Sustainable Living – Food

It was back to school today for a one and a half hour session at the WEA on Sustainable Living. I did my morning chores and some gardening, had a lunch of tomatoes and lettuce from the garden, took a photo of Dora and Popcorn sitting neatly on their perch (a re-purposed curtain rail), and walked (sustainably – I hope) to the WEA in Gloucester Street.

There were 10 people in the class and we got to know each other by discussing two sustainable things we do now and two things we would like to learn more about. Everyone in the class is already very aware of many issues and practise aspects of sustainable living. Probably not as much as our tutor, however, who dries apples and elderberries on her roof and sea weed on her clothes line – all of which we sampled, forages for seasonal food, and uses the seed exchange – among other things, as I’m sure we’ll discover in the remaining five sessions.

We were asked how we would prioritise the following when selecting food: is it healthy, is it convenient, is it local, is it good value/cheap, is it fair-trade, is it non-GM, is it organic?

Then, we were given a variety of information showing aspects of food production, such as how much water is used producing it, which fish to buy and which to avoid, which foods use palm-oil – and the many names which disguise it on labels, the use of pesticides, emissions used in production, and so on. Then we looked at our prioritised lists again with much discussion.

Some of my efforts to live sustainably

A documentary about bees, Queen of the Sun, was recommended. I’m pleased to see it is on Kanopy which I can access with my library card. Also, this website about future living skills shows local activities and events.

I made my walk home more sustainable by visiting the Frances Hodgkins European Journeys exhibition briefly. I plan to visit it again after reading the book of the same name. Then I had a delicious organic ice cream at Rollickin Gelato in the Arts Centre and watched passersby and trams while I enjoyed it. On the way home, I called in at Turanga and climbed the four floors to the fiction section where I took out a couple of books. Home to the chooks running to meet me at the gate. I gave them watermelon which they love.

Hen Party

Dora makes a bit of a racket first thing when the other two are still in the nesting box and I wonder if she gets a bit lonely. To entertain her, I put a mirror in the enclosure and she seemed quite taken with it.

I let her out of the enclosure early Monday morning and she kept me company while I finally tackled the weeds in the paving stones. She would peer into my face, and I wonder if she was looking at her reflection in my glasses. We did a darn good job. Now I can look out at the garden without seeing the work I need to do. I’ve left the little pansies which have self-seeded.

I heard a radio interview this week with a woman who keeps chooks. She said that the red or brown shavers are very sociable, will follow you around and can even be picked up for a cuddle. Apart from the cuddles, that sounds like Dora (aka Satay) and Betty (aka Butter). Popcorn, on the other hand, is a leghorn and they tend to be a bit stroppy and flighty. This sounds like her. At the moment she is broody, so I have to pick her up out of the nesting box to make sure she eats and drinks and runs around a bit. Today I resorted to blocking off the entrance so she couldn’t get back in – but she was persistent. Betty often gets in the nesting box with her and does her best to push her out – not aggressively, just gently. Perhaps she overheard my neighbour (who had brought them some garden greens and windfall apples) telling me that chooks can die of overheating and starvation if they nest too long.

Popcorn spent a lot of time, while in exile, perched on the garden seat.

Then, after a dust bath, she groomed herself on the outdoor chair beside me. She is plumper and more feathery than when she first arrived – they all are – and their feathers are quite amazing. Check out her shuttlecock tail feathers.

Her head seems almost to rotate as she preens. She has little fluffy ear tufts.

Meantime Betty, in tea-cosy pose, sat on the mat between us, drifting in and out of sleep.

She began to groom herself too, showing off the patterns and caramel tones of her feathers.

Dora took a look at my feet.

And I took a look at hers. Look at those toenails and how she balances on one alligator-skin foot while the other curves elegantly.

It was a very together time. Hence the title of this post.

What was Dora thinking as she inspected my feet? What would you put in a thought bubble above her head? E.g: “I can see the gin and tonic has gone straight to her feet” or, “This explains the qwerty keyboard”.

Fowl Facts – you never wanted to know

I was going to write a blog entitled “Fowl Play” with pictures of the silver beet the chooks almost destroyed and the cover I bought to protect the plants.

The silver beet may recover. I’ve put some new rainbow chard in here too.

And about how they scratch bark all over the place and obscure the path.

After the clean-up

And how netting is essential to keep them out of the tomato barrel.

The sight of something malformed in the nesting box this morning changed my focus – in more ways than one. I thought one of the chooks had expelled her intestines or ovary. Scroll down carefully…

When I’d recovered my equilibrium, bagged the article (which was dense and quite heavy) and put it in the bin, I began some internet research. First to see what is inside a chicken. I decided the chook must be (or have been) egg-bound. This page provided some information. This one provided pictures which matched my specimen, and information (and hilarious comments) to explain what it’s all about – although the dissection this person performed showed she had more stomach (oh, no, wrong choice of words, a body part!) than I have. More information than I really wanted to know too, confirming my initial instincts about how gross chooks can be – see my post Avian Invasion.

However, an even earlier post I wrote entitled Inexcusable Ignorance was about how little we know of living things. We prefer to remain ignorant. I never watch those reality tv shows about people’s ugly bodies and weird afflictions or surgeries. Anything graphic I avoid. Then I wonder what the surgeons dealt with as they fixed my broken leg and attached a titanium plate – probably with brute force and power tools – and when my varicose veins were operated on while I was blissfully under anaesthetic. The nurse at Mole Map, with whom I enjoyed an appointment yesterday, has to look at people’s moles all day.

Apparently in the UK, this malformed egg condition is called “lash”. This explains why. But which chook laid it? And should it be treated? Another subject to research on the internet as I learn more than I ever wanted to know about the inside workings of chickens.

Monarch Butterflies

We’ve had a lot of Monarch butterflies swooping around the garden. I know that they winter over in our local park – where they’ve had a tough time, and we’ve been fascinated to go and see them hanging in the trees there, and flitting about on sunny days.

Mum requested swan plants, so I planted four around a barrel outside the sitting room window where she could watch them. I kept a record of progress in sketches.

On Friday, a migrating caterpillar was spotted on the footpath looking for somewhere to pupate.

My observant brother-in-law (he is a scientist, after all) spotted the first pupa under a fern frond the following day – not necessarily made by the same caterpillar, I would imagine.

I thought there would be a wait of several days, but three days later the butterfly emerged.

There have been many caterpillars, but the first four plants are now sticks, as are the four newer plants. I have just planted four more behind the barrel. My sister and brother-in-law have covered their swan plant to let it recover before more eggs are laid. It is woody-stemmed and becoming a shrub. An assistant at the garden centre told me that a friend of hers in the North Island has a swan plant which is as big as a tree. I worry that my efforts to plant more swan plants have simply encouraged more monarchs to lay eggs only for the caterpillars to die for lack of leaves.

I was first made aware of the plight of Monarchs by Barbara Kingsolver’s book. Protectors of monarchs have run into dire trouble in Mexico lately.

Here you can look at their life cycle and detailed information about these amazing insects.