imbalance, by providing a more diverse range of native understory plants.

If I could encourage people do to anything, it would be to seek out local information designed specifically for their area. Find publications that will explain the problems, as well as solutions which have proven to work. There's quite a lot of general information out there to teach better land management, but nothing beats a local take on local solutions.

So prowl the shelves of your local library today! You never know what you'll find...

While you're still here though, I've complied a few links which could be useful:

Greening Australia
Landcare Australia
Learnscaping your Schoolground - could be useful for any backyard with kids too!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Big is not always beautiful

Spring is here and with Summer to come, we've been throwing ourselves into a few BIG projects. They're not things you want to be doing in the middle of summer with all that heat. Already we're limited to working a few hours in the morning and a few in the afternoon - otherwise we risk becoming heat struck.

First job we've been tackling over the past few weeks, is finishing our last retaining wall in-front of the house. It needed seven courses of blocks, as opposed to the other side, which only needed five. That's because it's on the lowest section of the house pad. This side is where all the water will drain away. It requires a wide spoon drain later on - but first we need to finish the wall.

The reason it's taking so long however, is the amount of back-filling needed...

In the picture, you get an idea of how much space there is to fill. First we have to dig up the dirt, put it in a wheelbarrow, wheel it to the very top and then dump it over the edge. It's tedious work but also good for exercising your body and mind. Although using a machine would be quicker, you'd also miss the experience of moving a mountain with your bare hands.

This is stuff we can look back in our golden years as crazy to attempt, yet satisfying once achieved.

Next big project involving our hands though, is the tree-felling exercise which happened yesterday morning. The sapling we felled a few weeks earlier was nothing compared to this 30 metre giant eucalypt! I think it's a spotted gum - very common in our area and grows quickly.

We had to call in the professionals to cut it down for us - apart from the fact we don't have a chainsaw to speak of, it was also too close to the house to risk any mistakes. Dave is attempting to roll part of the trunk away. He needed to position a block of wood in the sand, on which to place his lever; as it kept sinking into the soft surface every time he tried to use it.

With a little help from me towards the end, we managed to get it onto the bank. We need to clear this area because it's where our storm water runs through. The tree is also on part of our neighbor's property, so does have to go. Dave plans to mow the area with his brushcutter after we're done, as a way of thanking our neighbour for letting us fell the tree there. It was the only safe place for it to fall.

We sort their permission first of course. Once it's all done we'll give them a dozen fresh eggs too!

One more picture for the road though, as it's my first Spring flower of the season. This is a lovely Flander's Poppy. I love the delicious red colour of it's petals. They say you can even use the dried seeds for baking.

Anyway, must go as there's plenty of work to be done!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Spring 2009

Welcome to Spring 2009! My blog has changed with the season also.

I just couldn't help myself. I find the new 3-column blogs a lot easier to read and you can also cram in a lot more stuff.

So to exploit this new blogging feature, I've added more links to the right-hand side menu - which I intend to grow further still. Personally, I can't get enough of those tid-bits of information which others' work so tirelessly to provide the world. For no other reason than they can, and it's inspiring to boot!

I've changed the pictures and looking to add a blogroll soon too.

Busy-busy-busy, like a little bee in the garden. I hope your Spring weather has been pleasant around Australia, and your gardens growing as they should.