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.

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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. 😀 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. 🙂 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!

Settling in

Well, we are moved in. We have our beds, most of our clothes, half of the kitchen and little else in the way of furniture but we are now officially residing in Ballan. 😀 We are still lacking things like mail redirection, internet access (pre-paid wireless thingies or over our phones at the moment and I’ve blown my bandwidth allocation in 5 days L ) and we have yet to get a home phone too but hey, these things will come.

I wouldn’t say we are properly moved in yet, not by a long shot, but things are starting slowly to resume normality. Our tiles are nearly complete with 1-2 days more work to finish laying and then grout them and then we can look at bringing up the rest of our furniture. Oh to be able to sit on a couch and put my feet up, even if only for 5 minutes! We now have a completed shower which is making life a lot easier. Baths are very well and good but they do take more time and there is something wasteful about running a bath, hopping in for a quick splash and getting back out again. Baths sort of demand that you soak in them, something I have neither the time nor the inclination to do. Along with the shower screen installation we had the broken windows repaired. The kitchen now has so much more light during the day and more of the wonderful view too. Aside from that, not much else has changed except for Martin just about finished setting up the cubby house and I’ve got a few bits of the greenhouse put together. Now THAT is a fiddly job!

Today was a day of time off for me too. Martin has had a busy few weeks with Christmas parties for work and the afternoons cooped up inside a house with greatly restricted access (can’t walk on the tiles for 12 hours after they’re laid) had taken its toll. I was a cranky Mummy. 😦 I took myself off yesterday morning for some op shopping as there are 2 wonderful op shops in town and I have scored some fantastic bargains. Gumboots for Allegra and Orik, a top for Allegra, shorts and shirts and trousers for each of them, 2 shirts for me, a shirt for Martin, 3 lovely little cups for the kids (matching hot chocolates 😀 ), a few kids books and best of all, a young adults novel I have been wanting for over 20 years as it’s the sequel to a much loved story I have! 😀 STOKED! I came home much happier than I had left.

Waking up on a misty drizzly wet old morning.

Waking up on a misty drizzly wet old morning.

Today’s plans went awry again, thanks to the weather. Yesterday drizzled constantly, with barely a break all day. I noticed this evening that one of my pumpkins has put out a shoot that’s nearly 2 inches since yesterday when I had 5 dry minutes to mulch them. Nothing like rain on the veggie garden! Anyway, today there was a huge band of rain and storms that meant once again our outing to Anakie was postponed. I had planned to head up to the Trentham Farmers Market for a quick shop before we headed off but I ended up having a blissful 4 hour reprieve that included iced chocolate, cherry ripe slice (I know I shouldn’t but YUM) and lots of giggles, chatter and of course, shopping! I hate wandering a shopping centre and all that commercial shopping but given the opportunity to shop at Farmers Markets, well, I love it! I bought a lovely big cauliflower, some potatoes, asparagus, peanut butter (it’s delicious) and some organic white peaches. The best bit though was spending time with my best friend uninterrupted by little people wanting something. It’s a rare thing we get uninterrupted conversation!

This afternoon Martin went to help a friend pull apart a shed he no longer wants and has kindly gifted to us. Looking forward to getting it set up so that Trevor no longer has to cower under a tarp when it rains. Whilst he was out and the kids were playing quietly I had a think about my tomatoes. After seeing pictures of your tomato plants Fran, I decided I would try digging one up and see how the newspaper pots had rotted. They hadn’t! L Explains why my tomatoes were looking very stunted. So, off I set, digging them all up and liberating their roots. They’re all replanted and hopefully, in the compost-rich soil they will get themselves into gear. The good news is that there were a couple of flowers evident so there is hope. 🙂

Happy belated birthday Allegra. Although you had a little party on the day, it took until now to get the cake made. Mind you, 2 parties is always a good thing. :)

Happy belated birthday Allegra. Although you had a little party on the day, it took until now to get the cake made. Mind you, 2 parties is always a good thing. 🙂

