Allotment

Rhubarb and Raspberries

A quick update on the allotment, I have a shed arriving in a couple of weeks time! I’m so excited to have a little space to retreat for a cup of tea. I have some little curtains for the window and I think I’ve settled on a colour to paint it….but knowing me that will probably change so I’ll reveal once I’ve committed to buying a tin.

After uncovering the old shed base from the pile of rotting wood we noticed the front row of slabs had sunk, we raised them up and checked it was all level. I’ve also weeded the rhubarb patch and levelled off some of the soil to tidy it up a bit.

I said previously that I wasn’t going to cut the raspberries down because I didn’t know if they were summer or autumn fruiting, I changed my mind and gave them all the chop to be able to remove grass and weeds without running the risk of losing an eye, a small price to pay I feel. The neglected patch of raspberries now looks tidy and the new canes can grow without competing with grass and weeds, a touch more hand weeding needed to get rid of the last stubborn bits and then I’ll give it all a good mulch of compost.

raspberry bed
Raspberry pruning and weeding before and after.

Plot 33 is tucked under more tarp and sheeting for now to prevent excessive weed growth, except the rhubarb and raspberries of course. Meanwhile, I’m on the lookout for bits of wood to make some raised beds!

I’ll update again soon.

Allotment

Allotment Snooping In The Snow

Winter is not letting go just yet with more snow falling over the weekend. Nicknamed ‘Mini Beast from the East’ I’d say a tame little pussy cat rocked up to Bedfordshire (at the moment anyway, fingers crossed). Nevertheless, the ground is frozen solid once again and that means no veg garden or allotment tinkering. Humph!

This latest dusting of snow didn’t stop me from my usual trot to the allotments to snoop look at the plots and soak up inspiration. It never ceases to amaze me how allotment folk utilise items that others would simply throw out with the rubbish, we’re a frugal bunch and I love that. Something else I love about allotment life is the humble shed. Ramshackle, brand new, plain or unusual. I don’t know why I adore them like I do.

The sheds on the allotments are actually pretty tidy, being a new allotment site most of the sheds were bought new rather than being inherited down through the years, they haven’t had the time needed to become significantly weather-beaten or patched up. I’m still window shopping and deciding which shed will work best for me and my new plot, as well as planning the plot layout on paper. Very exciting!

Plot 33, bedraggled and shivering in the snow….

But I have plans, with sprinkles of love and bunting.

Allotment

Back To The Magical World Of Allotments

After giving up my allotment a couple of years ago I began to regret my decision. I miss the allotment site and the charm and character of the sheds dotted around, even the sound of trains whizzing along the track I found strangely soothing. I miss the general chit-chat weather grumbles, and being around people who, like me, have a deep need for being at one with the seasons and growing food from a slice of land. There’s just something about allotments, once you have the bug it never really leaves you.

I’m currently re-building stamina with regular walks around the village after having major surgery in January, more often than not I made my way to the allotments to soak in the serenity. I found myself enquiring and much to my delight a couple of plots were indeed available. A particular plot caught my eye and I accepted the challenge once more.

My new allotment looks daunting but in reality it’s not that bad. The plot boundary ends at the blue tarp, just before the grass path in front of my neighbour who keeps a beautifully tended plot. Plot 33 is a quirky and unloved little plot with a curved boundary at the top, in a lovely position adjacent to the community orchard. The shed that once stood has gone but the slab base still remains, currently hidden underneath a pile of old wood. I find myself day dreaming about how my new allotment shed will look in situ as well as paint colours and bunting. Ooh shed shopping!

Previous shed base
Community orchard entrance
Lovely view from my plot

I’ve inherited four tired-looking rhubarb crowns with my new allotment, I’m not sure of variety but they look like they could have red stalks. I’ll give them a good mulch and let them do their thing this year, then I can see how they perform. Dividing will help regain vigour but that’s a job I cannot do right now so it’ll have to wait until the end of the year. It appears they may have flowered last summer judging by the decaying matter around them.

