Out of the Frying Pan…

Do you want the good news or the bad news??

The good news is that Susie seems to have sorted out her sibling rivalry issues with the other birds! She’s looking much happier and is showing signs of feather regrowth too. I can’t believe how much change there’s been in a week! The canny little madam has discovered that if she goes to bed early she can get her place sorted and not have to face being repeatedly chucked out every time she tries to get in.  Go Susie! 

There have been no more escape attempts  and she”s been happily munching her way through my flower garden with the rest of them so I think it was all a storm in an eggcup. Phew!

Now for the bad news. I have suspected for some time that one of the girls is eating her eggs before I can get my hands on them and have found bits of broken shell in the house when I’ve cleaned it out. Yesterday I caught the culprit red handed (or more accurately yellow beaked!) Nellie laid an egg and ate it immediately!

I’d done a bit of background reading in preparation and have installed golf balls into the nest boxes to act as a deterrant (the idea being that they peck them thinking they’re eggs, hit something solid and think “blimey, I’m not doing that again!”). This had no effect at all so now I’m on plan B (I said I love ya baby, oh oh oh oh ooooooooooh – oops. Sometimes I can’t keep the music in my head from spilling out!) which is to blow the contents out of an egg and refill the empty shell with mustard.

Well, what a palarva! Anyway, with the help of a pin, a darning needle and an icing bag I finally managed this yesterday. I don’t think the job was made easier by the fact that I only had whole grain mustard and the nozzle on the piping bag kept getting blocked! Anyway, I installed said mustardy egg in the nest box last night and this morning when I went to let the girls out at 6.45am………………it was sitting where I’d left it, totally unscathed whilst Nellie tucked into her very own newly produced mustard free breakfast egg.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind sharing but the deal here is that I give them nice fresh greens, layers pellets, a clean snug house and room to roam in exchange for some of their finest. I’m keeping my side of the bargain….now it’s time for them to cough up!

 A strange development at home this weekend. I have an 8 foot high panel fence around my garden and it obviously  makes me feel much more secluded than I am in reality because the kids two gardens along have sussed out that if they bounce really hard on their trampoline they can see over my fence into the garden and have very disjointed conversations with me whilst I’m putting the chickens to bed. I wouldn’t mind this as a rule and in fairness Friday’s conversation started off innocently enough with them shouting hello at me with each bounce. They must have seen me around because i was referred to as “the lady with the black dog” which, lets face it, could have been an awful lot worse! “The fat lady with bad clothes” for example, or “that woman that swears at chickens” or “the strange old bird who sings along to her Ipod in the garden when she thinks no one can hear her”. Damn that 8 foot fence and its implied privacy!

Anyway the younger, sweeter, more innocent kids were pretty quickly joined by older, bigger, louder kids who started yelling out “are you flirting with me?” very VERY loudly.  Now I live in a small village with people who have too much time on their hands. Overhearing something like that could very easily open the floodgates for whispered discussions over the garden fence and before you know it I’ll have been cast in the role of cradle snatcher at the very least and child abuser at the extreme end!   And the neighbours probably haven’t forgiven me for getting the chickens yet!

Whoever said life in the country is easy has never lived there. Lack of anything to do means your life becomes public property. All you townies looking to relocate consider this a warning.

No news from the landshare this week. It’s mothers day today and my soon to be god-daughter, Claudia’s second birthday so the veggies will have to wait another week. All the seeds I planted last weekend and the weekend before are going great guns on the dining room windowsill though. I have cucumber plantlets to spare, the tomatoes have woken up and even my experimental african egg plants have germinated. They were an impulse buy from the Eden Project webite. I have no idea what to do with the fruit or what it tastes like but it’ll be fun finding out!




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Harikari Chicken

Help! I need wisdom and guidance from all you chicken owners out there.

As you will know if you’ve read my blog I took on 6 ex battery chickens a few weeks ago. They were a sad and sorry looking bunch and no mistake with two of them, Olive and Susie, featherless to the point of being oven ready.

