Spring in the Garden

Spring in the Garden

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Moulting has begun

Just a quick update as I am up to my neck in writing Christmas cards, trying to make the house presentable for visitors tomorrow and making sure I'm ready for work in a couple of hours.

Last week we started to notice that Betsy the blonde was looking a bit shabby and pale as if she'd overdone the peroxide. We also started to notice a lot of feathers in the run as if a fox had made the chooks run around in a panic. Eventually we worked out that Betsy is moulting, which also explains why she seems to have gone off lay.

We think Robin has also started to moult, although she is still laying her distinctive small, speckled egg each day so far.

If I have the time and the sun shines this weekend I shall try to take a photo or two to post up here.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

. . . and a while longer

Life continues fairly hectic at the moment, what with work and worries about my mother-in-law. However, we hope things will settle down where she is concerned, for the time being, at least. I continue to hope for 'normality' and the chance to settle into something of a regular routine.

Needless to say, I've not done much in the garden lately, but the tomatoes I raised from seed earlier in the year and planted on the front doorstep are still doing well. It is a sunny spot and I planted them in a larger than usual grow bag, with collars to provide extra compost and moisture.

Hubby and I managed to see Joan Baez in Brighton last night, which was a wonderful and uplifting experience. There was something of a hill-billy sound to many of the songs, with fiddles and banjos being played by her band and some wonderful old-time acapella singing, too.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

It's been a while

Someone asked if I was OK as I haven't been blogging lately and I notice a few people are still checking to see if I've had anything to say. Well, in case you are wondering, let me assure you that I'm fine. Life is good and I've been quite busy, that's all. I am meaning to tell you about some of what I've been up to and write a bit about our garden and chickens soon. I will try to write a little more in the next week, but we have invited quite a few people to a party in just over a week, so there is a lot to do.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Beans and peas

As I was saying, things are growing quite well in the garden at the moment.

The broad beans are nearly over now, with just a few pods left to pick. They were a bit disappointing as we've only had one decent meal from them. Partly the rows are shorter than last year because this year's bed is smaller, but also there were a few gaps in the rows and I didn't plant any spares. The pods weren't all full, either, which may mean their weren't enough bees about to pollinate all the flowers earlier in the year.

Hubby's runner beans got off to a slow start, but now seem to be doing nicely.

His peas are looking good, too, although the second row isn't coming along too well, possibly because they are shaded by the first row, and now the ash is in full leaf it is shading that bed quite a lot.
I've also planted two different varieties of French bean, which haven't been in long, but look OK so far.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Who set the hens off?

I happened to have the camera handy when the chickens started this noise the other day. I guess something startled them, but I'm not entirely sure. Whatever the reason, it struck me as rather amusing.

I'll have to remember not to say anything when making videos in future.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The last of my Spring cabbages

Things are growing quite well in the garden at the moment. I just harvested the last of my pointed cabbages, which had been attacked a bit by a couple of slugs and some tiny green maggoty things. However, this was the worst one, most of the others only showed slug and snail damage on the outer leaves, which we don't eat.

I had covered them over with a small fleece tunnel, which successfully kept the pigeons and caterpillars off.

Also copper rings kept the slugs and snails off until the plants got bigger and the leaves flopped over the rings.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Chickens sharing

Chickens love to share . . .

. . . what other chickens have.

If you have four minutes to spare, sit back and enjoy the relaxing sight and sound of chickens enjoying some cabbage leaves. If you listen carefully you will hear some birdsong in the background, too. The voices are mainly from the neighbours, except the obvious absent-minded outburst.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Flowers for bees and other insects

A little while ago I promised to add some pictures of flowers that attract bees and butterflies etc, but I never found the time. However, I have now taken some photos and I now have the time to post them. Click on a photo if you want a closer look.

This prostrate rosemary is in flower very early in the Spring, and possibly even in February, and it continues flowering into the Summer.

Columbines (Aquilegia) are an old cottage garden favourite and grow where many flowers would not. They don't need it too wet and don't mind some shade.

This bee was clearly enjoying the thrift.

Thyme is also popular with bees and butterflies

as are the flowers on chives.

These little rock roses also attract nectar-loving insects.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009


One home-grown crop I've been enjoying for several weeks is lettuce, although I did buy the initial 8 Little Gem plants as seedlings.

In fact, this photo taken at the end of April shows just one lettuce missing. There is only one left in that tub now, although I have planted four more Little Gem type seedlings I raised myself. The copper-felt mat underneath does seem to deter slugs and snails so long as I don't let the grass get too long, or the lettuce leaves don't hang down. I'm also trying rooibos tea leaves as an added deterrent.

