Why You Shouldn’t Get Up Close to a Dustbathing Hen

Myrtle my bluebelle hen is feeling and looking much better, she’s now living with the old ex battery hens and things are going well. Due to her docile nature, I believe this is for the best.

She has taken to dustbathing in the empty veg beds recently and really ‘purrs’ with delight. I decided to get really close to her and take a photo close up. Trouble is, this tends to happen.

Yikes!

*No eyes were harmed by taking this photo, thanks to my camera*

Pineberry Parcel

At the beginning of the year I contacted David Lindsay at Mow it Sow it Grow it, to place an order for pineberries. Having read all about them I really wanted to grow them myself. Looking at pictures of pineberries, the fruits look very much like albino strawberries which are said to have a taste similar to pineapple. My parcel arrived early last week, inside the carefully packed box were 2 healthy plants, very similar to regular strawberry runners.

They are pricey, setting you back £15.99 for 2 plants. However, the fruit is pretty expensive to buy from a well-known supermarket here in the UK, long-term my plants should pay me back handsomely. Pineberry plants are available to buy bare rooted from other stockists, they are much cheaper although the quality is said to be ‘poor’, I personally cannot comment on that but if you’ve bought some this way I’d be interested to know how yours perform, more importantly how they taste.

If you fancy splashing out on a couple of plants pop over to http://mowitsowitgrowit.co.uk and place an order. I’m so looking forward to watching the fruits develop, I hope the taste lives up to my expectations.

Prickly Peas and Carrots

This year I’ve had a real problem with mice digging up and eating my pea seed, also snails and slugs eating my carrot seedlings. Thanks to my slimy and furry foe I’ve had 3 long rows of carrots wiped out and endless amounts of pea seeds.

I’ve started the carrots again, carefully placing clippings from our holly tree around the rows. I switched from direct sowing of peas to sowing in modules (I must get on the guttering train), along with purple and green mangetout in the greenhouse. I planted out a tray of Shiraz mangetout last weekend, placing lots of holly clippings around the base of each seedling.

Hopefully the prickly holly will protect my peas and emerging carrots.

Introducing the New Hens

I thought I’d share some photos of the new hens, taken when they first arrived almost 2 weeks ago. First up is Ginny, a Speckledy hybrid hen bred from a Maran. She’s very sweet and easy to catch, she quite likes to be picked up and handled and eats from my hand etc. She should lay brown eggs.

Then we have Fleur, a pure white hen called a Coral, when she begins to lay her eggs should be pure white. Since this photo was taken her comb has grown considerably, she’s taking more notice of the nesting boxes so perhaps her first egg will come soon. Being very skittish I can’t get near her just yet, however, she appears to be top hen of the younger girls.

Next up is Hermione, a Columbine hybrid bred from a Cream Legbar. I love the pattern and colours of this hen, and of course her funny hair do! There’s an 80% chance of her laying blue or green eggs, otherwise I can expect a range of pastel shades. Again, very skittish and nervous of me, I can’t get near her yet. She’s very sweet and appears to be the bottom hen now that Myrtle’s (bluebelle) no longer part of the flock.

Myrtle is a bluebell hybrid bred from a Maran and Rhode Island Red. She’s very docile and friendly and when she begins laying I can expect brown eggs, sometimes with a ‘plum blush’. She hasn’t been very well recently, fingers crossed she seems to be making a good recovery.

I can’t leave Emily out, here she is with her magnificent comb!

The eagle-eyed amongst you would have noticed a theme with my new hens names, let’s see if anyone can guess. EDIT:  Fleur laid her first egg a couple of hours ago, a pure white little egg!

Baby Steps

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan, take my new hens for example; since my last post I’ve been really busy integrating hens (which can be a nightmare at times), unfortunately I’ve also had to nurse a very poorly one. Myrtle, my Bluebelle hen became ill not long after I got her, she had to be quarantined and needed meds from my vet, the good news is she’s slowly on the mend. Myrtle hasn’t been with the others for a long while and was leaning towards being bottom hen when she was, sadly, her chances of a smooth and peaceful return to the flock are minimal. The others have sorted their pecking order out and have bonded well, they will reject Myrtle now and view her as an outsider. The trouble is, she wasn’t with the flock long enough to form any firm friendships or find her place in the pecking order, instead, she’s petrified of being anywhere near them. The others will give her a hard time and stop her from eating etc, perhaps even cause her serious injury. I’m not being over dramatic, as much as I love keeping chickens they can be really cruel at times.

I’m going to try something else to suit Myrtle’s temperament and needs. Once she’s fitter I will have a go at integrating her with my old ex battery girls. I’d never normally advise integrating a lone hen but at the moment I haven’t got many options left. My old girls are very nice natured birds, they hardly squabbled when I first got them and there has never been a single peck since. I couldn’t tell you who is top hen and who is bottom, that’s how laid back they are. Due to battery cage injuries to their legs, two of my old girls won’t chase Myrtle, the other girl is fitter and would be the only real challenge. Being docile by nature, I’d be very surprised if Myrtle attacked back if she were to receive any pecking. I’m sure there will be some ‘argy-bargy’, but I’m confident that with a lot of supervision from me and plenty of mealworms I can bribe my gentle old girls into taking baby Myrtle under their wings. Eventually.

