under the applegum

finding our faraway tree

milkshake and crochet

julian

noah

Fu

Noah and Julian

Julian and fu

upside down

looking up

crochet hook

pakkun

bark stripping

tasty

peaceful pooches

on the quilt

sunlight

under the applegum

front door

sunbeam

so twisty

down to the faraway tree

Early Friday morning, we sat on the porch, third coffees on the table between us, me with my crochet, Julian with his moleskin, and we brainstormed all the things we’d love to achieve around the farm over the weekend.  Then we marked off the most important seven for Friday and set to work.  It was mostly a day of orchard planting.  The raspberry patch was finished off – 5 metres long by 2 metres wide, thoroughly dug over with old duck bedding, liberally seasoned with the neighbour’s horse poo, edged with timber and secured with a nice deep row of poultry netting, steel hoops and black netting.  Nothing can be left to chance around here.  If the ducks don’t get in with their destructive flat feet and jack hammering bills, or the rats and rabbits eat it down to a 1 inch stick, then the rosellas and king parrots annihilate every last bud. We’ve learnt the hard way.

Then we planted plums, pomegranates, peaches, blackcurrants and gooseberries.  At the moment the whole thing looks like a graveyard of sticks with a half dug pond piled with dirt around the edges.  Nothing to show off for sure.  But oh, when I look down from the kitchen window, I dream of what it will look like in a few years time.  The pond will be deep and full, edged by water plants with a lovely rock wall at one end, and ducks and geese cheerfully swimming round and round the water lilies.  Those fruit trees – including the already planted apples, pears, hawthorn and almond will be tall and blooming.  That raspberry patch will be glistening with fat juicy berries.  And off to one side will be the lovely wooden rotunda that Julian and I plot every time we stand amongst the fruit trees – a handmade octagon with no railings but wide steps leading into the orchard from each side and tall roof thickly covered in wisteria. Mmmmmm …..

Anyways – that was Friday’s list.  Yesterday’s was filled with niggledy little tasks that needed finishing off as well the building of a proper, functioning compost system, and the relocating of the sheep.  A big and busy list, that one, but oh so satisfying to tick each thing off.  And last night – when I looked out and could see our five dear sheep on the other side of the house fence – it felt just right.

This morning, we sat at the table with our third coffees and ambitiously checked off the next seven items.  We may even have said “And once we’ve done all that. we’ll start digging the next 10 metre long raspberry patch.” Yes, I ordered 20 more canes (on top of the 10 we planted Friday) and they’re arriving this week – eek!

First on the list … weed whack around the new sheep fence.  But by the time we got down there, we were already discussing number 2 – move the goat tethers over to the field next to the sheep so that they’d have plenty of shade from the nearby small gum grove.  We wandered down amongst the gums to pace out where we needed to start.  The grove was delightfully cool but sun speckled and the kangaroos have been doing a sterling job keeping down the grass.  It was almost the grove of our dreams.

Our talk turned away from weed whacking and goat tethering to … if we cleared this bit here, got rid of that clump of bracken, dragged these logs up to edge the herb garden.  Next thing, Julian was weed whacking in an ever increasing circle around the huge central apple gum whilst I raked and made bush turkey styled piles ready to be carted off to the bonfire.  We plotted where we would put a rustic wooden table and benches.  We ooohed and ahhhed about how lovely it would be to sit down here on a hot summer’s day with jugs of iced lemon and mint water.  I dreamed of slipping away to wile away the hours with needles, wool and books.

Then, pushing all thoughts of lists and chores away, Julian weed whacked us the perfect path back to the house where we made icy cold banana milkshakes, dug out the picnic quilt, coaxed Noah away from his laptop, and returned to the applegum.

