Our two children having fun dressing up tonight. Better get on with the packing, lots to do and so little time!
At the moment we are in the middle of packing, not to go on holiday (although somewhere nice and hot would be lovely right now) but to move house – a relocation move. This should explain the lack of substance in our most recent posts, we did not see the point of starting new projects or planning for early crops due to the impending move, so it left little to blog about. This has been rather frustrating at times as there are so many things that we want to do and be getting stuck into.
I did mention to Stiggy over at One Man And His Chickens blog a while ago that I would not blog about this particular ‘touchy’ subject, but the excitement has got the better of me. You see the past year has been awful, very stressful and full of disappointments. This time last year we were in a very similar situation, all set to move and get on with our new lives and plans but through no fault of our own the chain collapsed and we lost not only our buyers but the house we wanted too. Then very early this year we sold again only to have yet more problems within the chain which ended with us losing out once more.
Since late summer this year we have been keeping our fingers tightly crossed and silently hoping that the new chain goes through to completion this time. However, we are not completely out of the woods just yet. Due to an admin error (groan) on our mortgage offer, it has delayed exchange of contracts now for a week, hopefully this will be rectified very shortly. We did not want to be packing up before an exchange had happened, it kind of feels like we are tempting fate and that something will go wrong, lets face it everything that could go wrong previously did and this does knock your confidence eventually.
Even so, it is looking very likely that completion will follow very shortly after exchange of contracts, and I think we are wise to make a head start on the packing even if it does feel a bit scary. Hopefully we will have the news we have waited so long to hear soon, it cannot come quickly enough as we are getting just a little fed up of disappointment and crossing fingers. Surely it cannot go wrong again?
Another dusting of overnight frost sparkled at me this morning, the last two days have been particularly chilly here. The weatherman reported that it was going to be around -3 last night, so I spent a bit more time than usual yesterday afternoon making sure that the hens coop was well prepared with extra bedding to at least try and take the sting out of Jack Frost’s forthcoming nightshift.
After letting the hens out early this morning I was greeted with cheery bop-bop clucks from happy hens, totally oblivious to the cold it seemed. I watched them for a while, scratching around merrily in the warm barley straw that I scattered around the enclosure as I clutched my hot cup of tea, trying to keep my hands warm. I think the rest of this week is going to be pretty much the same, good job the hens can cope with the cold better than I do.
This welcome sight for hungry bees and other beneficial insects is the flower of Fatsia Japonica, an evergreen shrub that’s as tough as old boots. After the flowers are finished tiny purple/black seed heads are food for small birds. We planted this shrub around 5 years ago and now it must be well over 10 ft high by 9 ft wide, every autumn it’s teeming with hungry bees when the creamy white flowers emerge. They are very similar to the flower spikes of ivy Hedera helix but are more than double the size. Flowering commences from the bottom of the spike which elongates as it matures, so it’s quite a spectacular plant when there are several spikes in flower.
Fatsia Japonica likes full shade or part shade, in full sun its deep glossy leaves will end up burnt and sickly looking but it will probably still cope!
Caterpillars sometimes choose the most unusual places to pupate, this little fella is preparing to overwinter as a pupa on one of our gates. It is the caterpillar of the Grey Dagger moth, a vibrant coloured caterpillar with the striking hump just before the head. Due to the angle of the gate, this is the best viewpoint of which to take a photo so the hump is not clearly seen im afraid. This is one of those moments that I wish I had a macro lens and a bendy back!
Our decision to keep the rotten old potting shed that we inherited 9 years ago when buying this property was a wise decision, it serves the local toad population with somewhere safe to cool off in the summer months, and best of all somewhere safe to hibernate over winter. We hardly keep anything in there now and Ivy has creeped its way in through a gap in one of the broken windows.
Toads are always a welcome sight in our garden, they keep the slug and snail population under control which is great for us because we do not use slug pellets. Its that time of year again when toads and other forms of wildlife will be looking for somewhere to hibernate, the old potting shed will serve them well.
Most of our time spent in the garden smallholding this weekend was finding ingenious ways of keeping the chickens dry and out of the high winds due to the lashing from the great British weather. The chicken’s enclosure is 6ft high and although it has a wire mesh roof, it does not have roofing sheets. This is one project that has had to take a back seat for the time being for one reason or another.
You would think the chickens would go inside the coop to escape the worst of the weather, but seeing as they choose not to the girls now have a makeshift shelter which is dry and draught free. It is basically a wood frame screwed together with tarpaulin over the top and 3 sides. They have soft straw down on the floor and their feed bowls are easy to get to. This works for now, but I really cannot wait to get a roof on the run!
Its not much I know but very satisfying all the same, especially as I did not think we would get any runner beans this year due to my failure to sow them on time, whoops. We hope that this time next year we are harvesting a bit more produce, rather than one big bang all at once in the summer. Planning is the key, this we need to learn and fast.
The hens all layed today, the white egg belongs to Dolly. Lily’s eggs are the deepest brown so again very easy to spot, whatever she produces needs to be thrown away for the time being, which feels awful to do but totally necessary. The chillies are a tad yellow but they do ripen once brought indoors into the warmth. We used one last night and it gave off alot of heat, perfect.
We love wildlife and try to encourage it into our garden smallholding as best we can. We are always looking into new projects and ideas to increase wildlife and insect activity as much as possible, in particular butterflies.
We first encountered the Harlequin ladybird at our garden smallholding in the summer of this year. Due to the sheer size of them ( see photos taken by Karen) we decided to learn a little more about them. We were quite shocked at our findings:
They are in fact ‘alien’ ladybirds, threatening the existence of our native ladybirds, which of course is not good news. The Harlequin ladybird is also a deadly threat to many other insects, including butterflies and lacewings. They are extremely voracious predators that easily out compete native ladybirds for food. They are so successful that while native ladybird numbers dwindle the Harlequin ladybird flourishes. When their preferred food of aphids and scale insects are not available, the Harlequin readily preys on native ladybirds and other insects such as butterfly eggs, caterpillars and lacewing larvae.
The harlequin ladybird originates from Asia and was introduced to North America in 1988 for biological control of aphids on crops. It is now the most widespread ladybird species on the continent. It has already invaded much of northwestern Europe, and arrived in Britain during the summer of 2004.
Most commonly found on deciduous trees, such as lime, sycamore and maple, and on low growing plants such as nettles. They are also partial to sugary fruits such as pears, and nectar from flowers.
Butterflies are having a rough time of it due to the past few wet summers, butterflies cannot fly in wet weather which means they cannot feed or mate. We have planted various butterfly friendly shrubs and flowers to help them right through till the autumn, we are considering getting butterfly and insect houses ( do a google search, they do exist! ) to give butterflies and pollinating insects somewhere warm and dry to hibernate. We also leave clumps of certain weeds such as nettles for example in the borders, these are host plants needed by certain species of butterfly on which to lay their eggs so the caterpillars can feed.
We don’t know what to make of this alien invasion. Have you found any in your garden?
Lily’s blue dancing shoes are no more. They did however see her through till Monday which is not bad considering she constantly scratched around and took her regular dustbath under the bushes. After her dressings were removed I checked her feet and they already look to be healing quite nicely. Her stitches will dissolve eventually, right now she needs them wiped over each day with an iodine based antiseptic to keep nasty germs out.