I had another go at sourdough chocolate cake earlier in the week and was less than impressed so I decided to try it again, but measuring closely. THIS time it worked! I iced it with chocolate cream-cheese icing (decadence) and I have to say it’s a success. 😀 It is so wonderful being able to have my cake and eat it too with no repercussions! I’ve baked several loaves of bread too so my house is awash in the heavenly aroma of fresh sourdough. J I feel like I’m truly immersing myself into our wonderful new life now. We worked late last night felling trees and cleaning up the branches and I spent a good hour today pruning more branches, chopping up the fallen ones and piling them up. The chooks and ducks chatted to me and the Dorkings follow me along the fence line begging for scraps. We lob bits and pieces in to them and watch the mad scramble. The ducks and Dorkings are in there for young and old then pegging it off across the pen with their spoils. The Pekins just amble up looking fat, fluffy and mean and take what they want after a few vicious pecks at the current owner of the bounty who usually relinquishes it with a squawk! Our cats are still in quarantine in the laundry, although they have been allowed a few forays into the rest of the house. We’re taking it slowly with our furry boys. In revenge they have destroyed the door stops in both the bathroom and the laundry. Lol 😛 As much as I hate keeping them confined, I hate the thought of losing them so much more. They’re out on parole, meowing around my ankles and purring.

Anyway, I am beginning to really ramble. I’m exhausted (surprise surprise) and ready for bed. Hopefully soon I will have something new to report other than just commuting and moving.

Can’t wait

It’s days like this that I really can’t wait until we’ve moved. The kids are going stir crazy today and driving me nuts! I can’t wait until we move and I know they will play happily outside on the swings, trampoline and in the cubby house as opposed to now when they let out the Dorking chicks, play with the tap and get wet (it’s too cold for that today) and generally get into everything we’ve made clear they are not to touch. One we’ve moved I know it won’t cure these sort of days but I do know that there is the necessary space for them to burn off their canned up energy and in the nice clean and healthy air of the country.

In other news, I pick up our Muscovy ducks tomorrow and our new Dorking chicks on Friday. This time we will be taking day old (or a few days old) chicks and building a brooder box for them, raising them inside until 6 weeks old before sending them out to join the troops. Now I just need to find a place for the brooder that keeps them away from the cats. 😦 I don’t take on too much at once do I? 😎

Now, time to get back to packing.

Silver Grey Dorkings

A friend (in the blogosphere and hopefully that I will get to meet one day) Narf77 who blogs over at The Road to Serendipidy has asked me to post some pictures of our chickens. So, here goes. 🙂

We’ve chosen to go with silver grey Dorkings, a heritage dual purpose breed of chicken, raising them for meat and for eggs. Dorkings are one of the oldest known breeds of chicken. One of the earliest known mentions of the Dorking was by the Roman agricultural writer Columella during the reign of Julius Caesar. In his text, Rei rusticae libri, he described the breed as, “square-framed, large and broad-breasted, with big heads and small upright combs…the purest breed being five-clawed”. Pliny also described a similar bird with an odd number of toes in his Naturalis Historia. Although Caesar noted that poultry was already raised in Britain prior to his invasions in 55–54 BC, the Red Dorking is believed to have been introduced in Great Britain by the Romans at an early date where much of its development continued to take place. [Source Wikipedia]

This is a great page for photos of Dorking chickens with some fantastic pics of the silver grey Dorkings. These chickens are unusual in the sense that they have this extra toe (5 per foot), but apart from that they are pretty much the image of a classic chicken. The big chest, long drooping tail feathers on the roosters and they’re just so very roostery if you know what I mean. The girls are nice motherly looking hens and they are supposed to be good mothers too. They’re also white egg layers which I believe is unusual as it seems that depending on the colour of the earlobes, a hen will lay brown or white eggs. Dorkings have red earlobes but lay white eggs. Funky. 😛

They’ve a good reputation for tasty meat too and I am very much looking forward to tasting what chicken is supposed to taste like (as opposed to the fast growth hybrid birds we buy in the supermarkets these days that don’t have much flavour). They are a slower growing bird and a friend has assured me we will not see eggs 😦 nor hear any crowing 🙂 for 6 months which means they’re not viable for commercial growers who want fast returns for less feed. I don’t mind though. I like doing my part keeping a heritage breed and as they are considered good foraging birds and they will be free ranging too, they can eat our scraps, chase lizards and eat worms, all of which we have in abundance. Any roosters are on limited time though. Their first crow signals their final countdown (our neighbours won’t tolerate them crowing – full respect). I might be able to source some eggs if I have a broody hen and get her to hatch them for us too. How lovely will it be to watch and wait with the surrogate mumma hen and then hopefully watch the eggs hatching and then her teaching her babies how to be fine hens. I sure hope so. 🙂

A silver grey Dorking hen

Silver grey Dorking chicks. I think they are female as they have the brown head markings.

