Today’s Treasures – Butterflies, Bees and Blackcurrants
Life can be a challenge sometimes and, although places are opening their doors again, people are still scared to go out – and anyone who had social issues before – has much more to deal with now. But people have found solace in nature – growing vegetables and enjoying walks and found life’s little treasures all around them in flowers and trees and butterflies and bees.
I walk around the field every morning and there is always something new to see. When it’s been wet, toadstools spring up unexpectedly overnight and when it’s sunny butterflies dance along the hedgerows. The buddleia flowers are opening and butterflies of all colours love its purple blooms.
I bought a packet of mixed seeds ‘flowers for butterflies’ and planted them in an old wheelbarrow, they’ve been really pretty – corn cockle, cornflower, field poppy, vipers bugloss, forget-me-not, corn marigold.
I always leave some ragwort at the edge of the field for the Cinnabar Moth and in July I check every day for the appearance of their striking orange and black caterpillars.
The blackcurrants are ripe and the kitchen is fragranced with the rich aroma of blackcurrant jelly and the anticipation of that first delicious mouthful on toast the next morning.
The chicks that hatched in an incubator during lockdown have grown. Dillon III – who was the only one to hatch successfully in the first batch – is the boss and leads them on forays around the garden. They are quite mischievous and keep finding ways to get out – under or over the fence, trying my patience somewhat!
The herb garden is at its best – and the bees love all the blues and purples – sage, hyssop, thyme, rosemary, chives, borage and marjoram.
Life is not about the destination – but the journey – every day is a gift – fill it with moments to treasure.
Published in the August edition of the Whitchurch Gossip
During lockdown – as we couldn’t go anywhere – I thought we might try hatching some eggs in the incubator. They need to be turned three times a day so it’s impossible to manage under normal circumstances. After 3 weeks of patiently turning the eggs (had to set an alarm on my phone!) and topping up the water every day, 3 eggs pipped.
The first chick died in it’s shell, the second chick climbed out all on its own, the third chick (bearing in mind I didn’t help the first one and it died) I helped out, it survived for a while but it’s legs were very weak and eventually it too died. So, we had one ‘Cheepy Chick’ left. In the meantime, a fox took Dillon, my beautiful cockerel – in broad daylight – and a few days later – despite my being vigilant and outside most of the time – he took the 3 brown hens as well.
So, I decided to put the rest of the fertile eggs in the incubator. We eventually had 4/7 chicks hatch. It was quite traumatic waiting for them to pip (on the 23rd day – not the 21st day as anticipated) – and then being patient and letting them climb out of the shell themselves. I made sure the water pot was properly topped up this time so the humidity was better and probably helped with hatching success.
Dane managed to get a video of the first chick hatching – it took ages so he created a condensed version – but I can’t get WordPress to add it to this page yet – so here is an image from the video. The magic of life – how can an egg change into a chick?
In the meantime, back in the hen house, both the ducks went broody and sat on eggs. Duck eggs take 28 days to hatch (much easier to let the ducks keep them warm and turn them every day!). As Mr Fox was still around, I shut the ducks in most of the time, only letting them out when I was around. Jemima eventually hatched 5 tiny ducklings, three of which have survived. I have found ducks and hens are not terribly good mothers and don’t seem to be able to keep their babies together and out of harm’s way but it’s definitely easier than hand rearing so you just have to leave them to it and hope as many as possible survive.
I’ve read somewhere that ducklings are not waterproof when they are tiny so shouldn’t be allowed in water, but our ducklings immediately found the water bowl and were happily splashing about. I always put a stone in the bowl to make it shallower so they can get out.
While I was clearing up the hen house, I heard a frantic quacking and turned around to see all the ducklings in the pond – and of course they were too tiny to get out, so I had to rescue them. I’ve filled the pond right to the top now so they can get out. So much for not being waterproof!
