A Hazy Shade of Winter

Even on a damp and cold (by Australian standards) winters day Fox Hill Hollow still stretches out its warm embracing welcome to us, welcoming us into what seems like another world!  This world is mossy and quiet, every changing yet timeless and wise, a world that has tiny little eyes that follow you from behind the grasses and trees, like the Wallaby that followed up on our morning walk, stopping just far enough away to secure a good view for her and a too-distant photo for us.

This weekend the night was lit up by a beautiful full moon  – a strawberry moon apparently and one that sweeps its bath across the sky, starting its journey from behind our caravan window.  Mum tells me that one of her earliest memories of my first days on earth was of me settling to the glow of the full moon that illuminated the sky on my third day of life.  I have been smitten ever since and still find silver a peaceful and calming colour and the moons soft glow strangely comforting.

We needed to come out for some quiet time this week, a bit of a recharge of the batteries after a tough couple of months.  Stress places an immense toll on the body both Aub and I had been feeling quite sick on and off because of it.   Life can get heavy at times. One night of woodland peace doesn’t solve everything but it does create a pause and sometimes that’s all you need to feel like you have slowed the world down enough to step back onto it.

Here’s to tree therapy at Fox Hill Hollow on this hazy winters day and look, I even managed to find a mustachioed face made from poo with Donald Trump hair! I promise I didn’t touch a thing, it was pooped that way 🙂

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Stinging Nettle Soup

Falling into stinging nettles was an occupational hazard of mine when I was 5 through to age 12. This was neither fun nor painless as I’m sure you can imagine but believe it or not every time I see stinging nettles now I am instantly transported to a happy place, a place where the tiny piece of wilderness that I used to play in at the top of my street was my own private universe!  I remember spying on the farmer as he tried to round-up his sheep,  collecting wool from the barbed wire fence to take home and spin, whittling twigs into arrows and spears and, of course, climbing up and jumping out of trees and into stinging nettles. Ouch!  But whatever happened, no amount of temporary stinging pain could take away the joy that I felt just being out there in the country, surrounded by trees. Oh how little has changed 🙂

Anyway, I saw these on the weekend and thought that one day soon I’d better cook up some nettle soup!

nettles large

 

I’ve never tried it as I assumed it would be either prickly (apparently not) or tasteless (maybe so according to this recipe from the River Cottage).  I think I’ll gather up the other ingredients and make some next time we are on the land, before the nettles retreat for another winter as no matter how it tastes it will be a free vitamin boost!  If the nutritional data on the interwebs is to be believed nettles are a rich source in vitamin A, calcium, magnesium and iron – I could always do with more iron!  I am just going to make sure I have some tasty stock cubes to put in there just in case it does just taste like boiled weeds.

On another note I should eat these to get rid of them as they are not even supposed to be here. I bet some English chap brought them over with the foxes, rabbits and feral cats back in the day.  By eating them I’d be doing the Australian bushland a favour probably although I’m not sure if eating the leaves kills the plans? Maybe I’d have to dig it up?  But then what if I like my soup?

Maybe I’ll wait and see how it tastes before I decide whether to exterminate my non-native green friend.

What do you think?

 

 

The fork lift tractor

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We bought the tractor with a slasher attached.  While the slasher is a great way to cut the grass in summer, in winter it sits idle so we decided to modify it a little.  The forks were constructed out of mild steel box tubing and formed using arc welding.  The lifting weight is limited by the hydraulics of the tractor and we think that’s around 200kg which should be more than enough for what we want to do!

A job well done!

Death at Fox Hill Hollow

When looking out for a lovely country property to buy it always feels like a bonus to find a piece you like that is fully fenced.  This is particularly important if you plan to keep livestock on your property OR you want to secure your pets within your boundaries.

We purchased our land fully fenced but it was while doing our farm planning course last year that we realised our fence type was not great for Kangaroos due to the twin layer of barbed wire plus the metal wire underneath.  This can and does cause a trip hazard for young, old or panicked Kangaroos and Wallaby’s who, on becoming entrapped have to just hang around waiting for death to set in.