Dorking feet with that extra toe

A glorious silver grey Dorking rooster. Wish we could keep one

And here are some pictures of our little chicks at the moment.

They are peep peep peeping all the time and come running to whichever side of the pen we walk, although they’re still a little leery of the human hand. I’m very much looking forward to having their pen ready so they have more room to run.

4 whole days!

We’ve been cursed blessed with a 4 day weekend. The first Tuesday in November is the Melbourne Cup and the Race-that-stops-a-nation stops many businesses on this first Tuesday with a public holiday. It often cripples these same businesses for the whole week too. Monday, because everyone wants a long weekend and takes it with either a holiday or a sickie (holiday day booked for us), Wednesday due to the hangovers for those that imbibed a little too much on Tuesday, Thursday due to Oaks Day AKA Ladies Day at the races (further holidays or sickies) and Friday for the same reasons as Wednesday. I’ve never been to the races I must say, although I do usually watch it on the telly. It’s just not my thing.

A public holiday is most definitely my thing though. 😀

So, with a four day weekend at our fingertips, you can imagine all we were able to achieve.

Firstly, our house is ready for its bathroom vanity, some suede paint sanding back and then it’s time for painting. 😀 Tiles will be ordered this week and hopefully will be ready for laying next week.

Pretty flowering Hawthorn

With vicious thorns

The garden though has been our domain. Yesterday we were very blessed to be able to borrow a post hole digger so my wonderful hubby dug 14 holes for me. 13 plus an oops. Today we got busy with poles and concrete. I hate the idea of using concrete but the other option, rammed earth, really isn’t practical for us in a time sense. It was one of those kinda hafta times. 😦 We did recycle fence posts wherever possible though so my chook pen will have a swish green entrance. We also had to decide where we were going to build our bridge over the creek to the rest of our block which is currently a tangle of towering poplar trees, vicious Hawthorns and a tonne of long grass, forget-me-knots and sticky weed. Clearing it is a task for next year, but we need to do a little planning at least. And we DO have to clear this side of the creek this year. So, in our search for the easiest place to build a bridge we got stuck into hacking back the hawthorn. Out came the chainsaw and whilst the kids amused themselves playing in the water in the wine barrel bath, we started hacking back this beautiful beautiful plant. And then it BIT us! The wretched things have inch long thorns at the base of every set of leaves. I jammed one of the thorns deep into the pad of my left hand and the tip broke off in there. Over the day it got more and more painful. Sore, inflamed and so so tender that driving was hard, let alone picking up the kids. I attacked it several times with tweezers and a needle and FINALLY managed to extract nearly 3mm of thorn that had been stuck in there. Not nice no matter how pretty they are when in bloom. Their days are numbered… I’m thinking wattle might be a pretty replacement.

Chicken run posts.

The results of getting the posts concreted in is huge though. We have 2 more to go (ran out of concrete) but we can start with the ringlock fencing wire now and I can get to digging the trenches between the poles for burying the chicken wire (fox prevention) and start enclosing the chicken run. We’re on very borrowed time now as the temporary housing for the chicks and our existing chickens will fast become crowded.

Digging holes and boys toys all in one.

I had 3 butternut pumpkin seedlings in desperate need of planting too but nowhere left to plant them. I decided upon a temporary garden bed which, since pumpkins do nothing more than put down their roots before heading off to take over the garden, will do just fine for this year. I dug out a small area, lined it with newspaper and filled it with soil and compost and planted in the butternuts. In other seedling news, my tomatoes have absolutely thrived. Some of them were VERY small when they went in on Friday but I swear they have all grown another set of leaves in the 5 days since then! :O You were so right Ingrid and I will be planting out the rest of my baby marties as soon as they show something more than just cotyledon leaves. The capsicums are looking good too, as are the corn and zucchinis I planted on Saturday. The onions planted last week seem to have been hit or miss though. Some are looking very healthy, others I can’t find. Time will tell how they go, and if you’re into moon gardening, the waning moon should help them being root plants. My watermelons are not loving me at all though sadly. 1 looks like it will not last out the week although the other 2 appear that they may just make it. Here’s hoping at least one makes it.

