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.

painting the farm

whitewash

little guineas

helping

blue flowers

strange flowers

good company

with rabbit

hunny bunny

tree

on angle

finished

 

I’ve fallen into that habit where I think “I won’t invite people over until I’ve finished this and this and this and this and this …”  Both in person and here at block-a-day!

However, given my other habit of having a million things on the go at once, that can make for very sporadic posting … and telling Julian that we cannot invite that nice couple over until I’ve painted the dining room walls orange.

That’s changing.  Those lovely people can come anytime regardless of what colour the walls are and I’m just going to share what I’m up to here – not wait for the “ta-da! It’s all done!” moment.

I might have said this before? Well I’m going to do much better this time ;-)

So lately – I’m decorating the animal shelters and it’s such blissful fun!  I’ve started with the smallest – the guinea pig hutch which moves round and round the vegetable garden whilst the little pigs greedily tear up all the grass.

First up I whitewashed everything with an all purpose prep coat.  Well I started it, but when I had to dash off to an appointment, Noah cheerfully finished it off so as it would be all ready for painting when I got home.  He’s a darling – always happy to indulge any of my creative impulses.

We decided on a Moomin theme for the guinea pigs – these wonderful books and comics by Tove Jansson being one of Noah’s and my absolute favourite books and illustrations.  And whilst he wasn’t keen on any actual painting – he’s much more into water colours, copic markers and digital art making – he was happy to bring his drawing and Hunny Bunny the Rabbit down to the veggie garden to spend a truly lovely afternoon with me.

I started with Tove’s cover for Finn Family Moomintroll as my starting inspiration … and then just made it up as I went along.  One of the most delightful things about making it up is that I can have whatever loopy flowers and trees I want.  Good stuff!  And my beloved sun – I always want to add that no matter what my medium – embroidery, mosaic, paint, fabric – that combination of red, rosy pink, orange, and egg yolk yellow is my all time favourite.

But Moominpapa and those Hattifattners – they are just pure Tove.  Well, except that I had to add a bit of blue to Moominpapa so he’d show up – and a bit of green to those crazy Hattifattners.

We all love it!  Eventually, I will add pictures to the ends and front of the hutch, then trim the whole lot with red gloss and a protective coat of varnish for the artwork.

Until then – it makes us all smile every time we look down into the veggie garden, and I swear I’ve even noticed the ducks standing at the fence, looking in with curious appreciation!

afternoons in the summer backgarden

 

Living in Melbourne for the last 5 years has granted me an entirely new appreciation for the sun and its warmth, for brightness and colourful cheer.  One could almost call it an obsession.  See, in Brisbane, it is almost always hot and usually sunny.  There is so much colour and brightness it almost verges on the garish, and our upper legs were usually stuck together with sweat!  Gosh – we thought it was terrifically exciting to have a cool grey day and couldn’t wait to break out the woolies – even if it meant we had to sit under the swirling ceiling fans to really enjoy wearing them :-)

But here in Melbourne there are soooooooooo many bleak grey days that when the sun does shine I cannot bear to sit inside.  I’m not overly fond of sitting by myself either so, if there’s family around I drag them out into the garden too.  We set up the banana lounges (hard rubbished from an incredibly posh house on Beach road in Sandringham!), lay out a quilt and cushions, bring out our reading, drawing, knitting, crocheting, sewing … whatever takes our fancy, make up trays of drinks, tea, snacks, and soak up every last moment.

The dogs, of course, come voluntarily … they think its fabulous when we “play” in their territory.  They rush around and make sure the cheeky rabbits are behaving, those dastardly birds are staying away, and that there’s no alarming or new smells to be found,  then they flop down next to us, their eyes squinty shut in the sunlight and snooze. Oh we do love them so!

