polished

when the rain came

fire

digging

surveying

with shovel

african

polished

with cows

testing it

rearranged

A few weeks back we were treated to a torrential weekend of rain.  It began on the Friday afternoon and thundered down, non-stop, until Monday afternoon.  Oh my goodness, there was so much water.

Now, as a Brisbane girl – who also lived in Malaysia as a child – I thought I knew rain.  I love a good storm that stealthily appears on the horizon, turning the sky an eerie gold-green, before launching massive rolls of thunder and cracks of lightning, then torrential rain that turns your street into a creek within moments.  Yeah, yeah, I know and love that rain well.  But it’s over and done with within an hour usually.  Sometimes, if it’s arrived early enough in the afternoon, you can even enjoy a freshly washed blue sky and dazzling sunset before the moon rises for the evening.

But this rain – almost 72 hours of constant, drenching rain.  No.  That, I have never experienced.  It was delightful on Friday evening as we built the fire to roaring, tucked all the animals up safe and dry in their houses, and settled in for a cosy night of knitting and good television.  It was even adventurous on Saturday morning when Noah and I layered up and ventured over to Quaama for petrol, veggies and milk.

Saturday evening was beginning to feel a bit like we should have prepared the ark and as Sunday morning dawned – with a solid grey and plummeting sky – the novelty was definitely wearing thin. It was especially thin when we realised the pantry roof was leaking … onto our kitchen appliances.  The goats were pissed off.  The chickens were glum.  The guinea fowl had given up trying to make the best of it and were so hunched up they appeared to have lost their necks.  But the ducks and geese?  Rain is like crack to them.  They go truly insane.  They spend every outside moment running, splashing, darting their beaks into the sodden earth.  They ADORE it.

We humans were OVER it.  All the roads around us were flooding.  The ground was like walking on a sodden dish sponge.  Doing the animal chores was a drenching and depressing affair – by Monday morning I just did them in my underwear and gumboots.  No point soaking another set of clothes – and yes, I had been wearing a raincoat and carrying an umbrella!  Water was pouring out of the tanks’ overflows.  And we were having to replace the  buckets and towels in the pantry every couple of hours.  And what did the weather forecast say – oh you haven’t had the worst of it – that’s still coming!

Yep, Sunday night that rain was so loud on our tin roof it was hard to stay asleep.  And I hated thinking of all our animals – just as damp and soggy as their bedding.  All night I dreamt of big dry cosy barns – like in Charlotte’s Web – with solid wooden walls, high impenetrable slate roofs, dry dusty floors, separate little cosy stalls for all the animals, each with a lovely pile of warm, dry, sweet smelling fresh straw. Argh!

But as I staggered out of bed on Monday morning, my spirits as low as the sky, I reminded myself that this too would pass.  The skies were predicted to clear by mid afternoon.  The animals were all still healthy and whole.  Everything would dry out.  So, instead of frittering away another day, I decided to embrace my inner Rhonda and give the house a huge deep clean – and even throw in a little re-arrange.  Alas, the re-arrange potential here is as small as our house, but I still give it my best shot :-)

Julian went out to dig at his pond – with his ever faithful assistant and most unlikely farm dog ever – Fu!  I scrubbed the bathroom from top to bottom.  Washed and polished all the wooden surfaces.  Polished the silver trays and art deco coffee pots on top of the kitchen dresser.  Refreshed all the little Ostheimer corners and filled vases with feathers and gum.  Each candleholder was filled with new candles.  I scrubbed the stove.  Vacuumed and mopped the floor.  And then with my ever faithful rearranging assistant – the fabulous Noah – moved my sewing and computer desk into the far corner of the dining room and the crystal cabinet into the prime spot opposite the dining table.  We even dusted all the crystal!  And as we moved – and created ever more dust – Noah attacked with the vacuum.

It was brilliant.  We totally reclaimed the day.  We embraced our little home and made the most of it, rain or not.  Julian gave the ducks and geese their best day on earth ever – and because the ground was so sodden, was able to really get into building up the walls of the pond which had become very hard over our long hot summer.

