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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Marsh Daisy Incubation

Spring is here, and it’s never complete without an incubator purring away in a corner of the house. Today we started cooking 28 Marsh Daisy eggs – children of Mikey (the 2015 rare breed winner at the Staffordshire County Show) and the ladies we hatched two years ago, from Sharon who runs the Marsh Daisy club.

We have a hatching from last year from the same coupling, who are all at Rob’s a couple of field’s away and are due to be served by Rupert, their uncle. Hopefully Mikey will be good for another year and we’ll be able to run him with his grand-daughters from this year’s hatching, creating a closed flock system. Fingers crossed fate plays along with the plans.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the incubation room, Larry, Curly and Mo are keen to see what all the fuss is about 🙂

Cider No.3 Bottling

I’ve been measuring the specific gravity of Cider No.3 every couple of weeks or so, and today it hit 1.005. To ensure there’s enough residue sugar for in-bottle carbonation, I’ve been told that is a good level, so today was bottling day!

I have to say, if I could stop it now I would. The slight sweetness is incredible, perfect for me even. But that’s another learning curve for another year – this year I want to perfect the in-bottle carbonation first. Comparing this cider to the first of the year, you can tell a difference even at this stage – the apples, being late varieties, gave a much higher sugar level. That, coupled with the higher tannin content of the Medaille d’Or cider apple gives it a much fuller body – less harsh and abrasive. Fingers crossed the next stage will work out for the best – just six months to wait until we can begin trying it! Having tried some cider from 2016, it is quite amazing what a year in the bottle can do for a flavour.

This was also the occasion I decided to not waste the cider lees – the bit typically washed down the sink. I’d heard of using it in bread making, so I bottled it and left the lees, with the jar lid slightly undone, on top of the fridge, with the murky cider dregs placed in the fridge. The next post shows how it came out!

Planting Plan 2018 – What’s Going Where

The layout for this year’s planting plan. We run a 5-year rotation, but with the new smaller allotment having seven different 10′ x 10′ beds, it’s changed to a 7-year rotation!

The Allotment

Briefly, the rotation works like this. The top-right bed – this year the nitrogen fixing beans and peas – will drop down a bed next year, so will end up where the current potatoes are. The potatoes will in turn drop down to where the roots are (they’re last in line as they don’t like fresh manure, so the manure will have depleted by the time they get planted). The roots will move to the top of the middle column and the middle column beds will all shuffle one down too. The last middle column  bed (sweetcorn and corgettes) will move sideways into the estranged middle bed of the left had column where there are currently brassicas. The artichokes and asparagus are permanent beds so will not move. The brassicas will then move to where the current potatoes are, and the whole thing will cycle once more. This gives us almost enough of what we need, although we’ll be short of potatoes.

The Currant Patch

The six currant bushes are permanent, but in front of them we’ll be planting a row of nectar producing flowers, to help with pollinating insects and predatory insects, such as lacewings.

Behind the current bushes we’ll have a section for sunflowers, predominantly for the bees but once flowered the birds can make use of the seeds. Then we’ll also have a bed of carrots, as this is new soil and less prone to carrot fly. We will also establish a new strawberry bed – at last!

The Raised Bed

At the bottom of the path, this is the first planted bed to pass, so we add the pick and come again produce – spinach, mixed leaves lettuce and rocket. Then we’ll also have some full lettuce and carrots, with radish making use of the little pockets of space.

The Rhubarb & Gooseberry Patch

This one is a bit of a struggle as it’s becoming blighted by twitch – couch grass. We can’t remove it without spraying, which we won’t do, or by digging the patch up. My thought is to struggle on as best we can for the time being, but think about creating a new rhubarb and gooseberry patch somewhere clean. We can self-root the gooseberries so we know what we’re getting, and don’t have to buy any more. The rhubarb we could risk digging up, halving and replanting, but we’d have to make sure no twitch carried through to the new patch.

Greenhouse No.1

This will be the tomato greenhouse – one variety of eating and one variety of cooking. Heaven knows we could probably triple this number and still get through them all!

The San Marzano we’ve grown a few times, and are horrible eaten raw. However, when cooked into a ragu, they are absolutely gorgeous, and remind me of childhood smells from Naples.

