An update and things coming together

It’s all pretty amazing when things start coming together. I mean, you plot, you plan and you dream and you try and cram the plotting, planning and dreaming into reality, dodging around obstacles like time, money, weather, differing ideas, legal requirements and everything else and you hope to come up with a workable situation that hasn’t strayed too far from your first inspired musings.

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Heidi, grandfather and Aunt Dete hurrying away

My initial dreams involved up to 5 acres, an eco friendly house built by my own two hands, robust and healthy children who look liked they had escaped from Heidi, friendly animals, beautifully landscaped (but not rigid) gardens and fresh produce pouring from their richly composted soil. The reality is a little different.

We have a 1/2 acre, the house was not built by my own two hands although I have had a lot of input into the design and materials used and we have been as eco friendly as the budget allowed for (low VOC paints, woolen carpets over recycled fibre underlay and LED lights). My children don’t have the plump legs and ruddy complexions of Heidi fame but they are healthy and happy and sporting somewhat of a tan, testament to their enjoyment of outdoor life. Our animals aren’t quite as keen on us as we are on them but Milly and Molly are getting more comfortable although Mandy still keeps her distance. The baby chicks are well acclimatised to children as they are picked up and carted around by the kids for a couple of hours each day and the silkies are fast becoming favourites (Mrs Silverpants was replaced last night along with her companion Dandelion the white silkie and Goldie or Gold Star the golden silkie). The baby chicks are used to being handled by us too although they still peg it during the day (we go out each night to make sure they’re either sleeping in a nesting box or on the perch which they’ve finally figured out last night too). The gardens are not the verdant oases I dreamed of and their soil, although rich, is not as rotted down as I had dreamed. It’s getting there now though. We do have crops coming along nicely too. I have 2 zucchinis that will be ready in the next day or 2 (they’re taking longer I think due to the still un-rotted garden beds) and my corn are flowering and I can see the beginning of corn cobs. 😀 My watermelons won’t make harvest this year but I will try transferring them even though they hate it. I have nothing to lose at this stage. My tomatoes are still coming along in the garden too. I live in fear of possums discovering them but we appear to have few of those thieving little blighters around thankfully. My broccoli are doing much better since I got up close and personal with them, rubbing the underside of their leaves and squishing all the caterpillar eggs (or are they butterfly eggs – defined by what they hatch into or what lays them?) and caterpillars of the (presumably) coddling moths that had turned their leaves into fine green lace. They still look a little lacy but much happier. My onions haven’t even made it to pickled onion stage sadly but then again I never really expected them to. 😦

The greenhouse garden

The greenhouse garden, marked out with sticks and some used chicken straw for nutrients. I will mulch it when the seedlings are up more. Thanks for the idea Narf. 🙂

But it’s the greenhouse I am most amazed with and proud of in our garden. It’s a Sproutwell greenhouse built from a kit I bought off eBay (they also have a website and the price is the same) and the garden beds I built myself using corrugated iron and hardwood corner posts. The hardwood we already had and the iron, bought from my uncle, makes each bed cost $1.50! WIN! Anyway, I’ve built 3 beds in there and filled and planted 1 of them. I transplanted the tomatoes from the second martie bed as they were very small and not going to make harvest before the frost arrived so I had nothing to lose. I planted my mandarin, banana and lemon trees in there first, then the transplanted tomatoes and transplanted marigolds in there, some beans planted down the side, transplanted capsicums, rocket seeds between them, then planted carrot and radish seeds, some spinach seeds, leek seeds, coriander seeds, transplanted chives and also chive seeds. So far the chive seeds are the only ones I haven’t seen a sprout from yet. I also transplanted in a pumpkin that popped up from seeds I’d scooped out of a pumpkin around Christmas time and planted out mid January. So, although it’s not yet that verdant oasis, it is well on its way to being a nifty little food garden.

Radishes

Capsicums and radishes

A bean

A bean

Carrot wisps :)

Carrot wisps 🙂

Spinach

Spinach

Capsicums and rocket

Capsicums and rocket with a tomato and the beans in the background. The carrots are near the icy-pole stick.

