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May 1 2012 3 01 /05 /May /2012 10:43

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The flower garden

Plant out dahlia, canna, lilies outside.

Dead head winter and spring bedding plants regularly to encourage flowering.

Peg rhododendrons to the ground so that they form new plants.

Plant out sweet peas, pinching out the tips to form a better bloom.

The kitchen garden

Plant out chitted first early, second early and main crop potatoes

Direct sow beetroot, parsnips, sprouts, leeks, cabbages, swiss chard, spinach, kohl rabi and salad.

Sow strawberry seeds in a heated greenhouse or propagator.

Harvest rhubarb.

Plant Jerusalem artichokes along the north side of the plot.

The greenhouse

Sow celery in trays.

Sow peppers and aubergines.

Sow melons in a heated propagator.

The pond

Wash out pond filters.

Add or divide pond plants.

General

Weed or hoe in between young plants.

Feed lawns and fork compacted grass paths to allow the air in and green up.

Repot or top dress house plants with fresh compost.

Look out for aphid outbreaks. 

Put up extra bird nesting boxes.

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April 24 2012 3 24 /04 /April /2012 10:49

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The Silkie is so named for its soft plumage, which is said to feel like silk. The breed has several unusual characteristics such as blue skin and five toes. They are bred for showing as well as making ideal pets for children and adults. As a breed, they are docile and friendly birds. They are fair layers and you should expect about three small eggs a week from a Silkie. They make excellent mothers and are often kept for raising other breeds.

The breed is thought to have originated in China, with Marco Polo first mentioning furry chickens in his travels around Asia in the 13th century. Silkies may have found their way west through the silk trade. 

Although Silkies are not classed as bantams, they are bantam size, making them the ideal for the backyard keeper.

The Silkies plumage is like no other chicken. Similar to down feathers of young birds such plumage makes the Silkie unable to fly.

Silkie soup is a delicacy in Singapore and is used in Chinese medicine.

If Brian (the frizzle) and Mrs Brian (the silkie) were to breed the offspring are be known as sizzles!!!!

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April 18 2012 4 18 /04 /April /2012 11:18

Photo-0003d.jpgOne of the best things about chickens is their emotional compatibility with humans. They like human contact, snuggling and walking all over you if you sit on the ground. If a chicken wants attention it might peck you or jump on your head.

Much like dogs there is always an alpha chicken. Chickens like to scratch at the ground digging up your plants, laying eggs in strange places and escaping from time to time.

Handle your chickens frequently, starting when they are small, feeding them by hand. Depending upon the breed and temperament, they will reward you, not only by a regular supply of eggs.

There are a lot of people reading the blog who I can only assume are attempting to hatch a chicken to start or increase their brood. I can honestly say that small breed chickens really only need a small area, normally the size of a rabbit run and cage and are far more rewarding than a rabbit or guinea pig. More and more people are turning to keeping chickens due to the price of eggs. With the Government, clamping down on battery farms (quite rightly) this will only get worse. Depending on the time of year, most chickens will provide 1-2 eggs per day, which you can eat or gather and sell to your neighbours.

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April 16 2012 2 16 /04 /April /2012 13:19

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Hatching eggs, in my experience can be a frustrating due to the amount of variables involved and yet a rewarding experience when you do get it right. I am not known for my patience, and although the time to hatch is relatively short the temptation to fiddle with the eggs is often all too much.

Incubators are not cheap products and you should probably purchase the most expensive one you can afford. At the very least it should fan assisted, this circulates the air and dries your chicks out (like a hair dryer) when they hatch. It should also contain a water container to create humidity.

Candling was a great mystery when I first got started. There is little point looking at your eggs before 7 days. As a midwife I thought that I would be fascinated by the whole embryonic stage but seeing a little black blob (the foetus) dart around the eggs made me want to drop it. You can see more at 14 days, blood vessels and a large black mass (the foetus) usually down one side. It is now that I make the difficult decision whether to give up on the eggs that have not matured since I last candled. What if they are still alive? Versus what if they are dead and explode over my other good eggs?

Eggs need turning and I turn my eggs 5 times a day. It is a good idea to turn them an odd number of times so that they end up overnight on a different side to the night before. 3 days before your hatch date, you stop turning, top up the water humidifier and wait. Lockdown has commenced no turning, no candling, and no fiddling.

As the days go past you begin to think that they are not going to hatch, searching the internet for reasons why you have failed your chicks and all you find are other people discussing their hatchings….frustrating.

Sitting quietly on the computer I suddenly heard a chirping sound coming from the incubator. I had read that this was the case but as I say, I had pretty much convinced myself that they had died. After my sister and me deciding that I wasn’t hearing things or a bird outside, she chirped back and it chirped back at her. We then saw the crack in the shell. I ran down the garden shouting ‘we have to finish the chicken coop a chicken is hatching’ (the reality is it will be weeks before it can go in there, if it gets out of the shell). It started with a tiny hole, stopping for a while, my sister chirped; it chirped back and started breaking again. It was as if it had a tin opener inside there as it cracked a complete line and pushed it with his feet to open the bow doors. We all stood around the incubator shouting words of encouragement, just like in an human birth, it must of sounded crazy!. During my days of reading about ill chick’s I had read that, some people assist chicks out of the shell, or it taking an hour. I was preparing myself to help it out of its shell, but there was no need it was all over in about 10 minutes, Brian was born.

