Tuesday, 30 August 2016

August round up

While I'm waiting for the eggs in the incubator to hatch I thought it would be an ideal time to have a good look around and see what we've been up to over the August Bank Holiday weekend.
The Four Horsemen chickens have been badly behaved. If you are a chicken, I imagine that you'd think it was super-dooper behaviour, but I'm not and I don't appreciate the chickens escaping to the front garden and then promptly kicking the chipped bark off the shrubbery and onto the gravel of the driveway and yard.
The answer to this problem was simple, I needed to finish putting the wind reducing netting onto the wooden fencing around the paddock. It's one of those tasks that I keep meaning to do, but had also found dozens of other things to do instead. So I stapled the green netting into place and blocked off their access to the metal five bar gate which then did a good job at keeping them in the paddock.

However, I had spoiled their fun and so instead they looked for something else to amuse them. It turned out that a kitchen garden filled with lush green leaves was the place to have fun. So each time they made a bid for freedom, they headed straight for the rows of spinach and chard. This was also an unsatisfactory state of affairs, we can't have four small birds eating the food that I am growing for us and all the chickens for the autumn and winter. 

The solution was to create a small pen by the chicken shed for them to live in during the day until they are too large to squeeze through the flexible chicken netting. They aren't very happy about being enclosed in the small space (it's about 12 feet by eight feet), but the alternative is that they go into an even smaller chicken run.

The Dozen are growing rapidly and have seem to have spent the weekend sorting out their pecking order. They have squabbled and argued a lot for the last couple of days and I need to research whether this means that they don't have enough space or whether that's just what they do. It wasn't noticeable with Big Red and Little White or with the Four Horsemen. They are at that awkward stage where they are losing the last of the fluff on their necks as their feathers grow through and it makes them look like funny little punky creatures.
 We have found a very local farm shop that sells straw. It costs 50p more per bale than the straw we've bought previously but it's an awful lot of closer, which saves us time and petrol. On Saturday afternoon we collected eight bales of straw so that I could refresh the circles of love. I am slowly moving the Cream Legbars towards the rear of their field, a few feet at a time so that the change doesn't upset them too much. I moved their shelter first and then built a new circle of love for them. In the circle I will dump all the wood shavings from their houses, weeds, greens, old straw and vegetable plants as I lift them. They then scratch through it and turn it into rich compost. The Legbars haven't really got the hang of keeping the material inside the straw circle, so I will add one more bale to make the access opening much smaller. I then plan to add a second layer of bales which should provide them with much needed shelter from the wind in the autumn and winter. The field shelter (a glamorous name for two pallets held together with baling twine and an old rug thrown over the top) is fine for providing a shady area in the summer, but the wind whips across this field and I want to offer them some shelter from the relentless gusts.

The area that has been the circle of love for the last few months is ready to be sectioned off and planted up. I will put some kale, chard and spinach in this spot that will be fed to the chickens (and possibly us too) in the cooler months.

 In the older girls' side of the field I moved their circle of love in May, so it is staying in approximately the same place until spring. Big Red and Little White know exactly how to use the circle of love and together with Jack and Diesel can spend hours scratching through the material finding good things to peck at and eat.

The vegetable garden is looking quite full in some beds and I am very pleased with how well some of the crops have grown in the not-very-good soil that they have in the raised beds. For our first year and given that we have had to make the raised beds and import soil and composted horse manure, I am rather proud of how much as been achieved in just a few months.
 The hedge that we planted with Jane in late winter is starting to spread nicely, I noticed that a couple of the wild roses had flowered and are now forming fat little rose hips. It will take a few years for the hedge plants to merge and form a thick dense hedge, but I can see the beginnings of it already.


 In other areas the weeds from the field next door have dominated. I understand that in the past the farmer who worked the fields that surround our smallholding had managed the weeds, but there is a new farmer working the fields and he seems to be leaving the weeds to grow. Unfortunately I think that they may well smother the hedge plants in a few areas and short of making masses of extra work for myself in managing the weeds outside our boundary, I may just have to accept that in these patches we will have to put up with massive clumps of thistles and thorny brambles.


Elsewhere in the garden some cultivated plants seem to be running amok. The pumpkin plants are looking very healthy and I now have six good size pumpkins and about a dozen smaller ones developing on the plants.
 It looks as though I will have a pumpkin that I can proudly give to my grandsons in October for them to use at Halloween. The next thing that they need to do is turn a rich orange colour as they ripen.

We've moved Frederick and Mrs. Warne's duck house to a more sheltered spot and turned it so that the doorway isn't facing towards the direction that the wind blows for most of the autumn and winter because having soaking wet bedding won't be much fun for them.

The young ducklings (that have stolen our hearts) continue to grow rapidly and on Sunday I extended their run to give them an extra three feet to play in. I have started leaving the cat litter tray filled with water in the pen. They are old enough now that they won't just sit in the water all day long getting cold, but will paddle in and out at different times during the day. We have identified an area in the duck enclosure that we plan to separate off so that the ducklings can have a lot more space to run around before they are large enough to join the adult birds free ranging in their space. It took us a little while to get the set up right for the chickens and chicks and we are just starting to get a set up sorted for the ducks and ducklings.

In between sorting out the birds and pottering in the garden I have continued preserving fruit and vegetables from the garden and have been blackberry picking in the hedgerow of the fields surrounding us and yesterday we made a trip to see our friends Jane and Dave. Jane has been a friend for the best part of thirty years, our children played together when they were young and Jane and I share a love of gardening. They have a small garden around their house and Jane has started an allotment area with a friend this year (I have parsnip envy having seen photos of her crop). Jane had kindly collected some poultry carriers for me from someone nearby to her who was selling them and it was time we picked them up from her and got them out of her way. While we were there she also gave us several plants to boost the perennial border, shrubbery and a fabulous fig tree which I'm hope will settle nicely in the new food forest that I will be planting over the next month or so.


The warm weather has brought with it some hazy dawns and beautiful sunsets, I wish my camera could do them justice. 

Now I need to go and check on the progress of the hatching eggs and of course, it's time for a cuppa!

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