I have to admit that we had one such incident about a year after we purchased the property but by the time we turned up and found the leg remnants it was pretty easy to put the whole incident to the back of my mind and just get on with prioritising another job.  Sadly this weekend I saw disaster close up.

I’d only been on the property about 20 minutes when a walk down the fence line presented Maisy and I with this:

femce issueleg in the fence

Although I’m not overly sentimental about things like this I did feel sad when I thought of the pain and confusion the animal must have felt as it lay their trapped.  I only hoped that it wasn’t suffering for too long but really there is no way to tell, I wasn’t there.

I wonder if the fence situation has been made worse by the fact that in an attempt to deter the pigs we’ve closed off many of the routes out underneath the fence? I actually don’t know if the Roo’s ever creep under but maybe they and especially the little ones do…  In any case I have decided that next time we are out the fence wire is to be re-worked to make it more ‘roo friendly as while I’m going to probably regret being so Kangaroo loving when it comes to planting my tree saplings (the ‘roo’s do tend to make short work of eating them) I really don’t want to be confronted by death alley each time I rock up to the land.

So, that’s another job to add to the list and hopefully we can get to the fences before the fences get to any more Kangaroos oh and with regards to the pig barrier work we did, that looks to be working only now I’m slightly concerned that we may have trapped some pigs into the land – I just can’t find them yet…..

That’s country living for you.  Some good, some bad and some a little bit sad.

 

Pig Invasion!

We had some uninvited and most unwelcome guests at Fox Hill Hollow this Christmas, guests that were not entirely happy about us turning up and ruining their party!  These guests were feral pigs, lots of them!

feral-pigs

Picture above is from the Cowra Guardian who, in 2014 reported on the issue of rising pig numbers – they are bad news indeed! Read more here. 

I knew that pigs had been around the place from the patches of flattened grass and areas of recently turned earth but I was oblivious to the fact that these naughty little critters were still camping out at my place until I faced them head-on during my early morning swim in the dam.

swimming

I’d taken Maisy and Nicki on a walk around the property at first light and neither dog had alerted me to the piggy surprise at that point and so when we reached the damn I took off my clothes and slid in for a refreshing swim.   It was then, in all my vulnerability that I spotted them, well to be fair Maisy spotted them first and went charging off to chase them, well at least that’s how it started.  She didn’t get far before she realised her mistake and that’s when my ears pricked up!  I heard the pigs before I saw them but then I saw them, coming straight to me as the big daddy beasts chased my by now scared-out-of-her-skin Maisy back towards me – what on earth she thought I would do is beyond me!  I had no weapon, I hadn’t even got my knickers on hahahahahahahahaha!

Lucky for me the pigs turned back giving me enough time to pick up my clothes and hike it back to the main living area where I’d hatch a plan.

There looked to be around 20 pigs in the heard, some of which were big and scary looking while others were clearly babies.  I soon made up my mind that our place had become a nursery and a luxurious one at that having plentiful long grass thanks to the long wet winter followed by the relatively late summer heat,  a large and accessible water source (the dam) and relative peace and safety (until we came along).

Something had to be done!

I don’t have a gun but after owning property for a while I can see why people do.

I read up on pigs to see if they might have infected the water that I was swimming in (it’s a possibility),  if they would attack a human (entirely possible, especially when there’s young around),  if they could kill a human (again yes), if they could climb trees (probably not, there’s my chance!), how to repel them from your land (good fencing is a start although a big male can barge through most things – making the landscape less attractive is a better plan, shooting them probably the ultimate solution if you have a gun and can catch them all before they disperse….) and finally if you can eat them (yes you can).  I felt like I’d entered a war zone naked.  I wasn’t far wrong…..

Later that day towards sunset Meg and I took another walk around the block and spied two brazen little piglets walking down our boundary fence!  I thought these things were supposed to be secretive!  I kept the dogs on leads thinking that where there are babies there will be a mother and possibly a fat and tusky father just behind.  The piglets squeezed under the gap in the fence to the neighbours property and disappeared into the undergrowth.

pigs

A couple of weeks later we were back with ammo and a mission to find and destroy the pigs.  If that sounds pretty damn bloodthirsty it isn’t meant to but if you saw the damage that these feral creatures do to the beautiful woodland you would understand – it would be less damaging to hold a motocross weekend on the land with a bunch of rev-heads I’m sure!