It’s a matter of baby steps, slowly, in the right direction. I will let you know how it goes.

Farewell Lily

One of my old hens, Lily, was sadly given sleep at the vets last Friday morning. Even though it’s never an easy decision to make (for any animal), this was the right decision for her. She was a rescue hen and experienced 4 years of ‘freedom’ with us, which of course is a lovely achievement but this also made it much harder to let her go. It’s odd not seeing her in the garden, she was part of the furniture and a huge character. My thundering big hen. I miss her and I believe her partner in crime, Emily, misses her too. I’ve never known a chicken to react the way that Emily has, as if she senses the loss.

Lily and Emily were very bonded, Emily kept calling for Lily and appeared quite distressed on Friday. This left me with a problem. Emily was now on her own. I have other ex battery hens here (housed separately), they’re all quite physically challenged with thing or another, definitely not a good idea introducing Emily to them. Being a big fit hen she would be too much for them to cope with and probably cause them unnecessary stress. Hens are flock animals and much happier with the company of other hens, I had to get some friends for Emily to eventually bond with even though I really wasn’t in the mood for it.

I’ve been lucky with the rescue hens that I’ve kept over the years, being regular layers I’d never really thought about keeping other chickens for this purpose (although I’ve always admired certain types of hens for their looks). For some time now eggs have been like gold dust, it’s not really surprising considering the ages of my current hens and the conditions they endured before being rescued. Those who read my blog regularly know my feelings concerning battery or intensive farming methods, I’ve given homes to ex battery hens for the last 4 years. In all, around 17 rescue hens have spent their ‘retirement’ here. I’ve nursed many a hen back to health (very satisfying if a little mentally exhausting at times), some had a few months of freedom, some had many years. That’s how it goes sometimes.

So, for the need and pleasure of collecting our own fresh eggs, plus the worry of Emily being too much for poorly ex battery hens, I decided to buy some point of lay hybrid hens. It felt alien to me, ‘picking’ different coloured hens from a free range farm rather than having pale-faced scraggy brown hens gently placed into my boxes. On a rescue re-homing day there’s not usually any choice or time for ‘cherry picking’ the hens waiting to be rehomed, I often took what was given with joy in my heart and excitement of knowing the lovely life that awaited them, once we reached home. Rescue hens are usually silent in the boxes on the way home, they have no idea how much their lives are going to change for the better, no matter how long or short.

On the way home from the free range farm with my hybrid hens at the weekend, I could hear clucking and screeching coming from the boxes. The pecking order had already begun. I didn’t feel the usual excitement of having new hens, in fact I had a banging headache, and I knew why. Guilt. My decision to buy hybrid layers (or posh hens as I call them) was a difficult one for me to make, I adore all types of chickens and this is something I need to remind myself of at the moment. I will get over this phase I’m sure, I’m still raw from losing Lily and it’s all new to me, having pretty hens in the garden.

At the moment Emily is making sure the new hens know who’s boss, thankfully they’re far too quick and nimble for her to do any real harm. She’s doing a lot of chasing, ‘donking’ them on the head, shouting and food guarding. I’ve placed extra bowls of food inside the enclosure to make it more difficult for Emily, and to ensure the new hens eat. Bed time is amusing, the hybrids want to roost outside in the enclosure or up on top of the coop roof! I’m not used to having hens so agile! Once it’s dark I go out and gently place them back inside the coop, they need to know where to go at dusk just in case I cannot get them back inside once they start free ranging. At least then I know they will return at some point. It will all sort itself, it takes time.

No firm names for my hens yet, I’ve not really had a chance to think about that. What I need to do is bond with them first, perhaps then I will stop feeling so guilty for not adopting more ex battery hens.

Grow Your Own Parsnips

If you’re new to vegetable growing perhaps you’ve found parsnips tricky to grow? So far (touch wood) I’ve had good results with growing parsnips so I thought I’d share some tips on how I grow them:

  • Buy seed fresh every growing season to increase germination success, germination is generally slow.
  • Sow from March onwards, direct into the ground (once the soil has warmed) just under the surface of the soil, thin seedlings down to 6 inches apart. Parsnips are a root vegetable, they don’t appreciate being disturbed so it’s best to sow them where they are to grow (although you could start them off earlier in toilet roll tubes if you prefer).
  • Well drained, fairly deep and stone-free soil is ideal. Growing parsnips in raised beds makes it easier to control the desired depth and soil conditions that parsnips require.
  • Choose a sunny spot to sow seed, allowing plenty of space between rows. This will make lifting them easier later on.
  • Don’t sow on a windy day, the papery seed will fly everywhere!

