Chapter 27 – Happy Place

Chapter 27
Happy Place

While I sit here in the slight chill of five o’clock afternoon mid August, swatting the mozzies (surely it’s not warm enough for them already), sipping champagne which sits stable on my newly “made with love” outdoor coffee table, I know I have found my “Happy Place”.  The place I will go to in my mind during the rare chance at meditation (sans mosquitos), the place I will go to when things get me down, and the place I hope to be every afternoon once we move full time to the farm.  
The veggie garden has had a few incarnations over the last three years and finally it is becoming the place I envisioned it to be.  The crop circles which gave us an abundance of eggplant, tantrically entwined carrots, furnace hot rocket, and a pestsometimes known as mint, have now been transformed into the promise of veggies to come.  I know if I look back to the previous Crop Circle Chapter I will get a total expenditure of the project, which of course I am avoiding as just last week I called the local landscaping supplier and ordered three cubic metres of organic potting mix to fill them.  I am sure that done the right way with the proper preparation the “no dig” method of gardening works a treat.  But we all know that is NOT me.  Jump in without all the information, without considering the area, the light, the preparation etc and end up with a tub of plants falling over without sufficient soil to hold their roots, and a tub full of grass that has come through the sparse layer of newspaper and taken over and strangled any veggie that might have existed.
So failure admitted (apart from the eggplant), I physically pulled out all the runner grass and put it in the compost, shoveled out the decomposed mulch and deposited around various trees and plants, layered weed mat, and heaps of newspaper into the circles and started all over again.
I had done a rudimentary calculation of the amount of soil needed to fill the five circles and had come up with an estimate of eight cubic metres.  Thankfully Benny worked out it needed more like two, and so I ordered three.  The guy came with the truck and thanks to the new and improved gates we have at that end of the yard, was able to drive right up to the edge of the pots and dump the load.  Looked like a lot of soil to me and I thanked my lucky stars that Benny had dissuaded me from ordering more.
The weekend came and while I was out being Mum’s taxi, the hard work began.  Benny shoveled soil into four out of five, only because I still hadn’t emptied the last one of the grass infested mulch that was in the fifth.  Once I was home I pulled out all stops and got that done and also shoveled in the soil, thankful that he had left the closest pot to the soil for me to do.  That, my friends, was enough work for the day so on Sunday after reading one of the books I had collected on growing veggies, I and my list went to Bunnings for five packets of seeds.  Yep seeds this time not seedlings.
That afternoon I planted the five things I knew I would eat, and were appropriate for our climate and the time of year, yep I learned something from my previous experience.  As they were circles and I couldn’t very well plant rows, I used a bamboo cane to draw out a spiral in each pot, from the centre out allowing about 15cm spacing.  In the first pot I planted silver beet, the second which received the most shade cos lettuce because it keeps the longest and you can just remove the leaves that you need as you need them.  The third I planted with carrots as it was closest to the awesome fragrance of the rosemary bush which I read keeps “carrot loving” pests at bay. 

I also used a little trick I had learnt from a DVD I bought myself last Christmas “A Year in Pete’s Patch” (available from ABC shops) and mixed the itty bitty tiny carrot seeds in with a jar with sand to disperse them.  With a hole pierced in the lid it is the perfect pouring receptacle to plant a thinned out layer of seeds without having to use tweezers to pick them out individually.  The next pot I planted with snow peas and used a different technique.  

As I needed to make sure there was room for a trellis to support the growing vines I drew a line through the centre and then on either side a zig zag planting a seed deep in the ground every 5cm.  This way each of the plants will support each other as they grow and all will be able to reach the support of the trellis.  The last pot I planted celery from seeds that I had had for over a year and as yet they are the only ones that have not germinated.  Reckon there must be a life span for seeds? 
Fast forward one week and all the lettuce plants had sprouted, two weeks and the silver beet, and carrots had broken through the ground.  Three weeks later and I have gorgeous little snow pea plants as well, but still no celery.  I have an old wire chair (cushion just inside the front door for ease of grabbing) and a solid timber side table on adjustable feet that can be leveled to adjust to uneven terrain (gotta love him!) to hold my cuppa or wine, laptop, book or whatever floats my boat.  Happy Place in place, the next job is constructing a trellis that can be moved from pot to pot if needed.  Think I might give that job to Benny as I feel that some hand made pavers will be a nice addition to the garden and a crafty project for Lawson and I to do over the next few weeks.  Stay tuned!

PS – One week later…. and my new mobile trellis is installed!