While I’d completely got my head around the fact that these pigs might end up as dead meat I was quite glad that to find they had moved on from our land and saved themselves for the time being.  That said, I was unhappy to realise that those little babies would soon be big and would, in time add their input into the feral pig population of the Central Tablelands.   On the way home I googled ‘getting a gun licence’ and tried to work out if now was the time to become better prepared.  I think it probably is.

In the meantime though we spent the Australia Day long weekend repairing holes in fences and generally pig-proofing the property to the best of our abilities in the hope that we don’t have a repeat of this every breeding season but at least if we do have this again I’ll be better equip to deal with it – at least mentally.

dogs-checking-out-the-pig-proof-fencing

Maisy and Nicki checking out our border protection policy – we’ve built a fance, it is the best of fences, a truly great fence and the pigs are gonna pay for it if they come a crashing in!

Fencing on a wet September day

If we thought July was wet we’d seen nothing yet, September was a wash out!  163.2mm of rain vs a seasonal average of just 52.5!

The gum trees don’t seem to like it and I’m a bit worried about that. We are supposed to be re-generating this site, restoring it to the most beautiful mixed box woodland that it can be. Installing an under-story that’s been sheep chewed, protecting the meadow flowers and replacing the pine trees with gums.  Sadly all that seems to be happening is the gums are falling down and turning brown.  Maybe mother nature has other ideas….

Anyway, we can’t change the weather but we can change the fence so we took our new fencing tool and created an access point at the top corner of the paddock so we now have easy access down to the creek boundary.  This is great as it makes it easier for our less mobile visitors to enjoy the beauty of the woodland and babbling stream while sipping their tea!

Talking of tea that’s me wearing the tea cozy as a hat. It was bitterly cold and I’d forgotten to pack for the conditions 🙂

fencing-in-september-aub

a-new-picnic-spot-in-the-forest-sep-2016

my-tea-cozy-hat

new-gate

Our first meeting with Landcare Cowra.

Last week we were excited to finally meet up with a representative from Cowra land care head office and discuss our plans for Fox Hill Hollow.

My main concern prior to their visit (being a non-local who had only come to Australia as an adult) was that we had purchased land with little to no growing potential and were set to have an uphill battle to get anything done.  I thought this because I remembered how brown and crispy the landscape became last summer and just how many jumping insects there were around – it felt like a plague of grasshoppers had arrived on a prickly moon-scape.  And then there was the July snow that left many of my gum trees looking brown and ‘shocked’ and leading them to down huge limbs all over the place.   Finally I was concerned at the potential damage that grazing sheep had done to the land.  This parcel of land had been home to a number of the fluffy white things, animals that I’m not that keen on seeing in my ‘native’ forest land due to their earth compacting powers thanks to having a large, heavy body supported by tiny little hoofy feet.

But I need not have worried.

As I have shared with you on an earlier post Fox Hill Hollow is currently in bloom with Sun Dew, Milkmaids and Early Nancy carpeting much of the forest floor. But that is not all, we also have kangaroo grass, poa tussocks, Sharp Rush, Pin Rush, Bog Sedge and more. As we walked around the property it became clear to us (much to our relief) that Fox Hill Hollow was not in a bad way and even better than that it actually has heaps of potential.  I have to say I was thrilled.

One of my plans for Fox Hill Hollow is to turn it into a venue to teach my Cosmetic Chemistry courses, a venue surrounded by native species  – aromatic trees, native herbs, grasses, florals and more.  Eventually I plan to plant a garden which might contain some non-local species but which have relevance to cosmetics – Aloe Vera, Comfrey, Calendula, Chamomile, Lavender etc – but the first priority (and main interest) for me is to re-wild the non-garden parts of Fox Hill Hollow so I’m thrilled that we are starting that process from a good place.

