Project Update

March 27, 2015

‘So, how’s Project Random Perennial coming along?’ I hear you all cry*

Well, funny you should ask that:

random perennials

After a storming Phase One (not killing everything off over the winter) we have moved onto Phase Two – planting out. Or at least planting some of them out, because Phase One has gone so unexpectedly well, I have ten more of these little trays queued up in the greenhouse and hardening off.

The other half was a little disappointed that I haven’t taken the project to its logical conclusion and planted everything in a random order as well; I suppose I might as well have done because I still have very little idea what everything its, although some I can make a good guess.

plants in situ

I do realise that the chances are they will turn out to consist largely of plants I already have in the garden, plants that vanish without trace or suffer a lingering death, and plants that are effectively invasive weeds and all of them flowering, if they ever do flower, in madly clashing colours. But there’s always the slim chance that one or two of them will turn out to be something interesting I wouldn’t have thought of and after all the seeds were free and they’re replacing a bit of the flowerbed that was basically all creeping buttercup, so anything at all would be a bonus.

Of course, I hadn’t thought of the fourth possibility: that the minute my back was turned, the landlord’s hens would make a beeline for the newly planted bed, having been nowhere to be seen all winter. Freshly turned earth is almost as attractive to hens as it is to cats and they are even more destructive of young plants. Fortunately this marauder was seen off before she’d had a chance to dig everything up but clearly I’ll have to be vigilant.

marauding hen

And yes, as the picture shows, I’ve still got a long way to go on that flowerbed.

* OK, not really

Home Delivery

May 26, 2014

Since the demise of the cottage-that-sells-eggs at least as a place that sells eggs, we have been buying our eggs from the landlord when they have a surplus – they’re cheap enough and we know that not only are our food miles minimised, but that the hens are happy and free range, having now got the run of the grounds. Just how free range they were became apparent this afternoon:

hidden eggs

It’s a sign of how little gardening I do (well, you know, we’re very Chelsea here) that it’s taken me at least a week – based on the number of eggs and assuming it’s just one rogue hen – to discover this little treasure trove nestling in the flower bed right by our front door (‘she could at least have rapped on the door with her beak to let us know’ the other half said)

After a brief wrestle with my conscience I phoned up the landlord to admit that the mystery of the declining egg production was solved, although the prospect of a free freshly laid egg appearing on our doorstep every morning was rather tempting (food miles? Food yards? I’ll give you food inches…).

found eggs

Meanwhile we get to keep the seven that we found. I think I shall be cracking them open rather cautiously though.

After the Horse has Gone

August 24, 2013

So, we’re chicken sitting again this weekend as the landlord is off to Embra. Since the hens have been moved from the walled garden they have to be shut in at night (although they generally put themselves to bed) to keep them safe from foxes. So my duties involve shutting them up at night and letting them out in the morning, scattering some grain and trying to push the broody ones off their spot in the corner long enough to extract some eggs.

Last night we had a rare night out – I rode the Brompton into Bigtown, met the other half on his way back from work, and we had a nice meal and went to Bigtown’s lovely tiny cinema to see the World’s End, which is frankly deeply silly but also pretty funny. We strolled out of the cinema along the river front to Bigtown’s ancient bridge and admired the way it was reflected in the still water above the weir,* watched the boy racers tearing up and down the road across the river, briefly debated having a pint in the World’s End but decided against it, and drove home feeling like we’d had a proper Friday night, the first one we’d had in years.

It was only this morning – just before seven am – that I sat bolt upright in bed having remembered the hens. Having broken all land-speed records getting dressed, I hurried over certain I was going to find nothing but scattered feathers and possibly hen parts. Though we’ve never seen one (if you want to see foxes, move to London) we know there are foxes around because you can smell them. What chance that they would have left six nice plump defenceless hens unguarded like that? I’ve never been quite so relieved as when I found all six of them present and correct, and wondering where their breakfast was… phew.

