Thursday, 26 May 2016

Taking it easy day

Yesterday I had planned to take the day gently because I was going out last night. This is the first time that I have been out in the evening since the start of September last year and I knew it was going to be a long and active evening.

What I discovered is that it is very difficult to take it easy when one is so excited about everything at home. I really love being here, it was such a good idea to buy this home. So in the spirit of not doing too much in one day, I made sure that between activities I sat down and rested for a while.

Before breakfast I took a barrow load of top soil that was delivered on Monday, half a large bag of peat-free compost, a barrow of homemade compost and a small bag of top soil purchased from the garden centre a week or so ago in to the greenhouse and created a bed on one side of it. This is where I plan to grow tomatoes and some salads and herbs. I then planted the young plants that were started in the greenhouse. I have a cordon variety (the name of which I can't remember) and Money Maker which I think is a bush variety. I also have some Red Alert seedlings which aren't ready to plant out yet. I also plan to plant  a couple of each variety in the raised beds in the kitchen garden, which will allow me to compare how they well they do in each environment.
The greenhouse is slowly getting emptied of seedlings and young plants as they are being moved out to their permanent places in the garden or to outside the greenhouse to harden off for the next few days. Several trays of plants are outside waiting for their raised beds to be created. While I find it very frustrating that the beds don't just magically appear when I need them, I also know that Mr J and I can only do so much in one day and we have to prioritise tasks as we go. I hope that we can get a second ton of topsoil at some point next week, which mixed with the homemade compost that we have left, should allow us to create another 4 raised beds. The homemade compost is now in fairly short supply and I am hoping that the last compost bin that we made will be ready soon. If my three week compost formula has worked again, I will be delighted.
 I spent quite a lot of time sitting on a sun chair in the chicken's field, just watching them go about their daily routine. I find it so interesting to watch the dynamics of their group relationships. The new rooster has become part of the group, I am surprised at how accepting the girls were of him, but he seems to be failing to impress some of them. Despite his very best efforts to appeal to Diesel's sense of femaleness, she is almost disdainful. The Cream Legbars have taken to running fast, really fast, in the opposite direction, the poor little chap is certainly having to work to do his job.
The perennial border that Jane and I created at the start of the year is now full of weeds. I haven't given it much attention, other than to water the flowering plants that we planted because food production has to take priority. But on Tuesday evening, I settled down on a couple of kneeling mats and made a start on weeding it. There are a lot of plants that I have grown from seed to go into the perennial border and, when they are large enough, I will transplant them into the border in drifts. And then, over the next couple of years the planting should spread enough that weeding becomes a short, occasional task.

Late yesterday afternoon, Mr J drove me to Bristol to go and watch Bristol Rugby v Doncaster Knights in the second leg of the Championship Final, the winner of which would be promoted. Having not seen many of my former colleagues since I became ill, it was lovely to see so many folks again. It was a very long evening, but an exciting one and when Bristol won the Championship I felt so proud of those lads and so pleased for them, knowing the amount of work that they have put in to achieve the promotion back into the Premiership.

Lucie kindly gave me a lift home after the match and I crawled into bed just before one this morning. As my body clock doesn't know that I had a late night, I woke as usual at five and I had that yukky, slightly acidic feeling in my stomach, so today is likely to also be one split between some gentle activity in the fresh air and snoozing on the sofa.

I ate some food with gluten in it at the match as I couldn't find anything that didn't and spent much of the night scratching myself in my sleep. It seems that it is gluten that makes me itch all over. It is good to have learnt this as I now have an added reason to remain gluten free and to grow as much of our own food as we can, so that we remain in control of the chemicals that we are consuming.

Having let the birds out of their accommodation to free range for the day and written this blog, I think it's now about time for a cuppa.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A ton of things to do

Shortly after 9am yesterday morning, we took delivery of a ton of topsoil from a local supplier. So I spent a hour shovelling and barrowing top soil into the vegetable garden and then Mr J took over. He would of course, have done all of the hard graft, but I feel it only right that I at least attempt to do a share (however small) of the hard  physical work.

The topsoil bought was to boost the meagre soil in our raised beds. So first, we filled the raised bed to which we had added extra height (and had already put about 6 inches of compost), giving an eight inch depth of soil which I where I plan to grow parsnips.

Then we topped up the cardboard boxes that had the latest set of canes in them, I had already added about four inches of our homemade compost to the bottom of the boxes, so only around two or three inches of topsoil was needed. Finally the rest of the topsoil was put onto cardboard where another raised bed will be.

While Mr J barrowed the topsoil onto the last area, I started to plant up the cardboard boxes. Borlotti beans that had been started in the greenhouse went at the base of each cane, courgettes, one per box and some spinach and rainbow chard.

