Where growing, making & good living come together

The end of May already? Gosh!

Posted by on Tuesday 29 May 2012 in chickens, growing, house, meta | 6 comments

I disappeared again, didn’t I? Thanks so much to the people taking the time to check on me in comments/via Twitter/in real life etc – I am fine, just been busy and then being lazy ;) I have been keeping up with other people’s blogs (reading if not always commenting), just not getting around to writing anything myself :)

What have I been up to since I was last writing regularly in February? (Cor, that was ages ago!) Here’s a quick recap for FutureMe and anyone else who might be interested (hi Mum!) ;)

Growing

Due to the aforementioned busy-ness and laziness, I decided to go for a less-is-more approach with my growing this year. Then about half my seeds rotted in the soil (thanks for the sudden winter-temperatures in April, Weather, really thaaaaaaaanks) so it turns out I’m doing a very-much-less-is-more thing this year ;)

I’ve got a handful of courgette plants (three varieties) and a few pattypan squash/pumpkin plants too — not a huge amount but I think I’d struggle to find room for many more in our garden (silver linings and all that!). I thought all my tomato seeds were going to rot in the soil so asked for half a dozen plants from my dad (who always grows too many tomato plants) — but at the last count, about a dozen of my seeds made it too so again, I’ve got enough plants for my small growing area. I’ve also got broad beans & runner beans in decent quantities, and a few other things such as a few cucumbers, some chilli plants, some new-this-year herbs and misc salad. It’s not going to feed us throughout the summer but it’s better than nothing — and I’ve very much enjoyed not being overwhelmed by having to pot on stupid amounts of seedlings etc. Everything seems a lot healthier too since I can lavish attention (and other resources) on the few, rather than spreading it around the many.

The thing that led my initial less-is-more idea was a decision I made a couple of months ago to switch all but two of the garden beds to being perennial fruit or herb beds: I’ll grow veg in the remaining two beds and in all the containers I have around the place (and continue to make), but if I don’t get around to planting a lot of veg one year then we’ll still have a garden that is relatively productive and looks quite nice too (compared to bare soil anyway). With the exception of a couple of strawberry plants that got attacked by chickens (thanks chickens, thaaaaaaaaanks), all the fruit planting I’ve done this year seems to have gone well – I bought more cheapy fruit bushes from Aldi in the winter (2 more blackcurrants, 2 more redcurrants, 3 more raspberries), which have all taken, and various strawberries to fill out the soft fruit harvest throughout the summer. None of those will really produce much this year but last year’s cheapy bushes, not so cheap bushes & trees and strawberries are all producing some fruit, and we’re hoping that John’s apple trees will also start producing in earnest too.

Chickens

The fluffy cluckers are doing fine – producing eggs like billy-o at the moment, nearly a 100% lay rate over the past few weeks which isn’t bad considering they’re all over 2 years old now. No sign of any broodiness yet this year, even in the hot spells, which has so far put any hatching plans I might have on hold. Maybe next year.

They seem to have liked all the dry weather of late – their run was a bit muddy in April but now the dry earth is perfect for scratching and dust-bathing in. They like the rest of the garden for the same reason – hence me losing some strawberry plants.

Goals for 2012

Read More

Mischevious chickens

Posted by on Tuesday 10 April 2012 in chickens, growing | 7 comments

After a bit of a blogging holiday, I intended to write a puntastic post about how both this blog and the garden were “springing back to life”. My laziness at the end of last year – leaving lots of salad go to seed then not clearing away the pots – has meant that we’ve got various self-seeded leaves popping up all over the place (including some well established swiss chard plants which didn’t die off during the mild winter) in addition to all the fruit bushes/trees getting their blossom on. But then (overly-dramatic music) … HENS HAPPENED:

Oh hello there garden wrecker.

I thought I’d let the girls out to have a scratch about/weed the garden while I pottered in the greenhouse – sowing lots of seeds (although not as many as previous years) and potting on some other stuff:

Within minutes though, those surviving swiss chard plants were reduced to this:

Some of the other self-seeded edibles in the lower bit of the garden were also munched, and my daffodils were duly stomped on:

She was happy destroying them until she realised there were strawberry plants in the trough underneath that.

You can see her going “ooh! they’ll be fun to stomp!”. I don’t mind about the daffodils – which weren’t up to much anyway – or the general mess they cause flicking top soil everywhere but I shooed her off the strawberries. That hen, Ginger, then went over to investigate what Ms Mauve was up to:

Quietly eating bittercress. I looked away for a second and heard a wing-flapping kerfuffle:

Ginger had tried to jump onto a big soil filled plant tub but it had fallen over. She, of course, took the opportunity to have a scratch through it for anything tasty before going off to cause chaos elsewhere. Elsewhere eventually turned out to be next-door-but-one’s garden with her fellow Black Rock partner in crime, Blacksy — and they’re the two that don’t like being picked up so I had to do comedy cross-garden chicken chasing to get them back home.

