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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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Let’s Go Outside: Progress

9 Jun

It has been a couple of weeks now since the duck drama and time has given me a bit of perspective. I loved having the ducks around, seeing them outside my office window, rooting about in the grass, or sitting together as a quartet. They made the garden and the pond come alive. But do I miss them? Really? I don’t think I do. I don’t miss their loud quacks for food at stupid o’clock that’s for sure. This time last year I was going to bed at nine because they’d wake me up so early. Because they wouldn’t go into a house they were a lot of effort and worry for little reward.

But still, I’m sure one day I’ll eat my words when we get some more. But not now.

Instead I’m concentrating on the chickens – I bought three more as a direct result of the duck fox attack. At the weekend they were released into the main flock after two weeks being fenced off and everyone seems happy and settled.

What is wonderful after all the heartache is seeing the garden and the trees come into their own. The trees that can blossom have blossomed and now they are in their growth period. Many are no longer sticks but have bushed out, pushed upwards and I’m delighted with their progress.

There is one particular project – the cottage garden with the kitchen garden planned to go behind it  (in a couple of years) we are making headway on. We dug out a bed of heavy clay with a few manky plants in and filled it with good soil, compost and horse manure. I planted lavender in the two corners, along with a flowering currant in the far corner. In the last few weeks we’ve added a mock orange, perennial geraniums, various dianthus and in the centre four different coloured berberis (hope I’ve got the spellings right, it’s all new to me!) I also scattered some seeds for cut flowers – which I won’t do again as for a while you don’t know what is weed and what is seedling – but will hopefully give a fabulous display.

So, these are the before and after pictures. A lot of hard work went into creating this.

Before - soon after we moved in 2012

Before – soon after we moved in 2012

The horrible sub-soil underneath the heathers...ugh.

The horrible sub-soil underneath the heathers…ugh.

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The good stuff goes in and the play park has been relocated.

As it stands today. With new pyracantha hedging along the fence.

As it stands today. With new pyracantha hedging along the fence and new trees along the back.

 

 

Let’s Go Outside: End of an era

27 May

_DSC0234I’m writing this a tiny bit heartbroken. A tiny bit dejected. I didn’t mean to write two negative posts one after the other, I was going to write something completely different and positive. Until, that is, the fox came back early yesterday morning. And took away our gorgeous black runner duck. We now have one lavender runner left and it is horrible to see her so lonely. There aren’t even any moorhens to keep her company.

So I made a plea on social media. Can anyone take her? Someone with ducks already so she would have company. And fortunately a friend of a friend came to the rescue.

We still have to capture her, cue Benny Hill music, but once she’s in the box we’ll take her forty minutes down the road to her new home with ducks, chickens and pigs. Sounds perfect for her.

But for me, I can’t help but feel we’ve failed. We just couldn’t keep them safe. We tried to get them into the duck house but they refused. The allure of the large pond was too tempting and in the end it was their undoing.

Farewell little ducks. You gave us lots of pleasure. As well as frustration.

One day we’ll have ducks again, I’m sure. But not for a while.

Let’s Go Outside: Is it worth it?

2 May

_DSC0265For the first time ever I’m wondering whether its worth having all the animals we do, all the space we have to maintain, all the young trees we have to watch over. I know we’ve had a few deaths recently, which is always incredibly upsetting, but I’m left feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer scale of it all.

I know writing on a blog, or facebook, or twitter where you can pick and choose the best pictures and create a wonderful looking life – can be incredibly deceptive. It doesn’t show the days where you are struggling to get out of bed due to a lingering virus or explain the guilt you feel for being ill. The small worries that mount up because you can’t take the dog on a long walk, give the chickens their afternoon corn or go searching for the duck eggs.

We have built a dream life here. And I love it. Normally.

But this is one of those days I think we’ve bitten off more than we can chew and it wouldn’t be fair not to record those days, as well as the good ones.

To be fair, it was only yesterday when I was googling which chickens to buy next to give us a gorgeous chocolate coloured egg shell. So I am sure this feeling sorry for myself is just a temporary blip.

Let’s Go Outside: Where are you Neville?

23 Apr

_DSC0231It is on days like today that I’m glad I write, that I keep this blog. Because, when something happens, good or bad, it is a way of expressing myself, to unleash emotions, to get those thoughts down on paper or screen, instead of keeping everything bottled up inside.

This morning began no different to any other. I got up, pulled on some outdoor clothes and welly socks, they staggered downstairs (I went on a long walk yesterday, legs were a bit stiff) in order to begin the feeding. Ducks first, then chickens, then four legged varieties before ending with the children and me.

I looked out the front door. No ducks were waiting or grazing on the lawn. I take some food out anyway and a duck starts quacking from the pond. It is 6.15am so I go to distract it, to quiet it down with food. And see the three girls – but no Neville.

Now Neville, despite being a bit of a rubbish bodyguard, he lost his original wives last year, likes to be The Man. He stands proud when the girls feast and lets them eat before himself. When they sleep, he’s on alert, turning his head this way and that. He is never far from their side. Always with all three, or escorting one back to the pond. He likes to herd them.

So the fact he wasn’t with them this morning was a worry. My immediate thought was fox attack. Yet I hadn’t heard anything in the night, none of us had. The females are usually very loud when distressed. And yesterday he was behaving very odd. Walking away from the girls and being on his own. I’ve never seen him do that before. And I’ve spent a lot of time watching them.

I’ve searched the bushes and been all around the pond looking for him. I am hopeful of finding him but also dreading it, because if I do find him, he’ll be dead.

I really hope that Neville went somewhere to die. No drama, no fuss. We don’t know exactly how old he is but he must be around five years. We inherited him with the house two years ago.

Yes, I’m hopeful he went peacefully. But I have a feeling it was a fox. Which means it’ll be back.

Tonight we shall have to take extra precautions.

 

 

 

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: The first blossom in the orchard

19 Mar

It was 17 February 2013 when first wrote about the fruit trees and our joy at having planted them. Five apple and two plum. Because of that cold, bitter winter and early spring (I can still feel it now well over a year later and despite this year’s mild one, brr) nothing blossomed until May. Well, what little blossom we had – after all they were  young trees.

This year the blossom has come a lot earlier. The first in the orchard opened this morning. The plum tree called Rivers Early Prolific. And what a lot of blossom it has. Last year it had two or three lone flowers. This year, not only has the tree obviously grown, but looks covered in blossom.

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The Rivers Early Prolific Plum tree when planted February 2013

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Rivers Early Prolific Plum this year March 2014

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The beautiful blossom

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Blossom and happy chickens

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Lots more blossom still to come.