New Chooks!

Well they said it would happen. You start with two or three chickens, and gradually more appear as if from nowhere until one day you stop, lift your head, look around and realise you’re spending the entire day collecting eggs, filling feeders and topping up water. Well today the flock of 9 had two more added to it by way of a couple of hybrid layers – a Blue Belle of Czech origin and a French Noir of, well, French origin. The Blue Belle has arrived with a runny nose and is sneezing, so they’re both in our rather fetching, and makeshift, quarantine coop – otherwise known as a compost bin. I also learned how to tell how close to laying a hen is – if you place two fingers vertically over the vent, you can feel the chicken’s hip bones and if your fingers fit between them then she’s almost ready to start laying! At least that’s what I was shown, but then I’ll believe anyone 😉 Here’s hoping the cold clears up – I’m paranoid it may be Marek’s disease, but there’s no diahhroea with it. They’re both on antibiotics (Baytril) for now.

Pumpkins, the Patch and Onions

Today was a general day down the patch, mowing, sorting the new chickens out and generally taking stock of what’s doing what in the run up to harvest time. The grass in the empty quarters had started to look slightly worse for wear with the lack of decent rain, but the recent downpours has really helped and the grass is starting to lush up. I can safely say that the regular sheep grazing has helped keep the weeds down immensely and I can recommend it as an organic way of staying on top of them in newly sown pasture, especially against rampant chickweed.

The foster chickens (that’s what we’re calling the 6 chooks on loan to us) are producing 2 large eggs and 2-4 bantam eggs a day, so paying their way and the scaly leg mite seems to have been knocked on the head – yay!

In one grass quarter we’ve aquired a new hole in the ground – I have my suspicions that it’s a vole hole, but I’d be interested in what others may think as we’ve no evidence other than the hole size. Either that or someone’s using the patch as a golf course…

The patch itself is beginning to look a bit sparse with the disappearance of the potatoes, and lately the mangetout, peas and broad beans. The dwarf green beans are still putting up a good fight, but Suz is busy blanching and freezing those we’re just not going to get round to eating. The pickling onions are ready to pick, and the spring onions are now full-sized onions! I’m wondering whether we can pickle those as well?

Finally we have some gorgous yellow colours in the patch, by way of the pumpkins, which are reaching a decent size, and the marigolds which have done stirling service fighting the good fight against the evil that is carrot fly. So far not a fly in sight, but that may just be down to the fact that it’s so overgrown in the pumpkin patch that the flies simply can’t find the carrots in the adjacent row!

Green Tomatoes

An old trick picked up if you want to give your green toms a gentle nudge towards red is to hang a banana in with them. The ethylene given off by the ripening banana helps ripen the tomatoes as well. Not sure if I need more bananas in there, but it seemed a waste to use more, and besides, Suz has a great recipe for green tomato soup 😀

Potato Sorting

Having left them for a day drying out, the next task was to bring all the spuds up to the garage to sort through and bag. None were so badly blight-struck that we had to bin them, so a bag of mixed tattys was made up to eat now or give away, and the rest were bagged up separately for storage into hessian sacks 🙂

In the background you can see the onions, shallots and garlic, far back right are the Desiree, middle right are Valour, front right are Edzel Blue and front left are Anya, named after Lord Sainsbury’s wife…but apparently the spuds ain’t  bad 😉

Potato Harvest

That dreaded word…blight…seems to have struck our main crop, so it was all hands to the deck to harvest all the varieties of potato. Suz’s parents, Colin and Jackie, were fantastic enough to come and chip in (ho ho ho…potatoes…chip…<slump>), and with all 6 of us down the patch it made things so much quicker. We left them on the soil overnight to dry out – the weather’s been perfect for getting them done.

As a big plus for Smiler, a new combine happened to roll past and a few minutes later he was trundling around the field next door bringing in the corn (thanks Rob!).

Merrybower Growers II

Finally we have proper chalk boards…nothing much to write home about, but it does seem to bring the sunshine out when you see them 🙂

House Sparrows

It’s a record I think. Our last post in April recorded 25 house sparrows seen at once, up from 5 in the year before and none when we moved in (cats are wonderful creatures eh?).

Today I counted around 50 sparrows in and around the garden at one time – the ground under the main feeder was literally crawling with sparrows of all ages. Thanks to Suz for filling our feeder it gives them a great feast, plus the other three houses at Merrybower all provide a decent amount of cover and nosh for the little peckers.

Merrybower Growers

A tongue-in-cheek title for our communal produce stall outside No2 Merrybower Cottages – nothing like the size of the old and ancient grower families around the Melbourne area in South Derbyshire, but a start nonetheless. A glut of produce means we have spare to sell, two thirds the price of Asda up the road means we have a fair chance of selling it to any local who walks past, with the added bonus that no chemical were used in the making of these beauties. Newly-painted chalkboards are drying as this is typed up.

Onion Harvest

OnionsA good gap in the weather today meant I managed to pull the onions up and leave them for a few hours to dry out on the soil. The Hercules and Sturon varieties were picked, as were the Hired which looked delicious! On the shallot front the randoms from the allotment club and the Hired varieties were pulled, as were the garlic, and the whole lot carted up to the garage to stay overnight before being either platted or laid on hessian before bagging up in net bags. The smell was incredible, strong enough to topple an elephant, assuming an elephant isn’t keen on onions…

New chook update

Finally the antibiotics have worn off and the new chooks have been given the all-clear to move into the small chicken paddock at the rear, to rub shoulders (shoulders?!!) with ours and nextdoor’s chooks.

Gary’s built a great coop for them, they have a decent patch of grass for the first time in ever, and all is well with them. I believe, along with the two layer hybrids in there, we have two Maran bantams – the red with black tails. We also have a more speckeldy orange one with a black tail and a white one with a grey tail. Absolutely no idea what sort they are but they’re all laying and seem happy, which is the main thing.