Seral communities meet feral communities down on Serendipity Farm

Hi All,

It’s Friday (yeh…it SAYS Saturday but wachagonnadoaboudit?) and we have had our meeting with our lecturer. He gave me permission to put his photo here along with Steve…now I just need to get the permission of the other Diploma student and I can share it with you. I got an email from Florida to say that not only did she get the little hen that escaped after flying out of her box staggering along the gate and falling into the Westbury Reserve area behind her house back…but she is now a “fly in, fly out’ hen and has been named (most appropriately) “Feral Cheryl”. Florida’s princesses have apparently reverted to their true chicken natures and are all putting up a fight against the 4 newcomers but my lot are girls from the bush and are used to being pushed around. I dare say what Florida’s girls are doing is a walk in the park to their usual positions in the pecking order around here. Who would know how many chickens we have on Serendipity Farm anymore? Effel has gone A.W.O.L. and we see her very rarely (and most furtively) sneaking out from wherever it is that she has discovered that mountain of hidden eggs to get a drink of water or a quick peck of food and then she is right back to her hiding spot…the hens have got another nest somewhere now and good luck to us ever finding that one. We have 2 clucky hens that we had to toss out into the outside compound to prevent them sitting on nothing and preventing their egg laying sisters from laying in the nesting boxes…all in all I am OVER chickens at the moment. We got 3 eggs for 3 days and for the amount of food that we are broadcasting all over the place here, we are decidedly put out to say the least. We are going on an egg finding expedition tomorrow. I have my pith helmet (a most necessary article to stop Steve from taking the ‘pith’ out of me for even bothering to try to outsmart Big Yin and his maze of nests) and will be arming myself with a decent stick should I rustle up something a little more slithery than one of our errant hens.

The person who owns this property is a stickler for neatness and tidiness. The poor man had to live next door to my dad’s tennants in the house to the direct right but now my brother has sold the house, they must be breathing a sigh of relief. I just wanted to share a few photos of this mans incredibly tidy and well set up veggie garden

Note the old bath being used in the veggie garden design. I would use it as a worm farm with a nice big hessian sack and a container to catch the worm wee from the plug but this person has used it to plant companion plants and herbs and for the pumpkin vine to scramble up apparently. Note the fence around the outside to keep the possums out and the decent gauge wire to stop them climbing up. If we did that here our tricky possums would find a way in and would trash the lot simply because they would want to teach us a lesson…

I like the clean space around the raised garden beds in this veggie garden. I like the use of blue metal and the neat shed and greenhouse made out of plastic. This person has it together

Here is the last picture of this really neat veggie garden. One day we might get our act together enough to get something like this going but we will be using some very interesting substitutes for the poles, the fence and the raised garden beds and we will be companion planting the lot in a completely vain effort to put the possums off the scent of our veggies…

We get up nice and early and now that the sun isn’t rising till 7am, we have plenty of time to walk the boys and be back to let the hens out to then follow their every waking move. If Steve heads after one pack (down the driveway where Henry is practicing his yodelling quietly so as not to alert Yin to the fact that there is a young whippersnapper upstart hot on his heels…) and I hobble around up in the first paddock with Yin and his cohorts we might just find that nest yet. As mentioned in a previous post, we should be able to see the pile quite soon by just looking at Google Earth because it’s been ages since we got any degree of eggs so they are out there somewhere…we just need to find where…I am most enthusiastic about our Diploma course this year. We headed in to town to see Nick our most illustrious lecturer who never fails to enthuse me even if I haven’t had enough sleep for a week (mostly due to getting too enthusiastic about researching our latest unit) and had a really good morning talking about sustainability, applications of sustainability and a new word to my repertoire…”Seral”. Of course, I was no sooner in the door than I had to head to the computer and check it out. Here’s what I found from my good old friend Wikipedia…

“Ecological succession is the phenomenon or process by which an ecological community undergoes more or less orderly and predictable changes following disturbance or initial colonisation of new habitat. Succession was among the first theories advanced in ecology and the study of succession remains at the core of ecological science. Succession may be initiated either by formation of new, unoccupied habitat (e.g., a lava flow or a severe landslide) or by some form of disturbance (e.g. fire, severe windthrow, logging) of an existing community. Succession that begins in new habitats, uninfluenced by pre-existing communities is called primary succession, whereas succession that follows disruption of a pre-existing community is called secondary succession.”

