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(Almost) Gone With the Wind

By | Nutrition | 3 Comments

What a weekend we had! Saturday is usually our day off, but the shade net over the market garden plot was still unfinished. Storms were forecast for Sunday, so we got out there and worked. Rick’s Mum got out there and helped us. Then our lovely neighbours turned up to help too.

Much was achieved.

But we still couldn’t get it finished.

Rick’s Dad stayed the night and helped Rick for half a day on Sunday, but it still wasn’t complete.

And then the storm came…but it was all wind and little to no rain…and it hurt. I’d been to visit a friend, and came home to find we’d sustained substantial damage to the framework. Agh!

We haven’t photographed it yet, but it was disheartening, for Rick especially, to head up the paddock and discover several poles dangerously bent, and several more completely snapped at the welds. Wow.

All those hours in the summer heat building this structure, and then comes damage that will add many more hours of sweating it out to get it repaired and complete. Our seedlings await transplanting!

But, I must say we’re thankful that was the only damage, and hope that those who lost the roofs of their homes or had their cars squashed by branches on the weekend in that same storm are doing ok. At least our damage was nowhere near our home or our children!

And I’m also thankful for all the help we’ve had. So many people have freely given their time to help with this project! We’ve been the recipients of much kindness, and I thank you all who have showed up to help, especially when it has freed me up to be with the children. Some days when Rick has needed me out there have been hard to juggle when there’s also 6 children to look after.

Until next post…

The Not so Secret Life of Chickens

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Fresh pastured eggs. That’s what I have to keep reminding myself, when I find a chook in the house…again! As cute as they can be, I get pretty tired of chooks letting themselves in the house just about every time a child leaves the door open! Especially chooks that have eaten way too many fallen mulberries…enough said!

Pictured is Aaliyah’s hen, Lightning. She’s decided that Micah’s clothes drawer is a great secluded place to lay her daily egg. We try to prevent this, but on more than one occasion have found her, egg already laid, in his drawer!

Lightning also thinks it’s cool to rest in my still-need-to-plant box!

And then there’s the light sussex rooster, who I don’t think we’ve named. He came to us because his owners found him a little too effective, if you know what I mean. Anyway, testosterone is running high at Birdsong, and this rooster has decided to prove his manliness, he needs to fight with our ram. I’m only sorry I haven’t caught it on video yet, because it’s hilarious watching this little rooster and our ram charging at each other for no apparent reason! Right before impact, the rooster jumps up over the rams head and avoids the collision.

But here I am making it sound like all we do here is watch the chickens…no, we also have the occasional snake to deal with.

Yes, Micah is holding an eastern brown snake.

Yes, it’s dead.

No, we didn’t kill it. There I was watering the garden one morning and noticed an up-side-down snake under one of the trees. After Rick’s examination of it,he decided it must have been run over and then thrown in our yard. I can’t imagine why someone would get out of their car to chuck a dead snake in our front yard, but who knows?

On the market gardening side of things, Rick has been preparing a crop plan and rotation plan. It’s a big deal. The better organised he is at the start, the smoother the growing season will go. This crop plan will tell him what will be planted where and for how long. Which plants go in each bed next, and it also makes sure we’re not planting crops that have adverse affects on each other too close to each other.

Today Rick was excited to get the cold room process (for harvested crops) started. He’s been reviewing the options and keeping an eye out for something suitable for a long time. And now today he found someone selling cold room panels (because they’d bought the wrong colour, so were clearing them out) and has got that organised.

Not much has happened with the garden this week however, as Rick’s had some engineering work in between everything else. Though with waking so early, I’ve had the chance to keep chipping away at our bee/insect attracting garden and pond area. Every week a few new plants go in and green up that little patch of earth. And that’s this week at Birdsong!

The Insectary

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Ever heard of an insectary? They seem to be gaining in popularity as people relearn the importance of having a balance of beneficial insects in their gardens and vegetable plots.

It can be something relatively simple, like some old blocks of timber with holes drilled within for beneficial predatory insects to build their homes in…or it can be a little oasis like we’re working at here at Birdsong.

So everything thrives when there is balance. If you grow only one crop, you attract a lot of the same pests. And have no home for a lot of the most natural and effective predators for those pests.

