Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Chickens out, spring in

After all the excitement of the last week, a relative calm has descended upon our smallholding. The house is no longer filled with the cheeping and peeping of many little chicks and the cats have once again taken to lounging around in 'relax mode' rather than twitching at every sound of a small bird moving around their small cage behind a shut door.

I have moved the miracle chick together with the other eighteen chicks to the newly reinforced nursery pen in the chicken condo and today is the day that birds are allowed back out into their fields. 

The empty chicken fields have been a slightly sad sight for the last three months while the birds were in lockdown and now that I have completed the required self-assessment form (find info about it here), checked the bio-security measures that we have in place and checked the fields for signs of contamination, the birds are allowed out onto the grass again. We have to keep the ducks and chickens separated, but that's fine, we had done this months ago due to an overly amorous drake (Frederick) and there is now a 35 feet separation zone between the chickens and ducks.

We took the opportunity to use the time the fields were empty to have a think about how best to use the space and we have started to build a walkway from the chicken palace to one area of the field that the Jersey Giants will be using. This will keep the birds safe and also separated from each other because we don't want the breeds mixing unless we've decided that is what we want. 

The Australorps have their own house in one section of the field. The run that I made has been their only access to grass until today and I have now positioned the run so that the chickens can access the run but also their area of the field. Their food and water will be kept under the run, which is covered, so that wild bird poop can't get into their food or water. 

All the other birds will continue to be fed inside their indoor spaces. The mixed flock have a hanging feeder with a lid that is wild bird proof and kept under their covered walkway and the Jersey Giants had one inside the chicken palace, but they were so rough with the feeder that they tore the hanging toggle dispenser out of it, so today I will be making a new one with a smaller hole in the base, so that although it will dispense food more slowly, the toggle won't be able to to be pulled from the base. You can watch how I made the hanging feeder here 

Tomorrow heralds the start of spring and the beginning of the new growing season, I have done some preparation of the annual vegetable garden, but there is quite a lot left to do. We are still enjoying the harvests of last year's sowings, leeks, parsnips, red cabbage, swede and purple sprouting brocolli are still abundant in the garden and we still have food in the freezer and pantry that I preserved last summer and autumn. 

I put a planting plan down onto paper (and online here) which is a rough guide to what I will sow where, but it is not set in stone and I anticipate having to be flexible because some crops may not be out of the ground in time to plant whatever crop I had hoped to put in the space. But a few of the beds are now cleared and ready for seeds or young plants to go into them and it's all starting to look rather promising.

As I type the sun has come out and is beckoning activity, but it would be foolish to put seeds into the soil today. It has been freezing for the last few nights and a hoar frost this morning gave a hint of just how chilly the ground actually is. I think the average temperature outside needs to rise a good few degrees before I would want to put seeds into the ground. 

I can, however, continue to plant seeds in trays to go into the greenhouse. Last year the kitchen table, windowsills and work surfaces in the boot room were packed with seed trays, but this year we have Monty and Tabitha living with us and offering them what they would interpret as neatly laid out litter trays may not be such a smart move. Tabitha in particular is not terribly fond of going outside to empty her bladder when it is very cold, windy or rainy. We've kept a litter tray on the floor of the boot room since the cats arrived with us in December and I suspect that in the cooler months of each year, we may have to resign ourselves to a litter tray for her use.

Anyway, back to thoughts about the annual vegetable garden. There are tasks that I can continue to do outside like creating the last of five raised beds, laying down pathways and covering them with wood chippings, clearing away abandoned 'stuff' that I meant to put away at the tail end of last year, but didn't because other, more pressing, tasks needed our attention. I plan to move the Swiss chard plants and everlasting spinach into the food forest and then sow fresh seeds for them in the annual garden. I want to keep the older plants as they are useful duck and chicken food, but they don't need to be taking up growing space in the annual garden. 

It still feels a privilege to have so much space in which to grow food and having learnt a little about the soil (or lack thereof), the way the light moves around the garden, the natural flow of water through the area and the prevailing winds, I feel that this year the garden may well be even more productive. Mr J and I enjoyed trying different food crops and have been happy to admit that some things may have grown well, but that doesn't mean we actually like the taste of them. And there is little point in growing masses of something that we don't want to eat!

Except for kales, cabbages and squashes, I will be growing plenty of these this year, tucked into corners and empty spaces, into gaps between other crops and the old circles of love (the straw circles we put down for the chickens to scratch in). These kales, cabbages and squash will be used to feed the birds next autumn and winter. We will cover them late in the year to protect them from wild bird poop and then they will be suitable for feeding to our chickens and ducks during next winter's lockdown should that occur. And if it doesn't, well our birds will still eat well during the coolest months. Winter squashes will keep well for months in cool dry conditions, so I plan to store them in crates in the barn and then they should be available for both poultry and human consumption throughout the winter.

All this talk of food is making me hungry and it's not really a meal time as yet, so I guess I'll just have to make do with a cuppa!
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1 comment:

  1. Great do like the seasons my favourite is autumn. When all goes to sleep and then easter catkins parm in oure fields.


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