Moving to a new country means discovering new creatures in your back yard.  This is the place to talk about the wild things in your garden: what are they, and how do they help or hinder your gardening.

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Charlie from Tokoroa is having trouble with rabbits eating their garden.  Rabbits particularly like greens, but don't eat potatoes, tomato and garlic.  Some possible solutions include:

* a low electric fence around the vegetable garden

* a tin fence around the garden: because the rabbits dig, it needs to go down 10 cm below the soil, and bend it outwards.

Clare from Green Footprint recommends the rabbit repellent recipe on page 6 of this newsletter:   

Use a trigger spray bottle to apply it.

For a photograph and more information about rabbit control see the Waikato Regional Council web site.

The Birds and the Berries

They are predicting strawberry shortages this Christmas, but in my garden I'm seeing some particularly large ones this year.  Fortunately I have plenty, as the birds love them too: the birds are also loving the currents, raspberries and soon will be helping themselves to the blueberries as well.

Aside from growing enough for yourself and the birds, covering the plants using hoops and netting is a common approach.  I've recycled a folding food cover (50c from an opp shop) to cover strawberries when they start colouring up: it works well.

I sometimes harvest raspberries slightly under-ripe - ie still too sour for the birds to be interested.  The berries soon ripen up on the kitchen bench.

As with other purple and red fruit and veg, the berries are rich in cancer-fighting anti-oxidants.

I'm looking forward to home grown mixed berries with pavlova for dessert on Christmas day: the sourness of the currents works really well with the sweetness of the pav.  Yum!


At our compost workshop I mentioned that hedgehogs sometimes spend winter sleeping in compost heaps.  (We even found one snoozing under our lawnmower in our shed!)  What is a hedgehog?  They are a prickly mammal that are active at night (nocturnal). They will curl into a ball if they are frightened.  There is a photograph and information about hedgehogs on the NZ Department of Conservation web site under an A-Z of Pests.

Hedgehogs were introduced from Britain.  Many NZ gardeners like them because they eat slugs and snails, but they also eat bird eggs and compete with native animals for food.

Picture of a hegehog

Practical Bee Keeping Course

Bees are important pollinators in our gardens - without them many of our crops would not have fruit.  They also produce honey.  If you have flowers in your garden all year round you might consider keeping your own bees. 

Hamilton's Fraser High School  is offering a practical bee keeping course instructed by Marcia Meehan. Course dates: 7pm – 9pm Monday 27 February 2012 (for 6 weeks)

Costs and full details:

It is NZ National Bee Week  - 2-24 August 2012

We need bees: they pollinate 2/3 of our food crops. 

The NZ National Beekeepers' Association is calling on gardeners to help our honey bees:

  • Avoid using insecticide sprays (sprays that kill insects, including bees)
  • Plant flowering plants that bees like - try to have something flowering in your garden all year
  • Provide water - a saucer of water with a small stone or twig for them to stand on is perfect  (change the water regularly to avoid breeding mosquitoes)
  • If you see a swarm of bees (a large group of bees not in a bee hive) contact a local bee keeper so someone can collect it - photos of swarms & the Waikato contacts here.

Plants that feed bees and us include:

  • Rosaceae – all stone fruits (peach, plum...) and pip fruits (apples, pears, quince...), blackberry, hawthorn
  • Lamiaceae – rosemary, lavender, sage, thyme, mint, basil
  • Brassicaceae - brassicas (cabbage, broccoli...)
  • Asteraceae – dandelion, sunflower
  • Rutaceae – citrus (lemon, orange, mandarin, lime, tangelo, grapefruit...)

Did you know

  • That bees particularly like the colour blue?  Many white flowers are pollinated (fertilised) by moths - white is easier to see at night.
  • Bees have been kept in NZ for 150 years
  • Bees will fly 2-3 km to visit flowers.


The Waikato Domestic Beekeepers Association is based in Hamilton and meets once a month: you don't have to be keeping bees to go along and learn!


Photo: Bee feeding on citrus. (Photo courtesy


Pigeon & Poultry Club Garage Sale

Some of you were interested in keeping chickens to help you in the garden.  The Pigeon & Poultry Club will be selling some birds as part of their fundraising garage sale.  The birds will be mostly pure-bred heritage breeds and are likely to cost at least $30 each. 

When: Saturday 25 February 2012 from 8:30 am

Where: Frankton Railway Hall, Pukeko Street, Hamilton.

They are fundraising for their national show which will be held in Hamilton later this year. 

(Photo: Stephanie's chickens)

Bees & Wasps

We are very lucky to have very few creatures in New Zealand that will hurt you.  Pecked fruit attracts bees and wasps which can sting if they feel threatened. For most people this means only pain followed by some swelling around the sting site and itching that stops after a day or two. Bees may leave their stinger in your skin: carefully scrape this out.  Putting a cold cloth on the skin can help relieve the pain, some people say putting a little vinegar on the wound also helps.


A few people (3.3%) become allergic to the stings, swelling up so much they have trouble breathing. If you see this happening, call an ambulance by telephoning 111: allergic reactions can be fatal if they are not treated quickly.


Only about two people every three years die from wasp or bee stings in New Zealand — this is a similar rate to deaths from lightning strikes!  Some of these are a result of disturbing a nest, where the person is stung many times.  Each year in New Zealand up to 80 children are put in hospital  as a result of insect stings. There is more information about first aid here:  

Bees are important pollinators, so are useful in the garden.

Photos: top - Wasp on nettle, middle - honey bee on borage, bottom - bumble bee on broad beans.

Paper wasp nest on a blueberry bush.

At different times of the year they collect nectar (sugar) or protein such as caterpillars.

Some wasps will rob honey bee hives for both honey and grubs.

NZ Insects

There is a useful guide to NZ soil insects with photographs on Massey University's web site: 

Another Bug ID site

Photo: Passion vine hopper, (adult).  This bug sucks the sap from your plants, making them weak. 


Landcare Research has a What is this bug? web site to help you identify common NZ insects.

Back yard chickens

Chicken’s are like WWOOFers that cluck: they can turn your compost, do pest control, pull and eat weeds, make fertiliser and eggs.

Last week I got to look after my neighbour's hens. 

I found it gave me extra motivation to get out in the garden with my headlamp after work, harvesting slugs, snails and weeds for the chickens to eat. 

The chickens turned them into manure for our compost heap and into eggs. We were getting 3-4 very fresh eggs per day – yum!  

Learn how to keep chickens at our workshop.

Chicken vocabulary

A female chicken is called a hen, male is a rooster.  Both are sometimes called 'chooks' (slang). 

A layer hen is not a hen that lies about all day (is lazy): it is a hen bred to lay eggs (which is done when it sits on its nest).

And no, a chicken does not have to 'get laid' (slang) to lay eggs, (no need for a rooster).

A chicken bred for its meat is a broiler.

Chickens live in a hen house, also called a coop.

Animal noises: A chicken clucks, a dog woofs.

Photos: Right - chicken eggs. Left - Chicken tractor (a type of coop), Sustainable Backyard Garden, Hamilton Gardens.



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