Friday, 16 December 2016

Making a Christmas Wreath out of paper doileys!

I like to hang a wreath on the front door at Christmas time! I usually "redecorate" the same wreath base over and over each year depending on my Christmas colours... actually depending on my mood and inclination - actually, really, depending on how much time I have!

I had seen in a library book somewhere, sometime (when it wasn't anywhere near Christmas) a wreath made of paper doilies and had photocopied it thinking I was super organised for Christmas. Of course when I got out my instructions last week, I discovered that I had very neatly copied the picture but only half the instructions!

Not being in possession of a photographic memory (unless I am having a fight with my husband) I had a quick look around the internet and then decided it really wasn't that hard to do without them!

All you need is one of those wire wreath bases (I got mine from Spotlight for about $7), a set of battery powered lights with batteries included ($3 from Big W plus batteries), about 40-50 doilies ($2 a packet from a $2 shop) and a stapler.

Here's what I did...

First wire up the wreath base with the set of lights so that the lights are spaced evenly around the circle and are all facing the front. Don't worry too much about the battery case, we will attach that later. Put the batteries in and test the string before you start. It would be awful to go to all the trouble of making this to discover the string was broken at the end...

Then shape your doilies into quarters so that they make a "flower shape" with a point at the bottom and then thread the point into the outer rings of the wreath and fold it over. I sticky taped the first few but it didn't hold and so I had to wrangle to stapler into the wreath to staple them in place. Keep going around the outside until you have gone all the way around.

The lights need to stay on the top all the time so that when the wreath is complete they are still on the top! I also discovered that if you fold the doilies "unevenly" that is so you have three or four layers of visible lacy bits it looks much better than if you fold it precisely into quarters. I was looking for a more rustic loose look than a evenly spaced factory feel.

Once you have a row around the outside, place another row on the inside, still keeping the lights on top. It pays to know how many lights are on that string so you don't lose any and have to pull half of the wreath apart to get at it later.

I was using different sized and coloured doilies as I seemed to have a lot of them (hence when I saw it, I thought it was a great way to justify my paper doily collection!) So I put the 4 larger ones at the top, bottom and sides and filled in the gaps with the medium ones. My smaller ones were white and so I decided to just use them in the middle and make a contrasting middle layer around the white lights.

Because I find the "rustic handmade look" attractive (and its construction so much more forgiving) I tend to milk it for all its worth. So I don't put any thing on in a uniform manner. I tend to put things on unevenly both around the edges and from the centre. I think it adds to the charm of the handmade product!

Sorry, this photo wont flip for some technical reason... So now I have a wreath with an outside and an inside ring of doilies. This is the time to fill any gaps or even up anything you aren't happy with. Also a good time to count the lights and make sure they are all facing up. Now is also a good time to add any extra staples as once you start on the centre row, its really, really hard to go back and fix anything. The doilies will feel floppy and will move around a lot but once its on the wall they don't move. I have had vague thoughts about how hard this is going to be to store for next year but I chased them out of my head with a tipple and a few Christmas carols!

Next I added the smallest doily's to the center of the wreath over the top of each light bulb. I popped a very small hole in the centre-ish of each doily and then eased it over the bulb. It wont stay there as the doily is under pressure from all the other doilies but we will fix them next.

This is another good time to add or remove any doilies to get the look that you want. I thought my doilies were all white until I put them together. It might pay to put all your sizes together before you start and check so you can make a pattern and decide before you start.

I had to turn on the lights to check the effect! As soon as I started moving it I realised how delicate and floppy this creation is. I figure its going to hand on a wall and probably not have to survive a hurricane so I went with it.

It was obvious to me that the little doily's weren't going to stay on the lights and a quick consultation with the husband and I had all the bits I needed to cut up the box the lights came in to put around the lights as a holder. Because these are LED lights, they are ok with paper. Don't use old fashioned Christmas lights that have any heat in them, they might set your wreath on fire!

I cut squares out of the plastic box that the lights came in and then ended up cutting them into rough circles. Then if you make a small X in the centre with a craft knife you can ease them gently over the light and they hold themselves on. You can barely see them on the finished wreath.


Once I had all the lights fitted with their plastic collars, I wedged the battery box into a loop of the wire and chose that as the bottom. The weight of two AAA batteries is negligible but as I discovered its much easier to turn it on and off if the battery switch is where you can reach it!

I decided that this wreath was a bit too delicate for the front door in the end and put it against a big mirror we have in the hallway as you walk in the front door. This had the effect of doubling the effect of the ruffles and making it look even fuller and more luscious than I had imagined!