By the end of the day we were all tired and sore.  But the rain had stopped.  The animals were indeed drying out.  The last applied towels and buckets in the pantry were still dry.  And our house shone like a new pin, no longer feeling like a damp and untidy hovel.  The homemade furniture polish I’d used – coconut oil, vinegar and a dash of rose geranium essential oil – added a lovely soft scent to every room.  The firelight and candlelight made all the wooden surfaces and silver gently gleam.  We all felt a sense of productive satisfaction.

All was good and peaceful.

And next time such rain is predicted, I know just what to stock up on, just how to prepare – and just how to enjoy it.

on angle

The Duck & Goose :: my painted farm

the fluffy helper

so much mesh

working on the fox proofing

under the ramp

tempting them in

D72_5988

close up

flora and reuben

the feeder

the rotten rosella

tools

top

middle

close up rosella

all sone

at the end of the ramp

on angle

in we go

I love building animal houses with Julian.  It’s such fun puzzling out all the questions that must be answered each time we build a new house.  What shape and size do we need for this particular species? How big does the door need to be?  What kind of access do we need to the interior?  How are we going to clean it?  What kind of floor does it need?  How much ventilation?  Does it need to be fox proof – what a silly question – everything needs to be fox proofed!!!  What are we going to build it out of?  And how much will THIS cost!?!?!

We built our original six Indian Runner Ducks a sweet little A-frame.  However, we came home from collecting the Guinea Keets with a beautiful breeding pair of Appleyard Ducks (hello Flora and Reuben!) and come the Bega Young Poultry Auction, we found ourselves with two more dear little chocolate Runners (hello Alfred and Gretel!) and three gorgeous geese (hello Guiseppe, Madonna and Francesca!).  That little A-frame was just too little.  The ducks no longer liked going in at night and there was no room for a nest for their prodigious egg laying.  Flora took to hiding her eggs around the garden (she lays huge eggs almost every day) and the Runners were simply dropping theirs near the duck pond!  As for the geese – phht! – no hope.

A new house was needed – one with ample room for now and plenty of room for little ducklings come spring.  But the building supply pile was looking skimpy as were the building funds.  Hmmm.  Serendipitously, Mum found the solution!  Being an avid gardener, she often hangs out at her local garden centre and knows the owner well – he was lamenting that he had a huge pile of hardwood pallets that were taking up way too much room so Mum asked if we could have a few and he was more than happy for Julian to visit with the trailer!  Woot!

Pallet building has surely become an “in-thing” – look on Pinterest and you’ll find heaps of furniture built out of the humble pallet.  However, these misguided carpenters appear to mostly rip apart the pallets – a lot of effort for some pretty crappy timber.  We wanted to use ours whole – fast and sturdy.  So – two pallets for the floor, two for each long side, one for the back and two for a ramp – all screwed together.  A big hinged door made out of hardwood fence palings we sourced from the dumpshop.  Corrugated from the dumpshop for the roof – mounted on a bit of our building timber left over from the chicken house.  And the whole thing was mounted on besser block footings that Julian spent hours carefully digging into the ground and levelling.  This means the straw litter will filter through to the ground and all we’ll have to do is keep adding fresh straw to the top!  Works a treat in the chook house.

However, pallets are NOT fox proof.  The author of my favourite chicken book – The Small Scale Poultry Flock – says he keeps the skulls of the few predators that have breached his defences – so that he can push them through gaps in his building to see if they fit!  I reckon foxes probably have pretty flattish skulls so I’m into filling in every nook and cranny.  Julian thinks I should get myself a dead fox, let it decay and then test that bloody skull just to make sure!  He’s quite sure foxes are no where near as flat as that.  I don’t know.  There’s a reason so many stories and nursery rhymes have been written about foxes and their fondness for stealing poultry.