One night last week we forgot to shut the hen house door and Mr. Fox returned and I found the ducklings without a mother the next morning. Happily, the others survived and Jake the Drake is now a very proud father taking parenting duties very seriously – it’s quite touching the way he’s now looking after the ducklings when he wasn’t terribly interested in them before.
There were 7 puppies in the trailer – all clamouring for attention. They were different colours as their mother was a blue merle border collie – both parents were working dogs. I instinctively chose the one that looked most like my old Duke. I picked him up in my arms and was speechless. It had been so long since I had held a dog in my arms, it was a wonderful feeling, a dog of my own again. And this time, he would be living with me all the time. A permanent companion, sharing my life outside – but such a lot to learn first!
I asked what food he had been having – standard dried dog food mixed with milk (dairy farm dogs nearly always get milk with their food). I took a small amount of the dried food home with me. And we also had the paperwork for his microchip. Since April 2016 every puppy has to be microchipped and registered by 8 weeks of age.
I got the towels ready for the journey home – nearly two hours – he slept most of the way – but was sick three times. We finally got home and I found a old collar for him (he wasn’t terribly happy about having it round his neck – but he soon got used to it).
I expected him to wake in the night so I slept on the settee downstairs, surrounded by newspaper. He slept in the old cat basket which was just the right size. Surprisingly, he slept through the night. I took him out for a wee first thing in the morning – then he got back into bed with me.
The next night we made a bed for him on the floor in our bedroom and he slept on that. But subsequent nights he kept waking up – and waking us up – so he now sleeps on our bed – between us – and with his head on the pillow if he can possibly manage it!
I fed him on the dry food mixed with a bit of tinned food but he was sick every time he ate. He usually ate it all again, and second time around it stayed down. I asked advice from our local animal food supplier and Belinda said to feed him dried food soaked in water in small amounts at regular intervals. This generally worked and it was only if he ate something different – or too much at once – that he was sick.
His name was pre-ordained – as he looked like my old Duke – he became Duke II – and learned his name quite quickly, along with sit and stay.
Our garden is fairly secure but, from previous experience, if a border collie wants to get out – he will get through anything – so we had to watch him all the while. He had been brought up with hens in a farmyard so didn’t chase them – but Dillon the cockerel wasn’t terribly happy with this new addition to his domain.
Duke sniffed inquisitively at the rabbits – Lunar, mother rabbit with babies in the hutch – got quite cross at puppy sniffing at her and turned her back on him. Offended, he barked at her – she was not impressed!
Duke was used to hens – ducks were a different matter – and Duke was fascinated with these strange things – he wanted to investigate further – but of course they ran away when he went near. So this is going to take a bit of time. The ducks learned to keep out of his way – but Jasmine duck has just hatched 3 tiny ducklings so we’ve had to provide a secure pen – and Duke will have to have some lessons in looking after the ducks – my old Duke used to round up my ducks at night and put them to bed.
So, to our first walk in the field. The grass is quite high in places and Duke couldn’t see where he was going, so he followed ‘doggedly’ in my footsteps – until we reached the badger set – where the grass is shorter – and he started sniffing around. Then we had a dig in the sand by the rabbit holes – and he got sand all over his nose.
He’s now learned to fetch a ball – he will bring it back if he gets a treat. He still curls up in the cat basket – but he’s really too big for it now and ends up half in and half out of it.
Potty training is not going terribly well – he hasn’t got the hang of going to the toilet on newspaper so we’ve given that up – instead we take him outside every time he wakes up and after he’s eaten – but he still doesn’t seem to know the difference between inside and outside – and if it’s raining he really doesn’t want to go out – for a farm dog he’s certainly over-fond of his home comforts.
He loves serrano ham treats – and melon rind – and he’ll play for ages with a broad ben pod. He’s nearly wrecked the conservatory – I’ve had to move everything off the worksurfaces as he’s managed to climb up – somehow.
