Friday, 29 July 2016

A baker's dozen, Hatchwatch July 2016

It's been a jolly exciting few days. The eggs in the incubator were due to hatch this week, as were the eggs under the broody hen. I've spent a lot of the week finding distractions, so that I didn't just sit on a chair in front of the incubator willing the eggs to hatch, because as we have learnt, staring at the eggs doesn't make the chicks come any faster.

We had some more topsoil delivered on Monday, so I have created the next raised bed by putting down a layer a cardboard and covering it with topsoil and compost.

Into this bed I have planted some winter squashes, which may just about have enough time to produce some small squashes to store for winter. I've also put in a few perennial herbs too. 

The last of the broad beans have been harvested, blanched and frozen and the garlic has been lifted and is now ripening and drying ready to be plaited or stored in netting bags for use throughout the year. Mr J and I eat a lot of garlic, I like it roasted we so can easily use two or three bulbs of garlic a week.

On Wednesday the first little chick hatched, it was one of the Cream Legbar's eggs (crossed with the bantam cockerel that we had for a few weeks). It is tiny, a tiny little ball of fluff, it looks like a black fluffy small golf ball, but it's feisty and was ready to come out of it's little egg (and it was little in comparison to all the other eggs). 

Later in the day another chick arrived. I am assuming that it is one of Jack's eggs, but we won't know until the hatch is completed and we can check which eggs have or haven't hatched. It is the colour of champagne and looks like a typical Easter chick, now we are a tad confused because we don't have a white or champagne colour hen so can only assume that it's colouring comes from the parents of the mother. Whatever the reason that it is a pale one, I am delighted because I have a preference for white birds.

Following these two hen's eggs hatching, our first duckling hatched. Mr J and I sat quietly watching it emerge from its shell. I wasn't prepared for how sweet it would be and in comparison to the chicks, it was huge! 

On Wednesday afternoon we went to collect another batch of spend brewery grain and hops which I will use to create another compost heap or two. I've decided that I need to use a better mixture of green and brown materials with the spent grain to encourage faster composting, but we are struggling to find much brown material at the moment.

However in the evening we took delivery of our first load of wood chippings, hopefully it is the first of many. As a thank you to the tree surgeon who is giving us the chippings, I made up a veg box and included a few eggs, which he took with him when he left. The first pile of wood chippings included quite a lot of Leylandii, which we had discussed beforehand and I was happy to take them as they will be used on the pathways and so shouldn't be a problem for our soil and plants.
The wood chipping pile also has a large section of broadleaf tree leaves, which I was delighted to agree to having as I can use them in the compost piles and of chipped broadleaf tree branches which will be ideal to mix with the spent grain and some straw from the duck house in the compost heap.

When I got up on Thursday morning I immediately checked the incubator and was delighted that a second duckling had hatched. I went out to open up the henhouses and when I came back in another chick had hatched and by nine o'clock in the morning, another one had hatched. They were both Australorp chicks and will be companions for the one that hatched in the previous batch of eggs and is now four weeks old. I headed back outside and moved some of the wood chippings onto pathways between the vegetable beds and around the perennial border, when I came back in an hour later, chick number four had hatched.
Trying to keep busy, I bottled up the elderflower wine that we made. We now have 21 bottles of wine stored away that will be ready to drink in a few months.
 As the day went on, more chicks pipped (made a small hole in the shell) which was very exciting as we were already happy to have so many healthy looking little chicks. 

We finished setting up the secure pen for the ducks in the stable, complete with a heated lamp to keep them warm and got the nursery box ready for the chicks in the boot room. Late afternoon we moved the two ducklings and the oldest two chicks to their new accommodation. The little chicks immediately looked at home, snuggling under the brooder, cheeping away to each other. 

The ducklings however, looked cold and forlorn, so Mr J ran to into the house and found a suitable soft toy to put in with them. Almost as soon as they had the soft toy in the pen, they ran to it and sat down beside it. Snoopy toy is offering them comfort. But they still looked cold, so I placed towels over the top ends of the pen which would stop so much heat being leeched into the atmosphere and very quickly, the ducklings started to look warmer. It's a constant learning process here and despite being able to read masses of information and watch countless videos giving me a good idea of what to do, it is only with experience that we actually learn what works and what doesn't.

So by bedtime on Thursday we had eight chicks and two ducklings. We moved the two chicks that had hatched on Wednesday to the nursery box in the boot room, which made a little more space in the incubator and overnight another Australorp chick hatched.

Friday morning (today as I type) my daughter, her partner and my two grandsons came to visit us on their way home from a few days in Mid Wales. Grandson number one was very good about being quiet and not frightening the chicks and very good at counting them in the incubator. 

It was great to be able to show him a photo of the tractor that had come to deliver the wood chippings, but I suspect Mr J and I had been more excited about the tractor than he was.

After they had left, Mr J and I checked on the broody hen in her house and she had moved off the eggs to the main body of the hen house (leaving the eggs in the nesting box). Knowing that she couldn't have been off them for too long, I decided to remove them rather than let them go off and potentially cause an infection in the hen house. As we lifted one out, it cheeped! So we raced back into the house and put it into the incubator. We quickly candled the other eggs which were infertile so we disposed of those ones.

Within five minutes, the egg from the hen house had hatched. Another of the pale champagne colour, which was now the third one this colour. One in the nursery brooder box, one in the incubator and the hatched egg in the broody hen's house.  

We were beginning to lose count of the chicks and it was getting too crowded in the incubator, a lesson that I have learnt for next time (to put in fewer eggs at a time if we are going to have large breed birds in there), so we took six of the Australorps out and put them into a bucket to transfer to the nursery brooder. 

