Plums and Pohutukawa ~ it must be Christmas

Nothing says, ‘it must be Christmas’, to me more than the seasonal appearance of red  Christmas plums in my home orchard and of the full glory of New Zealand’s iconic crimson blooms on pohutukawa trees.

In the current high temperatures, green plums reddened overnight. This morning, waxeyes, pukeko and possums all left signs of having tasted-tested the ripest part of the fruit, the side facing the morning sun. Half-eaten plums lay on the grass and broken twigs dangled from branches. Much as I love to pick sun-ripened fruit, the reality is that I must pick the near-ripened fruit if we are to enjoy any of the crop at all. I will put the ripest plums in the fruit bowl, free-flow freeze some for later use and stew some to be served as a dessert.

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Christmas plums picked at half-ripened state

Possums also wreaked destruction on my heritage Strawberry apple tree. It is a delightful small early apple that ripens just before Christmas.  We trapped several possums this week. We expect to trap more in the weeks to come. In other posts, I have described how possums are pests in New Zealand. They roam at night and also ravage native foliage,  such as pohutukawa trees, and eat native bird eggs and chicks.

Putting possums and plums behind us for a while, Himself and I enjoyed coffee at a waterfront cafe overlooking the local marina. It is a happy place where people walk or socialise.

Crimson pohutukawa blooms feature in New Zealand Christmas images. With Christmas on my mind, I wish for peace and harmony, happiness and joy, and good health in your lives everywhere.

Pohutukawa
Pohutukawa trees in full bloom at the Town Basin Marina

 

 

 

 

Binky Bunny

Baby Bunny, the surviving kit, is five weeks of age. Paws, the father rabbit, has been neutered. Oreo, the mother rabbit, has resumed her bond with Paws, and both live in the larger of the two weather-proofed hutches each with an attached caged run. Baby Bunny is being weaned and readied for departure to a new home in seven days time.

Morning and evening, the three rabbits are let out for a run among the herbal ley under the fruit trees. Leo, our ‘wanna-be predator’ family cat, much to his chagrin, is locked inside the house at this time. It was a leap of faith I would be able to get three rabbits back into their cages. The orchard is a big area and easy for small animals to hide. Initially, I worked with one rabbit at a time. They loped to the other’s cage and sniffed each other through the wire mesh. They made their territorial marks as they explored the potential for rabbit play. Together, they have now developed playful freedom routines.

Binkying Bunny
Binky Bunny’s high jump landing behind Dad

‘Binky’, a new word for me, is a fascinating insight into playful behaviour. I learned from google searches that what our baby bunny is doing is called rabbit binkies. And oh boy, does Baby Bunny love his binky playtime. He leaps and twists. He sprints. He darts in and out of the borage, comfrey and wormwood. He dashes at great speed full circle round an apple tree. He races up to his Mum for a sniff and races off again. His hind paws kick out. Such exuberance. Such fun. Such life. Such joy.

Meanwhile, Oreo and Paws are sedate by comparison. They lope. They explore. They sniff. They burrow at the bases of trees. They nibble clover. They eyeball the hens. They reform as a family group and huddle with their kit. They groom. They stretch out.

Paws has been receptive to being handled and petted. Since his visit to the vet four weeks ago, he is more settled. Oreo has been shy and reluctant to be handled. Since she moved back with Paws, her behaviour has changed. Almost overnight, she seems to be more trusting letting me stroke her, even pick her up for a short spell. Tonight, she lay stretched out on the ground while being quietly scratched behind her ears like we do with our cats. Rabbit bliss.

An urgent call of nature dictated that Baby Bunny, exhausted from binkying, would lunge at his mother, wriggle upside down under her abdomen and suckle greedily for a full three minutes. I timed him. Binky bunny got a goodnight cuddle and settled for the night with a feed of fresh greens and hay. 

Paws, Oreo and Baby Bunny
Paws and Oreo with five-week old kit suckling Mum.

The Sudden Loss of a Pet Baby Rabbit

New Nest in the Hay Feed Bowl
Sibling bunnies snuggled in happier times in Mama’s dry feed bowl incidentally adorned with a garden art rabbit.

Little Kit

24 October 2017 ~ 21 November 2017

28 days

Mini-lop baby rabbit of Oreo and Paws

Once there were 5 kits. Now there is 1.

