The rambunctiousness of Ravens

Hi All,

Does anyone else feel like they won lotto when they go to the library? It’s a treasure trove of knowledge and literature and my go-to place to withdraw myself a bank load of mental dollar bills. The library ladies both know me now…I used to attend Polytechnic in my first year and a half of studies and Helen; one of the library ladies was a “minder” (for want of a better word) for a disabled young man who was a bit of a handful. I think working at the library would be a gentle breeze after trying to manage a most determined, exuberant and often aggressive young man. The other library lady (whose name I am not privy to…) is also very nice. She knows me because I am the library patron who can’t be seen as she enters the doorway because of the staggering tower of returns that she is balancing precariously in a circus worthy attempt to have them all arrive on the library counter in one fell swoop…”Hello Fran”…and I am in! Aside from Nigel Slater’s entire back catalogue that I pre-ordered on my best friend “TALIS” (the state-wide library website where you can peruse to your heart’s content and order whilst wearing your pyjamas, eating toast at 6am and scratching yourself in a most satisfactory manner…all frowned on in the actual library but completely allowed when utilising TALIS)…The tiny space contains adventitious books…books that have been ordered and returned to the library in a most clever sustainable practice that the states libraries have decided to embrace where the book stays in its orderee’s library until it is requested again…I am severely tempted to order my 15 allowable books, Steve’s 15 allowable books and borrow my daughters 2 cards as well and keep ordering books to see just how many books the tiny rural kiosk of Exeter could physically handle but aside from being a reasonably nice person, I am far too lazy to apply myself with fervour to a task that doesn’t actually result in anything other than the annoyance of the library ladies and a breakdown in the relationship that I have built with them.


As we were walking the dogs just outside our front gate we noticed the black “pirate ship” motoring underneath the Batman Bridge and decided to watch it head back out to sea. Apparently it is heading down to the Hobart wooden boat rally but it certainly cut a fine figure through the water on its way

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Bezial’s old walking haunt “The Swamp”. Just mentioning it makes his ears prick up and his tail wag and the other day we walked the boys around this wetland area that is subject to regular high tides that cover these pathways and keep the vegetation lush

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Steve, Bezial and Earl walking nonchalantly past this wonderful Illawarra Flame Tree (Brachychiton acerifolius) pretending that Steve isn’t at ALL interested in whether or not it has any seed pods on it this year as he may or may not have taken advantage of its seedy goodness in years past…


Not quite “flame” but an example of the brillian colour of the flowers that bedeck the entire tree and make it a stunning street tree


Seed pods! Steve may or may not be predating these seed pods on an indetermined day in the near future (is that vague enough do you think? 😉 )

I was able to take “Vegan Pie In The Sky” out again because it is a wonderful eclectic collection of delicious vegan desserts that certainly piqued my interest. I also took out another book again…The book is called “The Wilderness Garden” by one Jackie French. I have talked about Ms French before. She was a doyen of organic wackiness back in the 80’s before organic became the creed of the hipster. She wore weird hats made of vegetables and was larger than life…another larger than life lady whom I admire immensely is Ms Dawn French (note the last name…)…both ladies were once larger than life and have minimised themselves down to postage stamps…both ladies have out of this world senses of humour and each sports a healthy attitude of themselves and appear to be optimistic about the world around them and both are writers…what is the difference between them? Well 1 can write amazingly well and has a plethora of extremely useful tomes for the adventurous gardener and the other one can’t write herself out of a paper bag…I am sorry Ms French (you KNOW which one you are)…I am still smarting for having my faith in your ability to write so cruelly dashed by the sad piece of pulp fiction that I forced myself to read a chapter off not so long ago…my sensibilities STILL hurt ma’am!…the other Ms French had me enthralled from the moment I set my eyes inside The Wilderness Garden…the problem was I was first setting eyes on this wonderful book whilst sitting in the car waiting to take it back to the library! Christmas…you robbed me of my reading time! When I realised just how precious this book was to me I asked the library lady if there was a chance that I could renew it and apparently I could because I have this precious piece of life changing literature sitting in front of me on the computer desk as I type this post and I am gloating for all I am worth! It’s one of those “I am going to have to buy this” books. It deals with turning your property into a food forest for yourself and the local wildlife and living in harmony with the insects, the birds and the cycles…it promises no more fighting nature. Indeed it positively radiates with natural harmony and it also promises something more precious than integrated cycles…it promises that once the garden is established, it will be drought hardy, it will be extremely diverse, it will handle temperature extremes, it will allow us to grow a range of tropical plants on our property and most importantly it WILL work here in our Australian conditions… and you know why I have faith that it will? Because Ms French has been walking the walk for over 40 years now and knows what she is talking about.


