The New Tales of Chookonia #1

Finally, the Girls have arrived.

On perhaps the hottest day of the year so far, we filled their waterers and feeder, put up a gazebo in their chook yard to provide some sorely needed shade, wiped off some of the sweat and went to fetch them.

We’d planned for Point of Lay pullets, but we wanted them this week because the Husband is on leave and we have time. Unfortunately, this week the supplier didn’t have 21/22 week pullets, only 15 week pullets, so we’ve brought the 5 of them home a little early, and will enjoy watching them grow for another 5-6 weeks before they start laying. We were charged less because they’re not full size yet. Bonus!

The cardboard boxes they travelled home in were liberally anointed with chook poo, and will be going on the garden to mulch the forthcoming potato patch in due course. Their chook house has a deep litter of pine shavings which will keep things fresh and discourage bugs and mites, and again, when it’s full of poo, I shall shovel it out and compost it for garden use. They will get garden and kitchen scraps in addition to their grain ration. I do like a self-sustaining system! Once they’re a bit more acclimatised, we’ll let them out on the grass, perhaps using the moveable, adjustable dog fence to ensure they graze the grass area by area and don’t create huge bald patches in one place and leave rank grass in another.

I’ve put the dummy eggs in the two nesting boxes to encourage them when the time comes. There’s a thinnish layer of sugar cane mulch in the chook yard for them to scratch in, which I’ve scattered with a handful of grain and vegetable scraps from the kitchen. So far, they’re ignoring everything except the water, the green weeds and the pumpkin vine, which is providing a shady spot to rest in. I must get some river sand and D.E. for a dust bath fairly soon, or they’ll be digging up the ground to make their own.

They’re pretty calm and docile, and very healthy looking. It’s so good to have Girls in the family again! We brought Mouse out into the garden after they were installed, and he glanced at them and then proceeded to ignore them completely. Perfect.

And yes, of course they’ve been named, although at this age it’s a little harder to tell them apart. They’re Eggatha, Eggnes, Egglantine, Eggnetha and Egglaia.


Three guesses

… what this thing is?

During our forthcoming chunk of annual leave, the Husband and I will be preparing and laying plans for my new vegie garden. A few days ago, I completed the roosts in Chookonia, and installed the two nesting boxes, so we’re good to go. When we get back, we’ll have the Girls cranking out chicken poop and I can get some serious compost going. The Girls will also be turned out into the former orchid shade house, soon to become my shaded vegetable and seed raising area, to munch on the weeds currently occupying the interior, and till the beds in there for me. I have plans also to clear another patch of ground near the banana trees by raising a potato crop in mulch, where I will eventually plant tropical-hardy vegetables that can take the heat, humidity and lack of winter chill.

My seed lists are ready. I’ll probably kick off by installing some ready-grown vegetable plants from the nursery to get things moving, but once I have a feel for how the space is working, I’ll be wanting to start some seeds. The list is long, but I’ll start with the basics.

Which brings me to this.

Some of you may well know what this is. Others, maybe not. I’ve been gardening for a long time, but I hadn’t seen one of these, and I think it’s genius.

Give up?  It’s a soil blocker. Er, say what? You know those black plastic seedling modules you fill with potting compost and start your seeds in? With one of these gizmos, you don’t need the module. You make a very wet mix of potting compost, vermiculite (or similar) and peat moss or coir (about 5:1:1). It needs to be wet enough to hold in a clump if you squeeze a handful.  You press this device down into a heap of said potting mix several times until the cells are firmly packed full of soil. You then stand it in a drainer tray and press the sprung handle down. Voilà! Seed blocks made of compressed potting soil!

What you can’t see in this photo is that each block will have a depression in the top surface into which you drop your seed. The thing’s a standard size to fit most commercial seedling trays and you can neatly fill a whole tray. It comes with a variety of doodads to make different size/depth of depressions in the top, and I also received a whole bunch of white tags for labelling which are reusable. The blocks last well, are easy to transplant into the ground, and you don’t have any disruption to the roots because of trying to poke them out of their little plastic cells.

There’s no plastic waste, it’s durable, simple, and should last me the rest of my gardening life. You’ve got to love that.

The only downside? It came in pieces and there were no assembly instructions! But I got there in the end.

Sign of the Times

Chookonia is ready.

The roof is insulated, the fencing is finished, the perches are built, the nesting boxes are done, the straw is strewn, the grain bin is filled and the feeder and drinkers are hung.

All that remains is for the sign to go up. Oh, and the Girls themselves, of course. The latter event will wait until we return from our forthcoming trip. I’ll call to order them on 25th and we’ll be able to collect them a few days later.

As for the sign…

We have a  round ceramic ‘Chiconia’ plaque beside our front door which my oldest friend had specially made for us as a wedding gift. The Girls deserve their own version, I felt.

I found this old section of plank down the side of our garden water tank, when I was clearing out old, dead fern fronds. It came up nicely after a bit of time with a hand sander to take off the old paint splatters and the worst of the roughness, and that knot at top left suggested an egg, so the rest followed on from there.

I chose a font, printed it out at the right size, traced it onto the wood, and burned it in using my pyrography stylus. It should last many years. Not exactly chainsaw art, but hand-crafted nonetheless.

Even a chicken needs a decent address.


Chookonia begins

Since we first moved here 14 months ago, I have wanted to have chickens.

It’s clear that there used to be some here, as evidenced by the totally dilapidated hen house near the end of the back yard. It’s only good for demolition now, but there’s a lot of back yard for a small flock to enjoy. Many things have prevented it happening, all perfectly understandable, but finally, finally, it seems as if it will go ahead.