If you spray your crops with insecticides, you’re also losing out by killing off both good and bad mini beasts. For example, the USA apparently has a “Pollination task Force” now and are trying to rehabilitate about 7 million acres of land to encourage bees…this is because their overuse of roundup has made most of the bees diet toxic. So the bees get sick, suffer more hive illnesses like AFB and die. Then who pollinates the crops?

The idea behind the pond and ‘oasis’ or ‘insectary’ at Birdsong is to provide a haven for insects, especially those that prey on pests. We’re wanting to feed the bees a great variety of nectar and pollen, provide foliage for insects to live (and therefore work for us, by keeping a balance in the garden), and this pond/water is providing a drink for these insects, and a breeding place for frogs too. I’m sure most of humans plight with insects is because we go way overboard trying to control and profiteer at the expense of a natural balance.

Here’s what’s happened so far…Rick dug a 10 meter trench with the excavator in the middle of our paddock. An area that will be central to the market garden and all the little guys that live in there.

We leveled it out, lined it with pond lining felt, then with pond liner and filled her up.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been bartering with a local lady to build up our bee attracting and edible plants around this pond. We give her vegies, she gives us lots of goodies like garlic chives, feverfew, holy basil, thyme and watercress to plant in and around the pond.

We’ve also planted some native trees to add varying levels to the insectary.

It’s early days at the moment, but with time (and rain!) we hope to see this area become a lush and inviting oasis for insects and frogs. And aesthetically pleasing to the human viewers too ๐Ÿ™‚

The Bee Friendly Garden

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That’s what we’re aiming for here- a bee friendly garden. It’s also the name of the latest book I’m reading (a present from my mum to Rick for his birthday, but he’s not getting much of a chance to read it yet…I’m immersed!).

So originally we were just looking at what plants we should be buying and planting to attract and feed our bees (who are fast becoming like pets…pets you don’t bother trying to cuddle, that is!).

Rick’s rather proud of his bees ๐Ÿ™‚

But as I read into Doug Purdie’s “A Bee Friendly Garden” I started to learn and consider so much more than just what species we should be planting for the bees.

By the way, Doug’s book is gorgeous! It’s so beautifully presented and overflowing with lovely photos…looks more like a book that should be adorning a coffee table rather than informing people about bees.

Doug is a rooftop gardener in Sydney, which I think is very innovative. Why not transform the bleak concrete rooftop into a garden and help the bees survive and thrive in the urban world?

We think of bees of providers of our honey supply, and pollinators of our plants. But I didn’t realise just how pivotal the pollination via bees is to the formation of strong, sweet and correctly formed fruit. You know when you see an apple that’s lop-sided? Well improper pollination causes that. I don’t know if it’s the only cause, but there you go!

The there’s the weeds. We as a culture consider them pests and opt instead for manicured lawns. But most of us (myself included) have probably never stopped to consider the environmental effect of destroying all the weeds and not allowing areas to go to seed. I realise there’s various prickly weeds that are not desirable for letting loose…but things like English Plantain (pictured above) are one of the nutritious weeds on the planet. Far better for you than most greens you’re buying for your salads from the shops…or even the farmers markets. And left alone, it produces a flower that I’ve seen the bees visiting for nectar. So many weeds are like this. They are part of a healthy bees varied diet, if they can find them. But in city areas especially, where long grass and weeds are considered an eyesore, the bees are really missing out.

Pictured above is wild cabbage, another very nutritious weed, that produces yellow flowers for the bees to easily find and feed from.

In all honesty though, we do mow down weeds and all in our house yard (especially in snake season!). But the paddock is very much wild weeds.

Like humans, bees need a varied diet to remain healthy. I’m no expert, but presume some of the bee/hive pests and illnesses like AFB are a result of a lack of variation in the bees diet.

Australia is one of the best countries in the world for honey production and has little in the way of diseases that other beekeepers around the world have to fight with. But we still need to be careful. What do you think it does to the bees when their flowers in a field of crops have been sprayed with roundup or other such toxic chemicals? Or when bees are trying to find clover in a sports field, but it’s been sprayed or mowed down too, therefore robbing them of that food source. Doug mentions in his book that one Sydney suburb was especially targeting clover for poisoning on their sports fields, because they thought the risk of someone getting stung and having a severe allergic reaction was too high! Sounds like people are getting a bit too precious! But it’s those same people who are losing out, because if the bees die out in their area, so does their ability to grow food in that area.

