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9 December 2016

Weekend reading

Gracie with her favourite toy - a piece of linen.

I'm looking forward to my talk at the Caboolture Library today. There's a big crowd booked in and I hope that if you come along you introduce yourself. While I'm out I'll go into the mall 😳 to buy a couple of books. It's the only Christmas shopping I'll do in a shop. I'm hoping the rain stays away and it's not too humid so that I survive the shops and arrive at the library looking reasonable.

Thanks for your visits and comments this week. It is one of my weekly pleasures to read them all. ♥︎ 

The beauty of knitting
Pet sounds: why birds have much in common with humans
Dutch spiced biscuits (speculaas)

7 December 2016

Foxes and chickens

This is a cautionary tale about being over confident about providing a safe place in the backyard where chickens and pets live. I've always known that the most fundamental part of keeping animals is proving a safe place for them. We live in a small rural town at the end of a dead end street so we don't have a lot of passing traffic. The main threat here are the wild things that come into our yard or fly overhead.
We have a large backyard and that strip of trees along the back are growing on the side of a creek. That is where the foxes travel.  The lattice on the left, right near the house, was where Patrick was attacked.

As you know, we have a flock of chickens here that keep us in rich golden yolked eggs most of the year.  I've fallen into the habit of thinking the chooks need the most protection during the night. And we do get a lot of night visitors but most of them are harmless. I hear them out there most nights. They're looking for water, something to eat or a place to rest and I'm happy for them to find all of that here.

Patrick, our warrior chook.

A couple of days ago, Hanno and Gracie were sitting on the back verandah, I'd just let the chickens out to free range in the back yard and all was right in our world.  I came inside, Hanno yelled "FOX!" and in a few seconds, our beautiful Plymouth Rock hen, Patrick, was gone. The fox was gone too and the only thing left there was a spray of Patrick's feathers. Patrick was our fearless warrior chook. She was always the first one out the gate, she was always the first at the food trough, and she didn't flinch when I was convinced she was a he and named her Patrick.  😇

I called the local council and reported the fox attack to the Feral Animal Response Team, got some advice, requested the team visit our home to see if we could do anything else to deter foxes and started to think about living life without Patrick. The following morning, I let the chickens out later than normal to avoid having them roaming free when the fox did an early patrol. I checked the chicken run for signs of the fox and slowly opened the gate to the coop. The first chook out was Patrick!  She had a bite mark on the back, was missing a lot of feathers, but she was there, safe and almost sound. She must have escaped and run into a clump of close-growing palms and hid there until she felt safe enough to run back to the coop. Hanno didn't see her when he herded the flock in for the night.

The egg stealing goanna climbing over the old coop fence. Modifications were made after this.

That made me think about the other times we've had sudden attacks on our chooks.  One time a stray dog wandered in and because it was a very small dog, it got in through the gate. She killed three chooks.  Twice we've found pythons in the coop. Once a hen was sitting on the nest, the top of her body was wet, she was dead and we worked out that she'd been gobbled up by the snake but was too big to swallow.  Eagles have swooped in to take small chooks. We had a goanna lizard climb the coop fence to steal eggs. All day time attacks. The main threat is not at night here, it's during the day. I've stopped thinking that extra protection is necessary at night - the chooks are locked in then and they're fairly safe. No, here we have to remain on alert during the day too and now when I hear a chicken squark, I'm out there quick smart to see what's going on.

Patrick is okay at the moment but she's not out of the woods until that bite on her back heals. Chooks can die of shock a few days after a stressful event too, so I'm looking for those signs. But she seems fine this morning.

Are your chickens at risk too?

5 December 2016

The Great British Sewing Bee

I've never watched Game of Thrones, the Kardasians or a hundred other popular TV programs, but give me The Great British Sewing Bee and I'll be sitting there, glued to the screen, until the cows come home. This wonderful show started here last Saturday night with the first series. I've watched a few episodes on YouTube over the years but I've never seen the first series and I've never watched a full series. As is my habit, I don't watch live TV. I record what I want to watch and look at it later when I can fast forward through the mindless advertising, or stop at certain places to examine what's been done and listen, again, to an explanation.

Sewing Bee is a sister program of The Great British Bake Off. That program has lured non-bakers into baking and helped with the overdue resurgence of scratch baking and cooking. And just as in the Bake Off, Sewing Bee has an elderly woman and a younger man as judges. I love seeing older women on TV or anywhere in the public domain. There is so much wisdom there to be shared, and they usually do it with grace and tender care.

