Friday, 28 July 2017

Eating weeds! Trying Plantain Lanceolata for the first time!

There is this big paddock down the road from us that I walked the dog at the other week. It seems to be quite a few acres and has lots of areas for us to explore next to the creek. Walking the dog here coincided with reading a post about eating weeds. On our next walk I saw huge quantities of what we called, "soldier seed plants when I was a kid. We played a game where you picked the seed head on a long stem and then swung yours at the other persons, who was holding it still. The idea was to take turns and break the head of the other persons soldier to win.

It turned out that this weed to also be an edible plant!

I did a bit of research and discovered that this weed I have spent my life walking over and never knew its real name is actually a member of a nutritious vegetable family!

I so had to try some!

Here's what I did...

First do a bit of research and make sure you know exactly what you are planning to eat and make sure you are getting your "weeds" from a place that hasn't been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides. Then grab a pair of scissors and a basket/bucket/bag, the dog and maybe a book that ID's the plants you saw and head off to fetch yourself some free nutritious veges!

I decided to pick my vege weeds from the edges of this paddock, away from the places that other people might be walking their dogs... Just in case!

Then I started by looking for the tell tale seed heads of my target plant, Plantago Lanceolata - they seem to produce seeds all year round - and checked my book to make sure.

And... Yup, It sure is! Also known as Lance Plantago, Rib Wort, Narrow Leaf Plantain, English Plantain, Ribwort Plantain, Ribleaf and Lamb's tongue. It has a well known and easily recognised relative, broad leaf plantain that is also edible but quite different to look at.

When I arrived at the paddock this particular afternoon we had had a bit of rain and there was lots of young leaves and since I had plenty of time and a huge paddock of these leaves to choose from, I picked the youngest tenderest ones I could find.

I collected a number of plants along with my Plaintain. I wanted to properly identify some that weren't in my book and I collected a few that I knew the chooks would love. I couldn't resist the daisy or a piece of Tibocina flower for the vase whilst I was there.

I had also identified "cats ear" (Hypochoeris radicata) and read that it was also edible. As there were lots of these plants there too I collected a few of them too.

The cats ear look like dandelion on first acquaintance but once I found this website that shows you the difference between the two plants, I could properly identify what I was looking for. I chose to try the cats ear and plantain together for my first "weed" mead!

First I rinsed them in a colander to get off the dirt and grass and what ever got tangled up when I picked them. I can say after doing this a few times, that its better to do all your sorting in the field. I now pick through and only take home the best leaves and try not to put grass etc in my basket. It makes the preparation at home quicker and easier.

Then I steamed/boiled them on a pot of boiling water. They cook down to practically nothing! A basket full will cook down to only a very large handful!

I used a pair of tongs to fish out the bits that shouldn't have got this far (grass coloured grass is so hard to see in amongst grass coloured leaves) and to toss the leaves about to cook the evenly.

I wasn't sure how long to cook them for but being Winter, I figured they would be tougher now than in the spring rains and went for a full 5 minutes.

Then I put them under the cold tap to cool them and stop the cooking and squeezed out the water. I cut them up into small bits with scissors while they were in a clump. They were surprisingly tough still so I made sure they were quite small pieces.

I popped them in a bowl and added preserved lemon, mint, flour, egg, garlic, salt and pepper to make a thickish mixture to put inside pastry.

Using a standard sheet of bought flaky pastry, I popped the mixture on the top and rolled them up and popped them into the oven.

And they didn't look so bad!

And so we ate a lemon, mint and garlic flavoured "sausage" roll where the primary ingredient was a weed! It is a much more robust taste and texture to spinach, I would almost go as far to say its a bit mushroom-y in texture. It was certainly very tasty and we had no adverse effects what so ever! 

Since then there has been the plantain, caramelised onion and cheese tarts which were really, really yum. The plaintain held up better than a spinach base and is chewier and less watery.