What are we doing about all this? Well, at Birdsong, our bees are presently enjoying the varied feed from our house garden plot and the many natives in the scrub on our neighbours properties. They’re also got weeds that have gone to flower in the paddock, and gums on our block. We’ve built a pond in the paddock that we’re gradually planting edible bee friendly plants around as an insect haven (to attract other beneficial insects). I’ll have to post a picture of that soon. The pond itself is pretty much done, and I’ve been bartering veges for plants over the past few weeks, to get it landscaped!

Even if you never want to keep bees yourself, The bee Friendly Garden is a great book to get you started on the path to awareness and action to help our bees and preserve our societies ability to produce quality produce for a long time to come.

Mulberry Season

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Just a month ago that is what the mulberry tree looked like. Now we’re right in the middle of fruiting and harvesting more berries than we can immediately use! So we’re freezing them and using them in ways like this….mulberry tropical frappe.

The bees….they’ve had a bit of a trial this week. They’re doing well, but we needed to fix up the base of the hive, that was splitting due to the tight time frame Rick had to build it in. He’d used part greenwood and part aged wood and hence a split down the base. So he whipped up a new base and we had to lift the hive onto it. While we were at it, he wanted to do a hive inspection.

The top box is choccas with comb, smells sweet like honey, and Rick cut into the comb a little to find sweet nectar, which he gave a little taste test.

Also while we were opening the hive, we popped in the wintergreen essential oil soaked coaster to deter the hive beetles (who rudely had been squatting in there).

Now, the problem came after we lifted the hive onto the new base. The bees got a little confused. Some figured out where the hive had moved too (it was only about 20cm from the old location! But others got stuck at the back of the hive, and probably confused by the smell of fresh paint on the new base and also the wintergreen scent. So a whole tribe of bees were crawling around the back of the hive trying to find their front door.

Then the storm hit. Lots of wind, bucketing rain etc. Bees can’t fly properly once their wings get wet. So a bunch of bees died in the storm, unable to find the entrance to the hive. Sigh.

The next day all was back to normal. Bees flocking in and out of the hive, the honey scent had returned and all was good. Just a few bee carcasses around as a reminder of yesterday.

Another chick was born about 2 days ago. Very cute! We’re now just waiting on the ducklings. The duck was totally distracted by her new home when she came here, so her eggs are under a hen. It will be pretty amusing to watch what happens when they’ve hatched and the hen tries to raise them! I wonder if the duck will realise they’re hers?

Working Bee

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After a week and a half of having bees, I can see where the phrase “working bee” comes from! These little guys are prolific! The photos are a little difficult to interpret, as the windows on our Warre hive are highly reflective. But hopefully you can see enough to get the idea. A Warre hive uses ‘top bars’ instead of frames like a Langstroth hive. So what this means, is that instead of a rectangular frame complete with ‘foundation wax’ (a thin layer of wax which the bees build upon), the Warre has just timber bars across the top of the boxes, which have a a light layer of melted bees wax on them to get the bees started.

Anyway, the bees started just over a week ago with these top bars. Now, already, they’ve drawn the comb almost to the bottom of the first box! And something I wasn’t expecting, was the pure white comb they’re building. You know how bees wax is usually a yellow colour? This is pure white so far.

There’s a close up…maybe you can see some comb?

We’re yet to put in the Wintergreen soaked coaster to repel the hive beetles. Yesterday while peeping into the hive we saw one of the beetles being attacked by an angry bee!

And while the bees are going full steam with their comb, this is what we’ve been up to…Pictured above is the propagation house, which Rick has nearly finished. It’s been a much bigger job than he anticipated…but that happens frequently around here! You never know what will happen to draw out the process of finishing a job.

And this is the potting table in the propagation house. Rick designed and built this one too. He’s aiming for maximum efficiency, so designs everything so that whatever he needs will be within reach and easy to use.

