Uncategorized

Blogging and Packing

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?

Chickens, Uncategorized

Frosty Mornings

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.

Flower Garden, Wildlife, Wildlife Gardening

Autumn Nectar

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!

Chickens, Uncategorized

Best Of Friends

Today marked 6 months of freedom for our ex battery girls. Lily decided to lay an egg outside the coop today, obviously enjoying her freedom of choice quite literally. 

This photo is one of our favourites, our daughter with her hen friend Emily.

Wildlife

Gates and Caterpillars

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!

Wildlife

Toads and The Old Potting Shed

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.

Chickens

Monster Egg

Another huge egg from our chicken Rose, alongside another ‘normal’ size egg for comparison. Whoa!

Chickens

Wet Weekend

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!

Harvest

October Harvest

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.

Wildlife

Harlequin Ladybirds are Bad News

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?

Chickens

Update On Lily

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.

All in all she is doing rather well considering, however, it is proving difficult to administer her baytril. The problem is she no longer trusts me, after all I am the nasty woman who put her in a box and took her to a place she did not know. Tempting her with favourite foods laced with baytril is fruitless, the other hens naturally want what is meant for Lily so I have to be damn quick before they snatch it, hens are as quick as lightning where food is concerned. Obviously we are not keeping or eating her eggs while she is being treated.
 We decided to replace the wood chippings that are on the floor of the hens enclosure with straw ( the grass went a long time ago! ) to help Lily cope without her dressings. The girls are all enjoying scratching around in it, and snuggling into it now the weather has turned colder.
Chicken Health, Chickens

Bumblefoot and Lily’s Blue Shoes

One of our hens has been lying down a lot more than usual during the day, prompting us to check her feet. We discovered this morning that both feet had brown scabs in the middle of each foot pad. This, along with swelling between the toes, are classic symptoms of bumblefoot. Naturally, this was the reason for her being reluctant to stand for long periods of time. It’s such a shame, Lily does not have the prettiest hen feet in town, some of her claws are missing (presumably due to the wire cage floor she endured whilst in the battery farm) and now she has bumblefoot to contend with.

Lily was seen by a vet this morning who specialises in farm animals. She was admitted to have both bumbles removed, the vet agreed that the cause was most probably from being on wire previously. We were terribly worried about her having gas as birds can easily slip away whist under. Lily is now home and doing very well considering. Fingers crossed she continues to improve, its been a worrying day.

Both her feet are in dressings now and these need to stay in place for the next few days to give her feet a chance to heal without getting dirty, mammoth task really as those who keep hens will realise.

Rose our resident clown hen never fails to make us laugh. On our return from the vets Rose noticed Lily’s blue shoes, she lifted both her feet to see if she had some on too (which of course she does not) then proceeded to protest very loudly.

Hens!

Vegetable Garden

Runners Beans!

Yes! Yes! Yes! Success with the runner beans this year. There are more beans on the plants as well as the ones that can be seen in the photo, enough for a few meals at least. Note to self, sow them earlier next year.

Uncategorized

That Autumnal Feeling

Its official, Autumn is upon us. I love the feel of autumn, the colours and the freshness of it. Autumn makes everything pop out at you and make you take notice, like morning dew on cobwebs for instance. I am up with the larks to let the hens out before they start shouting for me, and this morning the dew covered cobwebs put on a spectacular display, twinkling and sparkling in the morning sun.

Our vegetable garden is winding down to the point that we have nothing left to harvest, the only veg looking at all respectable are unripe chillies and runner beans, trying desperately to produce something before the frosts come. The last of the carrots have been dug up and enjoyed and I only wish that we had been a little more daring with the amount sown. I spent some time this morning casting my eyes over the veg or rather lack of and making plans in my head whilst cradling one of the bunnies. Our neighbours must think I have lost the plot.

The hens all produced today and I had to wince at the size of Rose’s egg, what a whopper. Still, at least breakfast is covered.