There’s a plastic raised bed thingy of strawberries, a couple of gooseberry bushes and a patch of rampant raspberries of which I’m guessing are summer fruiting, I’m not entirely sure. With this in mind I think I will skip pruning this year and watch how they grow and when they fruit. Weeding and mulching a must!

Patch of raspberries

My new plot is smaller by comparison but I still have to take it easy. I certainly won’t be digging anytime soon for obvious reasons plus I’m a big fan of the no dig method which is probably the route I will take.

Plot 33 and I will slowly recover, together.

Uncategorized

Storm Emma meets Beast from the East

For many days the UK has been gripped by the ‘Beast from the East’, snow and freezing temperatures tucking signs of spring firmly under a white blanket. Now storm Emma approaches from the Atlantic bringing more snow, clashing with Siberian air causing icy high winds and blizzard conditions. The entire country is now under a severe weather warning with worse yet to come, parts of Scotland, south-west England and Wales are on red alert for snow. Lives are at risk.

Even though it’s still snowing here in the east of England and so cold I can barely feel my fingers, I feel our region has got off lightly so far compared to some. Having said that, those with livestock to care for makes things difficult wherever you are. Our chickens refuse to leave the coops and drinkers freeze within half an hour of refilling. I really feel for farmers and smallholders, plus it is lambing season.

The above photo was taken yesterday on my phone with shaky cold hands! Today the garden is completely submerged and it’s too cold to stand around taking photos. Us Brits have a good moan about the weather, hot or cold we’ll find something to complain about but we really are getting our a*se whopped right now.

Stay warm and safe x

Vegetable Garden

What’s Growing On In February?

Biting winds, rain, hail and snow showers, we’ve never been so thankful for the occasional glimpse of sunshine to provide some respite. Ooh naughty February! Welcome back to our monthly catch up posts where we show you what’s growing on in our garden smallholding.

The vegetable garden in February still offers fabulous things to eat thanks to a bit of careful planning. By dedicating a whole bed to carrots rather than just a couple of rows for late summer/autumn use, we’re still pulling tasty roots of ‘Autumn King’. Standing well in our soil our garden tends to get rather boggy in winter so this variety really is worth growing. The same can be said for ‘Gladiator’ parsnip, fantastic roots right through to spring.

Another great crop providing nutritious leaves from summer right through to winter is kale. ‘Nero Di Toscana’ will grow in difficult conditions such as a shady spot and poor drainage (trust us, we know!). The flavour improves after a frost and once it finally bolts the flowers can be eaten too.

We’ve just finished picking the last of the Brussels Sprouts and now we’re patiently waiting for spears of beautiful early sprouting broccoli to make an appearance. Early purple sprouting is sown late spring one year and produces from February/March the following year – so you really do need to be patient!

The veg garden in February

Autumn-fruiting raspberry canes got their annual chop this week. Rich carefully tidied around to remove the old leaves and debris being careful not to damage emerging canes, finishing up with a mulch of compost afterwards.

The canes are very spiky – gloves are needed! In just a couple of months the whole bed will be brimming with fresh new growth.

Rather than burning or composting we’ve decided to keep the cut raspberry canes and use them as organic slug and snail deterrents (due to the spikes), laying them on the ground in and around seedlings.

Something has had a go at the broad bean seedlings underneath the cloche tunnels (unlikely to be a pigeon, a mouse perhaps?), a bit of soil disturbance and a couple of seedlings vanished – one is wilting so I guess the seed bean is damaged. This is the first place we’re going to use the canes. I wonder if mice will be that bothered by a few spikes? It’s an experiment so we’ll let you know if it works.

Our chickens were beginning to lay regularly (except for Mrs Broody pants), a couple have now decided to have another moult which means no eggs.

Some of our girls are getting on for retirement, perhaps nearer summer we’ll increase the flock seeing as we have a new coop!

 

Product Reviews, Vegetable Garden

Windowsill Propagator Heat Mat

Our chilli pepper seeds have germinated much sooner than usual thanks to a windowsill propagator heat mat. We mentioned in a recent post we were using one in a trial and would blog about it if we liked it.

In just 8 days the first seedlings appeared with more popping up over the following days. As expected, a couple of seeds haven’t germinated but we have more than enough seedlings due to sowing more than we need.

