Last weekend, James and I finally planted the potatoes that have been chitting away on various windowsills around the house since the beginning of February. At the start of the vegetable-growing year, I often forget that any beds need protecting with a fence to prevent our dogs digging up the tubers and eating them (this is not only disappointing but has resulted in eye-watering vet bills in the past), and chickens scattering the soil to all four corners of the plot in pursuit of earthworms. This time, we didn’t hold back and lashed a strong stock wire type around the spuds. That will keep anything out… Or so we thought. The next day James spotted what appeared to be sure signs of an animal invader – there were prints in the soil that appeared to belong to a muntjac’s hooves. Somehow it had managed to jump In and out of the bed without disturbing the wire. Clever! We’ve now placed some chicken wire over the top – the garden will soon resemble the grounds of a high-security prison at this rate. And that’s before anything else goes into the ground.
Now being on maternity leave from Country Living, I hope to spend some proper time in the garden this summer. Instead of the slightly half-baked efforts we’ve ended up with in the past, we’re aiming to finally produce the abundance of vegetables and herbs that we dreamed of when we bought The Smallholdings around eight years ago! And spend plenty of time sitting back and watching those lovely chickens, of course.
It was only a matter of time until our white Araucana Audrey made her way into the kitchen. She and Margot have been on a mission to reach the utility room, weaving in between the dogs as they madly run in and out of the back porch, for some time. Their feathers don’t seem remotely ruffled by their canine companions’ activities – they’ve no idea that these animals, who tower over their minuscule forms, could bowl them over at any given moment. Perhaps it’s their steely determination that conquers any fears they may have deep down. Audrey certainly proved her mettle on Wednesday when she took advantage of the fact that James was upstairs in DIY mode and had left the utility room door wide open. Thankfully, the opportunist didn’t make it as far as the sitting room where any droppings she might have left would have proved a distinctly hard-to-remove mess in its rustic woven rug and the charm of finding a hen indoors could perhaps have quickly diminished.
It’s little events like this lovely old girl’s appearance in our house that make me realise how much I’d miss keeping a few chickens in our garden. The lack of their cheek – as well as excellent eggs and beautiful appearance – would leave a gaping hole at the Smallholdings that’s for sure. Long live the spirited chicken!
NB Apologies to those who received semi-written version of this post earlier – the usually highly prized WordPress app on my phone makes it all too easy to publish by accidentally pressing an icon once! James is making great progress on the nursery, which is almost ready for painting (it’s our spare room, which was without a ceiling or plaster on the walls just a couple of weeks ago), but has also found time to do some chicken-shaped DIY. We began the Henmobile (pictured above) in earnest around Christmas time before rejigging our priorities and deciding that a room for our impending human arrival was more important than an upgrade in accommodation for our poultry. However, we’re keen to house our chickens in the free-wheeling coop so they’re not on the bare earth at the end of the garden, but instead living it up and free-ranging in a different part of the garden whenever we feel like wheeling their shepherd’s-hut-inspired hideaway around. James has incorporated some rather groovy ideas we’ve picked up over years spent examining coop designs in books and on other enthusiast’s smallholdings at every opportunity. The perches, for example, are suspended on chains.
This not only means that there are no red-mite-attracting wooden supports from the floor or attached to the sides, but you can also lift them up enabling the easy cleaning of droppings on the bottom of the coop. Nice. There’s the nesting box to install yet and we need to make a lean-to that can be attached to the side of the house so the flock have a place to shelter and we can keep their food dry but, due to all our home improvement energies being required for the nursery, the flock may not complete on their new dwelling till some time in the summer. Worth the wait, though, I reckon. Anyone have any tips for nifty nesting boxes in the meantime? Happy henkeeping all.
Audrey (above) and Margot spent most of the Easter weekend edging their way into our house. First, they loitered with the dogs on the porch, drinking from the canine water bowl and even attempting to nibble on some kibble at breakfast or teatime (controversial, to say the least) – their confidence knows no bounds. Then, they eased their way into the utility room and, on Sunday morning, were practically knocking at the kitchen door. Who knows where they’d end up if we welcomed them in… But we can hardly resist their sweet trusting natures. Our two Labradors and German Shepherd bound around them and it always amazes me that they’re not in the least perturbed by these goings-on – they just stand by or patiently sit it out and watch.
Perhaps this nonchalence is due to the fact they’ve other matters on their mind. The pair are being courted by Jeffrey the Araucana cockerel who’s set his sights on these fine ladies as his favourite companions. They regularly take a turn around the garden a trois and all parties concerned seem very happy with the new arrangement. It’s certainly given five-year-old Audrey a new lease of life. It was lovely to be reminded of the flock’s zest for gardening yesterday. As James prepared our potato bed yesterday, the brown hybrids and old Black Rock jumped straight in to feast on the worms (not so helpful) and other bugs that he turned over as he weeded and aerated the soil. Again, the sheer confidence of the chickens was staggering – they pecked and scratched right up to the tines of his fork as he rapidly dug away. Of course, our hens’ most endearing quality is their ability to lay eggs that are beautiful inside and out. There was a bumper crop over Easter which complemented home-grown bacon and sausages for a leisurely breakfast yesterday. And there’s nothing like a freshly laid egg with its rich orange yolk and perky white to start the day. Thank goodness for chickens!