He’s had all his injections and we’ve been patiently waiting for the day we could go a proper walk – which was Thursday – but it hasn’t stopped raining since then! Made a mental note to remember the poo bags! Wonder how he’ll get on with other dogs?
March in Barbara’s Back Yard – Spring is Just Around the Corner
Spring is just around the corner – the celandines are sunning their golden faces, Coltsfoot flowers are lifting their heads and opening their petals to the wintry sunshine and the frogs have finally woken up in the pond again.
The broad beans I planted in December have mostly survived but don’t seem to have grown at all – and the ones I planted in pots a few weeks ago are about the same size – I planted them out this week – quite firmly – with news of the impending strong winds.
In between the showers, I have planted the first lot of onion sets but they don’t seem to be growing at all yet – obviously need some warmth before they get started.
This year I bought Eckford sweet pea seeds (which I found in D T Brown’s catalogue) – and I’ve had much better success with growing these than other varieties. In previous years, although I’ve always put them in the propagator, less than half have sprouted. If you pinch out the tips of sweet peas it encourages them to be more bushy.
The Eckford Sweet Pea was first bred in Shropshire – but it is named after the horticulturist, Henry Eckford who was born in 1823 in Edinburgh. In 1870 he was in charge of a garden at Sandywell in Gloucester and his employer encouraged his interest in breeding plants. When they moved to Boreatton in Shropshire, Dr. Sankey encouraged him further and he started the development of the Sweet Pea which had changed little since it was first introduced from Sicily in 1699. In 1888 Henry Eckford moved to Wem and established Eckford’s Nursery which specialised in sweet peas and now sweet pea lovers from all over the country visit Wem in July each year for the Eckford Sweet Pea Festival, organised by the Eckford Sweet Pea Society – and Wem has become the ‘Home of the Sweet Pea’.
And Eckford sweet peas seem to be much easier to germinate than other varieties I have tried.
I’ve also sown some herbs in pots – coriander, basil and parsley – and they have all germinated and I have moved them to the polytunnel as there is more light there than in the conservatory. Tomato seeds are now just sprouting in the propagator.
Daisy has started laying again – as soon as she goes broody – and stays on the nest at night – I will move her to a separate pen – and hopefully we might get some Dorking chicks this year.
I’ve now sold most of the NZWhite x Californian rabbits. There is still one white buck – and an adorable Californian buck who is so soft and so friendly I shall be sad to part with him – he will make a lovely pet. Lunar’s first litter are now 10 weeks old – 3 survived – two does and a buck. She has just mated again. With this litter I will make sure they all just have rabbit pellets – no mix and no apples – and hopefully they will all survive – although I can’t be sure it was different food that caused the upset to their digestive system. Dandelion is doing really well at 4 years old but I might need to think about getting a new buck soon.
So lovely to see all the spring flowers – daffodils and tulips, primroses and grape hyacinths – and to hear the frogs burbling in the pond again.
I was standing at the kitchen sink this morning (as I very often do!) and a sparrowhawk landed on the little table in front of the kitchen window. Amazing, it was so close. Usually you struggle to identify birds of prey circling high in the sky above you but this was so easy to identify – it was so close. Even though I stood perfectly still, I must have blinked because he was off in a flash – but the picture in my mind remains.
Daisy laid her very first egg this morning. Dorking eggs are pale – not brown – and this is probably one of the reasons that Dorkings are now a rare breed. Although the nutritional content of white and brown eggs is exactly the same – the perception is different – and consequently supermarkets only seem to sell brown eggs now.
Once Dillon learned to crow, he quickly realised he could do other things too – much to Doris’s consternation (she had obviously forgotten about Dillon the First). The Spice Girls seemed to accept it as par for the course. I can never quite figure out whether hens like to be jumped on – the ducks however do seem to enjoy it. When we first had ducks (and geese) I was told we would need a pond if we wanted fertile eggs, so we spent ages digging out a pond deep enough for the geese to swim in. The ducks and geese did love the pond – but they managed equally well on dry land.