The windowsill heat mat we are using looks like this:

It’s simple to use, just plug it in and place on the windowsill of your choice. We covered our seed trays with clear lids to help with humidity and kept the heat mat on for most of the day, switching off at night (purely for our own peace of mind!) allowing a radiator to provide a source of heat. The heat mat fits a standard size windowsill without hanging over the edge and can take up to two full sized trays, much more if the trays are smaller. It heats up quickly and doesn’t get too hot to the touch.

If you’re interested in getting this particular heat mat you’ll find it here. Priced at £16.49 with free UK delivery it’s a cheaper alternative to most heated propagators but still an expense. If this doesn’t suit your budget it’s still possible to germinate some seed by using a radiator or warm airing cupboard. Once germinated, seedlings can grow at lower temperatures in a bright room. It will take longer but you should see some decent results.

If you do decide to get one please do let us know how you’re getting on.

Uncategorized

Winner Winner Chicken Coop

Just after new year I received some very exciting news from Bed-Down Premium Poultry Bedding – I had won first prize in their Facebook competition!!

Here’s what I won:

1st Prize – Cozy Chicken bespoke hen house in gorgeous ‘egg yolk’ yellow, Cozy Chicken superior bedding 10kg bales x2 and Marriage’s 15kg Royal Variety mixed corn.

Well, I almost fainted. What a great start to 2018!

First up I’d like to thank Bed-Down for running such a generous competition and for picking little ol’ me as the winner. I’ve never won anything quite like this before, the coop will really come in handy when we build the extra chicken run we’ve planned for some time now, more about that soon. The bedding smells divine and being super soft it’s particularly perfect for tatty ex battery hens needing some extra TLC and a nice soft bed to rest in at night. I know our hens are going to love snuggling down in it. Thank you to Marriage’s for the Royal Variety mixed corn, I can honestly say it’s the best we’ve ever used with our chickens. It’s contains pieces of carrot, peas and sunflower seeds, our hens go bonkers for it.

The coop and bedding were delivered to us a couple of days ago, I’m not well enough to have a photo done with it just yet due to recent surgery so Bed-Down kindly allowed me to use theirs. Once I’m able to I will take more photos and move some chickens in! Hurrah!

The chicken coop – squeal!!! Photo credit: Bed-Down Premium Poultry Bedding.

Superior quality bedding crafted from the finest, golden wheat straw, sustainably harvested fresh from Norfolk fields before being chopped and dust extracted with our unique Easy Breathe™ process for better respiratory health.

Encourages the natural behaviour of poultry!

Cozy Chicken at a glance

  • Poultry bedding from chopped and improved wheat straw
  • Insulating in winter, light and airy in summer
  • Durable, absorbent, comfortable for hens
  • Keeps eggs safe and clean
  • Naturally anti-bacterial & anti-fungal
  • Pleasant natural pine fragrance
  • Fully compostable
  • Great value for money, easy to use & store
Photo credit: Bed-Down Premium Poultry Bedding

If you don’t already follow Bed-Down on Facebook please do look them up and give their page a ‘like’. Follow Bed-Down on Twitter too. Keep your eyes peeled for more competitions throughout the year, you never know your luck!

Vegetable Garden

And Sow it Begins

I came home from hospital last weekend, my body is tired and sore but getting a little stronger every day. I ended up needing more surgery than expected which has set my recovery back with one thing or another but I am getting there, slowly. I miss spending time with the chickens and of course the day-to-day activities in the garden smallholding, family are mucking in and doing what’s needed. I long for the day I can join in rather than watch from the window but I’m not to lift anything heavier than a cup of tea for at least 6 weeks. Meh.

I guess I can cope with the tea bit.

After going through our seed stash last month we’ve ordered what we need for the new growing year with some new varieties to try, the rest will be our own saved seed. We will buy our seed potatoes very soon and set them out to chit in egg boxes.

