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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Back Righthand Corner

Why is the back right hand corner of the garden so in need of digging up?  Not to me, you understand but to my little ladies!  The coop and it’s fenced area is currently at the far reaches of the lawn and after only one week, it is a hazardous area.  Not only is soil strewn all over the area, making egg collecting a muddy business but there are endless pot holes which can turn an ankle if you don’t look out.  Suddenly, I’m the only one who seems to be putting the chickens in and out and collecting eggs and even I don’t pop out there with my normal egg searching glee.

I can think of two reasons why the chickens have decided to re-design this area:

– it is underneath one of our neighbour’s large oak trees and as such the grass gets a little less daylight.  So maybe the grass is easier to scrub up.  More likely is that the nearby back border has had a tonne of compost put on it over the past 10 years.  As a shade border I needed to bulk it up as best I could so much of our compost has ended up there.  There are also two compost bins nearby so maybe the bug-fest is just too exciting for my girls.

– secondly, the soil is definitely better there.  The lawn nearest to the house has quite shallow rubbly soil ( proved by the difficulty I have putting in the pegs for the netting!).  Towards the back of the lawn there is more depth before the rubble and so I guess scrabbling chicken feet have a much easier, fun job.

Annoyingly, they’ve even re-dug a hole underneath their coop.  I specifically placed their coop over an old filled-in hole thinking that they never really hang out in there now.  Silly, silly me – as if the chickens could leave a filled-in hole alone!  It’s now multiplied and there are two holes under the coop as well as the countless holes around the outside!

So now I have to decide whether to let this area deteriorate all winter or to keep moving the coop area and hope that even with the lack of warmth and sun that the grass can recover each couple of weeks.  In the meantime, I’ll rake over the grass regularly and give the few wisps of life that are left the best chance.


Lovely produce

In this super wierd season so many things are ridiculously late.  I’m usually eating my strawberries at the end of May and here I am in July making the first pickings.  What has happened to the British Summer?  I know we don’t normally get dry, hot weather for weeks on end but warm, dry for a few weeks would be lovely!

The plants are trying so hard to get their feet down and grow but they’re just not getting enough warmth.  My French Beans are struggling against the veg patch slugs and snails, the Broad Beans are growing but on the whole are still tiny.  The only things that really seem to be happy are the potatoes in the containers.  I’m not the best at watering plants regularly – I tend to be a bit Darwinian.  Survival of the fittest and all that!  Well, that and a tendancy to get distracted by other jobs!  As I don’t have a huge veg patch I grow some early potatoes in various containers every year.  It’s probably not cost effective but they’re so exquisite that I’ll keep going.  Actually writing this does make me wonder why I bother – I’m not good at watering them, they’re not cost effective and they do get a bit straggly and take over the patio or which ever patch of soil I put them on.  So other than the taste, why do I bother – it’s the sheer joy of turning over a bag and discovering these delicious golden nuggets hidden in the compost.  At least I get to re-use the compost as I spread it over the borders (and find new potato plants springing up all over the place!).

Finding good compost is always a struggle – I try to be organic and eco-friendly but so many of the peat free composts are just awful at retaining moisture that I can’t use them.  I tend to try to mix different composts together but maybe I should actually start to get a good formula together based on the leaf mould, my own fresh compost and peat-free from the garden centre. Any tips would be much appreciated!

So, what else is being harvested now?  One of the courgette plants is coming along well and we’ve already had a couple of good dark green courgettes.  I’ve grown a few different varieties and am waiting for the long yellow ones and small round green ones to get to a decent picking size.

The peas are struggling on and as usual I only have enough for tantilising lunchbox or pre-dinner treats.  As with the Strawberries and pototoes I know I’m not going to be inundated but I’ll keep going with a few plants just for those special moments that mark the seasons (usually!)

Cleaning the coop

This maybe a bit mundane but for anyone who is new to chickens I thought they might be interested in the upkeep of the chicken coop.

Firstly, it’s incredible how 3 chickens tip the balance of mess dramatically.  When we had two chickens the coop stayed relatively clean and the grass underneath, whilst it was scratched up, it was still possible to see the grass.  With the 3 chickens the area underneath the perch gets dirty very quickly and the grass underneath can very quickly become covered with a layer of excrement.  Delightful!

Essentially, the top of our coop has one long perch which spans 3/4 of the length.  The remaining quarter is a nest box.  Two of our chickens: Ginny and Luna love to perch and as soon as they go up top, they go onto the perch and just stay there, sleeping and pooing all night.  Tonks however, seems to prefer tucking her feet underneath her and will either sleep in the nest box or alongside the perch.  I’m not sure if this is just a preference or if it’s because of her late addition and her desire to get somewhere peaceful.  Having said that, I did read that chickens tend not to fight at night when in the perch so maybe they don’t fight but do still intimidate!

To keep it all clean we put cardboard on the floor and cover it with wood shavings.  I replace this as often as needed but usually once a week for the perch and once a fortnight for the nest box.  All the cardboard, shavings and waste go in the compost heap to turn into gardener’s gold. Meanwhile, I’m still working out how often to give the coop a thorough scrub and disinfect but as we’ve had so much awful weather and I’m loathe to put clean bedding back into the coop and leave it damp for the chickens, it’s been rather dependent on that.

As we’ve got a wooden coop we need to keep an eye on Red Mite and other bugs that like to hide in the crevices.  Hence once a fortnight I’ve been removing everything, taking off all the panels and sides.  It’s such a well designed coop that you really can take it back to bare bones very easily. I’ve then sprayed each panel and corner with Poultry Shield, left it for an hour then washed it off.  Once its dried I then puff Diatomaceous Earth liberally around the coop and put new cardboard and shavings down.