Rick has also set up the watering system in the propagation house…after many set backs. He went and bought all our irrigation supplies from a local irrigation specialist, you know, to support the little guy and get better advice. But wow, they made more mistakes with the order than I thought possible. It was several thousand dollars worth of gear, and they really messed up the order, and one of the parts we were given was even second hand and dirty inside!

And then there’s the sewing. Rick’s been wanting me to get an industrial sewing machine for years. But I think it’s not worth it. So here I am, in the dark (because that’s when I had some spare time), and outside (because the 10 meter lengths of shade cloth don’t really fit comfortably inside to sew) sewing two lengths of shade cloth together with upholstery thread. This is for a cover for Mount Compost, up the paddock. Rick wants it to stay moist….moisture is life ๐Ÿ™‚

After a bit more research, it turns out I should be using UV stabilised thread. So now that’s on order and looks like I’ll be back to the exterior sewing table next week!

So lots is happening here at Birdsong. I’ll try and write more next week.

Sowing and Reaping

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I’m shocked that this massive structure is in our yard! Shocked in a pleasant way, that is.

Back when Rick quit his engineering to become a market gardener, I really felt God was encouraging me to be generous. Not to think that because we’d just lost our secure income that we needed to be more stingy, but rather the opposite. Be generous. So we kept on giving, and just as the bible says, we’re reaping what we’ve sown. It’s amazing.

That picture above, is the new solar bore pump setup. Rick’s mate Randall, an electrician from Charleville, came up for the week especially to install this for us. Rick had done some engineering work for him, and in return he spent a whole week here working on the trenches and everything else associated with getting this irrigation setup established. I think we were more blessed by his help than he was by ours!

Normally we don’t really have much space for guests, as any of Rick’s siblings who have stayed here (and experienced a mattress on the lounge room floor!) could tell you. But now, thanks to my cousin Steve and his wife Lizzy, we have their caravan parked here indefinitely as a spare room. So Randall had a real bed while staying here for the week. The caravan- another blessing.

Randall has brought his trencher here, but it was still a bit slow with the amount of work they had to achieve, so our neighbours, Paul and Julie (who own Toowoomba Trenching) loaned us their excavator! They have been so generous to us, also loaning us their grader a while back to prepare our paddock for the market garden.

We’ve been really blessed by all this rain too. Drought is such an everyday part of Australian farm life it seems, but the year we start this garden, we have regular and beautiful rain!

We’ve also had help. Starting a business, especially a business in which there’s not income for quite some some, means we can’t hire help…we can’t even pay ourselves yet! But sometimes Rick needs help getting structures built etc. So it was amazing when his friend Dave offered to help now and then and all he wants in exchange is some produce from the garden!

Rick’s mum has helped us out taking trailer loads of debris away to the dump for us.

And then we’ve also had help getting the equipment we need from Rick’s dad. All these things people have done for us have made it possible for Birdsong to become a reality. So thank you to those who have helped, and I hope this post is an encouragement to everyone that God really means it when He says you’ll reap what you sow. If you give into people’s lives, you will be given to yourself ๐Ÿ™‚

Birdsong Bees

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The moment we’d long been waiting for- the arrival of the bees! Even if we weren’t starting a market garden, and even if we didn’t want lots of bees to pollinate our crops…we use a LOT of honey, and had been considering beekeeping for a long time.

Late last year we met Stan and his wife Liz, who showed us their hives in their back yard in town. From there I started going to Southern Beekeeper’s meetings with our older daughters (I don’t advise taking children…they get too sleepy there!).

Now finally, months later, we have a nucleus of bees in the Warre hive that Rick built himself. If you’re wondering why our hive looks different to your regular hives, that’s why. It’s a Warre hive. Warre was a bee-obsessed Frenchman who experimented with 350 different hive designs/variations apparently. The hive we built is the final design he settled on. Using his hives is a form of natural beekeeping, a less invasive approach than using standard techniques with a Langstroth hive.

Nev Hunt from Southern Beekeepers kindly supplied us with a nucleus of bees. It all happened rather suddenly in the end! We got the call Friday night to see if we could come and get the bees that weekend. We’d previously tried to catch a swarm by setting out the hives with a lemongrass essential oil blend in them (attracts bees) but we hadn’t caught anything. So it was a blessing to get this nuc from Nev. The drive home was exciting- we had a box of bees in the back of the Prado and they started escaping. The children sang out regular reports “One got out Dad!” and then “Now there’s two!” or “I found a third one out!” When you’ve got a 25 minute drive with 8 people in the car and bees on the loose….well, you can imagine the adrenaline!

