A general weekend update

With some time to poddle in the garden this weekend, I went to check the grass growth in the acre field and it’s looking good! You can make out the brown rectangular patch just above the orange netting, where our new veggie patch will be. Come spring this should turn rampant, and we’ve decided to not plant any orchard this year seeing as though it’s getting a bit late and I’m loath to spend money on a slightly risky planting session.

Instead, we’ll blow the budget on getting all the fencing in place that we will need to split the field into the four quarters we want – the vegetable growing quarter, the hay/grazing quarter, the small tree orchard quarter and the larger tree orchard quarter. This year we’ll try and get 4 or 5 sheep in after April to tread the ground down and to eat the grass tops, both encouraging new growth and replacing the need to mechanically roll the ground. They’ll also add useful  fertiliser! We’ll also be able to add chickens as well, so I’ll build a coop or two, and we’ll also be able to plant the hedgerow whips so they can get a good start. This lack of planting of orchard trees will allow us to concentrate on the vegetable patch so we’ll have plenty to do! We’ve changed our minds about half standard and standard trees, and have decided to take things down a peg and use MM106 rootstock for apples, St Julien A for plums, Colt for cherries and Quince A for the pears. This will allow us to grow fruit ‘bushes’ in the smaller fruit tree orchard, to grow to about 9-12ft high and mostly pickable by hand and stepladder. The larger tree orchard will grow to half standard size, so lower branches will be around 1.2m from the ground – hopefully just about high enough to prevent sheep from grazing the fruit when they’re fully grown.

There was also time to dig over our existing veggie patch to let the night frost attack it – the chickens happily came onto the patch to help munch exposed bugs and worms whilst I dug, and added some welcome manure without me having to lift a finger! I lifted the remainder of the large leeks and cabbages, leaving some smaller leeks in to see what happens.

Chicken clean out

The weekend is the time I set to clean out the chooks. I tend to hand pick out the large poops from the coop’s removable ground tray over the course of the week and throw them on to the manure pile that is gradually building up – the best manure for the veggie patch, so I hear! The weekend clean out is everything left in the tray which goes into the compost bin (a mix of saw dust donated by our next door neighbour who wood turns regularly, and their poop that escaped the weekly hand-picking session). Check this link out for a chicken-owners guide to composting. The chicken coop wood shavings and poop mix contains phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen (in the poop) and carbon (in the shavings). When water is added the ingredients are all there to produce a good compost, though I also add some lime, blood and bone powder and grass cuttings. For a good organic composting technique check out Lila’s page here. Then a good scrub down inside with a mix of ecover washing up liquid and a splash of organic red mite concentrate made by Barrier, so that the wood inside the coop gets a good douse regularly of anti-red mite goodness. With the coop nice and clean inside, the wood shavings are replaced with good dust-free shavings (dust can cause respiratory problems) and a handful of lavender leaves (in the winter) or flowers (in the summer) are crushed and scattered over the sawdust to help them sleep at night and keeps the coop smelling slightly more pleasant than having none in there! If the straw in the nest box is ruined then I’ll replace that, although I tend to leave it for a couple of weeks if it’s ok. I’ll get rid of it after a couple of weeks to prevent any bug build-up in the straw itself. Lastly I spray the red-mite concentrate in all the crevices in the coop to ensure the red mite are kept at bay. I always check the ends of the two perches where the mites love to hang out.