Food for Bees and Pollinators

I can feel spring approaching, I have a warm fuzzy feeling inside just thinking about it. As I begin to open veg seed packets to sow my first crops of the year, I drift away into my own little world inside the greenhouse. My thoughts turn to warm summer days rolling into hazy golden-lit evenings, sharing food and wine with friends as I watch lazy bumble bees collecting nectar while butterflies dance overhead. I cannot imagine a garden without these necessary visitors, I wouldn’t want to either.

When you begin to sow your veg seeds why not sow some food for the bees too? Perhaps you’re already planning to plant or sow pollinator friendly plants this year, if you already include plants in your garden for our pollinators but are looking for extra year round attraction, take a look at this helpful list of trees and plants: http://www.rhs.org.uk/Gardening/Sustainable-gardening/pdfs/RHS_Pollinators_PlantList

Go on, sow, plant and grow food for the bees and pollinators, you’ll be doing them a good deed and in return they’ll reward you with excellent yields from your fruit and veg garden. Not only that, your garden will be a hive of activity – a beautiful haven bursting with wildlife and year round interest.

First Egg of the Year

One of our old hens has come back into lay, I found this lovely egg in one of the coops this morning. Yummy!

Rosemary Cuttings

Last October I decided to take cuttings from our Rosemary bush, using this very useful guide: http://ruralgardener.co.uk/2011/10/10/time-to-take-rosemary-cuttings/. I admit to not taking cuttings very often, pure laziness on my part but now that I’ve done it and had good results I think I will try taking plant cuttings more often. I did not use rooting compound (simply because I didn’t have any) but it doesn’t seem to have mattered, the cuttings already have a small root system developing and seem happy in their rooting tray for now. I will pot them up individually once they’re stronger and the weather is more settled.

My Favourite Variety of Garlic

The snow and ice are no more, melted away by yesterday’s gorgeous mild weather. While I was rooting around in the soil of my veg garden this morning (oh how I’ve missed being able to do that) I spotted the Cristo garlic that I planted back in November, pushing through the soil. Garlic needs a cold spell, this month has certainly been cold at times.

I’m hooked on Cristo for its taste and performance, at the moment it’s my favourite variety to grow.

 Do you have a favourite variety of garlic?

No Valentine’s Day Eggs for Me

Tradition will tell you that hens start laying consistently again after a winter break or slow down, on or around St Valentine’s Day. Our hens are over the moult, healthy and fed a good diet, but this is the first winter that we’ve had no hens laying at all. It’s hardly surprising really, given the girls are getting on a bit (egg production slows right down or stops as hens mature) plus we don’t have as many hens as we did.

Days are gradually starting to get longer and the extra light will stimulate laying, but for one or two of our girls I suspect their egg laying days may be already be over. At some point I will be looking to add a few new hens to the flock, perhaps ex-caged hens or I may opt for POL hybrids, I might even mix. I’m unsure at the moment. We shall see how things go, either way, any non-layers will live their retirement out here.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

How to Deal with a Damaged Chicken Claw

It’s fair to say I’ve experienced my fair share of chicken problems, ranging from feather pecking, fatal diseases, egg related issues and the dark side of chickens known as cannibalism. You name it and I’ve probably seen it or heard about it from my chicken-keeping pals. Early this morning I dealt with what seems to be a common occurrence for one of my hens. Lily is a large clumsy old hen and often rips a claw, she has a couple of claws missing (from her time as an inmate) and her feet have been strapped up more times than I can remember – undergoing surgery once for a nasty case of bumblefoot.

I thought I’d document what I did when I discovered Lily’s damaged claw/nail. It may be useful to someone. Below are the products that I used with a brief explanation:

  • Gentian Violet spray has antiseptic properties and best of all disguises blood or red areas that chickens go mad for, preventing more serious injuries or cannibalism. It can be purchased online.
  • Veterinary Iodine – prescribed by my vet, excellent for cleaning wounds before dressing. A spray form can be purchased online.
  • Cotton wool balls, to clean wounds. I use them to cushion and protect foot injuries.
  • Micropore Surgical Tape – hypoallergenic paper tape that is gentle to the skin and leaves minimal adhesive residue. I use it to hold cotton wool balls/pads in place. Vet tape is very good to use too.
  • Animal wound powder can also be used to stem blood flow from minor wounds.

If your hen is nervous, get someone to hold her before you begin. Gently clean the wound using cotton wool soaked in veterinary iodine. Use wound powder directly to the area to stop the flow of blood or place a cotton wool ball on the damaged claw until the blood flow slows down.

A quick spray of Gentian Violet spray will keep everything clean before you dress the wound and will disguise the red area in case the dressing comes off. The last thing you want is other members of the flock being attracted to the red colour and pecking the damaged claw.

