Monday, 17 November 2014

Hanging Basket Design Challenge



A couple of weeks ago I was asked to take part in a design task, along with a few other garden bloggers, to create a Summer hanging basket that could potentially go in to production.  This sounded like a good bit of fun and also turned my mind once more to thinking about options for next year’s planting schemes.  Right now I’m concentrating on plants being useful, however this may look, and I’m loving creams and whites, which I’ll be incorporating wherever possible.

The initial brief was as follows:

  • Create a mixed Summer hanging basket using plants from Plant Me Now and other sources
  • Baskets will be 30cm Rattan baskets, so no side planting
  • Try to keep it to 6 or 7 plants

Well, that sounded fairly simple and it certainly gave me scope to play around a bit. Then I had the inevitable child in a sweet shop moment. There were so many plants to choose from in the bedding range!  I decided that settling on a theme should narrow things down a little and that’s how my design came to be.  


I knew I wanted to incorporate a useful element to my basket and I also wanted to design something for people who may have limited growing space or perhaps people who want to venture in to the world of ‘Grow Your Own’.  In addition, I felt a fruit or vegetable option would add interest and likely help to differentiate my design from others that may focus solely on ornamentals.  In this instance I thought that a choice of tomatoes or strawberries would be best as they are both easily maintained in baskets and generally favoured by most people.  After searching for suitable choices I decided to utilise a Strawberry called ‘Sarian’.  This plant has a trailing nature and is well suited to growing in a basket.  

After deciding on incorporating strawberries I then turned my mind to flowers that could add interest across the whole Summer.  I wanted a colour that worked with both the ripe and unripe fruit and also something that could help me build a theme.  In my mind Strawberries go well with two things: cake or cream.  I couldn’t find many references to cake and so I decided on a theme of ‘Strawberries and Cream’.  I chose Begonia ‘SuperCascade Vanilla Cream’ as this fitted the brief in both habit and name.   

Given that both these plants are trailing I thought that some vertical height may be necessary, although the simple and limited palette above should give plenty of interest.  Again focusing on the desire for the basket to be useful I chose to use Sage, in this case I opted for Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’.  I always have Sage close to the house as I use it in almost every dish I make and it will also prove useful in this situation given that it’s a Mediterranean herb and therefore will be useful in times when water is in short supply.  I also like the bright green/gold colours in this plant and I think it will help to set off the darker foliage of the Strawberries and Begonias.

And so we have it, my ‘Strawberries and Cream’ dual-purpose hanging basket.  Simple but useful, I hope.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Of morning walks and first years produce


Frosted Nettles last week in my garden
Each morning I dutifully traipse out to the garden, wellies on and bleary-eyed looking like an even more confused and concerning Milton Jones.  Trust me I don’t do this for fun at this time of year but to see to the animals and check all is well in my world.   My lazy fashions have moved with the seasons from shorts to pyjamas and more recently to jeans, which will invariably lead to me breaking out more weatherproof attire given that the first frosts have kindly silvered my half-awake morning follies.

The first growing season in my new home is over and despite only being here a matter of months I think it’s been a fairly productive venture.  I have produced a decent haul of vegetables, fruits and salads and my first folly in to meat production remains underway with more posts to come on that in good time.  Suffice to say that the productive garden is now in it’s final throws.  The greenhouse is ready for a deep clean and it’s only animal resident, Trevor the tortoise, is now set for his long and peaceful hibernation, although a safe place is yet to be found.

I like this time of year.  It’s the time of year to look ahead and formulate a plan.  I do love a plan! 

Next week I’ll take delivery of a new hen house, which will mean the laying flock will move and their old shed dismantled and burned.  This will make way for the new and improved vegetable garden, something I’ve been waiting to sink my teeth in to since I moved here.  This is the next large project on my list and will see the vegetable garden more than triple in size ensuring a large and varied harvest next year and the flexibility to grow new things that I’ve been unable to grow in previous gardens and on my allotment plots.  Pumpkins, permanent crops and the weird and wonderful are all on the list along with a large cut-flower garden and an orchard.  As discussed in previous posts I’ll be using a no-dig method to establish each bed with the addition of cardboard, compost, straw and manure to what is now largely lawn.  I’m open to trying a few methods here so suggestions are welcomed and I’ll be happy to report back on my findings. 