Anyways, the pallets lack of fox proofing meant I had to completely mesh the inside of the duck house with poultry mesh.  It didn’t take as long as I thought – but it was rather cramped and arm-exhausting work, stapling all that mesh on.  There sure won’t be any foxes dining at my duck house tonight :-)

But the BEST bit about building animal houses is that I get to decorate them when done :-)  As I’m sure you can guess dear folk, I loooooooove that bit.  And on Tuesday, after having a complete hissy fit and floods of tears over the rats eating my arrowroot, echinacea and elder, rather than spending the morning ranting at Julian and Noah about the unfairness of nature, or stewing on the porch, or sulking in my bedroom, I gathered up my paints and headed down to the duck house.  There was that beautiful big fencing paling door just wanting for a spot of prettiness.

I never really know the details of what I shall paint before I start.  I’m a bit like that.  I knew there would be a tree – with blossoms and apples and leaves all at once :-) I call it the Hayao Miyazaki art style (Japanese filmmaker – always has all his favourite flowering plants in flower at once no matter what the time of year ;-).  I knew there would be ducks.  Runners?  Appleyards? Whatever was right at the moment.

And I have to say, I am utterly thrilled to pieces with this work.  For the tree’s trunk and branches, I took my inspiration from the cherry tree that shades the duck house.  Then added my details – I’m especially pleased with the leaves – I managed to achieve a build up of colour that from a distance looks appliqued!  Grass underneath – with fallen blossoms and fruit.  Then Reuben and Flora – the runners always run about as one flock so I couldn’t just pick a couple out.  Whereas Reuben and Flora – well, they’re like an old married couple :-)  So identifiable and so much character.  Perfect for painting.  The other side of the tree needed something but there wasn’t enough room for more ducks so I thought about what the ducks love – their feeder!  Even though they spend most of their day foraging around the garden, they do love to greedily guzzle up a slurp of scratch mix as soon as they burst out of their house each morning.  And finally, one of those pesky Rosellas.  They ate all our cherries and apricots last spring.  And now they love to hang out on the roof of the duck house and in the bare branches of the cherry tree, waiting to swoop down and have a little nibble of the scratch mix.  Buggers.  They’re exquisitely beautiful – but they are buggers.

I also feel, with this piece, that I’m really growing a style I love and that feels doable.  I want to paint much much much more.  Julian loves it so much, he went straight to the workshop and put together a big “sign” made out of marine grade ply with a rustic paling frame (he even mitred the corners) for me to paint “The Duck & Goose” on – we’ll hang it on the front of the house like an old fashioned English pub sign :-)  You see, we were hopeful our three geese would move in too – but they are so bolshie and just won’t.  Means the electric fence has to stay up – and means they are not as safe as I’d like, but what can you do.  Geese that refuse to go inside and Hamburg chickens that sleep in the gum tree!

We’ll have to come up with a different style house for the geese – I’m thinking an on the ground kind of lean-to that has a fox-proof floor and a very very easy to navigate door – they’re a bit dim those geese.  Oh well – whatever, it is, there’ll be more gorgeous opportunities to keep working on my painted farm.

golden autumn days

daisys in sun

rose and grevillea

quinces

seal

rose

coming along

spinach

fu

flora and ruben

geese

finished

half done

scones for lunch

Each morning this week, we have awoken to heavy dews and windows opaque with condensation.  When we first venture out onto the porch, the air is crisp and cool, but this autumn sun  … the higher it rises, the more golden and warm it becomes.  By the time the chores are done, we have shed our jumpers and reached for our hats.  The calendar may declare it to be autumn but by golly, it seems the whole continent is holding tight to the warmth of summer and just does not want to let go.

The maples that frame our porch still have ALL their leaves with only a few turning red.  Yes, the daisies are abloom but the roses are still putting out fat luscious buds.  There may be quinces at the farmgates, but the bulbs and African Flame Trees have decided it’s time to flower!  And today, that sun was so strong, the veggies that haven’t been eaten by rats (yay to the worst rats our corner of the valley has seen in years!) were wilting.

