Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Change to comments

I received a report from a Wordpress account holder, they were forced to solve the Captcha puzzles when leaving comments. Even though I had switched off word verification. I hope by changing the comment format, the puzzles won't be asked any more.

The change I am making, is going from the embedded form (my personal favourite) to the full page comment form, instead.

Can I ask a favour of my readers, to leave a comment here, telling me if you've been asked to solve a puzzle - or just tick the, "I'm not a robot" box? Thank you. :)

UPDATE: I put this question to the Blogger help forum, and was given some new information about my dilemma. It may be a known issue for Wordpress account holders, trying to authenticate using Open ID. It's always interesting to learn how blogs work.

So as a result, I'm reverting back to my original "embedded" comments box. I appreciate the feedback I received, and welcome any further questions or feedback anyone else wants to leave. It may be in relation to your own blog, because as blog authors, we cannot see what others do, in the comments section.

A cut of beauty

I was doing some pruning in the yard yesterday. I love to prune, because it means I get free mulch to lay on top of the soil. There was one particular plant I pruned yesterday, before realising, I didn't want to use the foliage as mulch.

It was way too pretty for that...

My white rice flowers, aren't exactly spectacular as a bloom, but en mass, they look quite beautiful. And they don't require much moisture to grow or flower. So my kind of plant!

I couldn't have them all on their own, in the vase however, so added some African daisies, a few sprigs of rosemary (with blue flowers) and a few grevillea flowers. Their spiral shaped pattern, is particularly beautiful to me, and a perfect offset against the delicate rice flower blooms.

I reckon I scored a beaut bouquet, for inside the house, just taking the time to plant, prune and mulch. A renewable source of beauty. Plus, these particular plants have the reputation for longevity, once cut too. So it should be around for at least a week or more.

I'm pretty happy with that. Finding the right plants to grow in our conditions, mean we can finally have cut flowers inside the house.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A green twist

With the rain and hugelkultur beds pumping along, we've had some amazing crops of kale lately. The brush turkey's decimated a few plants, but we managed to save the rest. We finally have something to harvest in the garden again.

What I love about kale, is making green smoothies with them. Thankfully, we received a windfall of pineapples from the store recently too, marked down for quick sale, which is perfect for our favourite kind of green smoothie recipe.

These are simply delicious. Don't let the idea of the ingredients put you off. The end result is best tasted, to be believed. We didn't realise how addicted we would become to these, and it's the green smoothie, which is responsible for kale making it into my garden beds.

Several kale leafs and other ingredients (I'll share the recipe soon) yield us two green smoothies for breakfast. This is a very refreshing way to start the day and feel good. We just use an ordinary blender, so no fancy equipment, but there is a method I have discovered for making them blend smoother. Which I will also explain.

So here is my recipe for:

Gully Grove Green smoothies

with a twist~


4 large kale leafs
1/4 cup raw cashews
1 teaspoon flax seed
1 cup chilled water
1/2 a pineapple, chopped

the twist - 2 nasturtium leafs


1. If the kale stems are too fibrous, remove them. If you have equipment that will pulverise everything with fibre, feel free to leave the stems on. Pull the leafs apart with your hands and place them in the blender.

2. Add the rest of the ingredients next, leaving the chopped pineapple last of all. This order is important to ensure a smoother blend. As the lower ingredients will blend quickly, without the fibre of the pineapple taking up the gumption of the blades at first.

3. Blend for a full minute. The pineapple should start to incorporate, after 30 seconds. If not, pulse a few times, then continue the extended blend.

4. Serve in glasses, and rinse equipment immediately in water. Easiest way to clean.

Adding the nasturtiums leafs, gives it a slight peppery taste, but also lightens the palette as you're drinking it. If you have a more expensive piece of equipment, feel free to use a cup of ice-cubes, instead of the water, and make it more slushy like. You can even freeze the diced pineapple overnight, if you think your equipment and brain (freeze) can handle it. But I would leave the water liquid, if you're going to freeze the pineapple.

This is the best way I know, how to consume kale fresh...and it's delicious!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Raindrops keep falling

It's been an unusual Spring this year, in that we've had quite regular, but gentle rain. I started to think, this is why people move to the sub-tropics, rather than dry-arid regions, like ours normally is. Everything just bursts out of the ground with the extra moisture. The ants haven't had a chance to move in to our hugelkultur beds, as I feared they might. And they are always moist. I'm eating kale I haven't had to water, since first planting them.

But I can't take such an uncharacteristic windfall for granted either. The things speckled around my yard, might look like junk to some, but they're actually harvesting water for me. In permaculture terms, it's called "catch and store energy".

My morning walk around the garden, with camera and umbrella, will demonstrate a few examples of that principle.

