Horticultural hiccup

Hi All,

Isn’t it terrifying how fast Christmas is rocketing towards us? We have our Christmas celebrations relatively under control. We have taken our daughters in a 4ft Christmas tree that we dug up last year and Steve intended to bonsai. He never got around to it and it’s now too big and seems happy enough in its terracotta pot and so we offered it to the girls to prevent killing a conifer out at our friend who shall remain anonymous’s property. There is something perverted in paying a large amount of money to collect one member of a genus and hacking another member down with reckless abandon so we try to avoid doing so whenever we can. Here is where the internet helped us again. We could have used our mobile phone, but the photo taken wouldn’t have done the tree justice so I took a photo, resized it and sent it off and we phoned up the girls and asked them if they wanted the tree. The reason we did that is because we didn’t want to stress the tree out if they didn’t want it! What plant softies we are? They approved and so the little fellow is off to his new Christmas home…a tree is not just for Christmas girls…it’s for forever (and will most probably outlive us all). The problem with having a lovely scented real Christmas tree is that it is fine for about a week and then the slow decline starts…needles dropping…leaves withering and by Christmas time the baubles and tinsel are sliding off dry needles (the ones that haven’t fallen on the floor that is) and the delicious pine scent is simply not worth the amount of mess that a large cut conifer can generate. This year my daughters will simply have to remember to put the tree near the window in the lounge, give it a bit of water occasionally and put it outside after Christmas. How easy is that girls? No needles, no mess and no having to go out with Steve and cut down trees full of jack jumper ants and get spiked all the way back to town.

These next few photos have nothing whatsoever to do with this post. I just figured that you would like to see them :o). This one is of Steve feeding the little cuckoo shrike that we thought had been eaten by the cat. She was camera shy today but usually jumps down onto Steve’s hand and eats the cheese from there.

Earl is eating cardboard boxes. He started with a cracker box from the recycling and has progressed to a medium sized carton. I haven’t lost leave of my senses. Steve headed off to town this morning to do our final big shop before Christmas. We decided a few months ago that the stress of taking 2 dogs (and me to be honest) to town on shopping day, leaving the dogs at my grumbling daughters, having to hobble around the aisles while I did everything to sabotage Steve’s lovely small list by holding up various unusual new products and specials and asking him what he thinks about them (which is not a lot to be honest). Steve’s idea of a shopping trip is akin to the Indie 500. You have to do it, you do it as fast as you can and if you come out first you’re the winner. Now I stay at home with the dogs, the girls don’t have to mind them (tick 1), I am not hobbling around the aisles so he can go a whole lot quicker (tick2), I am not there to slow him down by constantly looking for specials, different products, talking to people etc. (massive great tick3) and he can get out and do whatever is needed in record time because Steve on a mission is something NOT to be trifled with! He just phoned up and we have olives and artichoke hearts for Christmas at least mum so we won’t totally starve. Another side bonus of the boys and I not going with Steve is that he doesn’t have to take the trailer to take the groceries in so he can go straight to where he wants to go without having to drop the trailer off at our daughters place. I am also prone to passenger road rage (especially whenever my pet hate “lycra clad wankers on 2 wheels” are anywhere to be seen) and so Steve doesn’t have to suffer the stress of me randomly becoming insanely ballistic towards various members of the driving and cycling confraternity. Life is just a whole lot easier for Steve if he shops alone…in saying that, life is not as easy for me. Bezial sulks whenever Steve heads off into town and Earl gets bored because Bezial won’t be moved. I have to provide Earl with interesting things to eat because otherwise he will source the interesting things himself and what Earl finds interesting costs us $70 at the local library to replace. I would rather spend an afternoon picking and vacuuming up the various shards of wood, paper, plastic and belt that I have given Earl to dismantle systematically then have to explain to Steve where his trousers have gone…why the end of the bed is missing or where the $50 Austar television remote is currently residing (I say “currently” because it’s in transit and Steve WILL see it again, just not how he would wish to see it…).