Sigh … there’s not much we can do to hustle along proper autumn weather and so we make the most of these glorious golden days and keep our fingers crossed.

Today, Julian set off early for the airport – he has workshops to run in Sydney – and I set up my paints in the veggie garden to keep decorating the guinea pig house.  Today – the Moominvalley Horse.  According to Noah – who’s read all the novels and big hard covered volumes of cartoons – this wonderfully silly horse has no name.  It’s just the horse.  But it has a fabulous mane, tail and flowers scattered across it’s body.  And almost always, a slightly manic and disdainful look.  I love it!

I adore Tove Jansson’s art.  So much imagination and whimsy.  I wish I could grow her weird and wonderful trees and flowers.  I wish there were Moomins and their friends in our forest, complete with gushing streams and little bridges. Her stories and art are full of such a heartwarming eccentricity and so many of her characters seem beset by anxiety!  Makes me feel right at home :-)

Next up will be the Mymble’s Daughter lying amongst the flowers with her book – that will go across the front (and one of the images that I would love to have tattooed on my arm – should I ever get a tattoo).  And on the last side – well it just has to be Noah’s favourite – Snufkin.  With his pipe standing on a wee bridge almost hidden by trees.

However, today there were visitors to prepare for and so the minute the last strokes of navy were added to the horse’s ears, Noah and I quickly set to work.  The porch was tidied, swept and washed.  Fresh straw was laid in the chicken house and nest – and two of this morning’s eggs returned so the littlest visitor could collect them (unnecessary – turned out those chickens are taking their newly acquired egg laying duties very seriously and had laid a couple more!).  The banana lounges were set up under the white cedar for the grown ups and the dear little cane chair that was mine when I was small was pulled out of storage, dusted off and given pride of place.  Bathrooms were cleaned.  Scones were baked (the recipe I’ve used for the last 15 years – Nigella’s Lily’s Scones from “How to Be a Domestic Goddess”).  And all just in time.

We gave our visitors a tour of our wee farm – fed the rabbit and guinea pigs, laughed at the ducks and geese, picked carrots, collected the eggs, chatted with the goats who are always happy to talk, and spent a lot of time keeping track of Fu.  “The Fluffy one” was the littlest one’s hottest favourite.  Then we had our picnic under the tree.

By the time they left, Noah and I were so tired all we wanted to do was flop on the sofa – but there were parcels waiting for us at the Post Office – Rhonda Hetzel’s new book “The Simple Home”, Tone Finnanger’s new book “Tilda’s Toy Box” (it is utterly divine and I want to make everything), a new honey pot for the kitchen, and a tshirt for Noah.  Mail order is definitely one of the perks of living in the country :-)

We are so far from the shops that there’s no regular dropping in as we pass.  Instead, even though we shop locally for as much as we can, every couple of months we pop in small orders to some of our favourite online stores – books (I like Booktopia – Australian owned and operated, excellent delivery times), eco homewares (I adore Spiral Garden (they have Taproot at a great price with Australian shipping and a lovely homewares section), Greenharvest (their egg brush is my favourite kitchen tool), Eden Seeds (I will happily just read the catalogue in bed everynight), and Bee Eco Wraps (just amazing!  transformed our food storage) Noah’s into tshirts, Julian has a passion for vintage tools, and I confess, special bits of fabric and wool find there way here too (Little Woollie Makes is my favourite for wool – she has everything I love, and I’m addicted to Clair’s Fabrics – really nicely curated collection).  Then –  as we don’t have a mailman that comes to our gate, our parcels are left at the local postoffice in the nearby village and when we drop in for milk, the lovely owners always know whether something is waiting for us.  We love it! It’s just so quaint and old fashioned compared to living on a tram line in a huge city.  I’m so glad we’re here.

So a lovely day was perfectly ended with cups of tea and reading.  Noah cooked supper.  The animals were tucked into bed.  The cool night has drawn in.