Julian shook out the quilt and we all plonked down.  Through the trees, green fields dotted with cows, rolled away to the north, and mountains loomed to the west.  A spider scuttled across the quilt and Noah caught it in his gumboot – he says it was the first thing that came to hand.  A pair of kookaburras sat above us in the tree, cackling away.  Pakkun tried her hardest to share our milkshakes whilst Fu snuffled about in the grass, and the nearby sheep mooed.  I stitched away at my granny bolster cover, and Julian stripped the bark away from a narrow log he plans to turn into a tamper handle (pond digging stuff)

It was blissful and as I looked up I realised we were really sitting under the Faraway tree!  I pointed out the little doors and porches to Noah and stared up into the sun kissed, twisty turning branches wondering what Silky and Moonface were up to.  I don’t know that Noah was quite as bewitched as I :-)

I adored the Magic Faraway Tree books when I was little.  I read them over and over and over and wished, for the umpteenth time, that I could live a life as wonderful, mysterious and magical as the children in Enid Blyton’s books.  You know, I daresay this was the start of my passion for the English countryside.  It was patently obvious to me that the grand adventures of the Famous Five, the Adventurous Four and of course Jo, Bessie and Fanny could never happen in Australia.  You clearly had to be in the English countryside to camp out in abandoned castles, capture smugglers, rescue kidnapped European princes, and spend lovely days up a tree with the Faraway Tree folk.  Sigh.

And as I sat under our beautiful Faraway Tree, I realised that it was never the promise of that magical land at the top of the tree that really drew me into these books.  I even remember skipping over those bits.  What I truly loved were the homes the funny little people of Faraway Tree – and later, Roald Dahl’s Minpins and Mary Norton’s The Borrowers – created.  The cosiness, the warmth and welcome (mostly), the nooks and crannies, the corners filled with fascinating items, and especially the fabulous make do philosophy they all embraced as they built their wee homes, turning other people’s cast offs into the loveliest of belongings.

I didn’t care about running around in Candy Land or whatever had zoomed in that week.  I longed to peek into little sitting rooms, and take tea by the fireside with people whose lives revolved around the dear little homes they had built all by themselves.  I wanted to live there with them.  I wanted to build my own home just as lovely and creative as theirs. And I wanted them to come visit me.

Forty years later, and I don’t believe I’ve changed one bit :-)  Here we are, Julian and I, building our little home bit by bit.  Weekend by weekend.  Making use of what we find, what other people cast away.  Building it by hand.  Making it so utterly descriptive of just who we are, what we love, and what’s important to us.

Making it cosy.  Making it welcoming.  Making it creative.  Making it ours.

 

now thats more like it

julian laid an egg!

a frame

the real things

geese on the move

the log

getting off the bark

very rough

little bit egg shaped

chisel

awestruck

now thats more like it

out it pops

give it a polish

all done

Oh my goodness!  I have always thought that my Julian was the bees’ knees and a right clever clogs.  But since he brought home his father’s lathe … well, just call me blown away and even more besotted with my lovely man and his endless hidden talents :-)

So here we are, winter is fading fast and spring pushing its way forth.  Our fruit trees are covered in wee buds – you should have seen the almond tree – covered in dear little tightly furled pink buds which the wretched bloody rosellas ate yesterday – aaaaargh! The days are longer.  The bread rises oh so fast.  And the geese are laying eggs.

See, geese only lay once a year.  Well, you know, they lay up to eight eggs over a period of a couple of weeks.  But they don’t lay at any other time.  Like wild birds, they only lay to reproduce.  And our dear girls – Madonna and Francesca – are slowly and carefully adding more eggs to their clutch in the little A-frame house.

We originally built that house for the ducks, but they outgrew it quickly – in size and number.  So we thought the geese might like it and filled it with lovely fresh straw.  Alas, our geese are wilful and dreadfully hard to herd, and so have never slept in there.  Oh no, they insist, every night, on sitting out under the moon and stars, their heavily feathered butts on the freezing ground. Even in the pouring rain and relentless wind.  Bizarre! Which leaves them susceptible to foxes and that means we have to keep the unsightly orange plastic electric net fence up.  Oh well.

But then we began to notice Madonna and Francesca disappearing into the A-frame for hours on end whilst Guiseppe stood guard.  Such glee! I checked many times over the first few weeks – nothing.  Until one morning, there was a HUGE, heavy, perfect white egg.  Naturally, I now – when the geese are up at the pond (very depleted – there’s been no rain for a couple of weeks) – crawl in and inspect their nest for new eggs.  And every few days, yes there’s another one buried deep in the straw, as cold as ice.

