Chickens, flowers, fruit, Garden design, Plants, Propagation, Secret Garden, Uncategorized, Vegetables

Time to plan…

It’s winter, but it’s not cold.

Little green shoots are appearing – but they’re too early.

Hellebores are emerging, the witch hazel is blooming and we even have a couple of snowdrops almost fully out in the front garden.  It’s SpringWinter – not cold enough to be properly winter but not light enough to be properly spring.  Also known – on Instagram at least – as #thatwinterspringthing.

The mild weather and green shoots are not unwelcome – in fact they’re a wonderful reminder of what’s to come. I just wonder if we’re being lulled into a false sense of security, only to be shocked back into the depths of winter by a lengthy icy blast…

In any case there’s not much going on in the garden just yet, and I’m glad of the time to plan ahead for the coming season.  The main projects for this year will be:

  • the white border in the front garden – I’m redesigning one side of the front garden as it’s currently looking the most bare and in need of rejuvenation.  I want to drastically increase the planting and hopefully stick to a mainly white theme, as it’s partly in shade and its backdrop is much larger trees and bushes within the wooded area next door.  The plan is for some lush green/white planting which will lift the whole area during spring/summer
  • planting and sorting the area round the chicken coop – this area needs replanting after we switched the smaller chicken run for a much larger, covered run.  The grass needs fixed and there’s plenty of room at the front of the coop for some new hen-friendly plants
  • growing/selling plants from the Secret Garden – this project began last year when I sold the surplus plants I’d grown for my own garden.  I put the extras onto Facebook Marketplace and they were snapped up by quite a few local folk looking to support a small independent nursery.  I got the best buzz from growing healthy plants for others to enjoy so I definitely want to repeat the experience this year!  (The Secret Garden is so-called because it’s the space I have for raised beds and greenhouse behind a rather unobtrusive-looking door at the bottom corner of the garden.)

So the planning and designing is getting into full swing – I’m researching, drawing, reading and checking my seed stocks to get ready for what is likely to be a busy growing season.

This preparation includes testing out a couple of online drawing/design tools alongside the online systems I already use.  I use a range of different tools for different things – Evernote for clipping and saving articles, photos and plant information; Google Drive for plants/seeds spreadsheets and keeping track of budgets; Microsoft OneNote for drawing and saving designs.  I’m also currently trying the Suttons veg planner tool, which will hopefully help me to plan my fruit/veg growing for this year, as well as my cut flower bed.  And I’ve downloaded an app for my laptop called Bamboo Paper which also allows me to draw and create ‘mood board’ style notebooks.

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Designing the front ‘white’ border with OneNote.  It helps if you do this with wine 🙂

I did contemplate starting an actual physical notebook as a garden journal, and using a real-life pen and ink…but for some reason I seem to get on fine with the online methods.  I think in fact I’m more likely to access these electronic records and keep them updated than a diary-style physical notebook, as lovely as it is to hold and treasure a well-thumbed, dog-eared notebook…

Oh and one more goal which I hope to achieve imminently – sitting two more RHS Level 2 exams in February.  I’ve already been hitting the books again to swot up on plant biology and soil nutrition.  Wish me luck!

Happy 2019 – here’s to a great gardening year!

hydrangea jan 2019

 

 

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Chickens, Grass and lawncare, Uncategorized

Chickening out

I’m a bit feather-brained at the moment.

We have three chickens – Minnie, Polly and Iona – they’re our first little flock and we’re extremely fond of them.  I have previously documented their arrival here and since we got them they seem to be quite happy in our back garden.  They’ve recently started laying again after a bit of a break over Christmas time and their eggs are delicious.  My current favourite lunch is poached egg and avocado on a nice bit of thick bread, with a good cup of tea.  YUM.

Our hens live in the middle of a back border in a second-hand Eglu (thank you, Gumtree) and have a small run outside of the main coop and wire run.  We have experimented with free-ranging before, but for various reasons I have always gone back to restricting them to their bigger run and keeping them out of the main garden.

The reasons included – bird flu restrictions (the advice was to keep them under cover and away from wild birds for several weeks), poo on the grass and paths, fears they would eat some of my plants – plus one of them worked out how to escape and, having had a taste of freedom, would get out at inconvenient times.

However, I recently bought and read this book…

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…which has reminded me of my original hopes when we got the hens – that they would be an important and valuable element of our garden, not destroying it but contributing to it.

This book has been around for while, it’s not a new release, but it’s still very relevant.  The author, Jessi Bloom, is an experienced chicken owner and writes with passion and enthusiasm about how easy it is to integrate chickens and gardens.  She gives advice about housing, planting, training and looking after hens.