Now that I’ve got to know my chooks a little better I’m seeing distinct personalities surface. It’s clear from recently increased levels of noise that some progress has been made orgainisng themselves into the right pecking order and it seems that poor Susie is right at the bottom.

She shies away from the other birds and heads in the opposite direction if one starts moving towards her. Where the others are sociable and will peck around together quite happily Susie is always in a corner by herself. I’ve made sure she always has access to food and drink as I was afraid the others were intimidating her to the point where she wouldn’t get a look in.

My concern really takes several forms:

  1. Susie looks, and I know this is going to sound strange, pale around the eyes. She’s looked that way ever since I got her and whilst for the first few days she was really very inactive and shivery she seems to have got her bounce back but still looks under the weather. I’ve already treated them and the house for mites so it’s not that and she seems to be eating well so it could just be my imagination. Or perhaps she has a pale complexion! Do chickens come in fair skinned varieties??
  2. When bedtime comes Susie tries to get into the house several times but always gets shoved back out again, or one of the others (I’m not sure if its the same one all the time) bars her way at the top of the ramp and won’t let her in. She seems to want to get away from them even more at bedtime. I’ve had to move the chicken house as she was jumping onto the nestbox and from there winging her way to the freedom of the garden over the chicken fence. It took a worrying turn for the worst last night though. Everyone else had gone to bed but Susie and one of the feathery girls. Susie was obviously really scared of this other chicken and repeatedly ran headlong at the chicken fence in an attempt to get away from her even though the fence is electric and was switched on!!!  Once she’s in and I close the door they settle down very quickly and there’s no sign of physical damage to her so I don’t think they’re getting too boisterous when I’m not looking but I’m worried she’s blowing it out of proportion and will do herself some damage.
  3. Whilst Olive, Oven Ready no 2, has started to show great signs of improvement and is sprouting a lovely new crop of feathers there’s no sign of Susie following suit.
  4. Finally, determined not to be alone at the bottom of the pecking order, Susie has started going for me every time I enter the run. It isn’t anything serious but the look in her eye says she means business! She started off by pecking at my feet when I got too close, then started actively seeking me out and now grabs me by my sock or trouser leg screaching at me whenever she gets the opportunity! Has she run into the electric fence one time too many?

I’ve read all the advice and they all say “chill, it’ll sort itself out and if it doesn’t move her to her own pen for a while where they can still see each other” but how long do I leave it? I don’t like the thought of the poor girl living every day in fear but I don’t want to take her out of the flock if it’s going to resolve itself quicker if she stays there. I dread coming home from work one day to find a massacre has taken place in my absence.

Or maybe I just have a chicken with a personality disorder and the others are damn right to put her in her place!

Help, World!  I need some guidance on what to do for the best for the sake of my sanity, my socks and my Susie!



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Chuffed as Nuts!

To say I’ve been a bit lax on the gardening front over the past few months is like saying Hitler wasn’t really all that nice. I’ve been putting off going up there because I had built up in my head this vision of having to hack my way with a machete through towering weeds to compete with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Anyway, I decided today was the day. The sun was out, there hadn’t been a frost, and the remnants of the Super Moon could still be seen like a misty shadow of its former self hanging low in the morning sky. If nothing else the view from Landshare Sally’s hilltop garden would be spectacular and I could always turn my back on the veg plot for a minute and pretend all the hard work was done.

We’d had some pretty harsh weather this winter with snow on the ground for a couple of weeks during December and I was anticipating that any plants that had survived that lot would have been finished off in the frosts we’ve had over the last couple of weeks. My expectations were lower than a slow worm’s belly. So I was totally amazed when I was confronted with green! And it wasn’t all weeds, either!