Chapter 26 – Lemon Chicken Tree

Chapter 26
Lemon Chicken Tree

I’m sure that kids who are lucky enough to grow up on a working farm are from an early age exposed to the harshness and realities of the circle of life.  They marvel over seeing baby chicks hatched, witness lambing season, calves and puppies being born.  Also they experience the loss of the old sheep dog, animals taken by predators and maybe even the slaughter of a beast in order to put food on their table.  Is it fair to say that perhaps this may even de-sensitize them a bit to life and death.  This is not the case with me.  After growing up in a relatively normal suburban environment, I have somehow been sheltered from both birth and death.  Sure over the years I have lost grand parents to old age, and lost my wonderful Dad to cancer before his time, but on the whole I am lucky enough to say that not a lot of tragedy has befallen our family.  Even our one and only family dog died at the ripe old age of 18!  Having a small and widely spread extended family I haven’t even experienced many babies being born, except of course our own lovely child, thirteen years ago.  Now I don’t want you to think that I am comparing the death of a loved one with the story I am about to tell but rather I just wanted to give you a measure of context as to my reaction to what went on.
This was no ordinary Monday, if it had have been perhaps the events would not have gone this way, but for some reason the universe conspired to line things up like this.  I had to make a delivery to Lawson’s school and do some shopping after that so decided that I would drive him that morning instead of Brent, leaving the house relatively unattended and the chooks and dog out in the sunshine roaming free.  When I arrived back home I stopped in the driveway to open the gate, I hopped out of the truck and saw a whitish cream coloured dog in our yard.  The expression “my heart sank”, doesn’t quite come close to the panic and adrenalin that made my stomach sick and my heart ache.  I opened the gate tentatively as I didn’t quite know what this dog, from goodness knows where, was going to do.  It bounded up to me wagging its tail and I told it to go home and closed it out of the gate.  I then became the mad woman from hell screamed for my chickens and ran over to the big heap of white feathers under the mango tree anticipating the body of Georgia to be under all that.  Thankfully she was not.  But there under the bright red hen house was the distinctive plumage of my mate Schnitzel.  In a ball, not moving, obviously dead.  In my panic I went to look for the other chickens knowing full well that nothing could be done for her now.  I screamed and cried and clucked and screamed again.  I tell you its just as well most of my neighbours where at work because I seriously would have been locked up.  Down near the shed was another pile of feathers and the body of little Omelet.  She had been sick with peritonitis and probably didn’t have the strength to escape from the dog.  I searched for more, dead or alive and couldn’t see any so went to the shed to find something to wrap my two babies in.  There in the corner behind the mowers was another dog!  This one looked young and had a guilty expression on its face.  I turned around to see that the other dog had returned and so I dragged it out to the road to see if it would point me towards its home and the owners that I was going to make pay dearly.  No sign, no inclination towards this house or that.  I found a neighbour doing some yard work a couple of doors down.  I cried him the tale and told him I was concerned for the other chickens.  He offered to come and help me and we managed to lock both dogs in the shed til the officers from the pound arrived to take them away .
I wrapped my bubba chookens in a tablecloth and put them in a box and prayed the others would come home when it was time to go to bed.  Benny came back to the house, all the way from work to console me, for which I was very grateful.
Around lunch time Georgia appeared.  She stood under a bush at the back door and it was obvious that she had suffered an injury to her side and her wing.  I felt that she had sacrificed her wing to save her life.  I didn’t want to distress her further so left her there to see how she went as the day progressed.
I went to pick up Lawson from school and sadly told him about the tragic loss of our two favorite chickens.  We had a big cry on the way back home but were relieved to drive in the yard and find the other two girls had come back and were unscathed.
Later that afternoon we heard our neighbour calling out the names of his dogs, uh oh.  These german gun dogs were used for pig shooting and thus had a taste for blood.  Because of this they were always kept locked away in a pen in a corner of their yard were even I as their neighbour had never seen a glimpse.  He called to me over the fence and asked if I had seen a creamy whitish dog and another brownish one.  I told him the whole story and even though I was sad I didn’t feel great about having his dogs taken away to the pound.  I apologized and explained that I didn’t know they were his dogs and would have called him if I thought they were.  He was happy the dogs were safe, equally apologetic that they had killed the chickens and almost embarrassed that this accident had  happened.  Seemed the dogs ate their way through the wire fence, slipped through the narrow gap between two other fences and came across the creek into our yard.  The next morning he bailed them out of doggy jail and was back on the front door step apologizing again.  But what can you do, they are great neighbours and the fence is now very, very secure.
During the day I worked up the courage to bury the chickens.  One of our friends had buried their beautiful old dog under their lime tree when it died and it produced more fruit than it ever had in the years after that.  So I went out to my lemon tree that has never in three years produced a fruit, gently pried it out of the ground, and dug down further.  It was hard work made harder by tears, but somehow I felt that as I had benefited from their companionship so much it was only right that I should be the one to bury them and not leave it as a job for my husband to do.  I placed some straw on the soil in the hole and lay them side by side, said a little prayer and covered them over, placing the lemon tree on top.  
It’s now a couple of months down the track and we have two new lovely black hens (Eugene and Tandoori) producing lots of lovely eggs and even the older girls have been spurred along to produce some again.  The “lemon chicken tree” is now in flower with more blooms than ever before and looking healthier with the prospect of many fruit to come.  I talk to it regularly as I am a bit of a nut, and the irony is not lost on me that one of the few things you cannot feed chickens is citrus, but you can definitely feed a citrus chicken.