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!


I Have Seen the Sheep, and They are Good


As many will know, a couple of dairy sheep is an eventual dream plan – to serve the purpose of producing enough milk for the family, and to make cheese and/or butter. They will live in the large orchard quarter and the grass quarter, migrating between the two. The idea being that the grass quarter will grow, well, grass, until it’s cut around end of June. This will make, at best, 20 bales of hay which we can store for winter, and after the hay is cut the sheep can move into that quarter, grazing it until February. Then they go into the large orchard quarter and the cycle begins again.

Well, the large orchard trees won’t be ready to graze under for another 5-6 years, so until then we need a stop-gap. Last weekend I believe we found them, in the shape of Ryeland sheep. They’re a smaller sheep, ideally placed to a smallholder’s requirements; hardier than larger commercial strains, they’re an old breed from Gloucestershire, famed for their flavour and ease to husband. They’re relatively short and docile, coming to you rather than running from you. They’re practically immune to foot rot and can live all year on good quality grass with no supplements, and their fleeces are sought after by the new generation of yarn makers. We can keep 3 on half an acre, but I have to do some thinking as we can’t give them half an acre just yet – watch this space.

Quick Update – Weeds & Vermin

I realise I haven’t posted here in a few weeks – life is pretty busy at the moment, and the patch is definitely a big part of that! Suffice to say that I have pretty much sown I am going to sow – the last sucessional broadbeans, snap peas, peas, dwarf french beans and carrots have gone in. I have also sown butternut squash (F1 Cobnut) and more corgettes.

The labour of love this past 3 weeks has most definitely been ‘dealing with things not wanted in the patch’.

The first being WEEDS – so many they deserve capitals. If I had twinkly lights I’d drape those over the word as well. The very first sowings we made way back were competing with the weed seeds already in the ground, and of coursem we couldn’t weed around our seeds until they showed themselves, so May was a good time to lay into the neat weed carpet around our pickling onions, spring onions, carrots and main crop potatoes. I kid you not we have filled at least two compost daleks with weeds, with the later stuff alreday in flower going straight in the brown bin – I’m not composting potential seeds to put back in the ground! My least favourite weed, as you may already know, is twitch, but we have none of that in the beds we’re using. We do however have heaps of chickweed – fun stuff to pull out if you get it right, groundsel, shepherd’s purse and my favourite – wild pansies. They are gorgeous little things but I console myself that for each one I pull out there are hundres more to replace it in the grazed parts of the field. There are others I don’t recognise yet – anything I don’t know gets brown binned in case!

The chickweed in the grazed area is being dealt with by sheep – both local farmers reckon it’s the best way to deal with it without resorting to chemicals, so I bow to their combined 150 years of wisdom. The chickweed around the veggie patch is being mown short regularly – I’ve heard regular short mowing is best for it, but we’ll see – I’m not so sure. Many a time I’ve gone out to mow, and end up crawling around the place, tearing chickweed out as the red mist decends.

The next pest are the flying types…wood pidgeons and a resident pheasant accompanied by his 3-strong hareem has managed to devoid farmer John and Gary next door of their beetroot. Luckliy we’re at the end, so our beetroot has been nibbled, in places to within an inch of its life, but it has survive d and now lives under a cosy net tunnel. Sweet, beetrooty, dreams. They have also had a bit of a bash at the peas and cabbages, but my old cover CD collection is now happily flapping in the breeze, tied to old willow sticks I have left from last year. It seems to be working.

Slugs are making a pathetic attempt to nibble the snap peas, but they’re large enough now to shrug it off I think, and black fly are starting in the broad beans. I need to figure out what to do here – last year I used ecover washing up liquid mixed with water on some veg with green and white fly, but it seemed to burn the plants more than rid them of crawly nasties.

The last unwanteds are the walking lawn mowers I’ve borrowed from a local farmer – the escapologist lambs who’ve decided that not only is the grass greener in the vegetable quarter, but so is practically everything else, and have managed to nibble practically everything at least once to try it out. Let it not be said they’re not adventurous beasties.

I’ll pop some pictures of how it’s all looking these days – much different and half-decent if I do say so myself!


Finally – we’ve got sheep in the acre field 😀 Happy, grass-munching sheep who finally decided that the grass was indeed greener the other side of the fence. Free lawnmowers who’ll cut the grass down for us, tread the grass roots in, help keep the weeds down and manure the whole place, all in one go! And no petrol used or time wasted – perfect 😛