An avenue of very healthy looking trees in a back alley in Launceston


Bezial having an adventitious drink of water from this fountain outside the library in Launceston


Earl discovering that jumping up onto this “bench” might not have been such a good idea after all…

I will be immersing myself in The Wilderness Garden…I will be doing what Ms French endorses and I will be reporting back to you all with my results. You might have to stick around for a while though… it won’t happen tomorrow or next week and indeed some of the processes outlined in the book take years but it promises progress, honest cycles of fecundity (what a wonderful word!) and a sense of harmony with those cycles that is redolent with what we humans are supposed to live like. Ms French lives on just about 2 hectares (the same size as Serendipity Farm). She grows approximately 270 different kinds of fruit and the woman makes sense! Everything that flies from the page fits with my ethos and how I feel about the world. Ms French, you are my new gardening guru! Move over Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall… this lady is singing my song, in my country and with my conditions… consider this rat a ship jumper!


I completely forgot about these senna seed pods and this little succulent that I collected ages ago…it just goes to show you how resilient succulents are!


Redwood island where Steve likes to fish. You can disembark onto the island and fish from their if you like and it’s a lovely spot to have a picnic

You learn a whole lot about the world around you when you take the time to stop what you are doing and observe it. We knew that it was going to be a big year for the red-eye cicadas because of their breeding cycle and we were not disappointed when they started tuning up the band this year for their massive month long chorus of clicking. When we first noticed this phenomenon 5 years ago when dog minding for my father while he was still alive we only associated it with the heatwave that came with them. This year we have the obligatory heatwave but we also have time to pay attention to this most interesting cycle and how it benefits the local wildlife, specifically birds. I know that red-eye must taste alright because I found a dead one that I was going to take some photos of and Earl ate it. We had seen an influx of Australian Ravens on Serendipity Farm and thought that they were breeding but it would seem that they were here for the sexagenary cycle (5 year cycle that they maintain along with the Chinese…) of plenty. Not only had the raven population suddenly increased, but we started noticing other birds of prey…3 kookaburras, a plethora of cuckoo shrikes, butcher birds and their young and even an adventitious young hawk, all climbing around in the tree canopy to take advantage of the red-eye feast. Like Earl they appear to be particularly fond of these large black cicadas and the hawk had a very interesting way of flushing them out of hiding under the leaves…he beat his wings and cicadas flew out everywhere giving him time to pluck them out of the air around him while he sat on his branch munching. The ravens are particularly funny to watch. Aside from their constant communication, they are a very ordered group and mum and dad spend a lot of time coaxing their young to hunt for this free bounty of fat and protein. I have an affinity with ravens. Any bird with obvious intelligence is alright by me and ravens have it in bucket loads. Just head over to Youtube and check out “Ravens” and you can see some amazing birds using their minds to solve problems.


An interesting selection of “stuff” in a wheelbarrow


A nice big roll of ex-fish farm netting that needs to be cut in half with that little sharp knife inside that blue pouch so that we can protect the maple garden from predatory possums and wandering wallabies


Back to that wheelbarrow of “stuff”…I have already planted out the red clover and am just about to take advantage of a little curveball that a glut of potatoes handed me…


What happens when you forget about a 10kg sack of potatoes in the back of your pantry. After opening the bag and seeing their little tendrils waving at me I decided to make the most of the situation and use the new compost heap to grow some spuds! I used that wheelbarrow of organic compost to cover them…


The spuds are now covered in organic compost and dead grass clippings and oak leaves and have been well watered in…lets see what grows 🙂


Here’s that red clover in it’s heavily fortified tyre home. It didn’t even wilt after being yanked out of the ground in the heat of the day, stuck in a dog pooh bag full of water in the laundry sink for a day and then planted out. Hopefully it spreads its seeds far and wide and we end up covered in red clover!

