Radish Sowing

It's been warm. It's been wet. Basically, it's perfect growing weather. 

When it gets to June I always have to remind myself to keep on sowing. I find myself drawn into a lull, a false sense of security, a feeling that everything is in and so I'm done. But that's FAR from the truth. Because to get all those yummy vegetables throughout the season, successional sowing is essential.

I'm still being held back by my cabbages. They've taken over an entire bed and they're still not ready for harvesting. It seemed a good idea at the time, a good way to utilise some winter raised bed space, but I'm in desperate need of that growing space back. I have, however, pulled all the pak choi out and fed it to the chickens. And that means I can get on with sowing more radishes!

It's time to sow more radishes

It's time to sow more radishes

The first sowing is a little behind - they've been in a month. 

The first sowing is a little behind - they've been in a month. 

Now, I've read and been told that radishes are a quick crop, germinating and growing to maturity within 30 days. Not so with mine! The month mark is tomorrow and as you can see from the above picture, there is still some way to go. However, they did take a while to germinate so I'm giving them a little leeway. 

So, it's another drill of each variety and, in this warm weather, lets hope more crops soon start appearing!

The War on Rats has Begun!

I love wildlife, but I draw the line at rats unless they're one of those pretend stuffed sock one's dropped down a drainpipe at a village fete (you remember that game, right? Bash the rat. It was GREAT!)

Keeping chickens means dealing with rodents. And there's no way to really get rid of them - after all, all those lovely dry, warm areas underneath the coop or chicken shed are PERFECT places to nest. And it's only a quick scuttle to the nearest food store too; 'Yippeeee' shout the mice. It's like having a Tesco Express on the doorstep.

I've been dealing with mice all year. There was one point where I was catching A MOUSE A DAY! Poor little things. In fact, they're quite cute. And if they weren't a disease vector, I'd probably leave them be.

But rats?! Oh no. Rats have got to go!

I was sitting at my computer yesterday when I saw a very large brown rat skulk across the garden path. I rushed outside immediately, staffies in tow. After some poking around with the stick, the rat shot out from behind the coal store and Bo (my young staff) grabbed it. There was a squeak of dismay from fat rat, at which point Bo promptly dropped it!! It's also called into question the fate of my little quail. It's quite possible that the storm caused her to fly into the aviary mesh and hurt herself. HOWEVER, it's also quite possible that she was attacked by a rat - they're BIG after all.

On reflection in regards to setting the dogs on said rodent, seeing as my sister has guinea pigs, training Bo and Beetle to kill small, swiftly moving creatures, is probably NOT a good idea. But now I'm left with a quandary. How to get rid? I don't want to poison as this is picked up and past into the food chain. I suppose I might have to borrow someone's terrier. 

The war on rats has begun!

The Storm's Victim

Sadly, yesterday's storm claimed a victim. It wasn't the fence. It wasn't any of the cyprus trees. It was one of my lovely quail. :(

The storm claims a quaily victim. 

The storm claims a quaily victim. 

I suspect there was a huge, whipping bluster of wind and she freaked out, flew straight up and knocked herself on the aviary wire. There was a lot of blood from her mouth so I expect she did too much damage. I found her lifeless on the floor in a little pool of blood with her best friend - a male who used to stick by her side - huddled up next to her. 

She was a lovely golden quail and a very friendly little lady. It's to be hoped that maybe some of her lives on in the quail chicks I currently have in the brooder. 

RIP little quail. 

An Unexpected Storm

Well, I know they said to prepare for rain and some wind. I didn't realise it was the summer apocalypse! Okay...that's me being a little dramatic, but still - we've got gusts of wind above 50mph out there!!

I woke this morning to realise that my day's work (i.e. going to gardening clients) was not going to happen. So I took it easy, I laid in bed, I cuddled the dog, I had a cup of tea. Then, when I finally emerged into the garden I discovered the fence was almost horizontal, the cabbages and lettuces were flattened, the poultry yard was more like a duck pond and the weather, frankly, was diabolical! As the rain pummeled my hoodie, I let the chickens out though, as you might expect, they weren't that keen. There's nothing to be done for the cabbages and lettuces - I just have to hope the sunny days set for the end of the week will help right them again. Then, I attempted to mend the fence with some cable ties. It's a horrible fence and it's an old fence - so old that it's not made of handy 6" panels with concrete posts I can just replace. Fences are expensive and I'd be looking at over £1,000 to have this replaced so nails, screws, bale twine and cable ties are JUST ABOUT holding it together!

