It’s hard to believe that spring is here! This post got long so I’ve split it into two. Summer seed-starting and chick hatching got under way in the last month or two of winter. It was a very wet and mild winter and we were grateful whenever we got to see the sun. Early spring is, of course, as volatile as usual. Because of the wetness and the sickness rollercoaster of winter we’ve mostly been stuck on maintaining basic functions rather than getting projects done. If you know me and projects, well, it has been a lesson in patience and hope. Nonetheless, progress is still made when the steps are small.
Our front fence project will have to wait some time, until the water table goes down enough to dig holes. We don’t need to wonder where the water table is at the moment.
I started my pepper seeds, followed by my tomato seeds. All the seedlings were on the dining room windowsill until The Husband got out the cold frame to put on the outdoor table for them. I need to sow salad greens and parsley next.
Since I sowed so many lettuce varieties in autumn and it was such a mild winter we’ve had an endless supply of beautifully-coloured salads, complete with kale and sorrel. I’ve been particularly impressed with the romaine lettuce Red Caesar. It has very dark red leaves and they have held up much better than some of the other varieties, which usually get yucky bottom leaves pretty quickly. We’ve been eating regular broccoli and purple sprouting broccoli from the garden. Unfortunately, the cauliflower did not like the weird ups and downs of the weather and bolted. Whatever pak choy and tatsoi was left has bolted too. The perpetual onions are growing well and the garlic seems to be doing well so far.
The rhubarb has been loving the rainy weather and I must get some stewed before it gets too warm.
There is still clean up to do in the main Veggie Garden, which I’m trying not to think about. Earlier in the year I bought a battery powered pole pruner that also has a hedge trimmer attachment. It isn’t one of the better brands so it probably doesn’t compare with them but most of it was paid for by a Warehouse voucher I won. I am stoked with it. It has enabled us to start pruning high branches without having to climb a ladder, or to cut bigger branches faster and with less effort than it takes to use the telescopic pole saw. The Husband may have pruned the bay trees a little differently than I was wanting but they’ll grow back. Now if we could just get some more fine weather to do more pruning…
I used the pole pruner to cut most of the larger bay tree branches into firewood. The hedge trimmer part proved very useful in chopping up smaller branches into smaller pieces for the compost. I felt a bit like I was chopping up a pile of herbs on a much larger scale.
The Little Fulla was doing slug and snail missions at night with me until things got a bit busy. His commentary is hilarious:
“Hello, friend.” The Little Fulla greeted a spider and thanked it for its help in the garden. “I’d like to see more of your babies though. Do you even have any babies?”
“I’m ready for fierce battle!”
To some slugs and snails he was lining up to squash – “None of you are getting married!”
The slugs and snails aren’t the only pests we’ve been bothered by through winter. Ants staged an attack from multiple fronts while we were down. We’ve been trying to keep on top of them with homemade ant bait made with borax, sugar and water. We have to use a higher sugar to borax ratio than is commonly suggested. It’s hard with a baby around because we can’t just leave the bait out. The Husband came up with the idea of injecting the bait into the cracks the ants are coming from with a needle syringe, which is working reasonably. We just have to get them again when they come back. I need to make some bottle traps to put in the garden as that as where the problem originates.
We’re happily keeping on top of the mouse population now with traps but Murphy’s law came into effect as soon as I said we hadn’t had trouble with rats. One night I saw an uncomfortably big rat in the empty chicken pen, which took off under the gate and into the neighbours’ paddock. My Dad had given us a wooden box trap so we set that in there, to no avail. Ants actually came along and ate the peanut butter. Just to rub it in. Then one night I was shutting up in the garage when I heard noises. In the light of my headlamp I beheld a big rat sitting under one of our piles of stuff eating chicken pellets. It was surrounded by a swathe of pellets that it had gotten out of a feed bag that I had left sitting around. I thought for a moment, then I shut the garage roller door, shutting myself in the garage with the rat.
I was going to try to catch that rat with the chicken net, then whack it on the head with The Little Fulla’s spade, which was the best thing I could find quickly in the moment. I flushed it out by banging on things with the spade. It ran straight to the closed garage door but my arms weren’t long enough to go from banging with one hand to getting the net over it with the other hand. The rat went into hiding elsewhere and would not be flushed out. Rats are annoyingly smart.
I called The Husband and told him I had trapped myself in the garage with a big rat, willingly. The Husband started laughing. “Well, at least I didn’t run away screaming!” I retorted. When he stopped laughing I got him to bring out the grey plastic rat trap that had been in the roof, loaded with fresh peanut butter. If I couldn’t catch the rat right then I would shut it in the garage all night with the trap. Ha.
In the morning there was no rat in the trap or in the garage. The rat retaliated. Badly. It chewed and ripped three holes in the plasterboard panels behind or near the freezers, then it chewed on the strip of wooden moulding on the floor underneath the roller door until it had made enough of a dip to get out, also pushing away the piece of timber I had laid along the outside of the roller door. All I succeeded in doing was giving it bad ideas. It continued to gnaw on the wooden under-door strip and the rubber on the bottom of the roller door to get in and out of the garage. It dug a big hole from the compost bin to the carport right outside the garage door, mounding up dirt against the door. It tried to dig under the concrete foundation too. It was going INSANE. We put the wooden box trap right outside the garage door by this dirt mound and the rat just kicked dirt into it. I bought another grey plastic rat trap and we set that at the other end of the roller door by the holes the rat had dug under the raised Raspberry Bed and pile of timber.
All of this propelled me firmly into the main current project, which is cleaning and organising the garage. I removed the feed bags and vacuumed up all the pellets and rat poop that I could reach. We caught a rat in the grey plastic trap outside the garage door but my heart sank when I looked at it, for it was a regular-sized brown rat, not the big one I had seen. I feared the jolly big rat was too smart and/or big to be caught. I was shutting the coop up at night to keep the chickens safe.
Two days after I nervously moved the growing chicks out into the garage, as securely as I could, (more to come on them) I went out to do chicken chores in the morning and I came back running, beaming and praising the Lord. Mr Fattypants was dead in the wooden trap box. We finally got him! I had cut the wire opening bigger twice to accommodate Mr Fattypants and he finally met his demise with the chicken pellet-laced trap box. He was a norway rat, with a body (not including tail) of around 20cm (8in) long. I am so glad he is gone.