On Friday morning I spent a very happy hour in the area behind the piggeries starting to clear some of the semi-wilderness. I had been dreading tackling this, but the recent rain had softened the ground enough to make lifting the weeds a very simple task. Armed with leather gauntlet-style gloves, I was able to pull up stinging nettles, general weeds and brambles. I piled them into separate piles of compostable matter, stinging nettles (to use to make a feed and tonic for the plants in the kitchen garden) and pernicious weeds that I don't want to go into the compost heap and end up in the garden.
I cleared a space about twelve feet square, which hardly made a dent in the chaos, sorry the wildlife area, that we've let grow while we started the kitchen garden and other areas of the smallholding. The soil at the back of the piggeries is probably the best in our garden, years of leaves falling from the trees and rotting down have made the soil dark, rich and friable. So, rather than letting this good soil stay unused, we've decided to plant it up with some oca that I was given. Oca is an old vegetable that was replaced in popularity by potatoes, but in many ways they are easier to grow and less hassle than potatoes. They don't need to be earthed up as they don't go green and they store very well.
I also spotted a couple of nice seedlings in the kitchen garden that have self-sown (volunteers). Amongst the onions I spotted what I believe is a Virginia Creeper. It has just one large leaf and another smaller one just forming, so I'm going to leave it until it's about a foot high and then transplant it into a pot before deciding where it's final home will be.
I also found this seedling, which looks like some sort of fern. It is growing in the pea bed and I will leave it for a while yet to try to work out exactly what it is before deciding whether to lift and transplant it or dispose of it. If you know what it might be, please leave a comment to let me know.
There's a fairly strong smell of 'countryside' in the kitchen garden at the moment and we realised that it is probably coming from the pile of compost made from spent grain, straw and chicken manure with wood shavings that is in the open rather than cocooned in a pallet sided compost bay. So, to tackle the rather unpleasant aroma I decided to cover that compost pile in straw to try to keep the smell contained.
Mr J and I enlarged the bed to fill the allotted space and then to make use of it, as a productive area, before covering it in straw. And below is a short video of what we did. (If you can't view it on this blog page, you can find it on YouTube here).
On Sunday the weather forecast said it was going to rain for a greater part of the day, so we got as many chores done as we could early in the day and then headed to my sister and brother-in-law's home. They had offered us some waste wood as the roof of their house is being replaced and they offered us the old battens from their roof. So after a nice cuppa and catch up, we loaded up the van with two by one battens and then some old fencing posts that they didn't need. My brother-in-law kindly used his chain saw to cut a pointed end to each post so that they are ready for us to use right away and then, to my delight, he also gave us almost a full roll of chicken wire. It's a win-win situation, they no longer want the wood or wire and we do, so their garden is cleared of unwanted materials and we have more resources to enable us to complete even more tasks sooner rather than later.
While we were there, my sister asked me to 'go and have a look behind her shed'. When I'd finished laughing and double checked that this wasn't a euphemism, I duly wandered around to see the area behind the shed. It is absolutely filled with foxgloves and as a result, was alive with bees feasting on the nectar. She has invited me to lift some young foxglove plants for the garden which I will do in early autumn and transplant them to the young hedge that surrounds our plot. I won't put them into the herbaceous border as I have white foxgloves there and would quite like to keep them as white ones as long as I can, so to avoid too much cross pollination, the pink ones will be planted away from them.
After lunch the predicted rain paused for a couple of hours, so I headed back out into the garden to get as many plants as I could into the ground before the next downpour. I have a lot of young plants that have been hardened off outside the greenhouse and they are starting to show evidence of stress as they will have used all the nutrients in the soil in their pots. I planted this lovely ornamental cherry tree that my daughter gave me for Mother's Day. It arrived in the post as a ten to twelve inch high sapling and has now more than doubled in height and is strong and healthy. Around the tree I have placed a layer of cardboard and mulched it with straw, my main reason for doing this is to protect it from the strimmer or lawn mower rather than to reduce competition from weeds (which is also a useful side effect of the mulching layer).
Over the weekend one of the Cream Legbar chickens started to become broody, she sat in the nesting box of the henhouse that most of the chickens sleep in for half of Saturday and most of Sunday. Mr J and I talked through our options, it would after all, be nice if one of the chickens would raise a brood of chicks rather than us being surrogate parents, but we currently have 18 fertile eggs in the incubator which are due to hatch in eight days time and we weren't sure that we'd have enough quiet spaces for this broody hen to live while sitting on some eggs. It was good to talk through our options and work out where we could or would put the chicks from the incubator and a broody hen space. We have a small henhouse that could be used for a broody hen, so very carefully I moved her to the small house and we put water and food in it and left her there to settle down again. This morning, she was scratching to come out, had kicked the eggs all around the little house and was decidedly unimpressed with being in the small house. So for yesterday at least, that was a broody fail. I will keep a close watch on her in case she decides to nest in the large henhouse again and I'll have another try at moving her to a quieter place.
I've just been out to check on the chicken that was in a broody mood, she is back in the larger henhouse again, puffed up, low down on the wood shavings making little bok bok noises. The eggs that were in the small house that I moved her to (and that she abandoned this morning) have been attacked by the other chickens. I have no idea which of them started it, but when I walked around the corner of the shed to see what the commotion was, there were three hens and the cockerel in the small house having an 'egg fest'. They haven't touched the eggs that have been laid today in the usual nesting boxes, so perhaps they pecked at them because they were in an unusual place and there was a small container of chicken food in the house too.
Today we plan to start making the nursery area for the chicks that are due on 28th June. Once they are hatched they spend the first 24 hours in the incubator and will then be moved into the small secluded pen that we have set up in the boot room. This will only be large enough for them for a few days (it was fine for just the two chicks that hatched last time, but it won't be for more than four or five chicks for long) and then we plan to move them to the chicken condo that we've created in the old stables. They can have a slightly larger space with their water, food and the brooder in it (an electrically heated platform that they can nest under to stay warm that acts as a surrogate mother, for the warmth at least). They will live in their nursery area until they are four weeks old and then we'll move them into their own house and run in the chicken field until they are eight weeks old and can join the main flock.
So, it's time to go and start drawing up a plan of how we'll make the nursery coop and of course, have a cuppa!
Broody hen update - she spent most of the day on the nest again, coming out a couple of times for food. Tonight she is still on her chosen nest space with the other hens going to sleep around her, it hardly seems like a restful space. We will think again about finding a dark and quiet place for her to be moved to.