Attempting to save the fence with cable ties.

Attempting to save the fence with cable ties.

The cabbages have been flattened!

The cabbages have been flattened!

It IS starting to brighten up a little now, though the wind seems to be worsening. I thought I was rid of this weather until winter. Instead, I'm sitting here looking out the window uttering expletives as the backgarden fence and the front garden cyprus trees look ready to be destroyed. 

Quail Babies!

The time has arrived for quail chicks or, as @HamiltonHens puts it, quabies! 

I have to admit, they were a bit of an after thought. I DID want to hatch more quail this year, with hens for eggs and the cock birds to try eating for the first time. However, this batch of eggs went into the incubator on a bit of a whim. I was running a test hatch for fertility before I began selling Ixworth and Barbu d'Anver hatching eggs. As it turned out, none of the d'Anver eggs were fertile so I was left with a single Ixworth - and it's NOT GOOD hatching out a lone chick. They are very lonely and cheep a lot. And they grow up not learning the social nuances of being a proper, upstanding, kind chicken. But I had a little problem because the incubation was already four days in...after all, I had to wait some time to check for fertility. 

So, what to do?

Aha! Chickens take 21 days. Coturnix quail take 17/18 days. That meant by popping some quail eggs into the incubator on day 4 of the Ixworth incubation, they'd all hatch out together. And, amazed as I was, I got it right and they did - hatch that is!

So now I've got eight teeny tiny coturnix quail chicks and a single Ixworth. Of the remaining 11 quail eggs, two were DIS and the others were at various stages of development - most had died early on and so there was just a yellow mush in the egg. It's always worth doing an eggtopsy, especially if you want to do further incubations. Now I know that I need to put more eggs in next time to get larger successful hatches. Also, I might not have been rotating the eggs enough, so I'll increase that to 3/4 times a day for quail.

Now, I have to try and keep them alive...you see, quabies like to drown themselves, get too cold or just drop dead at the sound of a loud noise! Here are some cute pics....

Shifting Compost

I view people's multi-compost bin process with a lot of envy. You see, it's all well and good having three or more compost piles and topping them up, turning them over and moving material from one to another when you've got loads of room. But, what happens when you've got a small backyard garden, lots of garden waste and what feels like a never-ceasing flood of chicken waste?! Trouble. That's what.

The DEFRA-induced poultry lockdown was an absolute nightmare for chicken waste. Thirty chickens confined inside for four months creates a lot of dirty straw. The leaking drinkers didn't help either, making bedding wet, smelly and in need of constant change. Things have eased off now the hens are out. However, the madness DID teach me a valuable lesson - compost DEFINITELY NEEDS TO BE TURNED AND KEPT WET IF ITS TO WORK.

If you're like me, you stick your compost heap in a crappy position not good for growing - i.e. dry, shady and probably pushed out of the way under a tree. Problem is - this really isn't ideal for composting. You need some sun to help things heat up, and you need some moisture to get things going. But I've discovered if I turn my heap every two weeks and add several cans full of water, I can actually get some heat building up. It's really quite joyeous when you begin turning a heap and see steam drifting out!

A rather ramshackle, recycled compost heap.

A rather ramshackle, recycled compost heap.

This is my heap. Two old pallets on end, an old board across the front and what's remaining of my front garden gate on top to give a little growing platform. It's butted against my neighbour's fence too, though I have lined it with more wood to ensure it doesn't rot directly through the boundary and tumble into my neighbour's garden - I'm not sure she'd be too thrilled with that. But, it IS, to my astonishment, working. 

In general, I turn it every two weeks by pulling off the top layer, digging out some of the composted material and then rebuilding it. It gets a good soaking during the process, and then I'll add more water to it during the week - maybe once or twice.  It feels good to be putting waste product back into the garden instead of having it mounting up in messy corners.

I can't say I've cracked composting, because I haven't. BUT, I think I'm finally starting to get there.

Pricking Out and Potting On

One of the things I really want to crack this year is salads and their various mixes. I've grown a few lettuces here and there, but nothing substantial. Research seems to show that home-grown FRESH salad mixes sell pretty well too, so those leafy greens have monetary value - if you can get it right. 

