Things are Popping Up After the Late Start to Spring!

Blauwschokkers Pole Peas

Blauwschokkers Pole Peas

After the late start to spring, with the ground finally un-soggified, Suz and I took the day off to make use of the sunshine and get the patch into some sort of order. There’s a list of post-winter jobs that still need doing – the grass had its first cut on Saturday, electric fence lines were strimmed, grassless soil was rotovated, seeded and rollered, and Colin the Light Sussex cock was popped in with his nieces to do his job. Coops were shuffled,

De-weeding strawberry runners

De-weeding strawberry runners

Eddie the cock was moved from his into his aunts’ paddock, which leaves a coop spare for the Marsh Daisy chicks that are currently just under two weeks old. Sunday continued the work, and the bantams were moved onto fresh grass.

Today, whilst I had the easy job of sowing the seed in the raised bed, Suz had the unenviable task of weeding errant strawberry runners from under the current bushes, then weeding the future beds of the sunflowers and sweet corn. Horrendous job!

Raised bed

Raised bed

Continuing to use our organic seed from the Seed Co-operative, we sowed in the raised bed the following:

  • Butterflay (spinach)
  • Greens and Salads (lettuce leaves mix)
  • Wild Rocket
  • Merveille des Quatre Saisons (butter head lettuce)
  • French Breakfast 2 (radish)
  • Miranda (carrot)
Red Sun shallots

Red Sun shallots

Witkiem broad beans

Witkiem broad beans

The sowings from a few weeks ago have broken the ground after the last few days of sun, and the weeds are still tiny and easily hoed, too easy! Spring has definitely sprung into action 🙂

Second Day of Decent Sun

Light Sussex

Following on from yesterday’s start on getting some sort of order into the outside, today was spent mowing and strimming, to make sure the electric fence surrounding the orchard and poultry was running at full capacity.

 

Marsh Daisies

The Marsh Daisy parent flock are happy in their current home, but the difference keeping chickens makes to the grass height is amazing! I know they eat grass, but the their paddock hardly needed cutting, whereas the one left fallow (where their children will eventually live) is over a foot in length!

Pilgrim geese – Dwt & Barty

Barty and Dwt have settled into couple-dom better than hoped. After Barty lost his soul mate last year, it seemed as though Dwt would never replace him. But this year she seems to finally have won him over and they’ve been doing the dirty. About once every two days she’s been leaving an egg in her nest, which she decided wouldn’t be in their house, but rather sandwiched behind a pallet we’d erected as a makeshift wind-shelter for them!

 

pear blossom

The mild air has come just in the nick of time for the pear trees, which had been holding out to blossom. All we can hope for now is a lack of frosts over the next few weeks, and if we’re lucky in that regard we should end up with a bumper pear crop. Look at this tree, that’s an incredible amount of blossom!

2018 spring patch panorama

There’s really nothing better than sitting back at the shed and admiring the end result of hard work. Aching back and limbs feel so more worthwhile when you can take a view in like this.

2-spot ladybird (Adalia 2-punctata)

Ladybirds & Strimming

Electric fenceToday I made use of some spare time to strim under the electric fencing I installed over winter. With the sheep netting acting as the earth, it was a relatively simple task to string four strands of positive cable along the front of the fencing. The lower strand is solid steel, mitigating and strimming accidents.

After strimming, a quick walk through the orchard saw me noticing the ladybirds below on one tree – all within around 20cm of each other! It’s fantastic to see the ladybird army awake and ready for the greenfly, which will undoubtedly follow. There’s a mix of native and imposter harlequin below, an all too familiar sight today.

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Forced rhubarb

Rhubarb & Potatoes

Organic potatoes

Organic potatoes

The ground is dry! We can dig it without danger of becoming mired, stranded with only one welly intact! So in went the potatoes – all organic from Bridgend Garden Centre.

Varieties are:

  • Colleen (first earlies)
  • Milva (second earlies)
  • Ambo (main crop)
  • Sante (main crop)
  • Linda (main crop)

This is the first year we haven’t planted our favourite main crops – Valor (a good all rounder) and King Edwards (our favourite roaster). We’ll have to test the three main crops above to see if any come close!

Forced rhubarb

Forced rhubarb

Another great result was our forced rhubarb. After watching it being constantly nobbled by the odd frost, we popped a couple of spare compost bins over them, leaving the lids off. Then we dropped straw from the ducks inside, through the open tops, to help keep some warmth in. The results were amazing, as you can see – four feet high rhubarb stalks!

Cube Run Halved

Destroying the Eglu Cubes!

I lied. Well…kind of. We’d be stupid to do anything drastic to the Eglu Cubes, but things needed to change.