All these have now gone, too, and have been replaced by Romana type seedlings, which I also grew myself. Thankfully it was only the outer leaves that had holes in, and the chickens didn't care, they loved those, while we ate the nice bits inside. However, it does mean I need a copper mat or something to stop the slugs and snails climbing up as the wool alone doesn 't stop them, especially once the lettuces cover it over.

I'm currently working my way through these butter-head lettuces, which have got quite big now, so just the thinnings provide a lot of lettuce. I'm leaving a few to heart up, hopefully.

Monday, 18 May 2009

My First Strawberry

This morning I ate my first strawberry for breakfast. It is the first of the strawberries we are growing this year and one of the Honeoye strawberries I am growing under my blueberries. It is also the first strawberry I have ever grown. It tasted delicious; sweet but also distinctly strawberry flavoured.

Unfortunately I didn't think to take a photo before eating it, but here is how the strawberries were looking a couple of weeks ago.

If you are interested I have posted about the Hampshire Green Fair here, on my Green and Generous blog, as it's not got a lot to do with gardening.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Fox 'attack'

I was eating breakfast this morning when I saw a fox come through the hedge and go straight to the hen coop. The chickens were safe inside, but they ran around frantically flapping, feathers flying everywhere. Of course I ran out shouting at the fox, and it looked for an exit, couldn't find one and jumped over the netting fence around the coop and up the garden. Our chickens remained nervous for some while afterwards.

We now realise this must have been what happened last Wednesday. No one had checked on the chooks all day, and when I went to have a look at them in the evening there were a lot of feathers in one corner and others scattered inside the run. I thought some feather pecking or other aggressive behaviour had taken place, which did seem out of character, but we thought they must have been bored or hungry. Now it is clear that Mr Fox (or his mate) must have shown an interest in them and put them in a blind panic.

This evening I saw the fox again, coming down the top of the garden, so I went out to scare him away.

We're wondering if we might need to invest in some electric fencing as that is meant to keep foxes out very well, although if he's around the edge of that the chickens might still panic.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

A busy weekend

Hubby and I went to the Hampshire Green Fair this afternoon and we had a good time. I'll write more about it in a day or two, with any luck, and will answer any outstanding questions at the same time. Yesterday I was working and then it was our daughter's birthday party so I whizzed round doing last minute cleaning and finishing her cake and then hubby and I went out to dinner, which was a nice change. We were home before ten, but there was no chance of sleeping until after midnight, when the last of our daughter's guests went home.

We therefore had a late start to the day, but I popped a few lettuce seedlings in the planters I'm using to grow lettuce, and added some nasturtiums to the planter with tomatoes, as well as doing a couple of loads of washing to take advantage of the sunshine. We had to stay home until one o'clock as we needed to take daughter and niece to the station, as daughter was accompanying her younger cousin across London and onto her train home.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The Rockery

I'm not sure if it's actually a rockery, but as it is on a slope and has rocks in it, that's what we call it. It had got very overgrown and looked rather sad, so last year hubby cleared out all the plants and weeded it. Then I weeded it a bit more and replanted it, adding lots of potting grit as alpines hate getting waterlogged.

Our efforts seem to have paid off and I'm rather pleased with how it's looking at the moment. It just needs a liberal sprinkling of alpine grit as a finishing touch to keep the weeds down and the moisture in.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Chickens can lay more than one egg in twenty four hours.

According to wikipedia chickens cannot lay more than one egg in 24 hours. I'm sure it isn't good for them, especially as their life-span is closely related to the number of ovum they use up, so laying too many double-yolked eggs will shorten their life, or so I have been told by someone who ought to know.

I'm sure it is neither normal, nor desirable, but Robin has proved it is possible for a chicken to lay more than one egg in 24 hours. I noticed she was in the nest box last night, although hubby had collected 3 eggs in the morning. One of those eggs had a very thin shell, though, and it was cracked. The egg I collected about twenty past seven last night was smooth and pale, but the shell was thick enough.

This morning I collected two eggs from the nest box, presumably from Amber and Betsy. Later on I noticed Robin pop up into the nest box, but she came down again and nothing was there. This happened again. Then about quarter past twelve I realised I'd forgotten to replace the roosting bar after cleaning the floor of the chickens' sleeping quarters. When I went to do that I noticed Robin was missing and could hear her in the nest box again. At ten to one I found a smallish, pale and very warm egg in the next box. Unfortunately this one also had a cracked shell as it was so thin. Poor Robin, I hope she sorts herself out soon.