Today, though there are blue skies above, signals of cold end to April have begun. With no planting out possible, I spent a couple of hours on my knees in the greenhouse painstakingly pricking out 40 lambs lettuce to pot on, and then another 40 rocket plants. I've got a few leftovers of both (which is never a bad thing) and with the 40 salad bowl red lettuce seedlings that are also thriving, I think I'm on my way. Also - it's never bad when you tear or leaf or two....you can have a quick nibble. Quality standards tasting, right?!

An afternoon pricking out. 

An afternoon pricking out. 

So, my salad mix this year is likely to consist of: 

  • Baby Spinach
  • Rocket
  • Lambs Lettuce
  • Salad Bowl Red Lettuce

There's another benefit of this mix in that both the rocket, and the baby spinach can be sold separately too. However, I do need to bear in mind I'll need to replace spinach with something else in the summer...perhaps another lettuce leaf or a red kale?

Lambs lettuce has a nutty taste.

Lambs lettuce has a nutty taste.

Salad bowl red is coming on well. 

Salad bowl red is coming on well. 

Now I have all these plants growing, I actually need to do some BUSINESS research. That's the bit I'm NOT good at. But, you know, I NEED customers if I'm going to sell any of this delightful food. Not only do I need customers, I need to know price-points. My difficulty is that the immediate surroundings are not affluent and there aren't, as far as I can discover, any local Farmers' Markets. So, a few evenings will have to be spent less-growing, more-researching and trying to find my business brain!

Food Poisoning

I think the title sums up the past few days. Here's a word to the wise; when slow-roasting an entire chicken, ensure that the bird fits inside the entire cooker. I had a rather large cockerel - one of last year's naked necks', in fact, that I bred specifically for meat - but he didn't really fit. I squished the lid down, but there was still a gap, so I cooked him for extra time - 10 hours. I mean, c'mon, you'd have thought he was cooked by then, right?!

Well, it seems that some of him was but, most definitely, some of him wasn't. My husband and I both had a good meal the first day without any problems. Then we made some chicken soup... and I know the exact portion I ate that was OFF. LUCKILY, I didn't poison my family - only myself! So I've been bed-bound for several days now. 

On the plus-side (I mean, you have to try and find a silver-lining right?), being emptied of all food and laying weak and languid in bed, I have realised I need to eat better. Much better. We don't really have set mealtimes in our house - we graze, as and when we're hungry. I also eat a lot of cake and biscuits. So, I'm vowed to stop eating cake, biscuits, sweets and the like, cook more meals from scratch and set out an actual plan. The one downside is that though the freezer is full of chicken, I can't really stomach that right now!

Basil is growing swiftly

Basil is growing swiftly

As you can imagine, I haven't been able to do a lot over the past few days - despite lots needing to be done! In the greenhouse, the basil (above) is growing super quickly and will need potting up. As do the tomatoes. The salad bowl red lettuces are dashing away in the increased heat, and I need to prick out the lambs lettuce and rocket greens too. 

Luckily, it seems as it the weather is on my side, however, as this week we're due a drop in temperatures. It means that even if I HAD managed to get all those outstanding jobs done, nothing could be planted out anyway! Phew!

Getting Intimate with Coturnix Quail

I just love these little Coturnix (Japanese) quail. I'll be honest - they were bought on a whim. My husband and I went to a poultry auction, they had some hatching eggs and a few young babies, so we got some. Now, I'm hooked! However, I've not been very good at sexing them and have just let the 13 Japanese quail run together. But, with plans to hatch more, keep the hens for eggs and eat the boys, it was time I got a little intimate with these cute little birds. 

There is the obvious way to tell what's what - watch. I mean, come the breeding season and they're AT IT. Constantly. The problem is, even with the colour variations within my flock, it's hard to remember who's who. I had intended on putting a small dot of nail varnish on each cockerel's head everytime I saw him bonking, but I haven't gotten around to it. 

Then I discovered a new method. You see, male Coturnix quail produce a rather strange foamy white liquid when they're feeling frisky. This isn't semen. This is more like...well...expanding foam! I'm not sure whether it's produced before or after mating, or if it's just deposited around the coop, but you see this strange poop-like thing everywhere.

Male coturnix produce a strange foam

Male coturnix produce a strange foam

To produce this foam, males have a gland above their vent. And during breeding season, it becomes quite enlarged so it can produce all this stuff. So - and I'm sure this method is fallible to some extent (for instance, the gland might not be so obvious on non-breeding males) - it was time to get rather up close and personal. 

