I’m keeping my fingers crossed

We have a few days away coming up so the Small Plot will be left in the hands of No3 daughter and although I’m not particularly fussy, I just know that things won’t be done exactly how I’d like. Okay, maybe I am a little fussy but then again I have invested a fair amount of time and effort getting the seeds to this stage so I’d rather not have any setbacks now.

The assortment of seeds and new plants have been careful arranged in the mini greenhouse or the reclaimed cold frame so I’m hopeful that they will make it through relatively unscathed. I suspect a text message cashing in some past favours may be needed if I hope to get them watered while we’re away though.

With luck the seeds that have been planted more recently (a 2nd batch of carrots, some lobelia & other flower seeds collected last year) will be perfectly happy. At least any water loss through evaporation will be less now that the weather is a little cooler.

We’ve tried to explain the limited complexity of the daily routines when keeping chickens but these have mostly been met with the comment “Yeah, yeah, whatever…”. There were some tricky episodes earlier this week when the chickens decided to go “exploring” when they were allowed into the fenced run we added. As a result it seems certain that the chickens will have to make do with their (roofed) run for the whole time we are away.  Better safe than sorry I guess.

Obviously I’m looking forward to the time off from work but I’m also looking forward to getting back as well. There will be the chitted potatoes to plant out, my onion sets have been delivered, the first batch of carrots and the leeks should be well advanced and the French marigolds for companion planting may also be ready.

Exciting times ahead!

The great wheelbarrow debacle

It all started innocently enough when the No 1 daughter loaned our wheelbarrow to a friend but it didn’t seem too big a deal as it was “only for a day or two”.

Just a barrow

When the wheelbarrow was finally returned to us it turned out that the wheel had a puncture. While this news was not very well received there was little that we could do about it now.

At the time this seemed a fairly simple problem to solve so I put the wheelbarrow to one side for many months while I considered the options. A fairly standard response to things in our house at least plus the upended, incapacitated wheelbarrow was a handy place to store our garden hose!

Let’s try an inner tube

Having spent many a happy childhood afternoon mending bicycles and fixing punctures in the garden I assumed that adding an inner tube to the otherwise undamaged (and tubeless) tyre would do the trick. After a quick search for wheelbarrows on the  B & Q website, it certainly looked a cost-effective option when compared to buying a complete new wheelbarrow.

This might have worked out nicely if it hadn’t been for the problems involved in getting the tyre back on the wheel after inserting the inner tube. Each time I got the wheel all back together there was a puncture in the inner tube. Probably as a result of my clumsy efforts but, needless to say, after the third time around I gave up with the inner tube and decided to order a complete replacement wheel.

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What turns a barrow into a WHEELbarrow?

Northern Tool and EquipmentHaving had no luck with a new wheel from B & Q (always out of stock on the website), the nice people at Northern Tool UK Ltd were more than happy to sell me a replacement wheel.

It arrived very promptly and was exactly as described on their website but given the lack of choice I ended up with a red wheel on a green wheelbarrow. Not the best colour combination but by this stage I was past caring and just wanted it working again!

Engineering by Botchit and Fudgit

Red wheel on a green wheelbarrowAs you might expect, this was not an exact match and required a certain amount of “re-engineering” with a hammer and spanner. Luckily I have extensive skills in that department so the job was soon successfully completed. And I didn’t lose any skin or blood in the process.

And so finally after all that effort we now have a working wheelbarrow again but as you might expect it is now propping up the house!

Updated chicken pictures

As a handy reference for the future, I have taken another set of pictures of the 3 chickens for comparison purposes. This is so that I can check their development over time and their progress towards eventually laying the first egg!

It would be nice to see some return on our investment of time and money but we keep on reminding ourselves that we aren’t doing this for the money.

Below are the pictures from last weekend and to my untrained eye there doesn’t seem to be much change from the original pictures I took when we first got the chickens.








A busy but enjoyable weekend

With the lovely weather that we had last weekend (along with most of the country) there was some good progress made in the “Small Plot”. Although this obviously meant a corresponding lack of progress with the blog updates!

Lawns are overrated

The new chickens are having a bigger impact as time goes on with the most visible change being that part of the lawn has been replaced by wood chip. This will hopefully improve the overall appearance of that area and reduce the workload when cleaning up after them.

