Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

For the love of trees

Twelve years ago Angus and I used to wander around the older parts of Canberra looking at the trees. We learnt to identify trees we liked and researched how fast they grew, how tall they grow and whether they were protected. We wanted fast growing, strong, deciduous trees for summer shade but that would still let in winter sun. We collected seeds from our favourites: oak, elm, ash, robinia, and started them in pots of the windowsill of our third storey apartment. When we bought this place in April 2007 we brought them with us and planted them out.

We watered them and waited.

And waited.

In the summer of 2011 when we got chickens they weren’t big enough to provide any shade yet.

We planted some “emergency” pittosporums and put out table tennis tables covered with tarps for shade in the interim.

And each year they grew a little.

Then it seemed like all of a sudden, around 2015, they were providing meaningful shade. Two of the pittosporums were now not necessary so we pulled them out.

And two summers ago we realised they were big enough to hang swings and hammocks from.

So here I am today. Chilling in a hammock that is hanging from two seeds that I planted in the ground 12 or so years back.

There’s still a few more trees I want to put in (more fruit trees especially) but present me is super happy with past me right now.

Its 37°C (98°F) today. But under the awesome power of natural evaporative cooling I am content.

They say the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.


Thinking about foraging

Last October, I found a bunch of morels on my way to work. I picked them, but not trusting my identification skills I used them to inoculate my garden. I figure I can grow whatever they are, and show them to a mushroom expert when I fine one.


But it has got me thinking: what could we find if we put or minds to it? I went looking for black trumpets today, and I think I may have found some remnants:



They look terrible but I think they may have been black trumpets once. No point picking them: there wasn’t much left to identify. I’ll try the spot again later though.

And here is what I think is Hawthorne, from a park:


There would have been buckets of them. We went looking for white mulberry, but couldn’t find any.

Problem is, the stakes are high with wild food. Misidentification is a mistake you might only make once.

Does anyone have a good reference for foraging? How could I be sure that I’m not going to poison myself?

The beginnings of a bean teepee


Rooster logistics

We’ve been getting a few questions recently about the logistics of keeping roosters in suburbia so I thought I would write a bit more about life with our boys.

Hugh, with his girls

We currently have three (eek) roosters: two Araucanas (father and son Craig and Hugh) and a Light Sussex (Clock). We also don’t count any cockerels we may have growing out for eating at any given time – their first crow is sadly usually their death warrant by the following weekend.  We only plan to have two breeding roosters in the long term.  The reason we have three at the moment is that Hugh (the son) is bigger and better looking than Craig (the father), but Hugh got sick a lot in last summer and autumn and we a) kept expecting Hugh to just die, and b) were sure as soon as we decided he would be fine and knocked off Craig, Hugh would get sick again and die, leaving us roosterless.  So Craig has sort of been hanging around as a backup.  Plus Craig has a very sweet temperament (as does Hugh) and we do like to breed for calm chickens.

Craig, with his girls

(Much younger then) Craig in the kitchen

Clock, however, is a whole ‘nother story – he’s a bit of a bastard.  We were given Clock and decided to breed from him (replacing Red the RIR) because he is quite simply massive and we are breeding for meat.

Clock, in all his massive glory.

But as he has gotten older, Clock can be a bit aggressive and I won’t turn my back on him while in the main pen, nor will I let the 3 year old in the main pen anymore, which is sad for her.  So Clock will probably be heading for the great crock pot in the sky soon – his only saving grace at the moment is his fertility which is excellent!

We built a proper night box (documented here and here) to keep the roosters (Craig and Red at the time) quiet at night and in the morning.  Red kept crowing at random times in the middle of the night and it took us a while to work out that he was waking and crowing anytime our toddler was crying out in the night.  With our new baby due (last March) we knew we’d need decent night accommodation to keep him quiet!

The night box is divided in two so that we can keep two roosters.  Hugh and Clock sleep in it at the moment.  We hoped it would be soundproof, but it’s not, though it does severely muffle the crowing.  When Red slept in there we also used to have a portable radio hanging in there at night to provide more white noise to stop him waking and crowing at sounds in the night, but we haven’t needed this for the current residents.

Logistically, we pick up the roosters and put them into the night box at some point in the evening, usually after they have roosted, but occasionally before if we can be bothered catching them.  We then let them out in the morning.  On a weekday we let them at around 7am.  On a weekend it is more like 8 -10am.  The record lateness was the day our son was born this year – they didn’t get let out until 1pm when we got home from the hospital.  They were fine, just keen to get out!