Much loved family pet rabbit

 

It has been a distressing and emotional day. Sudden death of any animal is hard to take. But we live in a rural environment and as the saying goes, ‘where there’s livestock, there’s dead stock’. It is never easy. Over time, we have dealt with the deaths of cats, a calf and poultry. They are never just animals to us. They each had pet names. Grandsons came home from school this afternoon to the tearful reality of the loss of their beloved baby rabbit. The boys had questions. We had questions. How could this happen so suddenly?  

This little bright-eyed bundle of white fur hip-hopped into our hearts. Little Kit suckled Mum and grew fast. From Day 12, Little Kit nibbled at greens and hay and rabbit pellets, just like Mum. Becoming more curious after its eyes opened, the big hop from the confines of the hutch became a regular activity. The sibling kits would snuggle and curl up together after a feed and clean from Mum, on their bedding pine shavings inside the hutch. Life was good for the siblings.

Yesterday, it was life as usual in the rabbit world. Early that evening, Little Kit had a gunky left eye that closed up. It was not interested in nibbling or moving. I wiped the eye with clean cotton pad moistened with a saline solution. That seemed to help a bit. Later the mother rabbit was seen licking her baby. We decided to take the Kit to the vet in the morning thinking it was an eye infection.

Early this morning, Little Kit was a very distressed bunny. It had managed to move from the hutch into the run. I reached to pick it up to check its condition and it screamed. A sound I never wish to hear again. It moved clumsily, was shivering and the eye was clean and half open. Its sibling was snuggling up as if it was trying to be a blanket to warm up its sibling. The mother was licking its baby. The sibling also licked its body. Both healthy rabbits seemed to be comforting and caring the sick baby rabbit. Oreo, the mother, stopped to eat she yet remained close and watchful. This sight was so touching. Heart wrenching.

As I prepared the carry cage for our trip to the vet, I noticed Oreo and the sibling had distanced themselves from the sick kit. It had become floppy and and cold to touch. I picked the kit up and wrapped it in a warm soft rug. The vet said the probable cause of death in the surgery at 11 a.m. was ‘encephalo zoon cuniculi’. It is a nasty condition, common in domestic rabbits, that can be passed in-utero and symptoms can manifest weeks later after birth as has happened today.

The grandsons absorbed the terrible facts and a google search gave more information. Our concern is now for the remaining pet rabbits. We must especially watch the sibling kit.

We mourn a little creature who put life into living and enriched our lives by being. 

 

Herbal Offerings from My Garden

Comfrey
Comfrey flowering under our Captain Kidd New Zealand heritage apple tree

Comfrey, sage, chives, wormwood and borage are flourishing companions under my fruit trees. The daffodils have died down in readiness for their next spring show. Kitchen herbs are also grown in raised beds in my vegetable garden. 

Wormwood under Heritage Red Delicious Apple Tree
Wormwood about to flower under our heritage Red Delicious apple tree. Borage is also establishing.

Shakespeare enriched expressions of feelings in his writings with the language of herbs adding depth of meaning to garden lore that has passed on through the ages. I like that sense of Shakesperian connection when we say the perfume and colours of the flowers are a joy.

At my fingertips are the natural healthy ingredients for well-being. For years, I have not added salt to my cooking, relying instead on freshly picked herbs to add flavour to meals. Growing plants for the benefit of people and now, small animal life, is a positive gardening outcome.

It particularly pleases me to see the bees busy at work among the different herbal flowers. This is another reason I like to grow as many herbs a s possible. Every morning, the hens peck at the oregano and comfrey that grows near their hen-house run. Silverbeet is their big treat. To keep the chooks out, I erected a fence to enclose the vegetable garden beds. Fortunately they prefer to forage freely in the paddocks and the among the herbal growth under the fruit trees. They have their foraging routine which by the end of the day now finishes in the orchard near the rabbit hutches. The hens stand and squawk noisily, protesting as I give yummy green feed to these furry intruders to their world. They will not be bribed by an early feed of night grain in their cage. They prefer to cluck and line up by the hutch. They are such bird-brains.

Rabbits are herbivores and wild rabbits self-select from a variety of pasture plants. I do not want any rabbits eating directly out of my garden. I put together a herbal bouquet for the domestic mother rabbit and her two kits. A woody twig with leaves from one of my heritage apple trees, a leafy stem of borage with bright blue flowers, long-stemmed large strawberry leaves, parsley, sprigs of oregano, a small stalk of young comfrey leaves and flowers. The addition of herbs to their green feed makes for variety in their diet. So far, they seem to like my garden herb offerings.

