Thursday, 12 May 2016

Rainy day news

One of my regular readers commented this week that she didn't know where I get the all energy from for all the tasks. The simple answer is, I don't!  If we work outside, then it's pretty certain that nothing got done inside and often even when we aren't tackling tasks outside, I am not doing much inside either. The joy of a blog is that it can give the impression that we have achieved a lot (which often we have), but then of course, you can't see that the floors haven't been swept and the dust is now forming a nice fluffy tablecloth over every surface!  I tend not to stress much about housework, with the exception of keeping the kitchen food areas and prep surfaces very clean (after all, I don't eat from the floor, but I do eat food that's prepped on the kitchen surfaces) and the bathrooms (also for hygiene reasons).  Although now I've written a message in the dust of the TV table, I think I'll have to find a duster and some polish.
The rhythm of my day and week is fairly predictable. I do a bit in the garden or house and then need a rest or a sleep. If I do manage to keep going through the day, the next day is spent curled up on the sofa or asleep. Having learnt to go with the flow and accept that I can't do as much as I used to or as I'd like to, I now enjoy and quietly celebrate everything that I do manage to achieve. This makes for a very positive experience of life. Enjoying the simple things (and the more complex) and celebrating the mundane means that I can find joy in so much more than I did in the past. Through necessity, I have accidentally found a rather peaceful way to be. Added to this, I laugh so much more than I did, now I have time to see the ridiculous, watch the funny, see the irony in everyday activities.

So with all that calmness around me, coupled with my inclination to plan and make lists, I am slightly surprised at how often I seem to be in the midst of chaos. This is usually chaos of my own making, but it's chaos all the same.

Anyway, the middle of this week has seen plenty of activity on the smallholding, and not all of it ours. We have taken delivery of everything we need to put up the second hand shed that we bought via Gumtree last month. This will go behind the stables in the chickens' field to provide a large, dry and comfortable home for the chickens all together, rather than them being in small groups in small houses. It will free the small houses to be used for young chickens, broody hens or for isolating an ill bird.

The weather has hindered our progress in building the shed or doing much else outside for that matter. But I have spent some time outside, scooping water from rain butts and redistributing it around the garden (in the rain, I must have looked a bit nutty!) and creating small channels from huge puddles (more like mini-ponds) to allow water to drain away into the hedge and field beyond. The chickens looked so bedraggled with the heavy rain soaking their feathers, but then I realised that I must have looked similarly soggy as when I came back in, I was soaked through to the skin.

During some of the drier spells, I've started to plant out the onions sets that I planted in modules a couple of weeks ago. They have made good growth, their roots had started to fill the base of the modules and they have about four inches of growth above the ground. One bed is now completed with around 120 onions and today I will mulch around them with straw to reduce water evaporation and hopefully eliminate the need for weeding.

Early evening yesterday, when the rain had stopped and the sun had just started to make itself known again, I suggested that it would be an ideal time to put some of the hazel poles in the ground as it would be soft from all the rain we've had in the last two days. Well that was the theory. As it turns out, the soil may be soft, but the vast amount of gravel, pebbles and stones in the ground doesn't change, so despite our feet slipping over the grass or sinking into the mud, the hazel poles were still not easy or quick to get into the ground.
But we persevered and got the framework completed for the runner bean poles to rest against in the super-quick raised bed that we made earlier in the week. The light was fading by the time we finished and after shutting the chickens away for the night and 'persuading' the ducks to go to bed, it was almost dark. Supper was a thrown together stir-fry of previously home cooked foods that I found in the freezer. Some of our nicest meals are ones that are cobbled together from bits and pieces, helped by having worked up an appetite.

We still have an issue with a chicken pecking at the eggs. Actually it only seems to be pecking the Cream Legbar's (CLB) egg and as yet, we don't know which chicken is the culprit. I have ordered some coloured leg rings to put on the birds, so that we can identify them easily (as the six CLB chickens all look the same). We can then isolate one or two birds at a time and see if the egg is still pecked. If not, we can be fairly sure that the isolated bird is the one that is misbehaving. If we can't find a way of correcting the egg pecking (and eating) habit, sadly that bird will be one for the pot.

