Fal­cons tar­get­ing hap­less hens

The Tribune (NZ) - - GARDENING - ROBERT GUYTON

HEN PA­TROL

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

their beaks.

GET GROW­ING

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.

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