30 September 2013

The old orange T shirt

Anyone who knows our family knows about my husband's old orange T shirts. He has four of them, which were freebies through his job about ten years ago. Now they are grease-stained and raggy around the edges, but remain his signature wardrobe item. There was a time when we couldn't pick him out in a crowd if he wasn't wearing one.

Anna dressing up in Daddy's uniform.
His mother hates them. She took them and washed them once, and was dismayed that the grease stains still remain (i.e. it wasn't a fault of my washing skills, which I was quite surprised by). Then she gave him some money to buy new ones. Now when he visits her, sadly she is still often greeted by the sight of her orange son. Yes, he does it on purpose, but he does get changed before Christmas dinner.

With this in mind I grinned when I read this week's 'lifestyle' newspaper supplement. I'm not sure whose lifestyle it represents - for example this week's issue featured a question about "Why eyebrow waxing makes my forehead shiny". Please. Every week there is a page or two on new and different types of make up available. Just how often do people buy makeup?

Where are the articles on chickens, that's what I want to know. What breeds are best for eggs? Hot tips on breaking a hen out of broodiness. A celebrity's favourite breeds. Some gorgeous pics of light sussex hens in a permaculture garden.

However, I ploughed my way through a story on a Parisian haute couture designer, Jorgen Simonsen, and he said something that grabbed me:

The ethics behind fast fashion disturbs (I know, it should be disturb) me terribly. You cannot possibly sell a $10 T-shirt. You can't grow the cotton, you can't pick it, you can't treat it, spin it, weave it, cut it, sew it, send it, merchandise it, sell it, possibly ever for $10 without leaving 10 million people in the ditch behind you.

And that, people, is why the only $10 T shirt you'll see on me will come from an op shop. Ian agrees too, and it's a prime reason that his old T shirts will clothe him for many days yet. Sorry, Mum.

26 September 2013

Too much muck

I've been reading how unhealthy it is for chickens to live among their own poo for too long. This has been quietly troubling me for a while, particularly since I now have my greatest ever number of birds: five.

Apart from their coop, which is only about two square metres in size, they have a run that is about ten square metres. They forage on the ground all day, and must be constantly encountering their own poo. Chicken poo does break down quickly, but probably not quickly enough. Apparently insects, snails and worms - their favourite treats - contain parasites that infest chicken innards, and their reproductive cycle is given a helping hand by chickens feeding among poo that is infested with parasite eggs.

I don't know if we've ever had a parasite problem. The bird I killed earlier this year certainly had an illness I couldn't put down to a blocked crop or any external parasite such as mites.

So I've taken a couple of steps to help. I temporarily extended their run to give them fresh ground, which they loved, but they kept escaping. Our lettuce is ravaged. I need to clip their wings then try again. It will help with the lawnmowing, too (they love grass).

Also today I got into their run with a spade and turned over their soil. The soil they live on quickly becomes compacted, and they can't get into it. As I turned it I spotted many worms, and the chickens just couldn't wait to get into it! Such a treat for them.

It's possibly, however, useless for parasite control, because it's still the same soil, and the worms might be filled with parasites.

Five chickens certainly provide more eggs than we need - three would do nicely in that respect. But I know from bitter experience that the bounty won't last. The short days of winter will stop them laying, one will get sick, or perhaps the old brown shaver will reach the end of her egg career. Chickens number four and five are backups, but backups poo too.

24 September 2013

Making things from nothing

I like making things - new treasures or just plain useful items - from stuff that's lying around, unused and unloved.

A couple of weeks ago I spied a neighbour pruning his tree, and asked if I could have some of the sticks. This is about a tenth of what he had to offer. I'm not sure what type of tree it is, being leafless at present.

With these sticks I wove a trellis, up which I will grow fragrant and beautiful sweet peas. I built it out the front of our house, in front of the kitchen window. Until a couple of months ago the area sported two camellia trees, which we (he!) removed. In their place I planted two citrus trees, an orange and a tangelo. This family needs lots of fruit! Until they grow bigger, however, I think we'll suffer from lack of shade in the summer, with the hot sun beating down on our concrete patio. A trellis laden with sweet peas will be a lovely shady replacement for the camellias.

I started by driving thicker, straight sticks into the ground about a hand width apart, then I just wove thinner, straight sticks in and out between them. It was a little bit harder than it sounds, but to me it is much more attractive than a bought one. I want to make more for the garden, plus one to try out as chicken run fencing. I might be a bit slow though: apparently it's much easier when they're freshly cut and therefore supple.