Compost bin made from old turfAs a result we had lots of unwanted turf (although much of it was moss if I’m honest) so after a bit of creative thinking the result is a new compost bin at the back of the garden!

It almost certainly needs a few air holes poked in the sides to make sure of a decent air flow but we have nothing to put in there yet so no rush. Having said that, judging by the rate the chickens are filling up the current compost bin it won’t be long before this is pressed into action.

Seedling progress

French marigold seedlings The marigolds (for companion planting) are coming along very well at the moment and seem to have suffered no ill effects as a result of the lack of attention on my part. It’s not always easy juggling time away for business every so often but it looks like I got away with it this time at least!

imageThere has also been some promising signs from the leeks (and carrots) in the cardboard toilet roll tubes. Overall it looks like I’m getting about an 85%-90% germination rate which is very gratifying but I’m not sure I can actually take any credit for that.

As a comparison I have just planted some more carrot seeds in a standard seed tray to see how that goes and so that I have some more seedlings to plant out when harvesting the first batch.

I got some left over garlic for planting from my sister recently so that also went into the garden in a couple of key spots. I even had some left to plant in a tub to leave near the chickens as I read somewhere that growing garlic helps to mask the scent from predators. I don’t put much faith in that but it doesn’t hurt to try it.

Recycle and reuse

imageSeveral years ago I bought a metal-framed cold frame – originally to help when taking cuttings – but as seems quite common the glass was too thin and easily broken. As a result it was left in a corner and underutilized but after replacing some of the glass with perspex a couple of years ago I had better luck.
This weekend I had the brain wave to bring it back into service by using some clear plastic (actually the packaging for the cloches and netting I bought recently) in place of the remaining missing bits of glass. It looks a little ramshackle but looks like it will work so I immediately filled it up!
Hopefully I haven’t overdone it now but if I have I’m sure I can find a home for the spare plants…

Weekend plans

Assuming that everything is still fine with the seeds I’ve planted and they haven’t completely dried out by the time I get home on Friday then I have a big weekend ahead of me.

Chitting time might be over

With luck I can possibly plant out the first batch of potatoes if the chitting has progressed far enough. I’ve had a cloche over the veg bed where they will get planted for the last couple of weeks so I think they’ll be okay, especially  if I put the cloche back on them after I’ve finished planting.

There isn’t a lot of room for vegetables this year so I’m only planting two small-ish rows of potatoes with the first row at the back of the bed so it doesn’t block the light from the second row when that gets going.

When I harvest this first row of potatoes (in June/July with luck) I plan to have some runner beans ready to put in their place. It makes sense to get the most out of the three small veg plots I have for this year.

More seedlings to consider

It is unlikely that my leek and carrot seedlings have progressed far enough to consider planting out even with the aid of a cloche. However I’m always the optimist so I’ll take a look and maybe risk a few so they get a head start.

The marigolds for companion planting might be a bit further ahead so there’s always the option to plant out some of those if I can’t fight the urge and absolutely must plant something this weekend!

Internet + Credit Card = another project

After an unsupervised moment on the internet earlier this week I am expecting delivery soon of a second water butt to put behind my garage. The plan is to use this  new water butt for watering the veg beds via a mechanical timer and an irrigation/watering kit which is also in the delivery.

I’ll get all the bits over time but the first task is obviously to get the new water butt in place and make the necessary changes to the guttering to collect any rainwater.

Not forgetting the chickens!

Of course there is also the rest of the garden which needs looking at sometime, perhaps a bit of lawn maintenance is also in order and not forgetting the most important part, a bit of chicken bonding. It’s been a while so I hope they remember me!

A weekend off but can I really spare the time?

This weekend will be a non-garden zone and will be devoted to other more pressing tasks such as an Open University assignment which must be submitted by Monday. With luck (and some hard work)  it should not  interfere with a trip to Stamford Bridge for the FA Cup match on Sunday.

I know that I should be grateful and really should make the most of this “free” weekend away from the garden. However I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I’m missing an opportunity to get a head start before spring really kicks in.

As usual there are plenty of other jobs that I could get on with like the front garden which needs a good tidy up and some sensible pruning on the bigger shrubs. I know that some of these still wouldn’t get dealt with even if I had been around this weekend but it’s the thought that counts.

I’m also fairly sure that I could plant out the first batch of seed potatoes that have been chitting away happily for the last few weeks. I’m sure they will survive one more week of chitting before I get to plant them out.

