2016 Marketplace and Last Tours of the Year

Our Marketplace is extended to Sunday, Nov. 20th, 9 – 2!

img_0524At Finch Frolic we’ve come to celebrate the end of our season with a Marketplace. This year our Marketplace will happen one day only, this Sat. Nov. 19th from 8-3.  Finch Frolic is located at 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook, CA.  We’ll be selling our abundance. Here’s some of the goodies you’ll find:

Tiny Cocktail Mouse Melons (cucumbers… so cute!)

Amazing, milk-free Passionfruit Curd

Incredible tropical Guava Jam

Pickled Garlic

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Whiskey Cranberry Relishimg_0506

Nectarine Amaretto Jam

Tangy Plum Jam

Our very best dill Picklesimg_0517

Jelly Palm Jelly img_0500

Spicy Jalapeno Carrotsimg_0519

Hand-grated, homegrown organic Horseradish Sauceimg_0529

Guava Halves in Simple Syrup

Guava Paste squares – eat as is or put them in baked goods, or pair with slices of cheese. Ummm!img_0537

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Frozen Passionfruit Juice cubes

Our famous Pomegranate Gelato

Frozen Pomegranate Arils, all ready to sprinkle on your baked goods or mix in a salad or stuffing.

Clear, amazing Guava Jelly

Frozen Plum, Guava and Peach slices

Frozen strained cooked organic home-grown pumpkin, all ready for a pie or bread!

Our best-selling Cranberry Biscotti

Gingerbread Houses. Pair them with our Passionfruit Curd for a memorable dessert!

Lilikoi (Passionfruit) Poundcakes. Small amazing tropical bundles of yum.

Guava Sauce, like applesauce but guava. Very low sugar!

Fresh Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke) roots. Cook them or plant them!

Layered Curry Mix – a sensual trip to the Middle East, either layered in cute little jars for a gift or in bags for use at home. Make a curry with these organic spices!

Lime Juice Cubes

Candied Orange Peels. From our organic oranges. A much better stocking stuffer than hard candy. Or top your baked goods with a twist.

Fresh, fragrant guavas, both white and pinkimg_0541

Fresh kiwanos, those thorny African fruit that sell for a fortune at the stores.

And more!

Plus, we’ll be selling some knick-knacks, and a few garage sale items . A punching bag anyone?

PLUS, we’ll have a selection of native plants lovingly grown locally.

And we’ll have amazing succulents from our neighbor Rosa of Roja’s Succulents. You’ll pass by her business on the way in, so please stop by on the way out and see her incredible inventory of plants, all organically hand-grown by Rosa. I never loved succulents until I saw her collection, and her very low prices!

Except for the gelato, we’re dairy (milk) free this year. We use organic eggs from cage-free hens, and otherwise use vegan butter that I make at home which is coconut-oil and rice milk based.

Our last two tours of the year (the garden closes from Thanksgiving until March 1.  We will still be available for consultations and appearances) will be this weekend, Nov. 19th and 20th, both at 10. [UPDATE: THE SATURDAY TOUR IS FULL. THERE IS STILL ROOM FOR THE SUNDAY TOUR]. The tours are our usual 2-hour concentrated Intro to Permaculture walks through the garden. The tours cost $15/adult and you will come away with so many ideas and so much information that you’ll spend the next week working in your garden! Please RSVP for the tours to dianeckennedy@prodigy.net.

Your continued support helps Miranda and I keep our consultation and tour prices low, and enables us to keep teaching and spreading the word on permaculture. So thank you!

A Mallard House

The Finch Frolic Garden Mallard Nesting Tube, by Miranda.

The Finch Frolic Garden Mallard Nesting Tube, by Miranda.

For about four years now a pair of wild mallards have called Finch Frolic Garden home.  They visit most of the year, especially in mating season as it is now.  The male guards her closely as she goes off to lay an egg a day in some secluded, secret nest.  This is Mrs. Mallard’s best time of the year.

Mrs. Mallard leading her mate all over the property as he protects her.

Mrs. Mallard leading her mate all over the property as he protects her.

She’ll stroll all over the property while he has to follow, and it is hilarious to watch.  They get in more walking time now than in the whole year put together.  She deserves to enjoy the attention because the rest of mating season isn’t so much fun for her.

The mating occurs in the water, with the male biting her neck and holding her head under water. Ducks have drowned during mating. A couple of years ago Mr. Mallard was losing his mating plumage and decided to allow a rather mean drake have at Mrs. Mallard.  It was a violent mating, and she tried hard to get away.

Mr. Mallard and his terrible surrogate.

Mr. Mallard and his terrible surrogate.