The stained glass doves were a wedding present and have always been there as with the heart. They fitted nicely into the overall effect and so I left them there. I have just put a loop of ribbon onto the top of the wrath and hung it from the nail that the doves hang from. I turn the lights on in the evening and try to remember to turn them off when I go to bed - or work in the morning.

Its really pretty at night and I really love this wreath despite the fact that it will probably disintegrate in storage over the next year. I think it was well worth the effort and time it took to make.

Once you have the idea in your head, there are lots of variations to be made. You could colour the doily's or buy coloured ones. You could spray glitter on it, use coloured lights or try adding lacy cupcake holders. You could use crêpe paper or source some other types of doily's not stocked at my local $2 shop.

Have you made one of these? Pop a link to it or one that you have seen and love in the comments section - I'd love to see it! K x

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 Much greener to make your own than to buy (but then all the parts were made in China and were shipped here - I just assembled them. Hmmm... maybe not as green as I originally thought...)
 Frugal-ness: 3/5 All up it would have cost under $20 to make if I had to buy all the bits. It would have cost $40 to $50 if I had bought it at the shops already made if I could find one! 
Time cost: About an hour - and most of that was working it out without the instructions!
Skill level: Stapling and patience (No problems with the stapling. I had a bit of trouble with the patience :))
Fun-ness: It was so much fun to see the family's faces as they arrived home and saw this lighting up the hallway. And even more fun to answer the question, "Where did you get that?" with "I made it!".

Friday, 9 December 2016

How do I know if my chickens are eating their eggs?

Sometimes, eggs just disappear...

You know you saw some in the nest when you fed the chooks first thing and then, when you go to collect the eggs and lock the chookies up for the night, some or all of your eggs have simply vanished!

Its so incredibly frustrating... The more often you collect the eggs, the more chance you have of getting them no matter why they are disappearing though. Collecting the eggs as often as you can may also help you figure out who the culprit is - one of the chooks or un unwelcome guest.

I have got the fright of my life as a big black crow flew out of the nesting box when I opened it one time and chased a scrub turkey out of the sleeping part of the coop - she was on her way into the nesting box to eat the eggs when I finally spotted the right culprit.

So there is a chance that snakes, rats, crows, turkeys, your dog or some other yet to be identified animal is eating the eggs - not one of your chooks.  It can take a while to figure out who the egg eater is - but the method of stopping them is the same!

Here's what I did...

Simply fill the nest with fake eggs or hard egg like objects, like fake eggs or even golf balls!!

I find that its a reward for effort activity. If the predator, be that your darling chicken or a big black crow, pecks a few times and is rewarded with a lovely gooey, high protein, nutritious and yummy snack, then they will be popping in every time they are hungry to try their luck. If they peck around a bit (or a lot) and just bend their beak on a golf ball or plastic/wooden egg - then its not much fun and they soon give up.

You can order these eggs on line easily or pick them up from your local produce place for a dollar or so each. It just needs to be round, egg sized, white-ish and HARD. Old golf balls are ideal. Don't use a polystyrene ball. The chickens will peck at it, discover it comes apart and simply peck and eat it. They seem to love polystyrene and I'm sure its not good for them - even without a degree in Vet-ology!

You will easily be able to tell which are the fake eggs and which are the real ones when you go to collect them but for some reason, the predators simply cant! Works for me! Mine are so old and discoloured now that I'm sure every time I pull them out that they wont fall for it - but they do!

My biggest issue with this trick is that I have a couple of chooks that seem to go broody when they see more than two eggs together. When they come in to lay and find a nest full of egg like objects, they lay their egg and then proceed to sit on "their" clutch with determination and not only will they not move, but they wont lay any more eggs for ages as they think in 21 days they will be a Mumma chook. We have two pens and when one goes broody we pop her in the other pen to keep her away from the nest. It also gives her something else to think about as she will have to argue for a position in the pecking order of that pen. Our flock free ranges together but sleep separately so they have two pecking orders - one within their pen and the other for when they are all out together.

If you don't have two pens, maybe just leave her out in the garden during the day and pop her in a box during the night as a brood breaking option. A guinea pig cage is also a good temporary pen. It doesn't really matter where she is as long as she cant get to the nest and has food and water. She wont be happy and will certainly let you know!

If you catch the brood early enough it should only take a few days to break. If she has been broody for a week or so, I often find I cant break the brood, but pull them off the nest to eat and drink whenever I think about it so they don't lose to much condition and come back on the lay again sooner. Laying is the sign of a healthy happy chook. I always watch the ones not laying closely.

