Thursday, June 13, 2019

Expanding the Chook Pen

When we first got our chooks, one of Marie's male colleagues became inspired to do the same. It gave his kids an interest outside the house and they enjoyed getting the fresh eggs. However, the interest soon waned when they discovered how smelly they can be on a small city property when they're too close to the house and they decided they didn't want them any longer.

So suddenly, with only about 24 hours notice, we were asked to adopt four more chooks! This would give us a total of 8. After some quick research on Google we learned that some care is needed when introducing new adult chooks to your colony. They need to be kept segregated initially and to introduce them slowly. This is because there's a pecking order that exists amongst chooks and there can be some initial teething issues and even fights as they all find their new place in the order of things.

So we decided we could use the old ginea pig run which we first used when we got our first little hatchlings. It was just sitting there unused, filling up with weeds. This would be useful for the initial quarantine period of about a week.

But I also decided to build another chicken coop rather than make them all squeeze into the existing one I built originally. This time I wanted to make the whole thing without spending any money, and I didn't have much time, so I wanted to keep the whole thing as simple as possible and to build the whole thing within a day.

I gathered up whatever old timber I had lying around the property and discovered I had several bits of old decking about a metre long. So I started off digging a flat platform for the coop to sit on about a metre square.

Basically the idea was to start off building a big square box. I had a couple of old bits of tanalised plywood that I could use for the cladding and roof.

Within a few hours it all started coming together. I had the ginea pig run positioned right up next to the new coop with a door cut in one wall so the new chooks could easily get from one to the other.

The new chooks arrived before I even got the house finished.

In anticipation of their imminent arrival I had decided it would be necessary to identify the first group from the second as they are all the same breed (Brown Shavers) so I probably wouldn't be able to tell them apart. So using a cable tie and a soft plastic tag for each one I numbered the first group from 1–4. If there were any issues I could separate the 2 groups.

Over the first few days the chooks egg laying pattern was a bit hit and miss but by day 5 we were almost back up to an egg each per day.

So we decided to let them out and mingle with the first group. But sure enough, as we'd been advised, there was a bit of territorial squabbling with the original group being the aggressors, as can been be seen in the pic below with one of the chooks pecking at the neck of one of the new ones.

At times there was even a major scrap which was quite a spectacle as each chook puffed themselves up to nearly twice their normal size. We decided to separate them again, but we hope they will eventually integrate well with each other. I've been told they can stop laying if they get too stressed or upset. So, we just have to manage them carefully until they get used to each other. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

New Pests in the Garden

The area where I live has been identified as ground zero in the search for a new Pest – a newly arrived Fruit Fly that has authorities in NZ worried. So much so they are asking the public to keep an eye out for it so it can be destroyed before it gets a foothold here.

It arrived from Queensland, Australia. and so far eight fruit flies have been captured in the 3 months since Biosecurity NZ started laying traps to find it.

Interestingly, the Queensland fruitfully is not the only new insect pest to arrive in NZ recently. Regular readers of my blog will have heard me mention a worm infestation that ruined my plums this year. At first I thought it was Codling Moth and I was determined to do something about it this year even if it meant having to spray.

When I described the symptoms to the good people down at the Garden Centre,  they told me it wasn't Codling Moth at all, but a new pest called Guava Moth. The bad news is there's nothing that can be done about it – at least not yet. The Guava Moth too, is a new arrival from Australia. It was first detected in the far north of NZ but it has gradually spread farther south to Auckland and is thriving in our temperate conditions.

The Guava Moth has the potential to decimate fruit crops and in my view is a much bigger problem than the Fruit Fly as it affects ripening fruit on the tree. I saw it for the first time in my garden 2 years ago but this year it totally ruined my plums, pleaches and feijoas. Strangely, despite the name of this pest, my Guava bush has been unaffected.

The Aukland council website has this to say...