And then there was the vege bake with left over roast lamb, roast veges, cauliflower etc in a cheese sauce. The plaintain was chopped up fine rather than the starring ingredient.

Its been a fun thing to incorporate into our lives, It seems that plaintain is grown as a crop in some countries, is chock full of vitamins, fibre and is a really sustainable vegetable to grow.

Have a look at some of these websites that help identify the right plant and give you an idea of  what health benefits are attributed to them. For my two cents worth, We noticed we slept better and don't get up to the loo so many times in the night after a meal with plaintain in it!
If you decided to try it - let me know what you thought!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for eating greens provided by Mother Nature 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for walking down the road for a basketful of organic, pesticide/herbicide free greens that cost nothing!
Time cost: 10 to 15 minutes plus walking and consulting book time - also don't forget to bring the dog home and stop and smell (pick) the flowers!
Skill level: Just positive identification and a large dose of faith!
Fun-ness: You really start to look at weeds in a different way. I have been tempted at the lights to leap out of the car and grab some weed that I'm sure is edible growing on the traffic island! Its quite fun to be able to identify free food!

Friday, 21 July 2017

Making a bench seat legs with stumps and milk crates!

We were given a wooden table with two long seats set by a friend who was moving house. They were all a bit past it and we meant to paint them and do them up a bit, but never did.

 Eventually the legs on the seats rotted out taking the back part with them. The seat part of it was fine and I still wanted to keep that bit, just in case we figured out a way to put new legs on them... one day.

And we did!

Here's what I did...

The first incarnation involved simply putting them in the garden on a couple of milk crates after I painted them again...

Simple, weather proof, cheap, easy - but granted, maybe not the most glamorous bit of garden furniture you have ever seen...


And then on the way home a few weeks ago, we saw a guy giving away "free firewood" from a gum tree he had cut down in his driveway and just wanted gone. We filled up the boot with the ones we could carry (hardwood is very heavy we discovered)  and so the tree stump legs for the bench seats were created! This one works really well. Its got a couple of rocks on each side of the stump as a chock to stop the log from rolling away. Its quit low, but for kids and short legged people such as myself, that works well!

These stumps were skinnier and taller and this set up in the front yard is much higher. My feet "dangle" when I sit on this seat. The sheer weight of the stumps makes it quite stable but it wouldn't be the best way to do this if you have littlies who might not respect the weight of the falling stump when climbing up on it. You also need to make sure the stumps are cut level so your seat is not sloping side to side or end to end.. If not, you could dig the stumps into the ground in such a way that the top does become level. Or you can screw a piece of wood to the downward sloping side to even it up - that turns out to work better than the rock I put in there for the first few days!

We already had the bench seats from the set we were given, and with a coat of house paint on them, we hope to get a few more years out of them yet. The original legs weren't painted and didn't take long to rot out completely in the nice wet tropical summers we had in Brisbane. The milk crates probably would last a heck of a long time being plastic and all. The stumps are hardwood and even though they haven't been treated or painted, I think they will last us a few years - until the next bench seat incarnation anyway!

What have you made garden furniture out of? Anything unusual? Something different?
Share it with us in the comments section below!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for recycling and reusing 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for not spending a cent on garden furniture!
Time cost: As long as it takes to find some one cutting down a tree!
Skill level: Strength. Brute strength for lifting hardwood stumps in and out of a car!
Fun-ness: great fun to be able to sit in the sun on a cold winters day!

Friday, 14 July 2017

Where to put a sick or injured chicken...

We have been keeping back yard chickens for about twelve years now and sooner or later you get a sick chook that needs to be separated from the others for its own safety (Chickens will attack and kill a weak, sick or injured chicken sometimes) and in case what it has caught is contagious and so the other don't all catch it.

I spend a lot of time watching my chooks (we don't have a TV remember!) and as a result I pick up on things that don't seem quite right quite quickly. If I see a chook limping, sitting a lot, staying away from the others, not joining in when you throw treats on the back yard or just not seeming right AND I can catch her pretty easily, then there is definitely something wrong.

