People per Hour

Friday 21 December 0212


Saturday 8 December 2012

 


Buttercups and greenery on our plot


Once again there seems to a million things to report and I’m not sure where to start!

On the farm front, we’ve been steadily losing baby turkeys – they are so feeble compared to young hens! This is despite the best care we can lavish upon them: eggs/ milk powder et al added to their chick crumbles to increase their protein allowance, ample quantities of chopped grass and dandelions, fresh hay and warmth. I’ve moved them outside now as despite only being 6 weeks old they had outgrown the 2 apple-bin brooders in the garage and the weather has turned much milder. They are in the old covered peacock run to protect them from eagle/ hawk predation. All 10 hens that hatched are still alive and fighting fit, whereas we are down to 14 turkeys. The geese are very hardy and have brought their goslings through wet weather and foul (no pun intended), such that the first lot look fully grown. I have orders for 2 turkeys and 2 geese for Christmas, although I doubt there will be much of a mouthful on the turkeys!




 
The rabbits are running amok, doing what they do best - breeding. I counted 8 young ones in the pen the other day. They had been running through the chicken wire and also digging their way out on occasions. We’ve put a stop to that by unfurling another enormous fish farm net and cutting a huge long strip from around the circumference and affixing it around the bottom of the fence. ‘Unfurling’ is easy to say, but in fact it was almost a whole day operation. To begin with we had to clear the scrap iron and other debris that was on and around it and then tow it to open ground with the Suzuki. Even the poor little Suzuki baulked on a couple of occasions. Once we started going downhill I half-worried that the net would overtake us and carry the Suzuki with it. Once in the middle of a paddock we used a combination of brute and Suzuki force to finally spread it out – it was enormous! We cut it with highly sharpened kitchen knives.



 
I keep saying ‘we’ – I mean me and our two Taiwanese WWOOFs (Cindy and Lewis), who arrived a couple of days after the American couple left. Nice though the latter were, I sighed with relief when they left. Who could guess that the American culture (at least as demonstrated via them) was so different to us, whereas we’ve had very few issues with people from Europe and Asia. For a couple that were apparently so broke, they had very expensive tastes, regularly making too much food and throwing stuff away, drinking cream instead of milk, butter instead of spread, fancy boutique beers instead of bog-standard Tassie stuff, Madam Savory Chai Tea instead of Twinings. Plus I really think now that they were just not into the WWOOFing thing at all. They didn’t want to learn and didn’t want to interact with us beyond eating and working. I think they just needed cheap accommodation whilst they sought work and applied for visas to enable them to stay longer.

Luckily the Taiwanese couple are the complete opposite! They are softly spoken, polite, helpful, keen to learn, listen to what they are asked to do and spend family time with us. They watch DVDs, do jigsaws and play board-games with us, build lego and play cars with Luke – and are currently outside testing a home-made water rocket! They are very good with Luke and we shall miss them when they go. They are due to leave us sometime in the second half of December, we don’t know when exactly as they’ve been told by an agent that he can get them a paying job cherry-packing and they must go to an induction in Campania on Tuesday. That will be a bit of a culture shock for them poor things. Here they can have breaks when they want and finish early if they’ve been working hard or the weather is wet or too hot.



 

With the WWOOFs, I’ve moved the goats into paddock no. 3 where the grass was quite long. They’ve pretty well eaten all the browse however, so the WWOOFs are cutting them willow, blackwood and some other nameless bush that they seem to like, on a regular basis. The last lot of hay I bought has turned out to be superfluous – they’ve not touched it since they’ve been moved. The next step will be to turn them into my big new one in which the blackberries and thistles have been growing back strongly. With a reduced herd and the 4 paddocks (plus the old bucks’ one that the pigs have been in), I feel like we have achieved a better balance. Two young wethers went to a chap last month who is going to fatten them up for Christmas. We shall probably have goat for Christmas too. The WWOOFs might still be here and we have invited our neighbours (for whom I used to work). It should be good fun – particularly for Luke who gets a bit bored when it’s just us!

 
Also on the farm front I have mostly been kept busy mowing and weeding. Again, these innocuous sounding words do not do justice to the difficulty of the actual job! Mowing around here is a mammoth task – apart from the fact that there is an awful lot to mow, it is mostly steep, rough banks along which I have to wrestle the mower. We try to keep a good sized area around the house mowed and tidy as well as a strip either side of the drive. That’s some job – the drive is 400m long! Some bits might be suitable for a ride-on but the hand mower would still be needed for most of it owing to the steepness, roughness and inaccessibility of much of what has to be mowed. We’re trying to do a particularly good job this year since it has already turned unseasonably hot and dry and there have been a number of bush fires in the vicinity. Luckily it is still pretty green everywhere, so we are not talking ferocious unstoppable canopy fires, but slow-burn undergrowth fires, that will actually do a good job in reducing the fuel load under the trees for the real bushfire time in the early New Year.

