Monday, 23 March 2015


After numerous escape attempts over the past year I have finally got around to building a duck-proof enclosure.

The garden is surrounded by large hedges either side which I initially thought would be adequate. During the winter they have got a bit bare and every so often the ducks would find a hole and either sneak into the neighbours garden or into the field on the other side. The neighbour didn't mind at all, she had recently moved in and had not had much chance to start work on her garden so them running around on her lawn was a novelty at first. It was pointless rounding them up, they always make their way back within an hour or so we left them to it, watching to see where they would come back through the hedge and blocking it up with some sticks or chicken wire. this would work for a while then after a couple of weeks they would find/make a new hole and the whole process started again.

With summer approaching and an eighteen month old bursting to get out into the garden we decided to fence the lawn off halfway down, keeping the ducks off the top part of the lawn and the majority of the vegetable patches. As I'm trying to keep the garden as cost neutral as possible this year the sticks required were all collected from fallen trees nearby and some that I had knocking around the garden.

As you can see after a fairly rough winter the lawn has taken a bit of a battering. The outline of a square is where the portable chicken coop was until a couple of weeks ago. This is part of my strip grazing system and with the weather warming up will soon grow back. You can really notice the difference in the taste of the eggs once the chickens have been moved onto a fresh patch of grass.

I started of by making shorter hurdles with long legs that could be hammered into the ground and give me a basic frame.

Once I had enough they were laid out to see which best fitted where and hammered in as deep as possible.

To provide further rigidity I'll weave some younger branches through the existing frame both to support and to block any of the larger holes.

Whilst the ducks are still determined to escape, at the moment the fence seems to be doing it's job. They have plenty of space with a pond, a large patch of grass and the bottom veg patch to root around on. It's more than enough for the three of them also sharing with the chicken coop in the bottom corner (I learnt my lesson last summer that however free range I want my chickens to be chickens and vegetable patches do not mix). The fence looks almost exactly how I had imagined and the ducks will soon get used to it.

Monday, 9 March 2015

New Ideas

The glorious sunshine this past weekend has reinforced the fact that spring is now finally on it's way. My windowsills have been full of seed trays for the past month  and despite a cat and a one year old constantly trying (and occasionally succeeding) to dig up what inside, I have actually manged to grow a few things.

Six broad beans plants were planted into the new veg patch yesterday with another four seeds sown directly alongside. Looking back through the blog at this time last year I was doing exactly the same thing however I have learnt a few things. The beans were germinated on a much sunnier windowsill which has resulted in much shorter, stronger plants. Last years grew too tall due to not receiving enough sunlight but being the first year that I had grown them I was blissfully unaware that they weren't meant to look like this. they blew about so much in the wind after planting out that in a week there was nothing left of them. This year the plants have been placed outside to harden off during the day and brought in overnight for the past week. For the past two days I left them in a sheltered spot outside the back door to fully acclimatise prior to planting.

Another improvement is the quantity, broad beans freeze so well that I might as well grow a load at once and use the space for something else afterwards. I'll sow another large batch later in the year but there is no point trickling them out as I tried to last year. The same goes for other things such as onions, French beans and peas. a couple of large sowings should provide plenty of fresh veg and also plenty to store.

At the opposite end of the scale I have sown the first of this years carrots. These will be successionally sown and have been planted in rows with spring onions in between. The idea being that the scent of the spring onions should overpower the carrots and put off any carrot root fly. I have gone for three varieties initially, just what I had left over from last year. I'll see how these get on and decide whether I need to buy any more for sowings later in the year. To ensure perfectly straight carrots I've added plenty of sand to the soil in what was the old polytunnel bed. Manure was added to this last September followed by a brassica crop that was devoured by the ducks after the polytunnel blew away. There should be the a good amount of nutrients left in the soil and hopefully it's sufficiently incorporated to not hinder the carrots growth. If the soil had been recently manured I would expect to see forked carrots due to the roots going in search of the best soil.

To fill a gap in the raised beds I have filled one with early peas. these will hopefully be harvested during June and once past their best will come up ready for something else to go straight in. the good thing about all legumes is that they actually fix nitrogen into the soil rather consuming it as other plants would, this means they'll be very little soil preparation following these.

Preparing the soil has been my main task over the past couple of months. Last year I dug everything over as best as I could, removing any stones and breaking up the clods of soil as I went. The soil wasn't too bad, not great but good enough. Some things did really well and others never really took off. Since then I have had two compost heaps on the go and have gone compost mad. Literally anything that is remotely compostable get put in the pile. Interestingly the one that is out in the open surrounded by wooden pallets has produced much better compost than the other big plastic recycling bin that cost me fifty pounds. I suppose it makes sense, one pile is easier to turn than the other and has had ducks and chickens digging it up looking for worms while the other has remained largely untouched. Worth noting though before anyone goes out and buys one that a pile in the corner will achieve the same effect quicker and for free.

The plants will now be going in thick and fast with potatoes chitting, kale, chard, leeks and onions all growing on the windowsills. Since the polytunnel blew away I've lost a valuable place to get things started but that's not going to slow me down. Where possible I'll sow direct and as long as I can keep the ducks and chickens away, with the groundwork that I have already put in, the garden will hopefully thrive this summer.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Land Management

If there is one thing that this winter has taught me it is how to make best use of the space I have in my garden.

Back in September I fenced my chickens in on what was to be a new vegetable patch on the south facing side of the garden. The idea of this being that the chickens would dig up the soil, keep it weed free and fertilize it at the same time. The real test of whether this has worked or not will come when I start to grow in it but first impressions of the soil are looking good. We had three chickens in total two penned in on the veg patch and one from an older group free ranging in the garden with the ducks. The two penned in were specifically bought as table birds so last week the time came to move them on. One had grown much bigger than the other and was definitely starting to show signs that it was clearly a cockerel, so this one was selected for the pot. The other seemed a little small, a shy and timid hen that was worth keeping.

With panels from the old run I have built a new enclosure that could house the two remaining chickens, the benefit of the new one being that it is easily transportable and the coop fits on the end so I have now earmarked three potential patches of grass which the run will be rotated on.
With a bit of chasing and bribing with corn the chickens were in their new home and getting along well. I say a bit of chasing, it involved propping the run up on a stick with a long bit of string attached. After a sitting on the back step for a while in minus temperature both chickens discovered the food was inside and in my mind all I had to do was pull the string to drop the run down and trap the chickens. Of course this didn't work the string snapped, the stick didn't move and I ended up running down the garden and kicking the stick out before the chickens had realised what was happening. I'm sure the neighbours already think I'm mad so if any of them did see me doing something like this it probably wouldn't have shocked them.

 The grass on the lawn has taken a real battering from the wet autumn and freezing winter. having three ducks digging about on it all day doesn't really help, but with my new mobile chicken coop and a few temporary fences to keep the ducks where I want them the lawnmower should be seeing very little use this summer. I'll sow grass seed at some point in April and then only cut it if it gets really out of control. I've said before I'm only interested in growing vegetables but if the grass is going to supplement the chickens and ducks diets in return for eggs it's worth spending a little time ensuring that plenty is available.  

With the new veg patch this has now been dug over, all of my home made compost has been added to the existing veg patch so I had to buy a few bags of manure to mix in whilst digging. Improving the soil now will make a huge difference come the summer. However it is worth noting the cost when it comes to these things, the more compost I can make myself from the animal bedding and garden/kitchen waste the better. I don't want the cost of my soil to outweigh the cost of the vegetables that I am able to grow from it.