26 November 2014

Cheap and simple rat control in an elvish forest

Recently my family and I had the pleasure of visiting the most gorgeous lifestyle block owned by a clever and resourceful couple. It made us long for more land - for more flowers, more vegetables, more space for chickens, and most of all more space for our children to play in. Our urban section is quite small.

However, the drive in and out of town wouldn't work for us. Too much petrol, too much time. We like being able to walk and bike daily to many of our destinations. Plus I don't think we have the energy or time for maintaining a large block.

The current owners are doing forest restoration and pest control in an adjacent patch of beautiful kahikatea forest. It was a magical place. Kahikatea trees thrive in swampy ground. The land around here has been drained for farms now, but the trees' crazy above-ground roots remain. The forest felt a bit elvish and secret, like a magical, mossy, fern-filled world in which the trees should have windows.

I noticed that the couple were using the cleverest and cheapest little bait station for rats that I've ever seen, using old icecream containers. They told me they'd invented them and that they work really, really well.

You can read about how they work and how to make one on my other blog, www.keepingchickensnz.com.

I also noticed these ferns that have made a home of a fencepost - amazing!

Our friends gave us a bag of freshly dug new potatoes for our dinner. Yum... what a nice ending to a lovely afternoon.

21 November 2014

Dreaming of HenPower for the elderly

The lovely blog of Melissa at tinyhappy has thrilled me this week with its link to a story about HenPower.

An image from the Telegraph article about HenPower.
Consider a group of elderly people, in a rest home or retirement village. The demands of their own homes and sections have gone or been hugely reduced, spouses have died, and for some of them gaping holes have been left behind.

Enter HenPower. A chicken coop, and some hens or even eggs in an incubator that hatch into delightful little chicks. (I know not the fate of the roosters.) What happens?

It turns out to be tranformative for some of the elderly people. They say things like "‘My life has been a lot fuller since we’ve had these hens. I think I’d be lost without them." The chicken-keeping tasks lead to social interactions, a point of interest, and a sense of purpose and fulfilment. In turn, there are reduced amounts of antipsychotic drugs in rest homes and all sorts of other good outcomes.

The project started with bare-bones funding, but last year they were awarded £164,000 of lottery money to extend the project to different parts of the United Kingdom.

There's also a lovely seven minute video on the project called Hen Men here. In it, one man hasn't seen his family since 1980 and didn't talk to his neighbours until the project began. Now the local chaps get together over their chooks. (If only I could interpret the other 70% of what the men say - the accents are strong! Which is quite fun in itself - my son was gobsmacked.)

It would be fantastic if something like this could get going in New Zealand. Wouldn't it be a lovely thing for the old people to show visiting grandchildren? I can even imagine local kindergartens going on field trips to see the chickens and collect the morning's eggs, and the residents being delighted by seeing the children. Some of the children would probably start wanting their own hens at home...  what a wonderful ripple effect it could have. HenPower indeed.

I also wrote about HenPower on my chickens Facebook page and blog. If you're missing chicken posts here, please visit the other sites, which are where my chicken writings mostly are these days.

12 November 2014

New Scientist and the future: old stuff is precious

Yesterday was a happy old day. Quite illegally, I took the children out of school and we charged across the countryside to join my mother on her 77th birthday. We didn't want her to spend it alone, and she seemed pretty chuffed.

The four of us walked down to a cafe, Lynne's Kitchen, that has opened up in a block of shops that was there when I was growing up. I'd huff and puff past it on my ten speed bike on the way to and from school. In those days there were definitely not things like cafes in blocks of shops! There were fish and chip shops, dairies, hairdressers and bike shops - and maybe a butcher, pharmacy, doctor or post office in more major 'blocks'.

The old theme continued. The cafe was staffed by women of a grandmotherly age, who were about the most charming and friendly people you could ever find in such a place. Furthermore, the cups and saucers were beautiful old china. The lady at the till told me that people come from quite some distance just to use the old crockery! (I suspect she is too modest, and her charm, the lovely food and reasonable prices have a lot to do with it too.)

