As much as I love our hens dearly, sometimes they can be very annoying. This particular tale concerns a couple of our ‘saved’ hens, Honey and Perky.
In mid-September, Honey went missing for almost a week. Then on two mornings in a row, Ben spotted her eating pellets in the barn with the other hens – as if she’d never been away. Then she’d disappear again.
After some sleuth work (which involved spying and following), we found her in a grassy hollow in the back paddock, sitting on a mountain of warm eggs. She’d been sneaking back to eat at intervals, then returning to the (impossible) task of waiting for the eggs to hatch.
She was well into broody mode, so we had to remove all the eggs and separate her into the back hen enclosure for a few days. When we tested the eggs using the ‘does it float or not?’ test, they all looked a bit borderline so we disposed of them. (Ben later remarked that they didn’t look good when he broke them, so I’m glad I wasn’t involved with that process.)
Honey has stayed around since then, and has built a new nest in amongst the pile of dry kindling in the barn. And for a time, Perky, and our older hens started laying there as well. So there were generally 3 or 4 eggs in that particular nest when I’d check them each day.
Hens don’t usually lay an egg on every day of the week, so when the number of eggs in that nest dropped down to 2 or 3 on most days, I didn’t think too much of it.
Yesterday, I was deliberating on the fact that our total daily egg tally still looked a little low. I’d still have expected to see 4 eggs in that nest every so often. And we remembered that the week before last, we’d had to rescue Perky when she got herself stranded between two fences along the edge of the back paddock. (I still have no idea how she got there. It was raining and she was as wet as a shag.)
Missing eggs + Perky behaving suspiciously in the back paddock = one conclusion.
Testing the Theory
Last night, Ben shut the gate to the hen enclosure and let the girls out early this morning so that he could see if any of them ran off somewhere.
Sure enough, Perky headed out (the long way) to the back paddock and settled herself down amongst the long grass. Ben found one egg all by itself nearby and left her there to finish laying. When he went back an hour or so later, he found a nest with an additional 19 eggs! Not again! So he brought all the eggs inside and left a fake egg in their place.
At least we know to look there now, and at least Perky hasn’t shown any signs of broodiness. It seems she’s been content to lay an egg on that huge pile, then join her sisters for the rest of the day.
I’m going to check the 20 eggs for freshness, and I may end up discarding a few of them, just to be on the safe side. And if I do… well, that will be the annoying part. The waste of all those beautiful big eggs.
It was foggy when I awoke this morning, and a rather chilly 7 degrees Celsius.
The paddock next door glowed a mellow brown against the leaden sky. It had been freshly-plowed a couple of days ago and the rich earth bristling with broken maize stalks reminded me of a rough slice of dark rye bread.
I walked a circuit of the property several times (my usual practice). This combines exercise with the chance to see the myriad changes in the garden from the previous day.
What captured my attention today was the texture of the light through the mist and the way it picked out the delicacy of the tiny things it touched.
For example, I saw the work of countless orb-web spiders. Their intricate webs are strung from fence wires, dangling from branches and woven between the leaves of the harakeke and other native shrubs.
This morning, each web was heavily laden with tiny drops of water.
The Colours of a Misty Day
At first glance, the garden appeared to be clothed in muted greys and pastels.
Paradoxically, as I drew close to them, trees and shrubs seemed somehow fresher. They appeared to loom up out of the grey and stood out with greater clarity than I’d noticed on days where there is no mist.
All the while, the sun was trying to break through the moisture-laden air.
A tiny Tahou fed on small insects on the lichened branch of the old plum tree.
I was interested to read in Lynette Moon’s Know Your New Zealand Birds that this pretty little bird is protected.
Waxeyes are classified as native, which means they are either naturally found here, or self-introduced; large numbers migrated to New Zealand from Australia in the 1850s.
Who is the specimen here?
When I came back indoors, several of the hens were on the terrace, looking in at me through the living room window. Sometimes I have the distinct impression that I’m a specimen in a zoo.
Molly joined me. She looked at the hens, the hens looked back. Then they walked away. Slowly.
This always amuses me. Had she stared them down? What is the pecking order here?
On rainy days when the hens are sheltering near the window, Molly often looks out at them. Sometimes she goes right up to the window and just looks. I’d like to be able to read her mind.