More information about the Guava Moth can be found on the Auckland council website

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The 'Back to Eden' gardening method

I recently heard about an approach to organic gardening that has confirmed a lot of my own thoughts regarding the seemingly elusive, natural approach to gardening. For me it ticks all the boxes by encouraging the garden to function as it was designed to, naturally, without the use of complicated chemicals, sprays and fertilising systems.

The method I refer to has been dubbed 'Back to Eden' which recognises that the systems that work best are already there in nature, we just need to understand them and work with them. I’ve thought about this a great deal over the years with all my efforts to compost and feed the soil naturally, but I have struggled to know exactly what I should be doing and how, until I watched a documentary film on u-tube recently entitled the 'back to eden' gardening method which focusses on imitating nature by covering the soil and mulching, which brings huge benefits to the soil.

There’s a short version of the film which goes for about 20mins (use link above), and a longer version that goes for 1 hour and 43 minutes. If you can spare the time I recommend the long one as it has lots of interesting interviews and examples showing the various conditions it applies to and the various results attained. Having said that, I watched the shorter one first which is like a trailer but I was intrigued, so I watched the full version which you can see here.

If you believe the earth is the product of an All-wise Creator then you may appreciate the various quotations from the bible that inspired the Author Paul Gautschi and which he makes reference to. If not, it doesn't matter, because it all makes such perfect sense regardless.

The movie has already inspired me to make plans for a renewed focus in my garden, which thankfully only requires a bit of tweaking. Suffice to say, there are 2 words that sum up this approach to gardening, Sustainability and Permaculture.

You may hear me talk about aspects of this method in my garden moving forward.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Growing Jasmine Over an Ugly Wall

One of the most challenging aspects of my property is the road frontage where my property meets the road. It’s been such a long saga of a story with the various efforts I've made to try and tidy it up and keep it looking nice. I’m not even going to bore you with the details. Suffice to say, any serious efforts I’ve made to improve the front of my property, including new driveway and retaining walls, etc, have been stymied by cost, logistics and beaurocratic red tape.

Ideally I’d love to pull it all down and start again but the cost of doing so properly has turned out to be astronomical, both financially and in sheer frustration. So I’ve put it in the ‘too hard’ basket which is probably where it will stay.

Having said that, the front of my property remains an 'eye-sore', so I’m determined to at least try something. So I decided to 'Fake it' – to disguise it by covering it up – at least part of it. My initial efforts at doing so haven't worked very well. Some years ago I planted a Star Jasmine vine at the top of the wall hoping it would cover the wall but for some reason it doesn't like growing downwards from the top and didn't spread out very far.

At around the same time my neighbour (who has since moved on) did the same thing covering a concrete wall in front of his place with a vine of Star Jasmine, but with more success than mine. It’s now really well established and is looking pretty good. It’s become my job to keep it well clipped, because that place is now a rental and the gardens tend to get neglected. So I decided to try again with Jasmine. I decided to extend my neighbours more vigorous vine over onto my place, and hopefully cover the entire wall to the top of the driveway.

So after drilling a few holes in the concrete wall I put in some stainless steel screws to anchor a few lengths of galvanised wire to the wall both horizontally and vertically. Then I got a few long shoots that I untangled from the main vine and wound it round the wire on my wall.

Because it’s already a mature vine, I’m sure it won't take long before it takes hold and spreads across the wall. I’ll be interested to see how far I can get the vine to grow as my wall is about 18 metres long to the top of the driveway.

As usual, I’ll post more photos later to show how it’s going.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Shifting the Bay Tree

Several years ago I acquired a cute potted Bay tree that was clipped in a round pom-pom (topiary) on top of a single standard trunk. At the time I struggled to find a suitable place for it in the garden. As it was only small when I first got it, I thought it would look nice behind my brick BBQ. As it turns out it seemed to really love this position and has grown quite big. Over the years I've kept it clipped in the same cute shape.

However, I came to realise over the last year or so that I'd put it in the wrong place. It had finally outgrown the space I'd given it and I realised something needed to be done.