I have been following a blog site about using container gardening to eliminate hunger. I love proactive blogs that tell you how to change your situation with a bit of spit and elbow grease and usually using items that have been discarded and that are usually free. Knowledge can give you a whole different perspective about what is and isn’t “worthless”. I love finding creative and attractive ways to reuse and repurpose items that would otherwise go into landfill. If you would like to see this amazing blog you can check it out here…

and this Facebook page shows a really great re-purpose for wine bottles that we have been hoarding in our small shed in an enormous pile for ages now and that threaten to render us senseless whenever we are foolish enough to venture into the shed to get the lawnmower…we are NOT on the wrong side of alcoholism…we are just cleverly creating prospective art gardens 😉

Steve and I recently saw an ad on a local noticeboard selling “craft wood”. It wouldn’t have interested us in the past but with Steve’s new-found interest in all things woody we took down the number and phoned up. The man that answered the phone is leaving the state and wants to offload his collection of craft wood so Steve will be heading to see him on Monday to potentially stock up on some lovely spoon futures. The seller has different kinds of wood including an orangey yellow wood called Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) that comes from Texas. While we were walking the dogs in Exeter we noticed a large shed at the back of where they have monthly market days where the Tamar Woodworkers Guild meets. Steve is thinking of looking into joining them…after all…who wouldn’t want to join a guild? The only concerns that I have are will he need a jerkin and tights? If so, he is on his own…I can’t sew for peanuts ;). We went to the tip and dumped some more rubbish (yes…it really WAS rubbish 😉 ) and I headed into their rusty container that doubles as a tip shop and found a lovely little glazed clay pot that someone had made with love and care. I can’t believe that anyone would throw out something like that and when I asked the tip manager how much it was, he said “to you…its free!”…so I have another little pot/bowl to add to my hoarded collection and another perfectly useful and attractive item is saved from landfill to my benefit. One day our children’s children are going to dig through our waste piles looking for useful things. They are going to marvel at what we threw away…


The beginnings of a chunky oak spoon that Steve made for me


Side on to show you how chunky it is. I like chunky things…they feel solid and reliable and real and I requested “chunky” when Steve asked me what kind of spoon I would like


I think you will agree it turned out to be a lovely spoon. I especially like the wood markings in the bowl that look like an eye


Steve’s hand holding the spoon to show the “chunk” 😉


Steve decided to have a go at making some more “chunkies” from oak including a spatuloon and a spreader that also cuts cheese.


Here they are finished with a nice rub of orange eco-oil and I really love them :o)

That’s it for today folks…here in extra sunny northern Tasmania it is hot…for Tasmania it is HOT. We don’t get a lot of “hot” but when we do, it tends to be oppressive and coupled with hideous humidity thanks to our endemic greenery. Its days like these where I remember why I don’t live in Tropical far north Queensland! Have a great weekend folks and see you on Wednesday for our cuppa and chat…hopefully it has cooled down a bit by then and we are back on track with our milder than the mainland summer :o)

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Allotment adventures with Jean
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 19:10:29

    I too love my library Fran. I went in there the other day and took my laptop with me to sit out a couple of hours of heatwave in their air conditioning with the idea of using library wifi. It wouldn’t work. So my dear librarian loaned me the library’s iPad so I could surf my favourite blogs, (They have computers there but they were all being used). Only a week earlier I had discussed with this lovely lady my need to learn more about cooking eggplants as I was harvesting them from my allotment. She loves eggplant and had printed off her favourite recipes for me. She then handed me the book to be discussed at our next book group meeting. How is that for service!
    I have just been watching the news about the devastating fires burning right now in Tasmania. I am so sad for the loss of so many homes and the poor people who are going to have to re-build their lives.
    Stay safe.