This post is not so much about why the chook is sick but how I "hospitalise" them when they are.

Here's what I do...

I spend a bit of time watching the chook in question so I can see what she can and cant do before I catch her. Can she walk? Is she eating? Why did she get my attention?
Sometimes I take a video on my phone or camera. This saves me having to "make her" do the thing that is obviously hurting her again and again to show the vet (and other people) what the problem is.

I only attempt to catch her when I'm sure I've seen all her behaviours. Obviously if the chook has been mauled by a dog or is stuck in a fence etc I wont spend half an hour watching this but if I think I'm seeing a cough, a limp, a sitting chook or a wobble of some sort, I want to be able to answer all the vets questions with confidence and actual knowledge.

Chickens are social creatures and if I cant "treat" her ailment in the pen I do. If not I separate her out into our "Hospital Cage,"

 If I think they are hurt rather than contagious I leave this cage in the pen so they can still see the other chickens and are still part of the flock. If they just need some medicine, pain killer or to stop walking this works well as its big enough for them to walk a few steps and stretch but not to go anywhere. Its waist height so I don't kill my back trying to catch or feed her with a cage on the ground. Its wired so nothing can get in and she cant get out and the door opens sideways to make access nice and easy. It was a home built aviary of some sort that we got from the "dump shop".

I put roosting perch in there for those that can and want to use it. Its a branch that's been screwed onto a  piece of dowel and then screwed onto a thick base that can hold 3kg of chook with out toppling over. The base is mostly hidden in the shredding.

I also put a jar in the corner for the chook to drink out of - its harder for them to tip it out or stand on- and if I need to I can tie it to the corner with a cable tie or piece of string. I can sterilise a jar if I need to and I can measure small amounts to medicate her if required too. I have found that all of my chooks would rather die than willingly drink medicated water, so generally I will "force" the medication down their throat via a syringe while holding a their head in the other hand. Once they get used to this, its easy, but until then, it can be a challenge. If they fight you a lot and its too hard, wrap the whole chook up in a towel so they cant flap, kick or scratch. Get some one else to hold them firmly around the belly and chest and then attempt to hold the head in one hand, use your thumb and middle finger to prise open the beak with the hand holding the head and aim the syringe straight down the gullet with the other. They really aren't keen on this but if you make it quick and they get a treat afterwards, they seem to accept it a bit more. Remember a chook that lets you handle it easily if a very sick chook indeed... A fighting chook is a good thing!

I put shade cloth on the side if I think its too sunny for them and offer things like grass or greens on the side for them to peck at if they are in the mood. The greens need to be pegged or attached quite firmly so they can "bite" off a piece small enough to swallow. A chook that's not eating her greens is probably very sick...

This is Cloud, a white hybrid layer. She had egg perontinitis. That's where the egg is "laid" inside the chook and goes rotten. It then blows up and then when all the infection and swelling goes down her insides were so mangled and scarred that her dinner wasn't able to go through the system properly. She was slowly being poisoned to death with rotten food stuck inside her. She had a big hot tummy (the infection) that finally came down and then she got more and more listless and spent a lot of time just sitting with me. She liked the company and needed to be kept away from the others as they just attacked her. We ended up getting the vet to euthanise her as egg perontinistis is usually incredibly uncomfortable and fatal due to the damage done to the internal organs. Cloud was carried around everywhere with me when I was at home once she got to the point of not wanting to forage on her own. You know you have a sick chook when instead of chasing them out of the house, they will sit quietly with you when you are sewing or reading - inside or outside.