Nice mangel wurzels 😉

I’ve also bought some more interesting seeds – mangel wurzels which are like turnips but they get HEAPS bigger and if harvested small they’re good for human consumption or if left to grow out, great for cattle and chickens. I wanted to try them just because I can! I’ve also finally sourced some black carrot seeds (purple/black inside and out and amazing for antioxidants), kale, rainbow chard and some other bits and bobs. I’m planning some BIG gardens over winter. 😀 And speaking of winter gardens, I’ve started building the garden beds to go in. The existing beds will be raked up to fill the new ones and they’re a little shorter but I can double the amount of beds, greatly increasing planting area overall. I am eagerly awaiting Autumn now, something I NEVER thought I would say. 🙂

But the most fun of all is that Ignisa and I are starting to work together. We’ve had some very unseasonably cold weather this last week and Ignisa, our lovely Gourmet Cooker has been alight for about 44 hours although she’s been resting for the last hour or 2 but I’m getting cold again so reckon it’s time to fire her up again.. We need to organise some hardwood to burn (if anyone local has any they’re getting rid of or selling…?) but in the meantime we have been able to make do with our existing poplar stocks which is marvelous that we can use them up. 🙂 We also had a little bit of plum from a tree that we chopped down after it died at Spotswood. I started off by bringing in our old DVD shelves and then arranged them in such as way as to make a surround or frame for the stove. I’ve now got some space for trinkets, wood, kindling and fire lighting paper. The lamps came out and look lovely too, bringing some pleasant ambiance to the room. The fire guard, half of our playpen is doing duty as a fire guard and at night it makes a great clothesrack too once stoo up on it’s ends. 😀 Multitasking and repurposing at its best. 🙂 I’ve done some cooking with Ignisa too. 😀 I cooked a compete meal on her the other evening, spuds in the oven and then fried off the bacon in a fry pan on top and breakfast this morning was homemade sourdough English muffins cooked on Ignisa and a hot chocolate made with her heat too – another complete meal. 🙂 I also baked bread in her belly the other night but the oven was a wee bit hot (like 350C rather than 200C required). Should be fine once I carve off the top inch. lol

3 bookshelves arranged just so

3 bookshelves arranged just so

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English muffins and hot chocolate – this mornings breakfast

Briquette?

Briquette?

I also did some more unpacking – DVD’s away (not that they will see much use given the lack of tv), my crystal radio set up and working (I need to find a better station with some music although ABC news radio is ok too), and I’ve been knitting away getting clothes ready for winter. The kids each have a new hat and I’ve made a scarf for Orik too. I need to source some more yarn to make Allegra a scarf so it’s time to dig into the stash. I also knitted my first dishcloth using this pattern and I’m happy with how it’s come out. Now to test it and see how it works.

Our food is improving on a weekly, if not daily basis. I’ve committed to making sourdough pasta using this recipe so we are slowly using up our normal pasta which I can’t eat and once it’s gone, that’s it. We’re now drinking real milk, our veggie box arrives each week from Highland Heritage (I highly recommend contacting them if you’re local and interested as their produce is first rate) and I’ve started culturing milk too – milk kefir is like super dooper yakult and it tasted a HEAP better as well as being heaps better for you. Google kefir if you’re interested. I just don’t know enough about it at this stage other than to say it’s very good for you and not unpleasant to taste.

Bertha was also split and fattened up and her daughter, Agnetha has gone to her new home. Bertha will be fed and split again and posted this week to The Eco Mum and Narf so you should see some mail coming your way soon ladies. I had planned to post it today but I haven’t fed her or her babies enough for the rigors of travel. 🙂

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My Bertha, Agnetha her daughter and the tub with my bread in it at the bottom of the picture.

A Dexter. Photo is not such a good one of the cow but gives a brilliant idea of their size.

They come in black (most common) dun and red, polled or horned, short legged or normal. I think these are polled and the black one closest appears to be short legged. Aren’t they pretty. 🙂