Since converting the vegetable beds to hugelkultur in winter, only a few nasturtiums volunteered from seed. As I wanted to keep those plants for seed saving, I had to devise a way to protect them from brush turkey's. So I put out a few 10 litre ice-cream buckets, with rocks in them, to make them heavy. They were then positioned around the plant.

As a side-effect, they've been catching the rain. When the sun comes out again, I've been tipping them where the plants need it. Since these nasturtiums are near the avocado tree, both are receiving the extra water.

On the retaining wall, our vegetable beds are built on, we have some old guttering. It's earmarked for Hilltop chicken coop, one day, but in the meantime, it catches rain water - somewhat like an artificial swale on a miniature scale. The excess flows on the roots of an African daisy and pot marigold.

When there is only sprinkling rain instead of soaking rain, this is a way to use a "small and slow solution" to pool a resource, and redirect it to where it's needed. This is normally, a very dry corner of the retaining wall. And while the plant selection I've used, will ensure they can survive in these conditions, the guttering is an adaptive design solution, which also solves my storage problem in our limited shed space.

While it may look rusty, we received it that way, for free, from the local refuse tip. But the water isn't left there for long. When the sun comes out again, we tip it back on the plants.

When we removed our passionfruit vine trellis recently, we had an excess of star-pickets to store as well. So why not use their hard surfaces, to redirect rainwater, for us? They are leant against a wire trellis, with their ends positioned around a hollow concrete block. These blocks are porous, so suck up a lot of moisture. All that rainwater however, is directed at the base, giving the seedling I planted in it recently, the opportunity to put its roots down past the concrete block.

In permaculture terms, this is considered "using the edges and valuing the marginal." While it's normally applied to plant guilds, it can be applied to any kind of design system. In this case, I'm using the edges of the star-pickets, to concentrate a water source, to the base of a plant. The star-pickets also add protection, by preventing the brush turkey's from digging out the plant.

We have a few styrafoam boxes, I use for collecting mulch material, at the end of my chipper. It's also left out to collect rain however, and tipped onto the base of the citrus, when the sun comes out again.

While I wouldn't recommend purchasing styrafoam for this purpose, boxes from fruit stores, can be recycled.

An example of a natural design, using the same water exploitation, is the interesting design of the pineapple leaves. It has dozens of gutters, positioned to meet in the centre. So even small precipitation can syphon down to the roots of the plant.  I hope two of our pineapples will fruit this year, and I have another three pineapple tops, I want to propagate as well.

But hard surface run-off, we have plenty of in our industrial reality. Which we should be exploiting, to assist the plants left behind. By using the permaculture principle, "design from patterns to details," we can find more ways to integrate the hard surfaces in our lives, to the value of the environment. Instead of them becoming a detriment and burden to nature.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Snake mesh

When I renovated my chicken tractor recently, I used something called, Snake mesh. Regular chicken wire, does come in small hole sizes, but snake mesh is designed to keep snakes and mice from pushing through the holes. Which is important to know when you're housing chicks, because they are vulnerable.

The snake mesh has really small grids, and because of this, it can keep it's shape longer than chicken wire. I had a hard time, removing he U-nails from the snake mesh recently - when I had to replace the wooden handles on my tractor.

I looked around the internet, and couldn't find any way to remove them, which didn't involve a screw-driver, or tools I didn't possess. I successfully removed some with a screwdriver, otherwise, I made mince meat of my knuckles when I'd slip and run them against the mesh. Three slips and two band-aides later, I devised my own method.

For anyone who wants to successfully remove U-nails from timber, get a small drill bit and put holes on either side. See above image. Then they slip right out with a screw driver. My knuckles breathed a sigh of relief!

This python was climbing up to the roof, about a week ago. And it's precisely why I use snake mesh, on a chicken tractor, designed to hold chicks. Snakes can squeeze through some small places, because they're effectively all muscle. They would love to make a meal out of my new hatchlings.

Well, not if I can help it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Happy tractoring

So yesterday, was the big day! I could finally reveal to the little peeps, what all the commotion was about, over the past week. It was time to go from this, temporary housing arrangement... this one, with a slightly larger footprint. I'm sure they will outgrow it, in no time. They're like weeds at the moment. Turn around, and they'll double in size!

I already have plans to build another, just so we can house them all when they're older. It won't be the same kind of tractor, but hopefully, a little easier to build!

The idea will be to split the boys from the girls, so they can have their own tractor. I suspect we already have six boys, out of 14 chicks. Which could go up further still. It's kind of hard to tell for sure, at almost 3 weeks.

Our lone, free range Australorp hen, took an interest in them right away. She quite likes their company, and will often sleep nearby. I even saw her do a broody position, where she opened her wings like a tent, ready to receive little chicks. But I won't be testing to see, how genuine that mother's instinct might me. Because the flip-side, if I am wrong, isn't something I'd like to deal with.

