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Tuesday 5 May 2015

Autumn is unfortunately 'burn-off' season, when Forestry Tasmania burns all the residues
in coupes that were harvested during the rest of the year. 'Residues' includes all hollow
and rotten trees (great habitat), saplings, understorey trees and small slow-growing rainforest species.
You can see the big plume of smoke in the photo and the following two.
Often it discolours the whole sky and blots out the sun.
The smoke sits in the valleys and can be smelled for days.

Early morning mist on the hills.

Wedgie soaring above our house.

There have been some lovely autumn colours in the gardens where
deciduous trees have been planted. These are from snow pear trees in one
of the gardens in which I'm working.

These herons are resident to one of my gardens and are a scream. They
were dancing and flirting on the roof when I took these photos.

Luke and I are sitting snugged on the sofa in rain-induced stygian gloom, warmed by a roaring fire and the happy cheeps of baby guinea-fowl. A wild night has resulted in power outages in various parts of Southern Tasmania. Our power went off around 8.00am. We were due to go gardening in Geeveston but the rain had already scuppered that. With no electric we had to scurry to the garage and collect the two deep cycle batteries, two boxes and the baby birds from two recent hatchings. These are now installed in boxes by the fire with mesh over the top - partly to stop them leaping out and partly to stop Murphy-Cat from eating them.

I've set up the inverter and the battery with the most power, to run the incubator. One guinea egg hatched yesterday from a third batch - I've left him in the incubator. There is always one that comes out a day or two ahead of all the others. The rest are due tomorrow. Just hoping the battery will hold out until power is restored. I haven't charged either of them recently. A last resort will be to bring in the battery from the little Suzuki, but given that it is absolutely pelting down outside I'm not keen on that option. We do need the rain, so hopefully it will replenish the soil and creeks. Every now and then three little guinea necks stretch up and we can see their little stripy heads peeking over the side of their cardboard box like meerkats. Murphy is not impressed by the whole situation.

When the power went off I'd luckily just boiled a full kettle so we quickly made two mugs of tea and filled a flask for later. One of the biggest problems of having no power is that we also have no water, except from the creek tap. Luckily I'd also just filled a bottle with cordial and another with water (for gardening), so we are doing OK.

Luke should be at school given it's a Tuesday. However, we spent several hours at the hospital on Saturday after he managed to cut a V-shaped chunk out of his leg. I heard a scream from the garage and saw his leg poking out and pouring blood. Somehow I managed to scoop him up and carry him (all 38kgs) in my arms up to the house. I sat him on the kennel and put his leg up high against the wall of the house. After I bathed and disinfected it and put a large dressing over it, Bronte carried him indoors and we rang Health Direct to see if we might need to go to A&E. As I was phoning, Bronte went out to try and find the bit of flesh Luke had cut off (gross). Anyhow, he failed and suggested Rosie-Dog had eaten it (bleugghh). Although we tried to put off the inevitable we were eventually obliged to go to A&E at the Royal in Hobart. We stopped Luke walking on the leg to try and minimise blood leakage from the cut. Luckily we were seen quite quickly and despite there being a large chunk of flesh missing they were able to pull the sides together and sew it up - remarkable. The news of Luke's injury spread through the hospital. A kid who was slicing apples with a large knife - which had been used to skin and gut ducks the day before - who'd somehow slashed a chunk from his leg. I felt like a most neglectful mother.

I'd brought a big bag of windfall apples home from my regular garden and had asked Luke to cut a couple up for the bunnies - never suspecting that he'd try to use the knife like a samurai sword when sitting cross-legged in shorts! I'd only left the garage for a few moments. Anyhow, the upshot was that because it was a deep, gaping wound he is meant to be resting the leg and keeping it elevated. So no running around, no school for a few days and no soccer training or matches - at least for a couple of weeks. Have virtually given up on getting him to keep his leg up though - it's hopeless. It's amazing that he hasn't suffered much pain. He breezed through the stitching-up engrossed in computer games a doctor had on a tablet. An inspired idea.