We like to sow our tomatoes and chillies early, harvesting can begin as early as June/July depending on varieties grown. Chillies need constant heat to aid germinate so we’re using a seedling heat mat at the moment to help. We’ve never used anything like this before when germinating seeds such as chillies and peppers, we usually get decent germination results by using the warmest spots in the house but it can take up to a month to occur due to temperatures dipping at night. It’s a bit of a trial so we’ll let you know how the heat mat performs in terms of germination rate/time, and if we like it enough to recommend we’ll do a little blog post. Rich set everything up for sowing our seeds to avoid me lifting anything, all I had to do is pop the seeds in. It felt so good to be involved and gave me the lift I needed.

It’s official, gardening is therapy!

Vegetable Garden

What’s Growing on in January

I love writing these monthly catch ups on our kitchen garden, documenting the activities and plans. It’s a good excuse to get the camera out and really study the garden changing throughout the year. I use these posts as a reminder to look back on too.

January is usually a hard month for a lot of people, the weather hasn’t helped lift moods being so gloomy and dark. Threatening skies, murky and damp, I’m surprised some of our hens have come back into lay so soon.

But there are signs of good things to come. Take our rhubarb for example, it’s just starting to burst into life again after a brief moment of dormancy. It may not look much right now but in just a few weeks, it will. It’ll be all blushing stalks and leaves as big as dinner plates.

Go rhubarb!

If you want a super early rhubarb that tastes great and makes beautiful jams then Timperley Early is a great addition to your vegetable garden or allotment. It reappears soon after being dormant in autumn, pushing egg-like buds through the soil as early as December. Superb for forcing, it crops so early naturally you can pull it unforced late February to Early March. It’s not the heaviest cropping rhubarb but well worth growing for early cropping.

We’re still pulling some lovely roots from the carrot and parsnip beds. Autumn King carrots over winter in our garden and of course parsnips taste even sweeter after a good frosting. Long and straight parsnips from a no dig bed in its second year, not bad at all!

Kale ‘Nero Di Toscana’ (black Tuscan kale) has served us well throughout winter, the plants now resemble mini exotic palm trees with bare stems and leafy tops. Double rows of broad bean seedlings continue to grow well, protected under tunnel cloches from the destruction of chicken beaks and feet.

New growth sprouting at the base of the blackcurrants.

Our Brahma chickens enjoying some free time in the vegetable garden. When spring arrives and seed sowing begins the chickens are kept out using barrier mesh fencing.

I spotted some frogs in the wildlife pond preparing to attract a mate for spawning soon. We love the call of the males, we should start to hear it by next month.

We plan to sow chillies and tomatoes indoors in seed trays very soon, potting on throughout spring as needed. We do this every year with great results, eventually planting healthy and sturdy plants into the greenhouse towards the end of May, once night-time temperatures are steady enough.

I’m looking forward to putting a seed order or two in soon, it’s so exciting waiting for seed packets to arrive. I always try to grow either a new variety or something completely new to our garden each growing year, this year I’m thinking about growing Oca for the first time. Exciting!

Do you plan to grow something new this year?

Vegetable Garden

Beany Babies

January is such a bleak and dreary month, it also happens to be the month of our birthdays. Oh I do envy the summer-born, the endless possibilities for outdoor celebrations. The ground is sodden in our garden at the moment, it’s bitterly cold too – no garden birthday parties for us.

I do try my hardest to stay off the squelchy garden paths but I’m weak, I love to mooch around the garden prodding and poking for signs of life. I took a quick peek at the raised beds, trying to be as light-footed as possible.

Snug under the tunnel cloches the first seeds of the new growing year are up, six rows with two rows per tunnel of baby broad beans. I find using tunnel cloches so useful for overwintering and keeping crops safe from pigeons and our chickens. Only a couple of seeds failed to set but that’s fine, I always sow more than necessary and thin out later if need be.

Caulk Wight garlic we planted in November is very noticeable now, with Red Duke just starting to push through. If they all come up we’ll have around 90 bulbs of garlic to harvest in summer.

I’m giddy with excitement for the growing year ahead. There are a couple of hurdles for me to get over first but I’m so looking forward to being outside, sowing seeds and drinking tea in the sunshine.