On Friday night Jack saw something in a book I got from a garage sale, the Rainy Day Book. He came across instructions for some little bean bag people and just HAD to make some. By Saturday lunchtime we'd made three. They're made of scraps I had lying around, and filled with green lentils that had been in the pantry far too long. Children sewing of course means Mama helping, in spite of having very different plans. But how often does a ten year old boy long to sew? I had to be part of it.

And finally to my chickens (of course). I turned a milk bottle into a grit feeder for them. This grit is purchased crushed shell, which they need to provide calcium for their eggs. The alternative is to keep their own egg shells, dry, crush and bake them, and feed them back to them. I must get on to doing that.

My oldest brown shaver is laying increasingly thin-shelled eggs that break easily. Yesterday I think one of them ate most of the egg - a dangerous thing, eat-eating, because once they get a taste for it apparently they keep doing it. All I found was a bit of sticky stuff in the nestbox coating the other eggs. Today her egg was a bit cracked, probably by another bird's feet. However, the grit level has dropped sharply in 24 hours, so they've been eating it, and hopefully it will boost her shells. I have been giving them grit for a long time, but only haphazardly, which means chucking them a handful when I remember. Not good enough, I think.

I think I might make another one and cut away less of the top part next time, so that the grit is more sheltered from dangers such as falling poo (the perch they sleep on is nearby). 

For you, a flower photo I took at the Hamilton Gardens. Spring is good.

13 September 2013

Eggs in my kitchen

Three days worth of eggs in a basket. This is the reality of five hens in springtime.

I'm quite excited, though, to learn that eggs can be frozen! I'll try it out and let you know how it works. This could help take care of the glut, and tide us through winter when eggs become scarce.

Also, here is a result of a little op-shopping yesterday. The Salvation Army never lets me down. I've been looking for this coffee table for years. I especially like its curvaceous legs and the sturdy tray underneath for magazines and books. Welcome to our house, table! For $15, you can definitely stay.

11 September 2013

Seventies and loving it

Why are the 1970s so hip at the moment? I dread the 80s resurgence (and already see it in clothing on teenagers), but the 70s I can dig (well, most of it). Perhaps it's because I was born in 1972.

Anna and I went to a cafe the other day, and I loved the scavenged seventies finds in there. From the table settings, lights, brass tables, plants, macrame plant hanger and brown beer bottles for the complimentary water, they have definitely entered the world of hip. Best of all, they've done so without buying modern Made-in-China copies. This looked like a genuine eco-fit out.

It was Jack's Cafe in Hillcrest, Hamilton. Divine cakes, great service. Thanks Jack.

(I spotted the friendly waitress who gave Anna an extra helping of cream busking at our local Farmer's Market on Sunday, singing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. That song always takes me somewhere special, and her voice was amazing.)

Next to where we had parked we discovered another bit of charm. This letterbox echoed the restored vintage vehicles parked outside the house.

They were giving away free fruit. Then - as if it could get any better - Anna spotted a stunning tui feeding from their flowering kowhai tree. Lovely!

9 September 2013

Green Urban Living

I've recently devoured a book by New Zealander Janet Luke. It thought I knew quite a lot about Green Urban Living, or gurbing, as she calls it, but now I know a lot more!

Spot the egg. Laid today. I love it when
they leave a feather on it.

I have some new projects to try as a result.

1. These flowers are a certain type of marigold, Tagetes patula. Janet and Good magazine have reminded me what a fabulous companion plant they are. A new order from Kings Seeds is imminent.

2. Comfrey. This herb, while not beautiful and a bit invasive, is something I've also meant to get for ages. I couldn't find it in the Kings Seeds catalogue, but I'm now determined to try a garden centre. It has a deep tap root and pulls up nutrients from well below the surface. Then you tear leaves off it, use them as mulch, in compost, to feed chickens and to make liquid fertiliser.

3. A compost tower, which she calls a Harvest Highrise, in the garden. It's a tall tube of wire mesh - although I'll probably use plastic because we have some spare - with a PVC pipe down the middle, held in place by layers of material to compost (I wouldn't use kitchen scraps here, I don't think, because there's nothing to keep rodents out). The idea is that you grow plants up the outside of the wire mesh, and as the compost inside breaks down it feeds them, plus the heat generated by the degradation provides extra warmth to the plants. The PVC pipe is bunged up at the bottom end by an old bottle, and the pipe has holes in it. You pour water down the top of the pipe both to keep the compost moist and water your plants. It sounds intelligent to me and I'm definitely going to give it a try.