The night box is sitting in the run of the main pen, so when we open the door Clock just explodes out of it and immediately starts chasing his girls.  Hugh knows to sit and wait until he is carried across the yard to his pen (where he also immediately starts chasing his girls).  Moving them twice a day is beneficial as it means that they are used to being handled.  This means that Hugh at least is quite tame.  Handling Clock a bit also helps to remind him that we are top of the pecking order, not him.

Moving them around twice a day is, to be honest, a colossal pain in the ass.  Clock is really big and I (SF) can’t quite get my hands around him enough to pin his wings down so I usually make WWMD put them in at night.  However, we think of it as a responsibility of keeping roosters in a suburban setting.  We have fantastic neighbours and we want to keep them that way!  We discussed with all our surrounding neighbours when we were thinking of keeping roosters, and they all assured us that it was fine.  Almost all of our surrounding neighbours have dogs that bark a lot (which we also don’t mind) so they were very understanding about animal noise.  We check in with them regularly to check that the crowing isn’t bothering them.  We also reiterate regularly that they need to let us know if the roosters start to bother them so that we can revisit the sound proofing, though thankfully this hasn’t happened yet.  Our bedroom is also the closest to the night box of all the neighbours so we should be able to hear a problem before they do!

There isn’t much we can do about the crowing in the day.  They usually have several crowing sessions throughout the day, and if one starts they all start up so it can be quite noisy at times.  Clock likes to stand up on top of the night box and crow his heart out.

That’s about all I can think of for now, but I’m happy to answer questions in the comments!

BTW did anyone notice that this is our 101st post?!  I can’t believe we have passed 100!

Nature’s disgusting bounty


For those who knew what was coming and doubted I’d do it: yes I ate some snails. After feeding them some fresh lettuce then nothing for a few days, I washed, boiled, extracted and rewashed the snails, before frying them in butter, garlic, chives and parsley. The result: a fairly unpleasant texture, and the taste of garlic and butter would have been improved with the removal of the snails. Dunno how the french get them so nice but I can’t be bothered experimenting further. Back to stamping on them!

Summer evening eating

One of the things I love about summer is coming home of an evening and rummaging in the garden for something for dinner. Tonight, carrots! And garlic.





So the genius who built our house ensured that the only time our lounge room got sun was summer afternoons. Not that we don’t love summer but that’s our least favourite bit of the house. So before we can bulldoze and rebuild, we’re ameliorating by planting trees and a bean curtain. Pics below. Next project is a climbing frame for the beans.

Sad farewell

Our lovely littlest Araucana, Juliet, died on Saturday.  She’d had rattly breathing the week before and was a bit underweight so we’d been keeping her inside for most of last week in the warm and dosing her with some medicine to cover off the most common chicken sicknesses.  She seemed much better by Thursday so I put her back outside.  On Friday she seemed fine too, but Saturday I found her dead in the henhouse.  Chickens are very good at hiding their symptoms – being flock animals, they try to hide any malady for as long as possible so as not to get picked on by the others or kicked out and then become vulnerable to predators.  So if a chicken is symptomatic, they have likely had a problem for a while.

I felt quite sad when I found her, but in a different way to the sadness I have felt when we have killed the boys for eating.  Part of it is the unexpectedness of it – even though she had been sick, I did not realise quite how sick she was.  She had also become very friendly while she was inside last week as she had been handled a lot more than she was previously used to.  The main reason I feel sad though is because I am sure she was in pain until she died.  If she was sick enough to die, she must have been in pain.  I don’t even know exactly when she died – she was cold when I found her – so I feel sad that her death was no doubt drawn out and painful.  Even though I think it is sad that they all can’t live out long happy lives, at least I know when we kill a boy to eat the death is as quick and stress-free as possible and they have had a good life until then.

I am well aware that sickness and death is a part of chicken keeping.  Even though it is sad, I feel it is only right that I am aware of what eating eggs and meat really means.  Our society is so disconnected from the source of our food that we forget that these things do happen and some animals suffer and die even before they reach productivity (Juliet was about 20 weeks old, and not yet laying).  As sad as this experience was (and the first of many such experiences I am sure), it has only strengthened my resolve to ensure that the animals that provide our family with sustenance have as good a life and death as possible.

Juliet inside last Monday


We recently got a home energy audit which recommended, inter alia, that we top our ceiling insulation to R5.  And being a DIY devotee, I bought the batts and am in the process of doing it myself.

Here’s a shot of the work in progress:

We’re racing the clock on this one – everything has to be in place by September to get the rebate.  I’ve done 13 bags of 20, so getting quite close now!

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