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Monday 23 March 2015

We are well and truly into Autumn now. The hotter days have passed, although occasional days are unseasonably warm. The nights are colder, mornings are misty and we came close to our first frost yesterday. Still not a lot of rain and the valley is looking a little shabby and grey - it needs a good downpour to freshen all the vegetation. The days are getting noticeably shorter, with Bronte now leaving in morning twilight and night closing in around 8pm. 

As always, the past weeks have been busy with work on the farm and putting in a grant application to try and get some money to put in wallaby-proof fencing. I feel a pressing need to earn money and/ or save money now I am no longer working. My various projects include selling blackberries, joining, selling farm livestock and making items for sale on Etsy. In fact I feel somewhat on tenterhooks at present. I'm waiting to hear back from someone who's enquired about blackberries, a lady who wants me to do her garden, potential hirers on Freelancer and NRM to see if I've qualified for a grant. I was engaged by a lovely old lady and her daughter to do the former's garden. It had some wonderful topiary and was well known to us already. However, having now caught up I'm no longer going there regularly.

For those who don't know, is a website which unites hirers and potential employees from around the world. It's completely new to me. From first appearances it seems that many of the hirers are based in the US and many of the bidders are from India and other nations who speak good English, but whose wage rates are somewhat lower than in America. Having said that there are a few that look to have reasonable rates - particularly those inviting lump sum bidding. Some hirers specify their rate, eg $1 per 500 words or $2-8/ hour. I've avoided those and gone mainly for one-offs where someone wants a paper edited or proof-read. I did win one but didn't see the e-mail for an hour or so by which time the hirer had given it to someone else owing to the urgency. He was based in New Zealand.

I've put on a load of blackberry liqueur to brew and have discovered that I can sell this without a licence provided it is part of a hamper and amounts to no more than 1litre per hamper. My plan therefore is to put together hampers of liqueur, soap, pepperberries, crab-apple jelly and maybe wattle seeds. But it is about 5 weeks before the liqueur will be ready. I've started imagining ways of making nice 'hampers' without any cost! 

The photo below shows Mum and Dad duck and the one surviving offspring from the first hatching over summer. They've been moved from the bunny pen into the hen run. The hens, correspondingly, have been put back with the bunnies. The ducks were causing problems for the rabbits by soiling their hut and eating all their food! The hens are much more civilised companions - they roost outside the hut and stick to eating their own food - not that it stops the rabbits from eating the hens' food! However, the young duck appeared to be getting attacked by Dad. I thought, being female, it would get along OK, but either it's a male or ducks only like to be in pairs, not harems. To get away the young duck flew back into the bunnies' run and seems quite content. I've been unable to get near it to recapture it. I thought this time I'd trim its wings and put it with the eight young ones.

These guys (above) are the 8 young ones from the last, more successful hatching. Unfortunately I seem unable to sell these despite them their cuteness. I've had them on Gumtree for an age. They are eating me out of house and home. They're wonderfully placid creatures that rarely get ruffled. The most animated they get is when they bob their heads, wag their tails and hiss with excitement (usually at the thought of food). They are now in a much bigger run - the weaning pen - because they are big enough not to need the protection of a netted roof (to keep off goshawks etc) and were making a mess of the smaller run.

Indignant hens in the process of being moved.

We went to the inaugural small farms expo in Ranelagh last weekend, organised (I think) by NRM (Natural Resource Management). We seem unable to attend such an event without returning with an animal or two of some sort. I had thought I might buy a couple of hens if available so that I can continue to supply our neighbour with his weekly amount - and still have some left over for the incubator. Hence I needed a cockerel as well. Most of the birds were too pricey but a bedraggled looking pair of Light Sussex chickens were quite cheap. They are both 2-year olds which is not ideal, but hopefully she'll start laying with improved food and shelter and he (above) will do his job of fertilising the eggs.

The duck that had flown back into the bunny pen came wheezing up to say hello to the new arrivals, tail wagging with friendly intentions. Unfortunately the white hen didn't see it quite that way and attacked the poor duck and drove him off. Later, not put off by his earlier experience, the duck waddled happily up to the new cockerel. Luckily the latter treated him with disdain rather than attacking him.

Another sick peacock failed to make it despite me tubing wonderfully
nutritious fruity food down its neck. At this point I thought it would pull through OK.