Moon, Lynette (2006) Know Your New Zealand Birds New Holland Publishers (NZ) Limited, Auckland.
After a calm and rainy Saturday, the sun showed its face again today and we spent our time trying to knock some items off our ever-growing gardening ‘To Do’ list. The trouble is, one thing always leads to another – and the ‘other’ is usually something that wasn’t on the list to begin with.
For example, we had two lovely dahlias growing (or trying to grow) under the Feijoa trees. This had turned out problematical for two reasons…
it’s extremely dry under the Feijoas and even though they have struggled on bravely, the dahlias have definitely suffered during the height of summer.
The hens. (Isn’t it always the hens?) They love to sit in the shade under the Feijoas and scratch around, digging up anything that isn’t solid rock. Their scratching shreds any new growth trying to push through the dusty soil.
Multiplication and Division
So, the plan this morning was to move both of the dahlias to a new site. Stage One was accomplished without undue hassles. This thanks to the fact that a space became available yesterday when Ben removed the Buddleja Globosa growing alongside the banana plant at the front right of the house. The Buddleja had been a disappointing addition to that part of our garden – it had never done very well, hadn’t even flowered in the three years it had been there, so we’d decided to get rid of it.
Actually getting rid of any plant is always difficult for me, but this decision was made easier by the fact we’ve been able to take two rooted runners from it and plant them elsewhere.
It was while Ben was digging up the dahlias that I noticed the clump of Campanula persicifolia growing alongside. I’d grown this from seed way back in 2011, but it, too, had never flowered. However, the clump was looking surprisingly healthy this morning. So we dug this out as well.
It’s really too late into Spring to divide a perennial – and it had quite a bit of new growth – but we managed to split it into about 20 separate plants. These have now been transplanted into various other flower gardens, and watered copiously. Fingers crossed, they’ll survive. I should have done this a couple of months ago when we divided the Geums and the Asters.
I didn’t get much achieved in the vegetable garden today – in fact I pretty well gave it a wide berth. But I did manage to thin out the rocket seedlings. I’m so glad we have rocket again – just the smell of it makes my mouth water.
Pruning – Long Overdue
Another task that hadn’t been tackled yet was the pruning of the old branches off some of our very old fruiting trees – especially the apricot and one of the three plum trees. We’ve been working away at this judiciously each year to encourage new growth further down the trunks. It’s a slow process, but of course today I noticed that we still hadn’t done this for this season. Again, it’s getting too late into Spring for this task – but what is the best solution? To just leave them as they are?
I still felt it was better to clean things up a little bit, so we set aside one hour and spent that time cutting back branches on our two mandarins, the pear and that one plum tree. Mainly to remove the worst of the out-of-reach lichen encrusted limbs and to (hopefully) encourage lower growth to sprout. Many of the branches we removed had died back, or had only a few straggly leaves.
We didn’t manage to get to the apricot – this will have to wait for another day.
Perhaps we should just give up on these old trees, as they don’t always produce much fruit, but I like the fact that they’ve been here so long and that someone else planted them all those years ago. I like to feel the links to the past, I guess, the continuity. And why destroy a tree if it still provides something – even if it’s just shade, a place for birds to build their nests and the occasional piece of fruit.
Update on Blackbird Chicks
We were away from South Head almost all of Friday. When we arrived home later in the afternoon and I checked the blackbird nest, it was empty. There was no sign of any damage to the nest, nor were there any signs of anything worse, i.e. feathers or baby chick body parts. I can only assume that they grew large enough to fly. I last took a photo of them on Wednesday 15th (see above).
We’ve seen the hen blackbird a few times today and she seems to be taking worms, etc., up to the Lilly Pillies over the fence behind the plum tree. We’re hoping that this is where the family has moved to.
Finally, here is another photo of one of our bromeliads. Again this is a form of Vriesea hieroglyphica. A striking green one, this time.
We harvested most of our squash during the past week. It was a very good crop and I’m pleased with the varieties we chose to raise from seed this year.
Even though I’ve tended to grow the larger pumpkins in the past, the beauty of the smaller varieties is that you can cut into one and don’t end up with a huge vegetable to eat or process in a short amount of time.
The butternut and buttercup squashes are ideal for a family of two.
