Welsummer Chicks & Cuckoo Marans Chicks

Welsummer Chicks & Cuckoo Marans ChicksOf course, just because I’d gone to visit the goslings, it didn’t stop me taking delight in meeting a tiny flock of brand new Welsummer chicks and Cuckoo Marans chicks! A few weeks old now, they have the same type of heated house that the goslings have, allowing them to run around outside in the fresh air as and when they feel like it, but with a nice warm house to retreat to if it gets a bit too nippy for them. The black and white mopheads are Cuckoo Marans, and the brown mopheads are the Welsummers.

West of England Goslings

West of England Goslings Update

West of England GoslingsI went on one of my regular trips to our neighbour’s farm two fields away, for the usual chinwag and cud-chew over  a strong cup of tea. The “I’m just popping round to the farm for ten minutes” type of visit that Suz knows full well may be the better part of an hour or more. But today was a special day, as two of the West of England goslings being sat under a broody bantam chicken had hatched! Luckily I’d take my camera and managed to grab some images that are just too cute – proud mum and huge children!

West of England GoslingsOf course, it didn’t stop there! The new broody banty setup had increased the hatching rate to a ridiculously high level, surpassing everything Pete and Rob had experienced in the past. It’s a magnificent site, with West of England goslings at every age waddling around, like a mini, ever-so-slightly less vicious Jurassic Park.

2016 goslings west of england 3These goslings were about two weeks or so old, and have been moved to one of the heated coops outside, so they canchoose to run in the sun if the day is warm enough, or retreat to the warmth of the coop if they so choose. It also gives them a chance to mix with the main flock of geese, some of whom are no doubt their parents.

West of England GoslingsAnd then of course you have the teenagers – these are eight weeks old now and are part feathered. Like every teenager, they prefer to hang out by themselves, probably listening to awful music and muttering under their breaths about how fuddy duddy their parents are, or how annoying their younger siblings are turning out to be, and they were never that bad 😉

Light Sussex Chicks – 1 Week Old

Light Sussex chicks - one week oldAs the Light Sussex chicks become slightly larger, their poops also become slightly larger – it’s the law of inevitability 🙂 Towards the end of the week we’re changing the towels they walk/run/sleep/poop on, twice a day. However, by this stage they’re also pretty sure what their food looks like, in the shape of chick crumbs, so we’re safe to move them on to quality pine shavings. It’s a well-timed plan, they’re all air-lifted into a waiting pet carrier (“Rescue Pod 1″ as it’s known here, as it brings all sorts back), then clean shavings are added to their run, to between 1 and 2 inches deep (2.5cm – 5cm). We also take the opportunity to raise the drinker and feeder by aroud 4cm, low enough for them to reach each, but high enough to prevent a mass of wood shavings from clogging them up – they’re more feisty now and have a tendency to kick shavings high up – I’ve even cleaned poop from the side of the drinker, 8” high – they must be firing cannon balls! We’ve also raised the lamp slightly, and during week two is a good time to begin bonding with your Light Sussex chicks – we pick them out one at a time and gently hold them close, so they get a feel for us. This said, Light Sussex are generally a calmer bird than many, and you can even see this in the chicks themselves. Our last lot of Derbyshire Redcaps were the exact opposite and I’m not sure I would have handled them as chicks in the same way! Five minutes close won’t harm them, you’re warm enough to keep them happy.

Beans and Peas

2016 beans and peas patchCrikey, these smaller veggie beds are so much easier to prepre and plant up! In a little more than an hour I’d de-weeded the beans and peas bed, mainly of last year’s sprouting sunflower seeds, and sown the three varieties of seeds we’re growing there this year.

In the ever-lasting battle against the slugs, we’re growing up wigwams for the beans, and we’ve two wigwams set aside for Sultana, a favourite climbing French bean. French beans became a staple favourite quickly here at Merrybower as they don’t suffer from the stringiness problem kidney beans tend to, and are great hot or cold in salads. We’ve also managed to track down a climbing pea! Every year our peas get nobbled by slugs, and being low down they end up as unsightly bushes wanting to fall over in the winds. However, I’ve managed to track down a variety called ‘Victorian Colossal Climbing’, which can grow to 6-8 feet high! They’re an ‘Alderman’ pea, but Victoriana Nurseries in Kent have apparenty been selecting seeds from their Alderman line for over fifty years, to create an upright vigourous pea plant for those of us who don’t really like bending to pick peas.

And where would we be without our broad beans – we love ’em! Baby broad beans lightly cooked in butter, on toast with sliced up streaky bacon – yum! This year we’re growing Suprifin – a white broad bean we’ve not grown before. Usually we go for Scorpio, but they had none in, so we bought these! We really do need to start saving more of our own seeds!