During that same few years I had a Jacaranda tree growing in a bigger space next to it. I'd hoped that the Jacaranda would become a central feature in my back garden next to the BBQ especially once it matured and produced a canopy of soft lilac flowers. Unfortunately, that never happened! It just never really took off and eventually died. So I pulled it out, removed the stump and was left with a huge hole.

The next step was obvious. Move the Bay tree into the newly created space. After doing a bit of research I realised the best time of year for transplanting larger trees was after the height of summer and into the Autumn when there is less risk of the tree drying out and becoming stressed due to moisture loss.

So I dug a narrow trench around the tree as far away from the trunk as possible, which was difficult in such a confined space. Inevitably, I had to cut through several roots about the thickness of my fingers. Removing a section of the keystone wall helped me get better access. Eventually it came free and I got my wife Marie to help me lift it into its new space.

I added a good amount of home-made compost to the soil and back-filled around it, staking it firmly so it wouldn't lean over. Then I gave it a good watering and clipped it to shape again. I managed to get it all done in time for an end of summer BBQ where it now stands proudly as a new prominent feature in that part of the garden.

All that was needed then was to tidy up around the BBQ and have a few friends around to enjoy the space once again.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Little Victories

As any keen gardener would know, every season has its share of disappointments. Things don't always go as you'd like. Often the weather plays a big part in that.

The last few years my grapevine has been a source of disappointment and while the fruit has given the appearance each year of forming as it should, being all full of promise and hope, nothing comes to fruition properly and this year was no different.

Even my Golden Queen peach tree which is always abundant in fruit, was abundant again this year but the size of the fruit was very small due to there being very little rain and any fruit that fell on the ground was found to have a worm in it, which was rather disappointing as we often bottle-preserve what falls on the ground.

Both my plum trees were infected with worms as I mentioned in a previous post.

So, after looking around the garden for any signs of success, you can imagine my delight when I discovered my wife's efforts at watering the feijoa tree, throughout the long dry period we've had, is literally bearing fruit.

I love Feijoas and I'm so glad I managed to find a space to squeeze in one of these trees. This is only the 3rd or 4th year this tree has been in the ground so the tree is still quite small. However, I was able to enjoy a few fruit off this tree in the 2nd year I planted it which was surprising considering how young the tree was, and it was beautiful – it tasted amazing.

In the past most kiwi gardens had a feijoa tree, so when I was growing up they were the most common of fruit. Now things have changed and people don't have big back yards with fruit trees anymore – at least not as many. So, these days some people can only get these from the supermarket, or from friends who have a tree in their back yard.

Unfortunately if you're from outside New Zealand and are wondering what these taste like, I can't help you much as their flavour is quite hard to describe. When I was a kid I used to sometimes eat them skin and all – the skin is quite tart. The flesh is sweet and soft, even a bit jelly-like. Most people eat them by scooping them out with a spoon.

So I'll take whatever victories I can in the garden. Even if it's the humble feijoa.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Auckland facing a Heatwave

New Zealand and Australia have been experiencing a heatwave over the last several weeks with average temperatures at least 5 degrees above normal for this time of year. Just before the heatwave hit Auckland my wife and I were booked to fly to Sydney, Australia for a wedding, where they were experiencing record high temperatures as high as 45°C.

Thankfully, things cooled down to a balmy 35°C in time for the wedding but it was still uncomfortably hot compared to what I'm used to. Not surprisingly, when we returned to NZ after 10 days away, we found most of our garden had completely wilted in the heat, especially the hydrangeas which need constant watering at the best of times!

Not so with the Frangipani! It loves the heat and is Thriving! You see them growing everywhere in Sydney, even growing into huge trees.

Makes me wonder what other plant selection choices I need to make in the future now that climate change is taking effect. The decision I made years ago to create a more tropical themed garden was definitely the right choice I reckon.Learn more about growing Frangipanis here