Works continue apace

We’re hard at work once again here, this time upgrading the chicken/goat pen. Continue reading

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A death in the house and bottling more apricots.

We have our first death in the household since moving here. One of our 4-5 week old chicks, named John after our builder who first saw he wasn’t well, died last night. I got home about 10pm from bottling (more on that in a minute), got the kids into bed (I don’t normally kep them up that late but Martin was in Spotswood packing up the old house and we had been working hard until then so it was a needs must situation) then I finally got the chance to bring in our chicks. They’re around 5 weeks of age which means they’re nearly ready for life in the big pen but in the meantime they’re being slowly acclimatised by being taken out each morning and brought back in every evening. They’re enclosed in our old chook house, a small kit build one a friend gave me about 2 years ago which is plenty big enough for now 8 small chicks and it gives them time to get used to the other hens and roosters, and them to the smaller chicks too, before they’re in the pen proper. Well, when I brought them in last night John was a pretty miserable bundle of feathers. He was cold and stiff and I was convinced he was gone. Given how sick he’s been and that he hasn’t grown in a couple of weeks I had been fully expecting it and, if I’m brutally honest with myself (and you too of course) I was grateful too. A sick chick IS a lot of extra work AND he would have been so very miserable. Well, as I picked up this cold stiff little bundle of feathers he drew in a very sick gaspy little breath. Unbelievably he was still alive. I bedded the chicks down inside and said farewells to John (I am a sentimental fool I know), knowing full well he would not be with us in the morning. He was not. Orik couldn’t care less of course and Allegra just took it in her stride. It was just another piece of information to her as she’s still a bit young to really comprehend what had happened but Jasper is fully aware of what had happened and was most upset he couldn’t pat John again and couldn’t see him again and so on. We had a pat and said goodbye, both of us with streaming tears and John is currently sitting on top of Ignisa our wood heater, in a small tin awaiting Daddy to come home to perform a funeral. It seems kind of silly to hold a funeral for a 5 week old chick but I think it’s probably a necessary thing for Jasper to complete the hard little life lesson he’s just learned. He knows about death but it’s never been such real and tangible thing, only ever an abstract concept gained from his Granddad having passed years before he was born.

In other more positive news, yesterday was spent up to the eyeballs in apricots, finished off with super sweet white nectarines. I headed over to Phoenix Park, a great caravan park with cabins and a most marvelous hall where we set up the pressure canner, Fowlers Vacola water bath, dozens of jars, bowls and between us, 30kgs of apricots and 5kgs of white nectarines, all organic and absolutely delicious. We had freshly made Vegemite and cheese scrolls and brown rice mushroom risotto for lunch, then got stuck into halving our apricots. I had decided to halve them and if the halves were complete and whole I would bottle them but if they were blemished or bruised etc, then the apricot minus the blemished part would be turned into apricot nectar for drinking. I bottled 16 of the #27 jars of apricots in water and 4 of the #36 jars and a #20 of nectar but sadly I forgot the golden rule and I unloaded hot jars onto a cold bench (in my defense I had only made it to bet at 1:15 the night before with a 5am wake up and I was pretty much exhausted when I was unloading the jars) so I’ve broken 2 of my #36’s and I have a 3rd of questionable condition as it’s leaked over 1/2 of its contents. It’s made me stop and think about several aspects of bottling juice but I’ve not given up yet. It sounds crazy, even to me, but it took us 11 hours to bottle 16 jars of apricots in water, 8 in light syrup, 7 bottles (I think) of nectarines and 6 or 7 bottles of apricot nectar as well as processing 30kgs of apricots and 5kgs of nectarines but we also had my 3 monkeys and a 9 month old in the mix! Not a bad achievement in my books.

So, here are the photos I promised from yesterday.

Sterilising jars

Sterilising jars

First jar of apricot halves . I figured out a better way to stack them in after this one.

First jar of apricot halves . I figured out a better way to stack them in after this one.

Left to right: With lid awaiting clip, clipped and ready to process and jar filled with apricots and water and ring on awaiting the lid and clip.

