Saturday, 18 December 2010

A Warm Breakfast for Cold Chickens

Have you ever wondered what to feed your chickens for breakfast on these very cold days?  Well a warm meal may just help.

Over the last few weeks I've been visiting the girls as usual each morning but I've been taking somewhat of a different approach, taking on board the points from a recent guest post focussing on Winter chicken care.  Each morning I've visited with a large bottle of warm water, which is very slow to freeze, and a nice warm breakfast.

I'm sure the girls would be fine without this extra meal but I'm also convinced they really appreciate it and if the way they approach the meal is anything to go by then I'm almost certain they look forward to it each morning.

The recipe mainly consists of layers pellets and boiled water.  This ensures that your chickens still get the necessary balanced diet that promotes good growth and egg production but it can also be added to each day to provide variation.  I tend to use porridge oats or rice with fruit and vegetables.  At the moment banana is a particular favourite.  At this time of year I also tend to add a few mealworms to the mix for added protein.  This extra protein also supports chickens that are moulting or have recently moulted.

I'm still relatively new to chicken keeping but this seems to work a treat as I'm still getting two eggs a day and the girls are thriving.

This little menace also enjoys the walk to the chickens and right now she is loving the powdery white snow that blankets the plot, along with her Mum and our other dog. 

Do you use any other methods of keeping your chickens warm and fed?  Do you have any particular recipes or additional treats that you would recommend?

Friday, 17 December 2010

Ryan’s Review: Soil Mates

Now and again I get the chance to review books and products, or even give them away to readers as per my regular competitions illustrate.  I’m a true book lover and anyone who knows me well is aware of my penchant for buying more books than I can physically read, whether at a bookshop, charity shop or other.  When asked if I’d like to review a couple of gorgeous paper beauties I jumped at the chance and when they arrived, coupled with the recent snowfall, it felt as though Christmas had literally come early. 

The first book, in what may become a series of book reviews, is ‘Soil Mates : Companion Planting for Your Vegetable Garden’. This small handbook does exactly what it says on the tin, well, nearly.  On first impressions the book is beautifully presented with it’s textured burlap-esque cover, colour coded chapters and many colour illustrations. It’s therefore no surprise that its author, Sara Alway, is a professor in graphic design and she clearly has a great eye for visuals and detail.  The book contains twenty “soil mates” sections, a section containing one or two plants that compliment one another in various ways, and this is further complimented with a recipe that uses said plants.  Following on from this comes a plant profile that gives cultural information to help the gardener achieve best results.  This information is presented in a casual if not sometimes humorous manner that is formed around the authors’ simple play on words.

Plants, just like people, can have natural affinities with other plants akin to human relationships, this can lead to the production of mutually beneficial outcomes in the form of increased yield, protection from pests or reduction in disease.  The author has taken the practice of companion planting and humanised it somewhat to create a light-hearted book that is aimed at beginner gardeners, encouraging them to branch out in to growing their own produce.  The notion that plants may have “soil mates” just as humans may be seen to have “soul mates” seems a little incongruous as I’m not sure the concept translates in to horticulture, however, this is not intended to be anything other than an introduction to the world of companion planting.

When asked to review the book I was informed that despite being an American publication the content still applied as the plants and vegetables contained within were recognisable to the UK gardener.  They are indeed recognisable, however, I’m not entirely convinced that all of the planting partnerships are suited to growing outdoors in the UK with the cultural advice that is given.  For example, I would be hard pushed to successfully grow sweet potato on the plot let alone find myself combating Mexican bean beetles.

When I finally reached the ‘Garden Preparation, Planning and Care’ section, which actually contains a lot of good information, I found that the writing style had started to become a tad annoying.  The notion that growing annuals was likened to a “fling” and that the plants’ anticipated senescence was described as “heart breaking desertion” was simply enough to make me want to stop reading.  The implied assumption that readers would be upset at harvesting plants and having to replant the following year, or maybe not even be aware of a plants life cycle, is somewhat concerning.  Surely the most uneducated of gardeners has the ability to read a seed packet at least or have some vague idea that not all plants live beyond a single growing season?  The problems don’t end there.  As you progress through this section you most certainly get the sense that this book is written specifically for the American market and is now to be sold in the UK as an afterthought.  Advice is given and suggestions are made to further help you in your quest to grow veggies, however, contacting departments or agencies that are only available in America is not all that helpful.  I also found that far too many pests, diseases or beneficial creatures were somewhat specific to the American gardener and would simply be lost here in Great Britain.  I’m sure that with a little bit of effort and a small amount of editing this could easily be rectified.

On reflection, ‘Soil Mates’ provides a good introduction to companion planting, although it is quite specific to the American reader.  The book itself is beautifully presented and I could not fault the overall design.  When it comes to it’s content, the vast amount of good horticultural knowledge and advice contained within is second to none.  However, for the vast majority of the book it is overshadowed by a repetitive and often irritating dialogue.  

If you are looking for a small gift or easy to read meander in to companion planting then this book may be of interest to you. Despite it’s apparent shortcomings much of the advice offered is sure to benefit you and by complementing the read with a little more research you are sure to succeed in your quest to grow great veg.

Have you read this book?  I would be interested to read your take on it.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Wreath Making: Without Spending a Single Penny

If I told you that you could make a Christmas wreath for free and in twenty minutes would you believe me?  Believe it or not this is extremely easy to do and you can achieve excellent results without having to spend a single penny.

Last year I made a number of wreaths including a variegated holly number and a simple ivy wreath. These were both very simple affairs and I used a preformed metal base to add structure and shape to the designs.  Something I may not have done had I known better.

This year I have been inspired to make my own wreath base using nothing but garden prunings. Sarah at Modern Country Style made it look and sound so simple that I thought I would give it a go. 

