My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


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Irrational Urge was Hard to Stifle

Stifle

Eleven years ago, Himself arranged for a stock agent to buy four, white-face beef animals at the local cattle sale held each Tuesday. We understand that animals can be nervous when they off-load from the truck. But, they tend to settle once they have explored the paddock, had a drink and start eating grass.

On this occasion, the new cattle stood quietly in the stockyard while Himself checked them over before releasing them into the paddock. Four black bodies charged through the opening gate, just missing Himself flattened against the fence railings. They stampeded across the paddock and hurtled through the live electric fence. They splashed across the stream into our neighbour’s property.

Himself’s language probably offended the animals as there was more cattle mayhem. Neighbours rallied to help herd the runaways home. One animal hurdled a 7-wire fence into another neighbour’s farm. Three fled in a headlong rush up the road before being rounded up. The final gallop was through my vegetable garden. They kicked divots of garden soil into the air and trampled my late summer vegetables. One dived back into the stream and joined the animal still on the neighbouring farm. It took three hours to restore calm and to secure the animals in the back paddock away from the stream and the road. That was on Tuesday after I got home from work. 

That night, Himself was on the phone to the stock agent. “From a forestry block!” Himself was heard to splutter. These four animals had had little contact with humans. Cattle hand-reared as calves are more used to humans and this is what lifestylers want on small blocks of land. On Thursday, all four animals were back on the truck to their new owner.

That weekend, it was drinks and BBQ at our place for the neighbours. Everyone had their similar stories of strife with cattle. In the heat of the moment, we had all felt the irrational urge to shoot the lot on the spot, an urge which was hard to stifle.


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Strategy is to Pick up Polystyrene Particles from the Stream Bank

Strategy

Plastic pollution seemingly never stops. In my previous post, I was proud of having cleared the stream of inorganic debris and improving the water flow. And I was delight by the number of freshwater mussels. Today, I spotted and picked up clumps of white polystyrene partially obscured by flattened grass on the streambank where the native birds, Pukeko, hangout and feed on the freshwater mussels.   

Polystyrene

Clumps picked up from flattened grass on streambank where Pukeko eat  freshwater mussels.

Kākahi, freshwater mussels, were a traditional food source for Māori. I just hope there are no white micro-particle pollutants in the stream water, home to this native filter-feeding species. I read how plastic toxins can work through the fish food chain onto our meal plates and can harm human health. Sea creatures are known to be ingesting quantities of plastic particle debris sloshing about in the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps this logic holds for the freshwater food chain? 

A quick Google search shows experts worldwide are concerned by the evidence of the mounting problem of polystyrene particles. I am now left with questions:

  • have the filter-feeding freshwater mussels ingested any nano polystyrene particles floating in the streamwater?
  • did the Pukeko peck at the clumps of polystyrene on the streambank?
  • if so, how will both species be affected?
  • did the polystyrene particles get blown by wind from a roadside rubbish pile to be swept into this small stream during a flood?

Council rubbish trucks come weekly to collect household rubbish and recycling items from the roadside. We comply with Council’s regulations. Our supermarket is committed to phasing out the use of plastic bags. I can work with that plan. Large hardware items are commonly encased in a polystyrene packing frame inside a cardboard box. That stumps me. I feel guilty taking it to the Refuse Station.

Polystyrene

Polystyrene packing that encased a monitor

The upshot is, I do not know enough about the effect of the ingestion of polystyrene particles on our native freshwater fish and bird species. It may seem like a handful of polystyrene particles. However, I am not optimistic. All I know for now, is that I still need to pick up many nano-particles of polystyrene <3mm in diameter from the native birds’ streamside feeding area. That is the first step.

Polystyrene Particle

Nano-particle measuring <3mm picked up from the streamside

Next, I will need to check the stream waterline for polystyrene clumps caught in overhangs where the filter-feeding mussels grow. That then, is my for-now strategy.


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Summer

January is the month when New Zealanders enjoy summer days. It is a time when people leave their real world lives to relax, to holiday at beaches, lakes and rivers and to enjoy outdoor activities. It is a time when we are busy in our gardens and enjoy the fruits of our labours. However, nature is having an impact on our environment.