Greenhouse No.2

Our more humid greenhouse, we’ll water the ground in here to help the cucumbers grow – they like it humid.

We’ll also grow on the potting bench – the peppers don’t seem to mind the same treatment, and the basil and coriander will only start in the greenhouse. Once they’re established and the risk of frost has passed, we’ll move them outside, leaving the potting bench free once more to start more seedlings – possibly lettuce.

Greenhouse No.3

This is the vegetable we struggle with growing more than any other. One year in four it’s been successful, the rest fell fowl to not enough water (last time we go away on holiday mid-growing season!), ants, and cold. However, we will persevere, and this year we’ll start earlier with them so they have a fighting chance. This is also the greenhouse that needs a good clean before the season starts!

And that’s it! The varieties are all labelled in the planting plan images, and all are either from Stormy Hall seeds, now part of the Seed Co-Operative, or from seeds we’ve saved ourselves.

Snow at Merrybower

It feels like an age since we’ve had some proper snow and cold weather. Thanks to the wind blowing from Russia, we’ve had some great days of frosty weather, hopefully nobbling some insects in the process! This is just a random selection of photographs taken during the cold days where, as you can see from two of the photographs, chicken cleaning was a challenge (no hoses working) and pruning came to a standstill!

2018 Allotment Plan (or the Patch Plan as we call it)

It’s that time of year again! It just fair whizzes past these days, but after last year’s house work putting the kibosh on a lot of the allotment work, it is with renewed vigour that we turned to the planning of the year’s veggie and fruity goodness, and the 2018 allotment plan

The Big Guys

We have our favourites of course, but where you get your seed from is a massive question these days. I had two catalogues land on the doormat this week – a rather glossy catalogue from Mr Fothergill and a more rustic looking DT Brown. Needless to say, the DT Brown catalogue looked more ‘niche’, a bit edgy – if you will, but it raised questions about why they should happen to appear on the same day? A quick bit of research on the old interweb showed that these seed companies are so intertwined it’s a bit of a nightmare if you like to support the smaller seed companies – Mr Fothergills and DT Browns are one and the same, but the same can be said for many of the well-known brands these days.

Our Seed Suppliers

So what to do? Dobies were one of the first as they don’t list any seed varieties that are the result of genetic modification. Then there is also Franchi – Seeds of Italy – who are the oldest family-run seed company in the world and were found to be the most ethical major packet seed brand by Ethical Consumer Magazine in 2016. Their range of Italian varieties is wonderful, with the Tonda Padana being our favourite winter squash, and I haven’t seen a packet of their seeds yet that are a hybrid. One year we bought from Stormy Hall Seeds, based in North Yorkshire and part of the Botton Village Camphill Community and the quality was fantastic, but the range wasn’t huge. However, their ethos is incredible, and they’re also Demeter certified, so this year we’ve bought as much as we can from their collection which, I need to add, has grown considerably. We’ve also bought some flower seeds from them, to help provide nectar for the bees and food for the lacewing, to help combat the unwanted pests. As long as we plant within 7 metres (20 feet) of the vegetables which need help, we should see a benefit. We have the old strawberry bed that has been resting for a couple of years, so we’ll sow them there – a good 30ft x 2ft strip adjacent to the current bushes, and the Borage we’re including in the mix will provide a good ground cover that we can also dig in at the end of the season, as a green fertiliser.

Onion Sets & Seed Potatoes

When it came to onion sets and potatoes, we have once again turned to Bridgend Garden Centre. They’re a way away, but they measure out the sets and spuds in convenient amounts. Whilst their onions and shallots aren’t organic, they have a small range of organic potatoes, so we’ve bought our varieties from there. They’re also ridiculously helpful, which is a pleasant attribute to find these days.

Local Brassicas

When it comes to brassicas, we’re planting so little of our own this year that it really doesn’t make sense to buy seed packets! Besides, Jacksons at Swarkestone are one of the oldest growing families in our area and we can buy plugs from them, which makes far more sense.

Fruit

Lastly, we have the fruit – we’ve bought from Pomona Fruits and they’ve supplied quality produce, so when it came to deciding where to buy the new strawberry patch from, they were the obvious choice.

There we have it – where we’re buying 2018’s seeds from. The next post will show what’s going where!