The next time the imposter flew in Miranda and I were close to the pond by a lime tree, with some bushes between us and the pond.  Suddenly we noticed Mrs. Mallard slowly walking around the bushes, her head held low.  If she could have tip-toed with webbed feet she would have.  She slowly approached us and hid behind the lime tree next to us.  We took action and chased the males away, then spoke soothingly to Mrs. Mallard in a sense of female solidarity. It was quite touching to have a wild creature so trust us as to come to us for rescue.

The Mallards checking out the duck island.

The Mallards checking out the duck island.

Once the eggs have been laid the female is entirely in charge of the eggs and the hatchlings. However, if the clutch fails, the male will keep re-mating with her and she’ll keep re-nesting.  Mrs. Mallard has attempted to lay eggs on our property in the bushes, but rats or other creatures have eaten them.  She had a nest right next to our garage one year, perhaps hoping that we could protect the eggs even though by the time we realize why we’d meet a duck on the pathway by the house every day it was too late.  The stress of the mating, the egg production and laying is taxing to a wild duck’s health.  Last year she appeared leading several ducklings to our pond.  We have no idea how far she’d lead them, or how many there were to begin with, and we knew the babies probably wouldn’t last long.  We were right; they were gone by the next day.  Predation by the invasive bullfrogs in the pond, rats, weasels, hawks or any number of animals.  So sad for the mallard family.

This year Mrs. Mallard has been disappearing daily, obviously to lay an egg a day elsewhere again.  However Miranda decided to help out for future nests.  She built a mallard nesting tube. Following instructions she found online from people who have proven this design works, she rolled the first three feet of a piece of 7’x3′ hardware cloth to form a tube.

A 7' x 3' piece of hardware cloth.  Larger wire would let too much debris fall into the pond.

A 7′ x 3′ piece of hardware cloth. Larger wire would let too much debris fall into the pond.

This was wired together, and the last four feet was layered with natural plant materials and rolled.

The first 3' are rolled and fastened, then Miranda lay dry cattails on the rest.

The first 3′ are rolled and fastened, then Miranda lay dry cattails on the rest.

 

The nesting tube.  Kind of like a jelly roll for mallards.

The nesting tube. Kind of like a jelly roll for mallards.

The inside of the tube isn't large, but apparently it is large enough.

The inside of the tube isn’t large, but apparently it is large enough.

This tube was wired onto a cradle she made mostly of recycled PVC parts, and painted dark green.

Gluing together the cradle. All of the pipe we had salvaged from old irrigation systems.

Gluing together the cradle. All of the pipe we had salvaged from old irrigation systems.

The cradle supports the tube, but is also loosely wired onto it.

The cradle supports the tube, but is also loosely wired onto it.

A sprinkler riser is what will fit into the support pipe.

A sprinkler riser is what will fit into the support pipe.

IMG_7207Also, to prevent hawks, egrets and other opportunistic birds from perching on top and snacking on eggs or hatchlings, Miranda attached strips of pokey chicken wire along the top.

Since egrets visit the pond regularly, the top of the tube had to be inhospitable.

Since egrets visit the pond regularly, the top of the tube had to be inhospitable.

Miranda cut strips of chicken wire and these were bent and wired on top to prevent birds from landing.

Miranda cut strips of chicken wire and these were bent and wired on top to prevent birds from landing.

Slipping into the chilly February pond was a shock until our legs became acclimated (or “numb”).  We pounded a hollow pipe, then slipped another pipe into it (both found materials), and then mounted the tube on top.

After mounting the nesting tube, Miranda stuffed leaves and dry grass inside, because mallards don't carry in their own nesting materials.

After mounting the nesting tube, Miranda stuffed leaves and dry grass inside, because mallards don’t carry in their own nesting materials.

Miranda then lined the inside of the tube with soft nesting materials – dried grass and leaves – because mallards don’t bring them in.  A little interior decorating for future lodgers. A sprinkler riser screwed into the PVC cradle slipped into the pipe.  This way the nesting tube can be easily removed for maintenance.  The tube is about three feet above the water surface.

Mrs. Mallard hasn’t shown any interest at this point, but she’s involved with her other nest right now.  We have high hopes for a successful nest.  Anyone want to come catch bullfrogs?

 

Finch Frolic Marketplace, Revisited

Wonderful, tasty winter squash of all kinds!

Wonderful, tasty winter squash of all kinds!

Due to popular demand, we’re having one more short Marketplace this Saturday, 9 – 1.