My latest project, much to the horror of my darling long-suffering husband is to purchase a house-cow. Yep, a cow! 🙂 Don’t have a cow, she wouldn’t be a full sized one and nor will she be a genetically twisted (albeit via breeding only) miniature cow but a genuine naturally occurring small breed cow, the Dexter. The average Dexter cow, when fully grown will stand no higher at the hip than Jasper. They stand around and just over the 1m mark although the bulls are up to 1.17m I think (44in) so they really are quite small. They’re easy calvers, easy milkers, friendly animals and make excellent lawnmowers! 😀 They also require a lot less pasture space and although we don’t quite have enough land for exclusive grass feeding we may have access to some good local and I believe organically grown hay. It’s also another reason I want to try growing mangel wurzels as they used to be used for winter and early spring food in the UK for cattle. We are big dairy people here with hot chocolates, homemade yoghurt, custard and cheese (not yet homemade) on our menu with frequency. I want to know that our dairy is organic and hence free of hormones, anti-biotics and all the rest of the garbage pumped into many commercial cows (I’m not sure how much of that is dairy cows rather than beef cows which I believe are treated with regularity in factory farming conditions but any of that gunk is too much gunk) and I also want to know that it’s cruelty free. These cows are prolific milk producers for their size and can easily feed 2 or even 3 calves so I figure that there is no need to remove the calf from mother and we can simply milk the excess. No poddy calves! 😀 I also want to know that our milk is local. Full respect to dairies around Australia but I would prefer to support any in the district and preferably my own back yard… Literally. 😀 I also want to be able to give my children raw milk, full of all the wonderful goodness that milk contains, not pasteurised to within an inch of its life. I understand that pasteurisation aims to kill nasty bugs but it also kills many beneficial ones and a single cow raised at home will be much easier to maintain in a sanitary milking condition than hundreds of them all traipsing in manure and mud. And that brings me to another great reason for keeping a cow… I want her manure for my gardens. 🙂 Bonus fertiliser cakes. 😛 Dexter cows are also great for their meat which is reported to be superior – a wonderful duel purpose cow. They can also be trained to pull like oxen, something that will come in handy in a post peak oil world. Any bull calves would be fattened up for organic, pasture-fed, free-range, cruelty free (need to find an on-site butcher) and utterly local beef. It’s a HUGE undertaking though, with initial costs, commitment (10 months of the year they lactate and they live for up to 20 years, even more) and we obviously need to check council rules and permits (definitely required) and whether we have or can access sufficient fodder (I do not want to grain feed except maybe as a treat) and there is also up to 10 litres of milk a day to work through. I would need to make cheese on a daily basis which would be far too much for us to eat) and I’d still have enough left over for custard, yoghurt, bechamel sauce, Orik’s bottles and all the rest. It’s very exciting to dream though and following up on information and researching is keeping the old brain box ticking.. 🙂

So anyway, that’s the updates for now. There is lots happening, lots in the pipleline and many many more things on the discussion table. It’s a busy time and I’m loving it. 😀 What’s the news in your slice of paradise?

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A rough few weeks

It’s been a rough few weeks here really. Not all bad and not all negative but still and all, I’m looking forward to February very much as it means January will be over.

We added some more chickens to our flock last Friday, 5 more Dorkings (that’s the last of them) and 2 Chinese Silkies who will be our incubators next year. These 2 are also pets for the children. What funny sweet little things they are too. Sadly this morning when I went to check on the flock I was unable to find Mrs Silverpants, the children’s favourite silky. I eventually found her, drowned in the ducks swimming water. I have an awful feeling I heard her fall in last night too as I heard a squawk last night but figured it was the usual of a chook pecking another and thought nothing of it. The guilt this morning… And yes, I know. But I still feel awful. 😦 Blackie, our other little silkie is doing well without her companion fortunately, although I am on the hunt this morning for a replacement Mrs Silverpants. We also lost 2 of our Dorking chicks to Coccidiosis, a common enough illness that young chicks are susceptible to. That’s how John the chicken died. So yet again poor Jasper is trying to get his head around death. I am profoundly glad we kept the death of the 2 other chicks from him. 2 chicks dying has been enough to thoroughly upset him.

Mrs Silverpants (dec) and Blackie, our 10 week old Silkies

Mrs Silverpants (dec) and Blackie, our 10 week old Silkies

Martin has been working hard to clean up the last bits of the old house and get it ready to rent out. The Real Estate agents are coming out tomorrow to take photos and get it listed which is very exciting. John our builder and Martin have both done an amazing job and I am once again reminded of what an amazing husband I have. I am looking forward to having that house rented out and no longer being a drain on our time. We need to spend that time here. BOY do we need to spend the time here.

One of 2 frogs/toads found when we were relocating the bulbs to permanent beds.

