Saturday Morning Pyjama Gardening in the Rain.

What is it about us gardeners – we just have to pick, pluck and plant at all hours.

This Saturday I was up early as usual and went down to let the chickens down.  It was pouring with rain and being a practical girl I put on a fleece, let the girls out and came in for my morning cuppa.

I then had to go to the garage to get some more juice and saw a few snails on my last PSB plant.  I looked a little closer and there were slugs and snails all over the veg patch.  I had used some Nemaslug a few weeks ago and really hoped that this would help the plants get ahead.  Unfortunately looking at the Broad Beans I realised that whilst they had grown they were pretty miserable specimens.  They were about  a foot high, some with a good range of flowers but not many leaves whilst others were just eaten away.  It was time to take action.  Out came my daughter’s bucket and in the space of about 5 minutes I must have had  a good 3″ deep  of slugs and snails.  It’s ridiculous, I just don’t know how I’m going to get any veggies this year if I have to fight this hard to keep anything alive.  I’ve never know a large vigorous plant like PSB to get so decimated – if they’re going for that then any small seedlings just don’t stand a chance.  Interestingly the bulk of the creatures are large snails this year.  I’m used to the tiny slugs and snails getting past my barriers and causing decimation but this is a first for me.  It must have been the mild, wet winter and spring.  I’ve said it before but it’s obvious we just needed a cold spurt to clear out some of the creatures and give us gardeners a chance!

So I’m off to order a few more packets of Nemaslug and I’m going to leave you with a few pictures of my collection (but I’ll leave you to work out what I did with them!)

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Chicken Training – end of week one

And so my first weekend dawned and my plan was to seal the friendship amongst the chickens so we could leave them altogether happily.

As ever with chickens, it didn’t work quite as I hoped but I did see some glimmers of hope.  Every morning I’d do the chicken shuffle…let Luna down and try to get the youngsters away from the coop and into the run.  Luna was showing signs of wanting to get back into the coop to the nesting box so I’d get her back in as quick as I could and she did scamper back up.  Unfortunately, she hasn’t laid an egg yet – in fact, our last egg was on 3rd May.  I’m hoping that as things settle down with the girls, she’ll get back to laying.

It’s become pretty obvious that Molly is going to be number 2 and super-cheeky and sociable.  She’s already tried to swallow my daughter’s finger (not sure if she thought it was a fat, wiggly worm or just thought treats were permanently attached to it!).  Fleur-duck is still very twitchy and chatty and usually keeps well out of the way of Luna.  She’s cautious with humans too but if you keep still she’ll quite happily eat from your hand.

Both girls have now eaten from the same hand as Luna so they’re getting less cautious.  Luna’s attacks are much less meaningful – she’ll chase the girls away but it’s without the aggression seen earlier in the week.  More a case of ‘get out of my way’ than ‘I’m coming to get ya, stranger!’

On Sunday I did some gardening and let the girls run free.  The youngsters tended to stay around the coop but Luna was her usual nosey self, coming to wherever I was digging and looking for extra worm treats.  Molly ventured by, at one point, and gobbled up a worm – strangely enough she suddenly seemed much more interested in gardening after that.IMG_4934

Feeling bad…

It may only be 7.30 but I’ve already been out gardening (in my pyjamas!)

I’m not sure if it’s the husband or chicken influence or just because the weather is so lovely this week and I was stuck inside yesterday. Anyway as usual I was up at 6 to let the girls out.

I had a cup of tea with my husband and then as he left to do the weekly shop, I popped into the greenhouse to check growth and slugs. Well, you know how it is…one thing leads to another and so I checked the seedlings, watered the newly grow-bagged tomatoes, made sure I still had some Cosmos left (major snail fight that one!) and then decided to plant out more potatoes.

Off I went to the shed to get some more bags (I don’t have enough land to have potatoes in the ground). The bags were tucked away from last year and as usual I had to move aside various bits of chicken paraphernalia. I reached and tugged the bags and saw that one of them seemed to have some laundry fluff and straw in it. Unfortunately that wasn’t all it was. A little mouse scampered away rapidly and I realised I’d inadvertently broken up her nest. I couldn’t see any evidence of babies but I do feel bad!

I thought we had mice under the shed (the cats often sniff a round the bottom of the shed) and I knew that a new peck block I’d left in there for a week had mysteriously been chewed on but I didn’t realise the shed was actually a mouse residence! Amazing what you learn at 6:45am…guess I’d better go get showered and into proper gardening clothes!

Finally, spring has sprung…

but I’m sorry, I still want a slight freeze.  Right now we’ve had such a mild winter and a damp spring that I know I’m going to be fighting bugs all summer.  In fact I’ve already planted a load of my flower and veg seeds and have been waking daily to destroyed plants as slugs sneakilly invade the greenhouse.  I had a good germination of Cosmos and put them out in the greenhouse only to watch them disappear one by one.  Similarly, I started the peas out in the greenhouse and was just contemplating planting them out when chomp, chomp the 4 inch tops were severed from their bottoms and left scattered on the matting.  Grrrr.  This could be a tough summer…think I might go get some nematodes for the veg patch!

Having said all that, it is fantastic to see the earth warming and the flowers blooming.  Daffodils are one of my favourite flowers and they’ve been a joy to see after so long stuck indoors watching the rain come down.  The PSB has been delicious and I was even unknowingly clever enough to plant two varieties that succeeded each other perfectly.  The first was delicious as the rain came down and now the second variety is just coming through – now I just need to hold onto some for another week so I can take a pile to my father who lost all his early on.

