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Wednesday 8 July 2015

I stopped by the side of road on the way back from a gardening job to take a
snap of this arresting scene

Morning sky

The bird flock has expanded recently. The fertile Rhode Island Red eggs that I bought via post from New South Wales have hatched. Only 9 were viable in the end - 5 were smashed en route. They are cute little critters (see below).

Rhode Island Red eggs in incubator

Rhode Island Reds hatching. Note upside down one bottom left!

Rhode Island Red hatchlings

Last 2 guinea fowl from last fertile eggs. The larger white bird was the only
hen that hatched from 15 of our hens' eggs! We think our useless new rooster was
only mating with the one other white Light Sussex hen that he arrived with. Hoping
this little guy is a rooster so he can replace his Dad!

I recently moved the hens out of the bunny pen and put them in a separate yard. To improve their quarters I made a front with pop-hole and ramp. Only trouble was it took me a few days to realise that they weren't able to get in their coop owing to the ramp being too slippery in the wet, icy weather! The idea of moving them was to ensure they got as much food as they needed through the winter. In the bunny run, I'd put the food on an elevated table and I'm not sure they had all cottoned-on as to how to access it. And dopey rooster certainly hadn't worked it out. I had to feed him separately with bunny pellets and wheat so that if the bunnies ate it, it wouldn't hurt them. I've had to fit chicken wire to the ramp and now they have no problems. They have even started laying eggs again.

The photo below shows 8 new chickens that I scored for free. I happened to see a note in the local shop saying g'iveaway hens' and I rang straightaway on the mobile. They gave me the runaround when I went to collect them. I had to crawl into the tiny coop and round some up. However, they were so hungry that when the owner put some food into the container I'd bought with me, 3 of them dived straight in and I shut the door on them. I asked him if they were laying and he said they had been 'up until a couple of weeks' ago'! So now I'm just feeding the blighters with no returns. My aim with all these hens is to produce enough eggs that I can incubate a new lot and start afresh with a younger flock. I've since culled the two smallest of the new hens. Two are peculiar looking things with little black top-knots - think they must have some silky blood, although they don't have tufted feet.

Dinosaur guinea fowl just prior to being put outside. I've got 8 outside now plus
the white hen - who probably now thinks he is a guinea-fowl.

After 10 weeks of steeping, I strained the blackberry liqueur and bottled it. I strained it through 3 layers of cloth this time to try and eradicate sediment. However, I had a disaster half way through when one of the strings broke (baling twine let me down!) and lost a load down the drain. I was a bit gutted. However, I've still got 9 x 600ml bottles. I'm now stuck with the problem of working out the alcohol content. I realised (belatedly) that I couldn't use my hygrometer because you have to have a starting point and take the difference. Plus, I'm not sure our wine and beer ones would work with spirits. I'll have to go into the shop and see what the vodka was and make some dilution estimate of the blackberries and sugar. However, I also added some secret ingredients at the end (including black tea for the tannin) so it's going to be tricky. Plus, there is a chance that some fermentation took place.

Blackberry liqueur straining

I've made many trips to various Tip Shops, in scavenger mode. Probably my most lucrative find was the breadmaker below. Ours had been out of action for a year or more - the element had blown. I could still make dough in it and used it only for pizza bases. I saw this Panasonic breadmaker in the Huonville tip shop for just $5 and thought it worth a punt. I think it had been thrown out because the actual bread container inside was missing. However, our old one is also a Panasonic and the inner bit fitted the new one perfectly. Not only that, but it turns out to be a late model. Now, I've managed to turn out some beautiful loaves, including some really tasty fruit bread. No more expensive crappy sliced bread for us!

Couldn't resist this picture of Bronte one cold morning with a neck
warmer on his head.

On the bunny front, poor fluffy Bertrude (tame dumped rabbit that we managed to trap), did die. Why am I not surprised? I felt awful for days. It seemed that despite all the nice hay-lined huts around, she was sleeping outside and not feeding on the pellets. I wonder if I'll ever get on top of bunny husbandry. We still have 2 does and 2 youngsters, which I assume must also be does. To differentiate between them, I trapped the 2 older ones in the main hut, caught them and gave them ear-tags (Doe 1 and Doe 2 - bit like John and Jane).

