As the weather’s warming up, it seemed like an opportune time to get the good old squash going, so in we popped the squash, to start in the house, and eventually move to the greenhouse, then outside under cloche until we’re so very sure that Jack Frost won’t visit.
Our squash choices consist of:
- Tonda Padana – our favourite, great for Suz’s Lemon Yellow Squash Pie.
- Butternut Waltham – we do like a roasted butternut soup.
- Green Kuri – never tried it before, but keen to give it a whirl!
And then we have some Cocozelle von Tripolis courgette, Boltardy beetroot, and Tall Utah celery. I suspect I won’t get around to the beetroot as that will be sown directly in to the allotment, whereas the rest we’re starting from seed.
Next up is the cucumbers – nicely potted on and in to their final position in a greenhouse. We keep them separate to the tomato greenhouse as they like a slightly humid atmosphere, as do aubergines.
Whilst the tomatoes are looking a little leggy, we’ll try and check their growth by hardening them off to greenhouse temperatures. Soon they’ll be potted on into their own greenhouse.
Then on to mulching the currant bushes – we have two of each colour – black, red and white. Any berries that fall off can pop up as new plants, so we mulch to help prevent that, to keep the weeds in check, and to preserve soil moisture.
And finally, the Marsh Daisy chicks are four weeks old and feathering up nicely! This is their first trip outside, where we’ve moved them to a new Green Frog Design coop which will be their home for a while. Indeed, for those that stay with us, their home forever!
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,
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!
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)
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 🙂
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
Today 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.
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.
- 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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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
The 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
The 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).
Sometimes Sleep Hits you Unexpectedly
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.
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!