This is Splash, a white or light Brahma. She had paralysed legs and what I now think might have been (Maraks?) growths or cancers on the leg nerves. She was limping one day and falling over the next. She couldn't run and was too easy to catch. She went through a month or two of losing all the use in her legs no matter what we did. The bird vet we use (Adrian at Brisbane Bird Vet ) thought it might be neurological and he had some student vets with him who spent hours testing her and testing her for everything they could think of with no conclusions. We kept her in these tomato boxes as they slotted together and made a great wee spot for her to hide in while her legs went through this weird paralysis. Just as we were thinking this is no life for her and wondered about euthanasia, she started getting better. Slowly but surely gaining strength and finally walking and running again. She was eating properly and still pooping while she was paralysed so we kept feeding her, massaging and moving her legs and bathing her when the poop built up on her too much. She ended up back in the pen and was great for another 6 months or so before she went down again with the same symptoms but died in a fortnight this time.

The box worked well as chooks like secluded dark places to wait out their illness. Most vege shops will have them and be happy to give you a couple. I put shredding in the bottom for softness and then put a layer of newspaper and then a towel for Splash to sit on.  I also used old face washers as "nappies" so I didn't have to wash to towels all the time. A sick chook still produces a lot of poop and it all has to be cleaned up at some point. The smell will make sure you do!

At one point we had two sick chookies. Thunder was bit off colour for a few days. She had a pale comb and was too easy to catch. We thought she may have been coming down with whatever Splash had but after a couple of days of sitting in the box with treats and antibiotics she decided she was all good and jumped out the box, pooped on the bedroom floor and found her way outside.

Any chook that stays where you put it really isn't well! I use old towels over the top to help them feel secure and to cover them at night to keep them warm. A sick chook might not be able to generate enough body heat to stay warm at night, especially in winter. Sometimes I pop a hot water bottle in the box as well for them. In Summer I might give them a rotating fan to help keep them cool.

I like to keep an eye on my sick chookies. I tend to keep them in the bedroom with me at night and in the lounge or dining room during the day. Its up to the individual. As long as you are keeping the chicken clean, its not much different from having the cat or dog (or rat or guinea  pig or budgie) inside as many families do. Our laundry or garage was no good for this sort of thing.

One of our chookies got this weird epilepsy thing where she would literally have some kind of flapping fit that lasted 30 seconds or so. She would sit quietly in her box listlessly all day and then out of the blue four or five times a night, she would freak out and flap and squawk in a most disconcerting fashion. I was more frighted of the damage she could do to her wings while she was fitting and in the end she slept in the bed with me (us!) where I had her wrapped in a towel and when she had a fit I could hold her close until she stopped and then we could all go back to sleep. She seemed to like the company and in the morning would sit on us contentedly preening and watching us while we got around to getting up... Its was kinda nice and very Disney like, until she pooped! This lasted a week or so and then she stopped fitting, got well and went back into the pen - we think maybe it was a heavy metal poisoning, but we really don't have a clue.

Something new I am trying with a lot of success is dried leaves instead of towels or newspaper in the bottom of the box. It has the advantage of being free and very available, being Autumn/Winter at the moment. We got a trailer load of fallen leaves from a friend and popped it the chook pen for them to rummage through. When Misty sprained her leg and needed some time out I used the tomato box filled with leaves at night and bought her inside (although I think this one is a mango box from Christmas time). I am wondering if died grass or dried lawn clippings would work as well - leaves are mainly a seasonal thing... This is Soleil in the picture, a French Wheaten Marans. She is a poddy chook. She was hand raised, then cossetted by the husband who wanted a tame chook. Now she has no fear of anything, thinks she is human and believes she can go anywhere and do anything. She walks through the house at will and jumps in the car... Hilarious and very entertaining unless you are the one cleaning up the chook poop all over the house and in the car. If she didn't lay such magnificent brown eggs she might not be quite so tolerated...

I find that the poop is dryer and easier to handle when I use leaves in the box. I can wrap/scoop it up in the leaves and just chuck it in the garden/compost, fluff up the leaves and pop the box in the sun to dry out and/or kill any bugs that may be in there.  During the day Misty is the hospital cage by the front door so I can see her a lot and check on her. We have also filled that cage with leaves and find the smell is much less and its so much easier to clean as well.