Join us on Saturday, November 29nd  from 9-1  for the annual Finch Frolic Marketplace, the Extended Version!  We’ll have for sale fresh and prepared foods straight from our permaculture gardens.  All are excellent gifts, or will grace your holiday table. We’ll have the much-desired Pomegranate Gelato again, and new this year, Passionfruit Gelato!   Squash, fruit, veg, preserves, passionfruit curd, baked goods, and much more.

Herbs, veggies, frozen juice, gelatos, curds, jams, preserves... and much more!

Herbs, veggies, frozen juice, gelatos, curds, jams, preserves… and much more!

Finch Frolic Garden is located at 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook, CA.

Directions:

Finch Frolic Garden is open by appointment only for tours, lectures and other activities.  The address is 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook, CA  92028-2548.  Please call only if you are lost or delayed; we use our house phone only and are often not inside.  Please use the email above for any other communication.

From the North (Temecula and above): take 1-15 South to Exit 51 and turn right.  Make the next right onto E. Mission Rd/County Hwy-S13.  In .8 of a mile turn left onto E. Live Oak Park Rd.  In 1.6 miles turn right onto Alvarado St.  In .7 miles at the top of the hill turn left onto Vista Del Indio, at Roja’s Succulents.  Make the very first right; 390 is at the end to the left.

From the South (Escondido and below): take I-15 North to Exit 51 and turn left over the freeway.  Make the next right onto E. Mission Rd/County Hwy-S13.  In .8 of a mile turn left onto E. Live Oak Park Rd.  In 1.6 miles turn right onto Alvarado St.  In .7 miles at the top of the hill turn left onto Vista Del Indio, at Roja’s Succulents.  Make the very first right; 390 is at the end to the left.

From the West (I-5): take CA-76 East, Exit 54A and drive for 12.6 miles.  Turn left onto S. Mission Road/County Hwy S13 for 4.1 miles.  Turn right onto S. Stagecoach Lane (at the high school).  In 2.8 miles turn right onto Alvarado St.  At the top of the hill turn right onto Vista del Indio, at the Roja’s Succulents sign.  Make the very first right; 390 is at the end on the left.

 

Urbanite, the New Name for Chunks of Cement

Urbanite stepping stones work beautifully in the garden  allowing plants to grow in between.

Urbanite stepping stones work beautifully in the garden allowing plants to grow in between.

Just as old LPs or records are now called vinyls, so are chunks of a neighbor’s patio called urbanite.  I like the term because it makes the mental transition from a waste product – cement chunks – to building material.  Put an ‘ite’ at the end, and you can use it.  The name urbanite also makes me envision pieces of nature-less cities being used for more natural landscapes.  There are spaces around chunks of cement for plants to grow.

Urbanite lasts a long time, too, and it is free.

Urbanite lasts a long time, too, and it is free.

The idea of working with cement chunks doesn’t sound aesthetically pleasing, but done well it always has visitors to Finch Frolic Garden enthusiastic.  A pathway and two retaining walls were made of urbanite, and they are all wonderful.

A friend and former co-worker called me a few weeks ago to offer urbanite from a piece of her patio that had to be repoured.  It took awhile but I found some help to go pick it up.  With a small pickup truck we managed two loads; the pieces were stacked on the patio, but the only way to access them was to drive the pickup below the patio wall.  Unfortunately, the ground was at an unnerving angle, and quite sandy so there was little traction.  I handed pieces of urbanite over the wall and down to Jacob, who loaded them into the tilted truck.  It was quite warm that day so we were well cooked.  There was a lot left.

You can see the retaining wall and stairs made from urbanite peeking out from under the plants.

You can see the retaining wall and stairs made from urbanite peeking out from under the plants.

Then Jacob arranged for me to borrow an old 2-ton pickup with 4-wheel drive.  My daughter and I headed over two days ago during a cloudy morning intending to get the truck very close to the wall.  No way.  The truck tilted dangerously and began to slide, so I had to park it out on the driveway.  Of course the sun came out.  We spent three hours taking turns tossing huge chunks of cement over the patio wall, shot-putting the pieces so that they wouldn’t hurt the plants at the base of the wall, and then picking them up (finding some of them that had rolled downhill) and carrying them across the shifty dirt to hoist the pieces up and into the bed of the large truck.  We swept rubble into nursery containers and dumped them into the truck as well.

Well cooked and completely exhausted, we made it home with the whole load, the truck tires just a little squished.  Now we have urbanite to replace some of the stairs made from palms that are beginning to soften or which have been eaten by bunnies.

Ugh!

Ugh!

Unfortunately, we still have to unload the truck.

Curly Willow Trellis

A walk-through squash trellis.  The vines will give it stability, and hang through.

