Spring in the Garden

Spring in the Garden

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Gardening in February: Sowing Broad Beans

Another job for February, if you haven't done it already, is to sow broad bean seed.

Different varieties of broad bean need planting at different times, but if you want  to give your beans a chance to grow before there are too many blackfly about, plant a hardy variety such as The Sutton or Aquadulce Claudia into humus- and nutrient-rich soil by the end of the month or very early March.

I planted an organic variety, Super Aquadulce, at the end of January this year, which seemed a bit late, but with all the snow we had, perhaps that wasn't a bad thing.  Mind you, they aren't up yet.

No sign of the beans yet, but hopefully they are about to burst out soon

When we were looking around Wisley on Sunday I noticed that they had protected their broad beans with a fleece mini cloche.

Healthy looking broad beans seen at Wisley on 19 February

Other varieties can be grown in the Spring.  Check the packet for details.  If you have a small or windy garden you may prefer a dwarf variety.

Here is some more information about growing broad beans from The Royal Horticultural Society

If you haven't planted your garlic yet, it's not too late.  I'm hoping to plant some on Sunday.  According to an Isle of Wight grower, February is the best time to plant garlic.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Heron Alert

Prompted by the Garden Smallholder, I thought I would check if we had any eggs, but no.  Amber did lay three at the beginning of the month, having laid nothing before that since the 12th January, so I thought it was possible.  Anna and Bella are still a bit young.  We probably have to wait another couple of weeks.

The chickens were alert and very wary and all the other birds in the garden sounded agitated. The reason was clear:

This heron was perched atop a tree in the next-door but one neighbour's garden.

Gardening in February: Chitting Potatoes

It may be very cold outside still, but if you haven't done it already, and you have the space to plant them, you can chit potatoes without venturing outside.

Chits are the shoots that sprout on potatoes when you've kept them a week or two, even if you've tried to keep them dark.  It's what potatoes do naturally.  It's the way they multiply.

We bought a small bag of Pentland Javeline seed potatoes when we visited Wisley in the middle of January. These can be used either as first earlies for tasty new potatoes, or for maincrop if you want to leave them in the ground until they are bigger.

The weekend before last I noticed they were sprouting already and I didn't want the chits to be damaged, so I set them out in an egg box to keep them separated from each other.  They need to be kept in a frost free place and as cool as possible.  For strong, sturdy shoots the potatoes should be kept in the light.  Keeping them in the dark will make for long, spindly shoots which will break easily.

If you buy potatoes from a garden centre now or in a few weeks time they will probably have started to sprout.  When asked, members of the Gardeners' Question Time panel were divided about whether it is necessary to chit potatoes. The consensus of opinion was that having longer shoots might mean a slightly earlier crop, but was unlikely to make much difference except where First Earlies are concerned. If the shoots are not obvious, set the potatoes in the egg boxes with 'eyes', or tiny buds, uppermost. If there are a lot of eyes, have the area with the highest concentration of eyes or the sturdiest shoots uppermost.

The advantage of buying potatoes early is that you have a greater choice and are more likely to be able to buy the variety you want.  This is probably why we need to set them out for chitting them, otherwise the shoots might be damaged as the potatoes knock against each other, or get trapped in the netting of the bag they are in.

It is recommended that you buy proper seed potatoes rather than potatoes you've bought from the green grocer or supermarket, to avoid bringing disease into your garden.

Potatoes do take up quite a bit of space, so they aren't a good idea for small gardens.  You can grow them in tall tubs, but as well as adding more soil as the leaves show, you will need to water them well to get a reasonable crop.

RHS advice on chitting potatoes.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Anna, Bella and Amber Day Seven

In case you are wondering, Anna and Bella have been down much more in the past few days and Amber seems to be more accepting of them.  It may have been a coincidence, but they've got along better since I put an extra feeder in their run.

Anna, Bella and Amber starting to learn to share

Friday, 10 February 2012

Feeding the Birds in February

We woke up to a white garden Sunday morning

You may think there isn't much to be done in the garden at the moment with snow laying on frozen ground and temperatures close to zero or even below it.

One thing that is important right now is to feed the birds and to make sure they have a supply of clean, unfrozen water.

I've been a bit slow doing that this year, but I made the effort to top up my bird feeders Saturday night and Sunday morning to make sure the local birds had plenty of food to keep them warm.

We have a sumach tree that is great for hanging bird feeders on

I also have a bird table

and a pole with several more feeders, otherwise known as a feeding station

You may have noticed that some of them are enclosed in a cage.  This is to stop the squirrels eating the bird food before the birds have had half a chance. 