Uncategorized

Happy New Year 2018

This year has been a tricky year for me with regards to my health. As some of you are already aware I had surgery in June which meant I couldn’t spend much time at all in my beloved vegetable garden during the best part of summer. The garden and blog were neglected and so the best part of autumn has been spent getting the veg beds and paths under control –  which we managed to do before all the heavy snow arrived!
I’m scheduled for major surgery in a few weeks time but I plan to be fighting fit and back on my feet in the greenhouse sowing the first seeds of spring as soon as I can (I might be a little late with it all depending on how I feel but everything catches up eventually!). I look forward to reading blogs and watching YouTube channels to see what you’ve all been up to in your gardens, allotments and smallholdings as I recover.
As this year comes to a close I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for following our small but precious backyard farm / garden smallholding journey, not just on the blog but via social media too. I wish you all a happy 2018 and a great growing year ahead.
 All the very best, Karen x
Village Life

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Very early this morning we woke to this beautiful scene.

Our sleepy village, view from our window.

Heavy snow fell through the early hours, covering our village (and most of the UK) in a white blanket.

I don’t like snow. Yes it’s pretty to look at, but for me the novelty soon wears off.

Buried veg beds

The roofing to the walk-in chicken runs need attention, well, they need completely replacing to be fair and weight bearing snow really didn’t help matters, but we managed to clear most of it off the sheeting before it turns to ice and completely buckles the structures. This all took quite a bit of time today and our toes and fingers were really throbbing. The chickens were very suspicious of the snow and dull white sky, choosing to spend time inside the coops, sulking.

However, at least one member of the garden smallholding enjoyed it…..

Terrible photo of one very happy German Shepherd!

She loved every moment of the snow, she’s sprawled out on the sofa snoring now.

Uncategorized

Christmas Tree Decorating

Last weekend we collected our tree from Stagsden Christmas Trees. A local family run business, we go there every year and just adore their Christmas shop.

I love decorating the tree, it’s one of the things I love most about Christmas. Our collection of tree ornaments has grown considerably since we first started buying them, right before the birth of our first child, over 20 years ago.

We have chickens on our tree, they’re just gorgeous and handmade by Funky Chicken Gifts

Vegetable Garden

Sowing in the Wind

The weather has been very blustery since yesterday and it looks set to continue today. The chickens are not fans of the wind blowing up their skirts, especially the fluffy gang…

The sun was shining earlier so I got on with planting broad beans in the cold wind. I don’t mind so much when I’m working in the vegetable garden, it’s the only time the weather doesn’t bother me, although I had to hold on tight to my seed packet!

kitchen garden, vegetable garden,

Broad bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ are a hardy variety, perfect for direct sowing in autumn right through to January if the soil isn’t frozen or water-logged. Our seeds go straight into the ground in a deep raised bed, the soil warmed with tunnel cloches for a few weeks before sowing. I sow double rows and use more seeds than needed to allow for failures, then cover with tunnel cloches to aid germination. The cloches remain in place and lifted only to water if the soil becomes too dry, as the seedlings grow taller we remove them.

The tunnel cloches are simply lengths of plastic corrugated sheeting slid into metal cloche hoops. The hoops are pushed down into the soil to anchor the sheets in place, keeping the soil warm and protecting the crop from weather and pests such as pigeons. Or in our case, chickens.

Seeds tucked safe and warm under tunnel cloches

The idea of sowing hardy broad beans in autumn is to get an earlier crop and avoid blackfly, in our experience we really only get a few weeks head start at most before the spring sown beans start producing. However I enjoy the anticipation of seedlings bursting into life through the soil, while everything else around them is taken by winters firm grip.

Growing broad beans from autumn onwards can be a challenge, nurturing the plants through the bleakest months can be tricky with cruel winds and heavy snow at the ready to scupper your plans. Some winters are easier than others, but I came up with a nifty idea for protecting plants through gales – wind break panels made from plastic sheeting, fashioned together using garden wire and garden canes. Heavy snow is far trickier to control if the plants are particularly tall, we’ve had plants literally collapse and snap low down during tough winters. When this happens the plants eventually produce shoots from the base and continue growing, but they’re never as good.

There’s always spring to fall back on of course, but I rather like a challenge.