Puddle

Ripples caused by raindrops ahead of heavy rain forecast

But, I can be forgiven for taking childish delight, for now, in watching raindrops splat and ripple onto puddles. It is the promise of the rain needed to fill our watertanks and to raise the stream level back to its regular level. Rain is forecast to keep falling. Heavily. And with high winds for a couple of days. Water will fall and flow everywhere and not as we would wish it. So we are warned. It has been a very dry and unusually warm December. Did I miss spring? Is this climate change at play? Nature is leaving a trail of evidence.

 

Even though heavily mulched, my garden is wilting. Lettuces have bolted and gone to seed. They were tasty while they lasted. Dahlias are showing their hot colours. Yellow butter and other beans are producing well. Defiant heat loving plants remain true to label. Leaves on the liquidamber trees are displaying signs of early autumn colours.

Pukeko Under the Fruit Trees

Pukeko eat the ripening fruit and damage the branches.

Pukeko and rosellas are unrelenting in their assaults on the ripening Captain Kidd heritage apples that should ripen in March. My early Peach Haven is history. It drives me crazy to see a pukeko, apple clamped in its beak, sprint from under the fruit trees across the paddock to its stream-side habitat The birds jump into the trees and damage the branches. The stream level is very low, the soil is rock hard, the plant habitats are parched and I am sure the birds are desperate for food. Earlier this morning, a family of four fruit thieves raided the orchard undercover of a downpour. No summer holiday in my world. It is garden guerilla-warfare.

Cattle

Grass is greener on the other side of the fence

We have our cattle on a sheltered hill paddock which is prone to dryness. They are grizzling because the grass quality is not as good as that on the other side of the gate. The trouble is that the better grass is in a flat paddock that is prone to flash flooding when our stream spills over. Years ago, in our early experiences of coping with bad storms, the cattle either stood in the shallows or huddled under trees. We gave up trying to move them. Wading in fast-moving, waist-high water that sweeps all manner of debris, including fences from neighbouring properties, in its path is not safe. Those animals all survived. Mindful of forecasts, we are now better prepared.  So, these cattle can stay on the hill for two days until the storm blows over.   

Meanwhile, weather forecasters continue to track the sub-tropical storm as it unleashes over New Zealand, to warn of the dangers of heavy rain, king tides, large waves and strong winds and to advise holidaymakers to evacuate.  No doubt the raindrops and the ripples will cease to be delightful as the puddles  flood and reform to flow as a small stream down my driveway.   


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Oreo the mini-lop rabbit gives birth

Tuesday, 24th October is a date when I would like to have been proven wrong about the saying, breeding like rabbits.

Oreo Mini-lop Rabbit

Oreo feeding on dandelions and fresh grass

In my previous blog about Paws, mentioned how excited Grandson at the arrival of an unexpected second pet rabbit and how his Mum said she had got Oreo ‘not long ago’ from the S.P.C.A. and that because she was so young,‘things should be alright’.

Paws and Oreo are parents

Kits cocooned in Mum’s downy fur

Oreo, a mini-lop rabbit, gave birth to her first litter of five kits about midday. She showed strong basic instincts in her preparation for the birth and mothering.

She had tried digging a burrow from the cage. She had plucked fur from her lower abdomen to make a soft downy cocoon for her babies in the straw nest created some days earlier. In this way, Oreo exposed her nipples ready to suckle her kits.

There was a time lag of about three hours between the birth and when we were able to separate the new mother and her kits from Paws, the father. Too late, I think. Oreo is probably pregnant again. 

Mother and babies are doing well.

School Agricultural Show Day pet project


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Paws the Rabbit

Four weeks ago, we became accidental grandparents to Paws, the cutest one-year old white bunny with light chocolate coloured floppy ears. Who could resist such a cuddly charmer? Grandson’s school Agricultural Day loomed and he wanted to show his pet mini-lop rabbit that he cares for when he stays with his mother in the city. It would be a short stay we were told.

The old chicken coop and caged run was scrubbed, put in a sunny sheltered spot in the orchard and furnished with fresh bedding straw and sweet-smelling hay. A hutch away from hutch, secure from predators we thought as we admired the comfy rabbit home.  

Paws arrived with a bag packed with his care booklet, grooming brush, hay, pellet treats, purple plastic toy tunnel, red walk harness, sipper water bottle, woollen blankie and a surprise.

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Oreo eating dandelion before giving birth

His mate, Orero. An adorable female mini-lop rabbit with floppy ears and chocolate coloured patched fur.