A walk-through squash trellis. The vines will give it stability, and hang through.

Thanks to generous friends, free seed opportunities and wonderful seed catalogs, we have many, many squash varieties to choose from this year.  We also want to grow vertically where we can to save space so my daughter and I are creating trellises.  No builder, I, but we’re hoping these will last for years to come.

This part of the trail was perfect for vertical growing space.

This part of the trail was perfect for vertical growing space.

This area of the upper trail isn’t lovely when not covered by vines.  It is also quite warm when people are touring and it could use some shade and interesting focal point.  Miranda had cut down a large curly willow tree a few months back (it was taking too much water from an avocado).  We used a couple pieces of the trunk to inoculate with mushroom spores, and the rest was fair game for a trellis.

Curly willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’) has wonderfully shaped branches that twist and curl naturally.  You’ll see it often in bouquets, where it usually roots while in water.  This willow enjoys more sun and a little less water than native willows do.  Willows all produce salicin, the pain-killing ingredient that  has now been synthetized as aspirin.  Willows also produce a rooting hormone which can be used to encourage sprouting and rooting of other plants.  Cut up a willow branch, soak it in water for a couple of days (if water is chlorinated, leave it sit for a day before adding willow) and use to water seedlings.

A friend recommended sliding the post pounder over the post before standing it up... for we short people who have trouble lifting the really heavy thing over our heads!

Miranda makes this look so easy!  After we’d put these in, a friend recommended sliding the post pounder over the post before standing it up… for we short people who have trouble lifting the really heavy thing over our heads! 

Wanting to avoid cutting wood and nailing things together, we sunk four T-posts into the corners.  The trellis is six feet across and eight feet wide; any wider and we would have put a center post on each side as well.

We wired on curly willow trunks in the corners, and wired long branches across the tops and the middle.

We wired on curly willow trunks in the corners, and wired long branches across the tops and the middle.

 

We wired on the side posts and cross posts, cutting long branches from the willow.  This willow was long dead; fresh willow could be sunk into the ground and it would root to make a living trellis, like the Withy Hide.  We didn’t want that here, though.

We laid long whips from a Brazilian pepper tree across, then wove curly willow through for the top.

We laid long whips from a Brazilian pepper tree across, then wove curly willow through for the top.

We stood smaller branches upright along the sides and wired them on, keeping in mind spaces where the squash vines will want to find something on which to grab.  Over the top we laid long  slim branches from a Brazilian pepper that is growing wild in the streambed and really needs to come out.  By pruning it and using the branches, we’re making use of the problem.  In permaculture, the problem is the solution!  I wanted to make an arched top and tried to nail the  slim branches in a bended form, but this was difficult and didn’t work for me.  I didn’t want to spend days finishing this… too much else to do!  So we laid the branches over the top, wiring some on, and then wove curly willow branches long-wise through them.  This weaving helps hold the branches in place, will give the vines support, and brings together the look.

We planted four kinds of squash along the poles.

We planted four kinds of squash along the poles.

And it was done. It should stand up to wind.  We may need  to add some vertical support depending upon the weight of the squash vines.  We planted four varieties of squash that have small (2-3 lb.) veg.  We planted four seeds of each, two on either side.  We also planted some herbs, flowers and alliums, and some perennial beans, the Golden Runner Bean.

Architecturally interesting when not covered by squash as well.

Architecturally interesting when not covered by squash as well.

If nothing else, it is lovely and interesting to look at; better in person than in the photos.  We can’t wait for the squash to start vining!  Now, onto the next trellis.

 

 

 

 

 

The Fine Art of Pleaching or Plashing

 

Pleaching in the sky.

Pleaching in the sky.

My daughter and I pleached today, although I’ve had the pleasure of pleaching before this , and even later.  Pleaching, or its synonym plashing, refers to the interweaving of branches, both live or dead.  Basketry is one form, but more notably is the pleaching of living branches to form secure living fences, buildings or artwork.  The withy (willow) bird hide (a covered place from which to watch birds) is a living building I planted two years ago.  We pleached our withy hide today.  Not many people can say that! (or admit to it).

Pleaching is where stems, usually from two plants, grow together.

Pleaching is where stems, usually from two plants, grow together.

Pleaching can be done on many vigorous trees such as willow, or even fruit trees such as plum.  The branches grow together making separate plants become part of a whole.  The trees then share nutrients and water and can pull what it needs from roots a long distance away.

Curly willow is beautiful on its own.

Curly willow is beautiful on its own.