Weeding has also turned into a terrific task too. I am tackling some sort of fireweed hybrid. It was barely present when we first arrived but now runs rampant, particularly in wet areas and where it can grow in the shelter and shade of other plants, such as sedge and bracken. I’ve pretty well cleared 90% of the block now by starting at the topmost place we’ve seen it and working my way down and across. I’ve spent much of my time in large rock and blackberry-strewn seasonal creek gullies, no doubt snake-ridden too. No weed has been left unchopped – even when it appeared inaccessible! I’m now right at the bottom south-west corner of our plot, where it is very rough, steep and scrubby. Here the fireweed (or whatever it is called) is rife and it’s taking days to make headway. I’ve given up on the hoe and am pulling it up by hand, sometimes crawling through the bush to get under fallen trees and spiky bushes.

Example of the terrain I'm trying to weed

Rampant fireweed

My task is not going to get any easier in the future. For one thing I start a new job on Monday, and for the other, we have now exchanged contracts on a further 65 acres of land alongside us! Yikes. I am pleased to say that I got the 3-day/ week Projects and Executive Officer job that I applied for at the Hobart City Council, reporting to the Director of the Finance Division. I’m partly really excited because I feel I’ll be able to do a good job and I’m looking forward to having some money coming in! But I’m also feeling a bit nervous about how I shall fit everything in around it, what we’ll do about the dogs when we don’t have WWOOFs and what mornings and evenings will be like on work days – trying to get Luke organised and out of the house on time as well as poshing myself up for a day’s office work, and then cooking a meal, packing Bronte up etc on my return. Just have to see how it pans out. I’m particularly pleased that they have accepted my request that I finish work at 4.30pm with a half hour’s lunchbreak, that will give me or Bronte a better chance of picking up the bear at a decent time from after school care and make life a bit easier all round.

In order to commute these 3 days a week we’ve invested in a little Suzuki Swift. It’s a 2006 model, with only 60,000kms on the clock and in excellent condition. It’s a bluey-steel-grey and has a huge number of safety features and a 5-star ancap rating (it’s the S model with all the extra airbags). The only downside is that there seems to be a load of similar cars on the road, but that’s just a snob thing! It’s got a really revvy engine and scoots around like a motorised skateboard. So we are now a 3-Suzuki family! How bizarre. Maybe I should write to Suzuki and offer to do a promotion for them.


 
The land alongside us came up completely out of the blue. Back at the beginning of the year we were sunk in the blues after missing out on it when our neighbours sold up. However, we kept enquiring about it and rang the estate agent a couple of times after it was sold to say that we were still interested in buying the 10 acres that wraps around our bottom corner so as to align our block with roads on those 2 sides. One evening I received a phone call from the lady who had purchased it. We were pleased to find that the couple appear to be very amicable and to share many of our environmental values. She had rung just to introduce herself and apologise for not having been to see us  - which was very thoughtful. They are now based on the mainland. During that conversation I mentioned that we had put in an offer on the land ourselves only to find out that it had sold the day before - and we also discussed the issue of weed control.

Following that conversation we swapped contact details by e-mail and then suddenly out of the blue – again – the chap telephoned to ask if we were still interested in buying it! We were pretty stunned and it sent us into a flurry, but we were very keen to take up the opportunity. The result is that we have agreed a price and exchanged contracts a few days ago. Barring disaster we should settle in a few weeks.

Some of the land we are buying
 
Saturday 14 December 2012

I didn’t manage to finish our news in the last post. Bronte had a brush with royalty recently, having come almost face to face with Prince Charles in Salamanca during part of his recent flying visit to Tassie. Despite Australia’s republican pretensions, there is still quite a lot of affection for the royal family, so it was nice to see the visit well attended.

We’ve been out and about a few times. The Huon Show was fun as usual. I entered some of my crochet items and Luke entered the 8-and-under flower arranging class. He was awarded ‘best exhibit’, and several firsts and seconds! He was thrilled. In addition, he won a Smurf board-game which we’ve all been enjoying. I did rather less well, getting one first and 4 second places. However, I am determined to up my game! I raided the second-hand shops recently and bought a load of jumpers – both factory and hand-made. I’ve finally unpicked them all and am embarking on some new projects. I’ve started with a simple scarf using a lacy stitch and a blobby yarn that probably wouldn’t be suitable for other projects. I also plan shawls, socks, hats and waistcoats. I’ve noticed recently that little lacy waistcoats appear to be back in fashion. The long term plan is to build up a load of stock and then put it all on etsy.com.






 
I took the WWOOFs to a farm clearing sale in Ranelagh. They were amazed, having never seen anything like it before! We came back with a good haul of stakes for Bronte’s trees – never mind that I paid nearly as much as from a sawmill!

 
We all went to a barbecue for Bronte’s work and the following night Bronte took Luke to the Hobart Aquatic Centre where they put on a party for kids including a floating assault course, large waterslides and an outdoor barbecue. Luke had a great time – and considering he was apparently suffering from a mysterious illness only the day before and had a day off school, he coped with the activity and late nights extremely well. I found it somewhat tougher having weeded and mowed during all the spare moments inbetween. I suspect Luke was actually suffering from some form of heat exhaustion as the day prior to his illness had been awfully hot and he’d spent the day tearing around as usual.