Apply half a cotton wool ball to the damaged area, then use the tape to secure. Be careful not to tape toes together and never wrap tightly or bend toes. Leave this in place for a couple of hours then remove. The blood should have stopped and the wound should already be starting to heal.

Contact a vet if you cannot stop the wound from bleeding or you’re concerned about your hens behaviour / well-being

Lily is fine and quite used to me, I’ve no idea how she did it but at a guess I would say she did it last night as she went to bed seeing as there’s blood all over the perch. If you’re concerned about your hen, always contact a vet.

The Best Purchase We Ever Made

Chicken keeping has become more popular in recent years thanks to self-sufficiency programmes such as River Cottage. I’ve seen a rise in prices for coops and chicken runs, I’ve also seen some shoddy cheap options that won’t last a winter, but, if you shop around or build one yourself, a walk-in chicken enclosure will be the best purchase you ever make. When we bought our first walk-in chicken enclosure it was on the pricey side compared to the cheaper alternatives, but we wanted something that was going to last. Since buying our first we’ve built another enclosure to match the original one, only buying the door section from the same place that our first enclosure came from. The runs have stood up to some very harsh winters, freaky gale-force winds (capable of damaging permanent structures across the UK) and our first was dismantled and put together again during our move from the West Country three years ago. It still stands as strong as it did the first time round.

The enclosures keep the chickens safe from predators when we’re not around to watch them while they roam, the clear plastic sheet roofing (bolted to roof struts to avoid them blowing off) keep the chickens and their feed dry, if the weather is particularly severe (as it is at the moment) I attach tarp to the sides to keep everything water-tight. Our current enclosures are walk-in type constructions, saving me from bending in awkward positions to add feed or water etc – which has really saved my iffy back!

Another 4 inches of snow fell last night, straight on top of what was already on the ground. Thanks to the chicken enclosures the snow isn’t a problem for the chickens, they’re as snug as a bug, knee-high in dry straw and that makes life easier for them and me too.

Jobs for February

February is the month of love and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t love your garden at this time of year too, despite the weather being bitterly cold. Snow may be on the ground, making gardening difficult, but venturing outside and spotting signs that the garden is beginning to wake from its winter slumber should cheer you up no end. Spring bulbs are pushing through and that’s something to smile about. It’s too early to get sowing really underway, although some crops can be started off this month along with those that benefit from a long growing season. A heated propagator or greenhouse will be invaluable to get seeds off to a flying start, but, light levels can be a problem resulting in spindly seedlings. Still, if your fingers are itching to get started then have a go at a few early sowings. It’s not the end of the world if you fail – just try again or put it down to experience.

Some jobs that can be tackled this month:

  • Sow broad beans outside if the ground is not frozen, try using small pots if conditions are a problem and plant out once the weather warms
  • Plant dormant bare-root fruit trees and bushes if conditions allow
  • Finish winter digging if weather allows
  • Chit seed potatoes
  • Plant shallot sets and more garlic
  • Plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers direct outside, keep in mind that once established it can be difficult to clear the ground they’ve occupied of tubers, the plants grow well over 6 ft high and can create shade. Chose the planting site carefully.
  • Force established rhubarb
  • Sow onion seed and leeks
  • Sow long season crops such as tomatoes and chillies
  • Sow winter salad in a cold frame
  • Finish winter pruning apple and pear trees
  • Cut autumn raspberry canes to ground level

I will be posting jobs each month for the veg and fruit garden. Depending on the weather, some of these jobs may not be possible to carry out, but can be tackled another time once conditions are right.

Snow View and Snow Victim

 

The snow that we had been expecting arrived last night, I watched the snowflakes dance and swirl before covering the ground with a crisp white carpet. The above photo shows the view of the lane from the front of our house, taken from an upstairs window. As beautiful as snow is, it can be very destructive as I discovered early this morning. Laying before me was our established Photinia ‘Red Robin’, flattened by the weight of its new snow coat. A complete shock and unforeseen. Being a small tree it has been difficult to lift it off its knees, it’s just too big and heavy to stake so I’m afraid its future is looking very bleak.

The above photo shows the Photinia before its demise, standing proud next to the honeysuckle arch, just a section of our back garden. If it cannot be saved then I shall have to make plans for a new feature plant. Perhaps a large grass would be nice.

If the snow fluttered down on you I hope you enjoyed it, the older I get the more miserable I get about it all. Bah humbug!

Chitting Seed Potatoes

To me, setting seed potatoes out to chit heralds the start of the growing year. This year I’ve decided to grow more potatoes than I usually do (most will be going to my allotment) so there’s lots of chitting to be getting on with. I’m sticking with two favourites of mine which are Charlotte, a versatile salad type grown as a second early and Desiree, a main crop potato with gorgeous red/dark pink skin.

Which varieties will you be growing this year? Any faves?

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