Chicken Health

Poultry Worms

From time to time your chickens will get worms, and not just the juicy kind they find in the garden. They’ll also get intestinal worms. Icky. Poultry worms are a common occurrence, especially if your flock free range frequently. I realise this is a gross subject, but if you keep chickens then you should learn to recognise the signs of a worm problem in your flock and how to treat when it does occur. I’ve included a few tips on how to go about preventing them too.

How do chickens get worms?

  • Eating worm egg hosts such as earthworms and snails
  • Picking up worm eggs from the ground via infected poultry droppings

Signs to look out for:

  • Dirty feathers around the vent / diarrhoea
  • Anaemia (pale combs and wattles)
  • Visible worms in droppings
  • Drop in egg production
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of condition

Poultry worms you may come across:

Large roundworm is a very visible (when out of the body) and long worm that lives in the small intestine. We’ve come across them before when bringing new chickens in, they look rather like spaghetti – sorry pasta lovers! The worm burrows into the gut wall which causes inflammation and damage if left untreated, reducing the intake of nutrients. A bird passing live worms in the droppings is heavily infected.

chicken worms, poultry worms
Large roundworm passed a couple of days after worming with Flubenvet. I hope you haven’t just had your tea.

Hairworm is a small worm about the width of a hair, hence the name. Found in the upper digestive system such as the crop, hairworm can cause a lot of internal damage, even in small numbers. Signs are green diarrhoea and anaemia with birds hunched and looking unwell.

Caecal worm is found in the caecum of chickens. Tiny little worms, they can be seen wriggling in caecal droppings. They’re quite common and usually harmless to healthy chickens in low numbers. If a natural worming approach doesn’t clear them (see below) then a medicated poultry wormer may be needed.

Tapeworm rarely affect chickens, however they can and live in the intestine. Tapeworm segments can be seen in the droppings, they’re odd tubular things that sort of wiggle a bit, only once in all our years of chicken keeping have we seen this. The hen was treated by a vet for a stronger dose of wormer. If you are concerned your chicken has tapeworm then you should seek veterinary advice.

Gapeworm is commonly seen in pheasants and turkeys, but they also affect chickens. The blood-red worms attach themselves to the trachea (throat), causing gasping (gaping) and neck stretching as the chicken struggles to breathe. Left untreated, they can be fatal by suffocation. They can be picked up from other birds coughing up the adult worms or via hosts such as earthworms and snails.

Control and treatment of poultry worms:

  • Frequently move free ranging birds / moveable runs to fresh ground
  • Add a couple of crushed garlic cloves to the drinking water to create a hostile environment in the gut
  • Inspect droppings, including caecal droppings for visible signs of worms
  • Heat, drought and a hard frost can destroy worm eggs or prevent them from maturing
  • Keep grass short during summer to allow UV from sunlight to destroy eggs
  • Include herbs in your flocks diet for a natural approach to worming
  • Feed raw pumpkin/squash seeds, they contain cucurbitin, an amino acid that can eliminate parasitic worms such as tapeworm and roundworm. There are varying opinions on this method of worming, we don’t have much evidence it actually works.
  • If worms are frequently seen in the droppings or a faecal sample is positive for worms, we recommend feeding Marriage’s layers pellets with added Flubenvet for 7 days as a really easy way of worming your flock. Available from licensed stockists.

We worm our chickens twice a year with Flubenvet, usually autumn and spring when conditions are right for worm eggs to thrive (warm and wet). We always worm new additions to our flock as a precaution. A heavy worm burden will impair the health of the bird by robbing them of important nutrients, if left for a long period of time, worms can damage the digestive tract of the birds which can lead to other infections.

Vegetable Garden

A Sunny November Afternoon

The sun was shining today, so we grabbed the opportunity to plant some garlic and carry on with the autumn tidy up.

Recent morning frosts claimed the last of our late summer planting of Czar runners. Before the frost hit, the dense foliage hid some fat bean pods, we always miss some, they’re too tough for eating but the beans inside are fine for cooking fresh.

While Rich got on with cutting down the runners I plunged 60 cloves of our home-grown Red Duke garlic into the soil, wished them well, then tucked them in for winter. I love the smell of garlic, especially when it meets the soil.

