Spring Time Shuffle & Update

The rains have subsided, the sun shows itself and we begin to shed the winter sleep from our eyes. Well, that’s not strictly true – a fortnight ago we started digging over the allotment – I tackled the last of the fruit tree pruning in the orchard whilst Suz dug over one of the vegetable beds and cleared the old strawberry patch which had started to deteriorate, having been in the ground for five years. Last Friday I dug over another vegetable bed and the rhubarbs whilst Suz pulled the remaining parsnips, carrots and beetroot, and weeded the artichokes, most of which have survived the mild winter! Jay got stuck into the first mow of the season, and Smiler prepared the raised bed. What a day! This was all on the only sunny day of the Easter weekend, but at least it gave us an excuse to take Saturday easy.

And then yesterday – the Sunday. The Little Orchard was looking quite sorry for itself – the occupation of the quarter acre by 20 chickens had taken its toll, the mole hills had become mole holes, the grass was quite short and it just looked grubby. I started to get the yearning to move them to cleaner ground a few weeks ago, but the time wasn’t right – but yesterday it was. It was a bit of a military exercise – Smiler and I got stuck into shifting electric fences – we’d done it before together and it was fun to get outside on a decent day.

2016 spring move pilgrim geeseWe managed to move the geese from the Big Orchard to the Hay Quarter, where they will have half that quarter acre. We are only making half as much hay this year, partly down to the fact that we have too many animals and need the ground, and also because we have other projects kicking from summer through to harvest that will soak time up. We are finally, hopefully, extending the kitchen, so we can get more than two people in it at a time, and will no longer have to chop apples up outside, press them on the dining table and transfer them to the kitchen to bottle! Which brings me to the other reason harvest time will be busy – apples! I expect a larger crop this year, and it would be good to give more attention to that side of things properly, without shoe-horning it in between hay making and vegetable growing. Again, with the kitchen being dismantled and the apple trees taking over, we have decided to grow only one third of the vegetables we normally do, as we won’t have anywhere to really prep or cook it this summer. We can, however, freeze a lot and eat much of it in salads, but next year we can begin again with renewed vigour, knowing we’ll have a kitchen table for the first time ever! As a plus point, moving the geese to the hay quarter will also give it    some much needed fertiliser – once the hay has been cut later in the year we’ll move them to the other half I imagine, or give them free roaming over the whole quarter acre.

2016 spring move light sussex bantamsWith the geese out of the Big Orchard, we moved the majority of the chickens in, as the geese hadn’t made much of a mess of the quatrer acre. We separated the chickens, the Light Sussex bantams were all put together, with William the Cock and his ladies having their own fenced off area. I suspect it was a bit of a relief for William – there were far too many ladies for him to control, and anarchy had reigned, with egg-eating having begun. We suspected the rescue Warrens had started it, as some are laying soft shells, but it had spread. So now he can control his five ladies, and they’re not competing for space with the huge hens.

2016 spring move june suzColin the Light Sussex cock was separated and placed with the four Light Sussex hens, and they have all moved down to the Chicken Paddock at the back of the house where we can keep an eye on them. They’re the potential parents of the next generation, so we’ll start collecting their eggs for incubation in two weeks, once he’s had time to do his business! We also put Jackie the possible-Light-Sussex-but-not-quite-sure rescue in with them, as the other hybrids were pecking her!

2016 spring move ducksThe ducks have all been annexed in the Banty Paddock, which has weld mesh fencing, to keep them contained! Once the vegetables in the allotment have grown to a duck-proof size, we can let them in there to clear slugs and snails, but at the moment I just don’t trust them!

2016 spring move hybridsAnd that left the remaining big hybrid hens – a motley crew if ever there was one! They are also in the Big Orchard, next to the bantams, so they’ll have some decent shade in the summer under the fruit trees.

As far as the egg-eating goes, the shuffle around seems to have helped somewhat – they’re in a new place so any egg-snaffling through boredom has been nobbled. And we’ve also trialled a roll away nest box in one of the Omlet Cubes, which seems to have worked. It was a simple affair, produced as an insert for the Chick Box. Some of the hens took to it straight away, but as one fills the double nest box of the Cube, it’s meant a queue from some ladies, or some just drop their egg down the side as they try and squeeze in. To help matters we’ve ordered two Chick Boxes, complete with the roll away nest box inserts, and we’ll place one in each of the Cubes. I think we can fit two in, but the floor space would suffer, so we’ll see how we go. I could always make a nest box holder that sits separately to the Cubes, if needed.

And that’s where we’re at! This morning we let them all out, and June came over from the farm next door to let us know they’d tried our cider and were still alive, which is a good thing, I think!


Merrybower Patch Illustration

Merrybower Patch 2014 Illustration

Here’s something I produced last year, to help with the day-to-day organisation of tasks at Merrybower. There are so many things to remember – when to sow, plant and harvest the various crops, when certain jobs need carrying out, when the various fruit trees are in season for picking. Obviously so much depends on the year itself, and you need to fine tune, but here I’ve laid out various calendars so we can see, at a glance, what we should be thinking of doing at any particular time. It’s an illustrated almanac specifically for us here to work from, and will be updated as and when things change (I’ve already noticed we’re missing celery and globe artichokes now, and a few trees are missing. Just click on the image below for the full-sized thing! See if you can spot the little owls 😉

Ah – I know I need some keys, but in a nutshell, the keys are as follows for the various tables:

“Salads, Herbs & Flowers” – sub-sections Greenhouse, Patch, Forage

  • Small dotted orange line – sow in heated area (indoors or heated greenhouse), to be transplanted later
  • Solid orange line – sow where they are to be grown to maturity (in cold greenhouse if appropriate, otherwise outside)
  • Solid brown line – plant out in final position
  • Solid green line – harvest period

“Seasonal Vegetables” – sub-sections by bed – Aliums, Brassicas, Legumes, Roots Squash & Sweetcorn, Potatoes

  • Small dotted orange line – sow in heated area (indoors or heated greenhouse), to be transplanted later
  • Long dotted orange line – sow under glass (cold frame, greenhouse, cloche), to be transplanted later
  • Solid orange line – sow where they are to be grown to maturity (in cold greenhouse if appropriate, otherwise outside)
  • Solid brown line – plant out in final position
  • Solid green line – harvest period
  • Solid blue line – leave in sunlight to chit

“Nuts & Berries”

  • Solid grey line – harvest

“General Tasks” – sub-sections Land, Orchard, Greenhouse, Fowl, Soft Fruits

  • Solid grey line – carry out task.

