Archives for category: Chickens

Only a couple more weeks until Christmas, but you wouldn’t know if from the weather here in the west of Ireland. It has been very mild and even a bit dry for this time of year, although we did have a few light showers over the past week. It was so (relatively) dry that I was able to bring 40 bags of manure home from the Big Garden’s muck heap. This requires me having to squelch through some very mucky and usually sopping wet ground. A trailer would be great, but it’s nearly impossible to get anything with wheels to the muck heap without getting stuck. One of those bog tractors with the double-wides might work. But last week I could’ve driven my car to the heap with a little care and attention. Still, I ended up doing it all by hand. Actually, I got a hand getting the 40 bags to the van, which was great.

Black gold

Black gold


I’m a bit of a connoisseur of manure. I think it’s great stuff. I’m particularly happy with this manure because it has some lovely, dark, well-rotted manure that has been mixed up with newer stuff. The older stuff was mixed with straw and the newer stuff with shavings. By the way, this is horse manure we are talking about from the Big Garden stables. I like having the uncomposted shavings in the mix as they help make a really nice mulch. So I just dump the bags where I want and leave the little heaps until the new year. Any of the fresher manure will be worn down enough by planting time. I’ll let the worms and chickens do a lot of the work — those chickens need to earn their keep since they’re not given eggs at the moment. Come January or February, I’ll just give it a quick rake.

If I could get the whole muck heap to my house, it would be like winning the lotto! How sad am I?

Covered porch.

The porch is covered!


The porch is now covered. The incline downward is only slight as the height needed to be kept quite high due to very tall family members (that would not be me, I’m afraid, as I am cousin to Bilbo Baggins [without the hairy feet]). The concrete for the footpath will be next and some kind of guttering. It’s so nice and dry underneath and when the sun is out it is quite warm, even on colder days.
willow fedge

Willow fedge due for a haircut.


Depending on the weather, I may cut some willow today. Most of the leaves have fallen now, which is what I was waiting for. I’ve got a fedge and a wigwam that need attention; both are very overgrown. I’m going to collect the nicest, straightest bits of willow to make a little wattle fence to go on one side of the new flower beds to make a barrier between the footpath around the house and the beds.
euonymus seed pods

Euonymus seed pods or a blackbird’s dinner…


And finally, a little bit of colour to end. I saw these seed casings on this stone near the apple trees. I think a blackbird must have pulled it off one of my little spindle trees and took it to the stone to have a feast. Ha! What a romantic notion – a blackbird?? Well, possibly, but it was most likely one of magpies (who really think they own the place).

Next time… review the year and look forward. Happy and peaceful holiday to all!

Just when I thought Spring might really be here… It’s gone and turned cold again. I don’t think I have ever been so confused about what to do with seeds, seedlings, young plants. This is normally something that comes quite naturally to me. I’m seriously thinking of just planting everything in the polytunnel this year and hoping I win the lottery so that I can purchase another tunnel. Honestly! It’s May 19th and I really want to put the heat on this morning. That is so very wrong. I hope this isn’t the way the weather is going to be from now on…

Dandy-lion

A la carte Dandelion

I was talking about dandelions last time and how they had all come out at once. I must follow up with this quick story. I was standing at my kitchen sink looking out the window at the misty rain coming down. The west-facing window looks out onto a neighbour’s very large field which has stone wall boundaries. I noticed movement in the not-so-tall grass (not so tall thanks to the crappy spring). It was a cock pheasant and a hen. He was following behind her at a good 10-foot distance while she slowly and methodically ate every dandelion seedhead that she could. It made a really nice picture with the mist and the not-so-tall grass, the thousands of dandelion seedheads, and the colourful cock pheasant. Where’s the photo, you ask. I was looking at it through binoculars and my camera is not that great, so apologies. But I hope I’ve been able to do the lovely image justice when translated into words.

Cock and no pheasant

The rooster and missus

Since I can’t show the pheasant and his missus I’ll just put up this photo of the Rooster and one of the hens.  I was trying to get a photo of him with his head stuck down between the coppiced ash tree and the stone wall.  But when he heard me coming he popped out again.  At first I thought he had found something to eat but then I realised he was actually hiding from the wind.  They really hate the wind and lord knows we have enough of it here.

Lamium

Lamium orvala, a type of false nettle

There are a few nice plants flowering at the moment.  As I was walking around the Little Garden taking a few photos I realised that I most likely have a compulsive disorder when it comes to buying plants.  It seems that most of the herbaceous perennials I have bought in the last five years have flowers in the dark red family.  I will prove this to you now.

Astrantia

Astrantia major, I forgot the variety but I got if from Camolin Potting Shed

Isn’t that Astrantia lovely?  That’s the colour I can’t resist.  Read on…

Rodgersia

Bud of Rodgersia pinnata ‘Chocolate Wings’

This is my favourite time for the Rodgersia.  I didn’t know the flower bud was like this when I bought the plant.  It  is a great architectural addition to a border and really breaks up a bed that is full of clumpy perennials, like this one…

Centaurea

Centaurea montana ‘Jordy’

This is a lovely plant and you can give it a chop after it flowers and it will clump up and flower again for you.  I can understand why one of its common names is mountain knapweed because it is an extremely strong grower and it bulks up quickly.  Having said that I don’t find it a thug because it is so easy to cut back.  Once you have it you will always be able to share it with your friends, it is so easy to propagate.  Just dig bits out of the side of it.  I love it.