Update, 20th May 2009. We have been getting a very regular supply of three eggs a day from our three pullets for the last couple of weeks, so it seems this was just a teenage blip. To be honest Robin seemed to just start laying with no problems from the word go, so she was due a short spell of irregularity, I suppose.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Eggstaordinary problem?

We were worried about Amber last night. She'd been fine up to six o'clock or so, and earlier she had been jumping up on top of the run and jumped up and pecked my finger trying to get some lettuce. After dinner I noticed she was just standing there looking like she was in a day dream. The other two were busily pecking and scratching, but she was just stood there looking subdued. Her undercarriage looked lower than the others' too. When we put her back in her run she decided to have a drink, again she was slower than the other two, but eventually she was drinking more quickly and ended up drinking more than her sisters. She managed to get up to bed OK, though.

I wasn't sure what I'd find when I let them down this morning, but Amber was as eager to tuck into her mash as the other two and looked absolutely fine. When I looked in the roosting area, however, I found not one, but two, soft shelled eggs amongst the droppings under where Amber had slept. Not surprisingly she didn't lay today. We just had two normal, large eggs from Robin and Betsy, which fit nicely in the egg compartment.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Chicken keeping course

Saturday hubby and I set off bright and early for a one day chicken keeping course at Middle Farm in Firle, East Sussex.

It was a very informative and enjoyable course, which I would recommend to anyone thinking of keeping chickens, or who, like us, has only had chickens for a short while and still has lots to learn, assuming you can get to Middle Farm by 10am, that is.

After a cup of tea or coffee our tutors, Tania and Bonnie, started by giving us a brief history of the chicken and description of various breeds followed by being told about how to buy chickens, where to put them when you've bought them and how to make them comfortable and safe. Feeding, maintenance and the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of health problems were also covered. There was plenty of opportunity to ask questions throughout the day.

We were taken out to look at the various chickens kept at Middle Farm before our last indoor session before lunch. They have some lovely breeds, some of which are cute or funny, but fairly impractical, such as these guys, know as Polands. Some breeders tie their top knots up, others trim their 'fringes' because otherwise they can't see where they are going very well.

Lunch consisted of a filled baguette with salad and a cup of tea, which was very nice. There was time to wander around for a bit before the afternoon session began. This included a brief lesson in how to 'despatch' a bird, although none of us were interested in keeping chickens for the table and we would probably all take our terminally ill birds to the vet when that became necessary.

It wasn't long before we went outside and were asked to inspect a chicken's feet and 'vent', which is the technical name for a chicken's behind. Their feet have a soft pad underneath, which can be cut and infected. Mites and other parasites are likely to congregate around a chickens backside as it is nice and warm, so that's a good place to look if you want to check for an infestation. In fact this area is a mine of information about a chicken's health. Just above the vent is a special gland from which chickens of both sexes obtain oil with which to preen themselves. I now know what that little lumpy bit is at the back of the chickens I put in the oven!

We also had a demonstration of how to clip a chicken's beak and toe nails, although I hadn't realised this is always necessary and I'm still not entirely sure it is but we'll be keeping an eye on 'our girls' to see if the top of their beaks get
overly long or their toe nails start to curl like a Chinese Emperor's finger nails. Tania and Bonnie used these Light Sussex as their demonstration models, the poor old cock being used for the most undignified bits:

Then it was our turn to have a go, using the Partridge Pekins to practice on and their nails and beaks are very fine and soft. I got to pick up the rooster, who had lovely, long, silky feathers on his neck.

Having washed our hands after handling the birds, it was time for afternoon tea and a generous slice of cake.

This session also explained that a cock bird is not necessary to keep hens in lay, something which a surprising number of people don't know. The male is only needed to fertilise eggs for breeding, and if one is borrowed, the eggs laid for about a month after his visit will be fertilised.

We were told how we could go about selling our eggs if we wanted to, and we were also told how we could hatch new chicks if we were so inclined. This part of the course included a visit to the incubators to learn how they work and what features they might have. Then for the best bit. We each got to carry a little fluffy day (or two) old chick to be with all the new hatchlings under the warm lamp. The chick was stood on our hands and we had to cover it with our other hand to stop it hopping off, so it was impossible to take a photo at the same time. Here they all are together, though.

We had a really great time and came a way with significantly less gaps in our knowledge of the day to day aspects of keeping chickens.