Pleaching essentially makes many plants into one living organism.  Pleached hedgerows make a living barrier to keep in livestock; pleached trees can be woven into furniture, living artwork, decorative fences, and living trellises.  Pleaching livestock fences was practiced a lot in Europe prior to the invention of barbed wire, and then was forgotten for awhile only to be revived as a form of artistic gardening.

This trunk unfortunately cracked while I pulled on it.  As it is willow, it will heal quickly.  My daughter used the opportunity to put a twig from the next willow through the crack.

This trunk unfortunately cracked while I pulled on it. As it is willow, it will heal quickly. My daughter used the opportunity to put a twig from the next willow through the crack, which will grow over it.

Today I of course, as is my habit, waited until the sun was directly above the area where I was working so that I had to look into it as I worked.  I don’t recommend this, however.  My daughter used a fruit-picking pole to snag some of the taller, whippier branches of the curly willow that make up the withy hide.  I stood on a ladder, squinting, and pulled two branches together.

Me on a ladder reaching over my head to pull two branches together to form a roof.

Me on a ladder reaching over my head to pull two branches together to form a roof.

To insure that you have a good pleach going, it is best to lightly scrape the bark from both pieces just where they are going to meet; something like you see blood brothers do with their hands in the movies, but with no blood involved.

Lightly scraping the bark from both branches where they will meet is important.  Next time I'll use a vegetable peeler, which will allow me better angles.

Lightly scraping the bark from both branches where they will meet is important. Next time I’ll use a vegetable peeler, which will allow me better angles.

Then you make sure the pieces fit snugly, then tie them on.  I’ve use various materials to do this.  Twist-ties hold securely but the wire can eventually girdle the growing branches.  Twine is more difficult to use in that it doesn’t grip the branches well enough for a firm hold, but it will eventually break down, hopefully after the pleach is successful.  This time I used green tree tape.  It grips well, is easy to tie, and will stretch with the growing branches and eventually break.  The green color won’t be noticeable when the willow leafs out, either.

Tying the scraped branches together so they stay put.  They can't move around in the wind or they won't be able to grow together.

Tying the scraped branches together so they stay put. They can’t move around in the wind or they won’t be able to grow together.

As I pleached from the top of the ladder, working overhead while the sun and curly twigs attacked my eyes, my daughter pleached pleasing arches over the ‘windows’ of the hide.

Weaving curly willow can be a twisty challenge.

Weaving curly willow can be a twisty challenge.

The hide looks lopsided because the willows on one side have found sent out roots to drink from the small pond.  With more pleaching, the thirsty trees on the other side will probably take advantage of that water source, too, and have a drink via their overhead connection.  I think it is part of its charm.  A half-wild building.

The withy hide as a duck on the big pond sees it.  The willow is just about to begin leafing out.

The withy hide as a duck on the big pond sees it. The willow is just about to begin leafing out.

Try pleaching a small fence or a living bench or chair.  It is tremendous fun and if you don’t like it, you can always cut it down.  Oh, and work on a cloudy day.

A willow roof.

A willow roof.

Bunyips: Fun to Say, Easy to Make and Use

 

Making a bunyip.

Making a bunyip.

Hi!  I’m back.  Its not as though I’ve been vacationing.  Someday I might tell you about how important it is to question your doctor, about how under-producing thyroids affect every part of your body, about neighbor’s in-laws who skip their meds for a day and crash through your gate, and about strange and fatal chicken illnesses, but not today.

My big garden project for the winter is to turn the raised vegetable bed area into a sunken hugelkultur sheet-mulched vegetable area.  I’ll go into details about that in another post as well.  What I am going to describe is how to take measurements using a bunyip.

A bunyip is a water level that you can make very inexpensively and quickly, which relies upon gravity to give a reading.  It even works around corners.  I really don’t know how it came to be called a bunyip… its an Australian thing.  A bunyip is an ancient aborigine water monster.  More recently the name has come to be synonymous with imposter.  Maybe this simple home-made water level is impersonating a laser level.  Maybe bunyip is just so gosh-darn more fun to say.

Anyway, if you need to measure the difference in elevation, use a bunyip.  If you want to find level ground, for instance if you are building a level swale on contour, use a bunyip.

The equipment for your bunyip are: two slim boards with at least one end flat, and at least 5 feet tall.  You also need about 30 feet of clear fishtank hose.  A waterproof marker, a ruler, a level and six pieces of wire to tie around the posts, and you are ready to go.  If you have a couple of corks or stoppers that fit in the tops of the tubing, it will make it easier to carry without receiving a surprise shower.

You will need two slim posts, 30' of tubing (the only kind I could buy in town was for cleaning fishtanks, hence the threaded ends.  You don't need these!), a ruler, wire and a waterproof marker.