We haven’t yet decided how to proceed with this.  Clearly we would love goslings – we bought our trio of Pilgrim Geese as breeders for future meat birds.  Goose for christmas sounds marvellous indeed!  But we don’t know whether to leave the eggs where they are and let Madonna and Francesca have a go at hatching them.  Or pop the eggs into an incubator and see how that goes. Hmmm ….

Of course we don’t want to distress the geese by taking their eggs and making them feel that the A-frame is unsafe and therefore no more eggs for us!  And the plastic eggs you can buy at the ag shop are a very small substitute – I don’t think the geese would be so easily duped.  So Julian decided to turn some eggs.

This morning, he hunted through the wood shed to find a good bit of tree trunk.  And, completely bewitched by the idea of that lump of rough dark wood turning into a smooth egg, I set up a garden chair in the doorway to his workshop and watched with bated breath.

It was magical!  I know people can create exquisite and intricate things with wood lathes and this is just an egg.  But I had NO IDEA my dear man could do this!!!!  Oh the possibilities ahead of us!  I foresee wonderful candlesticks and lampbases, wooden bowls, table legs, staircase rails … all made from the trees on our land.  And of course eggs.  I think there will be many more eggs. How awesome is that!?

Julian carefully liberated his finished egg from its wooden uterus (hee! hee! hee!) and I gave it a quick rub with some lovely fragrant beeswax.  Julian worries that the geese mightn’t like that smell – oh well, that means I can keep this egg and he’ll just have to get to making more for the geese!

Truly, I think this is the most precious and beautiful egg I’ve ever been given.

whole room

the painted sheep

with ram

meeting

newly born

bare door

bare branches

mama sheep

peach tree

wee dusky lamb

grassy

with base

whole door

 

looking towards fireplace

opening

whole room

mama and baby

 

Oh there has been so much excitement here at Wombat Hill over the last couple of weeks.  We have added 5 sheep to our little farmlet!  Two mamas – they are Suffolk crossed with Hampshire Downs – and their three babies.   There’s Caroline-Louisa and her twins Satske and Little Kikashi, and Anne-Shirley and her baby Mae.  We bought them from a lovely lovely farming family who live nearby on a beautiful farm that was once part of the historic Kameruka Estate.  Oh you should have seen their old outbuildings – they even had the Kameruka Butter Factory in their back garden.  Swoon!

We will raise these five as the basis of our flock – well, Little Kikashi won’t really be as he’s a boy and won’t be of much use, but Noah adores him and said from the get go that he would be his pet.  Okay then :-)  So next year when it’s time for Caroline-Louisa and Anne- Shirley to make more babies, we’ll have to find ourselves a ram.  I’d like to get a Suffolk as I adore their black faces and legs. Both breeds are historically considered dual purpose – i.e. fleece and meat – and this is what we will raise them for.

So excited was I that out came the paints and I decorated our tv room door with my dream sheep :-)  As you do.  And half way through the painting, Noah and I were invited out to the farm to meet our potential sheep.  It was the best fun morning.  We arrived just as one sheep mama birthed twins right there in the field.  It was breathtaking.  And we roamed around the upper fields with Sue and her funny dogs – a huge young Maremma, a crazy little Kelpie pup, and the most manic poodle I’ve ever met.  It was one of those moments in life when I knew I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do.  Such a blessing.

We discussed our dreams with Sue and she promised to pick out just the right two mamas and their lambs – including twins – and then it was off to the ag store to buy all the sheep necessities.  Not much really – just another electric fence and a couple bales of lucerne.  We wanted to keep the mamas and their babies close in the early days because of the fox risk.  Yep.  Everything on our farm comes down to intestinal worms and foxes – I had no idea just how much these two topics would consume me.

Once home, I finished my painting – in a dancing state of delight, driving Noah crazy with constant chatter about how fabulous Sue was, and how beautiful the sheep are, and how living in the country is the bees’ knees, and how utterly utterly fantastic it all is!  He just smiled and nodded and agreed – he’s awfully good value like that.

