We are now the proud ‘parents’ of four former battery farm hens. We adopted these from The Animal Sanctuary and drove across to Dairy Flats last Wednesday to collect them.
They were part of a group of several hundred hens saved from being killed after reaching the end of their very first egg-laying cycle. This is usual practice for battery farms – they don’t wish to feed the hens when they go off the lay (the latter state being a natural part of a hen’s yearly cycle). Hens can’t keep laying eggs non-stop without a rest and usually go ‘off the lay’ for a few weeks when the days start to get a little shorter.
Our four new girls are in their own separate area, in their own house and sheltered amongst native vegetation.
For the very first time in their lives they can walk about freely, feeling the dirt under their feet and waking and sleeping by the natural day.
They don’t yet know how to perch, but have already figured out how to take a dust bath. We think this is pretty cool.
We’ll keep them apart from our other hens until their feathers have grown back some, and they are more confident in their surroundings. Then we’ll gradually introduce them to the flock and … in time, allow them to roam freely with their sisters.
I haven’t written for a while, but items of note include the harvesting of the maize in the paddock next door, way back at the beginning of April. The big machines came powering through, collecting the complete plants, discarding the husks and stalks, and feeding out golden maize kernels into the waiting truck.
Left behind is a flattish, spiky field, stretching into the distance. We’ve had no strong winds from the North or West since then, but when they do come, we’ll miss the shelter that the maize provided for the plants and shrubs we are trying to establish along the fence-line.
The months of March and April were incredibly dry, after almost no rain since January. Patches of bare soil were beginning to crack all across the garden.
There wasn’t much happening in the vege garden – only silver beet, pumpkins, a few lettuces, some jalapeno and habanero chili peppers, basil, beetroot and carrots. We had switched to lake water to conserve the water in our tanks and were using the latter for drinking, only.
Surprisingly, our Autumn fruit has been more productive than at the same time in 2013. We ate the last of the pears, and the feijoa are still dropping, even a month later. They are very sweet and juicy. There are also red cherry guava and yellow guava – which attract the Kereru. Our macadamia nuts are also on the point of being ready.
The hens still spend a great deal of time bathing in the dust, or lying under the shade of the trees. They continue to make huge basin-shaped hollows all through my gardens. But they are very cute and I’m still intrigued to watch them taking their dust baths.
The above photo was taken of the edge of the lawn where it comes up to the flower garden below the Feijoa trees. I use the word ‘garden’ very loosely, thanks to the hens and the lack of rain.
The Orpingtons don’t tend to take their baths in the same place or at the same time as the Red Shavers. They’ll often wait until the older girls are finished, then hop in after them.
The good news is that the Orpingtons are now laying, but the bad news is that Lottie (one of our red shavers) has gone. She had a bad habit of disappearing across the road to – goodness knows where – on a daily basis, and one day she just didn’t come back. I fear the worst – run over by a milk truck or caught by a hawk or dog, but perhaps she has merely found a better place to live.
As far as the eggs are concerned, the small eggs weigh about 50 grams, whereas the eggs from Lulu and Leila weigh around 75 grams. I have been very disappointed that the White Orpingtons don’t lay pure white eggs – I was so sure that they would.
Our small Pine Nut tree is finally producing some cones. We’ve had this small tree since we lived in Titirangi. It was purchased in a pot for a Christmas Tree, and fared very badly under all the kauri trees due to the paucity of sunlight. Pine Nuts take about 8 years to produce cones – which would be about right. Apparently the cones take two full seasons to mature. It’s very exciting!
There has been scattered rain in May, and the days tend to start out sunny, before fat cumulus clouds build up in the afternoon. The temperature in May has ranged from around 13 C overnight, to low 20s during the day.
We have swum in the lake as recently as a week ago – which is quite unexpected for this time of year.
My current daily garden tasks involve tidying up all the vegetable garden beds in preparation for planting garlic and sowing more seeds. I’ve recently sown lettuces, leeks, spinach, carrots, beetroot, rocket, radishes, parsnips and celery. I raised seedlings of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower and have since planted these out. It was too hot and dry to sow the seeds directly during March / April.
I’ve also planted a dozen Egyptian Walking Onions. I was delighted to see bulbs for sale recently as I used to grow them years ago in Dunedin. Perhaps I’ll have more luck with these than I have with trying to grow regular onions from seed.
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.