Cheeky kookaburra at Bronte's work's BBQ
 
We celebrated my new job and our imminent (touch wood) ownership of the neighbouring land, in a very modest way, by taking the WWOOFs and ourselves for a Chinese meal in Huonville last Saturday. The food was all completely unfamiliar to the WWOOFs surprisingly! I suppose it has all been Australianised.

We’ve been on a few local adventures, tramping down our creek to the waterfall on one occasion and exploring the land alongside us. Crabtree Rivulet runs through part of it making it very scenic and attractive to wander through. Luke said we had to buy it because it was ‘awesome’.

 
Me and Luke had two attempts to have a bonfire up in one of the goat paddocks, where a large quantity of sticks had built up from browse cut for them on various occasions. The first time, we built a fire and started trying to light it, only to realise that it was directly on top of the polyethylene pipe that comes right down across our land from the weir at the top of our land to our neighbour below us! In a panic we managed to roll it away from the pipe, but it nearly finished us off. At one point I ended up rolling on top of it with fire beneath and diesel soaking into my t-shirt! It then poured with rain and we took shelter in the hay dispensers! I wished I’d had a camera as I looked across at Luke lying flat in the hay in his shelter. We gave up the fire on that occasion and when we next tried, the weather had changed completely and it was hot, dry and windy. We built a huge fire, chucked on diesel and lit it. It was like a roaring inferno! This time, we’d deliberately built it on all the old hay and dung left by the goats. The heat was so intense, it burnt through the hay to a reasonable depth, despite it being so wet underneath that it squelched when walked upon. What is left will make fabulous fertiliser – all that goat poo and potash!

 
Murphy is well and spends much of his time in the warm weather we are currently experiencing, crouching alongside the goose and bunny pen watching ‘cat-TV’. He has become an outdoor cat for a change. The weather has been unseasonably hot over the last couple of weeks, not just hot but with clear skies making it uncomfortable working outside. When the sun is so fierce it is a relief to come back indoors.



 

In the last week we’ve released the goats into the big new paddock where they have blackberries, thistles and blackwood to munch upon, as well as fresh grass. I’ve continued with my weeding and feel that I can see light at the end of the tunnel at last (except for the 65 acres we’re in the process of purchasing!). Also, of course, I had my first week at work! It went very well despite there being so much to learn, so many people to meet and buildings like warrens to find my way around. I really feel it is something I can get my teeth into. When I rung Mum on Wednesday evening (having first put myself to bed at 7.30pm I was so tired), she said that Bridget had noted that there was no smoke or fireworks reported over Hobart. Don shouted and asked if I’d got the Council organised yet – Mum said ‘not yet, but she’s working on it’. I think my family have all got the wrong idea about me!

We went on our work Christmas outings on Wednesday. I had my first management meeting early in the day, followed by a tour on a double decker bus around Hobart, followed by lunch at a pub in Salamanca. I was even given a box of choccies from Secret Santa. It was only a pity that I was too tired from the first two days to fully appreciate it. The only real fly in the ointment is that it is currently costing $22/day to park! I shall call the parking man next week and see if there is some other option.

Luke’s still going great guns at both Little Athletics and Milo Cricket. Bronte is not quite as chuffed since he hates being an official, especially when it involves organising the under-8 boys! We went to the Domain in Hobart last Saturday for which we had to leave at 7.45am. Luke finally finished his events at 1pm. He never does so well at these multi-team events, perhaps he gets somewhat overawed (or it might be that he spends so much time pratting around that he doesn’t concentrate when it comes to his turn). He missed last week’s Milo cricket Christmas party last Sunday owing to the Domain event. However, today he and Bronte went to the second day of the Australia vs Sri Lanka first test at Bellerive stadium on the eastern shore. Lots of little Milo cricketers attended and flooded onto the pitch at lunchtime to entertain the crowd by trying to hit soft cricket balls into the crowd. Luke had a great time despite the rain which also washed out Little Athletics this morning. We were jolly glad of the rain, which has so far kept coming at just the right time and in just the right amounts to keep us green and fire-free.

Luke winning the 100m



Milo cricketers at Australia vs Sri Lanka test match, Hobart
 
I went to Luke’s Xmas assembly on Thursday – luckily it was postponed from the Tuesday. The grade 1s and 2s did a strange Aussie Christmas song called ‘Santa Koala’. I know I’m a bit of an old fuddy-duddy but I do wish they’d stick to something a bit more traditional. Even Luke wasn’t impressed saying why would we need a Santa Koala when the real one can do all the world – and besides a koala wouldn’t be able to do it anyway! Out of the mouths of babes ..

 

Friday 21 December 2012

 

The 'Sedgefield' putting course!

