Friday, 15 April 2016

Structure in the garden

Spurred on by the improving weather, we've been busy in the garden. Actually, not so much in the garden as just 'outside'. Mr J has spent many hours over the last month removing nails and screws from the reclaimed wood that we bought at the start of the year and we are now ready to start building raised beds in earnest.

We don't own all the latest gadgets and tools that would make construction easy, so we have to make do with those that we have. Some are inherited from our parents and some we have bought, but we seem to have the basics that are needed to get by.

Armed with a circular saw, Mr J has been cutting the pieces of 2 x 4 into the correct lengths for us to build some more of the much needed raised beds for the vegetable garden. Having built two we were able to decide the exact length and width that we wanted them to be and now we have a template, we're able to create kits to put together quite quickly. Speed of course is a relative term; what I find quick, others may find painfully slow.

The beds are four feet wide and fourteen feet long and as we don't have pieces that are long enough, we are joining shorter lengths to make up the full fourteen feet. It felt incredibly satisfying to have the kits lined up ready for us to put together. It took about half an hour or so to put together one of the kits and install it in the vegetable garden, which means that over the next couple of weeks we should be able to get most of the raised beds in place.

After that it's just a matter of filling them up and planting them. I wish it was as fast as it sounds! Loading up each bed involves shifting about a ton of soil and compost which means that I can do about half a bed per day with a day off in between to recover. The obvious answer would be for Mr J to fill the beds, but I want to know that I have put in my share of the work in creating our smallholding.

While I was in the paddock that will be the vegetable garden yesterday morning, I checked on the bird box that is fixed to the dead fruit tree in garden. I have noticed a bird collecting hay, straw and feathers and flying up into the tree so I'm assuming that they have set up residence in the bird box. This poor old tree has had either squirrels or mice nesting in hollows in the gnarly old trunk and branches have just dropped off it where they are so rotten. Then I looked up and almost fell over!

The top of the tree is covered in snowy white blossom. It's not dead at all, somehow this old, old tree has survived another winter and it looks like it will bear fruit again this year. I'm still not sure what type of tree it is. I think it's a pear tree, but will have to wait for later in the year to be sure.

Yesterday afternoon Clare came to help us move a second-hand shed that I had spotted for sale locally. Clare has a large van, energy, enthusiasm and the knowledge of how to take a shed apart without breaking it (I have some very talented friends), so early afternoon we took the short drive to the property where the shed was and dismantled it. It took two trips to bring the shed home, but it's now sitting in the piggery waiting for us to put it back together.

The shed needs a few repairs, there's a little rot at the base of the side panels and the roof panels have seen better days. Interestingly the roof structure looks dry and sound, so we will just need to replace the roof panels and re-felt it to make the shed dry.

This six feet by eight feet shed will become a large chicken house to go in the paddock and should comfortably house whole of the flock we plan to have. The smaller chicken houses that we have now will become an isolation unit and a nursery space for young chickens before they are big enough to join the flock.

And in eighteen days time, we should have our first chicks. The eggs arrived on Tuesday and after leaving them to rest overnight, I marked them with Xs and Os ready to go into the incubator. We need to manually turn the eggs every few hours to mimic what a mother hen would do in her nest. This stops the developing chick from sticking to the inside of the egg shell which could cause deformities or cause premature death inside the egg shell. By marking an X and O on opposite sides of the egg we can be sure of how far we have turned the egg each time we turn them.

We'd had the incubator on for a few days prior to putting the fertile eggs into it, this allowed us to test that it held it's temperature and because we used a test egg, we got into the habit of turning the egg before the first batch went in.

It is now day three of the eggs incubating and by our calculations they should start to hatch on 4th May. We have already made a few jokes about naming them after Star Wars characters, but in keeping with our aim not to name animals that are being reared for consumption, we will only name birds that are being kept for the long term. Somewhere in the back of my mind I think it might be rather fun to have a rooster called Yoda.

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