The main message I took away from reading this book are that chickens can not just live in your garden, but can actually be beneficial too – I already compost their poo so that the nutrients will return to the soil, but the book also made it clear that hens can reduce pests and weeds and be useful garden helpers.

It’s helped to calm my fears about letting the hens loose.  If there are young plants you don’t want them to eat, these can be protected.  Yes, there may be occasional damage but it’s avoidable and not a great tragedy if it does occur.  Let’s face it, the nature of gardening is such that if something doesn’t work the first time, you can simply try again.  And yes there may be some poo on the grass but at this time of year it’s not a big issue and a quick sweep of the lawn in the spring/summer should see it clear for the kids to play on.  In fact, I might even get them to do the poo-picking!

And so, our ladies have been released.  They are free-ranging part-time (afternoons, when we’re home to keep an eye on them) and seem to be loving it.  They’ve already established the New Favourite Dust Bathing Area – under a conifer I recently clipped so that the hellebores underneath would have a bit more breathing space.

I do have plans to introduce new plants to the back garden but now I’ll be more mindful of how to protect these until they’re established.  I feel more comfortable that what’s already there will survive a small amount of treading or scraping and if it doesn’t, well, it can be replaced.

This back garden area will eventually be an area of woodland planting – tough, hardy, resilient to a bit of ‘chicken love’, and I hope they really will keep the pests down and the weeds at bay.  For now, I’m enjoying seeing them run across the garden, wings outstretched, or run up to me hoping for treats and just kicking about making their little ‘boop-boop’ noises.  They’re good garden companions.

In fact, they’re so good that I’m now keeping my eyes peeled for a second coop – either for raising chicks or for a new flock.  I was warned that chicken-keeping becomes addictive and it’s true.  Hence why I’m feather-brained – I keep wondering if it should be Pekins, bantams, ex-batts, Auraucanas, Buffs….

 

 

 

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Chickens, Garden Birds, Garden design, Grow Your Own, Nature & Wildlife, Secret Garden, Vegetables

Catching up…

Well it seems it’s been a busy couple of weeks since I last wrote a post.  Thankfully, part of the reason for that has been some lovely weather – when the sun’s shining I’m not inclined to stay in the house and stare at a computer screen, I want to get outside and garden!

Some updates on what’s happening out there:

Sad news first – the blackbird nest which was in the ivy on the back wall has failed.  I went out one morning about a week ago to discover it was on the ground.  I don’t know what happened, perhaps it simply collapsed, or perhaps a fox or bigger bird came along and attacked.  I investigated briefly using a stick (it was hard to reach!) and couldn’t see any eggs but it was surprisingly solid to try to turn over.  Here’s a photo of Mrs Blackbird which I took literally the day before the nest came down…

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I felt quite sad for the pair – they spent so long building the nest and she’d been sitting in it for a few days before it failed.  However, it seems that this is common with blackbirds as their nests are so open and therefore vulnerable to predators and the elements.  The good news is that I think they are now building another nest inside a large conifer nearby.  Will it be third time lucky?  We’ll have to wait and see.

I have been watering like mad over the past few days.  The sunny and warm weather means the veg beds have been looking parched and the seedlings (cosmos, marigolds and zinnia) which are now outside in the growhouse need a drink almost twice a day!  They’re getting quite large now and I’m hoping to start planting them out in the next few days.

The raised beds are looking good – every one now has a little row or sprig of green appearing, with the peas/carrots/lettuce bed looking the most healthy of all.  I have high hopes for the peas, especially after they did so poorly last year.  The potatoes are now all sprouting, after my worry that they were nowhere to be seen, and even the little leeks are popping up…

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…I noticed these yesterday morning and could have sworn they were about a centimetre bigger by the evening after a day of sunshine and a liberal hosing!

I’m also making a fairly sizeable change in the front garden; I’ve removed a large ceonothus and another unidentified shrub which have been taking over a large section close to the driveway.  I plan to extend the rose bed and perhaps also use the space for bedding and dahlias.  It was a bit of a gamble as they took up quite a lot of room, but the space looks nice and clear now and is another corner to play with, so I’m happy.  Sorry no before/after photos because I forgot to take them!

Lastly, a chicken update: we are now getting three eggs a day, as Iona has joined her two friends and begun laying – hurrah!  She’s also developing her comb and her voice and likes a good cluck when you go into the run or if she thinks something’s amiss.  Perhaps the quietest hen will turn out to be the noisiest?!