Grandson was excited at the prospect of an unexpected second pet. His Mum said she got Oreo ‘not long ago’ from the S.P.C.A. and that because she was so young,‘things should be alright’. As seen-it-all-before Grandparents, we were suspicious. Wild rabbits breed prolifically in our rural area. Domestic city raised rabbits must have the same basic instincts.      

Both rabbits eased into rural lifestyle living and diet. Grandson learned to identify and pick dandelion, dock leaves, grass, puha and thistles from the stream bank. Oregano from the vegetable garden, yum. Happy rabbits. I googled ‘rabbits’ and questioned our local vet. Reality – Oreo could get pregnant at a young age.

Grandson’s Dad and Himself bought wire netting, built and kitted out  a bigger second secured rabbit run. Agricultural Day drew closer and Grandson’s photo and written project work had to be completed. Paws and Oreo settled well into their new rabbit run. On Day 10, it was with some dismay I saw Oreo padding the straw-lined plastic tray inside the hutch shelter with hay stalks.

Paws and Oreo are parents

Baby rabbits cocooned in mother’s downy fur

Six days later, I was greeted with a snow of white rabbit fur throughout the hutch and run. My first thought the cat had entered the run and wreaked havoc. But no. Five newborn kits nestled in a thick blanket of rabbit fur in the plastic tray. When birth is imminent, mother rabbits pluck soft fur from their abdomen and create a downy cocoon for their babies. It is in this way they also expose their nipples ready for suckling.

And, Paws was mating with Oreo.

 

Paws is confined to the bachelor quarters. Oreo and her kits now dwell in the old chicken hutch. Grandson and his brothers were ecstatic. Grandson’s Dad thought about solutions to longer stay. Grandparents sighed and rolled up their sleeves at the prospect of newborn rabbit care.

Now, about that mother duck who nested and hatched six ducklings among my celery plants.


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Jemima duck waddled into my garden

Jemima seemed most fitting to name our latest feathered friend. She waddled into our lives one morning about three weeks ago. Shy, yet trusting and friendly like Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle Duck, she has let us hand feed her and even give her a cuddle, and she stops, holds her head in a way looking at us that suggests she is listening to us chat to her.

We think she is an escapee, that being from our neighbour’s duck pond across our stream where hundreds of ducks of different breeds live. Bruce happens to like ducks and geese. What child has not loved listening to Beatrix Potter’s stories about garden and farmyard animals being read to them? When they were little, I used to take my grandsons to scatter grain at feeding time. It is fun to stand in the middle of the noisy rush of quacking and honking birds, like a big city rush  hour which I no longer  miss..

In the  relaxed way things happen here, one day, we will wander over to Bruce and ask if he is missing a duck. His answer will be laconic and he will not know or even worry that Jemima has herself a new home. Bruce took on six ducks recently because their owner could no longer care for her pets. Jemima is probably from that small flock. She is earning her keep and is doing a great job scooping up the bugs and slugs in my garden. For now, Jemima can sleepover at our place and be one of the poultry girls.


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Strawberry the chicken ~ wins an Ag Day ribbon

3 Choosing new chicks5 Outdoors 1st run in chicken cage

27th September, six fluffy, yellow day-old Brown Shaver chicks came to live at our place. The chick rearing school project proved a source of endless fascination.

Strawberry wins Ag Day ribbonDaniel in chook cage Nov 2015

In October, grandson, 7-year old Daniel was still mothering his chicken children. Strawberry did Daniel proud to win a ribbon at his school’s Agricultural Day.

By November, I was thinking thyme for chicken casserole. Strawberries and ThymeMy dire warning about heads on the nearby chopping block was ignored. They cheeped away and continued to forage among the strawberries and herbs.

However, the chicks were terrified of the two adult hens who command the henhouse. Gertrude and Speckles only had so much tolerance for child-minding. They took to their nesting boxes.Gertrude & Speckles I guess it’s natural a pecking order be established.

Come December, the chickens are quite the cheeky teenagers and speak in chook not cheeps. One managed a defiant peck of my blueberries as they were shooed out of the garden. At night now, they roost in the hen-house with the older hens. Fewer feathers are flying.

Is it too much to expect some egg-laying in January?

Meanwhile, Frog froghas taken residence in the flax bush I’d left soaking in a bucket until I get round to replanting it.

Animals 1 – garden 0.