    • narf77
      Jan 06, 2013 @ 04:52:04

      Hi Jean, it is a bit surreal about the fires. The year before we got to Tassie there were bad fires as well. Because of the cycles of seasons, every 5 years or so we get a hot one down here and because it is so green down here the odds are there will be fires. Most of the damage has been down south Hobart way because of the very dry conditions and the strong winds and it is terrible to hear that so many houses have been affected. Hopefully no-one has lost their lives. We have been very lucky here because all we got was a bit of extreme heat (no worse than an early summers day in W.A.) and some smoke on the river. Your librarian sounds like a goodn’ I think people that work in libraries are good souls. All of that amazing energy floating around in libraries from happy people who love to learn must do something to the environment :). Our tiny library only has 2 computers and a decided dearth of ipads but our librarian does everything that she can to help and we can take our excess produce in to the library produce basket and share the love around with fellow library patrons :). Have a great sunday and hopefully it isn’t too hot in Queensland. Its cooled down a whole lot here in Tassie 🙂


  2. Allotment adventures with Jean
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 19:18:58

    Senna pods Fran? Ha ha. My mother used to keep them in the cupboard but they weren’t for planting. If you hadn’t been to the loo that day – she would boil the pods up into a tea and by golly you’d have no trouble after that. Beware!
    You know in cards you can get a “Royal Flush”. You get the idea?


    • narf77
      Jan 06, 2013 @ 04:54:05

      I, too, know about the power of the senna pod Jean! I also know that they are an amazing nitrogenous tree that grows very quickly and that makes a fantastic foundation tree in permaculture and so knowing that ours is on its last legs I wanted to harvest some seed and grow some more to be planted out on Serendipity Farm to help us with our edible food forest. I won’t be boiling them, more like scarifying them and planting them 😉


  3. thinkingcowgirl
    Jan 06, 2013 @ 00:04:12

    Wow, Steve is prolific with his spoons – I’ve got this image of clouds of wood shavings frothing out of the shed 😉

    Your library sounds fab – libraries are under serious threat in the UK, being cut left right and centre.

    Your new guru sounds brilliant – I guess much better to have an aussie specific one. It must be crazy with those possums and wallabies trying to get into everything. And I thought we had it bad with the giant slugs! What about a decoy? A special playground for them with swings and treats….hahaha methinks you might just end up with more!

    Being a food lover I was wondering if you’ve heard of Yotam Ottolenghi? My vegetarian/vegan friends always rave about him.He’s got a columnin the Guardian newspaper, restaurants and books out – more books! I keep meaning to get one.


    • narf77
      Jan 06, 2013 @ 04:59:38

      We have giant slugs too! They are easily managed by collecting them and tossing them into our duck who adores them and makes disgusting squishy noises as she squeezes their overabundant carcasses to their doom (most satisfying 😉 ). I have heard of Yotam and know that he is “de rigueur” at the moment. I will take one of his books out of the library methinks and see if he is worth they hype ;). The possums just got a large piece of weldmesh over their bouncy playground so no more bean top scoffing for them! I also planted out all of my sprouting garlic. Whether its the wrong season or not…it sprouted…I planted…so be-it! Have a great sunday and hope its not too cold there. We are having the opposite at the moment, a cyclone off the coast of Queensland has pushed their extreme weather down to us and Tasmania is burning up (in some cases literally). It’s not different to an early season day in Western Australia where we come from but its amazing how soon you acclimatise to cooler temperatures! Glad its started to cool back down to regular summer temperatures here 🙂


  4. ediblethings
    Jan 06, 2013 @ 02:23:32

    A great post, Fran. I love your photos, your support for the local library, and Steve’s beautiful spoons. I really enjoyed reading about the cicadas. This year is also going to be el nino, so I wonder if they are linked in some way?
    And it was great to read more about what you mentioned on my resolutions post, working with nature. I look forward to reading more about it in the coming months and years. Our growing conditions are very different, but there is much that I can pick up. And I’m always willing to try and find samples to make ediblethings from 🙂
    I have just heard about the forest fires in Tasmania. I hope that you and Serendpity Farm stay lucky.
    I’m also dying to know what you use Flame tree seed pods for?