Keeping with the theme, I baked a pumpkin pie on Sunday, using some frozen mashed pumpkin from last year’s crop. This was from a Crown pumpkin – a large variety with smooth, pale grey skin and sweet orange flesh. Despite being frozen for all this time, the puree tasted very good.
The filling is comprised of pureed pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, ground ginger, ground allspice and caster sugar. The base is formed using sweet shortcrust pasty, which I baked blind before adding the filling. The pie is topped with freshly-grated nutmeg.
I’m interested in experimenting with tofu to see if I can make a vegan version.
You may recall that back at the beginning of January, I started a Rum Pot using strawberries, plums and some cape gooseberries. With the pears ripening and dropping each day, I decided to add some in.
The fruit that has been macerating in the rum and sugar for the past couple of months, smelt extremely enticing. I couldn’t resist tasting some of the liquor – it was very heady and almost spicy, reminding me of Christmas. So, now the rum pots have pieces of pear in them as well!
The next fruit to ripen should be our feijoa. I must admit that I’m not exactly sure how well the feijoa will enhance the mix, but we’ll see! As much as I love fresh feijoa, they do sometimes have something of a chalky texture.
On Wednesday (05 March) I sowed seeds of the following Brassica – Broccoli ‘Premium Green’, Cabbage ‘Scarlet O’Hara’ and Cauliflower ‘All the Year Round’. Brassica don’t seem to do so well in our hot, dry summers, but we have had good results during Winter and Spring.
I’m hoping that these will be ready to plant out in a month or so’s time. The broccoli and cauliflower have sprouted already (5 days).
The ‘swans’ on our swan plants (Asclepias physocarpa) are bursting with fluffy seeds. We appear have the full cycle happening at once – tiny caterpillars, fat caterpillars, cocoons, adult butterflies, mating butterflies, flowers and seed pods.
The grass in some areas of the garden is carpeted with the ‘down’ from the seeds. I suspect we may have something of a swan plant problem in 2014/2015. But at the moment I can’t see that we’d ever have too much of them. I love having the butterflies always present in the garden.
Swan Plant Beetle
When I was photographing the seed pods and their bursting seeds, I noticed a small insect inside. I have since identified this as Arocatus rusticus, a native of Australia that has become established in New Zealand.
Despite the foliage and sap of the swan plant being toxic to plant-eating creatures, it seems that Arocatus rusticus has evolved the ability to overcome the toxin and store it in its own body. You can’t really tell from my photo, but the insect is orange/red and brown in colour. This is to warn off predators as the toxins stored in its body has made it toxic, too.
Molly and the Hens
The four new Orpington hens have settled well alongside our three Red Shavers. Lottie is the boss of all seven, and every so often has to assert her dominance, usually by pushing in on a choice item of food, or by chasing one of the stragglers. They all choose to sleep in the same hen house nowadays, often trying to squeeze onto the same perch!
Francesca, Pearl, Fatima and Hannah (the four Orpingtons) mostly stick together and if Lottie isn’t around, Leila and Lulu will often be found nearby. Their favourite spot on these hot Autumn days is to sleep and dust bathe under the shade of the Feijoa trees.
When the Black Orpingtons were little, they looked so cute running around. From a distance they looked like they were wearing burqa – hence the name Fatima. We named the other Black Orpington, Hannah, to maintain balance.
The Red Shavers are very naughty. Lottie has taken to ‘disappearing’ in the mornings and not returning until sometime in the afternoon. One day I spotted her hurrying across the road and into the trees on the other side. We think that perhaps the house down the road may have something interesting to attract her – a rooster, maybe, but we’re not sure. I’ve taken to not letting the hens out until after 10.00 am or so, to be sure they have laid all their eggs before one of them heads off further afield.
Yesterday Leila caught a small field-mouse which must have strayed from the maize field. Poor wee thing – all three red hens set upon it – it didn’t have a chance.
Molly and the hens have developed a ‘kind’ of respect for each other. But to me it seems like the only advantage Molly has, is that she is allowed inside the house and the hens aren’t. Sometimes they look through the living room window at Molly, looking out.
I’ve seen them peck at her if she comes too close to them, but I’m sure she could defend herself if she had to. When I go into the hen’s enclosed area in the morning to collect their eggs, Molly always accompanies me. She has a good look around their area when they aren’t there. I find this amusing.