Home-made Codling Moth Traps

2016 codling moth traps 1

Home-made Codling Moth Traps Recipe

This year we’re trying a recipe for home-made Codling Moth traps, using liquid molasses. The ingredients are as follows:

  • 100ml (0.5 cup) liquid molasses (not the crystalised sugar type)
  • 1 litre (2.5 cups)warm water
  • 3g (0.5 tspn) dried baker’s yeast

Mix it all together in a jug – apparently the Codling Moth is attracted to the smell of molasses, and the yeast increases the number of volatiles in the concoction. 2016 codling moth traps 2I have absolutely no idea if this works as I’m not a chemist, but a youtube video from Utah University says it does, so who am I to argue?

This is enough liquid to fill three plastic 4-pint milk cartons. I simply cut a hole in the one side so that once it’s hung in the tree by twine around the handle, the hole is facing downwards, on the opposite side to the handle. There’s only about 4cm (1.5″) of liquid in each carton, and I’ve bent the tab up created by cutting the hole only on three sides, to create a small overhang, preventing rain water from getting in and diluting the mix. home-made Codling Moth trapsI may cut another hole on the other side though, as someone has suggested this will help move the smell around the orchard.

These Codling Moth traps need placing in the trees from May through to August, and I’m going to initially change them every month, unless they look as though they need changing more frequently. We have them every fourth tree or so at the moment, but I’ll keep adding to to them as we get through the milk!


2016 plum moth trapsPlum Moth Traps

Whilst poddling down the orchard I also set some Plum Moth traps – again, I have no idea if they’ll work but we had wormy plums at the tree next to the house last year, so time will defintely tell! With these types of trap, one pheromone bait will last the entire season, which is less hassle than the home-made molasses version for the apple trees.

Light Sussex chicks update

Light Sussex Chicks sleeping on my hand

Content to lie on your hand – the perfect age to begin socialising them with humans

The Light Sussex Chicks Have Landed!

Here we finally go! On the morning of 21st May, three Light Sussex chicks beat the rest to hatching, and lay over the tops of the other unbroken eggs, like miniature, fluffy yellow beached whales. It’s recommended to open the incubator once every six hours at most during the hatching process – not because of the temperature drop but mainly due to the humidity drop. A dry atmosphere inside the incubator can lead to the chick drying out and getting stuck to the inside of the egg – and on the last two days we raise the humidity and lay kitchen towels into the small water troughs inside the incubator, to increase the wettened surface area, which leads to increased evaporation and therefore raises the humidity. Unfortunately our incubator ran dry on about day 17 – the instructions recommend checking the water level in the internal reservoir every three days, but ours ran out on the second night and we awoke to a dry reservoir. I could have kicked myself for relying on instructions – last year I checked religiously every day and we had no problems, but this year we lost six eggs who’d almost gone full term and failed to hatch. I can only put this down to the dry spell they had.

Light Sussex Chicks asleep in a brooder

There’s always one bucking the trend!

But the good news, we have thirteen lovely little Light Sussex chicks! I’m going to have a stab at how many cockerels and how many pullets we have – 6 and 7. It’s strange but looking at general temperament and attitude, even at a day old, and I *think* I can have a good guess at what’s what – but we’ll wait and see, I’m probably totally wrong!

Light Sussex Chicks hatching setup

Incubation corner, complete with viewing chairs

Home-made Brooder

We’re adept at the home-made brooder setup now, after hatching a few broods over the last two years. It consists of our 4 foot plastic field trough, lined with newspaper and a towel on top of that. The towel is to give the chicks some traction for their tiny feet, newspaper on its own can lead to splayed legs. Then we commandeer the camera tripod (sacriledge!) and dangle the heat lamp from the head. With this system we can raise and lower the heat lamp by winding the tripod up and down, easy! Into the trough go the chick crumbs, fresh water (changed at least once daily, more if they poop in it) and some sand, the chick-sized equivalent of grit. You have to make sure the sand is untreated though – basic sharp sand is good, no anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-anything added! The towel gets changed as soon as it fills with the tiny poops, and in a week or so when they’re eating properly and hungrily, we’ll move to wood shavings. If we use wood shavings too early, they’ll try and eat them which can be fatal, so we give it a couple of weeks. And make sure the shavings are pine, not cedar.