Now, we are heading into the last weeks of summer … soon the leaves will fall from the oak, the days will become so much shorter, the sitting room, with its cosy lamps, will become our favoured spot.  But for now – we will take every summery moment that’s offered, with even the humblest parts of the backgarden aglow and colourful

It’s so good for my soul.

curry plant

sun dappled quilt

mum knitting

a basket of wool

turquoise feet

even the washing basket glows

surely the last potato

lucy

Fu

child

tea

mum and tea

the crabapples of finch street

One of the things that always brings me a lovely sense of “ahhhh …” is driving down Finch Street.  It lies between our place and the little girl’s school I nanny/tutor – well, it does on my carefully planned route :-)

And no matter the time of year, Finch Street – with its grand old houses and magnificent trees is breathtakingly lovely.  The other little girl I used to nanny (who moved to Sydney last year) used to ask me to drive down it specially, and we’d drive slowly, ooohing and aaaahing over our favourite houses, discussing who’d have which room, where we’d put the furniture, and the garden parties we’d hold.

There’s even a truly exquisite old mansion that does high teas – we always said we would go but never did.  That’s a lesson in life, isn’t it – do it now or you’ll miss out.

Now part way along Finch Street is this pretty little roundabout which looks nice enough most of the year, but in spring it is glorious.  ‘Cause in the middle is a beautifully shaped crabapple and it puts out the prettiest spring blossoms ever.

Oh they are the perfect shade of pink with those vivid but soft green spring leaves making the rosy blossoms leap out even more.  And when you stop and peer closely, the blossoms are filled with funny little black flying insecty things.  I’ve no idea what they are – but I have checked other crabapples in my neighbourhood and they have them too.

Clearly funny little black flying insecty things are especially fond of crabapples.  We’re kindred spirits, me and those insects.

finch

So when I was playing with this Storybook charm pack the other day, it was crabapples that sprang to mind.  I had two charm packs so I laid them out on my bed – in that carefully random way we all strive for – and because that wasn’t going to make a very big quilt, added a very pretty pink 1930s repro I had – as crosses.  Maybe it’s a nursey thing, but I do like crosses lately.

piecing

Might add, it wasn’t until I was pinning the finished quilt top out that I realised the Storybook range is baby fabric!  There’s onesies and bibs on the wee clotheslines!  Never mind – it’s still very pretty – and the castles and birds and pirate ships are just lovely.

pinned

close up of pins

Found the loveliest blanket for backing – it is so thick and fresh – methinks it’s hardly been used.  And such perfect colours for my crabapple quilt.

reels

My original intention was to quilt alternating crabapples and blossoms in the simple squares.  However – this here apple was the only one of 13 that turned out – boy that was some serious unpicking.  Didn’t matter how much I practiced I just could NOT get any other apples nice and rounded.  Hmph.

the only good apple

So blossoms it was.  Lovely crinkly edged, smooshed layers just like those on the crabapple tree.  With leaves of course.  I do so love that about the crabapple – how it bursts forth with its leaves and blossoms at the same time.

quilting the flowers

blossoms

with bug

serendipity

close up pink circles

They came up especially pretty on the back of the blanket.  I reckon I would cheerfully use this quilt face up or down.

sewing in the last threads

Like Orlando’s Blue Oaks from last week, all this quilting was an excellent adventure in free motion quilting!  There are 110 crabapple blossoms, 4 slightly wonky but okay apples in each corner, inner borders of squiggly-wiggly – representing the bluestone walls of the Finch Street roundabout, and outer borders of funny little black flying insecty things – joined together on a meandering flight path with leaves along the way.  It was a make it up as I went along kind of thing.

And I did unpick quite a bit – anything I wasn’t pleased with got the pick – sometimes it felt like I was spending more time on the sofa flicking those errant stitches out than I was at the sewing machine!  Some of the flying insects are a bit wonky but they’ll get better with practice.  I’m especially fond of the “wings” in each of the blue and white triangles – I can imagine doing something that incorporates lots and lots of them very soon

apple and wings

closer the back

pink buds

lots of bugs

Isn’t that sky amazing!  When a lovely spring day comes along here in Melbourne, it is seriously lovely.

reaching for the sky

the whole quilt

top left corner

bottom right corner

on the garden bench

pegs

apple

on grass

blew onto ground

As I mentioned the other day, crabapples are on my list to plant when we move to our land in the beautiful Bega Valley.  But no matter where we venture, this sweet little quilt will always remind me of Finch Street.  When we tuck it round us on a cold evening, or lay it out under a summer’s tree for a little one to play on, I’ll remember the beauty of Finch Street and its exquisite roundabout crabapple – the very first time I met this dear little spring sweetie.

doneLove!