You can see from the two pictures below the obvious difference between male and female. The female (above) has a nice little vent. On egg-laying birds this may be a little loose, but essentially, it's just a normal looking poultry vent. On the male, however, you can see the enlarged gland above the vent from where the foam squirts out.

A hen bird with a nice clean vent.

A hen bird with a nice clean vent.

That ain't poop - it's foam! A cock bird with the enlarged 'foam' gland.

That ain't poop - it's foam! A cock bird with the enlarged 'foam' gland.

If you take a look at a male's vent, you see the gland on top. The foam actually comes out of the vent from a small opening just inside. 

So, you learn something every day! I knew males produced this, but until today I HAD NOT got up close and personal! 

Now....I'm soft, so even though I have too many males, I'm not getting rid of them. They've become family. However, this will help in my hatches this year, enabling me to separate out the cocks for the freezer, and the hens for laying. 

Baby Trees

I was absolutely thrilled to find the first of my acorns splitting today. It's been a long term dream to plant more trees at Brimwood Farm, not only dotted around the land but to actually expand the bordering wood into the wildflower meadow. All with natives, of course. 

So, last year, I collected some horse chestnuts and acorns from the trees, planted them in this video, and then sat back and waited, and waited, and waited. To be honest, I'd given up hope. But I guess it wasn't warm and wet enough for, today, I noticed the first one has begun to grow!

The first acorn is stirring...

The first acorn is stirring...

Now, a lot of these trees won't reach full maturity till I'm gone. And by gone, I mean, DEAD. I'm edging closer to 40 now (hell, that was scary to write - I have a few years left before THAT date), so I might see these trees reach thirty, possibly forty years old. Luckily, there are a lot of trees native to the UK that actually grow quite quickly, so i'll be planting these in the woodland - Rowan, Hazel, Hawthorn, for example. These, I hope, will make a decent new woodland to enjoy before I peg it. 

In the meantime I'm going to be giving special care and attention to this little acorn...and hoping that a few more germinate too. How exciting!

Chicken Run...

Yes, just as in the movie, my chickens are plotting escape. 

I must say; despite the DEFRA lockdown throwing up numerous issues, there were some benefits too. Yes, my lovely hens look terrible...through feather-eating boredom but mostly down to too much cockerel attention. Keeping three roosters (four before I had to despatch angry Ivy) in a confined spaces with a lot of ladies results in....bald hens. Just see poor Goldie below. But it did allow me to;

  • Easily worm and treat all the birds for lice.
  • Keep the hens safe from foxes over the particularly vulnerable winter period.
  • Maintain strict chicken-free zones. 

I've spent most of today relaxing as I got so much done yesterday. BUT, I forgot just HOW good chickens are at escaping. So I've lost some beetroot and spinach plants, and a few others have been trampled and dug up. Skeksis has been repeatedly escaping, Pepper has dug over some freshly planted spinach AND the newly sowed beetroot bed, and even Cuckoo seems to have discovered her naughtiness after being ill. 

Cuckoo is back to escaping

Cuckoo is back to escaping

I've been running up and down the garden all day, discovering escapes and put up MORE netting to try and keep everyone in. However, I have just clipped both of Pepper's wings and will probably do the same to any continual escapees....because once a hen finds a way, she'll keep finding a way!

The warm weather has also brought out the first butterflies. 'YAY', I hear you cry. Well, it's not universal happiness as, guess what? I found the first cabbage white eggs on the brassicas today. Noooooooooo. They were squished immediately, but it's a sign of the times to come!
 

Aside from that it's been a quiet day, sitting in the sun, taking pictures and watching my beloved and ancient cat find as many weird sleeping positions as possible. Why do they do that?

Spinach and Lettuce Seedlings

Plans for the market farm are starting to come to fruition now that things are really growing. At the start of the year I set out 10 crops that I wanted to grow, and I've been steadily sowing and germinating every since. BUT, now is the time when young plants are really starting to thrive. And it won't be long before I'm harvesting large quantities. 

Today it was time to prick out and transplant the spinach and lettuce crops. My spinach (varieties Medania and Apollo) have been sown in trays and germinated in the conservatory. But the plants are big enough to go straight into the garden. These plants, when established, will happily sit through a harsh frost - they'll totally freeze and still be fine. However, planting out young plants is a different matter...they are a little tender for the first few days. The forecast looks free from frost though, so I've planted them out and will keep them well watered to get them established quickly. Then, if a sudden frost does appear in the next couple of weeks, I'll cover them. After that, they should be fine. 