It’s all pretty easy – maybe not as simple as with a plastic coop but I love the way our coop looks and was willing to risk a little extra effort.

Chickens and Gardens – Ups and downs

Here we are 3 months into chicken keeping and I thought I’d review how my garden is coping.    Some of the articles I’d read before I got the girls really terrified me – almost to the point of thinking I shouldn’t get them.  As I’ve said before I love my garden, I love the peace of it, the growth, the challenge and the sheer joy of watching things grow (especially if they then feed my family!)  I really wanted chickens and had no idea how they’d impact on our lives but I didn’t want to sacrifice the garden totally. All in all though I can definitely say it’s not as bad as I feared.

Good Things

  1. No more moss (they’ve scratched it all up!)
  2. The grass that the coop has been on, is very green and verdant (lots of manure!)
  3. They’re great fun to garden with
  4. The mulch I put down earlier in the spring has been broken down into lovely small pieces
  5. I’ve never had so few weeds in the borders
  6. Hopefully, I’ve got less slugs and snails as their eggs have been scratched up and eaten.
  7. I’ve got a compost bin full of lovely maturing chicken manure

Not so Good Things

  1. I’ve become a major investor in chicken wire
  2. In fact I’ve had to invest in quite a few barriers
  3. My lawn is becoming smaller, as the border edges move inwards
  4. I’m in dread as each plant comes into leaf/bloom to see if it will be demolished.
  5. Talking of which – no more Hosta’s in the back garden!
  6. We have to step carefully on the lawn to avoid chicken poop
  7. I have to clear the patio daily
  8. The veg patch is fenced off.

All in all I think that they’re a huge benefit to the garden  and of course, to my wellbeing.  All of this makes any minor lifestyle adjustments easy to accommodate.

End of one season, start of another


It’s so wonderful to have fresh Purple Sprouting Broccoli to go with our lovely fresh eggs.  I guess my ideal would be to have  fresh asparagus and use the eggs for hollandaise sauce but then I’d become as large as a balloon and the small veg garden would be taken over by asparagus.  Having said that, the PSB I grew last year became quite large and I was wondering if I’d actually marked up the seeds properly and was growing something else altogether.

Having a small (roughly 7 sq m) veg patch we’ve got be to quite careful about what we plant when.  I’d love to do a proper crop rotation but with the space we have it’s really not feasible – especially given our love of beans and all things cruciferous.  As a result I cram as much in as I can, and pile on the compost each year – the results are usually good enough for our family of 3-7.

The seasons are extending so much, I’m sure it’s not just in sunny Bournemouth, but I can rarely clear the bulk of the veg patch until November and so planting with winter green manures doesn’t often work.  Good job I’ve got 4 compost heaps/bins on the go!

Our debate is how many over winter vegetables we grow, as they take up space for such a large period of time.  I have to hold off planting out the PSB and Kale etc until the Broad Beans are over, planting them up into larger and larger pots to keep them growing well.  So, it’s all a juggling act.  This time of the year has the Black Kale all eaten (delicious!) and cleared but there are 3 good PSB plants which are just providing the most wonderful leafy PSB and now I’m starting on this year’s crops.

I did manage to sneak in one row of Broad Beans last autumn and they’re a bit curly but are now flowering.  I’ve also planted out the ones I sowed this spring in the greenhouse – they got a little leggy as I dealt with the chickens but are now heading upwards a bit more and showing signs of growth.

To give a bit of background – our soil is sandy and free draining so it’s a good job I love composting and have two large oak trees which inundate us with leaves each autumn so I can bulk out the soil each year.  We also had an incredible problem with slugs and snails – I think it was due to years of the previous owners  in the neighbourhood not being gardeners and so the ground was fairly untouched and several old sheds were left to protect and gather hoards of creatures.

The result of this was I never planted seeds directly into the soil – the wastage was just too high.  Hence, I used the greenhouse to sow everything into pots and kept planting on until they were big enough to at least try to resist the onslaught.  I’m hoping that this year, with the perpetual scratching of the chickens that we’ll have much less of a problem but for now I’m still going to sow in the greenhouse.

So far this year I have sown:

– Beetroot (Boltardy)

– Broccoli (Rudolph)

– Broad Beans (Bunyards Exhibition)

– Brussel Sprouts (Bosworth)

– Carrots ( I never have great success with carrots but always like the one or two baby ones straight from the ground)

– Chilli (I couldn’t find the wonderful Habanero seeds that I grew last year so am having to try Joe’s Long)

– Courgette (Atena, Cavali & Zucchini)

– Cucumber (Prima Top)

– Kale (Nero di Toscana)

– Melon (Ogen)

– Peas (Boogie)

– Tomatoes (Marmande, Zucchero and Gardener’s Delight)

– Spring Onions (Ishikura)

– Sweet Corn (Sundance)

– Various lettuce varieties

A series of pictures of Ginny on the move…

As I haven’t got video running on this yet – here’s a gallery of pics of Ginny in action.  The upturned black item is actually a section out of my wormery.  I’d emptied the wonderful worm casts into a trug and left this muddy section upside down on the grass.  There were a few worms still on it so I wondered if the girls would eat them – no, they ignored it and carried on scrubbing around.  Or maybe I fed them too many worms earlier and now they wanted another delicacy!

You’ll also see that as I was videoing Ginny – Luna came up to my wellies and was having a look at them.

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