Saturday, May 20, 2017

Is it good or is it bad?













We have had hens since Harry's father passed away over 15 years ago when we took home his red shaver hens. As they have passed away we have added to them with other peoples 'cast offs' over the years. Currently we have two black and three small brown hens.



We shut them up at night to keep them safe and into the morning as that is when they tend to lay their eggs, but let then out to roam around the section during the day to scratch and eat what ever they want. Apart from popping over the neighbours fence to eat, their neighbours bread crusts (that she tosses over for them) they keep within our section. In fact they don't seem to even like going out to the road preferring to just jump the fence.


Although they have a perfectly good run and hutch with a nesting box they often prefer to lay the eggs somewhere else around the section where we can't find them.

Over the last few weeks there have been no eggs which meant I had to buy some for the first time in ages. Some of the hens look a little worse for wear. As they are molting a bit, we just presumed they were going through their break time. After awhile we thought it was add that none of them were laying and have been wondering about finding some more hens.

The other day Harry removed some of the netting around one of my flower gardens as I had put in some new plants earlier and wanted them to establish themselves a bit before the hens got in and scratched around. To our surprise there was a 'nest' fill of eggs, tucked right down the far end of the part that had been fenced off. (Who said hens were dumb)



There were 14 eggs of a couple of different colours and sizes so it wasn't just one hen using it!


We gathered them up being careful not to break any as if they were rotten the smell would have been awful. I cleaned them with a cloth as best I could and tried the float test. If you float an egg in a container of water it should sink or sit on the bottom.

If it floats or bobs up it is fill of gas and rotten. Here's an explanation:

When an egg starts to go "off" decomposition occurs. Decomposition gives off gases. As more of the egg decomposes, more of its mass is converted to gases. A gas bubble forms inside the egg so an older egg floats on its end. However, eggs are porous, so some of the gas escapes through the egg shell and is lost to the atmosphere. Although gases are light, they do have mass and affect the density of the egg. When enough gas is lost, the density of the egg is less than that of water and the egg floats.

Fortunately there was only 1 that floated although a couple sort of stood on end in the bottom of the bowl so I will bake with them and just break them into a saucer for a 'smell' test before actually using them!

But it was such a joy to find eggs which meant that they were still laying! Haven't found anymore since so they may have found a different spot.

It is not unusual for them to find places hidden away but we usually find them either because we see the hens coming out of their secret places and think "Hmmm what have you been doing in there?" or just come across the clutch of eggs while working around the garden. We notice that they like to considered themselves safe and hidden away so are usually against the walls of the house but under plants for protection above.




One spot that they seem to go back to even when we have found the eggs and cleared them out, is behind a clump of bulbs under a rose bush. It's a nice little warm protective spot against the house and to be honest is quite difficult to collect the eggs from. As I negotiate one rose branch another will stab my in the wrist. Not only do they use it for laying eggs but our cat will also pop in there for a rest, presumably because the feathers the hens lose over time make the nest comfortable. Or maybe its a handy spot to watch out for mice. And as I have said before there are a few different hens who use it as when we collect the eggs there are the nice big brown ones and the little skinny white ones.






















Sometimes if there are no eggs being laid and there is a hen permanently sitting on the nest in the nesting box we will shut them away in our 'behavioural management box'. This is an old air vent cover that sits directly on the ground. There are vents at the side to let in air and a little light but basically the hens are shut in there with a large container of water for a few days for them to get over their need to 'sit'. Once let out they will normally go back to be a hen with a sense of freedom but if they go back to 'sitting' they get put in the box for another few days!

Don't get me wrong its not being cruel so don't go calling the SPCA. It's just to help them break the habit as there are no roosters in our flock to fertilize any eggs so there is no need for them to incubate any eggs.

Our hens are almost family.

In fact they are even known to come inside especially if it is nearly feeding time and Harry has got a bit late getting out to them. They seem to like routines so will let us know if we are late.


















