Mabel was in the nesting box for quite a while this morning, while Popcorn shouted encouragement from outside – but this was the result.

Poor Mabel. She’s doing her best, but I think her egg-laying days are over. A friend suggested the chooks are now in ‘henopause’.

To encourage laying, sometimes a china egg is placed in the nesting box. I have an egg-shaped stone from Riverton beach which might do instead, just in case Mabel simply needs some inspiration. Here it is next to today’s little egg.

For further comparison, here is today’s egg next to Mabel’s Friday effort which I’ve dubbed ‘the egg man’.

Strangest egg yet

Perhaps one of the chooks decided to make an effort after hearing me say yesterday that I would stop feeding them dog roll since they’re not laying (the dog roll is to ensure they get the minerals they need for egg production). They love their dog roll. (I choose one which has no chicken in it.)

Perhaps their only ‘value’ is the chicken poo they produce which goes into the compost bins. However, we find great value in their company and the entertainment they provide. We call it ‘chicken tv’. This little egg has certainly lifted our sad mood today when the radio speaks only of the Queen’s death.

The tiny double egg was in the henhouse this morning – the one they haven’t been using all winter. Instead, they huddle together on barley straw in the cosier space of the smaller house – more like a nesting box than a henhouse with perches.

Now that it’s spring, the chooks are more active about the garden, digging and exploring. In the last day or two I’ve noticed them going, briefly, into the larger henhouse. Perhaps it’s time to refresh the wood shavings in there and make the nesting box part of it more welcoming, but I fear they are getting too old to lay eggs. In a commercial enterprise they would have been culled long ago. Here, they can live out their days.

Speckled texture – and a little bow on its head

What to do with it?

Spring Snow

It was a novelty to wake up to a light coating of snow this morning. Mabel was not keen to put her feet in the snow on the deck. I carried her across to join the others for breakfast on the lawn before she missed out. Chickens feet are warm, in case you’ve wondered – or never thought about it. Mabel (second from the left) was warm and her feathers soft and silky.

The snow will be gone soon. I took some photos to capture the surprise of it.

I was relieved to see the lemon tree I planted in the weekend snuggled safely beside the house, the snow barely reaching it.

Dwarf Meyer lemon tree planted in case the old tree doesn’t recover (see previous post).

It’s 1.6 degrees celsius right now. The chooks have retreated to the garage for their hot mash. The sun is making an occasional half-hearted appearance, and the forecast is for a high of only 10 degrees. A day to pull the chairs up to the fire.

Lemon tree not so pretty

NZ Gardener Citrus Booklet

It is distressing to find that my beautiful lemon tree is beset with a nasty disease – in fact, it is afflicted with both the diseases shown on the page above. I have been occasionally dealing with the sooty mould, but the verrucosis discovery is a shock.

The fully laden tree was so weighted down with fruit that it was dragging on the ground. I was keeping an eye on the lower lemons to make sure they didn’t rot and had begun to pick them over the last couple of weeks. Yesterday, a sharp smell alerted me that all was not well and closer inspection revealed many lemons with what I thought was brown rot. I set about removing the affected lemons and pruned the tree.

Popcorn supervises the untimely harvest

What a relief to read in the NZ Gardener booklet that you can still use the juice – just not the zest. It was a busy day in the kitchen today.

The discarded skins cannot go in the compost. There are so many of them that the compost would be overwhelmed anyway.

The lemons are lovely and juicy inside.

There’ll be lemon ice cube making over the next few days until all the lemons are used.

Sweet little things

Rose hips in a mustard jar (featuring an illustration from the Grimms’ tale of the town musicians of Bremen)

The last two days have been dry enough to prune the roses at last. We’ve had the wettest July on record with a third of our annual rain falling in the one month. Now it’s August and almost past pruning time.

The rose hips were worth saving, as were a couple of dear little buds which have survived the rain and the frosts but are unlikely to open.

Rosehips, buds and violets…and a tiny 2.5cm egg.

Violets are flowering prolifically, scenting the garden now the wintersweet is fading.

The tiny egg was in the nesting box this morning. A sweet little fairy egg.


I was thinking only of the growing dark as I hurried, a little anxiously, across the Square to a book launch at a quarter to six yesterday evening. But this sight put it out of my mind.

Cathedral Square at dusk

The lights of Te Pae, the light installations, and the buildings along the river beyond, gave the city a glamour not evident during the day. The sky was even more impressive.

After the book launch, with my head full of an inspiring writer’s creativity and imagination, I passed the usually dull concrete wall on the east side of Te Pae. A moving image was projected on it framed by a brass porthole so that in the dark city you were transported to a Jules Verne underwater world.

Whales and fish floated past while pink tentacles waved eerily in the foreground.

The whale seemed to fix you with its eye, before it moved on.

A new life had come to the city with the dark. Restaurants, shop windows, apartments, hotels and bars gave glimpses of diverse, intriguing spaces, lighting my way home.

Who killed the sparrow?

Not I, said Betty, Mabel and Popcorn…Where’s Vera?