Left to right: With lid awaiting clip, clipped and ready to process and jar filled with apricots and water and ring on awaiting the lid and clip.

After processing. 10 successfully processed jars, 1 that appears to have sealed but with a LOT of air in it in the fridge and a small jar (#20) of nectar.

After processing. 10 successfully processed jars, 1 that appears to have sealed but with a LOT of air in it in the fridge and a small jar (#20) of nectar. Clips will come off tomorrow.

IMG_5106

Halving apricots and 4 well-behaved kids (with a very tired Orik who fell asleep within 5 minutes of taking the photos.

Broken jar. I put it on the bench and no sooner had I moved my hand away (thankfully) than POP! Vomit! What a mess!

Broken jar. I put it on the bench and no sooner had I moved my hand away (thankfully) than POP! Vomit! What a mess!

My other broken jar. :( The white you can see is actually VERY fine bubbles creating a path through the puree heading to higher ground.

My other broken jar. 😦 The white you can see is actually VERY fine bubbles creating a path through the puree heading to higher ground.

The same leaky jar with my other unsuccessful jar of nectre in the background. Only half full so it may not have sealed adequately with all the space (air) in the bottle. One to be used quickly.

The same leaky jar with my other unsuccessful jar of nectar in the background. Only half full so it may not have sealed adequately with all the space (air) in the bottle. One to be used quickly.

This morning was a very slow start after the late night we’d had. Orik slept until 7:30 (although he came in for milk at some ungodly hour of the night before dawn), Allegra after 8 and Jasper slept until almost 9. I think he would happily have stayed in bed longer except for his sister being insistent he get up accompanied by a grumbly tummy. As we broke our fast at around 9:30 10 I went out to take the chicks outside and was greeted by a couple of visitors I hadn’t expected to see. I knew we had kookaburras around as one had been visiting and eating the resident skinks from my potato beds and compost heap and then had returned that evening with a friend whereupon they’d caught the mouse Minnie had rejected the day before and another skink or 2. Given their predilection for snakes and other reptilia they are so very welcome. πŸ˜€ In fact we will be encouraging them to come visiting.

This morning's visitors. He took flight just as I hit the button but it's not every garden that has 2-3 kookaburras come and visit and not many that have a kookaburra perching on the edge of the trampoline. I think Martin's a little sorry he missed seeing them.

This morning’s visitors. He took flight just as I hit the button but it’s not every garden that has 2-3 kookaburras come and visit and not many that have a kookaburra perching on the edge of the trampoline. I think Martin’s a little sorry he missed seeing them.

The other kookaburra.

The other kookaburra.

The fellow on the trampoline flew off a little so I followed after him and was blessed to be able to stand about 3 metres away from him. They really do have the most amazing glossy hard black eyes. Predatory, without being cruel if that makes sense. Sadly I didn’t get laughed at (never thought I’d say THAT in my life) but I was snickered at, a slow craaaak… craaaak… craaaak… but not the full-throated belly laugh. Is there any other bird in the world with such a distinctive and joyful call I wonder? It is simply marvelous to hear them chortling and chucking away in the trees across the creek and it never fails to make me smile. πŸ™‚ If you have never heard a kookaburra’s laugh, check out this link. Well, Mr Kookaburra was warmly welcomed and most cordially invited to drop in whenever he fancies and no need to call first. In fact he was told he’s welcome to make himself at home whether or not we are at home BUT he was warned off the baby chicks (not that he can get to them at the moment anyway but still). What a wonderful cheer me up after John’s discovery this morning. I just wish my photos were better but with limited zoom and an iPhone only and being a less than average photographer… Oh well.

Sitting in our silver poplars next to the house.

Sitting in our silver poplars next to the house. Sorry for the crappy photo.

And finally, I put my kids down for naps this morning as I could see they were cranky from too little sleep and although I know they’re not very eco at all (we’re getting back into cloth again but we have been using sposies just whilst we got settled 😦 ), Allegra who is just toilet training went back into a nappy for her nap. Jasper was being helpful and went to fetch it for me…

Stick em up and give me all your chocolate!

Stick em up and give me all your chocolate!