Red Duke is our favourite variety of garlic to grow. Over the past 2 years of growing it we’ve now accumulated enough of our own garlic for planting, with plenty of bulbs left over for kitchen use before harvesting the new crop next summer.

We decided to try another variety of garlic this year too, Caulk Wight is a purple striped garlic found in Russia and Eastern Europe. The seed garlic should be arriving soon which means more planting to look forward to!

If you’d like to learn how to grow your own garlic, take a look at our garlic growing guide https://thegardensmallholder.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/how-to-grow-garlic/

brussels sprouts
Vegetable Garden

It’s Funny How Tastes Change

As a child I hated Brussels sprouts. With a screwed up face I’d gingerly chew in slow motion, desperately thinking of a way to avoid swallowing the evil things. Of course they were in my mouth far longer than they should have been, so I’d end up gagging, mouth foaming with different shades of sprouty green. There were probably lots of tears too, followed by pitiful wailing in the hope mum would spare me.

Fast forward lots of years and I absolutely adore sprouts now. I grow them, cook them and happily eat them, especially raw straight off the plants. I can almost hear my inner child spewing. I admit I also pushed sprouts on our kids, but I think most parents introduce their children to these ‘yucky’ green balls at some point. Our daughter likes them now as a young adult but our teenage son is probably scarred for life.

brussels sprouts

I’m picking the first sprouts of the season now, ‘Seven Hills’ is a rare sprout that is almost extinct which makes them even more delicious! I got my seeds from Real Seeds if you’d like to give them a go next year.

chicken moult
Chicken Health

Chicken Moult

Around this time of year, when our chickens are going through their late autumn moult, coops and pens resemble a chicken crime scene. Huge bundles of feathers strewn everywhere!

For the new chicken keeper, experiencing chicken moult can be alarming! When your flock decide it’s time for a change of clothes feathers literally drop out overnight – covering the bedding on the coop floor. Sometimes a soft moult is all that’s needed, just an area of the body here and there, these partial moults often go on unnoticed, but when a hard moult is going on your chickens will look really scruffy for a while, perhaps even naked. Late summer to early winter is usually the time for moult but it can occur at anytime of the year. Your chickens may all go into a moult together or just 1 or 2 at a time.

It may not be noticeable, but our Brahma girls are going through their first adult moult now and looking a little scruffy in places – feet included!

Moult is necessary to replace old and worn feathers in order to be in the best possible condition to keep warm in winter. Most chickens go through a moult without any issues but for others it can be hard going, thankfully there are things you can do to help your flock through it. Chicken feathers are composed mostly of keratin (a protein responsible for the strength of wool, hair, fingernails and hooves), so it’s a good idea to increase protein intake during the moult. Our girls love protein-rich dried mealworms scattered around or mixed in with the usual feed, we like to add them to a warm mash on a cold morning. Boiled eggs cut into chunks to disguise (you don’t want to encourage egg eating after all!), peas and sunflower seeds are good for protein too. These treats should be fed in moderation as and when needed for moulting chickens and not replace the usual feed. Adding tonics to the drinking water will help give a boost in vitamins and minerals, we recommend Life-Guard poultry tonic.

A hen going through a hard moult will either significantly reduce the amount of eggs she lays or stop altogether, putting all her energy into growing new feathers rather than producing eggs. You may even find the occasional soft-shelled egg while a moult is occurring, this should correct itself once the moult is over.

chicken moult
One of our Lohmann Brown hens going through a hard moult, she shed most of her feathers within 48 hours and now she’s covered with pin feathers. She’ll look beautiful again very soon, just in time for winter.

New feathers coming through are known as ‘pin feathers’, they look like blueish spikes pushing through the surface of the bare skin. Try to avoid picking your chickens up during this time, pressure on pin feathers can be quite painful for them. Pin feathers can be very attractive to other chickens, they really bleed if pecked! Keep an eye out for feather pecking problems and use purple spray (also known as gentian violet spray ) as an antiseptic and to help disguise red areas (chickens are very attracted to the colour red, particularly blood) to discourage further pecking, separate if it becomes a real problem to avoid damage or worse.

