Summer breezes and garden muses

The veggie patch and garden have begun to reward us for our hard work.  We are enjoying salad leaves, cucumbers, strawberries peas and potatoes.  My annual flower beds are also providing a daily source of cut flowers.  The polytunnel is proving invaluable, and I’m enjoying growing plants for the garden from seed.  I read that July was a good time to sow bi-annuals and set about sowing stocks, wallflowers and foxgloves in droves. The speed at which they germinate is amazing, some seedlings were up within a week. A mistake I may have made is to keep them in the polytunnel, as my stocks are now flowering! Thankfully the wallflowers and foxgloves are less eager.  Some of the foxgloves have already been planted in the borders up near the house.  The rest have moved outside to harden off and get used the Welsh weather.  

  
I’ve sown some of the white foxglove seeds collected from my garden.  It feels like a real achievement to be able to collect your own seeds and sow them when we’ve only been here 18 months.  These seedlings will go in the wood where their white flowers will brighten up the heavy shade of the woodland floor.  

My dahlias have also proved a success. Although they are very small compared to those that grew at Kelmarsh Hall, where I had the privilege to volunteer before I moved.  Their dahlias were spectacular and featured on a gardening programme the year before we moved.  Filming day was fun! We were allowed to pick the flowers just before they turned to encourage them to continue flowering.  I would come home with armfuls of giant exotic dahlia flowers! Anyway, I degress. Mine are not up to a BBC feature, but I’m very pleased with them considering I’ve never grown them before.  They can be seen in the centre of the picture above.  Hopefully they’ll survive the winter and grow even better next year. 

I’ve always grown sweetpeas, mostly for their scent, which I am addicted to.  Thankfully, these are doing really well and are surviving the quite open location thanks to good tying in.  Another success in the annual flower beds have been the Cerinthe Major, an annual I was unfamiliar with until I worked at Kelmarsh.  They are curious looking plants who don’t really have flowers as such, but are prized by florists (apparently).  They do look very lovely in a vase with the sweetpeas. I’ve also found that cutting them encourages them to send out more stems, which is always great. There’s also cosmos which are always a delight.

The strawberries have needed taming. These well travelled plants came with us when we moved and have thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of being planted in the ground.  They provided some delicious fruits and then set about sending out hundreds of runners. I spent several hours freeing them from the netting, cutting and repotting the rooted runners.

The layout of the veggie patch has changed serval times this summer, but I think I’ve finally settled on a plan.  I have dreamt of having beds laid out in a pretty pattern, the sort you’d find in a stately home – a centre bed with numerous beds around it etc.  rather than dig the beds out by hand, I decided to lay mypex on the ground and wait until spring when the grass will have long gone and I’ll be presented with a beautiful bare patch of earth (hopefully!).   I spent a very long hot day laying out a very ornate design with mypex, cutting the sheeting to the exact shape I wanted and then pegging them down with millions of tent pegs.  Then move the heavy roll of mypex (which is about six foot long) up the slope a bit to the next bed.  I was so pleased when I’d finished and vowed never to do it again! However!

Meanwhile, I proclaimed to Mr Bumbleandme that I was missing having a lawn. I’m a little odd and never thought I’d miss a bit of cut grass, but I did, I’m not ashamed to admit it! Being the lovely man he is, he went out and bought me a petrol lawnmower and set about mowing the grass next to the veggie patch and within the veggie patch.  It looked amazing! He requested I did mowing from now on and happily agreed once he’d shown me how to use the mower.  My first mowing session was interesting as I kept the brakes released whilst I was mowing downhill and struggled to keep up with it and keep it on the ground.  The veggie patch is on a slope you see (everything is on a slope here!). Mowing uphill was much easier and I experimented with only mowing uphill, but it wasn’t easy. Mowing the narrow paths I’d left between my ornate future beds was also a disaster.  Hopefully your getting the picture, it didn’t go well.  Undeterred I tried several different approaches, but finally realised I could make life easy for myself! So, there is no longer an ornate arrangement of black mypex laid out with dainty grass paths around. Now, I have covered a large area completely with mypex, so I no longer have to mow uphill, downhill, nor do I need to undertake skilled lawnmower manoeuvres in order to mow the grass! Instead I shall wait until spring, then dig out the ornate beds I’d originally planned and cover the paths with wood chip or ash from the fire.  

 

i have a lawn!
 
We’ve left an area of the top paddock wild.  This has been really pretty and we’ve enjoyed cow parsley, ragged robbin and the grasses have grown high.  The moths, butterflies and birds have really enjoyed this area.  We decided to mow a path through it so we can also enjoy the wild wilderness. 