This years hatch of Speckled Sussex and Brahma chickens
Next week, the hens I hatched this year will move in with the laying flock to bolster numbers and make up for the eggs not forthcoming from some of the older ladies and the meat birds will move on to grow in a new pen for fattening up.  At present the majority of the laying flock are moulting heavily and are in need of some TLC, so along with promises of a new home they're also being treated with lashings of poultry spice and other goodies added to their food and they’re being wormed, which any decent chicken keeper will tell you is an essential task in preventing illness or loss of condition.  You can find more information here on worming your hens.   Earlier in the week the lovely Issy from Fennel & Fern also wrote a similar post, which you may wish to take a peek at here: Porridge for chickens.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

On rehoming ex-battery hens

The Ex-Batts and BHWT volunteers

Back in June I drove to Oswestry for a hen rehoming organised by the British Hen Welfare Trust.  

On arrival at the farm I was greeted by several volunteers, all of whom I immediately labelled as slightly mad since they all appeared to be cuddling chickens.  This stereotypical view of the dedicated chicken rescuer was soon replaced with the realisation that this was in fact a very slick operation. Each of the would be rehomers, myself included, had been given allocated time slots to come and collect the several thousand hens and these ladies were simply ready and poised to help the new owners load up their hens, answer any questions and of course pose for pictures.  When I said that this was going on the blog the coin flipped and they thought I was mad - touché!

Following my arrival the process seemed to move very quickly.  They asked me how many I wanted, they loaded up my crates, I gave a healthy donation and away I went with 10 scraggly beasties in the back of my car.  I was over the moon to have a new flock and I couldn’t have been more impressed by the volunteers and just how slick and well organised the operation was.
Yolko's progress

Once back home I could assess the new birds and they were a very sorry sight indeed.  Pale, patchy with some birds almost bare and clearly stressed – I popped them in to one of the outbuildings for a couple of weeks so that they could be quarantined, wormed and left to settle in.  Despite their bedraggled outward appearance the birds were in fact very healthy, heavy and alert.  One hen in particular was also rather vicious.  A very upright and cross beaked bird; she was determined to get me.  Each time I entered the shed she would attack.  Flying at me, pecking at every given opportunity and acting like a hormonal cockerel on steroids.  I guess this was her way of coping with the change and she immediately earned the name Cluck Norris.
   
Egg production started immediately - all over the floor of the temporary shed.  This made each visit to the shed quite enjoyable, a mini treasure hunt almost since they had no qualms about laying in the most unlikely of places.  They soon started to come around to their new way of life though and with the introduction of a make shift egg box -  a plastic compost bin with a wooden planter inside, they gradually started laying in one place making egg collection much easier.  After a couple of weeks I started to let them free range and they met my existing small flock with very little fuss.

I immediately noticed that these birds are incredibly inquisitive and one bird in particular (Yolko, pictured above) is almost loving.  Everyday she runs to greet me, she’ll walk around the garden with me constantly chattering away and she’ll even perch on my knee enjoying a little fuss and a cuddle.  This hen was in the worst condition out of the lot on arrival with few feathers at all. After three months she has now completely feathered up and is as bright as a button.
The latest arrivals and a few of the flock
Since my initial foray in to rescue chickens, I have since rescused another six hens (this time white birds who lay dark brown and blue eggs, pictured above) and this time I got to go direct to the farm and in to the barn where they were kept.  To say that this was an experience would be an understatement.  16,000 birds in a very confined space was an assault on the senses but I have to say that these birds were in fantastic condition when compared to my initial batch and kept very well in a cage free environment.  This farm rehomes every 70 weeks or so (the average optimum production life of the commercial hen) and I’ll definitely be going back to save more from the meat man in future.

