Monday, 29 September 2014

A Rogue Cockerel

Throughout the summer we have raised three chickens with the intention of them being for the table. They were bought at eight weeks old and were destined to live in a large pen in the garden where they had plenty of space to scratch around and run about.

This plan worked well for about the first three months with the chickens being happy in their pen and me being happy that the chickens were still in their pen.

However with three ducks having full access to the whole of the garden it was a matter of time before the chickens became jealous and wanted to explore what was beyond the fence. This was alerted to me when on returning home one day one chicken was out and the whilst the other two, as normal were in the run. I opened the gate and he ran back in and straight to the food bowl. He had obviously figured out how to escape but not how to get back in.

Over the next couple of weeks all three of them became inquisitive and would regularly jump over the five foot high fence I had naively thought would keep them in. I came to the what turned out to be a quite poor decision in that rather than reinforce the pen I would also let the chickens free range in the garden.

This worked well for a while but they soon became more and more interested in the veg patch and in particular my courgettes, wiping out entire harvests in an afternoon. Next was the lettuce before they decided the duck food was better than theirs and began pulling rank on the ducks by making them wait while they had their fill.

To top it all off, the state of the art coop that I had lovingly built them was longer acceptable when they thought a nearby Rowan tree covered in ivy was a better place to spend the nights. I spent most of an evening climbing and getting them down one by one by which point the first one down was already making their way back up.

Although once I thought about it, it seemed like a perfectly sensible place to sleep. Safe from predators and somewhere they could make their own up way to when they were ready. Rather than me wrestling with them every night, during this mild summer I let them stay up there.

The event of catching them when they had reached the desired weight was a challenge in itself involving lots of temporary fencing and a lot of chasing around. The two hens were dispatched with the minimum of stress. The cock however remained elusive, wise to the fact that I wanted to capture it, I could barely get within fifteen feet. With his domain now extending well beyond the garden to the fields behind it would be quite rare to see it in the garden to plan a capture.

The intention was never to leave one on it's own, Having the ducks around has softened the blow and now instead of having two rival gangs in the garden the cockerel has tried to befriend the ducks. They are understandably cautious and so far keep a weary eye on him. They still sleep in their coop and he still retires to his tree. I must admit he has grown into a magnificent animal with even the neighbour commenting on his swagger.

However he is now costing money to keep and I have purchased the next lot of chicks to be penned in (more securely this time, and for good) on the vegetable patch over the winter. I have an idea in the back of my mind about breeding some in the future but I'm not sure if it's worth keeping him all through the winter just to sire my hens in the spring. So at the moment I will be purchasing a fishing net and tracking him down once and for all.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

A Week Away

After spending the past week in Dorset I was intrigued as to what I would find in the garden when I got home. I had been slightly regretting booking a week away at such a crucial harvest time. With the weather being as warm as it has there was a real chance plants would bolt, dry out or over-ripen in the time I was gone.

To my delight I came home to a polytunnel full of perfectly ripe tomatoes

Before leaving I picked every fruit that was anywhere near ripe in the hope that this would leave only green tomatoes which should take at least a week to ripen fully. It had worked and I was presented with a glut of Gardeners delight, Alicante and Sungolds.

One thing I have found this Summer is that the polytunnel is surprisingly effective at keeping the water in and the soil moist. Despite the heat in the day when it cools at night all of the condensation drips back down watering the plants at the best time of all. If I had been at home I probably wouldn't have watered inside the polytunnel more than twice in a week anyway.

With this amount of tomatoes on my hands theer was only one thing for it, roast tomato sauce!

Hugely versatile and a great base to so many dishes, this sauce is a must for anyone with a large quantity of tomatoes. It freezes very well so it's always worth having a batch in the freezer whether the tomatoes are home grown or shop bought.

With the tomatoes chopped in half and placed cut side up on a couple of large roasting tins, I added a generous pinch of salt and pepper, plenty of thyme and oregano and some very roughly chopped garlic. This was put in a medium oven for around forty five minutes.

Once passed through a sieve with the back of a spoon the sauce is ready to go. With a deep, rich flavour it's a perfect pairing with pasta, on it's own or with any number of other things added to the mix.

In other garden news the fennel did bolt which I'm not too concerned about. It's great for attracted the last of the bees and any remaining butterflies. There's only few bulbs left in so I'm happy to leave them the flower for another few weeks.
Also in the polytunnel I have managed to grow my first few chilli plants, Cayenne peppers to be exact. With no experience of growing these before it is certainly something I'll be diversifying on next year. I'll have to wait a little while longer before I have any peppers big enough to harvest but progress at the moment is certainly encouraging.

Monday, 8 September 2014

A redesign

As the year has gone on I've found myself looking around the garden, feeling that I could have fitted more plants in. With a new vegetable patch being created at the beginning of the year it looked like a big space at the time. Of course this was quickly filled a left me searching for more.

The three main plots I use are the large vegetable patch created at the bottom of the garden, the raised beds bordering the patio outside the kitchen and the polytunnel. Also dotted around the garden are various other pots and small beds containing some kind of vegetable or other.

Despite all these it's still not enough. If  I really am going to grow all of my own vegetables with plenty to eat fresh and plenty more to store then I need more space.

As many of the fruit and vegetables outside come to an end this month with many of the beds becoming empty, it seems a good time to reshuffle and this past week has seen me take drastic action.

Like a lot of people I have a shed containing mainly old pots of paint and varnish, a few tools and a lawnmower. With this being in a prime location there was only one thing for it, it would have to come down.

Anything inside that I  need can be stored on shelves in the log shed opposite. The tools can be hung up on nails and the lawnmower securely stored undercover. This is all I need really, the shed seemed to be a dumping ground for things that could probably be thrown out or stored elsewhere, taking it down would free up a sunny part of the garden and give me some much needed space to grow.

Now I had planned to overwinter some chickens on the vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden but with plenty of homemade compost from the ducks and chickens already waiting to be dug in there seems no need. The next lot of chicken that I get will be enclosed on this new patch of land from October to March digging it over, keeping it weed free and most importantly fertilising it. When things start to warm up around April it should require minimal digging to prepare it for planting.

The left over wood will be used to build a new, bigger chicken coop with anything else going on the log burner. Besides I'm always looking for bit of wood to build something or other.

With garden looking like a bit of scrapheap at the moment there's still a lot to do to get things how I want them, but looking longer term it's worth a bit of effort now to maximise what I can get out of the garden in the future.