Here is your second random photo for the day. Isn’t this pretty? It was a single little street tree out in the middle of nowhere that was putting on it’s own radiant Christmas Show so I thought that it deserved its 15 seconds of fame

We are in a poultry crisis on Serendipity Farm. We have 2 more broodies sitting in the nesting boxes like they are Queen Boadicea, the hens that are still laying are being forced out into the wilderness to offload their cargo and that means hunt the egg is now on my hectic schedule. I can’t afford to leave the hidden eggs where they are because some bright spark chicken will just go clucky and sit on them and hatch out another batch of Big Yins progeny. Talking about Big Yin, he is doing his best to impregnate every hen available to keep reproducing his tiny Yin’s exponentially and form a super race of Yin’s. Every chicken that we have has gone clucky at least once and I think that the cycle is starting over again! We have 36 members of the poultry clan in various stages of development currently living on Serendipity farm + 2 ducks. Should we foolishly allow the broodies on their nest to hatch out eggs, not hunt out the eggs in the shrubbery (along with the knights that say ‘Ni”) and allow this cycle to carry on, we are going to be neck deep in chook poo and chickens. It has to stop now! We have been more than accommodating in allowing our girls to go through the entirely natural process of having babies. We ‘have’ babies now. We have too many babies. We have started to think that we might have to reclassify Serendipity Farm as Primary Productive Land. Whilst having several benefits regarding our ability to buy our grain tax exempt, we were never planning on going professional when we bought our initial 8 ‘hens’. This is most definitely a learning curve that we should have taken note of when we gave these birds the ideal conditions to reproduce in. Given the ideal conditions, birds go nuts. We have already seen this with the sparrow population.

Here is your last random picture for the day. As you can see it is the view from our deck down into the first garden. Steve has trimmed the archway and formed a tantalising (or we hope it is!) hint of the second garden behind this ‘hedge’. We have so many plans for this area. We have 2 Pierre de Ronsard roses to train up and over this arch but still need to work out how to stop the possums from defoliating them on a regular basis as roses are a possums most favourite food. At least we have some structure to work with and are not having to work from scratch. We haven’t learned that yet! :o)

When we first arrived at Serendipity Farm, just over a year ago there hadn’t been a lot of human-bird interaction in quite some time. My dad used to give the cuckoo shrikes minced meat and crumbled stale bread up for the wrens. I don’t know why he did that for the wrens because wrens are insect eaters, but I guess if you leave the bread for long enough, some form of insect habitation is going to occur. There was a small population of wrens, 3 sparrows and 1 loyal cuckoo shrike who returned wistfully looking for something to eat. We started throwing out bread because that is what we did in town. I think it was more to carry on some form of continuity with our shredded lives. We had just gone through a particularly harrowing 6 months with 3 members of our families dying, moving house and thrashing out 5 of our Diploma units in 10 weeks which is, of itself, a mammoth task. To say that we were burned out and under stress would be a big understatement. Throwing bread out for the birds was a symbol of continuity that gave me a bit of hope to see light at the end of that tunnel of stress. The first members of the bird confraternity that benefited from our generosity were the sparrows. They went from a population of 3 to an uncountable flock in a very short space of time. Next we noticed blackbirds starting to appear. We heard the odd one in the early mornings but suddenly they seemed to be peeking out of every shrub and darting out from every available space in the trees. The cuckoo shrikes returned and despite not being fed mince, soon adapted happily to small morsels of cheese and started breeding in earnest. Next we got the feral cats after the birds…after that the population of birds suddenly exploded. We put 3 bird baths in various places for the birds to have a continual supply of water for drinking and bathing. This enabled various other larger birds to consider Serendipity Farm on their list of ‘hot spots’ to breed in. Whilst out giving Effel and her fluff balls some cheese, I heard a pair of white cockatoos that the currawongs have been doing their hardest to dissuade from moving in to the top paddock screeching loudly as if they have finally won the battle. We have the currawongs, a pair of Kookaburras, the crows, a pair of grey herons, a pair of Black cockatoos with their babies, all sorts of small to medium birds that call Serendipity Farm home and you would have thought that being someone reasonably observant, I would have noticed this increase in the bird population due to better conditions and would have made a mental note of this regarding our new population of hens. I need to point out here that we were never going to have the problem of exponential exploding hen populations because we were guaranteed that all of our 8 hens were ‘hens’. Nature (and the people selling them to us) conspired against us and we got Yin. 6 months down the track and we are drowning in chickens, a slave to letting them out…feeding them…providing them with endless water and locking them up at night. That is why those 2 broody hens are about to take a dunking in a bucket of cold water!