Bunnies sunning themselves. I keep the door shut now to keep out the
marauding, pooey ducks, that are now back with the bunnies. I can only feed them
bunny pellets and wheat so as not to hurt the bunnies. The ducks definitely cannot work
out how to get onto the elevated feeding platform.

Doe 2 was very placid and barely flinched when I put in the ear-tag.

Bunny in a bag.

We had a nice visit from Bronte's sister Cheryl and her husband Stewart, a few weeks' back. It was fun having them stay and nice for Luke to see some of his Aussie family. It's a pity they couldn't have stayed longer. All I can remember doing with them was visiting the Geeveston design centre and chopping wood in the rain. The weather was pretty foul for their visit, wet and very cold.

Cheryl bought with her a 1000 piece puzzle and she and Luke finished
it in 2 days.

I'd requested a hand-held vacuum for Mother's Day and that's exactly what
I got. It's amazingly useful for cleaning up around the wood stove and whizzing round
the edges of the wood floors and down the stairs. Saves all the effort of hauling
the big vacuum out.

Spooky huge cricket that was apparently hibernating in my star pickets (steel posts).

Oh dear. This poor devil looked so pathetic caught in the possum trap. For
such apparently fierce creatures they go limp and hopeless when trapped. I feel so
sorry for them. This one, like the others before him, had chewed up the trap and made
a couple of sore places on his face. I'm sure it's not facial tumour - although any scratch
will make him more susceptible to catching the horrid disease. Wish there was a way of
discouraging them from getting in the traps.

Enormous grasshopper found by Luke.

This flock of my favourite birds - the yellow-tailed black cockatoos - sat
ogling me from the top of a wattle on our drive. They let me drive within a couple of metres
and just kept angling themselves around the other side of branches, all the time chuntering
to themselves and occasionally ripping bits of wood off the tree. I could only get a photo in silhouette.

A few weeks' back we attended Dark Mofo - the strange wintertime spawn of mad mathematician David Walsh, who founded MONA, our world-renowned museum built into the side of a cliff. Not only does it house some exquisite ancient artefacts but some awfully lurid and gross in-your-face art. Dark Mofo usually includes music, fire and weird light sculptures. My favourite was the 'fire organ', a huge installation somewhat akin to a lit oil-rig in scale and shape. It played haunting, bass music, suggestive of a dragon sleeping underneath, followed by great gouts of fire coughed out of the tall pipes. Very dramatic and great fun.

All around the Dark Park, there were braziers filled with burning logs and straw bales and apple crates to sit upon. We visited all the free installations except for 'deep bass' which was for over 18's only. Obviously we couldn't take Luke into that one. You needed to wear ear defenders and had to sign a waiver before you were allowed in. I can only assume you felt the sounds, rather than heard them. It also warned against going in, if you had a pacemaker or a dicky heart.!

Fire organ - above and below.

Slightly odd installation in the botanic gardens, which actually
looks more eerie and attractive in the photos, than it did in the flesh.
The lit figures are meant to be suggestive of aborigine spirits, but they
were too daubed and simplistic up close, to feel at all spiritual.

A handfish sculpture. Handfish are unique to Tasmania and walk on their
'hands' on the sea bed. People wrote down their worst fears on pieces of paper and
put them into the handfish's mouth. On the last day of Dark Mofo the sculpture was paraded
(with several others) and was ritually burnt - a nod to a similar Bali tradition.

I have been kept very busy trying to collect sufficient firewood to keep us warm over winter. Not an easy task given that we get through a huge pile of wood (despite our house being so well insulated) and that we'd left it so late that all the wood left to collect was sopping wet. I do find wielding the chainsaw hard work even though I now use the slightly less annoying 'middle' sized saw. Only Bronte gets to use the big beastie. I have abandoned the littlest chainsaw because it cuts out the instant you take your finger off the trigger. The one I use is an American MacCulloch and there is one sure thing you can say of American goods - they are robustly built. One of the most tedious jobs is sharpening the chain. If I could get it done easily and cheaply in Huonville, I'd definitely take that option.