The birds are hungry at this time of year and lots of the food I put out on Sunday has gone, so it's time to top it up to help the birds stay warm.  Suet balls or suet bird table concoctions, seed mixes with plenty of high-energy sunflower seeds, peanuts while there are no baby birds around unless the peanuts are in a mesh feeder so only small pieces can be taken - all of these are good things to feed a wide range of birds.  If you want to attract finches, then niger seed is what to put out in a special feeder with plastic walls and narrow slits. If you don't get any finches the sparrows will enjoy them as a treat.

We keep our bird feeders at the other end of the garden from the chickens, to try to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

The water in our bird bath has frozen

so I put out some water in a special container, because I didn't want to take the kettle to the top of the garden.

After I'd topped up the bird table a couple of robins flew down quickly, not trusting me, and flew straight away again, but this one came back and waited in the ivy for the right moment.

I could hear a lot of birds in and around our garden, but they are very timid. A blue tit flew on and off the table before I could take a photo and the sparrows were peeking out of the hedge and going back in again.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Anna and Bella's Third Day With Us

Yesterday we found out that Anna and Bella don't show up too well against snow.

I'm not sure how well they are settling in. Hubby put them down the ladder about half past seven this morning so he could clean them out but by half past eight they were back upstairs.  It may be that they don't like the snow, but the fact that Amber is behaving like a bully and chasing them away from food might have something to do with it, too.  They went upstairs quite a bit yesterday.

Luckily I was home from work by half past three as Anna and Bella were still upstairs, or if they had been downstairs they had gone up again early.   I decided to take some food out to them and by the way they devoured it, they certainly seemed hungry.

Anna was first to investigate.

Fairly soon they were both tucking in.

I'd given Amber some grapes to distract her, but once she'd finished those she started jumping up to try and steal what she could from Anna and Bella.

You can see Amber getting ready to jump

A close up of Bella . . .

. . . and one of Anna

When they had eaten most of the food I brought them some water, but they seemed most suspicious of it.  Bella did have a few sips before putting her foot in it and spilling it everywhere.  Anna showed no interest, so perhaps they had been down during the day and at least had enough water to drink.  They are still both very nervous of us and don't like being touched.

It's not just the chickens that aren't too sure about the snow, having been used to living in a big shed, but some of our flowers and even hellebores seem unhappy.  However, here is one that is enhanced by the snow

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Introducing Anna and Bella

Today we left the house about quarter past nine to drive down to a place we know in Sussex.

We started to visit Middle Farm shop when we visited my in-laws and especially my mother-in-law as we went down very regularly after my father-in-law died and it became apparent how ill she was.  We did our chicken keeping course at Middle Farm and found John Piles, who has premises on the site, was a reliable source of Marriages organic layers mash, which is what we have tended to feed our chickens.  As mother-in-law now lives near us we don't visit East Sussex very often these days. 

We were pleased to see this sign

although, to be honest we had rung up beforehand to check that he had some

point-of-lay Light Sussex pullets. Bella is hardly visible here as she seems to be cowering under Anna;  it wasn't a question of her being squashed. They looked so small sitting by the counter in the cat basket. We were told they are 16 weeks old.

At home we put them in the ark, once hubby had given it a clean while I made lunch for ourselves and hubby's brother who came down to visit his mum again.

This is Bella, with the white head, in the foreground.  Anna has a grey heading and is lurking in the background.

We put Amber in the run as she is easier to manhandle, being used to us, but this might not have been the wisest action as she may have felt that she had been evicted.

After a couple of hours we felt it wasn't good for Amber to be so exposed, so we put her in with the two new residents.  She decided she was going to let them know that this is where she lived and they were not welcome.  She pecked at them both, especially when they tried to eat, but has not yet removed a feather or drawn blood.  They have decided to move out of her way rather than fight back.  Indeed Bella has been cowering under the water container and the feeder at times.


In the end they both went up to bed about 4 pm, an hour before Amber.  They seemed quiet once they were roosting together.

You can click on these pictures to enlarge them.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Visitors to Our Garden

We've had a green woodpecker visit our garden occasionally every year and we've been here nearly 16 years, but today was the first time I've been able to get a decent photo.  The bird was much nearer the house than usual and the sunshine meant the lighting was good, too.

While my camera was handy I thought I'd snap this acrobatic squirrel.

He's stealing the food I've put out for the birds, but it's hard to be cross when he can look so cute.  Besides, to the right, you'll see the squirrel proof feeder to make sure he (or is it a she?) doesn't eat all the suet balls.