Then, the next day, Noah and I did the big fence re-arrange.  We took the lovely sturdy mesh electric fence off the chickens – ’cause they do have a fox proof house and spend all their days free ranging – Julian calls them the Plucky Cluckies –  so don’t really need the full on fence – then retrieved the dreadful loosely woven goat fence from a lower field which required over an hour’s untangling.  What the goats hadn’t torn apart, the kangaroos crocheted up for us.  We popped that around the chicken house – don’t know why really – it is completely useless at keeping chickens in and foxes out – I think it just made me feel good.  Then we took the chicken’s old fence and the new fence – both very sturdy mesh electric fences – if you’re in the market for an electric fence, don’t even bother with the loose ones – spend the extra hundred and get the close mesh ones – works really well – the other just falls apart – and used them to completely enclose the field right in front of our cottage – including the big grevillea which we thought the sheep and lambs could shelter under if it rained.  Finally, we chucked in a wading pool for their water trough.  It was such good work ;-)

And only one more sleep until the real things arrived ….

beautiful heads

the eccentricities of guinea fowl

in they crowded

safely tucked up for their first night

checking

where are you little guineas

very quiet

staying in

first two brave souls

then a few more

out flew the last

and the flock was whole

adore pecking

exploring

mohawks

beautiful feathers

beautiful heads

fluttering

Our guinea keets have grown up – remember when we bought them at just 4 weeks old! Well, two and a bit months later, it was time to move on out of their A-frame and into something a bit more comfy, more suitable for cosy sleeping, and with plenty of access to lovely pasture.

We did our research and discovered (we’d kind of guessed) that guineas love to fly and thus, they love a tree house which they can flutter up to each night.  Cool – building a tree house would be fun! However, being raised upon a post would limit the size we could build, and given that all 12 tiny keets have grown up into gorgeous plump fowl, complete with bizarre check pouches, black wiry mohawks and heads that are bluer by the day, it looks like we’ll need to build at least two, possibly three.  How cute will that look – three little tree houses grouped in the bottom corner of the garden – Julian even wants to build them little rope gangways so they can go visiting each other like Swiss Family Robinson!

So, it was off to the workshop, paper and pencil in hand, to survey the building supplies and work out what we could build.  Fox proof of course.  Decent ventilation.  A landing platform with a door that can opened by us from down below.  A floor frame that can be mounted on a post.  And perches.  Guineas love to roost.

Julian came up with the dimensions for the basic design – floor, walls, and roof.  My contribution was the corner door (an outdoor table top I’d bought for pennies at the dumpshop – sure it would be useful for something) with a triangular landing platform – I didn’t want to sacrifice roosting space :-) – and the little window.  I wanted the window bigger so I could peer in and see what they were up to.  But Julian was mindful of rain getting in – so it’s smallish.

It took a couple of days to build.  And the door’s not quite finished – Julian needs to buy the supplies so that it can be opened with a pulley – which is just a bit neat!

But it was ready enough for the guineas, especially given they need to be trained to live there.  You see, guineas aren’t the smartest of birds, or the homeliest, and according to our research, they would rather be like the Hamburgs and sleep in trees.  All very well, but we want to keep tabs on these little birds.  We want to know they are safe each night.  We want to find their eggs.  We want them to earn their keep as diligent pest controllers  And, truth be told, we want to roast some for supper!  Thus, they need to be trained to realise this is their home.  This is where the good stuff is.

So the idea is, you put the house on the ground at first surrounded by an electric fence so’s that you can (hopefully) keep track of them during the day, and herd them into their house at night.  Then, when they are all happy with this arrangement, you raise the house so they can (hopefully) fly up by themselves.  Eventually you remove the fence and whilst they are free to wander during the day, they will (hopefully) come back each night.  There’s a lot of hope ;-)

Our chickens manage this beautifully.  They have complete freedom to roam the farm during the day (apart from the vegetable beds) – they have their favourite corners, trees and hideouts, and a meticulously followed routine.  You know where to find them according to the time of day.  Then, an hour before sunset, they are back at their house, pottering about having a nibble and a drink and as soon as the light begins to fade, they take themselves up into their house and settle down to sleep on their perches.  Easy peasy.

Our ducks are pretty good too.  They roam about the house garden during the day and then an hour before sunset, I usher them down to the electric fenced yard in the bottom corner – in they waddle and now, after a week or so, they simply form a single line and trot on into their lovely blue house where they nestle down into the straw, chat to each other for a while, then tuck their beaks in and snooze away.