He was an initial shock, not at all cute and fluffy as he staggered around the incubator. Within an hour or so, he was dry and looking much more chick-like, ready to be transported into the nesting box.

Out of 6 eggs I only got one chick, although I consider it to be a success, it is easy to see how failed hatchings can cause despondence. At 2 days old, Brian is already very tame. If you place your hand in the nesting box, he will jump into it and the only way to hear the TV above his chirping is to sit and cuddle him.

I now truly have the bug, spurred on by little Brian I have 6 Lavender Milefleur eggs on their way to me. Fingers crossed we get some mates for Brian.

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April 15 2012 1 15 /04 /April /2012 14:40

Chick

A chick’s effort to free itself from its shell is crucial to the chicken's life cycle and it will die if you interfere in this mysterious process. As I have said before it is part of the natural selection process, only strong chicks survive the hatching process ensuring your flock is strong and healthy. It is hard to resist a struggling chick but you don’t want to breed weakness into your flock.

So your chick is free of the egg which means you have left well alone and not interfered during the lock down period (3 days before hatching) and maintained a constant temperature and high humidity levels. Soon after hatching, your chick will begin to walk and dry out, you should now move it to a secure box containing a 40 or 50 Watt light bulb suspended from above. Some breeders recommend a red light to ensure the bright light does not affect the young chick’s eyes, or make them a tiny pair of sun glasses!!!!.  They require a small tray of finely ground feed, and a dish of water filled with stones as young chicks are at risk of drowning. I use cooled boiled water for my young chicks in a sterile container.The first day the temperature should be maintained at 94 degrees Fahrenheit at the level of the litter of chicks. This means hanging the light close! After the ninth day, the temperature should be kept at 88 degrees. By day 18, it is fine to be at about 80 degrees. After six weeks, the lights can be turned off and the chicken acclimated to day and night cycle.

Please note these are recommended temperatures and it is far better to adjust the heat in response to your chick’s behaviour ie: a chick that is too hot will spread his wings out with his beak open as though panting. Chicks that are too cold will huddle in the corner of the box. I provide a rolled up sock for my chicks to climb into and this seems to suffice as a substitute for mother hen sitting on them.

As young chickens, you should get them a bigger box. Raising them indoors for a short while acclimates them to you, and allows them time to grow their 'outdoor feathers'. Doing this builds a strong bond between the keeper and the chicken. Once the new feathers have grown on its back and the chick loses its 'angelic look', you may introduce them to the outside world. Don't rush this because the chick needs these new feathers to withstand cold and protect its lungs from infection. Chickens in this stage of development are gifted with flight, so make sure there is a top or screen on the box. It is in this flighted stage that chickens are most fun to play with, as they will easily adopt your finger as perch, and they will fly around your room if you let them.

Once you decide that it’s time to bring them outside, you must still be mindful of their flying ability. Some keepers recommend against introducing new birds to an old flock, but we find that supervision and open forage conditions do allow for a gradual acclimation of the established birds to the newcomers. We position the newbies next to the coop containing our flock, which generates considerable interest, particularly if a cockerel has been born. 

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April 9 2012 2 09 /04 /April /2012 12:39

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Most literature advocates candling at day 7, 14 and 21. You should try to resist to candle more than this as excessive handling and temperature changes may compromise the developing chick. The term candle originates from when eggs were viewed using candles. Nowadays you can see through the shell with a piece of cardboard with a hole cut into it and a torch. Place the egg on the cardboard and shine the torch underneath it, this will illuminate the egg sufficiently to examine it.

On day 7 you should expect to see spider veins and a dark patch which is the developing embryo and a good air sac at the broad end of the egg.You should discard and eggs that appear to have developed a blood ring (infected eggs) and may explode if left in the incubator and those that are 'clear', no veins or black spot (not fertilised).

From day 14 onwards the egg appears very dark as the developing embryo occupies most of the egg so there is little point in candleing. 

Bantam chicks will hatch at around 19 days and I will always candle an egg that has not hatched after 20+ days before I give up on it and discard it. 

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March 20 2012 3 20 /03 /March /2012 16:19

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At this time of year, seeds should be sown under cover and in the warm, sunny windowsill, heated greenhouse. If growing seeds on a windowsill remember that temperatures plummet overnight so may benefit from being moved away.

You will need a shallow seed tray filled with seed compost. This is gritty soil and does not retain water. Seeds should be sprinkled on the soil with a light covering, preferably sieved.  

Seeds come in bags of various quantities; however you should only sow what you think you will need. Last year I sowed 50 Brussel sprout seeds which all grew!.

A propagator provides an ideal environment for the emerging seeds but a plastic tray or bag will suffice.

Seeds require a light spray with water occasionally to keep the soil damp.

Young seedlings will grow towards the light so will need regular turning to keep them growing straight. Strong sunlight will burn young seedlings so netting the greenhouse may be required.