Vegetable Garden

What’s Growing On In November?

I realise I haven’t done a monthly ‘What’s Growing On’ post for such a long time. Here we are in November, the kitchen garden a very different scene to my post back in March.

Apart from the winter veg, most of the veg beds are tired. Gone are the fresh greens and flower buds of summer, crispy brown foliage and weedy soil greets me now. Our pallet bins produced dark and crumbly compost over many months, I still find this a joyous thing! This fresh compost will soon top each bed as it becomes empty and weed-free, making a nutritious winter blanket.

The summer and tender crops may be over but there’s still plenty of food available in our veg garden.

We’re currently harvesting the following:

  • Carrot ‘Autumn King’
  • Parsnip ‘Gladiator’
  • Kale ‘Nero di Toscana’
  • Brussels sprouts ‘Seven Hills’
  • Beetroot ‘Boltardy’ and ‘Sanguina’
  • Tomato ‘Ruby’ (greenhouse, mostly green fruits now)
  • Chillies ‘Hot Orange Wonder’,  ‘Cayenne’ and ‘Razzamatazz’ (greenhouse)
  • Runner bean ‘The Czar’, planted late July (A recent frost has now stopped the plants)
  • Fennel
  • Perpetual spinach
  • Potatoes
  • Alpine strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Nasturtium flowers and leaves for salads (the frost survivors!)

We’re planning to plant the following:

  • Garlic ‘Red Duke’
  • Broad bean ‘Claudia Aquadulce’

We’re patiently waiting to eat the following:

  • Sprouting broccoli ‘ Early Purple’
Early Purple sprouting broccoli growing well. This crop takes FOREVER and requires quite a bit of growing space, but so worth it for food from the garden during the bleakest of months.
backlit, psb
PSB backlit in autumn sunshine. Hopefully this will be ready for picking early next year.

Fruit bushes such as blackcurrants will be pruned now by removing old wood leaving the younger shoots for fruiting next year. I plan to move a couple of young bushes to a permanent position this month.

November is a month of tidying finished crops, weeding, composting and feeding the soil.

Recipes

Roast Autumn Veg with Beans

A very simple and tasty seasonal dish, bringing the usual autumnal vegetables together. I used a late bloomer courgette in this recipe, it was given the perfect send off being included in this dish. Use as a side or perfect for a warming bowl of sweet, earthy autumnal goodness.

Serves 4

4 red onions, outer skin removed and sliced into quarters

1 or 2 courgettes (optional), sliced

5 medium-sized carrots, scrubbed and chopped into small chunks

2 beetroot, chopped into small chunks

1 winter squash, chopped into large chunks

Dried runner beans, large handful, soaked overnight.

Sea salt

1 tbsp rape seed oil (olive oil if preferred)

Add the soaked runner beans to a pan of boiling water, turn the heat down and simmer for approximately 1 hour, keep checking beans for softness using a fork and top up pan with extra water if the level falls too low. Drain, cover and put aside.

Add the prepared onions, carrots, courgette, squash and beetroot to a roasting dish, drizzle with oil and place in a hot preheated oven. Roast for approximately 30-40 minutes or until the onion has begun to caramelise.

Mix together with the cooked beans, add a sprinkling of sea salt and serve.

Fruit Garden, Harvest

Blueberries in November

Earlier this year we planted our first blueberry bushes in lovely old bath tubs. I wasn’t expecting much from their first growing year to be honest, but was happily proved wrong.

Two blueberry bushes provided steady pickings throughout summer right through to autumn, enough to keep the blueberry fans of the family satisfied. It’s now November and we’re still picking berries.

I spotted this vintage mini trug recently from one of my favourite online garden shops, with berry picking in mind it’s perfect for the job.

The temperature has really dropped during the day and nights are chilly, the bushes are just starting to display their beautiful autumnal colour in patches. I’m so pleased we introduced blueberries to our kitchen garden, if you’re interested in growing them too take a look at our growing guide post https://thegardensmallholder.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/blueberries-in-tubs/ for helpful information to keep them happy.