One even likes to get in and eat the cat biscuits if it can.
We have had to keep the back door closed because if it sees it open it makes a be-line for the door and in to peck at the cat bowl. Unfortunately it is not always in a hurry to go back out side when we find it so it has to be a gradual coax to leave so it's not frightened and so leave a little deposits on its way!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Giving It Away

Sometimes when I am tired and the weather is wet and cold or my knees are really playing up, I just wish we didn't have to skimp and save so we can just live.

But today I read this article of a family who are choosing not to use the supermarket and I suddenly felt a shot of encouragement.

https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/winter-coming-and-im-nervous-whanganui-family-prepares-cooler-months-ahead-without-supermarket.html

Outside the feijoas are falling thick and I feel a certainly responsibility to do something with them all and not have them go to waste. The vegetable garden is also looking a bit soggy and worse for wear after the rains and wind of Cyclone Cook.

In fact a lot of the vegetables have seen better days and I am picking around them to find good parts and produce to eat. There is still plenty and I have already got some greens in for the cooler winter months.


I did realise that for the last month the only produce I have bought at the shops have been bananas.

So today I decided to let myself off by giving away some of our surplus. I have clambered under the feijoas and filled 16 bags, picked 8 huge silver-beet leaves and have left them all at the gate to see what will happen.

We wrote a sign saying "free" with a smiley face - then added "produce" as Harry didn't want the pallet or the bucket going too! I pondered putting a donation box but the box may walk away!!!

We will wait and see if the items go for someone else to enjoy otherwise we might have to try something else.

So if you are passing Bear Street in Tirau - help yourself!.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Compost Bins

Great heading ah?
Really got you interested, didn’t it?
Well I’m not just talking about any old compost bins – I’m talking about Harry’s.

Ever since we were married, where ever we have lived we have always had a compost bin or two. They may have just been a heap on the ground or a ‘bin’ built with pellets or roller door cut-offs. The compost didn’t amount to much most of the time but the idea was there and we would use some of the compost if it wasn’t invaded with convolvulus.

When we first moved to our new home here, we made a couple up behind the garage but then we got Harry’s Dad’s chooks so all our scarps went to them.

When we came to Tirau back in the 80's there was a public dump (My Dad and Harry would have fun shooting the rats at night!) that was free to use. When (especially in spring) there was too much grass clippings we would take it up in the trailer and shovel it off being careful to avoid standing on any rats and more often than not Harry would bring something “useful” home! When it closed the council had a green waste site that was also free to dump grass and thin pruning’s etc. They turned it into mulch which was free to take. When that closed we had to start to pay to use the next towns dump unless we had access to a friendly farmers “bank” to dump it over.



We decided it was time to build some compost bins not only to save costs with the dumping of green waste but to actually have somewhere to put the waste and to make compost for our gardens.

Harry looked at different ideas from books and websites and set about making his own design using all the wood we had around the section. We were really lucky in that we had obtained some left over wood and sown off bits from where Daniel had worked before they were dumped, so we were able to have them. In the end we didn’t have to buy anything for the construction.















At first Harry built two with the idea of one to be added to while the other was doing its ‘cooking’ or composting. But then we realised that we needed three; one for adding to, one for cooking and one for the finishing off.


Bags of stable scrapings 
















Harry adds stable scrapings that can be picked up free from the gates at the Matamata racing stables layering it between grass clippings and we add other things like coffee grinds, ash from the fire, food scarps we don’t give the chooks, weeds and leftovers from harvested vegetables. I also empty the vacuum cleaner into it and sometimes rotting cardboard.


The bins have been set up in the vegetable garden at the moment until an area that Harry is still clearing is suitable for them to be installed permanently. The front slates can be slid up and removed to allow for the adding of grass from the wheel barrow easily, then shoveling the compost over to the next bin and finally to be accessed easily as the level goes down.