Chookonia sketchDespite the heat and humidity, we have been doing some yard work towards this end; most notably, we’ve started digging the 8 post holes for Chookonia, the palatial hen house now taking shape in a shady corner of the back yard. It will be 3 metres square, 2 metres high, solid but airy, and will have a raised brick floor under straw to keep the Girls dry and cosy even if the yard gets very squishy and muddy when the Wet finally decides to start. It’s large because there will be times in storm season when they will be safer kept in than let out.

Chookonia planThe project is not a small one, which probably best explains why we’ve put it off for so long. The impetus came when we got permission to recycle all the dumped building material from the block next door. Not only do we have enough corrugated steel to make the chook house, we can also mend the shed roof, making it a bit more unlikely that the next cyclone will see it landing on the golf course half a kilometre away.

We’ll be getting some help putting up the frame, which needs to be embedded in concrete in holes sunk 40cm down, and mounded at the top so rain will run off. We’ll probably also get some help when we come to put on the roof, but the rest is down to us. I foresee some colourful language, hurling of tools, stomping around and going off in a sulk… We are both terribly clumsy. We have to make a sliding chicken door, a hinged person door and a nesting box access hatch. Endless possibilities for things to go wrong!

The Girls. Three Australorps and three Isa Browns.

Some of these will hopefully be arriving in the next couple of months…

The Girls will be getting a permanent run under the trees for shade and shelter, and protection from the quite large birds of prey round here. They will also be allowed into the back half of the yard once we have upgraded the fencing so they can’t sneak underneath it. You know how it is. If there’s one small hole in the whole 200m of fence, they’ll find it and be through in a flash.

I can’t quite decide how many Girls we need. I’ve always had six; three Australorps and three ISA Browns. I love the Lorps best, they are beautiful, friendly, stately and calm and lay large pale brown eggs. The Browns are slightly better layers of mid brown smaller eggs, and are a bit smarter, but they are also a bit more aggressive. The mix of 3 of each seems to work well, so I’ll probably end up going with the same again. I’ll be getting point-of-lay pullets rather than chicks, so they’ll be ready to start work a bit sooner and won’t be so vulnerable.

I’m looking forward to seeing one of my favourite sights again, the Girls hitching up their fluffy skirts and flat out racing for home because I’ve called them in for the evening grain. Closely followed, I might add, by two of them having a tug of war over a piece of bacon rind…

We’ve made a good start. Now we just have to keep the impetus going.


A mixed bag

It has been a trying few days.

We discovered, after receiving an astronomical power bill, that our solar array wasn’t working, and hasn’t been for some time. As a result of paying to get it fixed and paying said astronomical bill, we’ve had to cancel a planned trip to Melbourne in June. Very disappointing; I’d hoped to catch up with friends and family, do a bit of shopping, show the Husband where I used to live, that sort of thing. It’s not really a substitute, but to make up to ourselves for missing out on Melbourne, we’re going up to Cairns on the bike for 4 days of zooming around the hills, eating good food and catching some amazing scenery. That’ll be at the end of May, and I’m looking forward to it a great deal, especially now that the weather’s a bit more moderate.

I’ve been a bit under the weather recently, and am waiting for blood test results, and my annual flu shot is making me feel a bit yuck too, a bit shivery and headachy.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 8.24.00 pmScreen Shot 2015-04-23 at 8.23.18 pmOtherwise, life has been busy, with the result that I haven’t managed to make much progress with quilting Worldwide Friends. I’ve managed three rows of red hexie quilting in the last 3 days, which is pretty poor progress — I should be able to get three rows a day done at the very least. I’m hoping to feel better and have more time tomorrow. At this rate, I definitely won’t have time to quilt the filler hexies too. It’s always the way, isn’t it: lots to do in limited time, and events conspire to reduce your time even more!

We have a few more plans in the backyard, including three raised beds for vegetables, down the side of the house and near the water supply so irrigation won’t be a problem. The Husband is going to mark out and chip out the base for the chook house in the next day or so, so Chookonia is a few steps closer too.

Right, time to get tucked up in bed and try to sleep myself well again.

The Gardens of Chiconia 23: hidden treasures

Today I have been mooching around the garden again with my camera.

Yesterday it was birds and frogs. Today it’s the turn of the plants. Time for some pictures:

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An orchid, casually being fabulous on a palm tree….

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Mandarin blossom

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I have no idea what this is, with its weird lilac spidery flowers and orangey red globular fruits. Any ideas, anyone?

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White silk pompoms….

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Pink silk pompoms. That’s a bud on the left, which will shortly explode into something like the thing on the right!

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Mulberries ripening. I wonder if I’ll get to them before the birds…

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The mulberry tree, a little tottery but still willing

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The poinciana. It needs a lot of dead wood cut out of it.

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Chookonia. In need of a little renovation, but I don’t believe the Girls will be too fussed about how it looks.

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The free range area, left side

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The free range area, right side. It’s about a quarter acre.

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Froglet Heaven. There’s water in there somewhere…

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… and in case you thought I was exaggerating, those are green ant nests in just part of just one of the mango trees. Seriously, that one closest in the shot is the size of my head and the tree is swarming with the little buggers.

I haven’t managed to get a great deal done; there was a visit to the doctor, an x-ray and an ultrasound on my sore hip. Results tomorrow; it’s either the arthritis spreading, or bursitis. Both are painful, and I’m grateful for the tasty new drugs I’ve been prescribed. On the plus side of the balance sheet, I did laundry, put up a blind to keep the morning sun out of our eyes in bed, gave the huge gas oven a test run (full marks on the splendid roast chicken), and unpacked three boxes of baking equipment in readiness for my next GF order.

Time to go and deal with the vegetables, which won’t steam themselves – even in this climate!