“A seral community is an intermediate stage found in an ecosystem advancing towards its climax community. In many cases more than one seral stage evolves until climax conditions are attained. A prisere is a collection of seres making up the development of an area from non-vegetated surfaces to a climax community. Depending on the substratum and climate, a seral community can be one of the following:

  • A Hydrosere Community – in freshwater
  • Lithosere Community – on rock
  • Psammosere Community – on sand
  • Xerosere Community – in dry area
  • Halosere Community – in saline body (e.g. a marsh)

This is really interesting stuff…it represents natures actions in balancing out a breakage in its cycles. We were talking about balance and how complex a premise “Sustainability” really is and how open to interpretation it can be. We get to so some research about endemic plants that will grow best in our local conditions and we also get to work out a client brief for Serendipity Farm. We have been given a fictitious $50 000 budget and we now need to establish what we can do to give Serendipity Farm as many sustainable processes/cycles as we can for that not inconsiderable amount of money. Steve had the idea that we should invest it on the short term money market, add the interest to the principal and then increase our budget to insure against shortfalls…not a bad idea but I don’t think that monopoly money is acceptable to our fat cat banks even though that seems to be all that they are willing to give us in interest lately. We can’t be cutting into our luxury cruise budgets now can we!

There aren’t a lot of plants that will grow directly underneath a large conifer. Apart from the serious lack of light due to the canopy usually being evergreen and quite dense, they tend to release chemicals that disuade growth underneath them. How is that for stopping weeds from invading your root space? The problem is that if you can’t grow anything underneath you need to mulch them and can’t use green mulch (ground covers) to keep the soil moisture in around them so seeing this little nasturtium growing directly beneath a large ancient conifer and in an area that rarely gets any sunlight at all (a large archway of huge conifers) made me think. Even if you got it planted out in the sunshine and trained it underneath the conifers you would get naturally fast growing ground cover to keep the moisture in the soil, attractive flowers and the benefit of nasturtiums being natural pest protection

Unless you have small children or tend to walk about on your lawn in bare feet a lot these little English daisies (Bellis perennis) are the perfect answer to a regular grassy lawn. They will grow anywhere, as this little fellow growing right next to the sea attests to, and they have the bonus of having pretty flowers. I was so happy when they took over our lawn in town and they always made me stop and smile when they were flowering and attracting every honey bee and bumble bee for miles around. We don’t need perfect lawns people, what we need is diversity and these little “darlin’s” are right up there with creeping thyme as one of my best “lawn” choices

We get a long weekend here in Tasmania for “Labour Day” which is a bit ironic as most Tasmanian’s are out of work or in the process of losing their jobs. That makes it all the more pertinent for us all to be learning how to think laterally and live on the smell of an oily rag. We can all sit here wide eyed and scared waiting for the government to save us or we can roll our sleeves up, get stuck in and look after ourselves. One thing that concentration on Sustainability has taught me is a greater dependence on community rather than individuality. I dare say communities began as a way to spread the load around and take some of the weight of being a sole provider from the shoulders of our early ancestors. We have drifted away from our communities and many people don’t even know their neighbours let alone have much to do with them. I have been thinking about that for a while and realise that with the threat of dwindling resources we have been given an opportunity to re-engage with our communities. As money becomes scarce, bartering for goods and services will come to the fore. I laughingly said to Steve in the car the other day “We could start a business working for “stuff”…” Steve was less than impressed, but many professionals in smaller communities throughout the world get paid in kind…a basket of eggs here…a box of veggies there and suddenly you are cutting out the middle man (my chief bugbear) and are dealing directly with the primary producer. The world is getting way too complicated. We are all being told that we shouldn’t (Indeed can’t) do anything and that there is always someone more qualified than us who should be being paid to do that task. I say “Bollocks” to that! Let’s take back our power and our ability to do things for ourselves. Far be it from being scared about change, not THIS little black duck! I am usually the very first to be ducking for cover but this emerging situation is suddenly elevating those of us that can think (and ultimately “do”) for ourselves into a new and most interesting position. There is hope for us yet!

Here is our little “Fishbowl” office that we have our meetings with our lecturer in. Where the photo is being taken is a large glass window and when the door is shut it feels like you are sitting inside an aquarium and everyone that walks past stares in…

Here’s the waiting room at the Alanvale Polytechnic department of Horticulture. The classrooms are to the left and the staffroom is to the right. Its quite a nice building but very cold in winter and warm in summer which makes it hard to stay awake on a long day of watching the board.

The big fishtank is Coreys. He is the “handyman” but that word comes nowhere near approaching what Corey actually is to this department. Steve and I recognised the treasure known as “Corey” from our early days in Cert 2 at Polytechnic when we had to attend classes for a year and a half. Corey was a fount of information and was the most go-to-it person that I have ever met. Completely optimistic and always happy and a fantastic person to talk to and deal with. Highly intelligent and motivated but with no need to be a star, this man became our sensei Corey and together Steve, Corey and I designed, sourced the materials for and built the enormous compost tea manufacturing plant at Polytechnic. We really appreciate Corey and have all the time in the world for him. He is someone that we won’t lose touch with when we finish up at Alanvale.