Some of them are more darling though. I was sowing the last of my tomatoes (late, I know) in the greenhouse when I heard a quiet little “can I come in?” buck-buck.

Little Blue jumped into the greenhouse and had a good look around – under the staging, on the staging, pecking at old growbags etc – all the while seemingly asking me questions: “is this your coop? where are the roost bars? where are the nest boxes? can I eat those seeds?” Very sweet. (And no, she couldn’t.)

Read More

My late winter to-dos in the garden

Posted by on Monday 20 February 2012 in chickens, growing | 3 comments

We’re trying to return to normality after a fortnight of poorliness – and I’m feeling very aware that time is marching on in the garden.

Things I need to do ASAP:

  • Plant the six soft fruit bushes I bought from Aldi just before I got ill. Last year’s Aldi bushes are doing well so I got the same again: two blackcurrant, two redcurrant & two raspberry. The raspberry bushes will be planted alongside the ones from last year but not sure about the others – I’m wondering if it will make them cry if I just put them in tubs this year? Speaking of which…
  • Transplant the honeyberry bushes. They were in containers last year but I think they’ll stretch their legs further if I can put them in a bed instead. Perhaps I should take this as a lesson for the other berry bushes & find somewhere for them now!
  • Transplant existing strawberries (in case they survive being dog-nibbled) and get some more for a June-ish glut. The existing strawberry plants are a season-long variety which is good in many ways but bad for jam-making. I want jam.
  • Wonder if I’ve still got time/space to get another small cherry tree in the ground this winter. Or get a container-sized one at least.
  • Freshen up all the beds/big containers. Some of them just need topping up with compost, others are going to get a “mature” chicken poo boost.
  • Decide what veg I’m going to grow this year. Usually an early-January job but since January didn’t happen here this there, I still need to get organised. There are a few more things joining potatoes on my “no, don’t grow” list this year, including peppers and leeks, but I’m not sure what I do want to grow — I better decide soon because some things need sowing in a few weeks.
  • Conduct a roll call to see what plants we’ve already got. I suspect this should happen before the latter. I’m particularly thinking about herbs and other stuff that will/should have survived the winter. I’m hoping to make a decent herb bed this year, one way or another, so it’ll be good to know what’s already available.
  • Decide whether or not we’re going to try hatching eggs this year – and if so, decide what type of eggs to buy. This is a conditional thing – we’ll only do it if one of the chickens goes seriously broody. Ginger spent half of 2011 broody – if she does the same this year, she can, essentially, hatch her own replacements. I want to make the decision before she goes broody though because we’ll have to rush to buy eggs/get a broody coop built in good time so I’d rather have a plan ready before then.
  • Clean out the greenhouse. Naughty me left it in a bit of a state last winter – it needs clearing, cleaning and airing before I can start to use it again for this year.
  • Plant out the spent forced hyacinth bulbs. datacreate & Hazel have given me hope that these might regrow again in the garden next year. I’m going to plant them near the cherry tree & the existing fruit bushes as I know those beds are less likely to be disturbed by my digging this year.

What’s on your to-do list for your garden/allotment this week?

Read More

Five things for Friday

Posted by on Friday 3 February 2012 in chickens, growing, meta | 1 comment

One – COLD!

How can I start with anything other than a comment about the cold weather? I do like cold days – well, cold dry days like now, not cold wet ones – so I’m not complaining. The sun is shining – albeit weakly – and the sky is blue. I like wrapping up warm and walking on frozen mud while we’re out with Lily. However, we have timed all this rather badly – the replastering we’re having done (in the living room, kitchen & downstairs hallway) means we’re down two key radiators & a wood burning stove. Chilly!

Two – chilly chickens

Like last time it was chilly for a couple of days, the chickens don’t seem to be too bothered about the cold. I got a bwarky rant this morning – probably complaining about their water being solid and it being harder to scratch through the chippings because they’ve got a hard layer on top – but otherwise they’re doing fine. Earlier this week we had our first six egg (from six girls – a 100% lay rate) day since the beginning of September — and we’ve had another two six egg days since then. I wasn’t expecting a glut so early in the year!

Three – the 2012 growing season starts here (very soon)

I never really got over my growing “meh”ness from last summer but over the last week, as more people have been talking about their early sowings or plans for the year, I’ve started to form a few plans of my own. I had thought about getting another fruit tree or two in the ground this winter but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. I would like to get some more soft fruit bushes in though – some more red berries since the four blackcurrants look like they’ll be fine by themselves – probably following Tanya at Lovely Greens down the Wilkinsons cheap bush path as the ones from last year have grown well. I also want some more strawberries as half of last year’s lot are looking rather pathetic/dead. I must resist the rhubarb crown temptation though – everyone is always talking about how prolific it is at such an otherwise low-producing time of year but we don’t actually like rhubarb. It doesn’t matter how much it grows if we don’t want to eat it.