On the bird front, we've expanded the guinea numbers with a couple of late (but mostly infertile) hatchings. There are seven babies now, plus the early one in the incubator. We're also hoping for a few hen chicks. We've got six laying hens now but it's still like pulling teeth getting a decent dozen eggs out of them each week. There is always at least one broody that has to be confined to the anti-broody cage. Mrs Duck has started laying again, much to my surprise as it's so late in Autumn, so Luke and I were able to have duck eggs for breakfast. There is no discernible difference between these Muscovy duck eggs and those from hens except that the duck eggs have much harder white shells and the yolk takes up a larger volume in the egg. I've heard that eggs from other types of ducks can be greasy and fishy-tasting.

One of the older baby guineas - looking like a velociraptor.

Cute guinea babies.

Improved brooder cage with 4 compartments and three heater lamps,
well one's just a halogen bulb but works just as well. Got the lamp free
from one of the ladies to whom I delivered blackberries.

Snug area for week-old chicks.
As for the rest of the ducks - the eight that we'd reared from the last load of duck eggs - they are all now in the freezer. They were eating more than the rest of the birds put together and still looking hungry. They were pretty well full-grown and I needed to cut back on the bird pellets I was buying. Even with loads of cooked scraps I was still getting through a fair bit of commercial feed. Poor ducks didn't stand a chance because they are so clumsy and trusting. I slowly herded them into a small area and despatched them quickly so as to cause the least upset. I decided to skin them owing to the length of time it takes to pluck geese and ducks. Even the skinning process takes a time. We haven't tried eating them yet, I hope they won't be too strong-tasting.

As you'll know, we've had a lot of bunny losses. On the advice of a rabbit breeder I'd stopped giving them veggie scraps and had switched to the more expensive pellets, but it wasn't helping. Even the big buck was found dead one day (you can see Luke holding him below). I think he had something quite different however, as we found his ears full of matter. Felt awful about him, but thinking 'waste not, want not' (my motto), I skinned him (with great difficulty for some reason) and that skin is now salting.

Anyhow, back to the young rabbits. In the end, I decided it had to be something to do with diet and the only other variable was the hens' food. Because they are in the same pen, the bunnies were apparently tucking into the bird food as well as their own. With some difficulty I raised the bird food cover up off the ground, using the perch to support one side and a couple of iron stakes on the other side. Luke's 'bridge' that he'd built last year for the seasonal creek, made a great platform. Since I've done this, we've had no further bunny deaths! Maybe we've finally cracked it. I could actually move the hens into the old turkey run, since that is currently vacant and we may get around to doing that soon. We've only got three teenage bunnies left and the two old does. I need to get Luke to help me catch the older does in order to ear-tag them. In a week or two it will be difficult to tell the difference between the youngsters and the oldies.

Me being attacked by Rosie after a hard couple of hours of hen feeder
building. Rosie loves you to be down at her level.

We discovered that it wasn't just the hens' food that was killing the bunnies - an evil rare white goshawk
also took a few of the smallest babies. It was incredibly fearless, not flying away when we yelled and ran
towards it, until the last moment. The picture shows it high in a gum tree looking down on Luke and
giving him the evil eye.

I set up a couple of traps baited with rabbit carcasses with the aim of
catching the goshawk. I thought I'd take him over to my furthest garden and
release him there. I thought the experience might also make him think twice
about nicking our livestock. However, he just suddenly disappeared and we
haven't seen him since.
I had a bit of a brain-wave at the time of the goshawk and Luke and I set
up plastic pipe lengths all around the bunny pen. I thought perhaps the bunnies
didn't have enough cover from overhead predators, despite the bushes. These pipes would be
great for the smallest bunnies to hide in. I've not actually seen one in use since though ..