If you are thinking of rehoming hens I'd urge you to do so as it's a thoroughly worthwhile experience.  More information can be found on the British Hen Welfare Trust homepage and once registered you will be telephoned by one of their volunteers who will help you with any questions you may have.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

A gradual progress

Greenhouse offerings

It’s been just over 3 months since I moved here and I don’t think I’ve stopped. Posting here has fallen by the wayside and it seems like just as I go to write, something else crops up, often when you least expect it.  A runaway sheep or a broken piece of machinery are the usual suspects; neither of which I have any experience of or am I well placed to deal with but I’m learning – slowly. 

Since I wrote last, I’ve collected my first few harvests of potatoes, salad, tomatoes, peppers, chillies and beans and I’m hoping this will continue for some time to come yet.   I didn’t think I’d have time to get anything growing this year but it’s gone quite well. The vegetable garden is still very small with the larger garden being created this autumn/winter.   I’ve decided to follow the no-dig method, firstly for establishing my beds, the same method I trialed on my allotment a couple of years back with success, and secondly throughout the rest of the growing period.  This should cut out the time and effort required to remove a lawn whilst ensuring the natural balance of the soil is kept intact. In other words – it’s easier, it's better for the soil and those within, and it has the same desired overall effect (if not better) as digging – makes sense to me! There’ll be plenty more on this in the months to come but I’d love to hear from anyone who has done this and what they found most beneficial.

The hedgerows that form the boundary around our fields have provided a feast of blackberries and plums, which I’ve made good use of.  We’ve had a few crumbles and cakes and although I’d like to get around to making jam I think this will have to wait until next year.  In the meantime I’ll just continue grazing on the berries as I tend to the animals.  I’ll be planting more edible hedges shortly too with the seedlings from around the fields and some other trees I’ll source and I’ll also try to improve on what we already have by laying some of the hedges and in filling in the gaps the sheep have exposed with young plants.

Brahma chick meets the laying flock
On the livestock front, the “flock” has expanded greatly and we now have a mini-farm situation going on - two horses, six sheep and quite a lot of chickens.  The latter are a mix of my old girls, two rescues worth of ex-battery hens, two pure-bred breeding trios (Cream Legbars and French Wheaten Marans) and a load of chicks hatched around 11 weeks ago (Speckled Sussex and Brahma).  They are great fun and extremely productive, which is great as this smallholder has many uses for their eggs, although the vast majority end up as cake.  

In addition to this I'm hoping to add a few more species to the farm. As I write, there are Turkey eggs in the incubator and when candled yesterday 5 were viable so fingers crossed for a good hatch.  These are not for Christmas I hasten to add – not this one anyway. No, Turkeys take 28 days to hatch, meaning we have another 21 days to go until we hear the tint pitter patter of scaly feet and not enough time to fatten a Turkey up in time for the big day.  They come from a heritage (wild) type bird largely used for egg production so we’ll just have to wait and see what hatches out.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

A dry garden


Front Garden: Before and After
Well, it’s hard work this smallholding lark but of course, I’d never have it any other way and to be honest it’s pretty damn good fun – except for the vast quantity of poo that I seem to be shovelling on a daily basis. 

Aside from shovelling muck and feeding animals I’ve had little time to garden.  The vegetable garden and greenhouse are starting to produce, with potatoes and salad crops dominating the harvest.  The lawn, well it’s still a lawn, a pretty big expanse of lawn really that’s just itching to be dug up.  I’m reluctant to start doing this right now as with ridiculously free draining soil I fear a warm snap could ruin any young plants I plant or turn any borders I dig in to sand pits.  I’ve not known soil this sandy before and this is probably going to be a huge learning curve for me as my previous gardens and allotment plots have been formed atop beautiful rich Welsh clay.  So very different from the dry but fertile English soil I find my hands in now.

After recently replanting the front garden, the only real gardening I’ve done so far, I soon realised just how much of an issue this sand-like soil is likely to be.  The border is only small and prior to my renovation it housed a couple of old roses, Hemerocallis, and remnants of alpine plants that were clinging on for dear life.  The border sits next to several large conifers on one side that edge the garden next door and exacerbate the dryness issue further.  This, coupled with the hot weather we’ve had in the past few months did not bode well for some of the plants I put in despite the generous addition of compost.  They are starting to perk up now though and by next year we should have a burgeoning bed of beautifulness (try saying that when you're drunk!).