You will need two slim posts, 30′ of tubing (the only kind I could buy in town was for cleaning fishtanks, hence the threaded ends. You don’t need these!), a ruler, wire and a waterproof marker.

Be sure at least one of the ends of each board is flat, which will be what touches the earth when measuring.  Along one of the boards begin to mark off inches (or centimeters) from the top.  Make the marks readable from a short distance.  Number the inches beginning with 1 at the top of the post, down to at least four feet (if you are measuring more dramatic slopes you’ll want to mark off more).  Numbering from the top down allows you to do simple subtraction easily without becoming mixed-up, especially when you’re tired.

Using a ruler or yardstick (or meterstick), mark inches down from the top of the post.

Using a ruler or yardstick (or meterstick), mark inches down from the top of the post.

Next, stand the two posts together on level ground, making sure they are straight.  It doesn’t matter if the tops aren’t exactly even, just the bottoms.  Now with the two posts standing on even ground, mark the second post in one spot evenly with a mark on the first post; it doesn’t really matter which inch you mark because you can then use the ruler to fill in all the others.

With the bottoms of each post level, begin to mark the second post from the top, even if the tops of the posts aren't even.

With the bottoms of each post level, begin to mark the second post from the top, even if the tops of the posts aren’t even.

So, using that mark and a ruler, mark inches all along the second post.  The point is that the measurements are even from the bottom of the posts, where they will be resting on the ground.

You will have two posts with inches marked from the top.

You will have two posts with inches marked from the top.

That done, tie the tubing onto the posts, allowing the tubing to reach a little higher than the top of the posts.  The tubing in the photo is all I could find in town, and it is an extension for a fish tank cleaner, hence the threaded ends.  You don’t need threaded ends, just the tubing.

Wire the tubing onto the posts, allowing the top of the tubing to be above the top of the post.

Wire the tubing onto the posts, allowing the top of the tubing to be above the top of the post.

With the tubing tied to the marked posts, you are almost ready to measure.  Having someone to hold a post really helps here.  With both posts straight up, fill the tubing with water.  You can use a watering can (with the spray end off), or a hose.  A funnel might help.  Fill the tubing as completely as you can, but don’t worry about having the water go end to end.  A gap at either end is okay.

Miranda holding the completed and filled bunyip.  Work the air bubble out of the hose by lifting the bottom.

Miranda holding the completed and filled bunyip. Work the air bubble out of the hose by lifting the bottom.

Take out the air bubbles by lifting the center of the hose and feeding the air bubble through.

You are ready to measure!

The tubing doesn't need to be off the ground to work; it can even work around corners.

The tubing doesn’t need to be off the ground to work; it can even work around corners.

One person stands with their side of the bunyip at one area you want to measure, and the other person stands at the other.  You don’t need to make the tubing lift off the ground; it will accurately measure with the tubing in almost any position.  The water in the tubing will bob around; tap the top of the tubing with your finger to help it settle faster.

Tapping on the end helps make the water settle faster.

Tapping on the end helps make the water settle faster.

Then take the readings from each post.  Subtract the readings and you will get the distance in elevation between the two points.  For instance, if the water level on one post is at the 19″ mark, and the water level on the other post is at the 7″ mark, then there is a 12″ difference in elevation between the two points.  So easy!

If you are building swales on contour, keep moving one side of the bunyip until you find a spot where both readings are even, then mark those spots and repeat farther on.  In this way you can find what land is level.

My daughter and I used our bunyip today to measure the change in elevation in our vegetable bed.  We won’t be leveling the bed itself, but we will be digging deep, level swales, and we now know just how radically, and in which direction, our slope lies.  This reaffirms what our eyes tell us about how rainwater flows across the veggie area and therefore how we’re to dig the swales to best catch  rainfall.

Best of all, bunyips can be quickly disassembled and the parts used for other projects, or emptied and carried to other locations.  Just add water, and you get a bunyip!

 

A Hen’s Garden

The girls helping prepare the soil before planting.

The girls helping prepare the soil before planting.

Chickens are primarily bug eaters who also snack on greens.   Feeding hens grains began with the industrialization of agriculture.  No one cutting grain with a hand scythe would spend all that time and energy to feed hens.

My hens live in the Fowl Fortress, to protect them from coyotes and hawks (our hawks won’t be able to carry one away but they could tear them up pretty badly).  After losing Chickpea to a coyote while we were only so many yards away made me eliminate any open foraging time for the girls.  This wasn’t healthy for them.  I haven’t invested in a solar electric fence yet, to make a ‘day’ coop for them to forage in relative safety, but that may be on my investment list for the new year. The largest problem is poor design in the garden, which I’m trying to remedy as easily and inexpensively as possible.  I didn’t know how to fit in chickens, or where the garden was going when it began nearly three years ago.  I have weedy areas, and I have chickens.  To bring them together safely is the problem.