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New layer Iona gets extra cuddles from Biggest Daughter 

 

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Chickens, flowers, Garden design, Grass and lawncare, Plants, Pots and containers, Raised Beds

Lobelia learning curve

I sowed lobelia last year, directly into the raised bed I used to grow cut flowers* and they did quite well, but flowered fairly late in the season and are not really great for cutting, they’re better for baskets or pots.  So this year I sowed early under cover, with the aim of using the plants for two large wire hanging baskets which we inherited with the house.  I have a vision of these lovely trailing purple flowers decorating the front of our house and making visitors ‘ooh’ appreciatively when they visit.

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Lobelia erinus

However.  Lobelia seeds and indeed their seedlings are ickle tiny wee things and quite tricky to prick out, as I have discovered!  It’s not impossible, and I did manage to transfer most of the delicate little plants from the seed tray in clumps into a slightly bigger modular tray.  I’m hoping from here they will grow big enough to then plant into baskets so that they can look beautiful at the front of the house, visitors will ‘ooh’, etc etc… However.  Having dragged the wire baskets from the back of the shed to have a good look at them, they are BIG.  60cm each in fact, and I’m pretty sure my little crop of lobelias will only fill one of these at best.

I will definitely keep growing them anyway, they’ll do for a smaller basket or pot – but perhaps in the meantime I might have to invest in some pre-grown bedding plants for the hanging baskets, especially if I want them on display any time soon!

In other garden news, I did the first grass cut of the season – yay!  I observed two things:

1) the chickens didn’t freak out as much as I thought they might at the sound of the lawnmower. This is good, as I really didn’t want to have to cut the grass fortnightly during the summer under cover of darkness after they’d gone to bed to avoid scaring them!

2) The grass is in a pretty crappy state.  What with scarifying, plus a bit of extra treading around fixing up a chicken run, plus a lot of rain recently, it’s not exactly looking green and lush and is still very mossy.  This will be a long-running battle I think, to restore it to a healthy state.

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My grass does NOT look like this <sob>

*This sounds impressive, but didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, apart from the cornflowers and a few snapdragons.  I am giving it another bash this year and have sowed earlier so hopefully will get better results!

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Chickens

Introducing…

Minnie (Minerva)

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Iona (or Iona McFart)

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and Big Boo (aka Polly, short for Pollos Hermanos)

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I realise that’s quite a heady mix of monikers but that’s what happens when you let your kids get involved in the naming process, while also wanting to have your own input! We’ve ended up with a selection inspired by Harry Potter, Spanish words, Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black and the brain of a 6 year old!

Still, a week on and we’re getting used to them now – the names as well as the hens.  They chook about quite happily in their run which we’ve now covered with woodchips very helpfully supplied by a tree surgeon friend.  We’re giving them treats every day to find out what they like to eat – so far mealworms, cheese and dandelions are proving a bit hit.  My eldest daughter is visiting them several times a day to feed them treats or pick them up – she’s quite besotted with her new feathery chums!  The smaller daughter likes them too and enjoys showing them off to her friends, but isn’t so keen on raking poo.  They both like collecting the daily egg we’ve been getting though, and my husband is definitely enjoying eating them.

Polly/Big Boo is the sole provider of eggs so far, and is also the Queen Bee.  I think the pecking order has been established and it seems she’s the one in charge, followed by Iona and then Minnie, who seems to be the most nervous of them all and sometimes patrols the run at dusk clucking menacingly at the imaginary threats beyond the fence, before taking herself to bed with the others when it gets dark.  Iona seems the most chilled out and doesn’t seem to mind being stroked or picked up.  They have all already got into the habit of running over at the first sight of a human, but I am under no illusions – they clearly just want food!

It’s Easter holidays for us at the moment, which is one reason why we’ve gone for it with getting the chickens just now, but what with settling in our new friends and doing general family stuff, I’m not getting much time in the garden at the moment.  Which is the reason I’m about to cut off this post and head straight out right now – a rare window of opportunity presents itself, so I am going to grab it with both hands!

Until I return, here are some pics of our new ladies for you to enjoy!

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Chickens

They’re here! 

Just a quick one before bedtime – but I had to share today’s excitement…

  

Three hens, happily scratching away in their new home in our back garden! 

I am super excited and also nervous about their first night – please let them still be there in the morning?! 

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Chickens, Garden design

Project Hen is moving forward…!


We have a coop! An Eglu Go to be precise, and I am so excited.

My head is full of hens at the moment, as I’m working out where to put them, when to feed them, how to make this work for our family life. My girls are also excited about the prospect of some feathered friends and even my husband, who was somewhat dubious to begin with, seems to be getting on board and is keen to come and choose our chickens.

Hopefully we’ll bring some home next week during the Easter holidays, but before then we’ve got to figure out how to make the coop and run fit into the area I have marked out for it.  More pics and details to follow after the weekend I think, when I hope to have the Eglu in place and ready to accept its new inhabitants!

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