I am sticking to my “no potatoes” plan so there is nothing to chit but I think I’ll have to dig the heated propagator out of the garage soon to get started on tomatoes and what not.

Four – bacon progress

My bacon looks to be doing well. I am somewhat regretting starting it in a week when I don’t have good access to the kitchen – and also have sore/micro-cut hands so I’m not enjoying the salt rubs at all! But on the other hand, at least I’ve got it started and starting something for the first time is often such a big hurdle for me. This batch will be just about done in its cure this weekend then I’m going to look into the fridge hanging idea that PipneyJane mentioned the other day. I can’t wait to try it though :)

Five – and it’s the weekend

It’s the weekend, hurrah! We have nothing special planned – John was supposed to be away at a conference but is still having to take things easy with his bad back – but I am determined to start cleaning the plaster dust from EVERYWHERE in the house. Those who know me in person will know that I am never determined to clean anywhere: this should show how much dust there is around our house at the moment.

As well as that and the usual stuff that happens at weekends, I’m going to try to get started on my 2012 goals – I need to get going on the generating an extra £2012 in 2012 goal and the “make something cheaper, greener or simpler for us each month” one too. The problem with the latter is that nothing is screaming to be changed right now – so I’ll have to both find something and make it cheaper/greener/simpler. It’s very possible that the latter will be easier than the former!

Do you like – or hate – the cold weather? Have you made any growing plans for this year – or even started sowing? What are you up to this weekend? And finally, have you made anything cheaper, greener or simpler for your household recently? Yes, I just want to steal your ideas with the last question ;)

Read More

If you go down to the woods today…

Posted by on Tuesday 24 January 2012 in green, growing | 1 comment

You might find a pretty much brand new collapsible garden bin.

That’s what I found on my walk with Lily-dog today.

When I first saw it a little way up the hill from the path, I thought it was one of ours but when I got closer, I saw it was bigger and frankly better quality than the ones I use. That part of the woods, which isn’t very popular with dogwalkers but is very popular with Lily-dog, isn’t really near any houses so I didn’t know who it could belong to so … yoink!

Coincidentally, the one I use for cleaning out the chicken coop (carrying the wood shavings from the coop to the compost heap) is just about on its last legs so this was a very well timed find indeed.

By way of thanks to the woods for their offering, I filled it with all the litter I came across on the walk out and back. It was mostly carrier bags, crisp packets and a couple of cans/bottles, but there was also an unused rubble sack which I bet someone lost in the recent high winds. Inspired by Su’s “goals for 2012″ comment on Recycle This the other week, I’d been thinking about doing a litter pick in the woods when the weather got a little better – I’m glad this forced my hand sooner rather than later :)

Read More

Frozen days

Posted by on Tuesday 17 January 2012 in chickens, growing | 1 comment

I took these photos yesterday but between one thing (Strowger ;)) and another (getting obsessed about doing something pointless & time-consuming that wasn’t on my to-do list), I didn’t get around to posting them. However, thankfully it looks just the same out there today – just less sunny and more icy – so I can post them today without it being incongruous ;)

Along with most of the UK, we had our first properly frozen days of winter over the weekend. It’s been so mild for the last month that they came as a bit of a shock to the system really. Because it’s been so mild, the garden is still quite green in parts, albeit mostly weedy green ;) If I was taking part in the Salad 52 Challenge, it would be mostly bittercress at the moment – icy bittercress:

Further down the garden, all the moss tendrils on the stone raised bed walls have their own white highlights and the blackberry bush reminds me it needs cutting back:

Last year, with all the snow, we didn’t have a just-icy period so this is the first time I’ve seen the greenhouse iced up. It’s also the first time I’ve seen frost looking really like patterned window glass.

Of course, the only reason I’m really venturing out into the garden at all is to do chicken things – chilly jobs in this weather. The gate into the run has swollen and is frosty so I have to give it a good wack with my bum to open it, especially when I’m carrying things. I’m glad that I have put so much time, effort and food into developing a bum with sufficient girth to achieve such a task over the last few years ;)

All the structure of the run – including my new roof – is coated in glassy white crystals. It looks so cold:

But the chickens themselves are fine. After four frozen days, I’ve got into a good routine for defrosting their big new drinker so I can do it nice and efficiently before my hands drop off from frostbite. I’m very glad they got a new batch of woodchips at the start of the year though – they don’t freeze as solidly as mud/the ground did last year and so they can still have dirt baths in their favourite spot under the coop and scratch around plenty too:

Looking up from the chickens, the sky was a lovely soft blue yesterday but the sun surprisingly strong (for winter):

It was certainly enough to i) lure Boron-cat from the house and ii) reveal he’s secretly ginger ;)

Is it icy where you are? How are you/your animals & garden dealing with it? And those in the Southern hemisphere: come on, make us jealous by telling us how lovely & warm it is where you are :)

Read More