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Let’s Go Outside: The Morning Routine

14 Jan

IMG_3005As I step out the back door in the semi-darkness, taking in that first breath of a new day, I feel privileged, like I am part of a special world. Yes, even in the middle of winter. I walk out the back gate into the field, pausing as I check out the sunrise, then continue down the slope, over the stream, making sure I don’t slip, which I do – often, and un-hook the electric fence.

This morning the buzzard flew over and landed in the tree next to me. He (or she) likes to watch the chickens. During the day he flies from one spot to another in a triangle around the orchard. Keeping an eye on those pesky hens. Which are, incidentally, far too fat for him to pick up. (I hope.)

As I open the shed to take out the layers pellets for the chickens, some I put in their feeders and some I scatter on the floor, I see the robin, the wren and three blackbirds are all waiting for me to hurry up so they can steal their breakfast. But first, I need to let the chickens out of the two coops. I could hear them singing away, calling me, from the field gate, impatient to stretch their wings, to have a drink and to scratch around. As they hear me approach, their calls get more urgent. One of them is particularly impatient to get out of her coop so she can make a beeline for the other coop in order to lay her egg. I shake my head. That’s chickens for you.

I feed them, refresh their water – or de-ice it if it’s a frosty morning – and check inside their coops, in the laying box just in case there is an early egg. Most of the time all I find is poop, they are mucky birds, so I take that out (yes, ugh) and put in some fresh wood shavings. There is no chance of getting a clean egg when the ground is so muddy but mud is preferable to poop.

This morning they wouldn’t leave me alone. I knew what they wanted. When it is really cold, or really muddy, they can’t scratch at the ground for worms and other exciting treats. So I go into the shed again and take out a pile of straw, scattering it around a large area so they all get to have a scratch and explore. If they’re lucky they’ll find some wheat still left on the stalk. I scatter it in a large area because chickens can be mean to the lower ranking ones if they think they’re in their straw. I’ve already had to administer first aid earlier this week to a young white chicken, whose comb had been attacked by one of my oldest ones and was bleeding starkly into her white feathers. Honestly.

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And then, I’m done. I walk out the electric fence gate, connect the conducting bits, and switch the power on. Then I carry on around the field with the dog whose nose, incidentally, has been inside a rabbit hole the entire time I’ve been with the chickens. We listen to the woodpecker, laughing away, and the male pheasant, who sounds like a broken old fashioned car horn, and walk back indoors to make myself a coffee. Refreshed, invigorated and feeling incredibly fortunate to see the countryside waking up.

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My Month in Pictures: December 2014

31 Dec

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It has been a lovely December. Yes, very busy and exhausting, but I love all the christmas food preparation; the cooking, the baking, the decorating. The children and I made some gorgeous, smelling-of-christmas gingerbread shapes to go onto the christmas tree. Ok, they never made it as far as the tree but it was a fun afternoon.

The weather has changed from the almost mild December to a freeze-your-face-off temperature. Gorgeous and picturesque – it makes for lovely dog walks. The chickens, however, don’t enjoy it as much as myself and DogFace, so we’ve been giving them extra care to ensure their water isn’t frozen and they have shelter and protection from the cold with straw.

Despite the increase in baking I’ve still managed to read a few books. I loved Katie Fforde’s collection of short stories, A Christmas Feast. It was relaxing to dip into when I retired, exhausted, to bed at night. And Tammy Cohen’s Dying for Christmas was a real treat. I couldn’t read it every day for a while. I felt a bit stressed with the story (not helped by the pre-Christmas stress in real life!). But then, gradually, I was hooked in and as the plot developed and twisted I couldn’t put it down. Brilliant.

My Month in Pictures: November 2014

3 Dec

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There is much banging and crashing – drills, cutters, saws – all whirring and throbbing away in what is normally my sanctuary. Eight men are currently in my kitchen turning the room into an amazing space – and it is distracting me somewhat from my writing. As the novel writing is stilted, rather than updating you on my word count, I’m going to focus on the month of November.

During this month I went on my first writing retreat. It was marvellous and Julie’s top tip for post-it usage has been novel-changing.

I’ve been out on many an autumnal dog walk with DogFace. Loving the leaves and the changing landscape. The chickens have been wormed ready for winter and I’m now scattering straw about for them. They love to scratch about and when it’s wet they get fed up and their eggs also get muddy! The straw gives them something to scratch and peck at – if they find a bit of wheat they are ecstatic – and keeps them warm in their shelters when it rains.