One of 2 frogs/toads found when we were relocating the bulbs to permanent beds. I need to research my amphibians I think. 🙂

We’ve also come face to face with the information that there are venomous snakes within 50 metres of our house, a though that is sending chills through every inch of my body. Our neighbours have had to deal with the snake bites in their livestock and although we don’t know which species it is we do know that its bite is fatal to a half-grown bull calf and is likely to be a Tiger snake or a Brown snake or possibly a Copperhead too as I believe all of these are indigenous to the area. I tried my hardest to mow the vegetable garden grass yesterday but the mower hasn’t been working and conked out on me again yesterday after I got maybe 20% mowed. I’ll have another go today as tomorrow is going to be hot and that grass is LONG!

I had a bandicoot in my potato beds the other day and came away empty-handed. 😦 There may be spuds down further than I dug (I dug in about 9 inches) but it looks like the 1 thing I thought we would definitely harvest has not done what it was expected to do. The mulch layers haven’t rotted down like expected which is disappointing although I think I know where I’ve gone wrong. Once we do harvest anything that may be in there I’ll treat the 3 spud beds like compost bins and fill them up with the necessary before planting them with broad beans or the like. Hopefully by springtime I will have some compost that I can spread over the other garden beds.

I do have some good news to report though. I contacted my uncle on Saturday as we had recently purchased some used corrugated iron from him and we knew he had more. I gave him a call and teed up to purchase the rest and for once lady luck was on our side as he was driving from Bendigo to Warrnambool for work on Monday and offered to deliver it for us! We now have 30 or so sheets of corrugated iron, some ridge capping and a large metal tool box that he threw in thinking we could use it too. 😀 And at a bargain price including delivery as well! So, Monday morning saw me in the garden with a hand saw, tin snips, an impact driver, some roofing bolts/screws, some iron and the old red gum garden posts from the old home. With Orik in bed asleep the kids and I set to and built a raised garden bed to go int he greenhouse. We then loaded the trailer up with compost and filled the bed (again my wonderful husband helped here, shoveling most of a cubic metre in for us) before planting my mandarin tree (a gift from a friend who attended the home birth of Orik), the banana tree I bought from Diggers Club at St Erth the other day and a Lisbon lemon I bought last year from CERES which was pot-bound and on its last legs. Tuesday morning after we’d topped up the bed with some more soil we relocated some of the plants in the veggie garden which weren’t yet flowering and so won’t make harvest, into the greenhouse. We replanted several Siberian tomato plants and 8 or so capsicums and then filled in the gaps with seeds. We then planted radishes, carrots, purple beans, leeks, chives, rocket and coriander so hopefully in a month the greenhouse with be a verdant paradise of fresh smelling garden and burgeoning harvest. It was exciting and calming and very healing to get my fingers into the soil again. I most definitely need to do some more today. In fact the plan is to build another bed today once I finally wake up enough and locate my motivation (MUST get to bed before midnight).

Sawing red gum posts

Sawing red gum posts by hand. I used tin snips to cut the iron but no photos. Martin dislikes me using the more dangerous power-tools whilst I’m home alone.

Built garden bed installed in the greenhouse

Built garden bed installed in the greenhouse

 

Greenhouse garden planted out. Left to right are the mandarin, banana and lemon. Behind them the transplanted tomatoes, down the right are beans then capsicums. In front of the capsicums a row of radishes and a row of carrots in the middle, rocket up the back of the capsicums, then spinach planted to the left of the capsicums, then leeks in the sectioned off part, coriander behind the leeks and chives to the left. STILL more space for more seeds. :D

Greenhouse garden planted out. Left to right are the mandarin, banana and lemon. Behind them the transplanted tomatoes, down the right are beans then capsicums. In front of the capsicums a row of radishes and a row of carrots in the middle, rocket up the back of the capsicums, then spinach planted to the left of the capsicums, then leeks in the sectioned off part, coriander behind the leeks and chives to the left. STILL more space for more seeds. 😀

We also had a lovely visit from my parents on Sunday where we had a lovely and mostly local lunch in the garden. We had lamb riblets (the last of the non-organic lamb I had in the freezer) cooked in organic garlic, homegrown rosemary and home bottled tomatoes, served with fresh organic sourdough and salad. The salad was all organic or farmers market purchased (I’m not sure on the organic status of this stall) and it was all fresh and delicious. Dessert was sourdough cinnamon scrolls although calling them scrolls is more about their intended shape than the end result. Flopped scrolls still taste scrummy though. 🙂

Maxxie surveying his domain from on high.

