You know, I sometimes feel that all I do is talk about the weather, and not necessarily in a positive light. This weekend has been GRIM. Rain, grey winter has truly arrived on UK shores, and as the fog and dampness flows up The Thames, I’m getting hit with some unwelcome weather. Of course, it’s all rather good for the garden – the plants love all this extra moisture. But it is NOT good for the chickens who don’t want to be damp, and it is definitely not good for mud. Damn. There’s lots of that stuff, and where livestock’s concerned it’s normally mud mixed with poop which is even worse than plain old dirty mud.
Things have quietened down on the growing front. All the bulbs are in. All the tender veggies have finished. Even the dahlias, though not frosted off, have become to look sad and tired. The cornus – much to my delight – is dropping its leaves and revealing those bright red stems; in the spring I need to chop back to ground level again to get new growth and brighter colours next year.
I am, however, still growing – Pak Choi, Winter Density and Arctic lettuce are all germinating and there’s still enough light in the day to get them going. But mostly, I’m planning for next year; the chickens, the market garden, the vegetables, the borders. Planning, organising, listing, drawing, planning. My main focus at the moment is finding customers. I have some egg customers already who I hope to upsell vegetables too. And when I have the Ixworth flock established, I can sell hatching eggs online. However, for the main veggie enterprise, I need to find outlets. It won’t be a large enough enterprise to start a CSA (Customer Supported Agriculture) <- plus these aren’t very common in the UK. There also aren’t any immediate Farmers’ Markets here so I need to research the nearest verses the most profitable; i.e. has local shoppers willing to spend more than they would their local Aldi. But the silverlining here is that it’s winter, and winter is the best time to be sorting this all out!
Finally, here’s Monday Magic. Look how the chicks have grown!
Heeeeeeeaaaatwave. Cor blimey, gov’ner, bit hot ain’t it.
Once again, this is why us Brits are notorious for our weather ramblings; it’s because it’s so changeable. Last week it was monsoons, storms and lashing rain. Now, I’m sat in next-to-nothing with a fan (though, it’s actually pointed at the dogs) and trying to survive the sweltering heat. I do like it in the evenings though; perfect for watering your garden…and catching a few Pokemon whilst you’re at it. 😉
The Ornamental Garden
It has to be said that this year, more than last, I’m noticing the poor soil quality. When I first moved in I got by on a wing-and-a-prayer, but any nutrients in the soil were taken by last year’s season and there’s been lacklustre growth in 2016. However, I have several wheelie bins FULL of chicken dung. This will be nicely rotting down as we speak and then, come November-ish time when I hack back all the herbaceous perennials, I’ll cover the garden in a thick layer of the stuff. Hopefully we’ll have a nice cold spell to break it down further and let all the goodness seep into the soil.
It’s not doom and gloom though, and a lot of plants are growing marvellously. We’ve had a lot of slugs and snails this year, so I’m glad I’ve kept my dahlias in pots. I normally start them off in the greenhouse and plant them out at a later stage. I placed the pots into the borders when I got some decent growth, and then promptly forgot to actually take them out of their plastic pots and dig them in. HOWEVER, this seems to have worked in my favour; the snails haven’t been able to nibble as much, they’re easier to water, there’s added height so the flowers seem to dance above the other plants AND the root system has grown through the pots bases and into the soil. With any other perennial you would not want to do this but as I did my dahlia tubers up each year, this isn’t an issue.
Elsewhere, though I lost my lavenders due to a certain young lady peeing on them (I’ll quickly add, that’s a canine young lady, not a human), the verbena bampton is just wonderful. I’ve taken some cuttings and will do more over the coming weeks. Salvia ‘Kate Glenn’ is also putting on quite the show.
The Poultry Yard
The poultry yard has been getting a little crowded, so I thinned the roosters down again last Friday. This time it was the beautiful Polski cockerels who met their end. It’s quite disconcerting when they’re plucked – they’re a strange sheen of lavender…I expect due to the Silkie gene. Once again I did a wet pluck; that is, dipping the bodies into near-scolding water so the feathers come out easily. It’s SO much quicker this way. It’s all well and good saying I’ll put the feathers to good use, but the last box from the dry pluck is still in the garage…and that took me HOURS. This way, I was able to kill, pluck and dress three roosters in about two hours.