“The Orchard” – sub-sections Little Orchard (9-12ft), Big Orchard (12-15ft), Banty Paddock & House

  • Dark grey square – type of apple (culinary, dessert, cider/perry)
  • Calender dark grey square – pick fruit
  • Calender light grey line – useable time, with storage if necessary

It is worth noting that the fruit type is defined by the following colours:

  • Light green – apple
  • Dark green – pear
  • Purple – plum
  • Red – cherry


New Fencing

Wanting to bring the chickens closer to the house over winter, we decided to make some chicken/duck proof paddocks at the back of the cottages, using weldmesh fencing. At the moment we have a partially temporary hard surface running along the paddocks, but we’ll lay a blue brick path to join the two areas that are already bricked, to help cut down on the mud-trunching in the winter!

Come spring we’ll seed the bare patches. The blue brick path will be laid where there are currently temporary yellow slabs, and the top soil we’ll remove from there will be added to one of the paddocks where the five-bar gate is, as the ground has a low spot which holds water in winter time.


Paddock Fencing NorthwardsPaddock Fencing North Eastwards Paddock Fencing Southwards Paddock Fencing Northwards Close

Sunrise over Chook Paddock

A random shot of the sunrise over the large fowl paddock, showing off their posh new coop 🙂Sunrise over Paddock

Path Update

The path is getting there – Geoff, the knowledgeable one, is seen using a wackerplate to get the sand nicely compacted, watched over  by ‘Foreman Smiler’. Testing was carried out by Penny who gave it the thumbs paws up.

Path Laying

2011pathdigging2Whilst not in the patch, I thought I’d mention that we’re having to lay new paths as we’re going down there so often that the grass became mud over the winter. This picture shows Grandad and Smiler digging the first turf up for a new path, which will be laid in the same style as the old blue brick path at the farm next door. As a plus it’ll make a decent, but short, skateboard practice area…

First Frost

Just thought I’d post a quick pic of a frosty morning. The weathermen are predicting a cold snap – it has a name my father-in-law has mentioned but it escapes me at present. Needless to say the chooks will be getting their winter-preparation soon!

New chook update

Finally the antibiotics have worn off and the new chooks have been given the all-clear to move into the small chicken paddock at the rear, to rub shoulders (shoulders?!!) with ours and nextdoor’s chooks.

Gary’s built a great coop for them, they have a decent patch of grass for the first time in ever, and all is well with them. I believe, along with the two layer hybrids in there, we have two Maran bantams – the red with black tails. We also have a more speckeldy orange one with a black tail and a white one with a grey tail. Absolutely no idea what sort they are but they’re all laying and seem happy, which is the main thing.

Topping & Potting

Today was all about a bit of lovin’.

The poor chooks, whilst happy with their new palatial grassy space, were having to combat excessively tall grass (about 5″), so raising the mower to its highest cut setting I mowed their paddock to a better 3″ height – they do love the lower grass to graze on, and longer grass is more likely to cause an impacted crop.

The second bit of lovin’ was to pot on the various seedlings covering the windowsills. The marigolds went into 3″ pots, the nasturtiums went into 4″ pots and the cucumbers went into 5″ pots. The tomatoes really do look ready to go into bigger pots but I’m hoping I can blag it for another fortnight as they’ll be in growbags soon enough once mid May has come. I’ll probably give in and repot them though – I don’t fancy them getting leggy.

This photo shows our mini greenhouse with a selection of each type – the rest are in the house and back cluttering up the windowsills as they should do. It’s a little experiment to see which survive the happiest 🙂

On another plus-side – the corgettes I sowed back whenever it was, have all germinated, so I ended up pulling out the second from each station. I’ve transplanted those into new positions outside of a cloche – again, just to see if it works! The forecast is good for the next week, so it may prove a good bet we get no more frost this year. We’ll see 🙂

Chickens rehomed :)

With the paddock area now fenced off I could set to work moving the chooks’ coop and run into it – fresh grass for one and all! I started by stripping down the coop, cleaning it thoroughly with a Jeye’s fluid dilution and then repainting it with a water-based wood preserver which would dry before they were rehomed in it for the evening. I then dug up the run, which has a mesh skirt all around it to deter digging animals – foxes in particular. This skirt goes down about 6 inches, then out perpendicular to the ground by about a foot. The run was then carried (dragged) by yours truly to its new home on the east-facing wall, so the chooks get the benefit of the morning sun but won’t cook ( in the warmer afternoon sun come summertime. It’s going to be so much better than their current north-facing location which ended up a bit of a mire.

For now I’m using temporary netting to contain them, but on my ever-expanding list of things-to-do we’ll put in fence posts on which we can hang chicken net hurdles. These will partition them off from one grazing paddock to the next, so we can alternate them every 6 weeks to keep down risk of disease, and we can remove them completely if we open it to sheep grazing in the future. We’re thinking of also planting some half-standard fruit trees here as well, for some shelter.

I have to say, they do love their new home, like pigs in muck…except they’re chickens…on grass…