Some of last year’s rainbow chard was having a born again moment and there were fresh new leaves just a couple of weeks off being ready to eat (if you like them quite little and at this time of year after so long without anything fruitful going on I’m too impatient to wait for them to reach theor full potential). The spring onions were lovely looking and ready to pull. Though having tried to pull a few for my lunch I realised I should have brought a fork with me as they snap disappointingly easily leaving all the white bit in the soil and tantalisingly out of reach. I did manage to get two or three whole ones out though and the smell as they came out of the ground was unlike any supermarket springy. It was powerful stuff! I hope the flavour lives up to the promise of the smell.

Moving along the plot, the leeks I’d planted waaaaaay too late had reached edible size against all odds. They wouldn’t win any competitions but they were all my own work. The white bit wasn’t very long so I think the lesson I need to learn frfom that is to either plant them deeper or earth them up. Is one menthod better than the other? Maybe time to introduce a scientific experiment and do some of each.

It's Alive!!!!

Not just weeds after all

The beetroot and spring cabbage seem to have been in hibernation for the winter but were showing a reassuring willingness to pull themselves together and put some effort into gettng big and strong.

Anyway, I spent an hour slicing heads off weeds and picking up shredded weed suppressant material that I’d optimistically sewn Christmas new potatoes under, only to lose all of the wonderful foliage to the first frost of winter. Note to self: Christmas new potatoes should be planted in a sheltered position, preferably in a poly tunnel or in pots that can be moved into a cold greenhouse. Live and learn :-).  On the plus side the frost obviously didn’t get them before they’d had a chance to start forming tubers and I came away with a handfull of tiny golden nuggets to accompany my leeks and springies.  Now that the chooks have got their acts together and started to lay, albeit sporadically, I have the workings of a completely home produced fritata! Yay! OK apart from the butter or olive oil. My olive tree is still practicing and I sadly don’t have room for a cow or goat….yet!

I’ve had mixed success with the broad beans I planted last winter with about half of them germinating. I’ve got some on the go on my dining room windowsill in loo roll inners though so can plug the gaps. The garlic and onions seem to have taken nicely too, with a few sacrificed to the enquiring beak of whatever had been pulling them from their cosy seed bed.

So, just one hour in the sunshine and the plot was tidied and I’d come away with the makings of lunch! I was almost sad I sisn’t have an excuse to stay up there any longer. I have so many plans for things I’d like to grow that I’m going to have to seriously think about starting work digging over my next plot. I don’t mind the digfging bit but I’m no fence layer and with the wildlife that shares Sally’s space it’d be like laying on a bunny buffet if I didn’t take preventative measures.

Exciting news is that Sally’s finally found someone else to take a plot from her. They’ve already started digging over their bit (you can see one end of it behind my plot in the pic) and have their fences up. I haven’t met them yet and am not sure if I would prefer to have company whist I’m working up there or if I’d rather it was just me and Paulo as usual. After all, his pencil’s full of lead! I suspect that makes me sound really antisocial but I have to spend all week working closely with people and it’s nice not to have to consider anyone else when I’m ankle deep in manure.  Or they could be fab and I’ll have new friends which would be a bonus 🙂

Landshare Veggie Plot March 2011   In anticipation of the spring I’ve been sewing seeds on my windowsills at home. I’ve got beans of many varieties, cavolo de nero, chinese kale, brussels sprouts and leeks (yes, more) all sprouting nicely. My tomato seeds aren’t showing any intention of coming out of their snooze but I’ve moved them into a propogator now to try to kickstart them so fingers crossed.
My big plan now is to try to grow enough veg to reduce my shopping bill by a few quid a week, and to have spare for Sally and my parents. I think I need to scale up though as at the moment I only have enough of any one thing for a few meals and that’s it gone. 2011 is going to see me supersizing!! Bring it on 🙂

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Woman on a Mission

Well hello anyone in the big wide world that might have happened upon my blog by accident. I know it will have been by accident because I’ve only told one person about it so far and even she doesn’t have the name of it yet!