I also moved the young quail into the aviary. They’ve grown to almost adult size in six weeks. I LOVE the colours, so I’ll probably keep all of these and then think about butchery for the next batch. On a non-poultry note, I’m also deliberating bunnies; as in rabbits for nice little bunny burgers. Quick to breed, easy to keep, great grass eaters and you can kill them at home without the need of going to an abattoir. I’m looking into it but am not quite decided – I’d love another source of meat, but killing bunnies…that might be too much for me.
The Vegetable Patch
Have I mentioned how much I love raised beds?! Well I do. They’re fabulous! The onions are almost ready to harvest, the broad beans are done, carrots, radishes and spring onions continue to be sown, pricked out and thrive. The kale is just – WOW; I probably planted too much to handle. I’m going to see if I can sell some along with the eggs, but I’m not sure how many people want to buy kale!
With it now being mid-July, when space allows I’ll also start thinking about sowing lettuces and spinach again. I found they’re very quick to bolt when the weather’s hot but if I sow them now they should thrive in the warm soil and be mature towards the end of August.
Finally – thank you so much for everyone who’s subscribed to the YouTube channel. I’ve got 40 wonderful viewers now! If you want more from The Guide but in video format, click the ‘subscribe’ link at the top of the page on the right-hand side.
How’s your garden growing? Highs? Lows? Tell me about it in the comments!
On Sunday, I went to the lovely Blindley Heath Country Fair and happened upon some Hylands for sale. The lovely point-of-lay (POL) pullets were only £10 each, so knowing I wanted to grow my layers flock, I nabbed a couple. They were very happy and healthy hens and I popped them into a quarantine pen and left them scratching around in the sawdust and laying eggs.
This morning I entered the coop to signs of carnage. At first I thought number two’s neck was just a little wet – until I leaned in closer and discover her neck was actually torn open. This isn’t a small hole, this is a gaping wound slashed right down to the musculature of her neck. It seems that number one’s prehistoric origins had gotten the better of her and the inner velociraptor had been unleashed!
Initially I thought there was nothing for it; I’d have to cull. But little miss number two was eating, drinking and being generally happy. I isolated her into a separate cage, gave her some greens and she promptly laid an egg. I’ve taken her off layers pellets and with withhold greens too for now because I want all her energy to go into healing, not egg laying. So, what have I discovered today?
- Hens can be slashed apart and, if alive, not seem too worried
- Chicken skin grows from the outside inwards. I was worried that such a gaping wound would never knit together. Seems my fears are unfounded and over several months, the skin will just repair itself
- I must keep it clean and free of fly eggs/maggots
- Number one must be kept under surveillance and if anything like this even starts happening in the main coop, she will be culled. I’m hoping that with more space and a large flock to keep her under control (she’ll start at the bottom end of the pecking order), there will not be a repeat performance of this.
This is FAR worse than Cersei’s prolapse; and I thought that was pretty bad at the time. I mean, half her insides were outside. I kept putting my finger up her vent, covering myself in blood and then she’d sigh and pop the whole darn thing out again. After three days of trying, I’d practically given up but I tried on the 4th morning and in it stayed. She lays funny wrinkly eggs now, but is fine otherwise.
Hens are bloody amazing things!
I’m obsessed. Chickens. They’ve taken over my life. This past weekend I’ve had another hatch – kind of by accident. I bought six silver-laced poland eggs at an auction, and couldn’t bear to do a half-filled incubator run so I topped it up with homegrown eggs. Of 17 eggs, 14 made it to Day 21 – 13 have hatched and the final one is pecking inside, though it hasn’t yet pipped. It’s my best hatch to date.
However, the silver-laced polands? Well, that didn’t work out so well. Only three made it to hatch. The first popped out – black, five toes, furry legs, no dome-shaped head…NOT a poland, maybe a pilkie. The second popped out – grey and yellow, furry legs, four toes but no dome-shaped head. Also, it’s a totally different shape than the silkie crosses – I have NO idea what it is. The third? Well, that’s the egg yet to pip.
I’ll do less writing and just let you see the adorable things yourself…
I now have – wait for it – THIRTY SEVEN chickens! Thankfully the vast majority of them are chicks, and most of those will be sold or eaten. I’m allowing myself only to keep the best hens, and the rest will be taken to auction. My next hatch won’t be until April, when I’ll be incubating some pure breed Ixworth and Naked Necks. These are great meat birds and again, I’ll be eating the majority of those! I’m particularly keen on the Ixworth as they’re a Suffolk rare breeds, so I’m interested in breeding some good stock for our future move to the farm.
