Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A poultry tale

After nine days wandering in the wilderness (in a backyard somewhere nearby) our runaway Barnevelder came home. We all rejoiced that, after spending less than two hours in their company, she had managed to find her way back to the flock, joining them again to roost in the carob tree. But then the vixen returned. And she (for the hungriest of foxes at this time of year are those mothers feeding their young) found a way to climb into the yard. We had thought it just about fox proof, but had overlooked the old fence post in the corner, which the wire did not quite reach. It turns out that a hungry fox can drag a chook up and over a five foot post if they are hungry enough, and then come back for more.

Darcy went to let the chooks out before school one Monday morning, and returned to the house with a full egg basket and the news that "Stripey is dead, and Puddle is half dead." And so they were. Poor Stripey, the friendliest chook we ever did have, was stiffening in a corner of the yard, her eyes shut tight. And Puddle, our beautiful Pekin duck, had a nasty wound in her neck and could walk no more than a few steps. It was more than I could deal with in the minutes before the school siren was due to sound, so I bundled the boys off to school and returned with a slightly clearer head.

I called our vet, who does home visits, but she was stuck out in the middle of nowhere and advised me to take Puddle in to the clinic in town. So I scooped her into a box and staggered into the surgery with a baby in one arm and a duck under the other. Sadly the wound was too big to treat so I carried the box home again with a lifeless duck laying in its bed of straw.

A head count of the remaining birds found one more, a Leghorn, missing, and I found her feathers strewn across a patch of the neighbours' lawn. The other birds must still have been roosting in their tree when the fox came to call. We found her track worn through the long grass, her droppings just the other side of the fence. And now we know what fox poo looks like we are seeing it everywhere, including on the freshly mown grass of our back lawn on Sunday morning. We have wired over the gap and hope that will be enough to keep the foxes at bay until we can net over the top of the yard.

I have never had to deal with the aftermath of a fox or dog attack. Grant has always been home and I preferred to stay inside with the baby. But it felt good to know that, even if I had not the stomach to take the axe to one of my girls, I could at least bury their bodies with my own hands.

I busied myself pulling out the broccoli plants then buried the bodies of our birds in the vegetable garden, planting tomato seedlings above them. While we have great difficulty culling our drakes and roosters and cannot quite bring ourselves to eat our birds, I like to think that their lives have not been wasted as they help give new life to the soil. There is now a mulberry tree growing over Ping the drake, and the boys' hands and faces are stained purple each afternoon with the fruit he has helped grow.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

spring garden notes

The roses are threatening to swallow the house again now that the weather has warmed up. Everything is growing so fast. We tackled the back lawn last weekend and the grass was long enough to cut again less than a week later. I have jars full of roses, astromaerias, lavender and daisies all over the house - all cut from our garden or the unloved rose garden that belongs to the empty house next door (I like to think that I am helping prune them into shape).

I pulled the garlic this week and trussed it up on the clotheslines beneath the house to dry. The tiny asparagus seedlings growing amongst them are now exposed, but protected from the chooks' incessant scratching with some wire mesh. The boys had pulled all the nasturtiums from the herb beds around their slide (much to my dismay) so I finished off the job by removing the actual weeds. We have so much compost to make and turn - the next job on the list.

The vegetable beds are ready for summer, all tucked up in their straw blankets. The earth, which was sodden just weeks ago, has quickly baked dry, but is holding on to just a bit of moisture beneath the lucerne and barley straw. We have turned the reticulation back on, and are hoping for some more rainy days before we begin watering in earnest.

I am muddling my way as I figure out how to rotate our vegetable crops through their six beds, while still waiting for some of last years' vegetables to set their seed. One enormous carrot, which miraculously escaped the boys' clutches, is now flowering its heart out - its purple root thick as a sapling. The cavolo nero had snaked their way out onto the driveway, so I took to them last week with the garden shears, leaving two plants for seed.

We are getting ready to net the fruit trees - although too late to save any figs or almonds, which the parrots stripped from the branches almost as soon as they had formed. The quince tree is laden with fruit, and there is stone fruit galore. We even have some tiny baby pears forming for the first time.

We are picking broad beans and celery, lettuces, carrots and beetroot. Shelling beans on the verandah on a sunny afternoon, with four pairs of eager hands all helping, might be my favourite slow dinner preparation ever.