Tired

I am tired. Exhausted, pooped, weary (my Papa used to say he was weary – sorry, nostalgic moment πŸ™‚ ), worn out, buggered, stuffed, knackered, all done in, fried, zonked, shattered. I am also elated, stoked, happy, pleased, proud, satisfied, contented, over the moon. It’s been a busy weekend.

Achievements this weekend include finishing the chook pen. Ok, so it’s not quite ready for them to move in but the fences are el completo, the door is up, although not yet lockable and the nesting boxes and perch are in. The nesting boxes are an upcycle job from junk existing left at the house. It was one of those shelves that are all boxed in (if that makes sense) so it’s been turned on its side, I’ve attached (ok, Martin attached) 2 bits of 2 by 4 to stick up in the air and after a large hole was drilled through, a piece of chopped down poplar branch was jammed in and drilled into place. Total cost? A few cents of electricity to run the drill and a few screws, non of which were actually bought for the job but lying around from previous jobs. It weighed a tonne so a bit of Egyptian engineering helped us manoeuvre it into place.

Rolling…

Rolling…

 

Rolling…

Martin also managed to get Trevor working again. He’s since mowed most of the grass flat again and made it worth while digging out the whipper snipper again too. The garden is looking a LOT neater and the snake risk is much lower. This has definitely been on the brain a lot of late as there is a snake road kill on the road into town that has had us both on the watch. Now that the grass is too short for them to hide in though we are both beginning to relax. Well, at least a little. Sadly, Trevor hit a stump and broke the belt that runs the mowing attachment. He can’t mow right at the moment but he’s earned his keep hauling a hole lot of crap and junk out of the creek. Sadly the fallen tree was a little too ambitious. Worth a try though.

I also got stuck into some planting. With the help of a few more loads of soil, the north and east sides of the chook pen are tyred in place (take THAT Mr Fox) and planted out too. There are a few tyres on the south side so, planted in anti clockwise order are: 3 tyres of marigolds, oregano, curry bush, thyme, rosemary, 2 with pyrethrum, curly leaf parsley, 2 more pyrethrum, then the rest either have sunflower seeds or sunflower seedlings planted. They will become chook food once ripe and hopefully a wonderful beneficial bugs only invite too (no shirt, no shoes, no service unless you’re a beneficial bug πŸ˜› ).

These are some of my marigolds. More to be planted in the tomato beds and in the rest of the tyres along this south side of the chook pen when I get more soil and newspapers. πŸ™‚

My pot-bound and water starved oregano has responded well to being planted and watered (funny about that) and the curry bush I struck from a sprig a few years ago.

Wonderful smelling thyme which was also very potbound and neglected before being repotted in anticipation of the move and is thriving even more with just a little love, next to the rosemary I also struck from a sprig of a rosemary that was all woody and near the end of its life (it died within 6 months of me taking the cutting)

2 pyrethrum, a parslet looking a bit sad and sorry for itself and 2 more pyrethrum. They will make a wonderful and natural organic and safe insecticide. Well, safe for us anyway. Sorry bugs.

Sunflowers…

… More sunflowers…

 

… And even more sunflowers! All for chook food. πŸ™‚

I also planted out another of my no dig beds. This one is currently half full of purple sprouting broccoli seedlings. I will add some other brassicas in there too to fill up the bed. Only one more to plant out now, the second tomato and capsicum bed. I’ll also be planting some more marigolds in there as they are of assistance to tomato plants from what I’ve read. The tomatoes all got a water with Epsom Salts too. It’s supposed to be liquid gold for marties. We will see how they like it.

Kind of hard to see and some were looking a little worse for wear but we will see how they go.

 

My tomatoes and capsicums… Some are doing really well but some of the capsicums are looking pretty sad and some of the tomatoes haven’t grown much.

The mulberry tree is absolutely covered in fruit too. I am most impressed and will be planting a LOT more of them (they’re water hungry which makes them a good replacement tree for the silver poplars and they can be harvested for us to eat (and thoroughly enjoy I might add) as well as providing food for the chooks with any fallen fruit.

Not bad at all for its first year planted in our garden.