The poor little sparrows are hungry on a rainy winter’s day (or any day) and come down to the feeder to forage. ‘Automatic feeders’, which make food available when the treadle is depressed, are supposed to keep the chook food safe from marauding sparrows. But the chooks are messy eaters who throw out the pellets as they search for other treats, and the sparrows come down to eat. So the scene of the crime was set.

A less lethal proposition (Photo from January)

The second feeder is metal. (I glued carpet to the treadle so it was more comfortable for their feet on a cold, or hot, day.) Food is less likely to be scattered from this one, but I have opened it on occasion and been startled by a trapped sparrow making a rapid escape.

All four chooks can feed from this second feeder at the same time – unless Popcorn gets bossy and chases the others away. When she does, the others walk off, the lid clangs shut, and Popcorn, who hasn’t quite got the knack of the treadle, stands bemused. Karma.

Today, we are toasty by the fire while the chooks huddle on the deck. They wander into the garage between showers, or forage in the garden.

In Winter, they prefer frosty mornings which are followed by sunny days. Then they can find a dusty spot under a tree and snuggle in.

The Chicken in Winter (Photo taken in early July)

On rainy days, like today, the dust baths on the lawn have become puddles.

The path to their house is swamped, and covered in cabbage tree leaves which blew down in the southerly storm last night.

It’s a hard life for chickens – and sparrows.

Ever hopeful. Have they noticed one of their number is missing?

Apples in abundance

Spot the silvereyes (top left)

We’ve been eating apples since at least March, and it looks as though it will be the end of this month (July) before they’re finished. The tree is full of silvereyes most of the day, having a jolly good feast. Sparrows and blackbirds join in. I pick a bowl full of the fruit every now and again and we look for ways to eat it.

Is it a bee or a wasp on this apple?

I’m reminded of this poem by Lauris Edmond (not related to the Edmond’s Cookbook as far as I know):

Eden Cultivated

Think of her coming in from the garden,

her hair blowing and the green breath

of summer drifting across the verandah

the long grass, and the smell of apples –

behind her a blazing February sky,

the first thistledowns, and the haze;

see her drag out the old capacious

preserving pan from the darkened pantry

smelling of spices and orange peel,

and notice the small lines around her eyes,

the bones of her bending shoulders…

and wait – for how do you know, this time,

if she will offer you one apple

or many, or possibly none at all?

The small comfort of chocolate

Chocolate can be the gift we choose to give to say sorry or to offer comfort or thanks.

I chose it today for the staff on the checkout at the supermarket as – albeit small – compensation for the racist abuse they suffer from customers. Usually it is sneaky abuse, bullying in effect, as they know the staff member must remain polite or risk losing their job. ‘The customer is always right’. Except when they are not right.

Yesterday, as I packed my groceries, I was saddened to overhear a checkout operator quietly telling a supervisor that a customer had said to her, “You are not welcome here”. She seemed embarrassed to have to report the incident; her face was flushed above her mask.

How much worse it must feel not to be able to stand up for yourself when a deliberately hurtful lie is directed at you. Does reporting it make you feel better, or worse? What could the supervisor do anyway, after the event?

I wrote a letter to the management and staff of the supermarket to express my dismay and sympathy. I suggested a standard response to such attacks by customers could be used such as, “We are sorry you feel that way. We hope you will be kinder to our staff in the future.” This could be a polite way of showing that the whole work place is united in not tolerating racism (by using ‘we’) and would call out the customer for their bad behaviour (they had not been kind). It could help the staff member to feel that they had stood up to the bully without risking their job – and by being the better person.

If I had overheard the hurtful remark, I would have been less restrained, I imagine – but that would not change anything or be helpful. However, I bet the customer spoke for only the checkout operator to hear. (I picture the offending customer going home to listen to more of the talk-back radio which ‘justifies’ their cruelty, and never pausing to consider whether or not they are making a useful contribution to society.)

In the multi-cultural school where I worked (54 different countries of origin in one count), we valued cultural – and other – diversity and were as vigilant as we could be to ensure the work place was safe for staff and students. It was a somewhat more closed environment than a supermarket, however. It shocked me how our students regularly suffered racist abuse on the street.

There’s no amount of chocolate to comfort for that.

Cheeky visitor

We don’t have a cat anymore, but this one often visits as if he is staking out his territory. He makes the chooks nervous. They have chased off dogs much bigger than he is, but the cat has a tendency to sneak up on them in a teasing sort of way. They don’t much like being taken by surprise. In the photo he is sitting on the table they like to shelter under in wet weather. Psychological point-scoring, I’d say.

I used to shoo him away until I found he could be useful. We had another visitor.

This little chap darted out from under the deck to get the last of the chooks’ breakfast. This explained why I had often seen the cat sitting on the deck, peering over the side. So now, I’m quite happy to let the cat cruise through, past the compost bins and wood pile which are favourite haunts of rats, skirt around the garden and leave via the garage roof.

Today, the cat left traces of a detour into the house. I found muddy cat-prints in the bath, with a trail of paw prints going across the window sill where he seems to have departed through the open window.

I hope he won’t become so bold and familiar that he brings inside a rat he has caught. My sister’s family has two cats. Yesterday, she found a rat in their living room, alive and hiding under the curtains. Heroically, they did a ‘catch and release’.