Maxxie surveying our domain from on high.

Well, time to finish off the hot chocolate and get some shoes on and out in the garden or the day will be half gone. Not to mention the kids are driving me crazy to get out in the garden.

One of 2 frogs found when we were relocating the bulbs to permanent beds.

One of 2 frogs found when we were relocating the Erlicheer bulbs to permanent beds.

Invaders! Plant problems and a magazine review

Invaders! Invaders! Red alert! Red alert! Red alert!

I picked off the aphid infested leaves for the chooks.

I have my first invaders of the insect kind in my garden. Well, in my gutter gardens to be exact. My gutter garden has been going great guns and we have had several harvests from the lettuce growing there. The rocket is not far from harvest either. It still hasn’t made it to its final home and isn’t even hanging up. My husband – an engineer – felt the existing hooks weren’t strong enough to carry the weight. I have to concur but it isn’t worth new hooks before we move so it’s currently resting on some chairs. So, once we move I will have some strong hooks installed and the garden will be hung up. I can’t even take it up until I am able to get up there at least every 2 days to water it either. Frustrating, as the 4 sugar snap peas planted to grow up the wires, are starting to be in need of some support.I may have to provide some temporary stakes I think. Well, anyway, as I tried to deal with Orik who was feeling grumpy and destructive due to being tired, he grabbed a lettuce leaf and tore it (no big deal as the chooks can have it) but I noticed that there was something on the back of the leaf which wasn’t up to the standard of the other leaves. An aphid! So this is the first time I have had to deal with pests in the garden. Dr Google and Pinterest are always a great help and I found this page with a recipe for a natural aphid insecticide. It is safe enough that it wouldn’t be a problem if my kids ate the leaves, although they may find it doesn’t taste so great. We would still wash before eating but I love the fact that we don’t absolutely HAVE to!

My poor sick lemon tree

I’ve had some other issues I’ve needed to look into too. My new lemon tree which I bought at CERES a few weeks back is looking a little unwell and has lost many of its leaves. Again, Dr Google has helped and I am thinking that my poor plant is probably hungry. Lemons are high nitrogen feeders so time for some grass clippings and a top up of compost I think.

Next health check is for my avocado trees. They have been grown from seed by my parents and I am hoping to be able to supply most of the Eastern Seaboard with fruit from them. My parents tree is a prolific bearer so here’s hoping they have passed that wonderful trait on to their progeny. Well, all three of the trees have some leaves that are looking pretty sick, one in particular. A quick look on Dr Google and it appears I have not sufficiently neglected my tree and I have possibly given it too much water! You have to laugh – killing it with kindness (and not very much kindness at that). Apparently they are very sensitive to change, so a car ride for 40 minutes and the loud noises that emanate from my children have probably sent they 3 dears into full on panic mode! I shall move them to a semi-rain sheltered area on my deck then leave them until the Ballan move. Here’s hoping the drier conditions and easily neglectable position will help them recover before being moved and transplanted out.

The almonds that are no more.

The fourth problem I have had to deal with this morning is more in the nature of a small child. Someone thought it would be fun to pick the growing almonds off my almond tree and throw them around the garden. I have lost several of what was a fairly prolific second crop. Last year the poor thing grew 3 almonds that never reached maturity. This year I was overjoyed and a little dismayed to realise it has like 20-30 fruit growing nicely, and all of good size too. Sadly I now have around 10 less! My dismay at the fruit is due to the fact I had assumed it was not self pollinating or able to fruit and had decided not to repot it in winter to take to Ballan. Now I have missed the chance until probably May next year, by which stage we shall probably have tenants in the house. I’m not sure yet if I will be able to take it with us, which I would dearly love to. If I can, both the almond and the apple (of unknown cultivar) will come with us. Ah for opportunities lost.