So, pictured above is Rick preparing the top box of the Warre hive. We lined it with fine mesh and 100% linen fabric. This is to keep bees out of the lid, and keep the insulation (sawdust) in. Insulation is there for the same purpose as it is in the roof of your home-temperature regulation. Bees don’t like temperatire extremes, just like the rest of us.

And here’s the top box, lined and filled with dry sawdust, ready to go on the brood boxes.

And here’s Rick decked out in his new bee suit…beekeeping suit I should say (just so you know he’s not trying to dress up as a bee!). It will be interesting to see if he ends up needing to use it much. The Warre hive is said to create calmer bees, and therefore they may not cause a need to wear a suit to often. We’ll see.

Now what do those oils have to do with bees, you say?

Well, there’s this little pest called the Small Hive Beetle. I didn’t know if it would be much of an issue here, because at the Beekeeping meetings I noticed it’s AFB (American Foul Brood) that the members complain loudest about, not the hive beetle. But sure enough, after less than 24 hours of having bees in the box, along came some rogue hive beetles to crash the party. The reason they are a pest is that they lay their maggots in the honeycomb. I’ve never met anyone that enjoys the odd maggot in their honey. So most beekeepers seem to use traps etc to deal with the beetles. But Being an essential oil junkie, and having seen an article detailing the use of Wintergreen essential oil to repel the beetles…well, I couldn’t let the chance to test the theory pass me by. So what we have pictured is coconut oil, Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade Wintergreen essential oil and a cardboard diffuser pad (a coaster will work just the same). You mix one part Wintergreen with 16 parts carrier oil (coconut oil in my case) and then soak your coaster or diffuser pad in it. This then is placed above the frames in the hive to repel the unwanted beetles. Apparently it also repels varroa mites.

By the way, the bees transferred nicely into the new hive. Some died from the stress of the drive home (inevitable, I think) and another died after stinging Archie (in defense of the colony, of course). I’ll post more pics when I get them! Today, being almost non stop rain, was not such a great outdoor photography day!

Minerals, you say?

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IMG_0020So what’s all this talk about minerals? And produce being ‘mineral-rich?’ Isn’t it anyway? Well over the course of our lives we hadn’t thought a great deal about the quality of our food. But then a relative of ours loaned us a CD to listen to. It was a talk by Dr Joel Wallach called ‘The Best of ‘Dead Doctor’s Don’t Lie'” We listened attentively, as we drove out to Greenmount one sunny afternoon. It was shocking. Here was this man who’d grown up on a farm where cattle were supplemented to make sure they were getting all they needed, but the humans sure weren’t…and this man started to question human nutrition. He went on to become a vet, which is significant, because vets are trained differently, more thoroughly you could say, than GP’s. Vets need to know about multiple species, whereas a regular doctor focuses on one-humans.ย  Anyway, after something like 14,000 autopsies on a vast array of animals, Dr Wallach was noticing certain mineral deficiencies were linked to certain degenerative diseases. Actually, he became convinced that EVERY degenerative disease was a direct result of a mineral deficiency. What really got me was his rundown on copper deficiency.ย  First you’ll get premature greying of the hair…then varicose veins, then hemorrhoids, and if it gets depleted from your system enough…an aneurysm. Why it struck me, was because in the course of having 6 children, I’d developed those symptoms (minus the aneurysm) in just that order! But I had such a ‘healthy’ diet, so where was this copper deficiency coming from?

Before long a friend was excitedly informing me that a John Kohler was coming to town. He had been given 3 months to live back in the 70’s…yet there we were in 2015 and he was still very much alive. Why? He’d met a man, who later became his father-in-law, who taught him about the serious lack of minerals in the human diet, due to poor soil nutrition from our modern farming practices. This man also got John on a personalised mineral programย  to get his system back in order. I was intrigued, and went to listen to John tell his story. I tried a personalised mineral program too, but something didn’t seem right about having to take all these supplements when the food we eat should be supplying them. Why couldn’t farmers just look after their soil, quit the toxic chemicals and allow us to eat nutritious produce? John said his father-in-law had tried, in vain, to convince the USDA (whom he used to work for) that our farming practices were destroying the health of the populous. But they wouldn’t listen. Why?