Maybe tomorrow it will feel like autumn.  Whether or not, there will be loveliness for sure.

the feathered garden

runner girls

on the gate

wolfgang

elfrieda

hungry

emerging

laurence and his adoring girls

cynthia

dust bathing

pam

william

crazy keets

sleeping and busy

madonna

under the maple

guiseppe

francesca

banned from the garden

reuben and flora

After three busy months our garden is now full of feathered friends!

The Orpingtons we brought with us from Melbourne continue to grow – but have still yet to lay a single egg.  It took a while to be able to tell them apart – that sounds crazy now – but they finally all have names.  There’s Cynthia – she used to be top chook but she’s recently been overthrown by Nutmeg and Marcie who are currently sharing the honour.  Then there’s quiet little Walnut who’s ever so relieved that her nemesis (Cynthia!) is now at the bottom of the pecking order.  Blackcurrant and Eggplant keep to themselves but are friendly and busy.  And Pam – she’s the mostly white one – well she’s just Pam.

Two of our roosters sadly died – Rex, who was definitely a very fine leader and as such a real loss, and Rumbatum, who despite having gorgeous feathers was quite a bully.  Rex’s death was a complete surprise and mystery – one morning he was just laying dead under the peach tree.  No wounds.  No earlier noticed symptoms.  Rumbatum died a couple of days later – again no idea why.  Naturally any animal loss is not only sad, but such a worry and quite a dent to our confidence as amateur farmers.  I thoroughly read all the sections on bird disease, weaknesses and prevention in our poultry books and spent hours poring over alarming stories on the internet.  More importantly, I chatted with our local vet – who suggested simple worming.  Yep there I was contemplating the horrors of avian cholera only to find out that worms are the most likely to do our birds in.

Worms!  They’re everywhere.  The goats get them. The birds get them.  Our future sheep and pigs will get them.  Only 3 months in and I have to confess I’m rather obsessed with worms!  They’ve become my farming nemesis.  We drenched the goats, wormed the chickens and now everyone is on a diet of water spiked with garlic and apple cider, and diacetamous earth in their food a couple of times a week.

It’s a strong learning curve, this business.  And as is always the way with me, I become quickly overwhelmed and convinced I won’t be able to do it, and then as it settles down, I continue to learn, experience builds, I gather some confidence, and then …. I realise I AM doing it and it’s all okay.  Phew!  Until the next unexpected turn :-)

Our other Orpington rooster – Gormless – is staggering on but he’s a bit hopeless and the girls are kind to him but clearly don’t look up to him.  So we brought in a new rooster – Laurence the French Wheaten Maran – from a lovely family nearby who wound up with 8 roosters out of 16 chicks!  And then at the Young Poultry Auction last weekend, Julian accidentally bought another rooster – William the Gold Laced Wyandotte.  Now Laurence has the love of the girls but William is the master of crowing and strutting.  Laurence seems content with this state of being and there’s been no fighting or stress.  Goodness knows how it will play out.

Then we have two more chickens – the crazy Hamburgs, also from the Young Poultry Auction – Wolfgang and Elfrieda.  That’s them up there on the gate.  Yep.  No one else bid on them at the auction so we snagged them for just $20 because let’s face it – they are really cute!  But it was obvious within the first 5 minutes of putting them in the chicken field that THAT wasn’t going to work.  Despite trimming one wing each, they were able to not only clear the fences, but the chicken house too and fly a good 5 metres up into a gum tree – which is where they spent their first night.  And much to William’s annoyance, Wolfgang – half his size – seemed to think he was top rooster.  And the Orpie girls were none too keen on little Elfrieda.

So we built the Hamburgs their only little run in the corner of the house garden – where they are surrounded by trees – and accepted that we were never really going to be able to contain them.  We just have to make it appealing and hopefully they’ll hang around.  The alternative is housing them in an aviary style set up – they’d hate that and I’d feel mean.  They cheerfully hang out in their run during the day, Elfrieda lays us a dear little bantam egg most days, and come 5pm, Wolfgang announces to the valley (man, can he crow!) that they have retired to the gumtree for the night.  There they stay until the sun has well and truly come up, when they flutter down to the gate and wait for our morning visit.