Sometimes we bring the hens into the fenced yard with our 100-pound African spur thigh tortoise (Gammera); however, that yard is also where some of our cats live.  We’re not sure if Moose, Chester and Cody would behave themselves around hens, so unless we prevent the cats from leaving the house for the day, then we can’t carry the hens into this grassy yard to graze.

Inside the Fowl Fortress there is a layer of muck composed of old straw, the hard bits of veggies and fruit fed to the hens, old scratch and lots of chicken poo, made into an anaerobic muck by recent rains.  Once turned up we discovered lots of the grain had sprouted, which the girls sucked up like noodles.  This muck was also turning the hard ground below into prime soil.  Why couldn’t we use this muck in a more productive manner?

If I couldn’t bring the hens to the garden, then I thought I’d bring the garden to them.  Inside the Fowl Fortress I propped up four big boards in a square, then filled it with some of the rotting straw and muck from the coop.  I topped it with Bermuda grass – laden soil from one of my raised beds.  This was the bed, in fact, where I composted in place for the past year.  What rich, chocolate-colored, worm-laden soil!  If not for the invasive grass it would be perfect.

In this new garden, along with the Bermuda grass, my daughter and I planted oregano we divided from one of our plants, nettles, borage, some other kind of grass weeds  that had sprung up after our Fall rain, plus we scattered corn and mixed organic grains which we feed the hens and pressed the seed into the ground.

 

The hens can graze, but can't uproot the plants.

The hens can graze, but can’t uproot the plants.

Miranda wired together a bamboo lid out of scrap pieces.  The idea is that the plants can grow up through the lattice of the bamboo lid and the hens can stand on it and eat greens.  Oregano is a good medicinal herb, as are nettles, which reputedly encourage egg laying.

I also dig up chunks of weeds or Bermuda grass in this mercifully looser post-rain soil, and throw the whole mess into the Fowl Fortress and let the girls forage and exercise those strong legs by kicking through the heap.  It is only logical that the strong kicking motion of foraging hens strengthens their bodies so that they have fewer egg-laying illnesses (egg-binding primarily), and of course their nutrition is much better with greens and bugs

The girls love to root through weeds and the bug-filled dirt around their roots.

This is by no means a permanent solution, but until I find the right design that keeps healthy, safe hens and eliminates weeds without a lot of work, then a chicken garden and weed-tossing is the way to go.

 

Remodeling the Outdoor Sink

I’m thrilled with my outdoor sink.  I love it.  It is my friend.  It is my old kitchen sink, stubbornly hauled around the property until I finally was able to put it on an old fishtank stand and hook it into the waterline out in the garden.  Even better, Steve, who used to work here and who was responsible for the Mock Pavilion, modified the stand so that the sink fit down into it more securely.  Any water used would be caught in buckets underneath (with long sticks in them so that any creature that falls in can crawl out again), which I would pull out and empty.

The buckets are just another heavy thing with which I had to deal.  There had to be another way.

The buckets are just another heavy thing with which I had to deal. There had to be another way.

A problem with the sink being set down into the stand is that the underside of one of the drains now sat slightly into a bucket, so I’d have to tip the bucket to get it out.  Wrestle it out would be the better term, usually becoming wet with old sink water in the process.  Throwing a 5-gallon bucket of water somewhere lost its charm quickly, especially as I was the only one emptying, but not the only one filling.  Something had to be done.  When I made the area next to the Fowl Fortress into an apple tree guild, I now had an area which could use extra water.  The sink needed to be moved.  Last week I finally did it, and I have to say, I’m pretty smug about  how.

I am a disaster with a saw, but I’m pretty experienced with old PVC pipe and Red Hot Blue Glue (all those sprinklers I’ve mowed down over the years).  I leveled a place next to the coop and placed some old plywood on it, both to help steady the sink stand and to keep weeds down (and to use up the plywood).

I dug up the water line and placed plywood on a leveled area.

I dug up the water line and placed plywood on a leveled area.

I dug up the water line, turned off the irrigation water, opened other faucets to drain and then cut into the pipe.  Then I discovered the real pipe beneath this old dry one, and dug it out and cut into it, allowing it to drain as well before connecting a tee.

Beneath the old pipe was the real one.

Beneath the old pipe was the real one.

The hens were all pressed against the side of the coop trying to see what I was doing, and desperately wanting to search for bugs in the dirt I’d just dug up.  Sorry girls.