Bronte on recent works' golfing trip

Bronte's golf practice net - in the 'veggie patch'

I’ve got Luke home today – his first day of the holiday. He’s already coughing. He nearly aways gets some illness when on holidays or whenever some special event is coming up. He’s got Little Athletics tomorrow followed by the Christmas Party (which always involves a lot of water). Hope he copes alright and doesn’t come down with anything awful just in time for Christmas. Our WWOOFers leave us tomorrow, apparently to stay with a friend in Hobart. They will come back for Christmas Day and then start their cherry-packing job soon thereafter. Life is going to be somewhat harder when they have gone. I shall have to see to the animals as well as trying to keep up with mowing, weeding, house and Luke stuff. And I’ve barely even begun to paint the outside of the house, which is the next major job to be done.

We’ve had a most productive day so far. Luke and I have trimmed Bruce (much to his disgust), in order to get all the matted buzzies off and to try and make him cooler and less buzzie susceptible. His combination of thick soft fur and short legs is the worst for buzzies. Rosie barely gets any on her forays. This morning the entire laundry floor and Rosie’s bed (Bruce must have pinched it in the night) were covered in buzzies that Bruce had picked off himself in the night. Buzzies, if you have not guessed, are small burrs that grow at ankle level (just the right height for sticking to socks and shoe laces). They are particularly prevalent where the wallabies graze the grass really hard.

We’ve also relit a stump fire that we first lit yesterday. There is an old wattle stump just past our second tractor crossing - right in the way when you go down the bottom of the plot in a vehicle. It’s hollow, so we drilled a couple of holes right through to the centre near the base to let in air, then put in sticks and diesel and lit it. Bronte and Luke took a bucket last night and put it out with dam water. Despite burning for several hours it doesn’t seem to have had much effect. It is of course, bush-fire season, so we have been careful to keep the area around the stump cleared and to ensure any fuel added is right in the hollow. We’ll go back later and put it out again. Getting rid of it this way could be a long (but fun) process.

Before that I clipped all the goats’ hooves – and have 2 large blisters on my fingers for my pains. The WWOOFs and Luke caught the goats and treated their hooves (these day I always treat them with a dilute zinc sulphate solution just in case foot-rot bacteria is present), whilst I did the hooves. Not so long ago that was an all-day or several day job – now with the reduced herd size it took very little time. We were back in the house at 11.30 for an early lunch. We plan to walk the electric fence this pm. It’s not been working for an age but I can’t figure out why (and luckily the goats don’t notice).

We’ve had 2 animals in the sick bay in the garage for a while. Poor Bertie the bunny came in with mange (or similar) with raw scabs and itchy places and very little fur. We treated him with zinc cream for a few days and then with olive oil to remoisturise the skin and kill any little bugs that might be living on him. Very rapidly he’s healed up and his fur is all growing back. He went back outside yesterday. All our efforts to put net up around the bunny pen has been a waste of time – the rotten little creatures are chewing their way through it! Each day the WWOOFs have to mend the latest holes. Rosie caught a young bunny outside the pen the other day and luckily it was still alive when the WWOOFs retrieved it and returned it to the pen. The only answer will probably be aviary wire.

The other casualty is one of our female peacocks – probably Little Pea whom we bred here. She’s had a swelling around one eye which has caused her eye to be affected and half-shut. She’s also quite thin. I reckon either a possum or another bird has scratched her. Possums are still getting in there and wrecking the self-feeder on a regular basis and I have seen the turkey and peacock girls scrapping from time to time – although it has never seemed serious. I opened up the swelling with a scalpel and rinsed it out with betadine and put anti-bacterial eye drops in her eye. She’s looking much better but I’m still concerned she’s not eating. Unfortunately there is little I can do to force her to eat.

The weeding is still not entirely complete but I’m almost there. I went down to finish it yesterday and got distracted en-route by all the small weeds which have shot up over the last two weeks while I’ve been concentrating on the most infected areas. It may be a lost cause. Next we need to go en-masse to attack the enormous scotch thistles which are sprouting all over the land we are purchasing. The WWOOFs walked the public road between the paddocks and got all the ones on the verges, but now we need to hit the rest before they seed. On the land front, things have been delayed by slowness on the part of our solicitors and now the Christmas break. No hope of completing before the New Year now.

Bronte and Luke have got the Christmas tree and random decorations (mostly lights) up in the house and it all looks very festive, although I still can’t feel Christmassy in summer. Got a full agenda up until Christmas Day. After Little Athletics tomorrow, I have to prepare 2 turkeys for a regular buyer, then on Sunday someone is coming to take 2 geese – and I have to slaughter a goat for Christmas Day. I decided today which one would go and saved myself the effort of doing his hooves! Monday will be present-wrapping and trifle and mince-pie making day. Our neighbours are making deserts for Christmas Day dinner but since I don’t know what they are making I want to make sure there’ll be some of our favourites!


 


Some jigsaws we've done with the WWOOFs

Luke with a small part of his paper plane collection!