I managed to cut down this dead wattle in one of the goat paddocks. Luke and
Bronte sat working on the new greenhouse roof, watching and laughing at me. Bronte came and
shouted something at me at some stage, but no idea what he was saying. I think they thought I'd
be daft enough either to squash myself or the Suzuki.

Result of one of my firewood forays. I've had to move some dead wattles in order
to put in a new fence as part of my NIGs project work. I've found that I can ford the stream there
- although it is touch and go each. Had to accelerate and just keep going when I had this full
load. Lost a couple of logs that I had to go back for.

Luke occasionally helps with the chopping. He's pretty strong for
a 10-year old.

I'm still doing my gardening jobs. I have 3 regulars and a couple of other occasionals. That's quite enough really. Much more and I would have no time to do anything here. I still do the occasional project on Freelancer also, although the money they take off me and the amount of time it takes to bid and search though projects, is very off-putting.

The gardening is much more satisfying. It's healthy, I can see what I've achieved and I get paid in cash on the day. And the hourly rate (though not high), is considerably higher than most Freelancer employers want to pay. I'm currently in the throes of reading up on lemon tree care, burgundy and bordeaux fungicide sprays, what's safe on apricot trees etc. I've been busy pruning fruit trees (as best as I know how) and am embarking on the roses.

Fairy fungi found when gardening.

One of my garden's apple trees weighed down with the weight
of fruit it had borne. I brought quite a lot home for the goats. Most
went to waste - such a shame.

One of my recent gardening projects. You can see a bed to the left which
is how this one started out. I dug and gouged out all the weeds, dug it all over,
dug in compost, planted 3 row of garlic cloves, mulched it on top and put in the fence.
Darn good fence too - even has a gate at the far end. Managed to get it all done in
just 4 hours. Garlic is now about 4inches high.

Another gardening project. This courtyard was full of weeds and leaves.
Took me nearly 2 days to clear it right out and get everything out of the
cracks. Had to get the leaves by hand as I don't have a leaf blower/ vacuum and
they don't want me using power tools at this particular site.

I'm getting through gloves like you wouldn't believe. I've started getting cheap
ones from Shiploads, cutting off the ends of the finger and using them to mend
my better quality gloves! What a job though. Not sure if I can keep on doing that.

This was a garden down near Geeveston that had been totally neglected. This
shows one part before I started (but a bit blurred owing to dust on the lens). The picture below,
shows how it looked when I'd finished. As well as removing all the leaves and
raking everything level, I arranged all the rocks (the previous owner had made loads of
rock circles in the bed) alongside the crumbling edge of the old concrete path and filled
the cracks with gravel of which the owner happened to have heaps. It was a big job and
I was doing this on a horrible, windy and rain day. Got it done in the end and was pleased with the

Luke with me at the Geeveston garden. The dogs watched us soulfully
as we had lunch. This huge doberman was shy and soppy.

Aargh. Acres of silver birch leaves needing to be raked.

Afterwards ... took pretty much all day.

I mowed this entire area - by hand!! Half-killed me and our poor little second hand
2-stroke mower. The mower has turned out to be remarkably tough, surviving my wrestling
it through grass as high as my knee and over huge tussocks for hour after hour. Also survived
Luke running it at full revs for a couple of hours, such that it melted the cap over the spark-plug!
Remarkable. Neither of our 4-strokes has survived so well. Although, I still have a soft spot
for our lovely old light green mower with big chunky wheels. It was mended several times before finally expiring.
The big, horrible, expensive and heavy red one sits sulking in the garage, having conked after being used
on slopes too many times, such that bits of the engine were starved of lubrication.

View looking back up the drive of one of my local gardens.
Much ruckus on the goat front these last couple of months. Bronte and Luke spied a couple of stray goats out on the road and they were then spotted several times in the locality and were becoming a bit of a nuisance. They took a particular liking to a neighbour's back porch and stood there most days out of the rain, poo-ing. They were two wethes, one large and handsome, one ancient and bowed. Luke and I went one late afternoon to try and catch them and bring them up to our place temporarily. Brownie (see below) was easy. He came at once for food and had no objection to me putting a chain and collar around his neck. The other, really big one was a completely different proposition. I got hold of him by his horns but just could not hold him. The second time I grabbed him, I just dropped onto the floor and hung on. He swung me back and forth but couldn't dislodge me. The bruise below was from him swacking me into a gate. He also gored me on the chin and I had a big bruise there. Eventually, he flipped over somehow and landed on his side, at which point I continued to hang on and Luke sat on him and got the chain around his neck.