 

the wild wilderness
 
The evergreen trees that can be seen in the picture above have also gone.  They weren’t native and took up a huge amount of space.  Of course we’re now left wondering what to do with the area now.  It’s not like we’re short of space! I think we’ll leave it to go wild (without the brambles) next year and maybe sow some wild flowers.  

Nearer the house, the main garden area has been doing well.  It’s been lovely to see several new plants emerging.  Several roses have shown their faces, and the honeysuckle has flowered on the verandera.  My battle with weeds continue in the flower beds, but I think slowly I’m triumphing. 

 

honeysuckle
 
Slowly but surely we are making progress.  It’s nice to see things developing and hopefully we’ll make this little patch of wales our very own haven. 

Feathered frolics

It’s more like autumn here in Wales at the moment.  I’m writing this post with the rain lashing down, the wind is bending the heavy leaf laden branches on the trees and the wood burner is well alight, keeping us nice and cosy indoors.

However, we’ve had some glorious weather this summer which has allowed us to enjoy some time with the poultry, and I thought an update on their antics was in order. 

Nemo the duckling has finally realised how to be a duck! Hoorah! She doesn’t always like being a duck mind you, and can often be seen following ‘mum’ (the chicken who raised her so well) around the enclosure, or sulking on her own.  Despite this, she is now fully integrated into the duck gang and joins in with the daily frolics and fancies.  She’s very tame and will take food from your hand which allows us to pick her up if we need to.  We found that by hand feeding all the poultry, it enabled us to be able to pick them all up quite easily.  Although this may seem obvious to a seasoned poultry keeper, it was a useful learning curve for us novices.  Nemo has also realised it’s quite good fun to go for a swim in the pond.  It’s really nice to see her integrate and interact with the ducks, we were very worried for a while that she would always be a loner, but thankfully this won’t be the case.  

Nemo being a duck – she’s the pale duck on the left

Although I mentioned the rain, generally this summer has been quite dry.  As a result the stream that runs along the side of the duck enclosure, used to fill the duck pond, has almost dried up.  Most days there has just been a small trickle of water coming out of the pipe and into the pond.  This has meant the pond has become a little stale and our efforts to clear it with a net haven’t really worked.  The ducks are still using it and hopefully the downpours we’ve endured this week will help to clear it, but we may need to invest in some waders in order to get stuck in and give it a good clear out.  

We’ve also experienced a most unexpected egg strike.  It started when Nemo moved into the duck house and we presumed it was the group addition causing a stir, but as it continued we realised they were also moulting.  The duck enclosure was filled with feathers.  Moulting apparently takes a lot of energy for a duck, which means they divert egg production energy into moulting energy.  A few weeks later, the chickens decided to join in, so from a total of ten female poultry, we would be lucky to get two or three eggs a week! Even the threat of becoming a Sunday roast didn’t bother them! Thankfully, the egg strike appears to be coming to an end! We’re now getting two duck and two chicken eggs a day, so we should be back into full egg production soon.  We have also noticed the chickens have been making their own nests around the place, so I’m sure there is an as yet undiscovered nest bursting with eggs. It’s quite good fun hunting around the veggie patch and paddock for potential best sites in search of eggs.

 

the chickens enjoying a forage
  


‘not tagatha’ enjoying a rest on the bench!
 
They are all real characters and the chickens particularly provide great entertainment.  If Mr Bumbleandme is working in the garage or I’m in the veggie patch, you can be sure there will be an audience watching your every move, just incase food is on offer. Traffic on our quiet lane have learnt to slow down in the afternoon, as there is likely to be a chicken wandering around.  We need a road sign – ‘Chickens foraging, please slow down’!  They’ve even tried to walk up the lane with us on our dog walk! 

The ducks are also good sports, and can often be heard splashing around in the pond. I love the way they follow each other around in a line quacking away. I wonder what they talk about? 

Feeding time at the zoo

feeding time with the ducks and chickens is always entertaining. 

It starts with the chickens racing us to where the feed is kept, then they follow us down to the enclosure through the veggie patch and patiently wait for us to open the gate, where they hop over the breeze blocks and into their enclosure.

   

Meanwhile, the ducks are going crazy, and we have to battle with them to open the gate! Once inside the chaos ensues! You have to tread very carefully so as not to tread on any claws. We make our way to the duck house and put a little bit of feed in their feeder. Then the ducks all hop up the steps and battle commences to get to the feeder.