 
Wild hogs
 

 

Monday 5 November 2012


As usual there is so much to tell, but I must start with two items I forgot to put in the last post. A few weeks before we went to the UK, Bronte had a mad fit and bought a new car – a charcoal Suzuki SX4. The old Colt was getting a bit ropey and he needed something more reliable – and rather more robust – for commuting. It’s a little unexciting looking but comfortable and speedy, so what more can you ask? Also, the weekend before we left for the UK, Bronte went with his other siblings to visit his Dad in Victor Harbor for his 80th birthday! They all had a good time and took the old chap out for a meal. He’s doing remarkably well for his age but is having problems seeing well enough to drive and is somewhat lonesome. It will be difficult to winkle him out of his current situation into somewhere more suitable, however.

 
We’ve had a more recent health scare from the UK, as Don - my step-dad - suddenly collapsed in the kitchen one evening. Luckily Mum was there and had the presence of mind to call an ambulance immediately. He was rushed straight to hospital and operated on straightaway for a swollen aorta. They were warned beforehand that it was a dangerous operation, since if the aorta was to burst there would be nothing they could do. Apparently it was very close to bursting, so he was extremely fortunate. He’s finally back at home but still very weak. It’s at times like these that I wish I were closer so that I could do something practical to help.

Back to farm news, I have finally completed the livestock reduction plan! 8 poor piglets are now in the freezer – what a palaver that was. The main thing that sticks in my mind is hanging on to the slippery, back leg of one while lying flat on my side in smelly mud! It did get away temporarily as I just could not keep my grip in those conditions. Luckily, the exertion of catching all of them and stowing them in the trailer is fading in my memory. Even small piglets are strong, heavy, sturdy little beasts. I had planned to use a new mess-free extermination device that I’d made, but having shorted out the garage electrics, I went back to the usual, reliable method (Bronte’s .22). I have another picture in my mind of 5 forlorn headless carcasses hanging from the goat float as I hosed the mud from them. I got rather skilled at skinning and gutting them. I’ve given up on the scalding and scraping method as it is too much work and too difficult to get it exactly right.
I read in the paper how police were trying to discover how a farmer in Oregon came to be eaten by his pigs! It sounded as though he had a heart attack or similar and dropped dead in the pen. No doubt the poor old pigs got hungry and got stuck in. Apparently all that was left was his dentures! I had to laugh. Bronte was horrified.

Poor Connor had to go too, as I could not find a home for him at any price. I couldn’t keep him without also keeping a companion for him – and if he’d gone back in with Blaize, there would have been another load of piglets in 4 months’ time. Butchering him was a tremendous effort, but I finally managed to cook all of the meat for the dogs on the outside furnace, and bury all the other bits down near Roger – a previous boar from a few years’ ago. Bronte has to plant a tree on him now in memoriam. The other castrated boy went to the abattoir along with Jasper the goat wether and I had another tedious day and evening of de-boning, chopping and mincing. By 1am in the morning, I had around 22kg of pork sausage-meat and 8kg of goat mince stowed in freezers.
Since then, I’ve converted a good few kilos into sausages, firstly for Luke’s 8th birthday party – another story – and then for ourselves and our current WWOOFers. I overcooked the first lot in the oven but the second lot were extremely tasty. My sausages always come out just a little drier than shop-bought and I’ve not worked out why. I made sure to mince a great deal of fat with the meat as I’ve noticed sausage recipes often have the same amount of fat as meat. The next challenge is to make something resembling salami. Salami has to hang for some weeks in a cool airy environment – not feasible with summer pending. I thought about approaching the abattoir, since a few salami wouldn’t take up much room in their cool-room. The other option is to do some smoked sausages for slicing, sandwiches, pizzas etc. A challenge for another day I think.



Half of the goats have now gone. I sold 10 does and around 15 kids with ease. I asked $120 per doe and $45 for the babies. We ended up with 26 kids this year, which was quite a successful haul. It was rather a shame to see so many of them go as I’ve liked having the big herd of goats and was fond of many of them, but the greater numbers needed so much labour and food to keep them going. Currently the WWOOFers are looking after the goats, having fallen in love with them. So the herd is getting extra TLC and lots of browse by way of tagasaste, willow from the road reserve nearby and some strange dark green bushes which have sprung up wherever we’ve had excavation work done. The WWOOFer’s efforts and the reduction in goat numbers has greatly reduced the pressure on the paddocks and I don’t dread tackling their hooves as before!


 
Tagasaste appears to be a wonder tree. I grew a load from seed a few years back and now many of those are 4-5 metres high. At the time I read they were good for goat fodder and having researched further, I find they are remarkably tolerant to repeated coppicing. Also limbs which bore flowers become unpalatable in the following growing season – which practically forces coppicing. Any tree which grows quickly, can be coppiced regularly, can tolerate all sorts of weather and soil conditions, and feeds the goats, is great in my book. Bronte’s been studying Luke’s Guinness Book of Records and discovered the fastest growing tree in the world is called the Empress or Foxglove Tree. It looks rather wonderful and has flowers rather like a foxglove and in fact looks somewhat similar to a jacaranda from the pics we found on the internet. I suggested buying saplings off the internet, but Bronte has a bit of an internet phobia (not quite as bad as his Dad who stopped using his computer for fear of viruses and now unplugs his phone as he thinks people can steal his bank details through the wires).