And even more on the higher shoots

TheΒ radishesΒ are growing well and I may also have a few carrot seedlings coming up. It’s hard to tell at this point and they may well be radish seeds that got washed out of line. Time will tell.

Ooo I hope they are carrots.

Beans and spuds are doing very well too.

The kids have had a ball too. They’ve spent a good deal of time in various states of undress or swimming attire and playing Β in the half wine barrel of water. They’ve had bike washes (they had their balance bikes and rode them through their bike wash πŸ™‚ ), baby wash (Orik seemed to enjoy it too), a couple of friends over to visit and a lot of running around and playing.

I also had the pleasure of meeting one of my blog readers today who is a resident (and a rather new but extremely knowledgeable one at that) of Ballan. I’ve come away relaxed after an hour off from the kids and working, well welcomed to Ballan by jelly slice and a simply divine hot chocolate from Michellez cafe (near the butchers) and feeling like I know some more people and things going on in the community. I was also introduced to some further locals and I feel very much more like a local now too. We discussed blogs too. Check out her blog here. The offers of help have absolutely blown us away too. Thank you so much!

Anyway, my brain is totally fried and I can no longer see to type so I’ll pick this up in the morning.

Night all.

 

Slept like a log! Best nights sleep in ages. Can’t imagine why. πŸ˜‰

So, what else happened on the weekend? Well, our chooks have been on the blink as far as laying eggs goes. I was pretty certain they had a hidden stash but I had been unable to find it. They haven’t been showing any signs of being broody – in fact I think they’ve all decided to be career chooks this year. If I’d seen signs of dedicated desire for motherhood I may well have sourced some eggs but alas it’s not played out that way yet. Anyway, on Saturday, through sheer luck I happened to be doing the egg hunt and just happened to see through the grass and spot an egg. I pulled away the grass then ran inside to get 2 egg cartons. I found 15 eggs! Yep, 15! Not a bad haul from 3 girls who probably lay ever 2nd day each. The best bit is they all passed the float test. πŸ˜€

15 pekin bantam eggs to add to the 2 I collected this morning and the 2 others I had in the fridge… I also have 15 organic eggs I’d ordered (Aussie Farmers) before I found the giant haul. 34 eggs. Quiche?

I’ve also noticed that more of our ‘fwowers’ are coming up. The ‘sturshuns’ have popped their heads up, the ‘I yisten’ is well and truly up too. I’m hoping to move my seedlings up to Ballan this week as we are at the point I can begin to move up a LOT more boxes so I think we might end up doing a few more trips each week which will allow me to water the seedlings when I’m up there.

We’ve also decided upon names for the various areas of our property. Our house has been named, as has the chook house and the veggie garden. I’m sure the shed will earn itself a moniker once it’s built too but in the meantime, I’m off to go and make some signs for the chook shed and veggie garden. I’ll share details once they’re done and not before so no asking. πŸ˜‰

Well, the morning has disappeared and it’s time for lunch. I have small people reminding me of this fact with increasing frequency. What is it about 4 year olds who are permanently hungry? Bread rising, yoghurt culturing, about to start souring a chocolate cake starter too to trial sourdough chocolate cake (it seems almost anything is possible with sourdough).

So, what did you all get up to on the weekend?

Sunburned and satisfied

We’ve come home from the weekend up at the house feeling a little sunburned and very satisfied. We’ve not managed to achieve everything we planned (do we ever?) but we’ve done heaps and I’m stoked!

Our trip up Saturday was mostly spent in Ballarat organising things. We’ve signed the paperwork for our solar hot water system so things are all on the go there. We also grabbed carpet samples, although that took absolutely forever. We would choose the same weekend as the Ballarat Show to try and sort everything out, wouldn’t we. :/ It took us a lot longer than we had hoped but we did achieve all we had to and back to Ballan in time for some lunch and to our delivery of star pickets. The afternoon was spent putting chicken wire on the chook pen, planning out how to make it resistant to sly old Mr Fox and then heading home to pick up the necessary tyres to do the job. Yep, tyres. Recycling at its best. πŸ™‚