Apart from pausing for coffee and a spot of lunch, Mr J spent the better part of the day filling the wheelbarrow and emptying the topsoil onto the beds, but the job has been completed and he also used a little of the topsoil to fill a hole in the lawn of the front garden. 
The new rooster and the girls were very keen to meet each other and by mid-afternoon we let them meet. Shameless Jack was very impressed by him and they become 'friends' before you could blink! He seems to have settled in already and the older girls have shown him around the garden, especially where the food is kept. This evening when they have gone to bed and started to go into their night-time trance, we will apply another dose of scaly leg treatment and the preventative dose for all of the girls. I'm not a very squeamish person when it comes to animal health issues, but mites of any type I really do not like. Treating for them makes me cringe, but I'd rather the birds were in tip-top condition because that way we get the best quality eggs and eventually the best quality meat.
Late afternoon, as we sat on the bench on the patio, a movement caught my eye. It was Thimble, our neighbour's cat, who had climbed up onto the stable roof and over the Dutch barn's roof to try to reach the bird box on the front of the barn. The bird box is home to a very lovely family of sparrows, so I was keen to ensure that Thimble didn't catch them. I needn't have worried, there was no way that he was going to be able to reach the bird box and thwarted, he went back over the barn roof, across the stable roof and came over to us for a cuddle and fuss.
At supper time a friend, Cath, arrived for her first visit to our new home. Cath and I met when I first moved to Mid-Wales about 17 years ago (since then I have moved to Gloucestershire and then to our current home in south east Wales), we share lots of interests in common and most importantly, share a similar sense of humour. Our youngest children were at primary school together and although they went to different secondary schools, they remained good friends throughout their teens. Cath and I don't see each other often, but we stay in touch by phone and social media and then have a good catch up over a cuppa and something to eat every few months. Cath arrived with gifts, which was unexpected and very welcome. She bought me some gardening magazines and these beautiful flowers. These lovely jewel coloured roses and lisianthus are certainly making a statement.
After all that physical work Mr J and I slept well last night and despite still being tired, my body decided that I should be up bright and early. So I made a cuppa and headed outside to let the birds out of their houses for the day. As so often happens when I go outside, I got side-tracked and as soon as the chickens and ducks were running around their respective areas, tackled a couple of gentle jobs.

I used the rake to make shallow troughs for the parsnip seeds and got the seeds in. Before I gently tamped down the soil over the seeds, I planted pot marigold seedlings at the end of each row, one module of seedlings at alternate ends of the rows down the length of the bed.
watered the parsnip bed and the plants that yesterday I had planted into the cardboard boxes. Once the water had soaked into the soil a little, I placed straw as a mulch around the borlotti beans and courgettes.
A layer about five to six inches deep seems to be enough to conserve moisture in the soil and prevent weed growth. I've left a small space around the stem of each plant to make watering easy, directing water straight to the roots. The courgettes look like they are cradled in straw nests. This photo shows the mulching when I was about half way through building up layers of straw around the young courgette plant. When I'd finished the straw was just about the height of the cardboard box, it will sink as it settles over the next few days, but by making it this thick now, I shouldn't have to top it up over the growing season. 
Heading back into the house for some breakfast and a much wanted cuppa, I noticed that the rhododendron (or is it an azalea?), that I had transplanted into the shrubbery in winter, is now in full bloom. And what a beautiful flower it has, the buds had a very pale pink blush, but they have opened to show a crisp, pure white with a rich yellow splash. They look like floral fried eggs!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Mister Rooster and flock booster

Yesterday afternoon we drove over to Gloucestershire to collect a rooster. He's a jolly handsome chap and is now having a few days in isolation to quarantine him and ensure that he is not only accustomed to his new environment, but to make sure that he is a healthy chap. So he's in his own enclosure in the stable which is fully vermin proof but he can see the girls through the opening to the outer stable and chicken's field.

As with all the animals who come to live here, we will spend a few days giving him our organic health treatments to boost his immune system and make sure that he has had the same treatments as the rest of the birds. His feathers look very healthy and have a wonderful sheen to them (without being oily), his eyes are bright and he seems to have a nice disposition (and a very loud crow!).

I have given him a dosage strength of apple cider vinegar in his water and today he will get some live yoghurt with his food. As he will be able to free range over a large area, but not allowed into the vegetable garden or duck's space, I have clipped one of his wings to ensure he can't fly over the chicken netting that surrounds the chicken field. He will be dusted with diatomaceous earth, as will the girls, as it is time they were done again. I'm also going to spray his legs with a scaly leg treatment as they look a bit sore and of course the girls will be given a preventative dose. As he's come to live on our organic smallholding, I want to make sure that he gets used to the regular maintenance programme that we have for the birds.