On the bird front, we’ve had great success with the turkeys this year. I collected 27 eggs from the first laying batch of the two hens, put them all in the incubator and 25 hatched out! Not one was infertile. One died getting out of the shell and another didn’t finish developing, but the rest were healthy vigorous chicks who all hatched themselves without help. There are quite a variety of different colours so it will be interesting to see how they turn out. I filled the remaining space in the incubator with hens’ eggs and we have 10 of those in the brooder cage outside along with the 21 surviving turkey chicks. One turkey managed to drown itself in the incubator in a tiny bit of water (to increase the humidity for hatching), two got pushed to the outside of the circle of heat under the lamp on an unusually cold night and I found one more dead yesterday. Not sure what happened to that, but think it may have overheated since it was an unusually warm day. I’ve got a 100w bulb and a heat lamp going but I’ve now put the bulb onto a timer so there is no danger of them getting too hot during the day. It’s delightful to see them all snuggled and asleep after a good feed in the morning. They love cut green stuff: grass, clover, dandelions etc.




 

We’ve also got quite a few more goslings now. The four largest are nearly fully grown in size already. The WWOOFers caught them recently and moved them to a recently vacated pen which is becoming overgrown with grass. We were getting 9-10 eggs each day, so we had culled the older hens and the two roosters that were in that pen. I kept the breast meat and plucked and gutted the younger rooster – the remaining bits were cooked up for the pigs. (Donald the white rooster in the turkey run also had to go because I got fed up with him always attacking me). The four teenage geese are now spending all their time marching up and down the fence looking longingly back at their old home and Mum and Dad. Hopefully, they’ll settle soon. There are three more middle-sized goslings and two tiny ones born just a couple of days ago – on horrible cold wet days. They couldn’t have chosen a worse time to hatch. Luke and I gathered them a feed bag full of dandelions to give them a fighting chance.

 
We were amazed the last two goslings hatched at all as the mum was not exactly diligent at sitting on them. I had spent a couple of days in what I call the mulch beds but are now goose and hen pens, hauling fallen trees upright and generally tidying up. The neurotic geese honked and hissed the whole time I was in there and eggs were generally abandoned. Perhaps their enormous size makes goose eggs less vulnerable to cooling.
We had a spate of quite terrific winds. Many of the trees in the mulch beds were lying flat when we returned from the UK (it seems an age ago now) and in the weeks following, some of the gusts were quite frightening. There were days when working outside was a real struggle. Several trees and bushes were lost but I managed to salvage many and secured them this time with star pickets, rather than just wooden stakes. I’ll repopulate the empty spaces sometime over the coming months.




The bunnies aren’t exactly helping as they chew any exposed bits of trunk and have seriously depleted the dianella which was about the only thing the wind didn’t damage. I’ve managed to protect some of these clumps with plastic bags and chicken wire. The 3 baby bunnies in there seem to be able to go in and out through the chicken wire boundary fence with impunity. Poor Beryl (the wild mum) is now stuck outside having excavated an extraordinarily large escape tunnel which has now been filled in to prevent the others escaping. I’ve tried to catch her with the possum trap but she’s far too wily. Whereas Rosy caught a young rabbit in the sedge nearby, Beryl always manages to elude her. Strangely Beryl seems to spend much of her time these days in the turkey pen. Perhaps she knows Rosie can’t get in there!
Most of my time of late has been spent mowing (by hand) and spraying. The grass is growing so fast around the house (not, alas, on the goat paddocks where every blade is eaten by our plague of pademelons), that I can barely keep up with it. The lovely old green mower, seems finally to have given up the ghost. It was light and had big chunky ‘go anywhere’ wheels. The new red mower is more powerful, but heavy and has annoyingly small, smooth wheels. On our rough slopes hereabouts, it is a nightmare. I’d barely finished the rounds when it was time to do it again. So yesterday I had a major mowing day and got all the grass around the house, garage and tractor shed down to a good level. I can barely move today!



Almost as tiring was the spraying. I’ve been using the big backpack and Round-Up to clear all the gravel and drive of weeds and to spray along all my electric fences on either side, to prevent grass growing up through them and shorting them out. I hadn’t tackled the new fenceline before and scrambling up the incredibly steep slope on one side was exhausting. The cap on top of the backpack doesn’t seal so each time I leant over, spray poured down my back. Each time I crouched to get under a bush or to climb over a rock, I could barely stand owing to the weight of the backpack! Anyhow, it was done in the end – but my shoulders remain extremely sore. The next spraying challenge is to try to clear the rough bottom area of our land of ‘fireweed’. Not true fireweed, but what appears to be a noxious and persistent hybrid, that is poisonous to stock. The seeds carry for miles on the wind and despite being ostensibly an annual, plants will grow back from roots if chopped early in the season.
While I was doing this and the WWOOFs were walking the fences to clear them of bracken, bark, sticks etc, we discovered that a huge old wattle had fallen onto my new fence from our neighbour’s side. The WWOOFs have cut it back sufficiently to mend the fence and I or Bronte need to go up there with the chainsaw to cut it back further and retrieve some for firewood. We want to get properly stocked up this summer so we don’t get caught short over winter as we did this year. Already I and the WWOOFs have retrieved a few fallen trunks from around the place, but we still can’t get to the biggest trees until it dries out further. We are starting to have nice warm days, but the boggy areas are still inaccessible.

