Installing drainage behind the fienile

I mentioned last week that we have been loitering busily behind the fienile…

There is no drainage behind the fienile, so the fallen earth from the bank  that has been building up against the rear wall of the building stays wet and heavy long after rain and creates a constantly damp environment.

Since we have limited flat space around the house and it would be nice to utilize this area more we have decided to remove the build-up and install proper drainage.

Stu has been digging…rather a lot…possibly over 200 wheelbarrow loads.

He has been tipping the dirt over the edge of the bank near the chicken coop where the land falls away steeply.  At the same time, I’ve been identifying rocks unsuitable for stonemason work and tipping them into Stu’s newly displaced dirt.

This is our version of reclamation / retaining and it has been very effective!  The rocks will provide support for the dirt and the dirt will provide beauty (once the grass grows on it!).

This week, Stu had removed enough of the dirt to install the drainage.

Now the pressure is well and truly on me to finish clearing the rubbish pile so that Stu can continue the earth moving process between the fienile and the bank and create the nice dry useful area that we dream of…

Creating space behind the fienile

Since we started the renovation, we’ve been gathering all sorts of demolition and construction detritus and ‘hiding’ it behind the fienile.

But now that the upper fienile has been renovated into our entertainment area, we find that our guests are peering down over our monstrous rubbish pile!

Something had to be done…

“You’ll need a bobcat to move that amount of rubbish!” said one friend.

“Pay someone to do it!” said another.

Well, funds are limited and we have the time…so we started to sort through the mound ourselves in autumn.

By hand.

We established fairly quickly that the pile contained various like-items that needed to be sorted into different piles.  This involved handling thousands of individual bits and pieces.

After a few days of this back-breaking work, we had reduced the pile by half and created several more piles: a pile of rusty steel, another of broken tiles, another of broken bricks and yet more of rocks!

Then winter came and we stopped…but with spring now just around the corner we have again focused our attention on this area.

Stu has been removing fallen earth from the back wall of the fienile while I’ve been playing in the rubbish pile.

We plan to build a dry rock wall behind the fienile to keep the earth back in the future.  To do this, we need a methodical approach to rock-sorting.  So I’ve been dividing the rocks into 4 piles: one pile for large rocks, another for medium rocks, another for small rocks and yet another for rocks that are completely unsuitable for stonemason work.

So now I have a total of 7 piles: steel, tiles, bricks, rocks, rocks, rocks and more rocks…

Once I have finished sorting the rubbish, I will start to build the rock wall across the end of the space while Stu will continue to remove fallen dirt from the larger flat area.

When the area is finished, it will be a wide and well-organised storage place for garden machinery and construction materials.

A week of pruning

The sun is out (albeit very spasmodically).

These late winter days always act as a warning to get pruning and tidying before it’s too late and the Spring growth is upon us!

So I’ve spent the last week obsessively pruning everything I can see.  I started with the blackberry, then moved on to the plum trees, the apple trees and finally the wisteria.

It is exhausting work because a pair of clippers, a pair of loppers and a rather awkward ladder has to follow me everywhere.  And of course that ladder has to be moved, stabilized and climbed up and down hundreds of times!

Arms raised, heavy tool in hand, neck stretched back, eyes up.

I certainly feel every bit of the pain today…but when these beautiful plants show off their fruit and flowers in another few months it will have been worthwhile!


A window minus wasps

Three years ago, we had a trauma…just one of many challenges we’ve experienced here…

I wrote about this particular trauma in a blog post dated 29 October 2013.

It involved wasps, or more to the point, a massive wasp nest in the wooden beam above one of the windows in our bedroom.

For some time, I’d been noticing that the plaster above the window was a different texture.  I’d regularly poked it wondering what was going on under the relatively smooth exterior until finally one day I poked too hard and made a hole!

I’d had a quick look into the hole.  Several wasps were crawling around inside in a slightly agitated state.  But more worrying than this sight was the sheer volume of the buzzing that emanated from the gap.  The noise promised numbers in the hundreds.

I’d grabbed something to plug the hole with (a sock?) and screamed for Stu.

When Stu arrived, he’d delayed assistance until he’d interrogated me as to why I’d been poking holes in the plaster.  Luckily he realized fairly quickly that the situation was urgent and discussion (or argument?) could occur later.  After all, I was standing there with my arm extended plugging a hole full of hundreds of wasps that wouldn’t be too happy to be even more disturbed!

He’d run downstairs and returned with a piece of foam, a flat timber plank and a piece of timber post and somehow erected a seal/support against the plaster.

We’d been able to sleep easy knowing that we wouldn’t be stung to death during the night.

A few weeks later, a pest controller had arrived to eradicate the wasps.  He discovered quickly that our temporary arrangement had been gradually eaten through by the wasps and we were again in danger of a deadly wasp attack!  He quickly did what he had to do, then blocked the hole with silicon to discourage further infestations until we were able to properly restore the window.

But it’s very easy to be distracted with other jobs here and somehow we’d managed to leave the window like this for 3 years.

Suddenly in September last year, I noticed new changes in the plaster and started using my finger all over again!

You guessed it…more plaster fell down…but this time without the buzzing noise…

I called Stu and after a short discussion we decided that the rest of the plaster was going to crumble if we didn’t make a proper repair to the window.