After losing two of the three young peacocks we'd raised from babies - having collected them from a wild flock which lives close to an ex-colleague's land - I put the the remaining juvenile out with the big guys. I feared he/ she would be too miserable in the garage on its own. It was at least 10 weeks' old so should have easily been able to cope with outdoor life. He seemed to do well in the first few days and bonded with the young female guinea-fowl we'd kept from the last batch. Then one day he was gone. I searched the pen and found several patches of feathers with bits of flesh attached. Rosie-dog was sniffing at a hole in the fence and the feather trail led through there. WWOOFers had been feeding the birds and I'd rather taken my eye off the ball.

When I feed the peacocks and guineas I usually walk around the pen and notice any holes in the fence, any saleable pretty feathers, holes in the roof netting, problems with any of the birds and any new eggs which might have been laid. However, the WWOOFers had just put the food down and left and hadn't noticed that holes were appearing in the fence. I'd blocked one up just a week or so before when I'd found that our last batch of peacock eggs (on the verge of hatching) had been eaten. Again the WWOOFers hadn't noticed and it was only because Luke and I went down to check on the peahen which was sitting and to see if the eggs were beginning to pip. A trail of eggshells, blood and egg-membrane led to a hole which I then sealed.

I was really upset at the loss of a second batch of peachicks. The first lot had failed in the incubator, due possibly to the wet bulb not measuring correctly (as I've since discovered). I've got another batch of guineas in the incubator and I noted that the wet bulb thermometer was consistently recording a high humidity. I read the instructions and accordingly trimmed back the wick and disinfected what remained. This resulted in little change. I then put a digital thermometer in there which recorded an unfeasibly low humidity. Finally, I've put in my old digital weather station (most of which doesn't work since I dropped it in the bath years' ago) and that seems to be recording a humidity which intuitively feels about right. Anyhow the upshot is that we've failed miserably to breed or rear any peachicks this year. It's as well that we still have the Mum of the 3 wild ones we caught. Hopefully we'll have 2 females laying next summer.

Brucie back from an early morning ramble, covered in buzzies

Bronte and Luke forced me to come with them to a cricket World Cup game in Hobart, between Australia and Scotland. It was never going to be a great match! Also my favourite player, George Bailey (from Tas), wasn't playing. I took my crocheting and got two scarves well underway, a lacy silvery-grey one and a cross-hatch one in fuchsia. Scotland batted first and were all out in 25 overs. Australia made a great start until the rain came. It had been forecast but we'd hoped it would hold out until after the match. We waited for an hour or so, by which time most of the spectators had left. When we got back into the car, we switched on the radio to find that the rain had cleared sufficiently for the match to restart. Australia made short order of the remaining runs, such that they overtook Scotland's total in 16 overs. 

One of our neighbours is a bit of a vandal and has spent weeks clearing all the vegetation on his side of one of the creeks along our boundary. The photos below show the resulting devastation. He shouldn't really undertake such a large clearance without having a forests practices plan in place which has been approved by the forest practices authority. 

After the peacock eggs and the last young peacock had been eaten, I modified the possum trap to ensure I'd catch and hold anything that was able to wriggle through the 50mm holes in the birds' chicken wire. Up until then the trap had been regularly set and the bait taken, but the trap itself was always empty. Since putting aviary wire around the trap, we've caught an endless succession of quolls. We've obviously got a really large population of quolls since our efforts to trap wallabies resulted only in catching quolls. I've now relocated around 10 of the little blighters. They are remarkably cute, but have a scary set of sharp gnashers. 

To our surprise we have also caught two tassie devils. We have seen them around in the past, but it was many years earlier. We've also caught them on infra-red camera up in the forest behind us. We did wonder if the neighbour's forest clearance had displaced some of these poor guys. This devil was a large male, very smelly and quite docile. However, he had managed to wreck the inside of the trap. He was the biggest devil I'd seen, wild or in captivity. He looked in good condition, sleek with a glossy coat. However when I saw the other side of his face, his jaw was in a terrible state. I rang Bonorong (the rescue people) and they advised that I take him to Kingston vet. The vets confirmed that he had the awful facial tumour disease. They put the poor old thing down and sent a DNA sample to the devil project researchers. 

I think this photograph is awfully sad. You can see his poor jaw,
and he even looks so helpless and miserable.

This is another devil we caught a few days after the first. It seemed to be healthy.
There was a small mark on its snout as you can see but no obvious evidence of
the facial tumour disease. We just let this one out. Later the dogs spent
an awfully long time snuffling around in the undergrowth near the trap.