After clipping them both to the back of the Suzuki, we slowly began to tow them back up the hill. I'd put food and hay in the back as an added incentive. By this time it was getting quite dark, I knew I had gardening the following day and I was wondering if my electric fence was going to hold them. A neighbour was feeding out hay to his cows and suggested putting them in the cow crush overnight. I should have known better because by morning, despite me leaving them the hay, water and grain, they were out of there and nowhere to be seen. Happily, another neighbour managed to lure them up to our place and put them in one of our paddocks while I was out. The following day, the large goat was outside the fence. I was expecting to see a flattened fence, but as I went in with food, he jumped my 1m high fence from a standing start.

In the end we decided that the big guy had to go because he was wild, untameable and able to get out of any fence. We thought we'd keep old Brownie, who was docile, didn't test our fences and would be company for Toby the buck when I took him away from the does. So I had the unpleasant job of putting the big guy down. Rather than waste anything I took off the hide in one piece and salted it, turned the meat into mince for the freezer and cooked up all the fatty bits and offal for the dogs and birds. Not much was left of the poor old thing. I did actually find out who owned the goats originally, but they had apparently been roaming free for over two yeas, without anyone making an effort to round them up or look after them. Under those circumstances I didn't make any effort to contact the erstwhile owner.

All that was left of the wild goat.

Heaps of goat mince - we haven't tried it yet.

Goat hide salting.
Rather quickly thereafter, poor Brownie started sickening. I treated him as best I could with vitamins, rehydration fluids and anything else I thought might help. He did seem to rally for a while, but would often stand as below, with head drooping and body shivering. I thought perhaps he was eating more than his fair share of grain, so I tried to help ease his stomach with bicarbonate of soda and lots of fibre. Trouble is, while he would try to eat browse, his teeth were not really up to it and he didn't seem to know what hay was. Every time I went out I'd find him lying on his side on the ground. His legs didn't work very well when we found him and he was already fairly skeletal. The inevitable happened and despite my best efforts getting him onto his feet and walking him around, one night he laid down and that was that. 

Worse was to follow as our eldest and sweetest goat Granny started suffering the same symptoms. She similarly had few teeth left and favoured grain over browse, grass or hay. When I first found Granny on her side, it was early morning and I think she must have been there all night. We worked really hard with Granny, getting her up several times a day and walking he around. I quickly got her appetite back and despite the tooth problems she was soon chobbling hay and wattle and grass. I would cut hay and browse into small bits for her. However, her legs never recovered from that first night on her side and while she'd happily get around while she was eating, as soon as she sat down, she'd roll onto her side and be unable to get herself up again. I tried propping her up with hay bales but she'd manage to move away, splinting her worst leg that she struggled to straighten, and finally slinging her up in a standing position. Even this last effort didn't work as she managed to back her way out of it and I found her laying on her side underneath with one leg still caught up in the sling. That was when I finally gave up - we couldn't carry on like that. Bronte kindly took her and found her a nice resting place near our arboretum, where we can grow a tree in her memory. Poor Granny, she was our matriarch and wonder goat, producing quadruplets last year. I'd retired her from breeding this year and now the poor old thing was no more.

Native hens. Not a very good pic but they kept running away from me. We have
3 that have lived around the house for a few years now. They have learnt that I mean food, so they
follow me to the 2 currently occupied goat paddocks. They are so cheeky, pinching food
from under the goats' noses.

Bronte's magnificent, asymmetrical, cyclone-proof greenhouse and car port are now nearly finished. The following are photos from various angles. He plans shelves and indoor beds for veggies and his tree seeds. The car port is finished but he's still not parking in it as it's still full of building materials.

Fixing the ridge flashing - Luke 'helping'.