My 34th birthday has thankfully come and gone with little fuss again this year (I absolutely despise my birthday). I received a wonderful gift from my family though – a selection of gardening magaines. And it is one of these that I wish to share as I have found it informative and helpful for beginner gardeners like myself. The magazine is Good Organic Gardening and it came with an extra included called The Organic Backyard. It is, as it says, “Your complete guide to growing  vegetables and herbs”. I was able to sit down, with the crop rotation information chart I found on page 26, as well as the vegies A-Z (pages 31-78) and plan out what I was planting where and with what I would plant it. Excitement much?

Carrot top seeds

Sunflowers and pumpkins

Other news to report is that our planted carrot tops appear t be setting seed! STOKED!, my corn and pumpkin seeds are doing well, my watermelon seeds didn’t appreciate being transferred into their newspaper pots so I am hoping they recover before I plant them out in a couple of weeks, zucchinis, more tomatoes (I’m hoping for a glut for canning and bottling), more sunflowers (great for the chooks to eat and hopefully we can have some for us too), tomato seedlings are all doing well in their newspaper pots although they all need a little more sunlight than they get so I have a new tray on a chair that gets moved to the sunlight patches system that seems to be helping. My mandarin is also in full bloom so hoping for a prolific first crop.

3 strawberry flowers!

My seedlings and Minnie cat watching over them

Other than that I am watching Jasper chasing butterflies, Allegra is swinging and Orik sleeping. The sun is shining and it’s a lovely day.

Fruit trees

We are down to 1 sleep! 1 more sleep until we bid on the start of our new life. I dreamed about the auction last night. I dreamed that I was busy doing something and then realised just as the auctioneer started on the “going… going…” Gut wrench! So, I woke up with the jitters and nerves this morning. Thankfully a friend was coming over and we planned a trip to either Collingwood Childrens Farm or CERES. We chose CERES and off we went. After discussions with Martin we had decided to buy our fruit trees and have them ready to plant out so I was given a licence to shop. Not as dangerous as it sounds, I’m not a huge fan of shopping, unless I’m op shopping but I must admit I had a good time choosing my trees and varieties.

I bought a cherry tree.

2 apple trees, A dwarf Red Delicious and a dwarf  Red Fuji and they both cross pollinate each other. Just need my Granny Smith now.

And a dwarf peach tree. Absolutely stoked to find this variety too. It’s a prolific bearer and prized for it’s bottling properties which is for what it is primarily wanted. Can’t wait to harvest and bottle my very own peaches! 😀

A mulberry tree which I plan to grow next to our chicken yard so they can gobble up any fallen berries. As I sit here looking at the picture I can smell my Nanna’s amazing mulberry pie in my memory. That 20+ year old memory is why I decided to plant a mulberry tree.

A lemon tree which has some big boots to fill. I am used to trying to figure out what to do with a surplus of lemons every year so I have high expectations of this fellow.

And some sultana grape vines. I am hoping to be able to dry some of our own sultanas in the future. We go through an awful lot of ‘tarnies’ in our house.

I still have a few other trees and berry bushes to get but I’m not in such a burning hurry now that I have these. I would like my apricot tree and olive trees in this year too but it doesn’t look likely to happen. For now though, I am a happy camper. We just need to unpack them all from the car in the morning. Oops. :/

Oh, and there is a 50% off sale on bare rooted trees at the moment too. Time to get down and grab a bargain.

Well, my sourdough is in the fridge ready for baking in the morning. The car is packed, the snacks are ready by the door for loading when we load up the kids, Martin has the bike and accessories ready, now just to try and get some sleep then get kids ready in the morning then off to Ballan we go. The last 6 weeks had seemed a very long time to wait 6 weeks ago but now that it’s here I can only say time has flown. I will let you all know how we go tomorrow. Wish us luck. 😀

Lemons part 2

Ok, I have officially finished massacring pruning the tree and I think I have removed all the gall wasp nests. I am more than a little horrified at the sheer amount of gall wasp lumps, bumps and nodes that were on the tree and a little concerned for the life of the tree and its future lemon bearing for at least the next season. So much of the new growth was infested. Anyway, the job is done and tonight when he gets home I’ll get Martin to pile up some of the chook poo underneath with some grass too and divert the water tank overflow to its roots again. Then just hope for the best.

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This is just 1 of the branches I chopped off, one of the more infested ones.

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And here you can see where they have hatched. Hopefully they have not laid further nests that are yet undeveloped on my poor clipped lemon tree.