I got the Broad Beans in the veg patch this weekend and hopefully they’ll be joined soon by some battered peas.  I’ll probably keep the rest of my seedlings in the greenhouse a little longer to get really strong before venturing out to the snail army (that is, if I can keep the slugs out of the greenhouse!)

The next job is the hard work in the garden – emptying a few compost bins to really give those veggies a boost.  Then I need to rebuild my pond which has sprung a very slow leak.  Welcome Spring, welcome the hard work.

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A new visitor come to say hello

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As we sat having dinner yesterday we glanced out into the garden and saw this beautiful pheasant. He was sniffing around the chicken coop and wandering around the garden. The chickens were out in the temporary pen (doing a great job of scarifying and fertilising the lawn) and they were distinctly disinterested.

The pheasant had a quick check to see if there was any food around the pen and then headed back to the coop to get the pecking block. As my girls have refused to touch this I originally left it in the shed, where the mice are it and now the pheasant wanted it…why not the chickens?

I was tempted to give the pheasant some food but after a quick web search found out that they can become regular visitors if you feed them. Given the nature of our cats I didn’t want to be responsible for damaged birds (even if I’m sure my sister would have appreciated the tail feathers!). So we kept the twitchy cats in and out went my husband to try and find out how much of a runway a pheasant needs. Turns out – not much…he flew off into the neighbouring tree without much provocation. Not quite vertical take off but a rapid stylish ascent nevertheless.

So our visitor left us and I’m back to pondering the merits of adding more chickens…

Noisy Chicken – bye bye lie ins!

After my decision to contain the chickens more we really had to come up with a new solution.  The cheap extensions that I’d brought last year as an extra area were very helpful but it wasn’t a great solution.  Essentially we had these extensions pushed up to one end of the ark.  As there were gaps around the edges (a rectangle meeting a kind of trapezium) it wasn’t a fox safe solution.  The morning procedure was to pull the extension away, remove the panel from the end of the ark, then push the extension back up against the ark.  In the evenings we did the same in reverse.  It all worked OK until Cho decided that she didn’t like waiting for me to let her down at 6:30am.  I’d always thought Ginny was the noisy one but no, this year Cho was the ringmaster.  If I was a little late for her she’d squawk away – I’d be just coming to in bed and then hear this noise and have to fly down the stairs in my PJs, find the back door keys and get out there.  She’d usually shut when she saw me but occasionally would continue so even if her squawking didn’t wake the neighbours my ‘ssshing’ probably did!  It really wasn’t the right way to start the day – a minor heart attack followed by a day of guilt!

As is my want, I spent a good while scanning the web for solutions.  Various blogs suggested darkening the coop to delay her waking.  I wasn’t sure how I could do that with our ark as it was pretty dark anyway and I wanted them to be well ventilated.  I looked at electric door openers and found out it was possible to get one working with an ark, as long as you had a pulley system in operation – something worth looking at for the future.  I have to say my neighbours never complained (to my face!)  – we did ask one set and they said they hadn’t heard anything.  So maybe I was worrying about nothing but I really couldn’t risk all my chickens over one noisy girl.

My interim solution was to leave the ladder down over night.  The coop was on hard standing so a fox couldn’t dig in – it wasn’t ideal but it did at least allow the girls down to food and water early morning.  I thought this had worked but the noisy lady decided that it still wasn’t enough – she didn’t just want down, she wanted out.

So, I reset my alarm for 6:00am and ruled out any early morning slow wake ups.  I had to be down in the garden by 06:10am…not really what I envisaged when I got chickens!

The challenge was that as the ladder was down, the chickens were also down.  So I had to do an early morning chicken dance – carefully moving out the extension, positioning it ready for the push back. Pulling out the end of the coop and sliding back the extension before any chickens escaped.  Even if I say so myself I got pretty good at it – the challenge came when we went away for the weekend and had to train others to do it!

Who said having chickens was simple – sure wouldn’t be me!

Trying to grow grass

So Spring sprang and I really had to get to work setting the garden to rights.  Sometime in March we had a little bit of sunshine and in my optimism I spent several hours raking and seeding the mud half of the garden.  It was the wrong move – we plunged back into Winter with snow, cold and persistent rain.  The seed sat there gradually being eaten by visiting pigeons and blackbirds.  I really thought I’d wasted my time, energy and seed but thankfully the cats and the plastic tape kept enough grass seed on the ground for the sun that finally appeared almost a month later.

Come April we gradually started to see the odd green shoot.  Rather like a teenager with his first stubble the mud patch half of the garden began to change colour.  Rather like the teenager, we were so proud of the shoots that we left them well alone and admired them from afar.  A week or so later if we sat in the right place the whole lawn looked green.  Getting up and walking towards the chicken coop you could see the very patchy sproutings – not surprisingly I decided to spend more time sitting down and looking at the lawn as it was a much more pleasant experience.

Last weekend I decided the time had come to mow the lawn – so I took down the protective fencing around the stubble, raked up the stones that had appeared amongst the grass and went for it.  It still looked patchy but the mowing did it the world of good and I really felt that I was beginning to get my garden back to pre-chicken beauty.  Roll on a warmer spring and a bit more growth…