We have used paper shredding, towels, newspaper and everything in between to line the chooks night hospital boxes over the years. I find the leaves have been the most successful in keeping the chook smell down. They really lengthen the time the box can be used and don't need to be washed like the towels do. I have had Misty in the lounge overnight in her box and didn't smell her presence in the morning as you usually can. Somehow the leaves absorb most of the smell. I top up the leaves when I need a few more to make a comfortable nest for her to sit in and because I know its a sore leg, I fill it as much as I can to be nice and soft for her.

I use the smaller boxes at night as they don't move around too much and the bigger boxes during the day for the ones who aren't wanting to be in the sun during the day but need a bit of room to stretch and move around a little. The boxes "lock" together to make a bottom and two sides. Another one can be used to make a "back", although you may need to figure out a way to make it stay there with a bit of packing tape or just the weight of a towel. A towel suffices for a roof and a front cover for the ones who really want to hide from the world. I find that the chooks tend to sit and stay in them if they feel safe enough and the towel over the top helps them to "hide them from predators".

If the chook is escaping from this set up, see where they are going. Is it darker? More secure? Smaller? Then you need to make their hospital box like that. Are they in the kitchen knocking over the compost bucket? Then they can go back outside with the others or need to be in an isolation cage on the grass somewhere. I take my cue from the chooks actions and try to set them up in a place that they feel safe and comfortable. I always have fresh water available for them and something to peck at. I try to give them a bit of sunshine if they are up to it each day and have grain and greens on offer. I also offer the baby bird feeder mix from the produce shop as it has lots of calories in it if they aren't eating much.

I get them to the vet as soon as I can. Chooks are very good at hiding their weakness and usually by the time you work out that something is wrong, make an appointment and get there, its often too late. Birds have fast metabolisms and when they finally let you see that they are sick, they are pretty far gone.

Its not much fun having a sick chook but I find that a few days of a dark place, lots of good food and peace and quiet along with an antibiotic/medication can work wonders after they've seen the vet.

How do you house your chooks when they aren't well? Let us know in the comments - we'd love to hear you sick chook tales!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for using a naturally available leaf base for the boxes 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for getting a free tomato box and not having to pay for a sick chook bed!
Time cost: 10 minutes to set up if you have it all ready - just in case...
Skill level: Basic observation, love and attention!
Fun-ness: No fun at all having a sick chook I'm afraid...

Friday, 7 July 2017

Painting native Australian bee hives black for winter

We have been keeping Australian Native bees for about six of seven or years now and have ended up with quite a few hives... we think we have 16 or so at the moment. We have the very social and easily domesticated Carbonarii and Hockingsii and just recently acquired an Autralis hive as well! There are 1700 odd Australian Native bee species but most of them are solitary. The hatch, eat, pupate, find a mate, lay eggs and die without hanging out with any other of their bee friends. As I said, solitary bees!

There are (I think) five species of social native bee in Australia and they are all tropical bees. The keepers spend a lot of energy keeping the hives cool in the Summer and so the standard hive is painted white to reflect the heat, especially if the hive is kept in the full sun. Now this works really well if you are living in the tropics and if your hives are in the sun. We recently moved to the Gold Coast Hinterland and its decidedly cooler here! The hives are only in the sun for a few hours a day at the moment as its Winter and we have a lot of tall trees around. The bees only get up and forage at a certain temperature and we were seeing that these girls were only up and active for short periods of time each sunny day.

Of the four hives we bought with us, the Hockingsii was struggling before we got here (they should have stayed in Brissy but we had put lots of friends and family under enough pressure to "Winter" our other twelve hives of babies as it was, so we took the risk and bought them with us). Not only were they struggling, but I came home one afternoon to find the hive smashed on the ground as it had fallen off its shelf - so these girls were going to need all the help they could get, they were really on the back foot.

Here's what we did...

The girls will only forage when the temperature is at a certain point, so we started by putting them in the sunniest place in the yard with the black fence in the background hoping that would bring up the ambient temperature.