Foraging
Brown Shaver hen and Paws forage near the comfrey plant under the Captain Kidd apple tree.

Bunnies and Bridge Aren’t a Fit

My brain has turned to rabbit mush. It has been 22 days since they were born. Newborns in any household bring on that ‘brain mush’ effect. My senses are tuned to responding to the demands and needs of these small creatures.  

It is now routine at 6 a.m. for me to forage under the totara trees along the stream bank for fresh dewy puha, dandelions and thistles. By 7.30 a.m. the rabbit hutch has been cleaned, the kits have a frolic while Oreo, their mother, has her breakfast. Rabbit housekeeping  is repeated for Paws’, the father rabbit, cage. He is let out for a thirty-minute run in the orchard before he too is fed back in his cage.

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Foraging for puha, dandelions and grass along the stream bank

There was the initial burst of enthusiasm for the novelty of rabbit care before school Agricultural Day in October. Paws showed off his moves and earned Grandson an Agricultural Day Certificate. Grandson considers job done. And apparently, 6 a.m. is not a civilised hour to be up and getting wet by the morning dew on the long grass in the paddock. The boys are not impressed that Nana at their age had to herd the cows, no quad bike, from their night paddock to the shed and help her Dad with milking and feed the calves. So last century.  Grandsons of the  household are getting ready for school – so they say with a device in one hand. But they are out the door at 8 a.m.

Hen care is next, the Brown Shavers indignant they have been usurped and made to wait because of these furry intruders. Squawking loudly, they stand and poo in their water dish, peck at and clamber over each other and crowd the opening of the chicken cage run.  I remember to smell the Sweet Peas that scramble over the bean frame in the vegetable garden. The flowers are just glorious at this time of the year. I do a few household chores and get myself ready to rush out the door.

One morning a week, I attend formal lessons for beginning players at the Bridge Club , a fifteen-minute drive into town. It is more like a mad dash through the door just after the lesson has started. We were learning about Responder’s Rebids and having a choice of bidding No Trumps if my hand had no fit with my partner’s suit. So what do I do? Bid like it was a game of 500. I called 6 No Trumps. As the complexity of these lessons increases, I am convinced I will never get the hang of Bridge. Two other players are in a similar situation grandparenting two young dogs and empathise with the challenge to get a fit between small young animal care and learning bridge. Breathe, we tell ourselves. We laugh. Our Bridge instructor is wonderfully patient. 

Bunnies’ first nibble of vegetables

Each day has a new happening in the rabbit hutch. Day 21 and two little bunnies hopped towards the cage door, reared on their hind paws, reached and sniffed the fresh grass and leaf matter in my hand I was about to feed to their mother. This evening, the kits took baby nibbles of their first vegetable, the silverbeet leaf and stalk, organically grown in my garden, was intended for their mother. Meanwhile. Mama Oreo was absorbed eating freshly picked puha and young thistles. Nothing but the best freshly picked home grown produce for these small creatures.

Kit tastes silverbeet for the first time.
Kits sniffing and tasting vegetables. Very curious and friendly.
Bunnies are Groomed by Mum
After tasting the vegetable feed, mini-lop bunnies are groomed by Mum.

Baby Bunnies’ Big Hop from their Hutch

New Nest in the Hay Feed Bowl
Both baby bunnies snuggled into Mama’s dry feed bowl incidentally adorned with a garden art rabbit.

It is almost time to think about leaving home. Unafraid and curious, the mini-lop kits hopped from the interior of their home for the past 20 days and ventured into the caged area where Mum was feeding on delectable dandelion flowers and leaves. The baby rabbits do not mind being cuddled. The rate of growth is remarkable. I cannot be sure about their gender but think one is a male. One kit’s ears are light chocolate colour. The other’s  ears tend to be more coffee coloured. Unlike their mother Oreo, there are no markings on their bodies that I can see at this stage, Day 20. Their fur is so fluffy. Cute. and cute.

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Two very little bunnies ventured outside. One onto the step. The other has hopped into the hay feed bowl.
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Baby bunnies snuggle in when being cuddled. They are growing rapidly.