After we lost our poor old white buck rabbit, we set about finding a new boy. We got
this lovely guy (Barnaby) from someone in Cradoc. He was pretty cheap and we felt
we'd done well. He was amazingly laid-back and liked being stroked and cuddled. However,
warning bells rang when the sellers said they'd found another of their adults dead that morning.
Sure enough, although Barnaby seemed perfectly well, he was dead three days' later. He'd obviously
brought the horrid calici virus with him. Luckily we'd kept him separate from the others, in the garage.
I contacted the sellers and they'd lost several more since we'd seen them. Their place was thick with mozzies
for some reason and that is apparently at least one way the virus is spread.

For a few weeks I'd been spotting rabbits on the edge of the road a couple of kilometres down the valley from us. It turned out that the big white spotted ones belonged to someone but were just escaping and getting out on the road (not unusual - that family had three small lambs which spent most of their time on the road prior to that). However, Luke and I also spotted a big dark brown one which was clearly not just a wild one. It was too big, was out and about in the daytime and seemed partially tame. It was on land adjoining us which is currently unoccupied. We set up the trap one night baited with cabbage, apple and carrot. The next morning, we'd caught Bertrude. We are not absolutely sure if she's a real 'she' or a castrated male, but she's a lovely bunny. It was funny that she seemed quite content when I was cuddling her but when she heard Bronte's voice she went nuts. It's often the case that animals react more to deep male voices. In fact they've shown that lab rats get stressed when being worked with by a male researcher, potentially affecting any test results.

Me and Bertrude. She's now out with the other rabbits but I never
actually see her with them. She's always off on her own chewing away. I do
hope she's keeping warm and dry though in all this miserable weather! There
are three huts so I hope she's making use of one.
The traps that we used to try and catch the goshawk are usually kept baited alongside the big netted bird enclosure, to catch any prospecting possums or quolls. We've barely seen a possum of late, but we have caught an incredible succession of quolls. I'm running of places to re-locate them. Last week I also caught a small and very pretty ginger cat. I brought it in while I rang around to ascertain whether it belonged to anyone (although it was pretty clear that it was feral) and Luke and Bronte oohed and aahhed over it and tried to convince me to keep it. I am a great lover of cats but I doubt it could have been tamed, plus Murphy-Cat would not have tolerated it, so I had no choice but to despatch it - Bronte being too chicken. Luke gave it a good meal so the condemned ate well.

This naughty bull belongs to ex-neighbours of ours who still run a few cows on some of their old land and a neighbouring property. When I'm not gardening (and it's not pelting with rain), Luke and I often walk to the school bus or at least part of the way. So we see Mr Bull regularly. He eyeballs us and we eyeball him back. The fence is so flimsy that I'm sure he could walk right through it if he wanted. Below, he has broken through a rather rudimentary electric fence and has eaten all of the fruit trees and suckers that he can reach! I feel quite fond of him as he's such a fixture. Also feel rather sorry that he's always on his own.

Being Autumn, it is also fungi time. Following are some of the best ones I've seen around. I particularly liked the fairy toadstools in the second picture and had to stop by the side of the road to get the photos.

My gardening is going well, although I do get rather tired when it is very physical. I have a regular weekly full day over on the Channel coast and I've been helping a couple down in Geeveston who want to get their house and garden in shape for selling. The garden had been neglected as they have two small children and a farm. So each day involves hacking out large clumps of weeds and twitch grass from garden beds. I've also sawn off all the broom (a weed here) and helped put in a fence to confine the hens. Before, they were wandering at will around the garden and undoing all my good work. Next week I'm to help paint ceilings and get all the rubbish to the dump.

Before ...

... after.

Their young pup keeps me company!

View back towards Hobart from the Geeveston garden.

I was panicking a bit about my regular garden as I really didn't want to make any horrible mistakes. Weeding is fine, but pruning, dividing etc are different matters. however, I'm slowly adjusting and have managed to prune the apricot trees OK (I hope) and take off some of the branches off the snow pears to let more light into the beds. I've got all our garden books out and am slowly working through them.

Views across the Channel as I drive down to my regular garden.