Of course their lifestyle increases their fox risk enormously but … we are picking out our Maremma puppy in a week or so, and fingers crossed Wolfgang and Elfrieda will keep safe until the Maremma is mature enough to keep those foxes at bay.

We’re also counting on the Maremma to keep our Guinea Fowl safe.  They’re now quite big – they’ve shed their keet feathers and are now beautifully clothed in spotty ones.  Their funny blue helmets are becoming more apparent everyday.  And they just keep on growing – quickly coming to the end of their time in the A-frame tractor.  Julian’s designing them little “tree houses” – they’ll be built on posts several feet off the ground, and like the Hamburgs, the best approach is to start by fencing their houses and keeping their food here so the guinea fowl learn that they live here.  Then you can let them free range and encourage them to come back to the houses each night.  But like the Hamburgs, they are very good flyers so it can be tricky.  We’ll see.

And we’ve branched out into water fowl –  6 Indian Runner Ducks that joined us from Mallacoota (Leopold, Alice, Harriet, Hyacinth, Poppy and Chrysanthemum) that were quickly joined by Reuben and Flora – a breeding pair of Appleyards that were almost given to us by the lovely family that sold us our Guinea Fowl keets – and last weekend, another pair of chocolate Runners – Alfred and Gretel.

As Noah says “Those ducks sure love being ducks!”  Oh they do!  They are so funny and busy – adventuring all over the house garden, splashing in their pond, head ducking in their water trough, hunting for bugs, chatting with the Hamburgs, snoozing under the trees during the heat of the day, and literally dancing and singing with delight when it rains.  And they are the best buddies.

When we brought Alfred and Gretel home, we let them out of their box just inside the house garden gate – there they stood unsure and still until they heard Alice (she’s the leader of the ducks) call – they cocked their heads to the side and with great delight and relief set off around the house to find their kinfolk.  Alice had brought the others out to meet them – in a neat line of course – and the chocolate Runners just slipped into line as if they’d always been there.  We get at least 2 eggs each day – sometimes 3.  Flora’s the main layer and her eggs are huge and rich.  The Runners also lay but we have no idea which ones – their eggs are a little bit smaller but equally lovely.

Ducks are so easy to look after.  I think they’re my favourite.  But they get worms too.  Ugh!

Our last purchase at the auction was a trio of geese.  I know almost nothing about them – except that they are less than a year old, there’s two girls and one boy, and they appear to be a mix of Australian Settlers + Chinese geese.  The auction had all but wound up and everybody was leaving with their newly acquired birds when the Auctioneer remembered the geese that were outside.  I was mad keen on them – had been looking on Gumtree for months – so quickly put up my hand – and I got all three for just $60.  What a bargain!

They are real sweethearts.  Guiseppe is the white boy, Francesca is the grey-brown girl, and Madonna is the spotty girl.  When I call out “Goosey-goosey-goosey!” Guiseppe answers me with a funny little miaow!  They mostly hang out with the ducks but can get a little bossy about the pond and the food.  When Francesca decides it’s time for her bath, she just nips anyone else who may be in the pond on their tail feathers and out they scamper so that she can preen and stretch like a ballerina, splashing all that precious water everywhere.

And our garden?  We had to fence off the vegetable beds – whilst the ducks and geese are supposedly good at eating the bugs, they also love soft green leaves – they demolished our strawberry plants and ate all the tarragon.  And their big flat feet destroy seedlings so they’re currently banned from the beds.  But they’re doing a marvellous job keeping the grass cut and fertilised and if I was so inclined, I could gather up all the downy feathers they preen each day and I swear by the end of the year I could fill several pillows.  They do love to preen.

Instead, we are content to just sit back on the porch and watch with delight as they burst out of their houses each morning and get busy loving being ducks and chickens and geese.  It looks like a good life.