Once they are away, the chickens get their food and so does Nemo (the duckling that thinks she’s a chicken!) she hasn’t got the hang of being a duck yet, so we feed her with the chickens then pick her up and put her in the duck house.  She’s very pretty and very friendly.  I just wish she realised she was a duck.

We tried to put her in the pond the other day, she quacked all the way to the other side, ran out and shook herself in disgust! Poor thing, she really does think she’s a chicken! 

 
The ducks looks very orderly In the picture below, but believe me they’re not! They’re very entertaining though. Since we’ve been hand feeding Nemo, we have also started hand feeding everyone else, which is great as we get to see them up close and personal.  If we’re lucky, they’ll even let us pick them once I a while. 

 

I forgot the bluebells!

I managed to forget to tell you about the bluebells! Oh my they’ve been amazing this year. We’ve slowly been clearing areas in the wood and have been rewarded with the most spectacular display of bluebells.  They’ve been coming up everywhere! 

There is an area behind the cottage where we had a couple of large trees taken down, as they were threatening the cottage.  Needless to say it’s let a lot of light into the wood, where it was previously heavily shaded by the trees. To keep costs down, the tree surgeons left the tree brash for us to clear up! This has been a monumental task. The little bluebells have been popping up through the fallen branches making clearing the branches almost impossible.  You see bluebell leaves are very slippy and when you consider the wood is on a very steep bank, the two make an interesting mix! Not for the faint hearted!

Anyway, I’ve digressed.  The bluebells! Wow.  Here are some pictures: 

bluebells and steep banks

 

another part of the wood adorned with blue

 

blue everywhere
blue blue everywhere

 

who knew blueblls were stripey?
  
bluebells after the rain
   

and a sea of wild garlic for good measure.

The garden in May

Although I’m still battling with ever threat of world domination from the dreaded weeds that have engulfed our little bit of Wales, I am amazed to say that some areas are being restored back to garden.  I always imagine there was once a beautiful cottage garden engulfing the cottage.  I have no proof of this, but hope one day to create a mass of colour around the cottage.

Here are some of the highlights from the garden in May.

 

geranium
  

This geranium has gone mad. I had it in a pot about three years ago in our old house and bought it with us. I planted it out last year and it’s positively loving the Welsh air.  

Aliums

I love alliums, and need many more. I planted these in the autumn and shall be planting lots more this autumn.

my favourite flower

Foxgloves have always been my favourite and this is another plant I bought with us.  The brighten up a dark corner.  I’m hoping to plant some in the wood one day.

a rannunculas

This little star also appears to adore it here, it’s been flowering it’s socks off for weeks now.  It’s currently the star of my white border.

astrantia
the sweet scent of an old rose

This beauty is an old rose. I forget which one, but it has a delicate perfume and lovely flowers.  Another plant from the old house settling in nicely.  I prefer the old rose as its scent is usually much stronger and there is something very romantic about them which I can’t resist.

a white foxglove
Hesperis
another foxglove.

You can never have too many foxgloves in my opinion.

thelactrum

I love these dainty little plants. This didn’t flower last year when I bought it, but it’s certainly making up for it this year. 

aquilegia

Another cottage garden favourite.  This is the only one I have at the moment, but I’ve got some seedlings growing in the polytunnel for next year.

 

peony

This handsome plant was here when we moved in. It dominates a little raised bed in front of the house.  Last year it grew to almost seven foot high, but didn’t flower.  I decided to cut it back in the autumn to see if it would encourage it a little. I’ve been rewarded with three beautiful flowers, the size of dinner plates! 

a peony with a view!

 

tulips

This sweet little thing is a tulip.  I wasn’t too keen on it when it first started flowering, but I’ve actually fallen in love. I’ve no idea what it’s called, but shall treasure it.

Elsewhere the polytunnel is buzzing with activity.  Cucumbers and tomatoes are in their final planters and doing well.  The dahlias are looking lovely and I’ll feel very chuffed if they actually flower.  I’ve also planted lots of biennials for the garden next year. These include rudbeckia, wallflowers, stocks, foxgloves.  I’m really looking forward to next year – hopefully I’ll have a garden full of colour! 

The veggie patch is doing well too.  I’ve been investigating easier ways to get vegetables and am trying out the no dig policy.  Last weekend I set about cutting up my mypex and staking it to the ground.  The plan is the grass and weeds underneath will die and mulch down by spring when I an simply lift the mypex and maybe do a little big of digging before planting my veg! How good will that be.  We’ll just have to wait and see. 

Fluffy feathers and muddy water

As usual, it’s been a busy few weeks here.

