I came back from a weekend in Christchurch, full of love from time spent with family and fond, well-deserved memories of my late Nana, who was farewelled with a lovely memorial service that would have made her proud. If I can touch half as many lives as Nana did I will be doing well.

I had plentiful time to think. Indeed, too much time alone with my thoughts on an aeroplane. What difference am I making with my life? What do I need to do to finish the chicken coop? Are trellises along the paddock side of the vege garden really going to help with shelter or can I fit in an edible hedge? Yes, the thoughts flitted around wildly and I was without the ability to expand and research my ideas on the internet. I’m not used to sitting still. Ideas for the garden threatened to burst out of my brain if I didn’t write them down. What I really needed to do was just weed the garden but I was dreaming up plants and structures for shelter, counting how many seed potatoes might fit in the raised vege bed that we might be able to build in time and speculating about how to incorporate a chick-raising area into the new chicken coop now that I can’t house the big cage under the woodshed roof anymore.

A day after my return, I was most surprised to encounter something. It started when I was looking at the weather forecast, which had become more about looking up the temperature than whether we were going to have showers, heavy rain or rain and wind. There were yellow things on the forecast. Yellow things for five days! It was the sun! The Aussie Auntie came to visit and seems to have brought the sunshine with her. The provident sun returned! And about time too. The sun had shunned its duties long enough and I have been exceedingly happy this week, catching up on some of the things that needed dry weather in order to be done. The sun has done well. And so have I.

First of all, I finished the chicken coop. Finally! It ain’t the greatest masterpiece the world has ever seen, but I built it myself, I used mostly what we had lying around and it fits all the chickens in it with space for more. I spent under $100 on this coop. That was for one sheet of treated plywood, three plastic nestboxes, four strap braces for the door and two packets of screws, which I didn’t use all of. Most of the screws I used we already had. We already had the rest of the wood, the T-braces, the latch and the chicken wire. I will buy at least one more nestbox, but I’m pretty stoked with my achievement for that price.

The chickens have all learnt to use the roosts now. Sookie and Lorelai did not learn by me removing them from the nestboxes every evening and placing them on a roost. The following evening they would go straight back to the nestboxes. But a mere black rubbish bag laid over the nestboxes before bedtime was enough to deter them and now they’re roosting like they were never cheeky nestbox sleepers.

Lorelai and Sookie
“What do you mean cheeky?” Lorelai (front) and Sookie are good buddies who now sleep in the right place.

After I finished building the chicken coop, I cleaned it out, sprayed it with Miss Muffet’s Revenge and sprinkled mite powder around to keep the mites under control. It is more work cleaning this coop than the old coop, but I certainly don’t have to do it every three days now! I can do the deep bed method, removing the worst poopy bits when needed and keeping the rest topped up with wood shavings to decompose nicely until I need to do a full clean.

The first three exciting things I did under the influence of the sun were weeding, cutting up some of the pile of wood near the house and mowing the lawn. These aren’t normally exciting things, but it has been too wet to do much of any of them lately, so being able to get them done is better than eating chocolate right now. Things are starting to look more tidy. The Little Fulla and I weeded the vege garden and we just need to finish weeding around it down the far (soggiest) end. There are a lot of weeds in the compost area too.

After mowing The Mound out the front, I did something that I was supposed to do rather a while ago: I moved the big bronze flax beside the gate. I’m not sure what I was thinking planting a Phormium tenax so close to the opening side of the gate. I mean, they only grow to 3m high and 3m wide… I think I was thinking that I could keep it under control, but no. Nooo. By the time I got around to digging it out, it had put on a ridiculous amount of growth. It was quite a mission digging it out by myself. I replanted it nearby, along the paddock fence, where it will have a bit more space to lollop about and hopefully not get too insane. I started weeding under the flaxes and hedges too, but there is a lot more to do around there.

My pruning to-do list is enormous. Almost all the fruit trees need pruning of some description, well, the big ones anyway. I pruned the white-fleshed peach tree in The Orchard and sprayed copper fungicide on both peach trees, the two almond trees and the two apricot trees. I was supposed to do the first copper spray for the peach trees back in June, but the ‘r’ word kept getting in the way. I won’t be surprised if they get affected by peach leaf curl this season, but hopefully it won’t be too bad. I couldn’t spray the two Billington plum trees because they’re in flower at the moment and copper is toxic to pollinators like bees. Once the flowers are spent I will spray them.

The Little Fulla, The Husband and I have all been cleaning up the great grapefruit massacre. Most of the grapefruit fell within a short space of time, which, of course, was the away/busy patch, some of the fruit on the tree have been affected by brown patches, which I’m guessing are a bacterial thing thanks to all the ‘r’ word, and the wet ground in The Orchard compounded the problem into a carpet of rotting grapefruit. I hate chucking out so much fruit. We will have to get more onto it with using the grapefruit. I might need to spray it with a fungicide as well, but first, it needs pruning, as it is far too big and it is getting up in the face of the white-fleshed peach tree. The lemon and tangelo need more pruning too. They are going absolutely bonkers with vegetative growth and fruit. They have evidently enjoyed the mild winter.

Vege garden and grapefruit massacre
Here you can see some of the grapefruit massacre in The Orchard. Yikes. Also note the depletion of soil in the Climbing Bed in front of the fence.

I sowed my tomato, capsicum and chili seeds a couple of weeks ago, but the tomatoes had a problem. They germinated while I was away. In the hot water cupboard. I forgot to check them until the next afternoon following my return and most of them were stretched beyond usefulness. I was pretty annoyed with myself. If I could manage to get my seedlings out of the hot water cupboard when I was in labour, how could I fail any other time? It’s clear that I need to build a greenhouse of some description. I re-sowed all my tomato varieties but since the chillies and capsicums are slow to germinate they are ok. Indeed, they are germinating well on the dining room table as I write. I also have a tray of lettuce germinating.

Saturday was the day of great work in the vege garden. The Great Vege Garden Expansion Plan is back underway! The Husband helped me to dig out the last old fence post by the garage and I cleared away other bits and pieces that had gathered in the area. And weeds. This allowed me to get busy flattening out the dirt and siting where the next raised beds will go. I am so pleased with the progress here. The pile of stones by the corner bed were spread out on the path and covered with dirt to raise the level there. The rest of the dirt and the compost remnants (and worms) that I dug out of the area by the garage were put into the Climbing Bed in front of the orchard. It had a good layer of old wood shavings from the chicken coop as a mulch, which I shoveled to the side before adding the dirt, then put the mulch back on top to protect the soil and suppress weeds. Now it is nice and full in preparation for tomatoes and cucumbers. A bunch of the other raised beds need to be replenished before planting too.

If that wasn’t enough, I also planted 41 onion seedlings into the vege garden yesterday, in the showers, because the ‘r’ word couldn’t stay away for too long now, could it? I also transplanted some meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii) into the roots (onions, carrots, etc.) bed. The meadowfoam self-seeded very well and has kept the vege garden with dashes of lush green throughout the winter. I am transplanting the plants around to where I want them now, although I have rather too many. They are for the pollinator insects to feed from when they flower. Speaking of flowers, I got a couple of burgundy pansies when I was at Bunnings, because it’s nice to have even just a little bit of colour around. Especially if it’s burgundy.

And now we get to the bad part. There is an egg thief. Eggs have been going missing and the mystery is still unfolding. Stay tuned for the investigation.

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