Chickens

Sunshine and Cleaning

Another warm sunny day today so we spent most of it in the garden smallholding doing the cleaning out chores. Rabbits first and then on to tackle the chicken coop. The overnight poops are cleaned out every morning along with a quick check of the nest boxes to see if they have been soiled. They are cleaned if need be so the coop is pretty much a straight forward job when the full clean out is due. Thankfully the red mite that made an appearance during the short hot spell this summer have well and truly cleared off, so we are continuing to use Diatom powder and Poultry Shield as a preventative measure. Luckily we realised quite early that red mite had moved into the coop so they were not too difficult to get rid of. Next spring / summer we will know what to look out for and how to treat if they decide to make an appearance.

We have noticed that the change in weather and season (its been autumn for a while now hasn’t it?) has slightly affected egg production in the last few weeks, but still plenty of eggs to provide the family. This will be our first winter of chicken keeping and we are yet to see if all our hens stop laying completely during the coming months. Hopefully winter will be mild to make up for the wash out of a summer!
Chickens

Spent Hens?

We have been keeping a record of how many eggs per month our hens are producing, with surprising results. In May they produced 171 eggs, and also the same total for June. July has been the record so far, 179. August they produced 161, a couple of blips here and there but still a steady amount. They have laid a staggering 790 eggs to date including April and the first half of this month. This is obviously far more than we need to feed our family of 4 so the eggs have been gratefully received by family, friends and neighbours. We have swapped them for vegetables, given them away as gifts and sold a few at the gate.

Spent hens? I think not!

Vegetable Garden

Non Starter Runners

Our runner beans have been a bit of a disaster this year, probably for 2 reasons. Firstly I sowed them way too late only for the bean seed to be gobbled below soil level, so our daughter (having more determination than I) potted up some new beans and voila they sprouted. Then I took over and planted them out and it all went kind of wrong from there. Well I blame the weather, ok ok a combination of my failure to get them sown on time AND the bad weather. Am I getting away with it?!
 
Well I was all ready to throw in the towel earlier this week and dig the stringy-lanky-lazy-buggers up, they deserve it they have not produced one bean, plenty of pretty flowers but no beans. Just before they were about to meet their maker I noticed some very small pods forming right at the very top. Maybe my constant moaning and fist waving at them has done the trick, I dont know but its very odd. I have been keeping the outside lights on longer at night than usual to help guide me in the dark whilst locking up the chicken coop after the hens have gone to bed. I wonder if the extra light or the heat from the bulbs has caused this sudden urge to produce? Either way I dont think the pods will come to much now.
Uncategorized, Vegetable Garden

A Little Ray Of Sunshine

After the miserable weather and constant heavy downpours I was grateful to get out in the garden today in bright warming sunshine. Its days like this that I appreciate the sun and warm weather, rather than constantly moaning that I am too hot. I know the crops and garden needs it but im not a sun worshipper anymore, not now that im all grown up and in my 30’s! Dont get me wrong I like the sun but I dont like the heat. I shade worship now.

Not much to do at the moment veg wise, everything is winding down. We hope to grow alot more next season, this year was really an experiment to see if we could manage to grow anything at all. Crops that were successful enough to feed us a couple of meals were peas, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes (although I didnt think much of the variety) and french bean. Failures were aubergine, runner bean, one bell pepper managed to grow to the size of a golf ball and our chillies did not ripen in time so I guess they are a failure also.

The plan is to plan more rather than growing things on a whim and hoping for the best. Early days yet, so much to learn and so many more mistakes to make. As long as we learn from them its ok. Wish we had done it years ago!

Chickens

Chickens

I have always wanted to keep chickens and never thought I would be able to. I mean, chicken keeping is for country folk right?…. Wrong! So many people these days are getting in on the act and clearing an area in their suburban back garden and plonking an eglu or ark in it.

We collected our very first hens on a cold April morning from a car park full of people waiting patiently with pet boxes and crates. Odd you may think but this was an organised rescue meet and becoming very popular thanks to programmes and personalities on TV such as Chicken Out and Jamie Oliver for example.

The 6 ladies in question are all ex battery hens rescued from their tiny cage after spending 12-18 months doing very little other than eating, pooing and laying. They have been with us now for nearly 5 months and its been a joy to care for them and watch them learn to do chickeny things like scratch and flap, peck and dustbathe. In fact they spurred us on in a way to get involved in being more self sufficient, to get out there and dig the soil so to speak. So whilst watching them learn about their new lives, we have learned a great deal from them about ours!