Way back, when we had chickens surrounded by a sheep-netting fence, we thought that the Eglu Cub’s fox-proof run would be a great way to keep our hens safe if we weren’t around at dusk putting away time. We extended the runs to six square metres, enough for six hens, and if we were going out at any time of day we popped some corn in the run, shut the doors after the last hen in so they would be safe and could go to bed at their leisure.

We could still, just about, move the Eglu Cubes on to fresh grass when needed, but it was awkward.

But then the horrible thing happened – we had a fox attack during the day, and lost our wonderful Light Sussex cock, Ethelred the Unready (or just ‘Red’ for simplicity). It was decided then to electrify the entire orchard, a job which began with poultry netting, and this winter progressed to new chestnut stake fencing with electrified strands over chicken wire, to make it goose-suitable.

Eglu Cubes Run Halved

Eglu Cubes Run Halved

This has meant that the long runs are a bit redundant – we can leave the chickens out in the day and the electrified perimeter fence keeps them safe, and the runs are just a double whammy safety feature that gets used when dusk is due. Therefore, the six square metres isn’t needed, and we’re dragging around long runs for no real reason – a task made all the more difficult by the fact that the orchard trees are so much larger and more difficult to navigate between.

The solution? We’ve removed two metre sections from all three Eglu Cubes, and we’re going to make two three metre long fox-proof runs. These we can use for new chicks that are fully feathered, rabbits or guineapigs, knowing that they’ll be safe from Mr Fox.

Peep Peep the Marsh Daisy Chick

Peep Peep – one day old

When We Interfere

Accepted wisdom states that you should never interfere with the hatching process with poultry – to let nature take its course. Often this is true, but there is one instance where I can’t help interfering, and that is when an egg has pipped for over twenty-four hours, and the chick has failed to emerge, but is very much alive and chirping.

What We Did

This chick is one such egg. It pipped, and in the following day its fellow eggs had hatched but it had come no further. Knowing at this stage that her development would have been complete (day 23), and she’d pipped, I soaked her egg shell in damp cloth, to moisten the underlying membrane. After a few minutes of soaking, I carefully pulled the egg shell away, making sure not to force it at any stage. Eventually it was free, and it’s left leg was bent around from the confined space within the egg. I’ve seen this before, and the last time tried splints using pipe cleaners and cardboard, but it proved a clumsy method.

Peep Peep – two days old

Another source mentioned leaving it and it would right itself, and sure enough, after one day it was noticeably better. After three days it looks perfectly healthy, as does the chick. In fact, it’s one of the feistiest of the lot, often being the one to take a stand against the giant hand coming into their brooder box to replace the water, when the rest shy away. I’m also certain it’s a girl, which is some relief.

Peep Peep

In recognition of the constant calling she did whilst stuck in the egg, we’ve called her ‘Peep Peep’. To remind us which one she is, we mark her left leg with a black Sharpie pen, which is why the last chick we had to help from her egg (she’s one of our best layers now!) was called ‘Smudge’.

marsh daisy chicks

Marsh Daisy – Hatching Day!

marsh daisy chicks

There’s always one!

There’s Always One

Finally the day has arrived and the Marsh Daisy eggs have begun to hatch! Most of the newly hatched chicks moved themselves to the back of the incubator, but this one did its utmost to make its way to the front – a potential trouble-maker if ever there was one!

Three Tired Chicks

marsh daisy chicksThe first three out of the incubator and into our prepared broody-box. When I say broody-box, I actually mean a spare black plastic field trough, which has proved perfect for brooding in. We give it a good sterilisation, then line the floor with newspaper and terry towelling towels. This gives the chicks a good surface to walk on, the friction of the towel prevents splayed leg, and they’re easy to fold up, shake off outside and pop in the washing machine. Once they’re three days old we move to shavings, by which time they’ve figured out (mostly) that the chick crumbs are better to eat than shavings!

The More The Merrier

marsh daisy chicksThe first thing we noticed is that the usual ‘cheep cheep’ noise made by new chicks is more trilling with these chicks, much more warbling. They are also more active compared to the larger Light Sussex we’ve hatched in the past.

Whilst they’re not that interested in chick crumbs straight away, we scatter a small amount on the towel, so they can learn what food looks like, and we wet the end of our finger with water, offering it to their beaks. This way they learn what water is from our finger (their surrogate mum’s beak).

marsh daisy chicks

Sometimes Sleep Hits you Unexpectedly

I love it when a chick forgets what it’s up to, and just stops mid-track. This one was waddling across the towel when sleep took it, and it dozed off!