If you filled the nest with fake eggs, you should find that after a few days the visitor that's eating the eggs will give up if they have no success getting a snack when they come for an egg. Raiding a nest is a high risk activity and it needs a big reward to make it worth it for a non chook predator such as a crow, dog or rat. I have heard of people stuffing a hard boiled egg full of chili powder to make sure its not a pleasurable experience, but I'd be worried about my chookies getting a beak (or bum) full, so I haven't tried it. Let me know if you have and what happened.

You could move the nest completely... but chookies are creatures of habit and will go back to lay in the same spot unless you go to great lengths to make it very uncomfortable to sit in... and even then, that might not stop them. I also find that the predators are pretty smart and if they can see the new nest they will raid the new one as often as they raided the old one.

Try putting up a curtain over the door. A chookie desperate to lay will eventually learn to push past the curtain. It might be enough to deter a crow but probably not a rat...

At some point it pays to turn the pen, coop and garden upside down - you may find a hidden nest. This happens to me a lot. I am convinced that someone is stealing the eggs as I can hear the egg laying cluck song thing happening all day but when I go to get the eggs, I find two eggs out of twelve chooks, day after day. And then one day, I'm weeding, and there it is - 32 eggs hidden under a pile of branches... half of them rotten in the hot summer sun!

If you are SURE its not a rat, cat, dog, snake, crow, child, neighbour or some other dastardly creature, it may in fact be your chickens that are eating the eggs. I don't know why some chicken eat their eggs but I suspect its partly because chooks peck at all sorts of things just to see what it is and when they find a delicious egg yolk - they just keep coming back for more.

I suspect it could be also a calcium deficiency. Have you got a chook laying thin shelled eggs? That chook maybe your egg eater...  Make sure they have got some grit and supplement them with high calcium bits and bobs and see if that helps. A moulting chook will also need more calcium to regrow all those feathers and build up the calcium reserve through her body so she can lay again after the moult.
  • Green salad leaves (Kale, Silver beet, bok choy)
  • Green veges (broccoli, okra, beans)
  • Dairy (yogurt, cheese, milk. If you are ok with feeding your chooks this type of food. Mine love it)
  • some nuts (crush into their daily seed or they will try and choke down a whole almond) 
  • Fish - with the bones in are all high in calcium.
It could be boredom. A bored chook is looking for something rewarding to do... Try a few chook boredom busting ideas like -
  • Getting a cabbage or a handful of silver beet leaves and hang them just above head height so they have to jump to get at them. Good exercise as well as giving them something to do.
  • Move things around in the pen or add new things like a log, a tunnel, a few buckets Just something new to look at and jump on top of might do it. 
  • Put some seed in one of those dog ball things and watch them chase it around.
  • Dig a hole with a spade in the pen and let them start scratching around in and around it.
  • Pop in some dirt or compost or garden rakings, sprinkle a bit of grain on the top and let them scratch through it looking to see what's in there.
  • Grow some clucker tucker in the pen.
  • Put some bigger branches in so they have new places to preen or explore.
  • Tree pruning's often have bugs to chase. Pop them in pile and let the chooks dismantle it.
It could be that they are on the bottom of the pecking order and aren't getting enough food - so the eggs are all they are able to get as they are in the nest by themselves. Try having a number of feeding stations/bowls or sprinkling at least part of the feed around the far flung corners of the pen so they all have the opportunity to get some. The bossy chooks will always get the first lot of feed and all the best bits and will leave the not so special bits for the lower echelons. That's the pecking order in action. If I'm really worried one of my bottom chookies aren't getting enough food, I might let the others out in the afternoon (the boss chooks will be at the front of the group as they exit) and then close the gate and lock the bottom order chooks in the pen with a bit of seed just for them. Drives the big boss chooks nuts but it makes sure I know the lower ranked chooks are getting enough food.

Some people advocate for culling egg eating chickens, but so far, I've managed to turn all of mine away from a constant egg eating regime using all these tactics depending on who I think is eating the eggs and why.

If you have has success in figuring out who is eating your chicken eggs and managed to stop them - share your story with us in the comment section!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for having chooks and not supporting the cage egg industry! 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for finding a cheap way to get all the eggs you can!
Time cost: A few days of observation...
Skill level: Basic egg shape object selection skills :)
Fun-ness: great fun getting to the bottom of the case of the disappearing eggs!!







Friday, 2 December 2016

Making your own tea bags from coffee filters at home!

I have been making flavoured black teas for a while and for Christmas I wanted to give some away as gifts. While I like the ritual of boiling the kettle, getting out all the tea paraphernalia and concocting my brew to suit my mood, I realise that not all my friends and family like to go to that much trouble.