The wooden hive is the Hockinsii hive. Its housed in a "FROTH" hive (Froggys 'Riginal Other Type Hive) rather than the traditional long Felhaber hive.  It has a half height honey box and a tropical lid. It was finished with a beeswax oil mixture known as breadboard butter.

The white hive is a standard OATH hive (Original Australian Trigona Hive) with a full size honey box and tropical lid on it. It is painted in the standard white.

This is the Australis Hive. - Its a standard hive made by Nick Powell and is brand new with just a fist sized brood in there. This one has a piece of ridge capping meant for a house roof on the top to protect it from the worst weather as this one was originally on a shed roof. Australis are a lot more cold tolerant than the others so we popped them in the sun and gave them a black polythene cover. They don't regulate their hive temperature. They just get on with it! Their entrance hole gets blocked up every night and they break a piece off when its warm enough in the mornings and stick their little black faces out and check the weather. If its a lovely day, they are usually the first ones up and about. If they don't like look of the weather, they block that entrance up tight and disappear inside to watch movies and snuggle under the doona!

Our first attempt to raise the temperature of the hives was to cover them with black polythene and bluetac it on. It certainly raised the air temperature between the plastic and the hive as we could feel it with our hands. This might have worked - but it was always falling off, wasn't tight enough and didn't convince us that it was working well enough. We discussed painting them black but have been indoctrinated our whole bee keeping lives about keeping the hives cool not warm and it seemed counter intuitive...

And so one sunny afternoon just before the Winter Solstice, I decided to give it a go. The black paint was just sitting there, the husband and cat were having a snooze, and I figured they could always be painted back to white if we over heated them. My theory was that its easier to cool things down than to heat them up!

So I started painting on the sides. The bees were out and about and didn't seem bothered at all by the paint or fumes, not that I could smell much. I kept the paint well away from their entrance at first. The black paint dried really quickly in the hot sun and a few bees did land on it but seemed to fly off quick enough. It did feel much hotter to my hand than the white patches.  We ended up putting two coats on each hive in an hour as it dried so quickly.

As soon as the husband woke up and discovered my activities he was drafted into painting the tops as I was too short to see them and because the bees didn't seem bothered in the slightest, we got closer and closer to their entrance. You can see the influence of Play School with the square, arched and round window shaped entrances on our door designs!

The idea is that a black hive will hold the heat longer and allow the bees to be at foraging temperature longer each day. My theory is that if you only get up for three or four hours a day to shop, build and tidy the house then you wont get as much done. In an established hive, this wont be a problem in the winter. But for our struggling Hockingsii girls we want them to have the maximum time each day to  rebuild their home and get all the things they need for their babies hatching inside.

We (I, really) did no preparation whatsoever to the hives and used a basic acrylic black paint from another project. Its not the worst paint job in the world, but I think its a good contender for the title!

We could kid ourselves that the bees are up earlier and stay out longer when the sun is shining. We never see them when its overcast, raining or windy anyway. We did order some temperature thingos on the internet to measure the temperature inside the hive but they never arrived and we ended up getting the money back for them. We would rather have had the gauges as we were hoping to see what the internal temperature was before we painted them and then again afterwards. So for now, we are running on anecdotal observation.  

Our current theory is that come Summer, we can move them to a shady spot, cover them with a white reflector box, paint them white or make a shade cover if we think its too hot for them. Hopefully by then we will have those temperature probes and we will know for sure.

What have you done with your hives over Winter? Are they just going about their business because you live in the right place for them or have you got some out of their natural range and do things to help them out? If you do, Id love to hear about it. Leave a note in the comments section!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for having Native Bees! 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for using something I already had!
Time cost: about 10 minutes per hive.
Skill level: Basic slopping paint around skill but advanced bee in the paint alert skills!
Fun-ness: Great fun to be able to do something practical to look after these hard working girls that we are so fond of!
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