Our current WWOOFers are a friendly, larger than life, Californian couple. They are very likeable and competent, but strangely culturally different to us and the other many European WWOOFs we’ve had stay with us in the past. It’s taken quite a bit of getting used to! For the first couple of weeks, I couldn’t get them started before around 10.30 in the morning, which used to irritate me enormously! Then they would eat large meals at 4 o’clock in the afternoon – making me wonder if I was wasting my time concocting hearty cooked meals and desserts for dinner at 6pm. Things came to a bit of a head when they didn’t want dinner one night and they have since made more of an effort to fit into our schedule. Also, all our other WWOOFs have spent time with us outside of work and meals – coming to Luke’s Little Athletics, outings to Huonville, playing games or going for walks with us, watching DVDs in the evening etc. However, this pair has never voluntarily spent any time with us outside of work and meal-times. We have always to call them for dinner and they disappear to their room immediately afterwards, only to reappear briefly for more food or water later. It’s been rather disappointing for Luke and a strange experience for us – making us feel a bit more like a B&B than WWOOF hosts!



 
However, they are getting lots of jobs done for us so I shouldn’t complain. ‘Wolf’ can drive the tractor and we’ve spent a couple of fairly horrid days shifting muck from areas where goat poo and hay has built up, onto the hay paddock. Wolf would load up the ute with the front-end loader, whilst Ryn and I moved it around with shovels to make room for more. Then Ryn would drive slowly around the hay paddock while Wolf and I madly shovelled if off the back. It was somewhat exhausting! We couldn’t move all of it and were racing against time in order for the paddock to recover and grow before it is mown for hay in January. Afterwards, the WWOOFs strew a load of grass seed that Bronte had saved from lusher areas and are today finishing harrowing in a criss-cross pattern. I’m not sure if it will bear dividends this year, but will surely make a difference in the long run.



They’ve also moved all the goat huts into a more prominent place in the 2nd goat paddock. Originally we had been concerned re them being an eyesore, so I’d tucked them away in the bracken and bush – but the goats never liked going in them and the area around them lay wet and the openings got overgrown. Now we’ve got them on a flattish bit higher up and in the open and the goats are much happier. The WWOOFs have spread a couple of ute loads of gravel in the gate opening and where we removed muck so as to keep it relatively dry underfoot during the winter. It all looks pretty neat and tidy now.

 
We have been doing plenty of other activities unconnected with the farm. I bought us tickets to see Wind in the Willows at Huonville Town Hall. It was a play performed by high school kids and was pretty professional and enjoyable. I got a bit fed-up with all the songs, but that’s just my general anathema to musicals. My birthday on 9 October was a damp squib, completely overshadowed by preparations for Luke’s 8th on the 12th October. Bronte bought me a radio which I’d requested, but just like my old one, it would not work in our house. We can only think it is something to do with the foilboard insulation, builders’ paper and the corrugated iron. It was rather disappointing, however. The radio went back and I didn’t get an alternative present. Since no meal out was forthcoming, I made myself a treacle tart for a treat and chomped it all week with cream, cashews and ice cream! Yum.

Luke’s birthday was a quite different affair of course. His birthday fell on a Friday so I made him a load of little cakes to take in for his chums on the day, and also decorated him a little cream CWA cake for the evening with candles. He had a rake of presents, including a Wii game and big lego kit that I bought with money sent by Bid and Dad. Mum got him activity books and his Auntie Cheryl got him a marvellous remote control helicopter! It’s extraordinarily small and seemingly delicate, but amazingly it seems to keep surviving the various knocks it’s received (not just from Luke I should add). He was also lucky enough to get lots of nice gifts from his little buddies who came to his party on the Sunday afternoon, including a remote control hairy spider (my favourite), book and a little soldier which a mate had lovingly clothed and armed!

 
The party appeared to be a rip-roaring success and all the little winkles had a whale of a time. We started with a round of golf on Bronte’s new putting course. All the flags and tee-signs were in place, it was a fine day and everyone had a laugh. A few of the adults joined in too and luckily there were no accidents (golf–clubs wrapped around earholes for example). We then had a tug-of-war using our big old anchor rope. We tried different teams and honour was even at the end – only Luke was shirty because he hates to lose even once. This was followed by the big piƱata – it had been built strong but unfortunately the plasticine face I’d lovely crafted was soon crushed! The kids went nuts as soon as the sweets began to fall out, but we managed to get them shared out in the end into the various party bags. All the kids were meant to come upstairs then to throw water bombs off the deck at Luke and Bronte’s ‘Easter Island’ targets (grim faces drawn on polystyrene boxes). However, many stayed downstairs preferring to be targets! It was then food time and we all feasted on strawberries, watermelon, home-made biccies, home-made (dry) hot-dogs and birthday cake. I was pretty chuffed with the cake which had taken me around 2 hours the previous day to ice. Also, to my surprise, it tasted pretty good too – orange and poppy seed. It was light and tasty and my made-up icing was pleasantly orangey and not too sweet. However, I did accidentally put 9 candles on instead of 8!