I'm always singing the praises of old, especially when it comes to homeware. I got a thrill recently when New Scientist magazine mentioned that particular love of mine. They predicted that 3D printers will one day give us anything we want, from electronics and building supplies to food and synthetic organs, all at the touch of a button. (Fortunately these things will made out of used materials.)

"We may also come to value old things over the new, as antiques become increasingly rare in a world of super-efficient recycling," the article states. They also predict that even as these changes seem to separate us ever more from nature, we'll want it more and more, and 'rewilding' and 'de-extinction' will become prominent. Hey, that's three loves in one place - old stuff, science and nature! (Although for me the line between science and nature barely exists - science is just about finding out more about nature in an objective manner.)

The customers at Lynne's Kitchen and I are already heading down the route of valuing old things over new. Bring it on, I say - maybe I'll make my fortune with the old things I've collected!

5 November 2014

Like a bought one: the mulched garden

I got around to mulching our vegetable garden over the weekend. Last year I was reluctant, having read that my favourite mulch, pea straw, is processed by being sprayed with roundup. I'm not sure if that's true. I know it is for potatoes, though. How dare they?

Maybe this autumn I'll collect enough autumn leaves to mulch the summer garden.

Here are parts of it, before and after the mulching makeover.

"It looks like a bought one," said a friend to me once after having spread pea straw on her garden.

Last year I mulched just one garden section, and when the drought got bad it was the only place the tomatoes kept growing healthily. The soil underneath was friable and moist. Underneath other tomato plants it resembled a concrete pan, which the water ran off when I hosed. (That unpleasant condition is called hydrophobicity, the friend's husband informed me.) The plants died.

So now I am a committed mulcher.

Does anyone have other ideas for summer vegetable garden mulch?

Flowering phacelia: a great plant for beneficial insects
that sprouts and grows at any time of year. The bees adore it.

3 November 2014

Happiness, excitement, health... it's all relative

What a busy time we had near the end of last week! It taught me a lesson or two.

On Thursday there was a school gala and Anna had to dress up as a cowgirl. She got to sing and dance in front of a crowd - bliss!

She missed her musical theatre class the following evening in order to attend a Halloween party.

A New Zealand Jack-'o-lantern that I carved.
Pumpkins aren't in season here, but a grapefruit is a fine substitute.

On Saturday we went to the Waikato Show - a fair/agricultural and pastoral day rolled into one. Miniature horses bowed and did various tricks on command, and a dog walked a high wire. I squirmed, noticing the trainer's long riding crop close to the horses at all times, and their mouths working against the tight bit. Anna was entranced, though.

We saw baby goats, alpacas, rabbits, a turkey (their snoods are wild!) and of course spent plenty of time in the poultry shed. Anna fell slightly in love with a grey rabbit with fur that felt like velvet, and completely in love with a baby chick, which she begged to be allowed to take home. Please Mama, please Mama.

Then all of a sudden she wanted to leave. "It's not very exciting," she said, as we walked past the bouncy castle, pony rides, wood chopping and sheep-shearing show. Now, it might have been due to me spending a bit too long with the poultry, but I think she has so much stimulating stuff in her life that it takes a lot for something to stand out. Too much.

I could hardly tear myself away from this
magnificent Black Orpington rooster.
I had the opposite experience. During the early hours of Friday I began a two-day migraine (they come less frequently now, but last longer) on top of a very sore back, associated unhappy intestines, a gum infection and a sore throat. I don't think I've ever had as many things wrong with me at once, and I was miserable. By Saturday only the head remained as a big problem, and even that was waning. Suddenly I realised that a migraine alone was quite manageable compared to four other illnesses at the same time! I felt quite liberated.

I even photographed the freshly leaved oak trees lining the park where Jack was playing cricket in sheer joy. The world seemed such a beautiful place.

It's all relative, isn't it?

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