All in all they are a state of the art addition to our self-sufficiency.









And the compost is superb ... even if I do say so myself.
Finish compost ready for the garden or bagging

Saturday, January 14, 2017

So How Does the Garden Go

As I said in the post below the garden needed a lot of help with the new season of spring and summer.















At first it was a matter of finding what had survived the neglect of an un-kept winter garden. And to our blessing there were some plants that had kept growing. Maybe the weeds growing up protected them keeping moisture in the ground, birds away from them and protection from severe winds, but I found a good amount still edible or just needing a bit more time and attention. As mentioned in an earlier post Harry helped weed and dig over parts of the garden and also set to digging a separate block for potatoes. (We have four blocks that are rotated between gardens, the hen run and just being fallow for a bit.)














Once the garden was cleared enough for plantings it was then a matter of working out what we wanted planted and when. I have been using the NZ Gardeners Garden Diary for a few years and it’s a great guide as to when to plant what with hints and recipes each month as well as planting by the moon. I actually am really following this now although at first I thought it was all a bit fuddy duddy. As a prime example I was planting carrots one week even though they said not to because of the phase of the moon – and – nope nothing came up. A few weeks later I panted when they said to “plant crops whose edible parts are below ground” and presto they came up.

It wasn’t long before we were eating the crops from the ‘lost garden’ and now we are well into enjoying all the new crops as they come on. In fact at the moment the only fruit and vegetables I buy are tomatoes and cucumbers (because ours aren’t ready yet) and bananas and one other stone fruit whichever is cheapest at the time.

So all in all it’s a real blessing and so much healthier to be eating straight from our garden nearly all our vegetables and some fruit knowing they have had no herbicides or pesticides added to them at all.

 


And to add to it Harry and I are getting fresh air, some exercise and just enjoying working on a common project together – what bliss.
































No it doesn't need weeding- that's an example of over cropping and not planning for large produce.

Monday, January 9, 2017

So What Happened?

As promised to some this was going to be a post about how our vegetable garden has been this summer. It started to be that, with me saying that the whole garden had been let go over the winter months because I wasn’t tending it. I was going to briefly say why but then I just got carried away.

You see if you know me or follow my blog you will know that 2016 wasn’t the best for me, and Harry. (I know not good grammar – should be ‘Harry and I’). You will know that Harry suffers from depression and this last year had developed into a hard one. When you love and live with someone who has an illness it all becomes a part of you as well..

Over the years Harry began to hate his job/work one way or another and it affected his illness of depression more and more, bringing it to the surface again. For me this meant everyday he was due home I would be preparing myself for how he would be when he walked through the door. I would never know and sometimes he would be so frustrated, angry or upset and he would need ‘space’ to get over it not even wanting to talk.
If he came home early I would panic – was he sick, had he been sacked or did he resign.
If he was late I would be anxious as to where he was – was he visiting someone, had to stay for work for a talk from the bosses or had he gone somewhere, was he safe ….
Some days when he came home, he was so down he would take a long time to just let what had been building up for him during the day to just let it go.
The stress if all this was not good for me and it played on how I became..

As in the past I had learnt that, for me I had to look after myself first, if I was to be of any use to those around me, and for me that meant doing things I loved or that I could at times blob out on. Things I did around the time of the day Harry was to come home became a mix of playing computer games, having a sleep or just being somewhere else. Eventually for us both we decided with the support of our doctor that Harry needed to leave his work. His antidepressant medication just wasn’t helping with the support he needed though it protected him from himself..

Now of course one of the things I could have done to help me get through all this would have been working in the garden for I have often found relief in this, but it was the winter months and between feeling down myself at times and the wet cold weather, the garden just got left. However, since then, things have changed – a lot – as I will share over the next few posts – I promise..

Not only has the garden done well but Harry has found a passion to get the whole section tidied up after years of neglect. So this too has been like a tonic for him..

Watch this space….