And finally, our last plant for today from the Maroon Flower Compulsive Disorder Society is…

Niobe

Clematis ‘Niobe’, Jackmanii group — thank you Aldi

…this happy little Clematis I bought from Aldi last year.  I am no snob when it comes to acquiring plants and this Clematis was as healthy a plant as you would find in a much more expensive specialist nursery.  Granted, it is a very common type of Clematis, but that shouldn’t really matter if you like it.  And I do.  ‘Niobe’ will be trained up a trellis I just put up (I made it myself.  It’s not pretty but the plants don’t mind.) along with a pale peach coloured rose I also bought from Aldi.  Sounds like an ad for Aldi.  Don’t get me wrong, I have had many Aldi plant disasters (cherry trees come to mind and most perennials that come in a bag…), but sometimes you get lucky and the plant isn’t diseased and is actually what the label says it is.

I think that’s enough of my dirty little dark red flower secret.  Please don’t worry about me because I do also really like bright orange flowered plants as well (they go really well with the dark red ones!). 

Bit of a mish mash today — I blame it on the weather. Happy planting (with a jacket, hat and warm socks on)!

For the last few weeks I have been eyeing up the strawberries I have growing in oil tanks at the Little Garden.  We had two oil tanks split because they weren’t seated on a level footing.  I cleaned them out really well and got the big lad to cut them in half lengthwise with a con saw (his very favourite tool besides wire).  Two halves are now home to the strawberries and, as I found out yesterday when I went to do a clear up, lots and lots of vine weevil grubs.

Strawberry Tanks in January

Strawberry Tanks in January

Now this is not surprising.  I fully expected it to happen.  The winter was very mild last year and this year as well, so we have had a build up of pests (I shudder to think of what the slugs will be like…).  And strawberries are the favourite food of the vine weevil grub, at least the roots are.  Indications that you have vine weevils around the place can be found on the leaves of plants.  The adult beetles takes a little C-notch out of the edge of leaves.  The adult is dark greyish in colour with ridges running up and down its back — don’t confuse it with the regular old black beetle (he’s a good guy).  No, the vine weevil has a cinched-in waist and looks much more sinister.  The juvenile form of the vine weevil (the baby beetle form… I like to use technical terms…) often has a green sheen to it, something like verdigris on copper.  I just squish them when I see them, animal rights be damned.

Evil vine weevil grub

Evil vine weevil grub

But it’s the grub you really need to kill because you have lovely little plants growing then all the sudden they topple over, wilted to death.  When you go to have  a look, you pull at the plant and it just comes away from the soil because the little bastards have eaten all the roots.  The grubs are white, they are often curled up in the shape of a C — there’s that C again, C for Crap or worse…  Anyway, the little fecker is 7-10mm when it is fully engorged with your plant’s roots and always has a little brown ‘nose’ on the head end.  When I see them, I squish them or get my hens to come and eat them.  Just get rid of them.

Grub eaters

Grub eaters

So the weevil got to my beloved strawberries.  This is after waging war to protect them last year against snails, slugs, weather and magpies.  It makes those cheap punnets at Aldi look more enticing… except they have no taste.  There is nothing like homegrown strawberries.

Cleared strawberry tanks

Cleared strawberry tanks

My plan now is to pull up all of the plants (which I’ve already done as you can see above).  Today I am going to choose the plants worth saving.  Three years is about the lifespan of a strawberry plant if you’d like it to be really productive.  They start to go woody then and don’t produce as many strawberries.  So I’ll chuck out the old plants, choose new ones.  I’ll have to wash the roots to make sure all of the weevil grubs are out and then replant them into pots of compost while I de-grub the tanks.  How do you do that?  I’m planning on bribing my hens to hop up into the tanks and scratch around — they are easy to bribe, just a bit of bread crust will get them up.  Hell, I’ll even let the magpie participate.

There is no organic solution that I know of other than this.  No, I lie, there is the Steinernema nematode but I think that is more for the adult than the larva.  There are chemical drenches you can buy but they shouldn’t be used on edible crops (thiacloprid comes to mind but for all I know this could be banned by now).  I have this funny feeling that people used to drench the soil with watered down Jeyes fluid but I’d hate to be quoted on that (would anyone like strawberries & tar??).  So we’ll go for the hard work, pain in the ass method of eradication.  I’ll wait about a month and then replant the strawberries into the tank.

A be-grubbed tank

A be-grubbed tank

I have four varieties of strawberry growing in the tanks:  Elsanta, Honeoye, Symphony and Christine.  Symphony seems to be hit hardest by the weevil.  The plants seem smaller and weaker than the others.  It was also one of the heavier croppers.  The Elsanta plants are the most healthy and robust looking — and interestingly have the least amount of vine weevil grubs in the soil around them.  I don’t know if this is because the leaves of Elsanta are a bit tougher than the Symphony ones, or if Elsanta just got lucky and so has been able to keep strong growth overwinter.  Strawberry plants in Ireland (most winters, anyway) usually keep a bit of growth over the cold months.  One other possibility for Symphony getting hit harder is that the soil it is planted in seems be more peaty while Elsanta seems to have a bit more manure in it (it is a bit heavier).  I believe that vine weevils love potting compost.  More reason to add well rotted manure when possible.  I think it is interesting that the varieties seem to have been hit differently by the evil weevil.

The battle continues… Next time, not sure yet but I may be talking about The Great Perennial Division since that’s all I seem to be doing these days.