Monday, 16 May 2016

Fences, hedges, paths and structures

It's been a bit hectic here, but what a difference a few days can make. There have been some major changes on the smallholding and I feel that all of them are for the better. The weather has warmed up and although the nights are still a little cool, the days are warm enough for short sleeves, in fact Sunday ended up rather hot. 

The chicks are growing steadily, their little wing feathers are almost completely formed and Mr J and I decided that it was time to create a larger box for them to live in and to move it out of the kitchen into the boot room. So Mr J popped to the local DIY store and bought some melamine boards for us to use to create a better chick house. At 100 cms long, 57cms wide and 53cms high it is twice the size of the first box that they had.
Once their inside accommodation was sorted, I turned my attention to giving them some space outside to run around in. I am keen that they feel the grass under their feet and fresh air as soon as they can. If they were being raised by a mother hen, she would have had the chicks out on grass by now, to scratch and explore.
So using some panels that my daughter gave me when we got the henhouse from her and cable ties, I put together a very basic run for them. We added their food and water and a small box with sawdust in it, so that they had something familiar to sleep in if they wanted to get warm and an old cotton rug over one end to provide shelter from the sun and also the breeze. The chicks had a whale of a time, quickly starting to scratch about and search for good things to eat. Little White has a particular passion for dandelion leaves which she tackled with vigour and obvious delight.
We quickly came to realise that this run design was not the best and that the chicks would be better with something with vertical sides rather than the ark design. So yesterday I took this run apart and reconfigured the panels to make (what we think is) a rather clever run that can be divided into two or not depending on whether we have one batch of chicks or two. The central panel on the top is fixed into place on one side (the left side in this photo), but not the other side which allows us to divide the two halves without any problems. The top panels on each end are 'hinged' to allow for access into the run. We have bought bolt locks to put on the side panels at the central join. Again this will allow us to separate or keep secure the two halves of the run.
Of course, the two little chicks probably noticed no difference, they just enjoyed the grass beneath their feet, the sunshine and fresh air.
Over the last few weeks, we have been collecting unwanted pallets from here, there and anywhere that they were available, so that I can start to build a fence around the vegetable garden. The first few panels were put up earlier in the week and I have continued to add to them during the last few days. I also created some composting areas along the back of the fence having realised that I use less pallets if I make the fence a dual purpose one, utilising the back of the fence as the back panels of compost bins or bays.
Our neighbour kindly donated several large bags of used wood shavings and chicken manure that otherwise, he was going to take to the local recycling tip. I was delighted to have an influx and now, constant source of additional material for the compost heaps.

So without delay, I got on with making the next compost heap. First I put a layer of straw in the base,
then added a layer of grass,
 and a layer of wood shavings,
Luckily Mr J was using a strimmer to shorten the grass that had grown too long to be useful for the chickens (who had taken to playing hide and seek in it), so I had a fresh supply of green material to use.
 Another layer of grass, watered well,
And then a layer of newspaper and chicken manure from the base of our neighbour's chicken house and then I added a front to the compost heap using part of a packing case. This was more to stop the ducks going into the pile and rummaging around than to keep the pile from spilling out.
I will continue to alternate layers of grass, wood shavings, then more grass, watering very well between each layer being added. A layer of earth and one of the last of remains of the last heap should add the essential bacteria needed to make this heap into rich compost fairly quickly. As long as we keep watering it well  I am hoping that this will be ready to use in about three weeks - optimistic I know, but having already make 3 week compost, I'd like to do it again.

As I type this blog, I can hear the chicks three rooms away, cheeping merrily away, perhaps hinting that they'd like to be out in the fresh air again, but as it's still cool outside, they will have to wait a little longer.

It seems that we got into our stride with tackling some fairly big tasks over the last week, as the garden seems to have come on in leaps and bounds. I laid down a thick layer of unbleached paper and added compost over the top of it to create the next vegetable bed and covered the last bed in straw, so that it is now ready to be planted with onions (started in modules in the greenhouse).
Our neighbour came round to help us cut back the hedge which had started blocking the view and the light of each of the three houses along our little lane. Armed with loppers, saws, hedge trimmers, ladders, chipper and safety equipment, Mr J and the neighbour took about four or five feet off the hedge and it now looks fabulous.
We now had a pretty large pile of Leylandii to dispose of. So Mr J spent most of the afternoon shredding it, while I used the loppers to remove the smaller branches from the trunks that were too large to go into the shredder and taking away the shredding material.
This shredded tree was not going to go to waste, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. I piled it up on the pathways between the vegetable beds where it should dry out and slowly break down over the next couple of years. Once it's broken down, I can add it to the compost heap or directly onto the beds. I am not adding it now, as I seem to remember reading that it could burn the plants as it's breaking down.
Between the beds, it is forming a thick, weed suppressing layer and smells rather nice as I walk on it.
Over the next few days Mr J will continue to cut the grass and as he does, I will create more compost heaps. We now have six of the vegetable beds created, but there are plenty more that need to made for us to get all the young plants that we have into the ground. I am so pleased that we won't have to create vegetable and fruit beds every year and that next year we will only need to add more composted material to the existing beds.

We still have an issue with one of the chickens pecking and eating eggs, so I ordered some coloured leg rings to put on the girls to help us identify the culprit. Yesterday morning, one of the Cream Legbar girls was behaving rather oddly. I sat quietly in the chicken field to watch what was going on and this particular girl was systematically walking between one henhouse and the next, going in, scratching around in the straw, pecking and then leaving for the other house, and in a few moments, would be out again and returning to the first. Mr J joined me in watching what was going on and quickly saw this girl pecking hard at the china eggs we have in the nesting boxes (to encourage the young birds to lay). Without delay, I removed this bird and put her into isolation, this morning I am going to sit in the chicken field once again and watch to see if any eggs get pecked. If they do, then the isolated bird can return to the flock and the offender take her place. If there are no pecked eggs today, then sadly we have a hard decision to make about the isolated one. So I think it's time to make a cuppa, find a book and go to sit in a field with a small flock of chickens.

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