The poultry have thrown themselves into full on egg laying, much to our delight! All was well for a while, until!  Suddenly, the ducks seemed to have stopped laying.  No more were we greeted by four or five eggs in the duck house each morning.  What could be wrong, we thought.  Nothing had changed, they all looked well.  Then by chance one evening we spotted something at the bottom of the duck pond, in the murky muck at the bottom – an egg or two or three!

The ducks had taken to laying their eggs near or in the pond – silly things! However they’re getting there, we’ve been fishing out eggs from the pond daily!  There’s been loads of them! 

Meanwhile, in the chicken coop, one of the pale chickens (we were lead to believe they were silkie crosses, but we’re not sure) decided it was broody.  Try as we might she wouldn’t budge from the nest box.  The other girls took to laying their eggs on top of her as they all have the same favourite next box! She would nestle them safety under her belly and keep them warm. We dont have a cockerel so none are fertile. What a shame we thought, she’s obviously desperate to brood.  Then we thought about the duck eggs! 

Rather conveniently, the Indian runner eggs are blue, whereas the khaki Campbell’s are white.  We have two khaki Campbell drakes. That means the Indian runners had a chance of being fertile. Right we thought, let’s put one under the broody hen! The next day an Indian runner delivered us a beautiful blue egg, so we tucked it under Mrs Broody. 

Unbeknownst to me, a few days later, Mr Bumbleandme decided he would put one of the Indian runner eggs he’d fetched out from the pond under Mrs Broody too! I was under the impression he’d found it in the pen.  We knew they were different because the first egg had gone quite pale.  We asked a wise old neighbour how to tell if an egg is fertile without candles, as we didn’t understand how they worked.  He suggested gently shaking the egg by your ear.  If you can hear sloshing, then it’s off, throw it away. If you can’t hear very much at all it’s likely to be a good one.  

When we got home we tested the two eggs and sure enough the egg that had gone pale sounded very sloshy, so we threw it away.  The other one, which had now been under almost three weeks, didn’t make a sound, so we carefully popped it back under arms Broody and left her to it.  

One evening, a few days later, I was putting the ducks away and feeding everyone, and did the now usual check of the egg under Mrs Broody.  Tonight however, I noticed a hole and I’m sure I saw it move slightly! I ran back to the house shouting to Mr Bumbleandme. We had five minutes of slight panicked excitement and then we set about finding a suitable place for Mrs Broody and the pipping egg! 

We decided the cat basket was the perfect cosy hideaway for them and set about lining it with straw.  We donned our gloves (broody hens have quite a peck on them!) and carefully moved them from the nest box in the coop to their new temporary home in the spare room.  We eagerly watched, but not much happened and Mrs Broody was busy keeping the egg warm under her belly.  We reluctantly retreated to leave them in peace in the spare room! 

The next morning, still nothing, but I was sure I could hear a little squeak! I went to work with strict instructions to Mr Bumbleandme to keep checking the imminent arrival.  I phoned him at lunchtime for news – nothing! Just more of the chirping I’d heard that morning. As soon as it reached five o’clock I dashed home from work and was greeted by a very excited Mr Bumbleandme! We’ve had a duckling he said! 

Oh my word, what are we supposed to do with a duckling!! It’s was all fluffy by the time I saw it, chirping away, popping it’s head out from under Mrs Broody! 

 

the new duckling!

For the next day or so we left them to it, just giving them food and water.  Then one evening I noticed a horrid smell coming from the spare room! I had no idea how smelly chicken/duckling pooh can be! They’ll have to go! I proclaimed! We hunted around for an alternative temporary home for them and found the box that the originally ducklings arrived in. It was much bigger than the cat basket and we covered the top of the box with chicken wire so we could see them.  We settled them in the summerhouse – no way they were coming back indoors with us! 

 

settling into the new dez rez!
  
what a cutey!
  

They settled in really well and were fine for about a week! We realised this was no long term solution to the housing situation and we would have to find something more permanent for them.  It was also important to bring them closer to the rest of the gang.  Mr Bumbleandme heard about a poultry car boot sale nearby and went off looking for a permanent solution.  Never heard of a poultry car boot sale before, what a great idea! He returned smiling having found the perfect solution! 

 

yet another new dez rez!

Poor duckling wasn’t even two weeks old and it had moved house three times!  

getting bigger by the day

They’ve settled in really well and the ducks have been having a really good nose into the run each day.  We’ve no idea who mum and dad are, but we’re hoping they will let the duckling settling in with them when he’s old enough.

Obviously we’ve no idea what sex it is yet, but we’ve decided to call it ‘him’ in the hope it’ll actually be a girl!  We’ve also named him Nemo from the film. Well he did come from the pond after all!