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M Delafield was a recommendation I saw on twitter by Rachael Lucas and Sarra Manning. I wrote about it on Novelicious and treated myself to the book. I’m currently reading and throughly enjoying.

The Eat Me picture with Alice in Wonderland was from a local store specialising in vintage goods. I thought it would be perfect for my kitchen as it is cake and fiction thus food in fiction.

And finally, my new shelves for my recipe book collection in my kitchen. The kitchen project is ongoing but it started in November. Lets hope it’s now only a few more days till silence decsends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Go Outside: Spring’s occurring

1 Apr

Every day I’m walking around the garden to see what’s occurring. One minute a tree could have no signs of blossom, then the next, woomph, there it is. A tight little bud, with a beautiful hint of pink.

I’m excited about the pear and damson trees in particular. We bought them in the extended bareroot season last year – it was extended because of the cold weather – and therefore didn’t see any of their beauty. But this year, one of the pear trees, has beautiful pink buds. I think they’ll become white when open – it promises to be a glorious display for such a young tree. The apple tree, ‘Sunrise’, is also starting to show the promise of what is to come.

I’m very close to finishing the major projects I wanted to tackle during winter/early spring. Just some seeds to sow, an area to clear, some topsoil to order and shift, some more seeds to sow and possibly a few evergreen trees to move. Then things go into maintenance mode and I heave a massive sigh of relief.

The chickens are awaiting a spring clean. Both their houses and themselves. Some of them get very mucky over winter around the, um, bottom area, so I’ll give them a clean on a nice day, check them over for lice and leave them to preen in the warm sun. No doubt they’ll then have a dust bath and get mucky again, but it’ll be clean muck and not muck of their own making.

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Langley Bullace Damson

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Williams Bon Chretien Pear

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Magnolia Stellata Rosea

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Happy chickens enjoying the spring weather

 

 

Let’s Go Outside: Agatha the Chicken Laying an Egg

24 Jun

I’ve no idea why she isn’t in the nesting box. I think it must have taken her by surprise.

Let’s Go Outside: The Orchard: Before & After

15 May

P1240858It is one year at our new house. Well, it will be in ten days. Packing up our old life in our old house, I had no idea how much my life was going to change. Obviously we knew we were taking on a house with land, but I don’t think we were aware of what was involved. And what it would lead to. And how, nearly a year later, a new shed would be an Extremely Exciting Event.

The day after we moved in whilst we were unpacking boxes and finding breakfast cereal and worrying about having no cooker, my dad got the mower out and started to mow the lawns. And that was pretty much the theme for the rest of the summer. Being outside, mowing, chopping weeds, more mowing, more chopping of the weeds. It was hard work as we didn’t use weedkiller – it was all by hand or machine. But mostly by hand.

The area I now call Hen Orchard used to be the Pig Pen. The previous owners had pigs there and it was fenced off with pig wire with a sty inside. We didn’t know initially what to do with that area. We had enough on elsewhere so just allowed the weeds to grow.

The chickens were free-ranging at the time, but as autumn started to hint at winter my thoughts turned to how I could keep the chickens safe during the winter months, when predators would be prowling around. And that’s when we decided to fence off the area and turn it into a chicken run. I did not like the idea of electric fencing at all, but you know what? It’s the best thing we could have done. I thought we would have 6 foot high chicken wire fencing. But that was prohibitally expensive for the area we wanted to cover. Electric fencing it was – making the area far more flexible.

But first we had to do something about the weeds.

Then the chickens were put inside. And I had an idea to turn it into an orchard.

The first thing we did was to erect fencing to the left of the orchard. Whilst the trees in our neighbour’s garden were lovely we needed to make it secure for the chickens and we wanted more privacy.

Then the trees were planted. I have holm oak along the new fencing, plus hawthorn, silver birch and leylandi. At the back, behind the wooden coop I have laurels, holly, more silver birch and hazel. Inside the orchard we have fruit trees, plus rowan, wild cherry, sweet chestnut and a nut.  With help from my brother in law we erected a wind break. This has honeysuckle and a clematis starting to grow around it. I’ve also created natural looking perches for the chickens. Some, made of willow, are now starting to grow.

Since taking the large ‘after’ picture I’ve moved things around inside a little. The purple Eglu is in the far left corner making it look a lot neater. And the blossom on the fruit trees is coming out. The grass is starting to grow, the weeds will soon be defeated. And quite soon it is going to look gorgeous.

As projects go, this is quite a satisfying result-in-progress.