They prefer the speed and conveyance of the tea bag - so taking the path of least resistance I decided to have a go at making my own tea bags - especially for them - as I very rarely use them!

Its a bit complicated, fiddly and hard to explain but read through the whole post so you can see how each step leads to the end product... Once you get it though, you've got it!

Here's what I did...

I bought these at the local supermarket for about $2.50 Each filter made one bag so if you know how many bags you want to make you'll know how many filter packs to buy! I only had a choice of this packet or nothing so I thought I'd bring it home and experiment.

I wanted to get as much bag for my buck as possible but I couldn't get more than two reasonable bag out of each coffee filter. You can get three or four - but by Gum, they are small... (and very fiddley)

Start by cutting the coffee filters end off, leaving you a strip of about 8cm.

Open up the filter and fold in half the other way, leaving you with a cross fold in the middle of the filter.

 Cut the filter in half making two teabag bases.

Fold the two unjoined edges over once (or twice if you can manage it) This is to stop the tea falling out at a later stage.

Fold the bags in half. I folded then in exact half even though they have a rounded top and also, as below, to even out the bags and give them a straight edge. Once I got the hang of it I stopped cutting off the end and used the rounded edge on the inside of the fold later.

I discovered it didn't matter to me if I cut the ends off straight or not. I had a bit more fiddle room if I didn't but the end product isn't as neat. Experiment. See what you think!

It was quicker to go into mass production (80 or so bags) and get into a rhythm than to make each bag individually.
Once you have cut all your tea bags and folded them, make the tags. Its a pain to have made a beautiful teabag but be unable to seal it because you have no string tag. Its much quicker and easier to make the string tags first than to add the tag to the string later!
I measured a string on a commercial teabag (about 12cm) and added "a bit" for the part that's tucked inside the tag and inside the bag. I cut rectangles of coloured paper that corresponded to my flavours (Green for Irish cream, orange for almond, cream for cookies and cream!) using the "that's looks about right" method of measuring.

Once you have all your tea bags cut and folded and all your strings tagged you can start your tea bag production line!
Place a teaspoon of your home flavoured tea in the center of the pre-folded bag.

Spread it out into two piles so that when you fold the bag in half the tea doesn't bunch at the bottom to much making it much harder to do.

Fold the bag in half lengthways and pull over the side bit you pre-folded before

And then fold over again to seal the tea inside. Some tea bag makers moved the join fold to the center of the bag. I found this a fiddley extra step but it did make for a neater more professional looking bag (I like the "rustic handmade look" - its easier to palm my laziness off as the "charm" of the handmade product than to admit making 80 tea bags was a mammoth task!)

Now fold the bag in half. Either to the beginning of the curve or right to the top. You can now see the teabag starting to really take shape! It should fold quite easily if the tea is separated about where you want to fold it.

As I said before, I stopped doing this step and took the edge further as once you fold the top over you cant see the curved bit as its on the inside. I gave me just a little bit more wiggle room.

Cut the end off if you have the time and patience and dexterous fingers!

Fold one corner down and place the string tag into the fold.

Fold the other half over to make a triangle top. If you haven't cut the curved piece off, make sure that you are folding it to the inside and that the two long folds you made back at the beginning are on the inside of the bag to stop the tea falling out. If you get to this stage and go "Darn, I've got it back to front," Just unfold it all, tip out the tea, turn your bag over and start again. Once you've made a few you'll understand how each step works and why.

Flip the bag over and use a staple to keep the bag closed and the string in. I put the staple on the "nice" side just for neatness sake - It will make no difference to the cup of tea once its made. I'm ok with a stainless steel staple as I figure I'm using a stainless steel spoon in my tea anyway. If the staple has rust or is made from something else, I wouldn't be so keen...

Pull your string around the bag and tuck the tag in and Voila! A rustic, unbleached, home made tea bag with your very own hand flavoured tea inside!

Score card:
Green-ness: ?/5 Again not sure about how green this is - what do you think? Its always greener to use less things so a pot of tea is probably a lot greener...? 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 Much much cheaper than buying flavoured tea bags from the shops! The parts are all cheap or free if you have them in the pantry or in the craft cupboard already
Time cost: Hmmm... More than you think... To make a single bag (with already flavoured tea on hand) would be about 3 minutes. To make 80 took a few hours one afternoon to cut and fold, another few hours one morning to make all the strings and few hours another morning to fill and staple closed. It took about three minutes to pop them in the containers I had made!
Skill level: Not so much skill as patience and dedication. And time... Lots of it!
Fun-ness: Really, really good to sit back and survey the finished products - and to try your own home made tea bag!
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