Before I started this blog, I used to let the hens out then rush off to start work. Now I am writing a blog, I sit and watch them for a while each morning and it’s amazing how much more you notice. Doris (the oldest hen)) always comes to stand by my feet, waiting for some sunflower seeds. The Spice Girls are quite adventurous now – and less timid that the other hens. I use black plastic sheets on the vegetable patch to supress weeds – slimy creatures love to hide under it – so every so often I spread it out for the hens and ducks – the spice Girls are always the first on there picking off slugs and snails.
Dillon (cockerel) and Desmond (drake) have had a few scraps but they seem to have come to a sort of truce and, provided they keep out of each other’s way, everything’s fine. I have learned that you do need at least 2 ducks with a drake, especially if you are keeping ducks and hens together – the previous drake insisted on mating with one of the hens and I had to separate them. (Several reasons I won’t go into here – their anatomy is different and therefore damaging to the hen.)
Autumn – season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – perfectly described by John Keats
So much brighter – and warmer – today – tidied up the hen house – and found where the Spice Girls are laying their eggs. They have settled in much faster than the last lot and have calmed down – they don’t skitter away from me in panic any more. Still have difficulty getting them in at night – it’s almost like they are saying to me: “Just one more bit of grass first…” I tell them that they really will be let out again in the morning and there will be plenty more grass to eat!
Dillon crowed for the first time this week – I felt a thrill of excitement when I heard him – its ages since we had an adult cockerel. He has quite a deep crow (the bantam cockerel we had made a really shrill noise – much to the annoyance of the boys who were sleeping in the room nearest him!) Clearing up the garden it was so lovely to hear him crowing. Happy hens lay happy eggs!
Lit the fire the last few nights – my new herby firelighters work really well – just need to show husband how to use them instead of those smelly petrol ones – you just put them on top of screwed up newspaper and you need some really dry kindling or a dry log on top. Works like a dream!
My two new ‘NZW’ does must have some Californian blood in them. Half Keri’s babies now have black noses and tails – and ear tips! They will probably be much hardier – and make better rabbits to breed for meat – but they are definitely not pure bred NZWhites! Wonder how Lily’s babies will turn out! They will all make lovely house rabbits – they are really friendly and the Californians with their black noses and tails are really cute. They are ready for new homes now – £15 each – if you are looking for a pet that doesn’t need a walk every day.
The new ex-bats are bigger than the last ones and less timid. They are settling in much quicker and seem less vulnerable, but they are not very adventurous yet – just eating their layers mash – and I think it will be a while before they have grown enough feathers back in order to perch.
The first night I put them all in the little pen (as instructed) but the next morning one of them had got out so I opened up the pen but put a board across the door to discourage them from venturing outside until they had got their bearings.
The next day, Ginger (obviously the ringleader) had circumvented my barricade and was exploring outside, she got quite stroppy when I tried to usher her back in.
Like before, my other hens are ignoring the newcomers – they don’t seem to recognise them as the same species.
I made firelighters – I pruned and cut down the herbs in the herb garden. Sage, thyme, bay, rosemary and lavender contain oils and burn well so I tie them in bundles with other herbs – tarragon, marjoram, lemon mint and hyssop to make firelighters. I hang them up in the barn to dry. They are much more environmentally friendly – and cheaper – than chemical firelighters – and work just as well. It was a beautiful day, the sun was really warm and it was lovely outside – except I kept being plagued with ladybirds landing on me – and occasionally biting too.
I picked the first pumpkins and made spicy pumpkin soup – with chilli powder, allspice, cayenne, – and fresh thyme.
Homegrown carrots, parsnips and potatoes generally suffer from some pests – like wireworm and carrot fly – so when preparing them, I don’t put the scrap bits on the compost heap – I put them in a bucket and give them to the hens to scratch through and devour all the bugs. Same with cabbages – I give the outer leaves – complete with slugs and caterpillars to the ducks and hens to pick through. The ducks love slugs and snails. Every other day I check the polytunnel for snails – collecting them in a bucket and then I tip them into the ducks’ water bowl.
