A Little Bit of Everything

The skies were blue, the air crisp and there wasn’t a rain cloud in sight when I arrived on site this morning. Lots of people were down, making the most of the dry spell before the inevitable rain forecast for the entirety of the rest of the week. I said hello to Geoff and Andy who were chatting on the main path. I opened up the shed and came back when Andy called saying he was getting rid of his chicken nest box and run as Brad wanted to put in a large polytunnel. The nest box is situated outside the run and is a converted wooden Wendy house. It’s gorgeous and my only hesitation in accepting his very generous offer was its size. The main coop runs the entire width of our plot and the back joins the narrow winding path across the site towards the car park. The only place it might fit was directly in front of the coop however, I wasn’t sure if there would be enough room between the coop and the fruit tree bed. Borrowing Andy’s measuring tape, we measured up the nest box to find it was 3ft wide by 5ft long. Down we went to the main coop and measured out the dimensions. It couldn’t have been a more perfect fit!

Dripping any plans I had had for the day, I immediately move the wooden broody box back, right up to the compost bins. Next, with Tracy’s help, we moved the broody run onto the fruit tree bed. All that was left to do was a quick dig over the area to roughly level it out. The new nest box stands on six breeze blocks (yes breeze blocks again!) which would have to be set into the ground to provide a secure base. A further bonus of the blocks is that it raises the level of the nest box making it easier to clean! Digging done, I retreated to the shed for a well deserved break and a ponder about how many people we would need to move the box. Andy thought four – I think we may need an extra couple of people!

As I looked out at the plot, I realised quite how badly the weeds were coming through. One week of limited visits and they were growing like wildfire. By now, most people had left for lunch and I pottered across to Geoff’s plot to see how the potatoes and onions I had planted were getting on. Much to my surprise, the potatoes already needed banking up and almost all the onions had taken! In between all of these however was the nightmare that is mare’s tail. This prehistoric weed is an absolute beast to remove. The roots go down unbelievably deep and even the smallest bit of broken green leaf left in the soil will immediately grow. Fortunately, I have a solution for mare’s tail. Not some magical way of making it never reappear, but an easy way to get rid of it. Chickens. Our chickens adore it and I confess to feeding our chicks almost nothing else when we start to introduce greens. Leia in particular can’t get enough of the stuff. The first bucket of weeds went into the green Omlet, the second to the new coop and the following two into the main coop. Each bucketful was greeted with massive enthusiasm.

As I was weeding the beds, the clouds had started to come over and by the time I was finished, it was raining. Usually at this point, I retreat to the shed or go home. Today however, this seemed churlish. I battled on, planting a few more small rows of Stuttgart onions to fill the gaps in the onion bed before clearing the last raised bed of another ton of weeds. Into this bed, I have planted three different varieties of French bean, a small row of Swiss chard, two small rows of snowball turnip (highly recommended by Tracy and Steve) and some sugar snap peas. The latter I have never grown before but it’ll be interesting to see if they work! I felt rather on a roll despite being somewhat soggy around the edges.

Back in the shed, I had a quick look through my seed boxes. Snowball cauliflower seemed like it would be good to try so I planted a row of those before adding a row of giant celeriac for good measure. I carefully hoed several of the beds leaving the bottom two to be sorted another day. By now the or was looking somewhat more respectable. I planted three Atlantic giant pumpkins and three winter squash plants in the two beds behind the Omlet too.

The fruit section was looking rather neglected so I began to weed the small flower bed in front before working my way around each of the fruit bushes, removing any grass or weeds. My progress was somewhat hampered by the overgrown blackberry bushes. It’s my fault really for not pruning them hard enough the last two years. Dashing up to the shed, I grabbed by secateurs and began to get it back under control. The plants have grown so wild that they had completely covered the entire raspberry bed! Thanking my past self for choosing a thornless blackberry, I emerged an hour later with several scratches on my arms but I had cleared the old wood in the middle of the blackberry and rediscovered the tayberry plant. That particular plant is completely lethal – it’s all thorns. I remembered this as I closed my hand on a stalk as I cut it away. Oops! As a final touch, I took the raspberries that Tracy had given me a couple of weeks ago (kept alive in a bucketful of water) and planted them in the raspberry bed.

Feeling rather proud of the work I had done despite the British weather’s best efforts to drown me, I walked around the coops collecting eggs and checking the birds all had food and water. In the main coop, I was charged twice by an irate Tommy. Idiotic bird. Compared to any other cockerel attack, Tommy’s is pathetic but I won’t tolerate it happening. We sometimes have our friend’s children visit the chickens and a fu grown cockerel could cause them serious harm if it went into attack mode. After a few minutes of following Tommy around the coop, I caught him and pinned him to the ground between my legs. I ruffled his feathers and stroked his comb and wattles. As ridiculous as this looks, these show the cockerel that you are “Big Chicken”. Usually once you have done this, Tommy will keep away from you for several weeks. I let him go after a couple of minutes and collected an extra egg from the nest box without harassment.

Integration in the new coop is going well although Snap is definitely at the bottom of the pecking order. Leia and Lilja are definitely leaving her alone more and Snap seems to be growing in confidence again. Similar things have been happening in the Omlet with Foxy. Although she does get chased a bit by Trixy ever now and then, they are quick becoming quite the inseparable trio.

So over the weekend, we will be sorting out the new nest box for the main coop, setting up the new drip irrigation system and weeding the last two beds. Assuming I have any spare time, I will also sort through the rubbish on the patio and clear it ready to measure up for the next big project!

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