First, Stu jack-hammered the plaster off to reveal the original stonework.  He exposed some fairly large gaps in the process and jammed steel wool into these holes.  We didn’t want to be woken by any animal or vermin that might deem our bedroom to be an ideal winter nesting spot!

We slept in our newly holey but stuffed up bedroom for a few weeks before Stu shored up the wooden beams above the window and I pointed the rocks.

We now sleep in a bedroom that is fully sealed and far more beautiful.  The previously plastered window was nowhere near as attractive as the newly exposed stonework and somehow the bedroom looks more balanced than it used to.

Some jobs just take time…but the wait is always worth it…

A sad story

This week we buried the ravaged body of one of our chickens.

When we first brought our chickens home, we had determined that we would give them a life of free ranging freedom.  For 2-3 months they have been free ranging almost every day.  We’ve been keeping a very regular eye on them; usually just to check that they were safe and at other times to observe the dynamics of our little extended family.

The single most amazing thing we’ve learned about our chickens is that they have such individual personalities!

We learned that Omlet was always the first to lay, then Yolko Ono, then Drumstick.  Three eggs every single day, even during our dark winter.

We noticed that Horris was possessive of Drumstick and that Drumstick was arrogant and comfortable in her favoured position.  We saw that Yolko Ono’s broken beak meant that she had to work harder to eat as much as the others.  We learned that Omlet was an adventurous rebel, full of hope for what lay just beyond the fence.  We observed that Yolko Ono and Omlet were inseparable: Omlet would invariably find an escape route from the area around the house, then call Yolko Ono to follow her.  Yolko Ono always followed her.

In recent weeks, we’d watched Omlet become more and more adventurous, until one day this week she encouraged the family to reach yet further away from the house and deeper into the forest.

As we always do, we ventured outside several times that day in search of them.

But after lunch we heard a strange noise, and when Stu went out to investigate he returned with the news that ‘one of the black chickens is dead’ and ‘I disturbed a black and white animal’ and ‘Horris and Drumstick are really stressed’.

At first I wouldn’t believe him…but his face, which was dark and angry, told me that he was speaking the truth.

I found Omlet lying in the grass, one wing ripped off, her eyes closed and her body cold.  I patted her gently on her neck and apologized for allowing her to venture into danger.

Then I carried her home.

Stu dug a hole in my flower garden and we placed our little casualty to rest.

We coaxed Horris and Drumstick out from their refuge under the car and back to the safety of their coop, then went off in search of Yolko Ono.

After multiple search attempts in the forest, we finally decided that Yolko Ono also must have been killed or taken.

But just before dark, she returned home.  Several of her large tail feathers were missing and she was crying a strange and lonely lament.  She let me pick her up.

We have learned the hard way.  Chickens are innocent.  Free ranging can be dangerous for them.

But as I write this my mind returns to the forest, where a large patch of disturbed ground can be found.  This patch contains more than simply the enthusiastic scratchings of a family of chickens.  It contains the spirit of Omlet: always hopeful, prepared to push the boundaries, wild and free.


Our (even less) brave rooster

The things we do for our chickens…some would say they’re spoilt…

This morning we found that another 5 centimetres of snow had fallen overnight.

Light rain had settled in and the snow was slowly melting.

When we went outside to the chicken coop, we found a sorry group of cluckers staring dismally out at the white and wet.

So we reversed the car out of the garage, placed their seed and meal in the dry garage space, then went back to the coop to let them out.

The hens quickly set off towards the garage.  We watched their little bodies wobble and stumble as their feet sunk in the snow on every step.

We counted.  One, two, three.

The fourth bird didn’t seem to be following.

We looked in the coop and there he was.

Horris was back in ‘bed’, hiding in the dark of the cage, feet firmly gripping onto a perch.

Now everyone knows that any self-respecting rooster should be seen leading his flock.

But not Horris.

Clearly, I needed to give Horris a little training in leadership.

I opened the door to the coop and had a little talk to him.  I softly reprimanded him.  “You are supposed to be setting an example”, I said, “What will your hens think of you?”.

He listened intently (or appeared to) so I put my hand in the coop to try to encourage him out.

I got a swift peck in response.

Clearly, more coaxing was required.  I thought a little psychology might be useful and made enticing suggestions to him such as “Let’s get you over there so you can be king rooster again”, etc.

After a few minutes, I reached in again.  I closed my hand over his back, pressing his wings down and gently took him out of the cage.  I snuggled the poor trembling bird against my chest before whisking him off to his females.

The hens, of course, were too busy eating the seed and meal in the garage to notice their ‘hero’.

When I put him down, he puffed his small chest out, gave himself a little shake, emitted a proud crow, then clucked wildly at the seed and meal to let his hens know that he’d found food for them!

Slightly too late…but still…

Some might say we spoil our flock…but every female knows a male can do with a little advice and spoiling occasionally…

Our brave rooster

We had our first snow of the season today.  Not much.  Ten centimetres.

But for a warm-weather Australian, snow is always something to celebrate, especially so close to Christmas.

And today it brought even more joy…

When Stu opened the coop this morning, our courageous rooster, Horris, started to step out of the door, froze mid-step, then flew halfway up the fence to clutch desperately at the wire.

The hens were far braver and ran out of the coop with their wings flapping, heading to all of their favourite spots.

Later, as the snow got deeper, I watched the hens strutting across the yard, their feet sinking into the soft white snow.

I also watched Horris…who stayed under the car all day…