Weeding is much more fun when you can feed the chickweed to the hens and the shepherd’s purse and dandelions to the rabbits. Much more satisfying.
I finally let the chicks and ducklings out of their shed to free range today.
Because I have lost so many hens, ducks and rabbits to foxes, polecats and goodness knows what else I have been extremely careful with these new ducklings and chicks. So they haven’t got 4 acres – they have 10 square yards with a hedge and a duckpond – and a big shed. So it’s not exactly free range!
The first thing the ducklings did was eat some grass, then they ran round and round quacking excitedly, they are so delighted to be outside. They haven’t found the pond yet – I moved their water bowl outside and they are dipping chunks of bread in it.
They keep out of the way of Doris (head honcho hen) but seem to get on fine with Grace (grey hen) and the chicks. They are very inquisitive, poking their beaks into everything, trying different plants – and spitting some of them out! They like plantains but not burdock or feverfew. When they find something distasteful they quickly dunk their beaks in the water bowl. It’s lovely to see them outside. They keep together – if one runs after something – the other quickly runs too.
Grace has wandered off for a dust bath under the hedge – she seems very relieved to be out in the fresh air with some grass to eat.
The chicks are exploring, occasionally cheeping to one another when they find something interesting – or get too far apart. They have most of their feathers but are still fluffy whereas the ducklings have all their feathers.
Doris has followed Grace and gone off for a dust bath and left the little ones in peace. They are finishing off the bread and scraps. When Doris comes back to the water bowl for a drink, the babies keep well out of her way.
They have most of their feathers now. Indian Runners are so funny, the way they stretch their necks up and look around.
Doris, the resident brown hen, doesn’t think much of them and pecks at them if they come too close. Grace (other hen) is quite indifferent to anything going on around her and wanders around in a dream most of the time. I don’t think she’s really noticed they have arrived. The other day she pecked at something really close to the Dorking chicks – and one of them pecked back – and made Grace jump – she looked so surprised it made me laugh.
I am hoping I have a drake and a duck – I think I shall call them Oliver and Isobel – I never name anything until they have settled in – then, when I’m out with them, the names will just come to me. I always make a bit of time each day to sit and watch – the poem (by W H Davies) “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare,” often comes to mind. No point having animals and birds if you don’t get time to enjoy them.
Early June – Indian Runner Ducklings and Dorking Chicks
I decided this year might be my last chance to breed some Indian Runner ducks and some Dorking hens. Earlier in the year I had put a ‘wanted’ advert on Preloved for Dorking hens to go with Dillon, my Dorking cockerel. I had received a reply from someone in Yorkshire saying they had hatched some Dorking eggs and I replied that I would be interested when the chicks were a bit older.
By the time I got around to replying, the fox had got Dillon (I was really upset as he was a wonderful, placid, gentle, friendly cockerel.) It was during the day and I was around outside most of the day – I just couldn’t find him at bedtime – searched everywhere and all I found was one tail feather.
Anyway we went to Yorkshire to get three Dorking chicks. When we arrived, in the pen next to the chicks were some Indian Runner ducklings – so we came back with two ducks as well.
I am so scared of losing them that they have been in a pen in the hen house at night and painstakingly moved to a pen outside each day.
One of the chicks died – not sure what happened but one morning he just sat all hunched up and within a few hours he had gone. The other two are thriving, not sure yet of course if they are boys are girls!
Now the ducklings are bigger I have let them have free run of the hen house but they are not going outdoors until I am sure they know where home is and I’ve checked that there are no gaps they can get through! The first day, they stood poking their heads out of the door and looking all around. Can’t wait until they go outside and find the pond! They love the water bowl and try swimming in it but they are much too big to even get their heads under the water now.