Light Sussex Chicks asleep in a circle

When they’re lying in a circle like this, you know you’ve got the heatlamp at the correct height

We monitor the Light Sussex chicks – they need a certain temperature and there are many websites telling you how high to raise you lamp, and how often to do so. The rub is, the chicks will tell you! If they’re lying in a big clump directly under your lamp, it’s too cold, if they’re spread around the outside of the brooder, they’re too hot! If they’re in a nice circle, then you’ve found the goldilocks distance. We place ours around 1.5-2 feet high and lower it gradually whilst watching them, but it helps to know the starting temperature is 35 Celsius (95 Farenheit), just below the temperature of the incubator when they popped out.

Light Sussex Chicks newly hatched

The gang say “Hi” to the newbie

Day 2

And this is where we’re at at the moment – all thirteen Light Sussex chicks have hatched and alternating between improptu naps and looking around cheeping. Some of the more curious are starting to peck at things and sample the food and water, but we won’t see proper eating and drinking until day 3, when they’ll starting chasing around the brooder and generally become far more active, with the wing pin feathers developing fast! They grow up so quickly!

Light Sussex Chick!

Day 20 of the Light Sussex incubation and several eggs were pipped, and on the morning we had a new little friendThe first Light Sussex chick of 2016! Here’s a quick sneak peak at the first past the post, before we post something more substantial!

Gooseberry Sawfly

2016 gooseberry sawfly larvaeCrikey – it’s that time of year when everything wants to devour everything else! This time it’s gooseberry sawfly larvae, and our prized gooseberry bushes – it looks like a caterpillar, it moves a bit like one, but it’s actually a fly maggot – nice! They’re between 1-2cm long, and eat fast!

Our Answer to the Gooseberry Sawfly

Luckily for us, and unluckily for the gooseberry sawfly, we’ve been here before and on the same bush. It’s the earliest bush, and the largest and greenest – if I were a sawfly larvae I’d head straight to it, knife and fork at the ready. But we know the routine now – I immediately ordered three sachets of Namasys Natural Fruit & Veg Protector.

It’s easy to apply – wait for an evening, when rain isn’t forcast. Mix one sachet with 5 litres of water, if you’re applying with a knapsack sprayer or other type of sprayer, and give the affected plants a really good dousing of the spray mist. The liquid has to touch the sawfly larvae for the nematodes to enter the body of the larvae, so it’s important to get right under the leaves too, to make sure you nobble them all. Make sure you cover the entire plant, not just the eaten leaves as you can see in the video above. If you get them in time, fruit drop will be minimal and you’ll still get a decent crop. A week later, mix the next sachet up and repeat the process, and then again a further week later of the final sachet. The shelf life is limited, and they must be kept in the fridge, but so far this has been the best way for us to keep the sawfly under control, unless you like bleeding to death from the millions of cuts by pulling them all off by hand.

We should also point out that also check your red and white currant bushes, as they are also a member of the genus Ribes in the gooseberry family, unlike the black currant. To be safe, as soon as you begin to see leaves on your gooseberry bushes, check them as you walk past, near the base, as that’s where the sawfly larvae starts it mission upwards!

Dandelion Wine – Step 3

2016 dandelion wine 5Right-oh – we’re three (well four, but it should be three) days after adding the sugar, yeast and yeast nutrient to the dandelion wine liquid, having first strained it. It’s bubbling along nicely, and so today’s task is to rack it into one gallon demijohns for the final fermentation stage. It was easy enough, I bought one of those auto-siphon things, which was a lot easier than puckering and sucking on the end of a hose, waiting for a mouthful of sugar and yeast concoction! A few minutes later and we have five full demijohns sat in the garage alongside the 2016 dandelion wine 4last slow ferment cider. Just a couple of years before we taste the results!

Dandelion Wine – Step 2

Dandelion Wine – Step 2

Well, the ten days are up and it’s time to filter the dandelion wine mixture into a new clean fermention bucket. This was a simple affair, except I managed to misplace our filter cloth, so we had to resort to using the kitchen seive.

Any fears of there not being enough liquid once the dandelion, orange and lemon mass was removed, were unfounded. The 7kg of granulated sugar added bulk enough to lift the level back up.

2016 dandelion wine 3It was a simple process – pour the liquid into a new sterilised bucket, through a seive (the smell is gorgeous – delicate and flowery, with the citrus tang in the background). I had to remove several little spots of floating mould with a spoon, then once all was in the new bucket, we added the granulated sugar. Again, as we were making five gallons rather than the one gallon the recipe assumed, we multiplied the 3lbs (1.4kg) of sugar by five, so 7kg of sugar! To this mixture we dropped a sachet of GP wine yeast and the relevant amount of yeast nutrient – it will say how much per gallon on the tub you bought.

Give it a really good mix, until the sugar has dissolved, and fit the lid again. Not having done this before, I fitted an airlock to our bucket, in case it starts to ferment wildy before the three days is up!