The sun god is most definitely favouring us at the moment, and I have a hunch there’s a good year ahead. Taking advantage of the weather, Smiler and I spent a good few hours putting 750 shallot, onion and garlic sets in. We put in Picasso shallots, our favourite pickling shallot, Red Karma onions, a sweet red salad onion that also stores well, and Hercules and Stur BC onions – the latter being a new one on me. The garlic was the Solent White, an ever faithful that has served us well over the last few years. Let’s hope the weather continues! What really surprises me is the cost of onion sets – the Hercules cost less than a penny each! 79p for 100 sets – we could have sown the entire onion patch, 800 onions, for £6.32 – that’s around £200’s worth of onions if bought in the shop. Crazy!
Boy do these blighters grow quickly! The images below are of them all ready in their incubators for the big world. The Light Sussex and Derbyshire Redcaps are on the left in the Polyhatch, the bantams are in the three images on the right, in their Octagon.
We’ve a 4ft plastic field trough set up inside, with newspaper and a towel inside for them to walk on (the friction of the towel helps prevent them from getting spraddle leg – a deformity caused by not enough traction on the ground in their early years. The heatlamp is attached to my camera tripod, which means we can adjust it up and down by winding the handle on the tripod – we have around a foot of vertical travel if needed. We just raise it to the point that when they all sleep they form a neat circle equidistant from the center of the trough to the outside edge of the trough. That way they’re neither too hot or too cold. Then we have a chick drinker and feeder – better than open saucers as they’re less likely to mess in them. Also some sand mixed with standard poultry grit – they love the smaller pieces and just play with the pieces too large to swallow!
They really are gorgeous, and we’ve all found ourselves mesmerised by them, eschewing every other form of entertainment for the chance to sit and watch them. The Derbyshire Redcap in my hand is the chick with the three stripes on its back and a black blob on the back of its head. The Light Sussex is the archetypal yellow fluffy chick, although you can see a size difference already!
They’re here! We started incubating on the 5th March at 8pm. You should ignore the first eight hours as the eggs need to reach the correct internal temperature before cell growth begins, so I counted from the early hours of the 6th. This meant we were due on Thursday 27th, early in the morning, given the 21 days incubation period needed.
So nineteen days in we set up the Brinsea Polyhatch, a 42 egg still air incubator we were going to use only for hatching. We separated the Derbyshire Redcaps and Light Sussex from the random banties, as bantams can be a bit early. The Polyhatch needed a higher temperature, 39.2 Celsius, as the thermometer was about an inch above the top of the eggs, and being still air the heat wasn’t moved around evenly. We filled both water trays to get the humidity up – an important thing for the last two days as it helps prevent the chick from getting stuck to the inside of the egg shell. We also plugged two of the ventilation holes in the lid, using kitchen towel.
Imagine our surprise then when on day nineteen I did my last check of the temperature before bedtime at 10pm, and heard a loud tweet from the Polyhatch! Looking back at me was the littlest Redcap you’ve ever seen – a bemused look on its face, surrounded by oval monoliths, like some curved version of 2001 Space Oddysey’s intro sequence. The morning after we had a Light Sussex join him (or her), and then the Bantam’s also started in the Octagon 20 Eco. By the end of day 21 we had all but two eggs hatched. The remaining two did hatch eventually, but both chicks later died – one Light Sussex and one Redcap. The Redcap had pipped three days perviously, but had failed to break the membrane beneath the shell. We helped it at the end by making a small hole in the membrane, and it managed to struggle out but was too weak to carry on. The Light Sussex had a bent leg, indicating that it had become stuck in the shell in an odd position. It also couldn’t turn itself to break the egg shell further than the original pipping, and although we helped it out and put a splint on its foot (using a pipecleaner and micropore tape), it too failed to drink or eat.
So of the 26 eggs we set, two Redcaps and one bantam were infertile and removed before the hatching began. Of the 23 left, 21 hatched successfully – not bad for beginners 🙂
For a laugh I videod the construction of an Omlet Eglu, just to show that it’s entirely possible for one person to put one together 🙂
It had to start sometime, so those old stalwarts of the frost, carrots, were the first in. The new and improved raised bed is put to action with two 10′ rows of Royal Chantenay 3 carrots sown – nice baby carrots. And it’s also the first time I get to use my one of my Christmas presents from Suz – local pebbles with the names of the veg written on it, and then varnished. Best pressie ever!
There are always those little odd jobs that need doing. A space between the path to the Patch and the old hedgerow was covered in nasties – mainly ivy, nettles and something I didn’t recognise but had roots as large as parsnips, with none of the pleasant odour. So Suz and myself cleared it with forks, hoes, spades – anything really to get rid of as much as we could possibly find. The fun part was the fact that this portion of the hedge was used as a midden by the Victorian inhabitants of the cottages, so we’re always unearthing things. Here you can see myself and Smiler sifting through the soil – I’ll post the finds up when I get some photographs of them – but in a nutshell we found a Victorian bleach bottle, a few glass beads, a mangled coin celebrating George V’s coronation and a rather lovely little bottle.
As ever, Penny made sure our work was up to scratch.
Today another piece of the jigsaw slotted into place. Christian, a friend who keeps a few local bee colonies, has kindly offered to keep bees here for us. His experience means we won’t be fumbling in the dark, and we can hopefully learn from him without the pressure of another new task being totally on us. It’s going to be a busy year with the usual workload plus the various birds, so it’s the perfect start to bees here at Merrybower.
He has cautioned us though – this colony didn’t look very strong, and whilst there was a queen bee present going into the winter, he thinks it may be queenless at the moment, and if so it will fail as a colony. Still – it’s worth a try.
One surprising fact Christian mentioned was that bees tend not to feed within 100ft of their hive! Also, if there’s a field of something gorgeous close by, such as the oil seed rape we’re currently surrounded by, they’ll literally make a bee-line for that rather than the few paultry blossom on our trees. Ah well – more pollinators surely can’t be a bad thing anyway.
Finally it’s the time of year when we can begin our first incubation of hen’s eggs. As our large fowl Light Sussex flock is the thinnest on the ground, with only Daisy and Charles left, it was time to begin with Daisy’s eggs. We’re using the Brinsea Octagon 20 Eco incubator with an auto-turn cradle. This model doesn’t regulate the temperature digitally, nor does it control the humidity. However, we’re going to keep the mercury thermometer in the incubator at around 37.5 Celcius, fill one of the water channels as described in the manual, and close the ventilation hole by one third (so two-thirds open). When we’ve reached day nineteen we’ll candle the eggs – any still clear will be discarded, any solid will, in theory, have a chick developing inside.
We’ve set eight of Daisy’s eggs – so eight Light Sussex, and to make the numbers up we’ve also placed in eight Derbyshire Redcaps and ten random Bantam eggs from neighbours. The idea is to check the water levels every three days and top up if necessary. Daily we’ll keep an eye on the temperature and alter the little red dial as needed. Fingers crossed!