Friday, 22 November 2013

Keeping Chickens

I first started keeping chickens in 2003 as part of my self sufficiency plans for Easter Mosshat. In a bid to up the female side of the household (living with four males in the house and the dog being a boy too!) I bought 6 Silkie cross leghorn hens from a local chicken keeper in West Calder. I brought them home in a cardboard box, much to the amusement of  my boys. Installed in their huge enclosure with newly made ark they were soon at home. Typically one of the hens turned out to be a cockerel. Since the boys were fans of the film Chicken Run he soon became known as Rocky, with an entourage including Babs, Ginger and Chicken Tikka.
Our flock having their breakfast

In 2006 I added six Black Rocks to the mix. These are big tough birds who lay very reliably all year, providing big brown eggs to compliment the Silkies' wee white ones. This necessitated another chicken shed, which was converted from a cheap garden shed, bought from a well known DIY retailer! Chickens really don't need a fancy chicken house costing hundreds of pounds, as long as they are dry and have perches for roosting and boxes for laying, they will be happy. In 2009 I was given a Bluebell and a Speckledy as a birthday gift from friends. We then became a bit of a re homing centre for several friends' chickens who could no longer keep them and so another speckled, 4 pure Silkies and a hen pecked Black Rock joined the enclosure over the next two years. Over time the older birds died off, having lived very happy lives with us. Having a mixed flock provides lots of interest and colour and different eggs too.

Buffy our Buff Orpington cockerel
In 2013 as part of the getting the Easter Mosshat Garden project airborne again, we re-homed ten ex battery hens. They weren't in as bad a state as I thought they would be: a bit threadbare and not sure of the big bad world but they soon made themselves very at home and are doing really well! Mugging us as soon as we go into the chicken enclosure, making it tricky getting to the shed for the swarm of birds round our feet. If you are looking to re home some rescue chickens in central scotland get in touch with Wing and a Prayer Rescue, this is where we got ours.
Contact them by email: wingandaprayerrescue@hotmail.co.uk 
or on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/#!/WingAndAPrayerRescue
The Rescue Chickens when they arrived
Keeping chickens is easy and great fun, even if you have a wee garden. Keep them safe from foxes and give them fresh water, layers pellets and mixed corn and they will reward you with endless entertainment and fresh eggs. They love sunflower hearts and leftovers, especially pasta. As soon as ours see anyone out in their side of the garden they quickly start their shouting for treats.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Wrapping up the Garden for Winter

It's that time of year already, when we have to think about wrapping up, moving in and protecting the more tender, special and exotic plants that we insist on growing. Up here at Easter Mosshat, on our exposed windy hill I like to get this done in mid October at the latest. Its not unusual to get snow flurries early October but it's the nippy frosts that will do the most damage.

The big heated greenhouse bubble wrapped and packed with all my tender plants for winter 

My first job is to clear out both greenhouses and get the bubble wrap up. This does make a difference to heated and unheated houses so is worth the investment and time. I have been using the same bubble wrap on my two greenhouses for 19 years, so I think that's a sound investment! It gets carefully stored away in sacks in the potting shed over the summer. Once the bubble wrap is up, I then move my Pelargonium collection from the small cold greenhouse into the larger heated one for winter. Now that I have over forty this takes up a good bit of the large house! In between them are all the tender plants that have been outside for summer on the patios and decking and dotted around the garden. I take the wheelbarrow and walk around the gardens, loading up as I go with pots, ornaments and the tender plants that all need winter protection. Plants that will take the cold but still appreciate being undercover or are in pots that need to be out of the wet freezing conditions go in the smaller unheated greenhouse.

Although the garden doesn't look this tidy at this time of year,
you can see the Agapanthus covered with its bamboo cloche

Once the greenhouses are tided, bubble wrapped and filled with the tenders that have been cut back, cleaned up and watered its time to wrap the plants that can't be moved indoors. There are very few of these now in the gardens at Easter Mosshat since the very bad winters of 2009 and 2010. I lost so many plants outside and even in the greenhouses, it was heart breaking and expensive! I have been growing Agapanthus outdoors for many years. Given the exposure of the garden this should be tricky, but if wrapped over winter and as their roots are protected by the surrounding soil they do okay, even flowering if we get a longer summer. In fact as I write they are still blooming, despite last week's frost. To wrap herbaceous plants and bulbs such as Agapanthus I use horticultural fleece and bamboo cloches. Cut off the old stems and leaves, and pack the fleece over and around the crown of the plant. (You can also use straw or hay if you have it). Next place the cloche over the packing material and pin in place using canes.

The alpine troughs covered with their cloches, you can see how exposed they are in this part of the garden.

Last are the cloches that go over the alpine troughs on the patio. Because they have lots of special little alpines that might be damaged in the damp and frost I cover them for winter, keeping them not necessarily warm, but dry. I have made these cloches out of sheets or corrugated plastic. the length and width of the troughs, hinged at the apex with duct tape. They are then tied on with rope so they don't blow away (yes I have had to jump the fence and retrieve them from the neighbouring field!).

With everything ready hopefully the garden will survive our harsh upland winter and emerge in the spring as gorgeous as ever.





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