The last two months have been a little hectic, what with holidays, family weddings, office work and writing, so I thought it was about time to take stock of how things are progressing in my quest to source as much food as possible from my beautiful – but rather space limited – back garden.
One of the main issues that I have had to contend with over the last few weeks has been one very broody and therefore, very grumpy chicken.
The biological clock of my Columbian Black Tail has been ticking along and its now decided that it’s had enough of late nights out with the girls, is fed up travelling to far flung corners of the garden and working all the hours of the day; instead she’s decided to settle down, make a home for herself and have some kiddies.
If I wanted to have a few new additions to my garden flock her broody state wouldn’t pose a problem; in fact, it would be welcomed. All I’d have to do is buy some fertilised eggs, pop them under my feathered, squawking incubation unit and wait 21 days. After this time had passed (give or take a day or two) I would find myself the proud owner of some cute little baby chooks; all fluffy and aesthetically pleasing.
The problem is I don’t really have enough room for any more birds.
And so, at the moment, my broody bird shall miss out on the chance of being a surrogate mother and consequently has turned in to a ball of rage and stubbornness; refusing to leave the chicken house, squawking psychotically if I go anywhere near her and giving the whole egg laying malarkey a miss. If one of our other chickens lays an egg she jumps on it pronto and gives it a damn good ‘mothering’ even though nothing small, cute or fluffy will ever come from these unfertilised eggs.
I have tried all the ‘tricks’ recommended in books, magazine articles and websites to try and break to broodiness including repeatedly lifting her out of the chicken house and forcing her to go outside (sometimes getting a peck for the privilege of doing so), dunking her in water in an attempt to cool her off, and trying to get as much cool air under her as possible by opening the back of the chicken house in a breezy spot as she perches inside.
Nothing seems to work.
As the days drag by, she is getting visibly thinner and increasingly grumpy. It certainly doesn’t help that it’s actually quite warm at the moment and as such, whenever I do pick her up, she’s scorching; a raised body temperature – whilst perfect for incubation – and lots of sun, does not make for a happy chicken.
So I have no choice really but to persevere with my ‘anti-brooding’ strategies and hope for the best.
Things are however much more promising in the veg patch department and much less traumatic.
During April and May I was getting a little concerned that the earth would never get warm enough for anything to grow properly, as I stood back and marvelled at just how slowly my garlic, broccoli and lettuce was developing. In what should have been a time characterised by vigorous growth, my crops were stunted and pathetic looking.
Continuous spells of dank, cold days followed by intermittent rain hardly produced the best growing conditions for young seedlings and seeds alike. One batch of Spinach I planted in April failed to germinate at all and even radishes (with their notorious ease of cultivation) failed to reach a decent size and had a woody, tasteless texture.
It all looked as though I was going to have a poor return for all the hard work and research that Id carried out since last year’s failings; another year of disappointment.
But thankfully things have changed and I have been able to breathe a little sigh of relief.
June turned out to be splattered with some fairly decent weather, with a corresponding rise in the temperature, the sun shining (sometimes….) and the days ever lengthening. Thanks to these climatic changes my veg patch is blooming and the greenhouse is nearly bursting at the seams.
Peas, Onions, Swiss Chard and Broccoli are coming on brilliantly and my wife and I have had to become serious salad munchers to get through all the leafy greens that I’ve been cutting from once small, sad looking clumps of lettuce and spinach. Under cover, pepper plants and tomatoes are growing ever taller, ever bushier and hinting at the juicy potential they have to offer in a month or two’s time.
I’m especially happy to see the beneficial effects that my chickens manure has had on the performance of my veg patch.
At the beginning of the year, I decided to concentrate my chooks ‘offerings’ on a couple of segments of my veg patch, just where I planned to plant the bulk of my peas and salad crops. Elsewhere, I would plant trials of the same plants and compare the results.
The results have been obvious and very impressive, with the manure fed ground producing much bigger, healthier looking plants, that have grown rapidly.
Now, I know that this is a rather obvious outcome (more chicken manure = more nitrogen and phosphorus in soil = better growth) but it’s great to have a visual comparison. It merely acted to reinforce my love of garden chickens; not only do you get great eggs (when they’re not broody, I hasten to add), sometime hilarious entertainment (I’ll never grow tired of watching my Maran chasing Black Birds out of the garden) but you also get this magic stuff that helps you produce even more food at no extra cost.
I missed the chance to plant out some first early and maincrop potatoes this year and am glad I didn’t really, as most of my chicken-proofed growing area has been taken up with more exciting (or more expnsive) veg. I did however finally plant a few potatoes last month having read for years now that old, sprouting, shop brought potatoes, if buried, will grow and provided a few – albeit small – starch filled offerings.
So when I found myself with a handful of sprouting spuds after a weekend away, I thought I’d give it a go, plonking the unsightly specimens into a spot of chicken ravaged ground. If they grew – great – if they failed, well; I wouldn’t have wasted any ‘productive’ space.
As it is, they seem to be really doing well. There’s certainly plenty of bushy green foliage poking out of the soil and, having safely banked the plants up with earth, I think the potatoes will now be safe from the worst of the scratching and dust bathing of free-range chickens.
I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of yields I shall get from these leftovers; the idea of getting something for ‘nothing’ is certainly an appealing one to a stingy so and so like me.
So, as you may have gathered it has been a busy time both in work and in the garden, but it’s also been a great time.
The longer days and occasional blasts of sun now mean that I can get home from work and potter about in the garden, doing lots of little jobs that id usually have to save up till the weekend. As I faff around in the greenhouse and hoe the veg patch, it’s great to spend a relaxing hour or so chatting to my wife in the sun as she fusses over the chickens and gently mocks my veg growing obsession.
A few jaunts through the country lanes on my bike and a walk or two up on the Quantock Hills, have added to a general sense of contentedness. It’s hard to believe that a few months ago we were cooped up inside, cold, fed up and dreaming of sun.
So finger crossed the good weather continues, that spirits stay high and I get to reap the veg based rewards that I think I deserve.
Oh and fingers crossed for a non-broody chicken.
I do miss my eggs!