Luke helped me over the Easter break. Little Boy Blue.
Time has been a bit of an issue because as well as my gardening, I've done a few jobs through, mainly at weekends and in the evenings. It's a bit of a nuisance really because I nearly always end up working for too little money. It takes quite a time placing bids on the advertised jobs and then clarifying what's required if you get them. So far I've written some content for a Fiji travel website, an introduction to a self-help book, an awesome essay on HIV/ AIDs, an item on the environmental hazards of living in Doha (virtually none), a logical dismantling of an opinion article on climate change (the article said climate change is not happening) and finally an e-book on how to buy a diamond engagement ring.

The last was the most lucrative and quite fun to write. The HIV/ AIDs one was the most frustrating as I gave up an entire Sunday (12 hours) to write it as it was an urgent job and then the guy didn't pay me. I even edited it down for him on the Monday! Freelancer themselves have not been much help but they did finally refund my project fee for the essay. I'm reluctant to bid on much more at present because I've got enough on my plate with gardening. It's a funny old thing, Freelancer, because a lot of the employers either want to pay slave wages or are students getting other people to do their assignments.

As I've been so busy and the weather not very good, the fence for my new goat paddock has been proceeding awfully slowly. Luke's helped me a bit because he can usefully do things on an electric fence (run out the braid, fit insulators etc) whereas it is that much harder for him to help with normal fencing. I've miscalculated a bit as I'd intended the goats to be in this field long before now so that they would have extra feed and I wouldn't need to give them so much hay and grain. I've had to count the hay that's left in order to ration it. I do supplement it with browse cut from around the plot (blackwood and wattle are pretty well all that's available over winter), but that's time-consuming. I could get an awful lot busier soon as I've heard that I may have won the grant for which I applied. Bit terrifying really, because then I'll actually have to make the whole project happen! Needless to say, the outside of the house isn't getting painted at the moment and the veggie patch is not being built.

Luke mowing part of the fence line for me.

Luke - pear killer. I asked him to chop some pears for the goats
(this was before the leg-cutting incident). He sliced the pears' heads off and got
me to take this picture!

One of our big adventures recently was when Luke and I drove down to Port Arthur to pick up a goat buck. It was a fair drive - around 2.5 hours - but interesting because it's many years since we've ventured down the Tasman Peninsular. We crossed a couple of causeways including Eaglehawk Neck where there used to be a dog-line, aimed at deterring prison escapes. We also drove through the vast burnt-out forests from the big fire a couple of years' back which took out a great many houses. It was rather sobering to see just how large an area had been burnt. No sign of burnt out ruins/ debris. People have done a great clean-up job. In fact most of the little towns seemed well kept and prosperous. We could see the top of the penitentiary chapel at Port Arthur and we passed (but could not see), lots of interesting coastal features such as the tesselated pavement, Tasman Arch, Blowhole and Devil's Kitchen. I'd like to go down there some time to do the touristy stuff and show Luke. Last time we went with Dad & Claudia and Luke was only a baby.

When we finally found Toby's home - Toby being the buck - we were somewhat awestruck. He was enormous - the size of a small pony. He also had lovely colouring, mottled browns and blacks. The plan was to just tie him onto the back of the ute as I hadn't wanted to travel that distance with the temperamental goat float in tow. We had no choice but to load him up - he climbed up himself with the inducement of a couple of slices of white bread. We chained him to the frame at the front of the tray, opened a bale of hay for him and hoped for the best. Amazingly he was as good as gold and never tried a kamikaze leap. He stood hard up against the cab and must have presented a funny sight to anyone coming towards us - with his great black head sticking up from behind the cab. He has the characteristic domed nose of the Anglo-Nubian. This is not my favourite look, but we were running out of options. Bucks are hard to find and then equally hard to sell.

Tobes on the ute.

Views from near Sorrell.

Burnt forest.

Me clipping his hooves.

His feet were in an awful state.

Much better now!