   

very handsome
  

a ball of fluffiness
  

the gang!
 

 Nemo is almost three weeks old now and is just starting to get his proper feathers.  He churps away when we call his name and comes running out to see us, althoug he won’t let us pick him up and Mrs Broody is still very protective of him.  He snuggles under Mrs Broody at night and pops his head out when we say goodnight. His favouritst thing in the world is dunking his beak in water. He loves it when I pour water from the watering can through the run wire into the metal drinker and it spills over, he churps away excitedly and nuzzles is beak in the muddy water.  His water bowl is always filthy – a sign of a true duckling!

Isn’t nature amazing! The egg couldn’t have been in the water very long before Mr Bumbleandme took it out. And to think the first time we ever try to hatch an egg, it worked! This time last year we had no poultry, and now we have seven ducks, four chickens and duckling (who probably thinks it’s a chick!). It’s amazing what you can achieve so soon, isn’t it! 

An allotment is emerging

The veggie patch is progressing well.  I’ve been busy digging more beds and finishing off the polytunnel.  

The polytunnel needed some finishing touches.  I’d left a length of plastic around the door frames which today I wrapped around a length of wood and screwed the wood to the door frame.  I hope this will strengthen the structure further and also help keep the polythene in place if we ever have strong winds. Or should I say when!  We’ve had some very blustery winds recently, with up to about 40mph gusts, and so far it’s held up well. 

After planting the potatoes, it soon became clear that the chickens were going to reak havoc at every opportunity.  They have a taste for potatoes!  So, I’ve had to erect a make shift guard for them, which seems to be working (the chickens can’t get to them!), but there is no sign of potatoes emerging, yet, but I remain optimistic.

 

the potato cage in the foreground, the duck enclosure in the background
 
I’ve also planted out the peas after erecting a hazel wigwam with hazel branches as pea sticks.  It was good fun going around collecting the branches.  I’ll have to make it an autumn job to cut down hazel sticks and branches ready for spring.  They too have had a make shift fence erected around them! 

 

the peas

I’m planning to have a couple of beds as a cut flower patch. I’ve got some annuals emerging from seed in the polytunnel.  These include cosmos, calendula, sweet peas and Cerinthe. I’ve also got some ami majus waiting to emerge.  I treated myself to some lovely roses the other day and I thought it would be nice to put one in the flower bed with some lavender.  I’m also very excited that the Dahlias I treated myself to earlier in the year are emerging and looking strong.  They too will go in the flower patch.

 

a dahlia emerging
  
another dahlia
 

In the polytunnel, the courgettes are doing well and really need to go in a cold frame to harden off, ready for planting out. That’ll be a job for another weekend.  The tomatoes and salad leaves have germinated, and the cucumbers are growing well.

 

courgettes
  
salad leaves
  

chillies, tomatoes, cucumbers and cosmos!

I’ve had to chicken proof the polytunnel too as it seems the chickens like to have a rootal around in there.  I went in the other day and it was carnage! They’d trampled over some of the seedlings and upturned my compost bucket!  

So today I made a screen that I can put up when I need to leave the door open in the warm weather. I’ve put a hook on the inside of each door and hammered a stake into the ground inside the poly, so I can hook the door to it when I need to leave the doors open in the hot weather and not worry about the doors banging if there’s a wind.  The screen is just a simple square frame covered in netting, but it’ll do the job nicely.  I’ve screwed two screws on the door frame and the frame just sits on the screws blocking the way for chickens (hopefully!).

 

the chicken guard
 
 I’ve also bought some new tools to help me along the way.  When I was digging the potato bed it soon became clear me and spades don’t get along.  I would wield the spade into the ground and jump up and down on it with all my might – the spade would go into the ground about an inch!  Needless to say it took forever and all my energy to dig one trench.  There must be an easier way to do this I thought.  So I researched and decided a mattock was the tool for me!  What I’ve purchased isn’t technically a mattock, it was advertised as a hoe, but it is essentially a mattock.

 

It has made my life so much easier! You wield it like an axe and it makes hard ground feel like butter.  I can now dig up a new bed in around an hour! It’s still mighty hard work, but oh so much easier!  

I’ve also purchased a hand held version for planting in the garden around the house which is full of rocks and tree roots.   I planted an alchamilla mollis on the steep slope today and it drove it’s way through the slate and roots with ease. 

  

I’ve only just recently come across these tools, but they have been used for centuries apparently. I can highly recommend them.

The veggie patch is slowly taking shape and I love my view from the polytunnel.

my view from the polytunnel

Have a good week all.