The only thing we would like to improve is the hatch rate. Of the twenty eight eggs incubated, twenty seven proved fertile at one week, and all continued to grow up to lock down. For some reason, only seventeen of the twenty seven actually pipped (63%), and one of those needed help. We left at least twelve hours between opening the incubator to remove hatched eggs, six more than the minimum recommended. We rely on the bulb thermometer which came with the incubator, and have had good hatch rates in the past, but the previous year we also suffered with the Light Sussex in a similar way. Eggs hatched by another incubator at our other site, also of Marsh Daisies, had a higher hatch rate, so my first thought is humidity issues in the first two weeks of incubation is too high, meaning that the chicks are possibly drowning when breaking the internal air sac. To help, we’ve invested in a digital thermometer/hydrometer and will use this with our next incubation of Light Sussex eggs.

Marsh Daisy Lock Down

Lock down!

Today is Marsh Daisy lock down day. The day where the cradle on the incubator is stopped from turning, the dividers keeping the eggs upright are removed, the water reservoirs topped up, kitchen towels used to help dissipate the water over a larger area to increase humidity, and fingers crossed. We have twenty seven eggs, hopefully we’ll have a good hatching rate!

Sowing Continues

Better late than never I guess. For most of these it’s an okay time – but again we’re late with the aubergines, which should have been sown 6 weeks ago!

Today we sowed the contents of the greenhouse:

  • Red Basil
  • Aubergine (Zora)
  • Tomato (San Marzano)
  • Tomato (Ruthje)
  • Pepper (Sweet Chocolate)
  • Cucumber (Arola)

Then for outside we started:

  • Celerica (Monarch)
  • Leek (Musselburgh)

Below you can see the seed potatoes all chitting along nicely. Once the ground has dried out (again) we’ll get those in. They’re also a week or two late, but it’s been so boggy once more, it’s best to wait a few days for it to dry out.

Again, all the seeds were from the Seed Co-operative – supporting the UK’s independent seed suppliers, and organic to boot!

First Plantings of the Year

The snow has gone!! Oops – did I say that out loud? Should never tempt fate!

But it was true, and this weekend was a great weekend to get stuck in to planting and sowing things we’d had tucked away in the garage and seed box until a suitable time happened along.

The first things were the strawberries, all bought from Pomona Fruits. To try and stagger the picking season somewhat, we planted six Vibrant early season (developed by East Malling Research), six Elegance mid season and eighteen Fenella late season. They’re all British varieties and good croppers, providing some useful pollen for the bees.

Next came the preparation of the main crop beds. Last autumn saw us build the soil up by about 8″, soil from the foundations of the new kitchen we’ve built out of necessity – the original being far too small for a growing family who cook a lot of their own food. The soil height is welcome and will help the drainage where we grow veg. To bolster the unknown nutrient level, we added a good layer of well-rotted manure and then a layer of leaf mulch from the orchard. This was all then covered to encourage the worms to dig it in for us over winter and to prevent the weeds from kicking in. As you can see, the worms dug in most of the covering and the grassy weeds have been killed off nicely. All it took was twenty minutes pulling out tap root weeds followed by a quick rotovate to help finish the job, making the ground pliable enough for planting and sowing.

The following day, Sunday, we planted all of our onion and garlic sets, and parsnips and beans. All of these could have gone in the ground earlier if the snow and cold hadn’t been so vociferous! As it is, we work with what we have and they are at least all now where they should be.

The seeds had arrived a few weeks ago, from the Seed Co-operative – the UK’s community owned seed company. By supporting them it helps keep old seed varieties in the hands of the public, and out of the greedy mitts of the big agrochem companies. They are also organic, meaning less strain on the environment all round.

In the photograph to the left (that’s what the beds looked like after rotovating), the foreground has had three rows of Aromata parsnips sown. On the back left there’s a wigwam of Blauschokkers climbing peas, and two short rows of Witkiem broad beans. As you can see from the makeshift guards, pigeons are our biggest problem at this time of year, and I’m determined that I won’t be sowing a second lot to replace the first lot! At the back on the right is the onion bed, where we’ve planted:

  • Red Sun shallots – for cooking and pickling.
  • Karmen onion sets – a great salad onion which stores quite well.
  • Picko Bello onion sets – a white onion for cooking, which we’ve never tried before!
  • Solent White garlic – another old favourite.

This leaves two rows spare for the leeks to end up filling.

I’d call that a successful weekend! Whilst Bunny was busy revising for her exams, Smiler helped out  and cleared the old strawberry bed of grass and weeds, ready to fill with edible pollinator flowers, and also cleared the paths to the patch of fallen winter leaves. He also shifted the pile of hedge and tree clippings to make sure the hedgehog wasn’t hibernating under it, before we burned it into a pile of useful ash.

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