Once the seedlings have emerged and are large enough to be handled and have grown there first true leaves, they can be potted on. I use the end of a pencil to gently lift each seedling out of the soil, whilst holding the leaf. Do not hold the seedling by the stem as this will damage it. Use the pencil to make a hole in the soil in the individual pot and gently place the seedling into it. Cover the soil in around the seeding and water lightly.

Seedlings will continue to require a warm environment until night time temperatures increase.  

Seedlings will require hardening off outside prior to planting out. The best way to do this is by bringing the young plants outside on warm sunny days and returning them at night.

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March 15 2012 5 15 /03 /March /2012 15:33

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In order to hatch your own eggs you will require an incubator or an accommodating chicken. In the past, we have used our broody ‘Mrs. Duck’ to which she successfully hatched chicken eggs, the only problem being she wanted them to come into the pond with her. Sadly, there is no way of determining the sex of a chicken whilst in its egg and the problem of what to do with the males is often not considered. Perhaps you would prefer a natural sounding alarm clock!.

There are two types of incubator, still and forced air. The temperature inside the incubator needs to be the same throughout, at a constant 37.5˚c. An incubator without a fan to circulate the heat will allow the heat to rise resulting in uneven heat distribution. Humidity is also important as this keeps the eggshells soft to allow easy hatching. This can be achieved simply by adding a damp pad in the incubator.

Chickens have a 21 day (3 week) incubation period. The eggs need turning 3 -5 times a day by 180˚ degrees horizontally or 90˚ degrees vertically. It is a good idea to mark an X on one end of the egg and a O on the other end to ensure that all eggs are turned fully.

You should ensure that the incubator is sterilized before use and has been allowed to get up to temperature. Examine the eggs for cracks, cloudiness or a red ring indicating infection, these eggs should be discarded. It is best to allow the eggs to settle for 24 hours prior to incubating them.

Eggs need to be candled an egg in the dark using a bright torch at purchase and regular intervals. Care should be taken not to overheat the eggs by excessive handling or cooling by being out of the incubator. You should probably try to candle each egg in 8 seconds. You should candle again at day 7 and day 14. You should be able to see blood vessels and the developing embryo with its heart beating.

An air sac is formed shortly after the hen has laid the egg. When candling this can be seen increasing in size right up until the chick pips through. A chick will pip into the air sac to breathe but may take another 12 hours or more to hatch fully. Most breeders recommend that you do not assist a weak chick out of its shell, as you will be introducing weakness in your flock. It may however be that the humidity in the incubator was incorrect causing the shell for form too hard for it to penetrate.

Chicks do not need to eat for at least 24 hours, which is why they can be shipped around the country as day old chicks. Keep your chicks warm, preferably in the incubator or under a lamp until fully dry and mobile.

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March 12 2012 2 12 /03 /March /2012 15:10

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There are strict guidelines as to the amount of space a battery hen should legally have. Generally a chicken should have an enclosure to protect from bad weather and predators. Ideally they should have enough space, including a fair size run for them to move around in, scratch, dust bath, feed and drink and room for them to get away from one another hen if pecked. The size of the house and run needs to be relative to the number of chickens you want.  

You may opt to allow your chickens to roam around in the garden, however overtime they will spoil it. A portal run allows chickens to be contained over fresh ground every couple of days. The quality of the wire is a factor when considering predators as cheap thin wire is no deterrent to Mr Fox. Foxes and rats will dig under runs and houses, a solution to this is to raise them off the ground or bury the wire at least 6 inches under the ground.

Chickens require a small amount of food per day and will be happy to eat most kitchen scraps. They will need a fresh supply of water and there are some useful feeders which keep things tidy. In exchange for a small amount of food most hens will provide you with 1-2 eggs per day, depending on the time of year.

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March 1 2012 5 01 /03 /March /2012 11:42

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The flower garden

Prune bush and shrub roses.

Trim winter flowering heathers.

Cut down old growth on penstemons exposing new shoots at the base.

Lift and divide congested clumps of snowdrops.

Prune winter flowering jasmine.

Plant out gladioli, agapanthus and lilies.

Start watering fuchsias to bring back from dormancy and cut back dead stems to 2.5 – 5cms.  

Prune shrubs such as buddleias to 1m of the base, dogwoods and willows.

The kitchen garden

Chit seed potatoes, eye uppermost in a cool bright place.

Direct sow broad beans, peas, carrots, radishes and spring onions.   

Plant strawberry runners, remove dead and damaged leaves.

Harvest winter salad leaves.

Plant out shallots, onion sets and garlic.

Plant asparagus.

The greenhouse

Prick out seedlings, pot on, harden off outside or in a cold frame.

Sow summer bedding plants such as geraniums.  

Sow annual climbers such as sweet peas and morning glory.

Ventilate the greenhouse on warm sunny days ensuring it is closed at night.

Sow cucumbers.

The pond

General

Reseed bare lawn patches. Start to mow lawns on dry days.

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  • : Poddington and P
  • Poddington and P
  • : Poddington and P is about life in the country. It includes their creations, the animals they raise, and the plants and produce that they grow in the kitchen garden.
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