An olla.
4. Buried clay pots. Because water seeps through the walls of clay pots, you can bury them next to plants with the top opening of the pot above the soil. Keep the pot filled with water, and the plants will be constantly watered. (The opening at the top needs to be covered with an old plate or something to keep mosquitoes away).

This is apparently a very old North African/Spanish method of irrigation, and the proper pot to use is an olla. I don't think they're available that shape in New Zealand though. Terracotta pots are cheap at garden centres and will have to suffice.

You can feed the plants at the same time by filling the pots with worm juice from a worm farm, or liquid fertiliser.

Janet also has a chapter on chickens. I'm not in complete agreement with all she says. She recommends (and sells) diatomaceous earth for a lot of things, including puffing it around your garden for insect control, in the house for cockroach control, and rubbing it in chickens' feathers. My husband just about fell off his perch when I mentioned it, because as an air quality scientist he is freaked out by the idea of tiny bits of silica floating around and entering lungs. I'm trying to find out more on this, but the material safety data sheets I've looked at certainly mention the diseases silicosis and lung cancer as risks of use. (It's a bit asbestos-like.)

She also recommends throwing absolutely all your kitchen scraps into the chicken coop and leaving them there so they can form on-site compost. But of course chickens don't eat everything, and the idea of rotting citrus, onion, vege peelings and goodness knows what else lying around the coop speaks to me of smells, mould, flies and rats. On another page she does say to remove any uneaten scraps at night to avoid rats, so I'm not sure how these two approaches go together. Maybe I'm missing something.

She has a nifty design for a movable coop, which does look great except that its frame is made of PVC pipe. Plastic + sun = brittle, breaking plastic that's only good for the dump. If you had a supply of second hand pipes it would be okay, I suppose.

But pay little heed to me! The book is brilliant, I applaud her for writing it, and apart from these small concerns I thoroughly recommend it. You can get it on her website. She has two other books, both of which I would love to read. One is about how her family lived self sufficiently off their own urban garden for four months by farming small goats, snails and rabbits! What a woman.

Around these parts, my budget glass house, comprised of a scavenged sheet of perspex leaning against a window, is doing good things for my seeds. Zucchini, sunflowers, spinach, coriander and tomatoes are rearing their green heads. I have some heat-loving capsicum and cucumber seeds sown in pots that I bring inside every night, and two of the cucumbers have sprouted.

And today I collected my biggest ever egg harvest. Five hens, and five eggs. The last one laid for the first time today, having been sick with sour crop. I feared for her life, but she recovered, and just yesterday I noticed her comb had turned bright red. Today came that precious first egg. Thank you, I said.

I hope I'm not boring you with garden posts. I can't seem to get enough of it, and Janet Luke has only fed my fire!

4 September 2013

Spring violin

My girl is seven as of last week. The cake rigmarole rolled around again. This year, a swimming pool cake to match the swimming pool party, and a girl who was born in the water and can never get enough of swimming.

Her maturity was demonstrated to me this morning when she told me she caught and flushed a cockroach and a mosquito while she was in the toilet. I am so proud of her acquiring this skill: a little bit of toilet paper, a swift swipe, and a crush.  So ends, I hope, years of me being frantically summoned to kill the insect she'd found and was terrified of. (I know, I'll still have to get the ones she can't reach.)

This morning I also found this note she'd left me (but she had also told me and said goodbye while I was in the shower):

Spring is rampant around here, and what better way to celebrate it than violin practice in the sun? This is what the little lady did on Monday.

She sounds pretty good, and I love watching her, not a smile to be seen on her serious, concentrating face, until she's finished, and then she lights up. Music is a wonderful skill to have. She's had a year of lessons and almost daily practices, so it's a hard-earned skill. But it's a little by little, keep-at-it kind of task, and she is getting there.

She doesn't always practice what she's meant to, but takes little trips sideways, jumping ahead here, making little sideways trips there. It's a good thing, I think, to play as you play.

Jack, in contast, only practices what he has to, and after four years of it he can whip out a mean fiddle-ish jig. I love it.

1 September 2013

Favourite seeds

This post is part of the Garden Share Collective, a group of bloggers blogging about, well, their gardens! So if you are seeking gardening inspiration and information, please pay it a visit.

It's seed planting time, and we all want to grow beans, tomatoes, capsicum, lettuce etc etc. But which kind? There is a bewildering range to choose from when you look through a seed catalogue like Kings Seeds or Italian Seeds Pronto (ah, I long to try some of the latter - expensive at $8 or so a packet, but you get about three times as many as in a normal packet... I need someone to share the cost and contents with!).