On the first Sewing Bee program, contestants were asked to cut an A line skirt using a pattern, change the neckline on a shop-bought blouse and make a casual dress to fit a live model. There were explanations about why, what and how all through the show, as well as the judging of each garment. There was also an excellent tutorial on how to make a laundry bag which demonstrated the ease of the process.  Watching competent sewers choose fabric, pin and cut darts, insert invisible zippers and listen to them discuss why they do what they do, is inspiring and thought-provoking.  It was wonderful seeing the detail of the stitching, the seams and darts being constructed and the fabric patterns up close on the big screen. I also loved looking at the personal bits and pieces each sewer brought with them and how they organised their sewing spaces.

When you see expertise, creativity and work of this standard, it's so inspiring you just want to get your scissors and needles out and start a project.  I often wonder why it is so that we are often inspired and motivated to get up and work when we see others working. It must have something to do with our collective past of working in groups to survive.  Whatever it is, I hope some of the people here who don't sew watched the program, or may have watched it in the past. If ever there was a program to light the flame of sewing inspiration and see the end results of methodical creation, it is this program.

I'm comforted by shows like this. They're heartwarming, generous and valuable to those of us who aspire to live by the work we do with our own hands. They show me that what many of us are doing in our lives is becoming increasingly popular and that mindfulness, appreciation of simple things and traditional skills are needed in today's world just as much as they ever were.

Did you see it?

2 December 2016

Weekend reading

This WAS predicted by Hanno, MrHM and others 😉 - I'll be speaking at the Caboolture Library next Friday, 9 December at 12 noon. Bookings are necessary and can be made here - the talk is free. Please come along if you can, I'd love to meet you. This WILL be the last one. I agreed to this talk because the Caboolture Library is celebrating it's fifth birthday, they have wonderful people there and I wanted to be part of the celebrations. 🎈

Here is Gracie trying to work out what I was doing with the camera. She'd been playing with her favourite toy - a three metre piece of linen that we call her "ribbon". She runs all over the place dragging it and trying to entice someone to pull on the other end.  Naturally, there are two suckers here who are happy to oblige.

Anthony Bourdain's Raw Craft on Tailoring - YouTube
If you're struggling with the Christmas season, there is a complete 28 day challenge on the forum, written by Sherri, that many members have been helped by.  It is a simple step-by-step guide to how to prepare yourself and your home for the holidays. Click here to go there.
7 alternative baking flours and how to use them
There are hundreds of small black mosquitoes here since the rain and we've got mosquito coils burning when we sit outside.  I did a bit of research and found this: Are mosquito oils making us sick?

Thank you for the beautiful and interesting comments you leave here during the week. Hanno and I enjoy reading them very much.

30 November 2016

Growing and using ginger

Ginger is one of those plants that fits easily into the kitchen for cooking or making drinks. Many of us use ginger in our cooking or to make ginger beer and ginger syrup, which are both healthy drinks for for summer or winter.  In summer drink we drink our ginger drinks with ice, in winter I add one or two tablespoons to black tea to add warmth and spice.

Above: the first batch of ginger syrup yielded 2 litres. Below: the second batch gave me an extra 1.2 litres.

Ginger syrup is the easiest drink to make and it's a great addition to your drinks menu over the Christmas holidays. Simply grate or finely chop a large piece of ginger root, you'll need at least a cup full of ginger. Don't get too precious with the amounts - it doesn't have to be exact.

To 2 litres of water add two cups of sugar and bring to the boil. When the sugar has dissolved, add the ginger and simmer the mix for an hour.  Turn off the heat, put the lid on the saucepan, and leave it sitting on the stove overnight to develop flavour.

The next day, pour the mix through a fine strainer to remove the ginger pulp and store the liquid in a sealed, sterilised bottle. Use this mix as you would use any cordial - a small amount mixed with cold tap water or mineral water. Generally this is about one part syrup to four parts water but the amount you use will depend on your own taste. Experiment until you find the right balance. It can be stored in the cupboard or fridge.

Don't throw out the ginger pulp, you'll get a second batch from it.  Collect the used ginger, add it back to the saucepan and use half the amount of water and sugar you used for the first batch. The process is the same - bring to the boil, simmer for an hour, turn the heat off and leave the mix on the stove overnight. Bottle the following day.