Using what I could find in the garden I created my base from Cotoneaster, Jasmine and Passion Vine, three things that I always have an abundance of.  I then used the excess from my Christmas tree to form the main body of the wreath.  I always choose a tree with heavy growth at its base as I know I will find a use in the home for anything I need to remove.  Last year I made several door decorations, which were one of my favourites of 2009.  Extra decoration came in the form of Rosemary and Miscanthus from my garden, Holly berries and Ivy, which I scavenged from the allotment and Pine cones from last years dining table centrepiece.

And there you have it.  A rather rustic and personal wreath for the door that does not cost a penny!

In other news, the Ryan’s Garden Christmas Competition winner has been announced and you can check to see if you’ve won by clicking here.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Toby Buckland to Leave Gardeners' World

Why is it that just when you get used to something it has to go and change?

Like an old biro or a comfortable pair of shoes we know that one day, when you’ve passed the “breaking-in” stage, it will run out of ink or come apart at the seams respectively.  

Gardeners’ World has come in for some stick in recent years and it hasn't escaped my ramblings either (see here).  Directions and presenters came and went and after a few teething problems, notably the first series with Toby Buckland at the helm, it soon settled in to it’s rhythm again.  A mix of old and new (with a little less of the new) appeared to please the majority of viewers that tuned in and in my opinion it had just started to become a more worthwhile effort and interesting 30 minutes or so.  But alas the decision has been made that Toby will no longer captain the good ship GW. 

It is no secret that Toby is to be replaced by Monty Don who is to return to the show after suffering a stroke in 2008.  Monty has a huge following and I’m sure he will be warmly received back in to the bosom of the nation.  Still, I cannot help but feel that a backward step has been made here somewhere?  When looking to revamp a show or move away from an approach that has been seen as “dumbing down” what’s on offer you cant help but feel a new presenter with new ideas would be more appropriate?  

This move may say more about a need for figures than an improvement on what is to be offered to license fee payer who is genuinely interested in the world of horticulture.  I’m aware that television programmes need figures in order to justify their existence but surely the public deserve progress and innovation too.

There have been comments made to suggest that Toby Buckland is devastated by the announcement and rightly so.  Creating a garden, whether for a television show or for your home, is something that requires time and effort and I’m sure that despite the hired help behind the scenes, investment was made on Buckland’s part.

Toby, in a recent tweet wrote:

‘It was such an honour to present Gardeners' World and I'm sad to be leaving. Wish Monty and the team the best of luck. T’

It has also been announced that Alys Fowler will not be returning to the programme.  Although I'm confident that we will see much more of her in future.

If you have a particular view on this announcement or on anything contained in this piece, please leave your comment below.

Also, do not forget that there is still time to enter this years’ Christmas competition to win a choice of real or artificial Christmas trees!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Feathers, Frost and Fun

Image courtesy of
Keeping Chickens as pets and for eggs is an extremely rewarding hobby, what's more is that they make for a fantastic addition to the garden - eating pests, weeds and producing a fantastic amount of manure to give back to the soil.  Andy at has kindly offered up a few tips for keeping your hens happy and healthy through the tough winter months.  I met Andy via Twitter and he will be supplying me with two new pullets next Spring.  To say I'm excited is an understatement!  Enjoy the post!

Winter can be a challenging time for your poultry.  Not only is the weather predictably cold and wet, but the daylight hours are at their shortest, in all this means that your flock will have less time to forage for food and will be under a level of stress so it should come as no surprise to find that egg production drops and in many cases stops altogether. Here are a few tips to help keep your birds safe and healthy during cooler months:
  1. Ventilation: Your birds will spend significantly longer roosting due to the shorter day lengths but don't be tempted to seal the house from the elements. At this time of year ventilation is absolutely essential to avoid health problems. Ventilation allows fresh air to be drawn into the building by the warmer air leaving the building, a subtle but important difference to a draft which should be avoided.
  2. Pests: Red Mite is a pest of the summer months and whilst it may not be active during winter be sure to clean the coop thoroughly as it can survive over 6 months without feeding. More importantly, be sure to check your birds for Northern Fowl Mite. These pests appear during the colder months and unlike Red Mite, they live on the birds. They can prove fatal in a short period of time if not treated.
  3. Water: Birds will need to drink during their foraging time. Ensure that the drinkers are free from ice by emptying them during lock up the night before and refilling in the morning. This is far easier than wandering around with a kettle trying to defrost them. Alternatively use large dog bowls; these are usually designed to be difficult to flip over, though they are also easy to ‘knock out’ if they are frozen. Remember though they will need topping up more frequently.
  4. Frost protection: Breeds with large head gear such as Leghorns are susceptible to frost bite. A smear of Vaseline can work wonders against this. It will save discomfort to the bird.
  5. Evening treats: You don't need to change your current feeding regime, however, feeding a handful of split maize to your birds during the afternoon will help them generate some internal body warmth for a long cold night ahead. Remember, only feed it as a treat, the flock will still need the balance of its staple diet.
  6. Nutrition: Adding a vitamin supplement to either the birds food or water can give the flock a boost. Supplements such as poultry spice are cheap to buy and easy to administer, simply add some cod liver oil to your usual dry feed stuff and then add the spice. The cod liver oil helps the spice stick to the feed meaning the birds get the full benefit.
  7. Substrate: Don’t be tempted to add straw or hay to the litter in your poultry housing in an attempt to keep things warm and cosy. Both give the impression of being dry and clean when they are not and both sweat when soiled which promotes the growth of fungus which can lead to respiratory problems for the birds.
Did you find these tips useful or do you have any tips of your very own?  If so, please leave a comment below and don't forget to enter this years Christmas competition!
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