We held our Spring BBQ last weekend.
This is an annual excuse to have friends over as well as to ‘launch’ the use of the fienile for the season.
We’re always proud to show off our roses in May and this year we were keen to show off our chickens too.
Unfortunately, our chickens (or one of them in particular) had different ideas…
Two of our friends reported afterwards that they had seen our tiny rooster try so hard to crow that he fell over!
He was able to correct himself quickly but he was seen to cast a quick glance at his ‘women’ to check that they hadn’t witnessed his little wobble.
Apparently, the said ‘women’ were busy foraging so he did manage to maintain some semblance of pride…
Stu and I believe in constantly challenging ourselves.
We figure challenges will ensure that we are always discovering and growing and never becoming stagnant or complacent.
One of our latest challenges has been our chickens…
We embraced all things chicken in September last year and, so far, have had a blessedly easy life with them.
But sooner or later, things were bound to go wrong…and our chooks have recently opened up a whole new world to us.
This week we were faced with our biggest chook-related challenge yet.
We woke one morning to find Horris (our bantam rooster) obsessively scratching one of his eyes and constantly rubbing the same side of his face on the ground.
I watched him for a while because, to be honest, I needed time to realize that I had a sick chicken on my hands.
After a few hours, Horris had deteriorated and couldn’t stand or walk straight. He had a weird grey crusty thing above his eye and was clearly very traumatized by whatever was happening to him.
When I was young, Dad used to solve all animal-related problems with warm water and antiseptic solution. We never used to take our pets to the vet. Invariably, Dad’s ‘solution’ always worked.
I suspected that chickens in country Italy may never see a vet either (they are most probably ‘despatched’ instead) so I did what I always do when faced with a new challenge here.
I found a great chicken discussion forum where I read about all sorts of horrible chicken ailments (that I hope we never see!). One possible explanation for Horris’ behaviour was an infestation of tiny ticks (which made me itch just reading about it!); another was an infected eye.
The home solution for the ticks was to smear vaseline on the mass which would apparently suffocate the ticks until they fell off. In the absence of vaseline, I decided a dob of quality New Zealand antiseptic manuka honey might work instead.
I picked up Horris, smeared him with this (rather expensive) goo and left him for a few hours.
That night, when he was all tucked up in ‘bed’, I sought him out armed with a warm water and eye wash mixture and a few cotton wool balls. I was confronted with a little rooster that couldn’t open his eye and wondered fleetingly if sticky honey had been the right thing to do.
But as I carefully washed his eye area, to my surprise, the grey mass came away with the remaining honey and the little fellow looked up at me!
The next day, although Horris looked completely back to normal, we decided to see if we could get something medicinal for him just in case he deteriorated again.
We started at the agriculture shop where we buy our chicken food. The man there told us to go to the chemist.
Yes, the chemist.
Apparently, in Italy all medicine whether it be for humans or animals is obtained from a chemist!
We really struggled with this; it just didn’t seem right to stand in line with a whole lot of ailing humans and ask for chook solutions.
But what have I said previously about challenges?
So we set off to the chemist.
Like all embarrassed foreigners, we loitered outside the chemist until we were certain that there were no other customers inside.
Then we entered.
“I need something for an infected eye”, I announced in bad Italian to the lady behind the counter.
She peered at my eye.
“For my chickens”, I explained in bad Italian.
Her and her colleague looked at each other and I was sure the man at the agriculture shop had played a joke on me.
I looked down, embarrassed and desperate for an escape or at least for a few more words in Italian that might explain my chicken predicament.
I could see Stu out of the corner of my eye. He was slowly backing away and making for the other side of the shop where he was feigning great interest in an advertisement on the wall.
The 2 colleagues looked back at me and I realized that they were waiting for more explanation.
Completely bereft of words, I rubbed my eye on the back of my hand several times in an expressive manner, then walked around in circles in a crooked lopsided fashion.
The 2 colleagues looked askance.
Stu feigned even greater interest in his commercial but suddenly returned to me in a panicked state.
Somehow, we were given a small tube of antibiotic ointment and sent on our way.
It was only later, outside the shop, that Stu explained his sudden departure from the advertisement. It seems that he had been showing great interest in a commercial about female sanitary products.
Next time we need a chemist, we might try the other one in town…
After 5 weeks away in Australia, we’re back and ready to face the (over)growth of spring!
The wisteria welcomed us home with its best show of flowers yet. This made me extremely happy because I had spent several hours hard-pruning it in late March. Pruning is always a worrying task for me because I’m never sure if I’m doing it ‘right’.
But it would appear that I did something right this time!
The rest of the place was wild…but just over a week after landing we’ve managed to tame it again.
The chickens were locked up in their predator-proof enclosure for the entire time we were away so were slightly mistrustful when we opened their gate…but it didn’t take them long to make a dash for freedom, their first priority being a dust bath in my garden…
We have an area along from the fienile that is terraced. This space used to be a vineyard that was once full of productive moscato vines but it is now simply a grassy stairway that demands rather a bit too much attention in terms of maintenance.
After falling in love with the shape and blossom of our friends’ almond trees, we decided this terrace would make a perfect almond grove.
In early spring last year, we planted 7 almond trees in a row. We wanted to plant more but we first needed to be sure that almond trees would survive our frosty valley winters.
But it became immediately apparent that we first needed to help them through a particularly hot and dry summer! Last year we saw no rain for months and had to deep-water our new little trees twice weekly to make sure they survived!
Then winter was upon us and it was also harsh. It was wet and cold, with temperatures plummeting to -6 degrees for extended periods of time.
Now, after a long year of waiting and caring for our new trees, spring has arrived and a close inspection of our trees reveals that tiny white-tipped buds have emerged from the waking branches. They will give us a lovely blossom show in a few more weeks.
So…a couple of weeks ago we purchased another 7…and planted them immediately…in a parallel line.
Now we can finally say that we have an almond ‘grove’ rather than an almond ‘line’…
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…
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.
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.
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!