Didn't take them too long to settle in and find their food! 

To ensure that the incubator didn't become too dry, I sprayed some warm water on to the broken eggshells which increased the humidity without getting the chicks that were still in there damp. We noticed that there were two more eggs pipping and one was looking very dry. So I took the gamble and sprayed some warm water on to that egg in the hope that this would soften the membrane that had started to dry out. And about half an hour later the 'dry' egg was broken open by a small but perfect looking Australorp. We were now up to eight chicks in the nursery brooder box, three in the incubator and one under the broody hen.

The chick in the last egg that has pipped is still struggling its way out of the shell. It is heartbreaking to see a bird that is strong enough to break through the shell then fail to actually get out. But, I have come to realise that if it is not strong enough to hatch, then it's probably not strong enough to survive. 

I will update this blog as and when I have further news from the incubator.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Photographic distractions

The next batch of hatchlings are due any day now and I have been looking for ways to distract my attention. Sitting in front of the incubator really doesn't make them hatch any faster, but it has allowed me to see that some of the eggs are starting to move. So I've taken a wander around the garden and taken lots of photographs.
This is my favourite part of the herbaceous border, which is mostly a jumbled mess of field weeds and young perennials.
The daisy like flowers which would normally be considered weeds have lifted this border and although I will take them out before they seed too much, I have really enjoyed their sunny little flowers.
The Patty Pan courgettes are now setting fruit and the first will be ready to eat in a week or so. I pick them when they are about three inches across so that they are still sweet and have very few seeds in them. Sliced and tossed in a little butter in a pan they are delicious.
The giant pumpkin Howden that my grandson gave me the seeds of has now taken off and seems to be growing six inches or more a day. Plenty of male flowers have appeared and I think I've seen a female flower developing, so fingers crossed that there is a big pumpkin by autumn.
The nasturtium seeds were sown to provide some companion planting in several of the vegetable beds. I'm not sure that I like the mixed colours and next year I will look for some more simply flowered seeds instead.
Marigolds, also planted as companion planting, have created a brilliant display. The bright orange splash of colour in the vegetable garden is attracting pollinating insects aplenty.
The borlotti beans have produced some nice looking pods. I have no idea how I am supposed to cook them (do I slice them like runner beans or pod them and eat the seeds?), but I will look it up in due course. Unless they taste amazing, I don't think I'll bother with them again. There aren't many pods per plant and I feel that there are better uses of the bean poles in terms of cropping.
 Rainbow Chard, with its colourful stems are providing us with lots of green leafy food with the bonus of the chickens loving it too. Neither Mr J or I were terribly keen on chard, but steaming it lightly with plenty of black pepper added to it, we are learning to like it (or at least tolerate it knowing that it's good for us).
Each morning and evening I check over the brassicas for eggs laid by cabbage white butterflies and where it's obvious that I've missed some eggs, I remove the caterpillars. They can hide pretty well and when I went back round the garden this morning to take these photos I found several that I had missed during my early morning search for them.
The January King cabbages are just starting to form hearts, this is one of the few that hasn't had it's outer leaves chomped away by caterpillars and slugs.
In the same bed is the purple curly kale, the chickens are particularly keen on it. We haven't eaten any of it, but it's been a great supplement for the chicken food, even the small chicks squabble over it and Big Red and Little White will come to sit on my lap to eat it on an almost daily basis.
The ducks came to see what I was doing with the camera, they have become much more trusting of us over the last few months. When we first got them they ran away from us all the time, now although they don't like us to get within a couple of feet of them, they do come to see us and watch me as I potter in the garden.
I couldn't resist taking a photo of this little chap who was merrily flying from flower stalk to flower stalk on the lavender hedge. If anyone can identity the species, I'd be interested to know (please leave a comment below if you recognise what it is).
This gorgeous little field bindweed (convolvulus arvensis) has popped up all over the place, I like the delicate pink of the flowers.
There are some mighty thistles all around the smallholding, I am torn between leaving the flowers to go to seed (to feed the birds in the autumn and winter) and cutting them all down soon to prevent them spreading even more. In the meantime, the rich purple flowers are being visited by insects and I'm enjoying their stature, shape and colour.
The brambles are now fruiting well and I'm looking forward to gathering the first fruits in the next week or so. Once they have fruited I will cut them back to the ground before our hedges turn into spikey thickets.
 In the greenhouse, the tomatoes are growing well. We've picked half a dozen deep red tomatoes and there are lots of green tomatoes on the vines waiting to ripen. I've grown several varieties to help me decide what I'd like to grow more of next year.
These simple flowers are of MoneyMaker, the plants have grown tall, strong and healthily. They are a must for next year and have clusters of medium to large tomatoes which I know that I like the taste of.
This more elaborate flower is on a Russian black tomato plant, given to me by our friend Merv who breeds Cream Lebgar chickens and has supplied us with our girls and the cockerels. Merv had more plants than he needed so gave me a dozen plants for the green house.
The garlic has been lifted and is now drying off before I plait some of it and store some in the freezer. Mr J and I eat a lot of garlic, I like it roasted and can happily eat a whole clove of garlic with a plate of vegetables.
A couple of weeks ago, I bought a new hydrangea to go into the shrubbery, I particularly like the large pale flower heads against the deep green, almost shiny foliage. And, as a way to continue my distraction, I am going to plant it tomorrow.

But for now, I am going to check on the broody hen in our house to see whether her eggs have started to hatch and then, as always, it's time for a cuppa!