Meanwhile, I have a love salad bowl red lettuce germinating in the greenhouse. I just love how this little plant looks, even at this stage when the leaves only have a hint at the colour to come. Along with lambs lettuce, spinach and rocket, these will be my main salad mix crops, so I've saved 40 plants to be going on with for now. Within a month they will have grown into their individual cells and, with the risk of frost having past, will be able to get planted into the raised beds. 

 

Finally, it seems bizarre to see the strawberries flowering this early. Well, I say early...actually, I've had the odd flower all winter. I doubt whether any fruit would actually ripen in the current climate, but maybe the plants know better - they seem to be having a good try!

== MONDAY MAGIC - CORDON TREES ==

It's at this time of year that EVERYTHING is bursting back into life. The slightest hint of warmth, along with some wet, sends shoots bursting. Now, my cordon trees are beginning to show life!

When it comes to fruit trees, I'm an amateur - even more so when it comes to cordons. I wanted to try this way of fruit growing because I can pack four trees into my garden. It also gives me some experience of pruning and growing for the future smallholding. 

I'm so excited - fingers crossed for pears, apples and plums this year!

== TRANSPLANTING TOMATOES ==

After a couple of gloriously sunny days, the weather did an about turn today. However, with tomato seedlings growing swiftly on the kitchen windowsill, it was about time that I got into the greenhouse and did some potting up. 

Is there anything quite as nice as the smell of tomato foliage? It certainly conjures dreams of the growing season. Very pleased to have got these young plants on their way. 

== MONDAY MAGIC - DAHLIA SHOOTS ==

Well, spring has sprung this week in the UK - it's 14 degrees C today and it's set to grow more throughout the week. I spent the morning weeding, washing the greenhouse and - as ever - sorting out seeds. Then I checked the dahlias and realised that there were a couple ready for planting! 

Dahlias aren't frost hardy, so they can't go into the garden. But I start mine off in pots and stash them in the greenhouse. It allows the plants to get a good start without slug attacks and plummeting temperatures stunting growth. So, here's to the first ones....

== BRAMBLE CLEARANCE ==

This weekend was glorious in Suffolk, and mild weather was the perfect opportunity to go up and clear brambles. I've been wanting to get this project going for a while - and definitely before the growing season really starts because clearing these thorny things is MUCH easier when the leaves had died away in winter.

This is a small area at the top of the pit where we camp when we're having a working weekend (bit too cold for that yet). The idea is to clear all the brambles to the edge and put up some nice stock fencing and, eventually, steps leading down into the pit. Under the fence will be planted with single-petalled roses and lavender for the bees, sage to put on bonfires and rosemary to cook with. I also want to create a small edible nut orchard here.

As you can see from the pictures, we cleared A LOT. We had to have a bonfire just to get rid of everything - I know, not very environmentally friendly. But I hope we can offset some of that carbon with all the trees we're planting etc.

So happy to have phase one done. I still have to dig out all the brambles, but they're easier to manage now cut back. Next step - fencing!

== PROPAGATING PLANTS - OSTEOSPERMUMS & GREENHOUSE ==

The last two days have been blissfully mild, and it's given me a chance to actually pop my head into the greenhouse. This is the problem having a greenhouse at the bottom of the garden - I'm normally in such a rush to get all the poultry sorted, that I never just 'pop' in to see the plants.

With the temperatures heating up I was astonished to see that a lot of last year's cuttings are starting to show fresh growth - a clear sign they've taken. So, I've had a good organise, sweep and tidy AND I've potted all those cuttings into individual pots.

In today's video, I'll give you a quick tour of what's growing, and am potting on some osteospermum cuttings I took in autumn 2016.

== CHICKEN TROUPES ==

It's almost lights out here. In a few minutes I'll be collecting most of the boys to put them in their blackout boxes for the night. But before the light vanishes completely I gave the various collections some yummy kale leaves. 

Here's Barry and his two d'Anver cross girls, and new boy Eddie Ixworth with his two pullets, enjoying some greens before bed.

Eddie Ixworth and his girls.

Eddie Ixworth and his girls.

Barry with his two d'Anver/Silkie cross hens

Barry with his two d'Anver/Silkie cross hens