And because we are the people we are, let's try to grow our own ginger.

Ginger is one of those plants that can be grown in almost all climates and although it's easy to grow, it  grows slowly. It will take almost a year to grow a crop. The most difficult part of growing ginger is finding the right spot for it to grow. Some of you will have to grow it in a pot but if you're in a tropical or sub-tropical area, it can be grown in the ground as long as it's protected from wind and it gets afternoon shade. You must plant the ginger in spring.

Find some fresh, plump ginger at the shop, if there are buds already forming, that's a bonus.  If the piece of ginger is a large one, you can break off segments as long as they contain at least one bud and have 4 or 5 cm of rhizome under the bud.  Soak the ginger overnight in a bowl of water.

Warm climate
If you're planting in the ground, prepare the soil by adding compost and digging it in. Plant each piece of ginger about 5 cm deep with the shoots facing upwards and water in.  Make sure the area you pick is protected from winds, has good drainage and gets afternoon shade.

If you're not in a warm climate or if you want to plant in a pot
To plant in a large pot, fill the pot with good quality potting mix and plant the ginger 5cm deep with the shoots facing up. Water it in. If you're in a hot climate, the pot will need afternoon shade, in a cold climate it might need to be placed close to a wall for extra warmth but it certainly needs to be out of the wind. When it gets cold, take the pot inside to a warm sunny spot.

Don't let the plant dry out but don't over water either - the ginger will rot if it sits in water for too long.  After a couple of weeks, when shoots start growing, apply seaweed concentrate made up according to the instructions, or a weak liquid fertiliser. Comfrey tea is ideal. Continue to fertilise with a weak mix every two weeks until the green shoots start to die back in autumn/winter. When the shoots are brown and shrivelled, it's time to harvest your ginger.

Good luck, ginger lovers. 🌿 

28 November 2016

They come down, they get put up again

We've got a thing about fences and I bet if you're trying to work your land in specific ways, you'll have a thing for fences too. When we arrived here 19 years ago, the only fences on our land were the two separating us from our side neighbours. There was no front fence and the back boundary was marked by an ever-flowing creek.

In the photo above, the fence with the green and blue gate is the one I'm writing about today. Below is a selection of older photos and one new one to show you the configuration of fences here.

When we moved here we brought Murphy, our Airedale Terrier, with us, so one of our early priorities was to fence the entire yard so Murphy didn't wander off. Then we added a chicken coop with another fence. When the chickens were free ranging, we wanted to stop Murphy harassing them so another fence was built which divided the back yard. On one side there was Hanno's big shed, one tank, several fruit trees and the chickens, on the other, smaller side, the vegetable garden, a small run for Murphy, garden shed and garage. We had to then further divide the small side to keep the dogs from the vegetable garden. That fence - a picket fence, stayed through Murphy's life and served the purpose again when Rosie and Alice lived with us. When they died and we decided we'd have no more dogs, the fence came down and the backyard started opening up again.

Above, where you see the orange tree, is the fence that protects the vegetable garden from the chickens. Below is the fence directly opposite that - it protects the fruit trees from the chickens. The second fence is now gone.

Looking out from the fruit tree area towards the house.  This is one of the fences we've removed.
And the view from the other side of the yard.
The photo above was taken yesterday with Hanno erecting another fence to keep Gracie from the vegetable garden.

And this photo, taken a few years ago from the other side of that fence, is looking towards the house.

A new wire fence went up yesterday. You might imagine that Gracie would run though the gardens and maybe dig every so often. Well, she doesn't do that. No, our puppy picks vegetables, and then she pulls out the vine or bush they have been growing on. It's very frustrating to see perfectly good vegetables shrivelled up on the lawn and the dead plant beside it. We knew we had to put up a another fence but we'd used the original pickets for something else, so Hanno decided on a puppy wire fence with star pegs. We also needed another gate but a quick look on Gumtree helped us with that for just $15.

Above and below is Hanno building the extension to the chicken coop fence a few years ago.

Gracie will still be allowed into the garden, but only when someone is with her. Believe me, she needs supervising. If ever there was a puppy who will get up to mischief, it's her. And even though her naughtiness is annoying at times, it's also kind of endearing and reassuring that puppies never change.  Let's just hope the fences stay like this for a while.

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