This was our Cert 3 classroom. The desk with the swivelly chairs is at the back of the classroom and is where Steve, Richard and I sat on a regular basis. They say that the naughty people sit up the back…I note Harvey sits there too…Poor James…hopefully he gets a nice quiet well behaved class but there is always one student….look on the bright side James, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger ;o)

Now that the weather is cooling down we have a new found enthusiasm to get stuck into gardening. We are going to be dropping a couple of dead trees tomorrow. One is situated right next to the hen coop and obviously, we are going to leave the hens in the coop until after we drop the tree…why? Not because we dislike the hens or have tired of their endless egg hiding and expensive free range grain guzzling, but because we care about them and don’t want to squash them when we fell the tree. Our hens might be shrub savvy but they tend to run about as if the big bad wolf was after them whenever anything occurs that is out of the ordinary. They also have the curious habit of running towards us whenever they hear a chainsaw. I blame Steve because he is usually chain sawing up logs that contain delicious grubs that the hens have become addicted to and he looks a bit like the Pied Piper of Hamelin except substituting the rats with hens (the feral cats ate all of the rats) whenever he starts up the chain saw. It’s a bit of an interesting Pavlov response and it just goes to show how quickly our hens learn…Steve has gone out hunting for eggs. As soon as we find the hidden nest, they will stop lying there. We are due for a chicken explosion or a literal egg explosion around here someday soon. Steve just found a nest with 11 eggs in it all apparently laid by the same hen…we just need to find where the remaining hens are laying and we will be set! I have been a bit remiss in sharing my fiction reading habits with you of late. I am nose deep in “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” and aside from a chapter that left me a bit mental (all about Mussolini spoken in the 1st person so no doubt most probably it WAS mental…) this book is another gem. Thank goodness I didn’t watch Nicholas Cage before I read this book because the book is a real treasure. Amazingly well written and Mary Anne Schaffer must have really loved this book because there is more than a little literary “borrowing” going on when you compare the scene “The Guernsey Islanders under occupation woven through with a love story” and “The Cephallonian Islanders under occupation in W.W.2 woven through with a love story”…hmmm…anyway, I don’t care. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society was a once in a lifetime read and gave me a little ray of sunshine through the stress of dealing with mum’s death. It is very interesting to note that my next book “Atticus” by Ron Hansen was written by a man who won the Wallace Stegner (of “The Angle of Repose” fame) award for this book…are we starting to see a bit of a picture here? I don’t really mind because woven through all of these books is a sparkling ability to spin a tale out of a printed page. I have a brief respite with a book that promises to be wonderful. Florida gave me the name of a book that she had enjoyed and it was in my hot little eager hands within a week of placing it on hold at the Exeter Library. “Hi Helen” if you are reading this :o). I am STILL waiting for “Under the Tuscan Sun” and have been waiting since before Christmas. I would like to think it is because good things are worth waiting for.  I have also started crocheting again and so I have 3 fiction books on the go juggled with 3 non-fiction (cookbooks) that need me to type out all of the “good stuff” recipes, I have the crocheting to do as well as lots of research etc. and so I have a VERY full long weekend ahead of me, especially because I have to finish up with 2 of the cookbooks by next week. There is something incredibly satisfying about having a weekend full of doing things that you enjoy doing. And Steve is posting his top billion best guitarists of all time today so we will be jostling for computer time for most of the day. See you all tomorrow when hopefully we will be able to isolate where these egg futures are before they blow…

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Florida
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 08:21:51

    Goodness me! I am up to date with Fran’s blogs, I don’t believe it!
    Keep up the great work, I love it. The hen world in Westbury is peaceful, if not completely harmonious I will settle for it. One of the new ladies has laid a white egg everyday, most suppressing among all the brown eggs. If you haven’t already look at a blog called “Back Yard Chickens” full of enthusiasiests tips and handy hints about their experiences, quiet fun at times, download the monthly news letter. Have a great Sunday. More painting, gardening, unpacking, hanging art work for us today. No rest for the weary here! All love, from Westbury,


    • narf77
      Mar 11, 2012 @ 08:28:09

      That white egg has come from “George” the trannie. George (that big hefty brown girl) was one of our best egg layers. We did paper rock scissors about giving her away because she lays regularly but she IS Big Yins (chief rooster and chick manufacturer on Serendipity Farm) sister and as such we had to rehouse her. Her eggs should taste delicious because she has free ranged most of her life and lives on grass, good quality free range food and all the bread and cat food that she could steal. Have a great weekend doing everything that you have to do and don’t labour too much on “Labour Day” because its a day of a dying breed…there are not many people working in Tasmania these days! :o)


  2. Pinky
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 10:02:52

    I’ve never understood why the rest of Australia celebrates labour day a week after WA. Maybe because WA is the power house supporting those states which are hard up etc. As much as I would like to go part time, there’s another part of me that really enjoys going to work and seeing something different come through. The new hospital will finish being built pretty much on time next year so we will be on the first floor with the wards and pharmacy.In fact, i’m about to head off to the laboratory in an hour as i’m working this Sunday. Hope its not too busy and I can come home sooner. Fronkii, just buy el-cheapo chook food. They’re supplementing their diet with lots of organic pickings so save your money or halve their rations till they start to lay for you. Remember mixing the pollard and bran that we used to feed our chooks, geese and ducks with when we were young? That might be the way to go sometimes too. See if that is any cheaper.


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