    • narf77
      Jan 06, 2013 @ 05:05:12

      The flame tree is, in and of itself, a magnificent specimen tree and Steve and I are “tree people”. We have a large collection of Brachychitons that we have grown but we have never managed to grow a Flame tree. The seeds of most brachychitons are edible and as they are such hardy and beautiful trees I want to plant different species of them all down our fenceline between our place and our wonderful 90 year old neighbour Glad’s place. When they are fully grown they will make a magnificent sight for people out on the river :). I always try to plant things that have multiple uses and our top paddock is extremely rocky and dry and Brachychitons love these sort of conditions. We are not affected too badly (yet…) up here in Northern Tasmania with fires. It has been a very dry hot season so it was inevitable that some fires would start and the cyclonic winds being pushed down the coast from a cyclone in Queensland caused the fires to go haywire. Glad you are enjoying our posts and remember to enter Steve’s next spoon draw as last time there were very good odds and Earl is in need of another walnut draw 😉


      • ediblethings
        Jan 06, 2013 @ 10:35:24

        Wow, you have draws?
        That’s brilliant, but sending them to the Netherlands will be costly. Instead, I’ll encourage my Aussie friends to enter 🙂

      • narf77
        Jan 06, 2013 @ 10:43:29

        We are sending spoons to the U.S. for the last winner and should you win, we would be most happy to send you a spoon. They weigh very little, being wood, and we consider sharing the spoony love around a worldwide thing, not just Australia wide 🙂

  5. christiok
    Jan 06, 2013 @ 07:34:53

    We’re watching the news, Fran and Steve, seeing the wretched fires in Australia and including Tasmania and holding you all in our thoughts. I can feel the heat just reading your blog, imagining Earl chomping those red-eyed cicadas. Our garden is cold and soggy wet right now, and the thought of planning another “European” garden (Ms. French’s term…I looked her up) isn’t appealing. I’m going to explore more perennials and less rows this year, methinks. I have stopped checking books out at our library because it is far away in the opposite direction of where we go shopping and I can’t seem to finish any book in 3 weeks!!…and like you, we don’t drive much. BUT I recently discovered the BOOKMOBILE that comes to our area every other week…and I can return books to it. So maybe I’ll start up again. Love the picture of Bezial standing up over the fountain. Love from Olalla!!


  6. Roz Takes
    Jan 06, 2013 @ 13:36:41

    Hi Fran, I can remember Jackie French and her garden show..loved it!
    I was only reminded at Christmas time that the “Book” is slowly becoming a thing of the past. Everyone has a Kindle or some such. My sister happily told me she received a real book as a present..hard cover and all.
    So sad about the bushfires. I wonder if the Greens will rethink their policy of no burn offs. After our disasters here last year, local bushfire brigades are going to mark houses, where no maintenance has been done, as undefendable (their word not mine) and will move to the next house. We will be returning to burn offs apparently.
    After thought….does Steve catch any fish in the Tamar


    • narf77
      Jan 06, 2013 @ 14:48:17

      Sadly, he hasn’t caught much so far but he is being taken out with a seasoned tamar river fisherman next week who is going to show him the “good spots”. There is a salmon farm around the corner that release a lot of baby salmon regularly so there are salmon, sharks, lots and LOTS of flathead, bream and snapper and kingfish as well as garfish and some weird coddy things that Stewart caught one of when he was here the Christmas before last…lots of fish, just Steve isn’t catching them ;). Where we live is just around the corner from the ocean. If you look at the map of Tassie we are just down from “Longreach” which isn’t that far from the ocean and the river is salt water here, further in to Launceston it is fresh water and contains eels! The problem with Tassie is that it gets so much rainfall for most of the year and 3 months of extreme water free summer and suddenly all of that growth that all that water allowed becomes tinderbox dry and as just about everyone here smokes, it doesn’t take more than a careless ciggie out the window and there is a major burn :(. I would rather have books because what happens if, for some reason “books” are regulated online? Their content can be much more easily regulated online than in a physical way and I would much rather read a physical book. There is something soulfully satisfying about turning pages 🙂


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