I've had no time at all to work on my various tanning projects. The following two pictures show some of the works in progress: 2 Bennett's wallaby skins, various rabbit skins, 1 large goat hide (from the stray) and 2 sheepskins. All are at various stages of completion. If I could just get my Green Army fence out of the way (for the project that's being funded by government) - see below, I could try to free up a bit of time to work on these. I've got completed skins in the house as well that need converting into something saleable.

Luke's continuing to do well in sports. He is a particularly keen cricketer and has lots of promise both as a batsman and a bowler. He played for the Huonville under-12s over the summer and the picture below was taken by one of the other Mums. It is such a nice picture of him - he's not pulling a face or posturing for a change! He looks very grown up and professional. At present he's playing soccer for which he doesn't display quite the same promise as he does in cricket. Luke's technique is largely to boot the ball as hard as he can in the general direction of the opponent's goal.

Luke with his player of the week award. Actually I think they just give
it out to each of the players in turn throughout the season!
Luke's class did a project on the gold rush in Australia. This is a picture from the play
they put on for the whole school at assembly which I went along to watch. Luke had to put
on an Italian accent and complain about a woman marrying him for his money. He was a
bit too cocky and forgot his lines at first, but soon got into the swing of it, once prompted.
In the last post I mentioned that Luke had managed to cut a chunk out of his leg. This gross picture shows the extent of the cut and stitches. It's healed now but has left a dark red wide scar on his leg that may never disappear - and looks a bit like a caterpillar! It was probably not helped by the fact that he kept playing sports at school and managed to re-open the cut at one stage, despite my careful taping and bandaging in the mornings.

The following photos relate to the project for which I have received funding and have a year to complete. It comprises building 2 shelter belts of native plants and a large wallaby-proofed area of about 2Ha (the fenceline for which needs clearing) and riparian rehabilitation. The pictures show the one of the shelter-belt areas. I plan to plant 100 pepperberries here and I have already collected the plants from Plants of Tasmania at Ridgeway. Because the paddock is grazed by cattle and I did not get sufficient funding for stakes and bags, I am having to enclose the planting area with cattle and wallaby-proof fencing. I am getting a Green Army for two days to help with the planting, but had to postpone them the first time as I was not sufficiently prepared and was suffering an uncomfortable bout of giardia (a parasite that gets in your lower intestine and causes various unpleasantnesses). I probably picked it up from gardening or from our water. As a precaution I'm only drinking boiled water now. Anyhow, the Green Army (a team of about twelve 18-24-year old volunteers with a supervisor) are coming back at the end of August so I have to make more progress by then.

Creek alongside peppeberry shelter-belt paddock.

Dead wattle with some great fungus.

Above and below: some of the second hand materials I've collected from the
Tip Shop and off Gumtree (classified online ads here in Australia).

Two piled up sets of fallen dead wattle which I have since moved. I chainsawed up a
couple of Suzuki loads for firewood but most was too rotten. They are in the line of the fence
and the planned plantings, so I've since managed to move them out of the way. I managed
to haul a couple of the biggest logs with the Suzuki and moved the rest by hand.

New post and bracing installed at one end of the shelter-belt enclosure.

Cattle fence at the other end of the shelter-belt, completed with 6 strands of wire.
I was able to use a tree and an existing post at this end, but I did install the green bracing steel.

First wire laid out to give me a line, with stakes set out
at 2m intervals. I've started putting in the stakes which has turned
out to be a mammothly difficult task. The ground is so hard and rocky
that it takes around 50 strokes with the big post banger-inner thingy (which is
very heavy).

We've had quite a few frosty mornings and a lot of snow on surrounding hills, as shown in the following pictures.

These upside-down icicles were formed from a hose which was spurting a thin
stream of water into the air. It was landing on the stems of grass and built up into this little ice garden.
As I took the picture Rosie muscled in and started eating the ice!

Snow-capped Mount Wellington from Hobart (above and below).

Sleeping Beauty from the Huon Highway. My little camera can't do it justice.

Above and below: Luke and I drove into Hobart early one morning during
the school hols and hit a blizzard as we went over Vince's Saddle (around 400m) altitude.

Above and below: Snowy hills from our front deck.