The geese are utterly hopeless.  Let’s not mention the silly geese.

And those guineas?  Well, they are highly eccentric.  The first night we simply transferred them via the big dog crate to their new abode and that was that.  The next morning, after letting out the ducks, Julian propped open the guineas’ door and we waited excitedly on the porch to watch them explode out into the field and delight in their new freedom.  They didn’t get it.  They stayed in that house all day, peering out the little window and occasionally even coming close to the door to see what on earth could be out there!?!?! But they just would not come out. We felt awful – sure that their two months in the a-frame had turned them into little prisoners who didn’t have a clue how to live on the outside.

Then, just when it was almost time to start putting all the other animals to bed, out popped two guineas.  They strutted about confidently, then after surveying the field, began yelling to their comrades.  The rest came out in pairs or threesomes.  Finally there was just one little guinea left on the inside and when she realised – poof!  out she exploded.  The flock was complete.

And oh how funny is that flock!  They move like a school of fish.  Up and down, back and forth.  And if one breaks away, that’s it, the whole flock explodes, they race about yelling, then within seconds, come back to form their flock and move off once more.  So funny!  By day five, they still don’t come out until around midday, but then, they flock round and round the field, pecking away at the ground, squawking at the top of their lungs, and occasionally one will flutter up to the cherry tree or outside the fence.  But the minute they realise they have separated from their flock, they are frantic to get back and join their always bobbing, beautifully feathered siblings.

But come bedtime …

The first night, we went down to the field as it was getting dark and really struggled to get those guineas back in their house.  It took ages and eventually we were chasing guineas round and round the field – they run like the road runner – hoping they’d run at the (turned off) fence, get caught in the netting, then we could finally catch them and pop them into their house.  Oy!  The second night, Julian declared we should just let them be.  Nope.  If we gave up so easily, they would never learn to love their home.  So it was back down to play chasey with the crazy birds.  They would herd to a degree but then, as soon as we neared the house they would stop dead, refuse to move another step, then one would break away and we’d be off – again.  Dreadful stuff.

The third night we went down a bit later, when the guineas had already formed a little pile next to the fence and gone to sleep.   They were so asleep that they barely stirred when we approached and were quite groggy when we woke them up – we were able to pick up two each and pop them into the house effortlessly.  Then we realised the guineas couldn’t see in the dark – they ran straight into the house and waterer. We also noticed, unlike the ducks who run away from the torchlight, these guys ran into it – they preferred the light and were afraid of the dark!  So we shone the torch in front of their path instead of behind them, and lo and behold, they didn’t stop when they reached the dark house but kept shuffling forwards until eventually we’d managed to push all of them in.

Tonight, we were sitting by the fire, the wind roaring outside, lamenting that we still had to get the guineas into their house (everybody was tucked up, except of course, the silly geese) and Julian wondered whether he could set up a light in their house to attract them.  A light!  A light!  The wonderful blog article I’d read on how to train the guineas to move into their homes had SAID to put in a light and Julian had laughed this off as way too much for the humble guinea fowl.

Rubbish!  It’s not a frivolity!  It’s what attracts them to their home and makes them feel secure.  We could set up a little solar panel with a light attached, turn it on an hour before sunset, and hopefully, once it’s dark, they’ll all be in and then we can turn it out!!!!

So we tested it tonight.  The poor little guineas were huddled next to the fence (right next to the charger – which emits a green light – duh!) so we put the big dolphin torch in the corner of their house, then gently encouraged them up and began herding them over to their house.  Well.  It was a miracle.  They were still a little sleepy, but so comforted by that warm glow and trotted on over.  We got 9 out of 12 in on the first pass, the next two went in on the second, and the final guinea ran in helter skelter when he realised he was the only one left outside in the dark.  The whole shenanigans took less than five minutes.

Dear little guineas :-) With their floppy cheek pouches, vulturine eyes, blueing heads and those gorgeous, gorgeous feathers.  They are truly divine – I’m so glad they are here!  And isn’t that just the lesson – it pays to remember good advice :-)

Well, you know where Julian is going tomorrow don’t you.  Back to the hardware store for supplies to wire up that guinea house light!  And I shall paint their little door.