I'm really loving the pin-stripes and speckles, on some of the chicks feathers. That's number 20 (brown coloured) to the right, and I'm happy to report, is a girl. She has been a favourite of mine, since she hatched. I will look forward to her, joining our layers in the permanent coop, one day.

So how about a proper tour, of our finished chicken tractor?

The design is simple, but it was far from simple to construct. Worth all the toil though, now our chicks can live outside permanently. We have an old mower catcher, we put in there at night, with wood shavings inside. Which gives them some protection and warmth. As their proper feathers haven't grown in yet. Only then, will they be able to handle the elements.

Speaking of protection from the elements, this is inside the sheltered part. Their removable perch is in the middle. I used some old political signs, made from corriflute, as insulation. They are supported in the middle, by some black woven bands, stretched over the rafters. This corriflute material, provides some insulation, to lessen the heat radiating from the tin roof .

I don't know if it will be a mistake or not, using corriflute, as it looks like the perfect ant motel - with all those little hollows in the corriflute. I know I've had problems in the past, with ants wanting to move into the tractor, when heavy rain was around. As far as insulation goes though, it's better than having a hot tin roof.

This is the side, with the door. It opens towards the tin, as opposed to the former configuration, where it opened upwards. It was a pain to hold chickens and go through the door at the same time. It was best done, with someone else to hold the door. This new configuration however, works very well. Also, plenty of space for a person to get in and out.

It's covered in snake mesh, which I'll write another brief post on why I chose this material, over regular chicken wire.

The end of the sheltered area, made use of a resource, which came into our possession, kind of in a bad way. It's part of a small garden shed, we managed to warp, when the tip of a tree came down on it. We only had to replace one wall panel, and the roof, on that garden shed - but we had plenty of bent panels to make use of, once they were removed.

Here I am, to demonstrate the overall size of the tractor. I'm kind of leaning a little forward, to touch the top of the roof.  This tractor, can be moved successfully, by two people. It's a little heavier than I would have liked, but still much lighter than the original.

I've been taking a much need break from construction. But there was still one more thing to do...

...put the eager, clean-up crew to work. ;)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Home stretch

Another two days down, and I'm finally on the home stretch! All of the wood construction is done, complete with a working door. Then it was time to paint.

Mostly done - door removed for painting

I had a really old can of paint, which was meant for outdoor use. It was going to be perfect for this project, only the can was rusted. It dropped metal flecks into the paint. So I transferred the contents into a large glass jar.

Then the opening was covered in a double layer of cling wrap, with the top screwed on. I  wrote the instructions on the front, in case I needed reminding of drying times.


But before I get to the painted tractor, however, I wanted to share some of the features I've built in. This comes with experience of having built my old tractor, and what needed changing.

Close up

First up - eaves. I learned from the water damage on the former carry handles (I replaced) is that water needed to be diverted off the roof and away from the wooden base.

That base has 8 years vintage, over the new a-frame, so it needed a little extra protection. It should also provide a little more rain protection for the occupants underneath too.

Wooden, u-bracket

I actually had this in my former construction, but I don't think I ever wrote about it. This is one of a matching set. It allows me to sit a plank across them both, and be able to remove it, when required too. Handy when you want to catch small birds that want to hide in the corner, behind the perch.

It's floor space is only 1.8 metres long, by about a metre wide. So it's quite cramped inside. Any feature I can make portable, to open the space inside, is important. So I was going to have another removable perch.

Door jamb

Here is a blast from the past. It's a piece of the original cot, I made my first permanent chicken coop, from. I try not to throw anything away, which might help me with projects in the future.

This handy little piece, is a door stop. It helps to add support to the door's hinges, so it's not leaning into the tractor. It's a very lightweight door, but why put undue stress on the hinges, if you don't have to.

Door stop

This is the second door stop, down the bottom. I made it from a wood off-cut. I tried screwing the first one in, but the screw ended up splitting it in half. So I made the second one, by drilling a pilot hole, then gently hammering in a nail.

Thankfully, I had plenty of off-cuts to spare. I don't like to throw them out until I finish a building project, just for reasons such as this. You never know if that little wedge or block, will come in handy.

Metal angle bracket

I'm not a proficient carpenter. I know enough to get by. But one thing I like to emphasis to novice builders, is the use of brackets. Just a few of these can add support to a structure. Even on a novice build.

This bracket helped attach the a-frame, to the base, but it's also supporting the eave under the a-frame. I used six in total. They're light, but very strong.

Meshed vent

This was an absolute must, after having an a-frame tractor before. I didn't have it on the old one, so I always had to make sure the tractor was under shade. Because the hot air would rise to the apex, and have nowhere to go but radiate downwards.

In a small space, partly covered in tin, you really need cross ventilation to help hot air escape. The other side of the pen is open, so any breezes will just go right through the top.