There is a lovely looking tray of marigold seedlings which were coming on nicely too. These are French Marigolds that are intended for my initial attempts at companion planting because they kill nematodes and deter whiteflies. I’m not too clear what a nematode is just yet or why I would want to kill it but I plan to find out soon! I’ve also noted from the previous link that I shouldn’t plant marigolds next to bean plants (although they don’t say why).

I’m also hoping that the cheap plastic mini greenhouse I bought recently will help to reduce water loss and give decent protection for the seedlings. I have also implemented a “semi-automatic watering system” while I am not around but I’m not sure that she will remember!

Maybe this delay will actually be of some benefit by stopping me planting things out too soon! I have to keep reminding myself that snow at Easter is not uncommon and being in the North East means that spring is slower to arrive than other parts of the country.


The chickens have landed

With the use of some simple screws and a handy flat pack kit from Chicken Coops Direct, we are now the owners of a nice little chicken coop and run. The only additional work needed was a coat of wood stain/preserver because we didn’t like the colour of the coop as supplied.

Total assembly time was probably 30-40 minutes but that was followed by a few hours of slapping on the preserver, waiting for it to dry and then slapping on a second coat. It was delivered on Friday afternoon but was completed and in position by the end of Saturday ready for the new arrivals. After all that effort I think it looks very nice but then I’m a little biased.

Obviously all that effort would have been wasted without getting the residents in there so here is a run down on the new arrivals…

imageFirst up we have Amy which is an Amber (or should that be Amber Star?) that is apparently taking the lead role for the group.

She is certainly the bravest of the 3 and the happiest around us although still not entirely sure of things. We hadn’t originally planned to get a white bird but it does make for a nice contrast between the 3 of them.

imageAdele, a Bovan Goldline which according to the power of the internet is apparently a cross between a Rhode Island Red Cock / Light Sussex Hen.

This one is also fairly confident and started taking food from our hands within a day or two but is still not happy with us getting too close. If I’m honest the main reason for getting one of these was that I loved the alternate name that some people use – Ginger Nut Ranger

imageAnd finally, there is Aretha, a Rhode Rock which appears to be a cross between a Rhode Island Red and a Barred Plymouth Rock.

This one is the most skittish of the 3 and so far has kept away from the big scary humans. Beautiful plumage…

Weekend plans, Part 2

After some very careful thinking,  much research on the web and some quick email questions to my sister who has much greater experience in such matters we have now decided to stop messing about and just get some chickens to try that out.

First things first, we had to order the chicken house and run which eventually led to Chicken Coops Direct – an online-only company with a very impressive website and a good range of chicken buildings and runs for sale at what seem to be good prices. Perhaps the price charged reflects the use of poor quality wood or poor workmanship but we’ll find that out this weekend.

I also realise that a flashy website is not always a good indicator of the level of service and product quality  provided but so far so good – especially after my own incompetence when checking the wrong account for email confirmation of the order and hassling them with an email!  All sorted out by a quick phone call from them so a plus for that already!

We expect delivery on Friday so I predict construction will take place on Friday afternoon after applying a decent coat of preservative to all the wood. We have a site earmarked already and a spare bag of wood chip to put down if we decide to clear away some of the grass.

Once the coop and run is in place there will be more details and photos…

New mini greenhouse

Mini greenhouse from the local pound shopSometimes you find a bargain and sometimes the bargain finds you. I quickly popped in to the local pound shop on Saturday to see if they had anything that might help if I decide to grow runner beans. (they didn’t really).

While in there I spotted this handy three shelf mini greenhouse with zip fronted plastic cover. It was only £10 so I thought I’d give it a try, especially as I know that there is only limited window sill space in my garage.

At that price you probably can’t go wrong and it’s much sturdier than I expected for the money. Even the plastic and zip front looks like it will last a least 2 or 3 years…

I think I can probably live with the prospect that they are on sale elsewhere at a lower price but I doubt that is possible!

Earlier I happened to stumble across what seems to be almost exactly the same product at the Thompson & Morgan website. I was very happy to note that it was priced a little higher than the £10 I paid for mine. Having said that I wouldn’t be surprised to find that this Mini Greenhouse from Thompson & Morgan was a better quality product which would explain the higher price.

UPDATE: The range at Thompson & Morgan seems to have changed since this was first posted so I’ve updated the links above as necessary.