 
Rosie helping with the putting



Rosie exhausted from helping with the putting

 


Last Thursday was a public holiday for the Hobart Show. The previous year we went on Wednesday to avoid the crowds and see more animals, but we wanted to see the cats, which were only on view on Thursday. The cats were great (though none were nearly as nice as Murphy). I particularly liked the Norwegian Forest Cats, but imagine their fur is a nightmare. We saw the goats, enormous milking cows, pigs and poultry. I was only obliged to go on one ride with Luke, which was not too scary, but we spent far too much on the rip-off sideshows. The excitement of the day for me however, was that several of my crochet entries were on display and I had won five 2nd places! When Bronte picked up my entries the following week, I found I’d made $40 in prize money.


 
 
All the activity after our return from the UK and possibly the flight itself, seemed to set off a series of odd reactions in me. I felt quite poorly for a time and my eyes took weeks to settle down after getting so inflamed and sore. Just as I was feeling better, Luke and Bronte tried to finish me off by buying me a large pot of moisturiser that actually turned out to be soap. I used it a couple of days and couldn’t understand why my skin felt so tight and uncomfortable! It took nearly 2 weeks to settle down after we’d discovered the mistake and the skin around my nose and on my eyelids peeled off! On the subject of soap, I’ve made a big new 3kg batch with Ryn. We used Blackberry Jelly to colour it this time. Rather than turning purple as we expected, it’s gone a glossy milk-chocolate. It looks good enough to eat, very smooth. As with the turmeric soap, however, there was no smell other than a general soapiness.


In an effort to make more income for the household, I took a stall at a big ‘garage sale’ in the neighbouring Mountain River Hall one Saturday in September. I managed to get rid of a load of stuff but only made around $110 – better than nothing though. I’m also applying for part-time jobs on a regular basis. The job I mentioned in the last post was Enterprise Facilitator for the Huon Valley, to assist people to start-up and expand small businesses, under the auspices of the Huon Sirolli Network (funded under the Intergovernmental Agreement – IGA – on forestry). Despite devoting many hours to putting together what I thought was a really good application, I wasn’t even granted an interview. I was pretty gutted actually, particularly when I asked for feedback and was told that ‘it was not their policy to provide feedback’. I’d even applied under the name of Jenny Smith, as a precaution against people knowing my views on clearfelling. I’ve recently put in an application for a job in the Hobart City Council – 3 days/ week – which seems written for me. I shan’t hold my breath however!
On the subject of the IGA, the entire agreement appears to have collapsed in the last week. FIAT (a large forestry association), has refused to accept anything lower than 155,000 cubic metres of high quality sawlogs per year, which would reduce the available forest for protection to 300,000Ha rather than the 572,000 requested. FIAT insists that any sawlog quotas voluntarily retired under the current scheme, should be made available to others to purchase. It is very difficult to predict the consequences of this collapse. Ta Ann (Malaysian owner of two large peeler or veneer mills, one in the Huon Valley) has threatened to pull out of Tasmania should the talks collapse. It is concerned re uncertainty of supply and direct action by conservationists. And so they should, as one thing’s for sure, activists are not going to take this lying down. I’d personally love to see Ta Ann withdraw from the state, but fear it is bluffing and also feel for all the people who would lose their jobs. If Ta Ann stays, West Wellington is going to be right in the firing line. Roading is completed in many places as are the necessary forest practices plans for many of the coupes. I might find myself lying under bulldozers yet.

Other local excitements include regular echidna and feral cat sightings. No doubt the echidnas are waking up after their long hibernation, drawn out by warmer weather. Echidnas apparently can hibernate for up to 8 months/ year! The number of feral cats has increased hugely of late, presumably owing to people coming up here and dumping them. Whereas we’ve often seem them on the roads (after roadkill), now we are regularly seeing them on our land. I’ve started setting the trap with dog-meat bait, but no luck as yet (Rosie’s probably nicking the bait). I’ve just heard the black cockatoos for the first time since we’ve been back from the UK. They landed in the big blackwood near the house and squawked for a time before disappearing over the hill. They usually signal a change in the weather.
More exciting was a big burn-off on neighbouring land last week. We were a bit concerned that it might burn through to our own bush, but while looking rather spectacular, there was no obvious sign of the fire the following morning. The bush was still very wet, so perhaps they had difficulties. Luckily, the peacocks and turkeys which were alongside the fire, were unfazed.




The only other excitement is that we have been given an opportunity to buy some more land. It’s sent us into rather a tizzy but we think we must take the chance, despite the financial obstacles. We’ve been watching the Derren Brown series of ‘experiments’. Last week’s showed how so-called ‘lucky’ people are those who take the opportunities presented to them!

A just-clipped Bruce, refusing to look at me