Happy Chick Monday!
It’s been extremely foggy here the past few days. Living closer to a river, the pervading moisture never lifts either, so it’s been very damp; not that I’ve minded. In fact, I quite enjoy the atmospheric mystery it creates. The garden’s happier too with a little moisture, and though the poland chickens crests are all a little lacklustre, the flock don’t seem to mind the creeping mist and falling temperatures.
There’s quite a few jobs to do here on my oasis; not that I’ve gotten around to them. The Pak Choi, winter lettuce and winter spinach need potting on. There are some self-seeded echiums that I must rescue from the ground and overwinter in the greenhouse – only problem is, I have a bit of an aphid issue in there. I’m squishing like frenzy but I could do with a good hard frost to kill ’em. I’ve also got to lift a few plants – dahlias, chocolate cosmos etc, but I’ll wait until the first zero temperature arrives. For now they’re still flowering and I’m not keen to stop that.
There are a couple of nice foliage pairings in the garden too which I’m enjoying, particularly on these mornings when there’s still dew settled on the green.
And, of course, there remains many hen antics, especially as my obsession grows. It’s hard to even imagine these lovely ex-batts in their former bedraggled, thin and plucked forms. They’ve recovered so well and are the nicest of hens though, unlike the bantams, they do tend to tear up the garden more.
So, this girl on the left is the last one standing. In fact, when I say girl, I mean transgender. This little Buff Nankin started life as a hen called Gabby. They’re not huge layers like many bantams, preferring to lay just one or two clutches per year instead of the egg machines we’ve become used to. I found Gabby and her sister rather flighty birds, never willing to become too tame and always ready to flee. The only exception to this was when they were broody – boy, did they give a good peck during those times. In the past year, however, old age has had a rather dramatic effect and Gabby has undergone a transformation. Her wattles and comb have become larger and more vibrant red. Her tail feathers have lengthened a little and……she’s started to crow. Not a enormous, deafening and neighbour-annoying sound, but something that says ‘I’m not a hen anymore‘.
After the last of my Silkies died, I was left with Gabby and two Rhode Island Reds. I say ‘died‘ – it was more like ‘murdered‘. Despite having hatched the Rhodies and looked after the tiny chicks, my Silkie seemed to attract the unwanted attention of her grown offspring and they became huge bullies in the run. Gabby would hide in the corner, whilst my Silkie took to spending her life in the nest box. I separated them to try and calm things down but she wasn’t happy on her own. Unfortunately, the brutes just seemed to stamp all sense of life out of her (it wasn’t physical, but just constant stress). That was a HUGE black mark against them. And, i’m afraid, more black marks came when they started eating their eggs. I tried everything; replacing eggs with egg-shaped wood, putting chilli powder on eggs, taking out the nestbox, changing it’s location etc. Nothing worked, and for the past six months at least I’ve not managed to claim a freshly and unscathed egg once.
This weekend was the end. I don’t like the wringing of necks, but I’ll do it if I have to. Luckily, a friend was up for the weekend and he came and sorted the hens out for me so I didn’t have to do it myself. That’s the thing with keeping lifestock; eventually, the end arrives. And, much as I like hens, these were bullying, egg eating individuals that I saw no way to keep or pass on to a new home. I have to say, however, they WERE good for something and a scrumptious Coq au vin followed.
Now, alas, I’m left with poor little transgender Gabby who I didn’t have the heart to also say goodbye too…after all, he, she, has done nothing wrong. Despite chickens being sociable creature, there seems to be sense of relief in the coop. He certainly looks happier, scratching around, crowing and even taking some greens from my hand…..far different from the nervous creature he was before the two rogues were dealt their last blow. After the move I’m determined to get some more hens….though now knowing Rhode Island Reds, it won’t be them. Some of the nicest hens I’ve ever kept were Light Speckled Sussex; gorgeous birds, friendly and good, reliable egg layers though not the hardiest of specimens. I also can’t help but love the fluffy Silkie, and I think I’ll get one to have as a brooder. And there’ll be transgender Gabby in the mix too, with his funny little crow to make a mark on wherever new we move to!