*Bigtown looks rather splendid in the dark

Food Yards

June 6, 2013

chickens in the mist… 

The landlord’s hens are settling in well, it seems, as we’ve just been offered a regular supply of eggs – £1 a half-dozen which is a bit more expensive, but also possibly more practical, (and definitely more ethical) than the other half’s plan of luring one of the chickens into our yard and training her to lay eggs somewhere handy. By way of a bonus, it also means we’ve found a good home for our tower of egg boxes which have been waiting a suitable recycling opportunity for months.

This means that as soon as the vegetable garden decides to start producing something other than weeds and the odd handful of purple sprouting broccoli, we’ll be able to sit down to entire meals where the ingredients have been produced within yards of our door, at least as long as we’re prepared to subsist mainly on what I’ve dubbed ‘random veg frittata’, the last refuge of the desperate home-grower…

The Cat Came Back

May 25, 2013

We’re delighted to see our neighbour returned – albeit only for a few more weeks – along with his cat. We’ve missed them both, although I’m not sure the same can be said for the cat who greeted me with the sort of polite yet distant attention a minor royal might muster on being introduced to the back room kitchen staff. She spent her first night back out marauding, and then the morning miaowing piteously outside the neighbour’s door for he is not an early riser and she has apparently got used to the amenities of a cat flap at her new home. I was out binge gardening, to make the most of some miraculous sunshine (on a bank holiday weekend – are the weather gods ill?) and a temporary hiatus between cycle campaigns, and had rather forgotten the cat until I went into our bedroom and found I had rudely woken her royal highness up from her post marauding nap. I can see we’re going to have to rearrange ourselves back around her convenience.

And the cat’s not all. Walking up to the compost heap I found myself under observation from a nice little flock of Black Rock hens – the landlord’s new arrivals. They appear to have made themselves at home in the grounds between our cottage and the main house, which overlaps with the cat’s territory. It will be interesting to see which out of the hens and the cat will hold this new ground. If these new birds are anything like the old ones, my money isn’t on the cat…

Why did the Chickens Cross the Garden?

April 10, 2013

I’ve been looking forward to the return of hens to the garden after the old lot were ruthlessly done away with by the landlord last winter. Today, spotting signs of activity at the hen run I was hopeful that my slug disposal systems would be returning, but no: they are getting new hens but they aren’t going to live up in the walled garden any more, they are moving down to the big house (not IN the big house, obviously, that would be silly). Junior landlord, who lives mainly in London, was a little worried that they might be picked off by foxes but I reminded him that you never actually see foxes in daylight in the country – it’s only in London that you find them loitering around the Elephant and Castle at noon or wandering into a takeaway for a lunchtime kebab – although I should perhaps have warned him about the traffic, after the latest casualty.

Anyway, I’ll miss their company – especially their mad dash to be first to the fence when there were marinaded slugs on offer – but I can see the logic of having them closer to hand. And – although I was briefly tempted – I turned down the offer of the old hen run area to extend my vegetable empire. I know my limits. Well, sometimes.

Bad News on the Chicken Front

March 13, 2013

Hmm, I might have to revise my policy on the nationwide roll out of safety chickens to rural villages for traffic calming purposes. Cycling back with the paper the other day I spotted a mound of bright russet feathers and thought I had another pheasant for the Splatter Project but it turned out to be one of the hens from the Cottage that Used to Sell Eggs, still warm, but definitely dead. There’s nothing like standing outside someone’s door listening to them practising the cello inside, trying to gauge the best moment to knock and ruin their day, although at least it turns out that losing a hen to careless drivers isn’t quite as devastating as losing a cat.

As it happens, it wasn’t one of the safety chickens, for that cottage lies well outside the village and technically in a 60mph zone, though if you actually did more than 60mph on that road you’d kill more than chickens. That said, the last few times I’ve been through the village, it would appear we’re down to just the one hen – and the cottage on the corner has had a large lump taken out of it, apparently by lorry. It would appear we’re going to need something more substantial than just a few birds for perfect rural road safety.

And we’d better come up with something soon, because the first ickle lambs have started appearing in the fields and it’s usually only days after that they first start appearing on the roads…