I caused a bit of a conflagration by lighting the tar coating this 44-gallon drum. I'd scored a load of great stuff from the Huonville tip shop: lengths of timber, this drum, containers for blackberries, some fowlers bottles (for blackberry liqueur), lengths of wire mesh, a good pair of mole grips, wire shelves from which to make tent pegs (for pegging down wallaby-proof fence mesh) and a big roll of high-tensile fencing wire. All this for just $25! Can't go wrong. It was only when I got home that I realised that the inside of the drum was coated in bitumen. I wanted to use it to make a new cauldron for my outside piggy-brew furnace so I needed to get it clean.

I added some petrol and diesel and chucked in a match. It kept belching out great gobbets of flame and black smoke. I was a bit appalled by what I'd done and kept well away. The heat burnt all the paint off the outside and after I'd hosed down the inside that came up beautifully clean. Not letting the grass grow under my feet I got the big angle-grinder and cut the base off the drum and chucked out the old cauldron which was rusting into flakes. I next tackled the wire shelves but half way through realised I'd worn the disc down to nothing! Bronte was a bit cross with me when he found it.

This is Faye, our most recent WWOOFer, doling out willow for the goats.
Faye was a cheerful, pleasant Brit. I failed to get a photo of the scarily
capable but very lovely French girl that overlapped with Faye. Toin (pronounced Twon)
even played Scrabble with us and did a darn good job. Faye was awfully good at Boggle!

Faye and I made a new batch of hand-wash. We were on our last dregs and I really didn't want to buy any. This time, I'd learnt from my last effort to ensure it was sufficiently liquid when at room temperature, to work well in a pump bottle. This lot is perhaps a little too watery, but at least it always comes out of the bottle. It smells good too and because it contains Tea-Tree oil, should last for ever.

This pretty moth landed on my arm and didn't want to be dislodged.

This is one of the areas I proposed to wallaby-proof if I get funds from the
grant application I recently submitted.

First ever bit of knotted mesh made from recycled baling twine.

Access track to main area I propose to fence in my grant application.

Latest tree-protector I've built in one of the goat paddocks. Because
the tree is willow, the goats had made great efforts to break into the tree
protector prior to its reinforcement with wooden slats. You can tell the tree looks
a bit bedraggled. Possums had been getting at it as well. Not even sure it will survive.
The next three photos show the awful weeds in the main area that I would like to fence and wallaby-proof. You can see fireweed (brown stuff in the top photo), californian and scotch thistles, elder, blackberry, bracken and wild rose.

Herbs that I'm drying from our hen run: mint, oregano and a couple of others
that I haven't yet identified! I must have planted them but just
can't remember what they are.

Despite us not farming properly, nor having a viable veggie garden, we've managed to forage a great deal of produce from our acreage. I've managed to sell 44kg of blackberries picked at great cost to my fingers and arms! Unfortunately, we've not put any in the freezer for ourselves and we are bound to use all our cordial before the blackberries fruit again. It's really getting too late now to pick any quantity of berries. We've taken around 50kg of pears off the poor old ancient pear tree and still left a load for the birds. The little crab apple trees (set the day before Luke was born), yielded around 20kg. They are currently in the freezer, but I plan to get some pretty jars and make a load of jelly and paste. There would have been many more but one tree was decimated by possums before I worked out how it was getting up into the tree. 

Our one pepperberry bush held a little over a kilo of berries, which Luke and I painstakingly cleaned (removing all stalks etc) after they'd dried in the sun just inside the sliding doors in the dining room. A neighbour is doing very well off her small plot of pepperberry bushes. I plan to plant another 100 bushes if I get the grant money for which I've applied.We inadvertently grew a great crop of potatoes on the veggie patch. A couple of years ago I threw out some bags of chipped potatoes which were going rotten. They grew last year but the wallabies ate all the tops, so the potatoes never grew to any size. This year, those remnant potatoes left in the ground grew us a beautiful crop of spuds. Luke's very intrigued and inspects the plants to see which one is dying back so we can dig under it. the damp summer meant the wallies had plenty to eat without eating our potato tops and the water helped swell the pots.

We've wrapped the pepperberries in pretty little 25g sachets with
printed tags and gold ribbon.

I've got 2 sheepskins on the go at the moment from the two naughty lambs
that were helping keep down the grass in the bird and pig pens. The lamb itself is quite delicious.

Luke accidentally shot a bennett's wallaby, thinking, from a distance, that it
was a paddy. I skinned it and this is it tanning.

Yukky tanning solution. Not having any more batteries to wreck in order to extract
the sulphuric acid, I'm using vinegar and alum, mixed with egg yolks, flour and salt.

Wallaby skin having just emerged from its initial strong. brine bath.