Town and Country: In almost every aspect - could do better

Could do better. It's a comment that blighted my report card all the years I was at school, even on one rare occasion when I topped the class. And I still feel the burden almost half a century on.

Take the garden, for example. We've got loads of silver beet and broad beans. The rhubarb is coming on nicely, and so are the potatoes. The gooseberry and currant bushes are laden (I credit my bees with some of that) and there are apples and pears on the trees. But the wood pigeons are feasting on the plum trees - first blossom, now leaves and soon fruit - and I know the birds will get first pick at the berries (they ripen over Christmas when we are not home much) while the possums grab the apples.

I should build a cage to go over the berries and work out a way to protect the fruit trees from aerial and ground attack. Gardening: Could do better.

Then there are the hens. They're running wild, hatching out chicks willy-nilly and attacking the silver beet with gusto. The chicks, meanwhile, are being decimated by attack and accident. They fall into holes, drown in drinking troughs (while ignoring the shallow water containers specially put out for them) and get eaten by predators such as wild cats, rats or ferrets.

I should build a proper hen run and lock them in at night, gather the eggs and only let them breed when I want them to. Poultry-keeping: Could do better.

The sheep are another blot on my copybook. At this time of year when there's plenty of grass, they go slightly feral, hiding in the bush and running away from me as fast as they can. It's quite a contrast in the winter, when they queue beside the house and wait for me to feed them in the morning.

I need to control the flock properly and keep them out of the bush except during snowstorms. When they are used to me they are so much easier to manage at shearing time, which is coming up. I also have a better idea of how they are doing when I can just walk quietly through the flock watching them. Shepherding: Could do better.

As for the bees, I'm such a beginner that I don't even know how I'm doing. So far all the hives seem healthy and strong, and they're making honey whenever the weather lets them out to fly. I've done a disease check and found nothing amiss.

But I should be making and painting more boxes for the fast-growing hives, and assembling frames for the bees to fill with honey. I need to weed-eat around the hives. And I have a lot of learning to do about queen bees and (hopefully) harvesting honey. Beekeeping: Could do better.



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