I laborously walked the rather heavy and unevenly weighted stand (the sink isn’t in the center) over to the plywood.  Then I walked it off again, adjusted, and walked it back.  Then I adjusted again.  Then I had a sit-down and wondered what my chiropractor was going to say.

Now came the fun problem-solving part.  The drains from the sink were open, so how to catch water and send  it off into the guild, without spending a bunch of money?  The vision came to me from out of the blue: plungers.  Some people have visions of how to earn lots of money, others have visions of how to change the world for the better.  My imagination provides me with plungers.  Yep.

Supplies.  I learned from my collegiate daughter, and the hardware store cashier, that plungers were nicknamed 'magic wands'.  No matter how much I learn each day, I'm always in the dark on the important things.

Supplies. I learned from my collegiate daughter, and the hardware store cashier, that plungers were nicknamed ‘magic wands’. No matter how much I learn each day, I’m always in the dark on the important things.

However, I felt pretty proud of myself and was excited to get started.    I rooted through my barrel of old PVC left from the former owners (I’ve lived here over 14 years and the PVC was already old then) and through my fittings.  I only needed a couple new fittings and the plungers from Joe’s Hardware. The plungers had blue cups and clear handles, not the wooden-handled, black-cupped manly plungers of my imagination.  If wizards had plungers, I could see them using these.  Well this would be a female version and blue is my favorite color.

I screwed in threaded 1/2" risers and tried them as is, but they leaked, so I put silicone gel around the threads and tried again. It worked after the gel dried.

I screwed in threaded 1/2″ risers and tried them as is, but they leaked, so I put silicone gel around the threads and tried again. It worked after the gel dried.

Knowing that the thread of the plunger handle wasn’t the same thread as a PVC riser (how do I know these things? Am I channeling some long-dead plumber??) I grabbed silicone sealant I had recently purchased to seal up leaks in a small fountain so that it would work during garden tours (the sealant worked, but then the motor failed. Sigh.)

Drilling drain holes in the plunger cups.

Drilling drain holes in the plunger cups.

I had expected to find plunger heads and handles sold seperately, and remembered seeing plungers with threaded holes all the way through.  I must have been flashing back to the cheap supplies offered to the parks department when I was a Ranger because all I found at Joes were complete, and the holes were covered (better suction).  I drilled through the rubber to make  the drain hole (which created some very cute blue rubber curls).

I connected up most parts, but then came the challenge, to space the plungers the correct distance apart, and measuring is not my thing.  It seems simple, but it never works for me.  My ginko must have kicked in, though, because I realized that I could just place the plungers over the sink holes on top and build it up there, and of course it would be the correct distance underneath.

Ha!  I didn't have to lay in the tomatoes and work around the legs in the back!  I could do it on top and still get the length right.

Ha! I didn’t have to lay in the tomatoes and work around the legs in the back! I could do it on top and still get the length right.

I’m still proud of figuring that out.

All ready to go.  The trick really was to get this thing in place around the support legs behind the fishtank stand!

All ready to go. The trick really was to get this thing in place around the support legs behind the fishtank stand!

My beauties.

My beauties.

My plan was to screw it into a soaker hose that I already had, but I worried that without water pressure it wouldn’t work.  It didn’t.

The soaker hose idea failed because of the lack of water pressure, and caused the water to back up and overflow the plunger cups.

The soaker hose idea failed because of the lack of water pressure, and caused the water to back up and overflow the plunger cups.

I removed the screw end from the PVC and glued on more 1/2″ pipe so that the water would directly empty near the apple tree.

There were a few other tweaks, such as widening the drill holes in the plunger for better water drainage, propping the pipe up on a piece of wood so that it fit the drains more securely (it isn’t fastened onto the stand so that if I had to access the plunger cups I could do so easily), and placing screen over the drains so no one would lose a ring down into the device.

Now the water drains directly into the bed.  Tip: glue the long pieces on once the main part is in place under the sink.  Plants will grow up around the back of the sink to hide it from view.

Now the water drains directly into the bed. Tip: glue the long pieces on once the main part is in place under the sink. Plants will grow up around the back of the sink to hide it from view.

Now it all works, I have less work to do, no yucky buckets to haul, the apple tree receives greywater, I repurposed several items and although I had to buy a few things, I supported a local business, the sink is in a better location, and I like the blue color of the plunger cups.

Best of all, now I have some snazzy clear handles to use for some other project!

Hmm.  Threaded magic wands!  I wonder how I can repurpose these beauties?!

Hmm. Threaded magic wands! I wonder how I can repurpose these beauties?!