I suppose the polite thing to do is to introduce myself first! My name is Sam, I’m a 40 something vegetarian singleton and I live in a village in Dorset surrounded by hills and very lovely countryside. Unfortunately I don’t have one of those idyllic looking country cottages set in rolling acres of paddock and orchard. I live in an ex council house with my dog, Wren and six recently rescued battery chickens called Olive, Betty, Nellie, Susie, Dot and Margot. 

We have a garden but the previous inhabitants valued car parking space over greenery so whilst I have room to park 5 cars (and only own one!) i have a moderate sized area of garden just enough to give the chickens a nice playpen of their own and leaving a bit of space for the dog to roam around, not that she’s brave enough to go out into the garden on her own since the chickens arrived a week ago but I’m sure she’ll get used to having them around.

I’m an accountant and have spent the last 25 years working for other people in offices around the county. I feel like I’ve acheived a fair bit over the last 10 years or so, becoming qualified, buying my own house, getting a decent job, but somehow these things don’t seem to ring my bell anymore! I want……less!  Ok maybe less isn’t strictly true. I want an injection of the good life.

My life is missing simple things like community spirit, seasonality in food, time to stop and literally smell the flowers, that sense of achievement you get when you spend a long time on something and it turns out fantastically, or when you make a gift for a freind and they love it. My plan for 2011 is to try to recapture some of the simple pleasures in life and “add value” to use an accounting term, to my current lifestyle.

I plan to cook more, grow more, make more and live more than I’ve ever done before.  

I’ve always admired these people who have 5 year plans and know exactly what they want from life. Being spurred on to achieve something purposeful is a wonderful feeling. I know. I lost 3 stone for a friend’s wedding a few years ago. I couldn’t have done it for myself but because I was doing it for her I had the motivation I needed. Needless to say  that diet is a thing of the past  and the three stone didn’t so much creep back on as launch itself at me  from behind a parked car the moment I left her wedding reception and has never left my side since! You’re never alone when you have a spare tyre to cuddle.

Anyway, I’ve tried everything to shift this weight since and nothing short of sandblasting seems to work. I’m basically a lazy person and would rather starve myself on the juice diet, cabbage soup diet, eat only green things diet, eat on one leg diet, water with a hint of water diet than do anything overly active but I think that’s because I like to multi task. The gym for the sake of losing weight is single tasking. On the other hand, digging a trench in the veg bed and filling it with quarter of a tonne of rotted horse manure ready to act as home to a couple of rows of runner bean seedlings is exercise I can relate to. Not exercise for the sake of it but a by product of something I enjoy doing.  And something that produces food too, which is another love in my life. I think I must be a carrot rather than stick person!

Which brings me on to the purpose of my blog. I have been lucky enough to be allocated a piece of land through Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall (all hail the God of Self Sufficiency – I’ll just call him Hugh Almighty or HA from now on). He didn’t give it to me directly of course but introduced a scheme called Landshare where people with big gardens and no time can tie up with people with small gardens and lots of energy to produce something wonderful. I have use of a piece of land a few miles from my home, which is part of a 2 acre garden and orchard surrounding one of those unbearably lovely but quirkily extended thatched cottages that Dorset it so well known for. The house is owned by Sally (or Landshare Sally as she’s become known to me and mine) and she’s happy for me, nay, encourages me, to hack up great swathes of grass in order to experiment with loads of lovely produce.

Just to put this into perspective Sally and I only started out with this arrangement at the end of last year’s growing season so whilst I was full of enthusiasm and planted all kinds of wondrous things in the hope that we’d be eating amazing fresh veg from the garden all winter the reality was somewhat different. 2011 is going to be my first full season and I’m going to document my progress through this blog, alongside updates on the chicken’s progress and whether Wren has ventured forth into the garden yet. There may even be the odd recipe thrown in for luck as I love to forage and it’s almost elderflower champagne and cordial season!

Anyway, thanks for reading this far and if you’d like to keep up with my attempts at shoehorning some of The Good Life into my rather unexciting existence stay tuned. But for now, as Bugs Bunny would say, That’s all folks!!!

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