I use Mr Fothergills ‘Gladiator’ seed, a canker resistant variety (the main problem for parsnips). I highly recommend this variety from growing experience. I don’t ‘chit’ my parsnip seed before sowing (placing seed on moist kitchen paper until they sprout), I haven’t found germination a problem with the variety I grow. Parsnips can be left in the ground until the following February/March, frost will sweeten the flavour so don’t worry about them getting chilly!

There’s still time to sow parsnips for your Christmas dinner. Happy parsnip growing!

If you found this post helpful let me know, I’d be happy to do more on other vegetables!

Jobs for May

May is the month when seed sowing is in full swing, space in the greenhouse is filling up fast with seed trays and pots. Hardier crops started earlier in the year should be hardened off during the day before planting into their final positions. Tender crops such as beans and squashes can be sown undercover now. If the weather is particularly fine, sow beans direct where they are to crop.

  • Sow French and runner beans either in pots (undercover) or direct, depending on weather conditions
  • Harvest asparagus spears
  • Check growth of greenhouse seedlings and water as necessary. If the weather is warm ventilate the greenhouse.
  • Sow sweet corn under glass or indoors using small pots or toilet roll tubes
  • Continue hardening off crops before planting out
  • Transplant or ‘dib in’ leek seedlings once they’re the width of a pencil.
  • Sow beetroot, kohl rabi and Swiss chard direct (depending on weather conditions). Beetroot will benefit from cloche protection.
  • Sow cucumber, pumpkins, courgettes and other squashes under glass or indoors for successful germination.
  • Plant out Brussels sprouts, summer cabbages and summer sprouting broccoli once risk of frost is over
  • Sow early purple sprouting broccoli direct or undercover depending on weather conditions
  • Keep the hoe busy!
  • Keep sowing radish, spring onions, lettuce and peas every two weeks
  • Weed in-between onions, shallots and garlic
  • Support autumn sowings of tall variety broad beans with canes and string between each row
  • Plant the last of your seed potatoes
  • Cut out flower spikes from the middle of rhubarb crowns
  • Check support for summer raspberries, blackberries and other hybrid berries, tie in canes.
  • Thin out crowded raspberry canes
  • Earth up second early and main crop potatoes, cover rows with pieces of thick cardboard for extra protection if severe frost threatens
  • Plant out sunflowers and other half-hardy flowering annuals raised in pots at the end of the month (weather permitting) otherwise wait until next month
  • Thin carrot seedlings and consider sowing more rows
  • Plant out sweet pea once hardened off, pinch out the growing tips if you haven’t done so already
  • Keep a roll of horticultural fleece to hand, cover outdoor peas and greenhouse seedlings at night if very cold or frost threatens
  • Succession sow herbs such as coriander, dill and parsley. Undercover if necessary.
  • Check developing gooseberry fruit for signs of mildew

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.

Fit to Burst

I was and still am fit to burst with pride to see my little blog, a place where I share my passion for growing food, wildlife, living an organic way of life and looking after chickens, up there, featured on the Freshly Pressed page. Wow! Thank you to all my new followers, those who stopped by and liked my post and those who left a comment or two. I tried my best to keep up (I really did), I still can’t quite believe my stats page!

Speaking of being ‘fit to burst’ this is the bridge into our sleepy village. I took this photo one summer, tall reeds dominated the slow flowing river and all was calm:

I ventured down to the bridge yesterday. The water levels are dangerously high due to recent weather, more heavy rain forecast for tonight and I suspect the river will rise again, flooding the bridge at the top, just out of sight of the photo. The river has already burst its banks, swallowing up parts of the river walk near the church. The bridge will probably be closed by morning. Oh dear!

Being Crafty While it Rains

The rain is back. I thought the roof of our house was going to cave in on us last night, from the sheer volume and speed of which the rain came down. I really miss my veg garden and allotment, I haven’t been able to get much done out there, or at my plot. There’s not much point trying to either, part of my veg garden has flooded with water sloshing up to the sides of some of the raised beds. Thankfully, these beds are empty of crops or seeds. Once it finally stops raining it will take a while for the soil to dry out enough for anything to go in these beds. I’m so glad I didn’t plant the potatoes there.

Once I’ve done my rounds of watering seedlings in the greenhouse, potting a few on and sowing a few seeds here and there, it leaves little for my itchy fingers to be getting on with, creatively speaking. You may be wondering why I have photos of jewellery on my blog, perhaps you thought you’d come to the wrong blog for a moment? Well, let me explain. Every now and then I get the urge or time to make something, be creative or just mellow in the art of being crafty. Making things by hand is a wonderful hobby. Yes, I actually do something other than gardening and collecting chicken eggs from coops (although there hasn’t been much of either happening lately).

Weather like this is perfect for staying indoors, warm and dry with beads, jewellery making tools and lots of ideas floating around in my mind.

I love beads, crystals, buttons and craft wire.

Sometimes, I love to make things.

But I love gardening more!

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