I have yet to determine the best tomatoes and capsicums for us, but I have had firm successes with certain beans, lettuce, cucumber, basil and sweet peas. The latter aren't vegetables but these days I find it absolutely necessary to grow them every year.

Without further ado:

Beans. I resisted my husband's pressure to grow scarlet runner beans for years, because I associated them with the tough giants my grandparents used to give us. Then we grew them, and picked them before they grew into those tough giants, and they were absolutely delicious. And talk about productive! We have them constantly for about four months over summer, picking almost daily. I've tried fancy French beans and all sorts, but not only is their production pathetic by comparison, but the children won't eat them raw because they don't taste as good.

At the end of the season we just chop them off and leave them in the ground, and they come back the following year. That only works every second year, though, then you should rip them out and replace them with new ones. We poke them in the ground at the bottom of a bamboo bean frame in October. I'm hoping to make a frame from flax stalks soon.

Lettuce. Kings Seeds have in their organic section some lovely lettuces called 'Salad bowl'. There are red and green ones. Both have gorgeous soft, tasty leaves that grow beautifully and last in the garden for ages.

Basil. Lettuce leaf basil is our favourite: the leaves are large (but not as large as lettuce leaves!) so you don't have to waste time picking off lots of tiny little ones.

Cucumber: Lebanese cucumbers do so well and taste so good! Last year I made an effort to provide frames and stakes for them to climb up. It left more space in the garden for other things, and kept the fruit clean. I'd love to get really into that concept and even build a cucumber frame that lies on an angle, thereby letting the cucumber vines shade the ground underneath to provide an ideal spot for plants that don't like severe heat, such as lettuce and coriander.

Sweet peas: Last year I discovered Kings Seeds Old Spice mix. They went long and strong all summer, which was comprised of a stinking hot drought. The flowers didn't mind a bit, which is unusual for sweet peas, which tend to be queens of spring and autumn. Wonderful fragrance, gorgeous mix of colours.

My seed sowing is partly done, with basil and beans on the backburner until October, because they really need more warmth. It's delightful to see little seedlings pop up - so far I've spied spinach, teddy bear sunflowers, cherry tomatoes and peas. I water, I slug-slam, I wait.

Peas emerging.
There's a lot going on in our garden thanks to persistent winter gardening, which I've loved. Here's a photo taken as I sheltered in the shed during a rain shower this afternoon.

I could see our garden bursting with parsnips, carrots, lettuce, spring onions, cauli and broccoli, and parsley. There's an oats and lupins mix that is sheltering and feeding the soil of one garden, and that the cat and chickens love to eat. There are of course my five beloved chickens giving us eggs (four today), and fruit trees of mandarins, oranges and lemons.

Parsnip leaves glisten in the gentle rain.
The chickens gobble a spent mizuma plant (there are three
more staying in the garden to go to seed for next year).
And around the corner are artichokes about to bloom their delicious flower buds, growing up in front of the feijoas, and blueberry bushes newly mulched with pine needles (to acidify their soil) springing to life.

The compost bins (seven in total!) give great compost, the clothesline dries our clothes, and the shed keeps our firewood dry ( I write this, as usual, in front of a wonderful blazing fire). This backyard, small as it is, multitasks big time!
The duvet cover holds barley straw for the chooks.
My late afternoon harvest - fruit for breakfast and lunch tomorrow, lettuce for sandwiches tomorrow, a carrot for a pre-dinner snack for a hungry boy, and a small head of broccoli for dinner - is here, honest and grubby in the sink.

There's a bit to do in the next month. When the compost ripens it will be shoveled over the garden. The last of the seeds to be raised in seed pots - tomatoes mainly - need to find their way into rich, black seed raising mix. There's a (third!) orange tree to be planted, a bit late perhaps, since tree planting should really be finished in July. There's always a bit of weeding to be done, of course.

I'm enjoying watching the results of my let-go-to-seed policy, as always - little lettuces and wildflowers popping up. Some will need to be moved about, but most will get to grow where they land.

Self sown seedlings of lettuce, native spinach, sunflower and
two typesof wildflower whose names escape me right now.
Finally, blossom. It's everywhere. This is a dwarf peach at the back of a vege garden. Last year we got two peaches and they tasted terrible, so this is its last chance. The plums, however, are about to burst and they have already earned their place.

 Do you have any favourite vegetable seeds that work well in your garden?

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