The couple that we got him from needed to rehouse one of their boys. As spring had arrived, their beautiful roosters had started to fight and this little chap was taking a beating. They were obviously sad to see him be rehomed, but we've assured them that he will be made welcome here and should have a lovely life. His mother was a Leghorn Bantam and his father a Leghorn Bantam cross and I adore the colouring of his feathers. He's a small chap in comparison to the Cream Legbar laddie (who died a few weeks ago), but I am sure that our girls will be just as happy to live with this male companion.

As our flock grows and Big Red (our little chick that we think is male) matures, we will divide the flock and give them two separate areas to live in, allowing the two roosters to have a selection of girls to care for. But that's a few months away yet and for now he will join the eight girls in a few days time.

My daughter gave us a gift yesterday morning. Knowing that the incubator had failed earlier in the week and that we had lost the eggs which were half way through their incubation, she has given us a new incubator. As gifts go, this is pretty bloomin' marvellous! So once the new boy has settled in to the flock and the girls are producing fertile eggs, we will be able to hatch some more chicks. I may order one more batch of white Jersey Giant eggs, so that Little White has some appropriately sized friends, but other than that we should be able to hatch a continual supply of new birds.
There is a busy day ahead today, with top soil being delivered, birds to treat and cooking to be done, but first, as always, it's time for a cuppa.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Sunshine after the rain

I woke up feeling fabulous today, six hours of good quality sleep has given me the boost that I needed to tackle today with smiley face and a happy heart. Added to the good night of sleep, the sun was shining, which after a day of non-stop rain yesterday, was very welcome.

Although yesterday was a wash out in the garden, Mr J and I busied ourselves in the house. I did a big cook up, so that we have several meals ready-prepared in the freezer which we can grab at the end of a busy day or when I'm not feeling up to cooking a meal from scratch. I also carried on knitting a second cardigan for Grandson no.2 while I watched some 'how to' videos.

Mid afternoon we drove to a farm shop near Raglan to buy some more bales of straw. Our neighbours had mentioned that they'd like a couple of bales and we had a project in mind, so we packed eight bales into the van and drove back home, dropped two bales with our neighbours and unloaded the other six bales. So here's the project...
When spring arrived, we moved the chickens' houses outside which gives us the opportunity to continue mucking out the stable. The previous owners used a deep bedding system for their alapacas and pony, so there is about six to eight inches of sawdust that is urine and manure soaked and starting to rot down nicely.
I have already removed about one third of the deep bedding, taking the stable floor back to the soil base in those areas, but now we can complete the job. It's a smelly, dusty and unpleasant job which requires thick gloves and face masks to reduce the risk of breathing in dangerous microbes.

The bedding that I had removed during the winter was piled up near the first couple of compost bins that we created and over the last few months the chickens have scratched through it, fluffing it up, adding their droppings to it and making it a light, useable compost. Actually what they did was toss it all over the place making an almighty mess, but clearing it up is hardly an arduous task.

Anyway, now we have more of an idea of the layout of the kitchen garden within the paddock, we have moved the compost bin area to the other side of the garden. I have been using the compost from those first bins and the deep bedding that's been prepared by the chickens for filling the raised beds and the compost bins are almost empty (and being dismantled) and most of the deep bedding pile has been moved too.
This means that we can give the chickens the next batch of deep bedding from the stable to scratch through and turn into lovely compost. But, it makes no sense to put it where it was before as it's about as far away from the vegetable beds as it can get within the paddock. It would make much more sense to put the next pile nearer the vegetable beds and to try to contain it in an area. So this is where the straw comes in.

I placed the straw bales in a horseshoe shape, not too close to the chicken netting fence (so that the birds can't use it as a stepping stone to hop over the fence) and we can then fill it with the deep bedding that we take out of the stable. I fed the chickens some peelings soup (a boiled up mixture of water, vegetable peelings, meat off-cuts, a couple of eggs, garlic cloves and apple cider vinegar) in the centre of the bales and after eating it, they quickly started to explore their new 'entertainment centre'.

The area that had the last heap of deep bedding is now almost flat and is about fifteen feet by ten feet. You can see the paving slabs that will be the base of the chicken shed when we get a few dry days for us to put it together.
It seems a waste to leave the area that they have prepared so nicely to go back to grass and weeds (which would be very well fed from the compost) so I plan to put up a temporary fence around the area and grow some potatoes and kale in it for this year and once they are grown and potatoes lifted, the chickens can have access to the kale and we can let it grow to grass once again.

This morning I had intended to let the birds out and then have breakfast, but it was so nice outside that I forgot about making a cuppa or breakfast and pottered outside for a couple of hours.

After measuring out where the next couple of raised beds will be and I placed cardboard boxes where I want to grow some beans and inserted canes to secure the boxes in place until we fill them later on. At this point I realised that I really wanted the first cuppa of the day.