Sunday was started by Martin getting up early to get started working on Trevor who sadly, is still not working. Even sadder, he STILL isn’t working, but that’s not through the fault or lack of knowledge of his mechanic. Our mechanic firstly wasn’t able to leave as early as planned by a severe case of missing house keys and then when we were given permission to come up and join him at Ballan, he was promptly interrupted by the love of 3 small people wanting to spend time with their daddy. Since the kids were occupied, I unloaded the tyres and set them out upon the bottom row of chicken wire. What we’ve done is, using u-nails, attached the bottom row of wire so that it’s half laying on the ground and half forming the walls. A layer of newspaper on top of the wire to keep the weeds down then a tyre on top which will, at a later date, be filled with soil and then herbs or flowers. I’ll probably put a few tyres in the coop too, filled with a mix of soil and sand to provide them with areas for dust bathing. I’ll probably need 2 more trailer loads to finish off.

My ultra straight fencing posts for the chook pen.

The other side isn’t really straight either but it is a little better at least. String lines next time.

Peekaboo

Containment! πŸ˜‰

Tyred little boy! πŸ˜›

View of the chook shed, water tank and northern fence of the chook pen with it’s tyre gardens ready for planting.

Tyres with their newspaper underlay.

I spent the rest of the afternoon attaching more chicken wire to the posts whilst Martin mowed the veggie garden area and dug in another post for the chicken pen. I need to add a top wire and wire off 2 small areas but the majority of the wiring is up. Now just to sew the different rows of wire together, install then wire around the door, wire around the water tank, install the watering system and build and install some feeders. We also need to re-roof the pen as currently any water run off will either dribble down the outside wall or even worse, the inside wall, whereas we want to harvest it so need some sort of run off to which to attach the guttering. A long way to go on one hand but the end is in sight on the other. Oh, I need to put in nesting boxes and perches yet too, but the nesting boxes will just be an upcycle job on some box shelves left behind by the previous owner so not too much to do on that at least.

We’ve started moving selected boxes up when there’s room in the car too so we are officially on the move. Looks like it will be 2 weeks until we sleep up there but we are into that final countdown now which is scarily exciting. I’m stoked too as my guestimated date of moving, the 10th and 11th has been the start of us moving. πŸ˜€ On the money or what?! Very much looking forward to spending our first night in the silence of a country town as opposed to next door to the rush of a freeway but not looking forward to the final packing then HUGE task of unpacking. Then we need to pour some effort into doing this place up, ready for rental. We learned the hard way the other day what happens when you fail to focus on your house… The gutters overflowed… Just a little! I had water pouring into the house at a rapid rate of knots. Fortunately Martin was home to clear out the small gardens worth of weeds and trees we found in the gutters. 😦 Poor guy had a free shower whilst doing it too. And “duly noted” to the need for focusing at least some of our time here.

So, we are here, Monday morning, ever so slightly sunburned, elated at all our progress and already focusing on next weekend. Saturday will be a day off for us all though. Kyneton Show here we come!

My “fwowers” from Allegra.

Allegra hijacking poor Honey the pekin bantam.

Kisses for Honey

My pumpkins

13 beans! Sadly one looks like it may not make it – we had a late frost which seems to have dodged my tomatoes but affected this one single bean seedling.

The kids spent their time running around in the buff and playing in the wine barrel bath filled with water. No photos to share, but heaps for their 21st birthdays. πŸ˜‰ They had an absolute ball though.

A swing, a trailer strap, a convenient branch and 2 happy kids.

 

Another weekend in Ballan

As I sit here stuffing my face with take-away Thai (my favourite red curry duck too) I reflect upon the amazing weekend just finished and try to remember everything we’ve done.

Mudbath anyone

The house is at the point of ordering tiles and it’s just about ready for painting. The bathroom has been stripped and is ready to be fitted out again and I’ve scored the old bath for the garden. It’s now full of soil and carrot and radish seeds and I’m hoping for a bumper crop. πŸ˜€

The only visible greenery being the capsicums

I also planted out some of our tomatoes on Friday- the German Johnson and the Red and Yellow Tommy Toes are in, along with the capsicums too. There’s not much to see though unless you look really closely, just a forest of stakes and a few small green plants at either end of the garden (the capsicums). The garden bed next to it is also for tomatoes but it won’t be planted out for a bit as the Siberian Tomato plants are just popping up now and bravely waving their cotyledon leaves in the morning sun. I’ll probably also plant some basil in there with them too, but not until the tomato plants get large enough to provide some shade. See how we and they go.