If you happen to be near Firle, then there is a lot to see at Open Farm for families with children interested in livestock. Apart from about ten different breeds of chickens there were also ducks and geese and a peacock. There were lamas and sheep in a shed, at least two breeds of pigs and we could have seen the cows being milked about 4.00 pm.

There is also an excellent farm shop as well as a shop selling mead, cider and non-alcoholic drinks. Numerous plants were on sale including herbs, vegetable seedlings and border perrenials. We picked up a bag of Marriage's layers mash and some oyster grit from John Piles' animal feed shop, also at Middle Farm, and another person on the course bought a couple of black rock POL chickens from him.

Last, but not least is the King of the Barn, whose name I've forgotten

and the rooster reserve which offers a home to retired cocks and spares to replace those who die in service or are no longer up to the task.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

How the garden is looking mid April

I've not had much time to blog lately as my spare time, and a bit more, has been taken up with the garden. There is so much to do at this time of year.

Over the Easter holiday hubby did something he's wanted to do since we moved in almost. He built a pond in our garden, which is not an easy thing to do on a slope. He's still not sure how to finish the top off, but he has now put in a couple of plants, some pond weed and a solar-powered fountain.

A few months ago we both planted strawberries, which came mail order from Garden Organic. Hubby chose Hapil and planted them in a strawberry pot on the patio,

and I chose Honeoye, which I planted around my blueberries, an idea I got from the organic garden at Loseley Park. Mine arrived about a week later than hubby's. You may notice the brown plastic pieces of 'cat scat' around them, which are to deter whatever it was that was digging in this bed after I planted them. They do seem to have worked.

The broad beans are doing well, but it would have been better if I'd planted some spares in pots to fill in the gaps. Hubby has now planted some peas, which are look good so far.

I've decided to experiment with asparagus and have planted a couple of crowns. I've put in some cabbages, which I've covered with a mini fleece tunnel as the ones we planted last year were stripped by the pigeons and I've also planted some onions and carrots and am trying out a barrier against cabbage root fly.

I've also got some potatoes in plastic bags. The first two are growing fast and the third I just planted this week.

The garlic I planted early in February is looking good, especially the lot I put in patio bags.

Just over a week ago I sowed various seeds, which have now come up, and this week I sowed a few bell pepper seeds. More about them later, and about where I decide to plant the globe artichokes I started off earlier this year.

Monday, 13 April 2009

A Giant Egg

The eggs our pullets lay are variable in size, but they are usually medium to large. Occasionally we get an extra large one, which doesn't fit in the egg holder in our fridge door very well. The other day we had one which was too big for an egg box. When we weighed it, it was about 120g or 4 ounces and 7.5 cm or 3 inches long. I took a photo of it next to an extra large egg. You may even be able to see that the shell was a bit wrinkly. It turned out it had a double yolk and it made lovely scrambled egg.

We did check and Amber, who laid it, seemed absolutely fine, but it was a bit worrying. She gave egg-laying a rest today, and who can blame her.

Chickens eating spinach video

As it was sunny today I made another short video of our chickens, as requested by their fans. This one is about three and a half minutes long.

To begin with Amber is all alone because Betsy and Robin were too busy with their heads in the mash to notice me and it then took them a while to work out how to get out of their run and partake of the spinach.

If you listen carefully you will hear some gentle clucking and occasional peeping, but latterly there is a pigeon cooing and various other birds enjoying the sunshine.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Chickens out and about

We got some more netting on Saturday, so the chickens could roam in a wider area.

Here are a few pictures.

Betsy the blonde, having a stroll and showing off her long nails. She is the oldest, but is currently the most petite.

Robin's beady eye. She's pretty sharp and likes to check that nothing untoward is going on. She usually inspects the roost area after we've cleaned it out.

Amber wasn't posing. She's too busy eating lettuce. She was more wary of us than the other two were, but she's started asserting herself more with her sister chickens.

Another one of Betsy, who was happy to pose, and seems very comfortable around us. She managed to fly over the netting and escape into the lower garden, but let me pick her up and put her back, with no resistance. She has got quite used to us now.

Robin's antics

Robin enjoying the view from her roof.

Robin coming down from the roof in a bit of a flap. Watch out down below.

Do you think I could join the ballet?

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Settling down to three eggs a day

We may have had three eggs on Monday, the first two laid about an hour after we let the girls out, and the third laid a few hours later, but there were only two in the nest box on Tuesday. Wednesday morning hubby saw one on the ground, rather smashed, and there were only two in the nest box again.

However, on Thursday, there were three eggs in the nest box all at once, by ten past eight in the morning.

This pattern has continued for the past few days now.

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