WARNING!!! Don’t attempt anything that you read about after this point in the blog unless you wish to be drummed out of any vaguely horticultural societies or groups that you belong to…

The last section of this post is about something that I would rather have not even mentioned. The only reason that you are to be privy to this sad but true story is that I only recently lauded honesty to my sister and said how I am open and transparent so here I am…sharing with you my shameful little secret…We bought and planted out 5kg of seed potatoes. We had 2kg of Pontiac’s’ 2kg of purple Congo’s and a kilo of Kipflers that I bought from the local basket market at Deviot. We dug our potato patch and planted our spuds. We tended them carefully. We heaped straw around them and plied them with horse manure. They grew tall and green and were incredibly happy right up to the point where the green vegetable bugs gave them the once over. The ducks and chooks fixed our green vegetable bug problem but in so doing they fixed our potato leaf problem as well. Everyone who is anyone knows that potato leaves are poisonous so they were obviously just protecting their seed futures because if we stupidly ate those leaves, there goes their grub. Clever enough chooks, but when I was out wrestling eggs from the 2 clucky hens I noticed a few scratched up small Pontiac spuds so I called out to Steve and we dug up our haul. I got him to bring a cardboard box out because we had grown spuds in town (before we had done anything to do with horticulture and were rank amateurs working in raised beds on rock hard soil…) and so I knew what to expect. We filled a large box in town from a few plants. Here we had LOTS of plants! We pulled them up and waited for the masses of spuds that were obviously going to drop from the roots…the only thing that dropped from the roots was the old tuber, mushy and full of holes…we combed the entire 3 garden beds where we had placed our seed potatoes reverently, and came up with this…

In case you are under any false impressions that this colander is one of those massive great things, here are some of our Kipflers with something to give you a sense of perspective about how massive they are…

Some of these potatoes are so small I had to comb the bottom of the sink before I released the plug to let the water out because they would have gone down the plug hole with the water…what happened? Buggered if I know. Between the green vegetable bugs and the pulling up something seems to have halted their growth. Steve and I are going to eat this puny collection of tiny spuds with our tea tonight. The bitter taste of failure will be strong but we will cover it up with tonnes of butter, salt and pepper. It is obvious that we need raised beds for our vegetables and we are going to get stuck into organising them as soon as we can. We are behind the 8 ball this year but by next year we should have some veggie gardens ready to enable us to be growing more than we need. We found that hidden nest of eggs that I had been trying to locate. I knew that one of the hens was cribbing eggs and just had to catch her in the act. She foolishly laid an egg while I was outside filling up the water bowls this morning so I was able to hunt her down and find her 7 eggs. We have more eggs than potatoes. Perhaps I will make a Spanish omelette for Steve’s tea tonight? It will have some interesting colours in it! I guess you just have to learn your life lesson and move on. I am not very good at moving on…I like to sit in the ashes holding them up to the sky tearfully calling out “WHY ME!?”…I am the consummate drama queen. There is no room for drama queens down here on the farm and so tomorrow we will be trying to find another source of hay for our raised garden beds. It shouldn’t be too hard, it’s been an amazing year for pasture grass and a very mild winter and most farmers are not even bothering to cut hay this year as they have so much left over. As a wise man once said “Always look on the bright side of life”. I totally agree. And what makes looking on the bright side of life a whole lot more bearable and tolerable is to remember the old adage “Misery loves company” so we turfed out the 2 broodies from their nests and shut them out of the coop. It might not make up for our complete lack of horticultural practical ability regarding vegetable gardens, but it certainly made us feel better :o)


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mum
    Dec 15, 2011 @ 11:20:47