Money. It’s just so profitable to get a farmer buying GMO seeds, that need replacing each year, and then to have them need a list of chemicals to keep these crops ‘healthy’ and ‘disease free’ so they’re salable.

But did you know that pests and disease don’t attack healthy plants? Just like a truly healthy human won’t attract sickness and disease, neither will a healthy plant. For example, one day when I was a little exasperated with the cabbage moth attacking our crop, I asked an experienced gardener friend what could be wrong. ‘Boron deficiency’ he replied. Ah, another mineral issue. But it’s not just a case of sprinkling the crop with boron. Minerals exist cooperatively. They work together and not alone. And they also need the help of microbes, which are like the digestive enzymes of the soil.

To get back to the story though, Rick and I decided we should try getting our minerals via our food. And farmers that sell crops grown both organically AND from remineralised, nurtured soil, are few and far between. So we (well, Rick actually did most the work!) started a vege plot on our property to grow these veg ourselves. We had the soil tested, according to the standards of William Albrecht, an authority on soil and it’s relation to human health. With those results, we set to work balancing our soil and preparing it for planting. About 250kg of minerals went into the soil, plus a lot of mulch, and we reaped a LOT of food that summer! I’ve always been a bit of a human guinea pig with things like this, and decided I’d quit my vitamin and mineral supplements (I was dealing with thyroid autoimmune disease and taking lots of natural supplements to help) and see what difference I saw in my health. For 3 months we ate loads of produce, picked fresh from the balanced garden. And yes, my health improved. One of my symptoms had been fatigue. I was drained fairly constantly, and often would go to bed soon after 7:30pm when the children did the same. But this produce was giving me energy. I was starting to feel alive again and managed to start staying up later!

As the months passed by, the desire to start a market garden and produce enough food to help many others as a living, became stronger and stronger in Rick. He felt like his electrical engineering job was a waste of time, when this wholesome gardening opportunity was before him. He spent hours and hours each week reading up on how to create a garden that would grow the food people really need. Healing food. Whole food. Food that’s just brimming with life.

And eventually, he took the plunge. He quit his engineering job and started creating Birdsong Market Garden. So, when we rave on about ‘mineral-rich’ food, I hope you will now have a slightly better idea why.

What’s in a Name?

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Birdsong Logo“What should we call our farm?” The question had been circling us for months. Ideas had come, and often quickly been dismissed. Nothing to that point had sounded as though it really encompassed what we were doing. I had been impressed with ‘Singing Frogs Farm,’ the name of a similar farm in the USA. Though the name didn’t directly say what they were selling or what they were about, the name did create a mental image of a place where there is balance, health and biodiversity. All qualities that we’re all about here on our farm.

Rick is an avid reader, and also a tireless learner. His latest book at that point, Secrets of the Soil, had a chapter on ‘sonic bloom.’ I’d never heard of it, but the concept of the birds song and involvement in an ecosystem actively benefiting the plants made perfect sense to me. Because everything is connected, so of course that beautiful morning chorus the birds deliver could be doing more than just making a pretty sound to wake up to. And of course even the beating wings causing certain air currents over the plants could be a beneficial part of the plants health.

“Plants, says Steiner, can only be understood when considered in connection with all that is circling, weaving and living around them.” Secrets of the Soil, p. 129

“Birdsong Market Garden!” I enthusiastically suggested to Rick. When I hear that name, I see a place that’s alive, that’s thriving and peaceful and vibrant with colour. A place filled with nutrient dense vegetables. We quickly asked some friends and family their honest opinion on the name, and every single response was affirmative. Birdsong it was.

With the knowledge of the birds importance in our lives, we’ve been planting extra trees, especially of the leptospermum species, to encourage more of our feathered friends to abide here. We’re already blessed to hear a lovely array of birds in song each morning as we wake…accompanied by the odd rooster crowing! But now we look forward to even greater variety…coming soon.