My temporary vegetable garden
The soil will require a lot of nourishment and extra attention; just as well I have more animal dung than I could shake a stick at and a massive compost heap then! Feeding the soil will be a major focus for me going forward.  But where once yellow/cream gravel lay beneath tired geriatric plants, flowering in shades of pink, we now have a young garden.  A mix of herbs, perennials and the odd Rose for good measure flowering in shades of blue, white, orange and gold.  The plan for this part of the garden is for it to be useful and full of scent – something I will probably pull through the remainder of the garden out back once I begin.  Plants need to earn their keep and be fairly drought resistant so we’ll see how they get on but having survived one hot snap I think they should do well here.  Planted so far we have Rosa ‘Kew Gardens’, Jasminum officinale ‘Clotted Cream, Thme, Sage (ornamental and culinary), Rosemarie, Verbena bonariensis, Bronze Fennel, Rudbeckia fulgida, Achillea ‘Terracotta’, Geum Euphorbia amygdaloides, Stipa tenuissima and lots of self-seeding Alchemilla.  I’m looking forward to posting an update on this next year.

Aside from the garden, since I last posted there have been a number of new additions to the smallholding – the ex-battery hens, the chicks (15 in total and growing at a rate of knots), a trio of French Wheaten Marans and two new Cream Legbar Pullets (a birthday present to myself), Gareth the rescue pony and my small flock of Hebridean Sheep.  There’ll be more to come on those.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Why, hello there!


It has been seven months almost to the day, 209 days to be precise, since I last posted here.  In that time I’ve moved country, had one house move fall through and spent far too long in a temporary home with no garden.  Safe to say things never go smoothly; but as I write I can only think - it was all worth it.

Ever since I was a child my sole ambition was to own a field, my Sister’s was to be a duck so in that respect I wasn’t that odd in comparison, but the space and potential a field could offer me was overwhelmingly attractive.  My partner and I had a burning desire to follow our joint ambition and buy a smallholding and I guess we’ve finally realised this.

After our first house move fell through things have moved very quickly.  We found our new home online and after all the legalities had been sorted we moved in.  We’ve been in around five weeks now and things are starting to come together.  The plot consists of an old farmhouse, once a pub back in the 1800’s, and just over 4 acres, divided between garden and pasture.  The garden is around 0.4 acres as it stands and is pretty much all lawn, which is great for me as it offers a completely blank canvas.  Although at times this is quite daunting!  We also have a large Rose pergola, a small vegetable garden, a greenhouse and a few other plants (most of which flower pink – not my colour).  The plan is to extend the vegetable garden considerably, plant an orchard and develop the ornamental garden – in time.

As I write the housing for our horse has just been erected and tomorrow she arrives along with our first batch of ex-battery hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust.  I also have around 20 or so hatching eggs in the incubator, one of which is hatching prematurely on day 17/18 and the rest are likely to hatch over the coming days with Wednesday being day 21.  These chickens will be a mixture of laying and meat birds as we move more closely to becoming self-sufficient.  We’ve chosen Speckled Sussex this time around and I’m informed by chickeneer extraordinaire and Twitter friend Andy Cawthray of Chicken Street that they make good table birds.  I also have a few Brahma eggs due to hatch and these will stay with the laying girls of which there are currently six.  

Sadly not all of my old flock made the trip and Mc Gee, Roxy and Diana are now in chicken heaven after a fabulous vacation on a friend’s farm on Gower.   The wonderful Sophia La Hen and Edna made the trip safely and are busy bossing our young hybrid girls. We’ve also been treated to two quail, although sadly one passed away, and the latest addition, a Cream Legbar Cockerel courtesy of the lovely Sharon Hockenhull.

The next few weeks and months will see me fencing, cutting, mowing and digging until the place starts to look good.  This is a big project and is likely to take some time - wish me luck!  

It’s so good to be blogging again!

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