Other achievements involved getting the water tank for the chooks in place, picking up our 9 silver dorking 6 week old chicks yesterday (there is a little expected friction between the older girls who are locked out to free-range during the day as the little girls are locked in), jet washing off more of the side decking area, unpacking my pressure canner and some more preserving jars, chucking a load of washing in the machine (sadly the household chores don’t stop whilst we play up at Ballan), pruning (very carefully) the hawthorn back so we can access more area to mow and chainsaw, pruning the poplars to allow more access into the shady areas, finishing off a portion of the veggie garden fence and of course, time spent with the kids. Today was time for crayon graffiti on an old wardrobe door brought outside as well as heaps of help from them too (Jas moved a heap of chopped up branches for us and they both pitch in with digging). It’s been a crazy 4 days and the best news is we get to do another 2 days of it all in only 3 more sleeps. Yay. (insert enthusiasm tinged with just a little sarcasm).

A few more pictures…

Cleared to the creek. So beautiful

We can see through the trees now yay

Not yet sure what this tree/shrub is but it’s beautiful (not a blackberry I do know that at least)

Found some beautiful lichen but a photographer I am not.

Operation Homestead: Day 8 AKA Well that didn’t quite go to plan

Melbourne, in fact Victoria and probably most of the southern east coast of Australia had sensational weather last week. Sunny day after sunny day and Melbourne even achieved a top of 31 on Thursday. It’s only early spring and it’s one of the hottest early October days I can remember. It was hot enough to have a fair go at convincing climate change skeptics and hot enough to bring out the snakes. Today however? My car proudly announced in lights that it was a balmy 5 degrees Celcius. What happened to the other 26 degrees in 2 days? As today was Saturday it is needless to say we had big plans for house and garden.

We started the day off with our alarm clock aka Allegra waking us all up at 5:45am with a rousing rendition of “DADDY! DADDY! DADDY!” which was continued until said Daddy dragged his exhausted from the week at work backside out of bed to silence aforementioned alarm clock. As per usual, said alarm clock refused to be silenced and cheerfully announced “It’s sunny Daddy. Time to get up.” Orik, to my surprise, slept through this so I had the wonder of another 45 minutes of sleep snuggled up in ed with my littlest man. Daddy had the 2 older ones up. This has to be the first time EVER I have eagerly anticipated the start of daylight savings. After pancakes for breakfast we loaded everything needed into the car and headed off. Only 18 minutes later than planned. Nearly a miracle. 😀

First stop, Altona for several boxes of newspapers that I was given via a freecycle advert. Then on to Bacchus Marsh to get compost. Puzzlingly, our compost man was nowhere to be seen so after a few minutes looking around for him we shrugged the shoulders and hit the road again for Ballan. By this stage we are running about 45 minutes late. Go figure.

Upon arrival in Ballan we unload trailer, children, food supplies and tools and then Orik and I headed off to pick up a friend and head off to the Ballarat Community Gardens Local Produce Swap. As luck would have it, 2 baby boys needed feeding and by the time we hit the road again we were close to 90 minutes late. So, sadly we arrived just as people were leaving and going home. Still, I still managed to swap egg cartons, sourdough starter, strawberry jam and 2 different lots of pumpkin seeds and I came home with 2 different lots of marmalade, some fresh lettuce, preserved lemons, a dozen eggs,a pot of parsley and 4 pyrethrum plants. Best of all I made a new friend who is into breeding and raising Silver grey Dorking chickens, the same breed as our now 2-3 day old chicks. Yay! 😀

When I got back to the house I found my poor long suffering husband had been dealing with 2 preschoolers who were both having meltdowns. Jasper was wandering around in Daddy’s jumper but refused to wear his own jacket and Allegra was also refusing her jacket. It was also raining so it was preventing Martin from getting the nearly foot high grass mowed or the trampoline set up. Lunch seemed to settle the troops for about 30 minutes but sadly we ended up with 3 melting down about an hour later so called it a day.

Here’s hoping for a productive and warmer day tomorrow.