First coat

This is my tractor, all painted! The side on the left will be covered. The side on the right will be open. I look forward to showing the rest soon. I was hoping to have it finished by the weekend, but it may just take an extra day.

That is the unpredictable component of working with bits and pieces. Nothing is uniform, and often you have to make adjustments along the way. Which is the time consuming part. What you thought would take a day, ends up taking two!

But you get to use supplies from your stash instead of having to buy them, and it can save a lot of money. This build has come under $50. I've recycled a lot of screws from the former tractor when I took it apart. Many of them were still in good condition. I didn't even have to buy the brackets. They were leftovers too. Most of the cost was the new wood, and a roll of snake mesh.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Temporary housing

I'm hoping to have our 2 week old chickens in their new a-frame, after the weekend. The brooder is really only suitable for sleeping in at night. It's too low, and they don't have the room to exercise their growing wings. So I had to rig up something temporary, which they could occupy during the day.

 Using what we had ~ a 2nd hand, playhouse

It's an ugly junk make-over, where I turned Peter's plastic play house and slide, into a chicken nursery. It should do them for a few days. They're only in it, when I'm outside working on their other home. Which seems to be most of the time lately. It's not entirely secure, which is why it needs monitoring.

Some protection

A thin sheet sits over it during the day, to deter areal predators. We get crows, kookaburras, hawks and all manner of butcher birds. Then when it rained recently, I put a tarpaulin over it. So it's pretty much, water tight.

Little peepers

It's not a huge amount of extra floor space, but the main thing is the height advantage. They madly exercise their little wings, as the itchiness of their feathers grow in. Peter loves, that his play house is now a chick nursery.

That's #8 chick, with their head slightly tilted~
with #20, or racing stripe, next to them

We have quite an array of different colours in this batch. I'm assuming the darker ones, were possibly from the lone Australorp hen, I had in with the Isa Browns. Of course, there are the genes of the rooster too, who was a bit of a mixed bag himself. We were told Isa Brown, cross Leghorn.

Sadly, we're now down to 14 chicks though. Mumble was doing so well, and then one evening when I went to check the brooder, I found him with his head in the water. He couldn't get up. The lump on his head had grown, which can sometimes happen with crooked neck, if they receive a bump to it. With lots of rambunctious siblings, that was always going to be a possibility.

It was a choice between ending their suffering quickly, or watching them slowly starve, for not being able to consume what we put out. That's why his beak was in the water. He wanted to drink, but couldn't work his head or body to do so. Chickens need to be able to tilt their heads back, to run the water down their neck.

We were thankful to have Mumble for that week, or so. A reminder that life isn't always perfect, but it's still precious.   

Friday, September 9, 2016

A-frame tractor, mark II

I've been vacant for a over a week from this space, but I've been busy. Mostly completing a 7 day mini-painting challenge, over at my art blog. But hot on the heels of that challenge, was the increasing necessity to revamp my old chicken tractor. Newly hatched chicks, tend to do that. They need the space,

This is what my original a-frame chicken tractor, looked like when I first made it in 2008...


Ah, shiny! Then, this is what it looked like in 2010 (just two years old) after a tree fell on it...


I completely removed the top and kept the rectangular base in storage. While only the middle was damaged by the tree, I wasn't entirely happy with the design, and decided to start again from scratch Here is the reconstruction of the a-frame, onto the base, only some six years later....

Two days work

I had to remove the old carry handles (new ones are pink) because they sustained some water damage. Given it's 8 years old however, the base is still holding up pretty good!

Old handles were too water damaged to keep

It's still a work in progress, using some unusual materials along the way.

The wood for the a-frames, are new, hardwood tomato stakes. It helps to keep it lightweight. It was too heavy in it's previous incarnation.

The apex from an old bed

The beam down the middle, is from Sarah's old double bed, which broke. We're looking to slowly reuse the parts from the bed, as we find a need. Given this beam is aluminium though, it will help to keep the weight down too, without compromising strength. It was exactly the right height for the base!

I make it look easy, but I spent many hours walking between my various supplies, searching for parts to formulate a plan. Everything is patch-worked together as I find the right pieces. This is how I build, to cut costs by recycling where possible.

Where's the rest of the triangle?

The hardest challenge, was finding a way to secure the middle a-frame, without the central bar. What a nightmare! I still don't quite know how I managed it. Thank goodness for spare bits of scrap wood, determination and half a days work.

 Green wood attached to aframe, but only sitting on the base

I had to rig up a temporary support (green wood) to set the frame on the base. Just so I could figure out the rest of the pieces of wood, to secure it. The raw horizontal piece, isn't attached yet. I'm not a natural mathematician. In fact, calculating geometry is like Chinese nail torture to me. But I generally find my solutions, another way. By rigging up visuals, I just draw lines, cut and screw in place.

It works.

I've done more, but this is all I have time to report on for now.