    Bum ! I had this nearly finished but the paper came.I left it all on the computer, but with the length of time before getting back to it, it has gone into the ether. That photo from the deck shows you have really got stuck in there love. Don’t be too pristine with the garden, it will be something special to have little corners & paths wherr you can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner. I know you have both worked like troopers for months now, & that is why all birds & wild life come-thanking you for the food too. They feel safe there. As for the chooks, think about, as they grow big, selling them off alive to anyone who wants some, either for the pot or for eggs. You could sell them at the markets live, that way no need about killing them off as I know you won’t want to. Suprising what you can do when you’re broke & hungry though. You could have left the spuds in the garden Pen, & they would have kept growing. I have them come up from compost in the raised beds & that’s from a fair way down at times too. Leave them till the tops have all dried & are dropping off. I think some of the really big ones are from little ones I leave alone, or haven’t seen when picking. I have a heap in a large tub I just water now & then & give a bit of blood & bone. While they are in the ground they’ll be okay. Chuck a bit of soil over now & then too.I find them in amongst other vegies I have grown, so get a free crop now & then. It keeps me in spuds often. Just put any peel or potatoes that are soprouting out somewhere in the garden & leave them be. I can be digging the soil to plant something else,& have a handful of lovely big spuds turn up. Thjose you dug up look great by the way. Have another go.Start making a raised bed, & after putting a layer of soil for the initial planting for them to grow good roots, as the green tops come through, just add a bit of manure & hay, soil too if you feel. Keep doing that & building up the sides of the bed same time, byt he time you get at least 2 foot high, there should be a tidy crop therer, if l;eft for the tops to die off. It’s a handy larder that way, as they keep well in the soil. Just make sure they are well covered at the top not to go green ! Anyway love, you have proved you can do it eh? I bet they tasted smashing too.


  2. microgardener
    Dec 15, 2011 @ 21:12:56

    I feel a kindred spirit when I read your blog Peg! It makes me laugh and realise that our not dissimilar goings-on at our place are actually ‘normal’. Living so close to what I call ‘nature’s classroom’ means lessons are on the menu every day – from the weather to birds and animals, the soil and plants all teaching us something … not always what we expect, but making us richer for it. Learning to observe and allow nature to take its course is part of our everyday routine.

    We too have had an explosion in the bird population here. In fact our kitchen servery window is now officially termed our ‘Fly Thru’ with birds of different species taking turns flying in for a free feed, and moving on when the next customer arrives. Our official ‘opening hours’ start early morning when the first greedy customers arrive.

    We have butcher birds who sit on the window sill singing the most beautiful songs to us to get our attention – often in a chorus with 4 or 5 lining up and singing a harmony. Quite impossible to ignore such a performance so we obligingly get the bread out of the freezer, soak it and the ‘Fly Thru’ window officially opens and dinner is served. Problem being though that one serve is never enough so encore singing performances are now the norm and these smart birds know exactly where we are in the house at any point in time and often fly up to other windows to sing and make themselves heard.

    If another species like the rainbow lorikeets beat them to it and get to the servery first, the butcher birds will fly from several hundred metres away in just seconds to join in. It was creepy at first, a bit like being watched by some voyeur … waiting for us to appear at the kitchen window and suddenly manifesting seconds later. The lorikeets of couse bring their friends and cousins and then the whole leopard tree is groaning under their weight as they come for their supper. They’ll quite courageously take on a couple of cheeky ducks who are not content to feed down on the lawn but have taken it upon themselves to reside under our sun lounges on the verandah. If bread is on offer, they’ll greedily take any other bird’s portion and have absolutely no remorse for it at all. I’m often at the kitchen window only to see a duck face appear just below the ledge on the blanket box on the verandah, impatiently waiting for ‘Fly Thru’ open time. He reminds me of the duck in the movie, Babe. A real character who loves being hand fed.

    At least we have no spiders weaving unsightly webs on the verandah any more – the butcher birds are on pest patrol and take care of those while waiting for their Diner to open. Slugs in the garden beds are taken care of by the ducks while they fertilise at the same time, and the magpies and doves finish off grubs and other pesky insects so it’s not a bad arrangement!

    How about I swap some of our ducks for your chooks??!!


    • narf77
      Dec 16, 2011 @ 08:26:35

      What a lovely reply! Thanks Annie, it does feel a bit like grand central station but your poor Leopard tree seems to be taking the brunt. Ours all predate the deck area and our birds are smaller (usually). We get the ubiquitous sparrows but also tiny little blue wrens who boss everyone around despite weighing the best part of 10g. We occasionally get butcher birds but we know that they are there by the heavy banging of the dogs bones being picked up and scoured for meat. The blackbirds are also opportunistic bone nibblers and we have had to move the dogs biscuits inside as we were feeding the ever expanding population of blackbirds carrying them away. We have 2 ducks but they are only just starting to come close to us. The chooks are mostly wyandottes, a good breed for meat and eggs but Steve and I are such sooks we can’t kill anything so ours are ONLY egg birds. They are massive great things and very good mums so should I ever make it up to Queensland (one of my life goals is to eat every tropical fruit known to man in Queensland one day…) I will tuck a hen under each arm and will drop them off for you :o)


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