Saturday was a busy day. We actually managed to be on the road by about 8:30 thanks to the morning alarm clock coming in and hopping into bed with us at 5:50 and then proceeding to chat in her piping (and occasionally piercing) little voice and waking her brothers up. Thanks Allegra. We made good use though and managed to be on the road in good time to make the produce swap at the Ballarat Community Gardens. I made some fantastic swaps – organic sourdough starter with some freshly ground organic rye flour for the first feeding and a few dollars in donation to the gardens exchanged for a huge bunch of parsley, some lemon balm, 2 litres of worm wee, a punch of parsnips, 3 GIANT spring onions (about the size of a super fat leek), a pot of oregano and some fantastic chats and great advice. We spent far too long there which curtailed our plans somewhat but it was well worth it. We headed into town and I got to go tile shopping again. I’ve picked out my kitchen and bathroom tiles. The bathroom is pretty much plain but the kitchen will have a swanky little border. I’ve seen all sorts of lovely tiles and some gorgeous feature tiles used for splash backs but sadly none of them worked with our choice of bench tops but I am as happy as pie with the border. πŸ˜€

We ran out of time for carpet decisions but I know what I want so it’s planned for tomorrow and hopefully it won’t take long. From there we went and chatted with the heater company in regards to our solar hot water and after a quick chat with our plumber we will be ready to go with that too. This is our first eco utility if you like so it’s a big deal. πŸ˜€ Even though our water and the gas boost both still rely upon external supplies, it will be a vast improvement on the existing electric system and I’m hoping by keeping the water temperature level as low as we reasonably can, we will hopefully only use a little, if any gas.

Back to Ballan we went, grabbing some lunch on the way. We didn’t spend long there as Martin had planned a day mowing but sadly he wasn’t able to get Trevor running and the mower packed it in too. He whipper snipped until evening and caught the train back. In the meantime, I spent the afternoon in the garden in our current house with the kids, retrofitting our current chicken pen to cope with an influx of 9 more chicks which I will pick up tomorrow morning. πŸ™‚ Yay. πŸ˜€

Head to toe with mud!

Today was the day to fix the mower (achieved), mow back the rest of the grass that needed clearing in order to put up the fence (nearly done) and get started on clearing and fitting out the new chicken shed and run (achieved). My parents were coming up to have a sticky nose at our new house and check out all we’ve been talking about for months (they’ve been overseas) but before they arrived I planted a heap of onions, some chives, spring onions, radishes, 16 paper pots of corn seedlings, 3 of zucchini and 3 watermelon seedlings too. Again, not much to see unless you’re up close, but they’re in, and their roots are free to find soil so I’m expecting to see some vigorous growth now.Β I was allowed to use Martin’s new toy, the pressure washer, which helped me to quickly clear the 2 inch thick mud off the cement in the shed. Poor Dad found himself clearing out ripped up and pummeled into the mud carseats and all the rest of the debris left there. He too had a go with the pressure washer and was as loath to share as I had been. It’s kinda fun. lol

I also won my eBay bid on a 1000L water tank which nearly complicated things as we were offered pick up this evening by 5:30. It was 4:45 and still in Ballan. 10 minutes to clear up, put stuff in the car or house, dress the kids (they’d been running around after having had a swim in our half wine barrel) and drive for 40 minutes to pick it up (5 minutes drive from our current home). Surprisingly we made it on time, so I am now the proud owner of a square galvanised steel framed water tank for my chicken pen. Just need to add a few metres of guttering to the roof and we will be harvesting their drinking water from the roof of their home.

Well, I’m off for an early night tonight. I have chickens to pick up in the morning with 3 kids in tow and a car to pack tonight. Zausted!