Our walk around the property did throw up some challenges for us though:

  • Slight soil erosion at the dam from the heavy rains of this winter.  The granite soil around our property is ‘explosive’ in as much as when it gets wet it loses its form and turns to slush that can easily be washed away down river. This early erosion can lead to large crevice formation over time and has to be managed by allowing water to run freely without building up velocity.  Basically we need to avoid ‘damming’ and concentrate of ‘controlled and even flow’.
  • The same can be said for the driveway where there are two or three patches where erosion could take hold if we don’t keep the natural water channels clear.
  • Our frontage onto Milburn creek would also benefit from being kept clean and free-flowing. At present there are some tree’s that have fallen in and blocked part of the water flow. Moving them will be hard though as the area is accessible only by foot.
  • The pine trees will have to go!  OK so the pine trees we have in the woods are not too bad, they are spaced relatively evenly and are allowing for growth on the woodland floor but ideally, over time they will be replaced by gums and other native trees.  One thing that can happen straight away though is the pulling out or chopping down of all of the baby pines that are springing up everywhere.  Doing that ASAP will save time and energy later and make room for the first native planting!
  • Fencing off our creek frontage to allow for better management and pest control (feral pigs are around in this area).
  • Re-establishing a wattle community to the land as wattle is sadly lacking on our block.
  • Weed management as appropriate.

There were more little things too but it was agreed that the top list of actions would be a great place to start and to get us moving closer to our goal of a beautifully diverse piece of land encompassing both wet and dry Sclerophyll forest.

Our land sits in a cross-over vegetation site managed by three landcare groups –  Hovells Creek, Neville and the Mid Lachlan Groups and forms part of the K2W corridor for bird migration.

The K2W corridor is a migratory pathway for birds that spans from the East Coast of Australia through the Blue Mountains (where we usually live), our to Wyangala Dam (which is where Fox Hill Hollow is) and further inland to the ACT/ Victoria borders area.  There is currently a big push by local Landcare groups to improve the connectivity of this corridor to make it easier for birds to make this inland migration.  My hope is that Fox Hill Hollow becomes a small part in this large project.

The landscape connectivity will also encourage other native species back into the area including frogs, gliders, possums and who knows, maybe even koalas!  It is definitely something worth working towards!

Overall our first meeting with Landcare was extremely positive and uplifting and although we now know how much work we have ahead of us, at least we know we are investing in land and a larger project that is worth it!

And as newcomers to Australia both Aub and I feel it would be awesome to be able to give something back to the country that has given us so much opportunity and space to grow.  We want to leave Fox Hill Hollow in a better state than when we found it.

May the work commence!

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PS: I have attached the  Hovells Creek Landcare Action Plan here as it makes for interesting reading.  We are planning to do our best to be active and positive ‘absentee’ land owners for the time that we fit that criteria.

Spring is floral at Fox Hill Hollow

Well what a treat!

We bought the land in September last year then spent all of October overseas and missed what has turned out to be the most visually awesome month to be at Fox Hill Hollow.  The grass is green and in between the trees the forest floor is blooming purple, yellow and white.

Here are some of the beautiful flowers that are native to our block of heaven.

  1. I think this is Donkey-Ears or D.Semiunulata.

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2) I’m actually not sure what this is. Hopefully I’ll find out and get back to you!

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3) This one looks to me like Daphne Heath (Brachyloma Daphnoides)

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4) This is probably a wax lip orchid (Glossodia Major)

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5) Now this has to be my favourite so far, a Twining Fringe-Lily aaahhhh

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6)  I think this is Common Bartsia, we have it all over one area of the property (Parentucellia Latifolia).2015-10-03 07.46.37

7)  Another favourite spot of mine is in the forest. Here we find a carpet of Milkmaids (Burchardia Umbellata) and Early Nancy (Wurmbea Dioica). 2015-09-27 15.18.30

8) While some of these little yellow pom poms are probably pollen from the trees there are other areas of the land where they grow as plants. I am not sure what those are but they look mighty pretty and remind me of the flowers found in a Dr Zuss book. 

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I wonder what we will find flowering next.