Falcons targeting hapless hens
Our neighbourhood has been upset lately, the poultry community anyway, by the bloodthirsty activities of one of our native birds of prey, the falcon, or k¯arearea. The bird has visited over the past few months, perching atop some old macrocarpa, peering about,but it wasn’t until this week that it made amove, swooping down and killing a hen. On hearing the commotion in the neighbour’s henhouse, I raced across with my camera and photographed the falcon, claw clenched around the neck of a now-dead hen and not a bit concerned at my presence.
Native falcons are rare, so we can’t even consider harming this one. They seem to be gaining confidence around town as their natural habitat shrinks. They strike from a great height, plummeting down at high speed and dispatching their victims in a flurry of feathers and squawks. Watch out for the karearea if you have hens, and don’t think your roofless hen run is safe; it’s not.
MAKE FIRE STARTERS
Gather cabbage tree leaves and tie them into fire-starter bundles. The leaves that hang as a skirt below the crown of green are wonderful for carrying the flame from amatch to the kindling in any fire, indoor or out.
Ti kouka leaves have long been used for the purpose of setting and starting fires. If you don’t receive a newspaper daily, getting those fires going can be tricky and solid-fuel fire starters can be toxic things to handle, so a tied-together bundle of cracklydry leaves could serve your purposes perfectly, provided you can find some.
If you do know where such a resource is to be found, chances are whoever does the job of raking up those leaves ordinarily will probably be more than happy to have you do the work for them. If, like me, you have a plentiful supply of ti kouka, you’ll be able to squander them without any feelings of guilt, knowing that they cost you nothing and will, in any case, replenish themselves as time goes by. Cabbage tree leaf fire starters are a truly sustainable resource.
SPARE A THOUGHT FOR THE BEES
The season’s cooling down fast and getting wetter. As it does so, bees like to be warm and dry, so check their hive and the surrounding area for dampness and shading. If it’s looking a bit gloomy and dank, think of how the bees might be feeling and give the area a spruce up; trim away any surrounding vegetation that might be preventing sunlight and wind from keeping the hive dry and warm and improve the chances of your bees making it successfully through the winter.
If you’re new to the practice of keeping bees, seek advice on how to ensure that your bees make it through to spring. Feed them if you will, or leave their honey inside the hive for their own use. Your choice will depend on your intentions for your bees. Are they primarily for honey production? That is, producing for your consumption? Or are they in your garden to assist with pollination? In which case you can leave their honey for their use.
It’s delightful having bees in and around the garden, and keeping a hive will ensure you get to see them going about their daily business.
GROW CORNELIAN CHERRIES
Apples, pears and plums are all very well, but fruit-fanciers like me forever yearn for new tastes and forms in our fruit bowls.
There are many unusual fruits that grow here in New Zealand that aren’t seen in supermarkets. They’re usually small and require much patience in the picking because of their size, but have flavours that aren’t matched by the larger, more-often-seen regulars.
The small orange beauties pictured here are fruits of a dogwood, cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), and will delight lovers of sour fruits – and yes, there are many people who prefer sour to sweet when it comes to fruits. Our preference for sugary fruits is a learned one, I think, and might come from the ready availability of canned, sugared fruits.
Cornelian cherries grow readily in my Riverton garden and doubtless elsewhere in the country. They flower freely and over a long period and their fruit ripens in late autumn. You’ll have to watch the birds; they too like sour fruits and the small dogwood berries fit easily into
This column is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get growing, from New Zealand Gardener magazine. For gardening advice delivered to your inbox every Friday, sign up for Get Growing at: getgrowing.co.nz
PLANTS FOR DAMP SPOTS
Look for wet spots in your garden and resist the temptation to install drainage; something that seems to be a national obsession. Instead, fill those soggy spots with plants that love to be swamped: ligularia are a good choice, handsome and shade-loving as well, so ideal for areas that otherwise seem too damp and dark for much else.
I’ve a particular liking for king cup or marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) as their golden flowers light up darker spots beautifully and their glossy leaves look very ‘‘froggy’’, something I value highly.
The various members of the mint family too, enjoy sog, and thrive alongside of the ligularia and marsh marigolds and have the added advantage of being edible. They do like to spread themselves around a bit, so be prepared to have to thin them out over time.