That giant head!
We had to separate Granny - our oldest doe - and the three young ones before introducing Toby to the eight that were left. At first they seemed terrified of him. We haven't seen much action, but I just hope he's been doing a good job since! I'd like to hang onto him now for another couple of years - providing he's done his job and the babies are nice - but he's been walking through my electric fences. One morning before I'd taken Luke to the school bus, Toby appeared by the front door! He'd clearly decided that foraging wasn't his style and that he wanted more food. I carried a bucket of grain up to the goats with him in tow. At one stage he reared up on his hind legs and looked as though he would buck me. If he had gone for me I wouldn't have stood much chance - he must weigh 150kg or more. I growled at him and luckily he backed down. I've biffed him with the plastic bucket a couple of times since because he was trying to climb over my yard fence as I put out the food.

As we left, the ute loaded with gardening tools, Toby appeared at the front door once again. With a large sigh I dropped Luke off and hurried back thinking I'd need to chain him up for the day. However, he'd already returned to the girls - I think the dogs probably put him off. I've since had to fix a great deal of damage done to the fences, especially internal ones dividing paddocks. Yesterday I disconnected all but one of the paddocks so the fence was operating at about 8,000 volts. With Bronte's help we held him so he got zapped on the nose. I'm hoping that will be enough to get him to respect the fences. I left them in that paddock for the remainder of the day but at nightfall the weather turned lousy and I had to let them out so they could get to the huts.

Bronte has been getting on with his greenhouse-cum-carport. It is built to Bronte's very exacting standards so is taking a while. Since I've taken this pictures, most of the cladding has also been completed. I hope it will get used for growing capsicums, cucumbers, tomatoes, chillis etc - and not just for housing Bronte's more fantastical ideas like a coy pond and budgerigars ...

Our last WWOOFs - Germans Alex and Sarah - with Luke, in the garage.

Large moth Bronte found.

Bronte took us to an open garden at Woodbridge recently. I wasn't expecting an awful lot from it but actually it was very impressive. The chap had only started planting in 1990 but it was already quite mature with lots of autumn colour. The only off-putting aspect was that the owner turned out to be a pro-logging Huon Valley councillor and his partner, of similar ilk, had stood for Council. There were some very large sheds and vast quantities of bark chips. We came to the conclusion that he must be in the forest industry and had easy access to bark chips. All the beds were thick with them which would greatly help suppress weeds and keep the plant roots damp.

Rather than doing our usual marathon egg hunt for Luke and friends around the plot, we decided this year to pay and join in an Easter Hunt hosted by the Botanical Gardens. It sounded really nice, but turned out to be an awful damp squib - certainly won't be going again. We had visions of a big area with eggs hidden in nooks and crannies around and under trees and bushes etc. Instead, a circle (not all that large) had been roped off and they just threw a wheelbarrow of tiny eggs into this area before each age-group was let loose. Needless to say it took about 5 mins for the kids to clear the area and was not all that much fun for them. We were very disappointed. It certainly shattered the illusion of the Easter Bunny! Also, the area into which everyone was crammed was hideously noisy and getting a bit muddy. The only compensation was that it was for charity and the gardens were looking good.

Luke's in the stripy top left of centre.
The following are scenes from the Botanical Gardens as we wandered around after the egg scramble.

We had a very nice afternoon at Bronte's friends' place on the Eastern Shore. They've got three really pleasant kids and once the ice was finally broken, they and Luke got along famously. Also, Bronte and I got well and truly roped into their games - Bronte having to brave the climbing frame and slide and me doing 'gymnastics' (ha-ha) and taking them for a walk. As we left the house, a little paw was thrust into mine - I'd been adopted by one of the little twin girls. It was a thoroughly exhausting but very enjoyable afternoon. They are really keen to visit us and apparently still talk of when they came to see us last. I'd taken them for a ride in the back of the Suzuki (and got stuck in the mud), which they'd loved. Also they really liked all the animals. One is now determined to be a farmer or vet! Such sweeties. They had a totally manic dog which wouldn't let you fuss it, but constantly harassed you to throw the ball for him until it collapsed in a coma under the house.