Up until today, there has only been one regular egg laying CLB and possibly a second has laid once or twice, but this morning I opened their little house to find that one bird had laid an egg without a shell. This, I understand, is the beginning of the egg production process, so hopefully, in a few days that chicken will start to lay eggs regularly. 
Once the birds had rushed out to find some food, stretch their legs and run around, one of the birds stayed by the house, huddled up looking, for all intent and purposes, very poorly. Then, with a little squeak, she laid an egg on the floor. I am not sure which of us was more surprised! This little egg was soft shelled and almost white, with just a splash of the vivid blue on it. And then she ran off, happy as a free-range chicken should be, to join the rest of the flock. But hooray, that's another CLB that is starting to lay.

I've also been searching for useful items on FreeCycle and Gumtree and yesterday we collected a pile of pallets and a few dismantled packing cases.

They will be used to remake our compost bin system, so that I can use the slightly sturdier pallets that presently contain the compost to make a start on the fence that will surround the kitchen garden. At the moment the kitchen garden is surrounded by flexible chicken netting that our friend Helen kindly lent to us. Having a more solid surrounding will provide a little more shelter for the plants from the strong winds that blow across the garden. Today we will be collecting some other items that folks have kindly offered on FreeCycle, shelving, a desk, a metal cage to go around the 1000ltr water container that we have (but that has no cage), some greenhouse glass and, while we are out, we hope to buy a couple of small bales of straw that I can use as mulch on the vegetable beds.

And, before we head out we just have time for a cuppa.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

3 week compost

Well, today brought a nice surprise! Flashback to 18th April when Mr J cut the grass in the paddock and I created a new compost heap in a metal hoop made from stock fencing wire.
We layered grass clippings with brown material to the depth of about two and half to three feet.  You can read about it here - 'Cut and compost again'I had intended to turn the heap a few times to add air to it to encourage swift decomposition, but we didn't get a chance to do it because we were busy elsewhere on the smallholding. Mr J and I have watered the compost heap regularly with the water from the ducks' pond and water buckets, so it has had some attention, just not as much as I would have liked.
This afternoon, after the heavy rain had stopped, I thought that if I didn't do something with it, it would stop composting and turn to stinky sludge, which I really don't want to use in our new vegetable beds. We have managed to acquire a couple more pallets (by asking nicely at the local farmer's store and builder's merchants), so they became the sides of the new compost heap. We are already using the compost from our first two heaps in our raised beds, so it is the ideal time to move the location of the compost heaps to the other side of the paddock to be nearer the raised beds.
So, with three pallets strapped together to form a U shape, Mr J and I lifted the wire hoop from around the compost heap that we made on 18th April.

The plan was to put the driest and least composted material in the base of the new heap and the remainder of the partially decomposed heap on the top of it and then water and cover it to allow it to continue to decompose and hopefully in another month or two, it would be ready to use in the garden. But things didn't go quite according to plan because once I cut into the heap with the spade and removed the outer edges and top layer, I found that the centre of the compost heap was, well, compost!
A bit stunned (and delighted) by what we were seeing I dug through it a little and although we can still see a layer of soil and coffee grinds, it is for all intent and purposes ready to use!

 So that's it, rich, dark, sweet smelling compost in just 23 days!

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Monday, 9 May 2016

How to make a super quick raised bed

To allow us to get our young plants into the ground as soon as we can, we are putting together a couple of temporary raised beds. Eventually, we will put more permanent edging around them, but for now, they will suffice.
We called at our local garden centre and collected some large cardboard boxes (which they allow customers to take free of charge). We laid the boxes on the ground approximately where we wanted the raised bed to be and using the compost that we've made over the last 5 months, we filled each box.
While the boxes were still half filled we could adjust their positioning, so that they were in line with the permanent raised beds at the other end of the garden,
Putting one box next to the last, we  created the shape and approximate size that we need. These boxes were about two and half feet long and one and a half feet wide, but any size box could be used to make a raised bed the size that is needed.

About 45 minutes later, our super-quick raised bed was almost ready to plant up. I will top the compost with some garden soil (three or four inches) and then plant our young climbing bean plant into the soil. The compost should give them a boost once their roots get down into it.
 It has poured with rain this afternoon and the cardboard isn't holding up very well to being soaked. The bottom sections of the boxes are fairing better than the lids, but I am more than happy if they disintegrate over the next few weeks, leaving us with soil in the correct area for us to put the two by four wood lengths around it when we get time. If you were using them in a polytunnel or greenhouse, they would no doubt last for the whole season.

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