Classical conditioning with chickens?

It has been a regular event over this past weekend (before the rain came) for me to spot a chicken that has “jumped” the fence and got loose in the garden. That isn’t a major crisis of course but as a relatively inexperienced chicken keeper I think it’s important that I show them who’s the boss.

When I see an escapee making a dash for it I set off down the garden whistling The Great Escape theme in a  jaunty fashion and prepare to chase down the miscreant before she can get near my seedlings.

The thought has crossed my mind that the chickens could become conditioned to this famously catchy tune and they might somehow link that with getting out of their run. Obviously I don’t profess to have a background in Classical Conditioning (as with Pavlov’s dog experiments) but perhaps in future if I whistle the tune before they escape they may feel an inexplicable psychological response and try to get out?

Chickens – stupid or crazy?

I can’t quite decide whether our chickens are stupid or crazy but they’re definitely just a little bit bonkers. This makes for some entertaining times for us as relatively new chicken keepers but we’re still not completely sure what constitutes normal chicken behaviour sometimes.

The most likely explanation is obviously that this behaviour is not something unique to our chickens but as with most domestic pets (or even children perhaps?), it’s nice to think that yours have that something special, that distinctive feature or talent which makes them stand out from the crowd.

The mad rush out of the door in the morning is always good to raise a smile at 7am but I’m not sure whether I’d be rushing out just to peck wildly at some chicken feed or to scratch about in the grass. Of course, I could be underestimating the taste of chicken feed but I’m not curious enough yet to find that out for myself.

On the other hand, our chickens are obviously not completely stupid because they seem to have realised that when one of us comes down the garden there is a faint chance of a treat. That may possibly be just a few hours out to roam around the garden or maybe just a hand full of meal worms but it seems to cheer them up immensely.

However, they must be a little crazy because this weekend we witnessed a brief struggle between two of them over what we thought was a bit of twig or leaves. Closer inspection showed that it was actually a small frog with skinny legs (hence the twig mistake!). After resolving the dispute over ownership of the frog, we were very surprised to see that the winning chicken promptly pecked the hapless frog a few times (to subdue it maybe?) then apparently swallowed it whole.

I was quite sorry to see the little frog go although perhaps not as sorry as he was! I’m sure he was doing his best to keep my cabbages free of pests but it was a timely reminder that it’s a jungle out there and only the fittest will survive. In future I’ll keep on the good side of my chickens…

A weekend of successes

Now that the dust has settled a little from the weekend exertions I can start to take stock of the progress made and the relative success of my efforts so far. I know it’s still early in the year and spring is squelching more than usual but I like to focus on the positive aspects where possible.


The most obvious positive is that the carrots I planted out about 2 weeks haven’t died yet and in fact are looking pretty strong. They have been under a cloche all this time so I suspect that extra cover has helped them survive the wet conditions lately. From now on though they are on their own as the cover has been put away.

The carrots have been joined by the first batch of leeks although time well show that these were planted out too soon I suspect. The planting was simple though as the leeks were sown in the toilet roll tubes and so I just had to drop the entire thing in the hole each time. Once they had been watered in that veg bed was looking pretty full for the moment – at least until the carrots get harvested in July.

The onion sets are already starting to show signs of life with most having strong green shoots. I somehow hadn’t registered how many onion sets were coming in my order so I’ve filled all the planned space for them and established some overflow into various pots around the garden as well. It seems a waste but the remaining onion sets will just go to waste I think as I can only do so much with the space allowed.


It was decided to give the chicken coop a good clean out with the disinfectant to keep on top of any possible problems. This decision seemed to be fully justified when I thought I saw some red mite but on reflection I realised that I wouldn’t know red mite if it bite me and it was just as likely to be my imagination. Either way the whole coop was dusted with mite powder as a precaution too.

In the meantime the chickens had their best day ever because they were given free run of the garden while the work went on. This went as well as could be expected apart from the regular hold ups while we herded them back to the furthest end of the garden in a vain attempt to keep some part of the garden in a presentable state.


The new water-butt is now installed and filling up nicely as a result of the rain on Saturday evening. The best I could get from our local B&Q was 200+ litres and maybe I paid a little over the odds at £30 but that should do fine for our purposes. I couldn’t see the point in forking out for a plastic stand at £12 as well so I just bought half a dozen breeze blocks and saved some cash as a result. Small and petty victories are the best!

Other stuff

Many of the non-vegetable gardening jobs didn’t get a look in again but at least I managed to get around to moving a small conifer which had got much bigger since we planted it. As a result the garden view has opened up a bit and an unsightly part of the garden has inherited an impressively looking shrub. Fingers crossed that it likes the new position and settles in well.

If only my first attempt at bread making had turned out so well but never mind, at least it was edible and tasted pretty good even if the rolls did look a bit like an accessory for the 2012 Olympic shot putt. I’ve learned some useful tips for the future and the next attempt should be a lot better.

Keeping on top of the Spring jobs

After another extended time away from home on business I know that there will be plenty of tasks waiting for me on my return. All of these will be in addition to the usual concerns about the contents of the vegetable beds and how they have coped in my absence.

Here is a brief run-down…

Vegetable beds

After the range of planting that I did a couple of weeks ago I’m hoping to see signs of progress from some if not all of them.

The seed potatoes have been under cloches so they should have been well protected from any frosts recently. Unfortunately the cloches will also have kept the rain off too so I;ll need to check that.

It is much the same for the carrot seedlings I planted out but these are a fast growing variety so I suspect I will see more progress with those.

The onion sets got planted out in a bit of a rush and as a result all I had left to cover them was some netting. Hopefully even that has been some help to keep the worst of the weather off them while they get established.

Planting Out

By this time the French Marigold seedlings will probably be a little too big for their current home and desperate to get out into the real world.

I have great hopes for these mainly for the companion planting benefits however they are also one of the few plants that  I am growing from seed this year specifically just for the flowers. Unfortunately I don’t have such high hopes for success with the old poppy and foxglove seeds which I sowed after finding them in a corner of the garage.

The leek seedlings in toilet roll tubes seem to have taken ages but I suspect that is down to my impatience more than any inherent weakness on their part. If my calculations are correct then the first batch should be about ready for planting out. I just hope I left enough room for them when planting out the carrots a few weeks ago but if not then some leeks will just have to suffer a temporary home until the (early harvesting) carrots have gone.

Construction work

The work to reroute the guttering on the garage was completed (fairly roughly) last time but I need to adjust the slope to get a proper flow and finish off the supports as well.

Of course I still need to get the water-butt to use with this but that’s just a minor detail really! It’s just a shame that I’ve missed an opportunity with all the wet weather at home over the last 2 weeks. Never mind I’m fairly confident that the North East of England is not likely to suffer a drought just yet.

Rearranging things

There are always plenty of other (non-vegetable) jobs to get done though and one of them will to rearrange some other plants that have managed to spread their way around the garden.

As usual we have a lot of  self seeded Campanula and they will mostly be left where they are this year. However I will clear out some of them in an effort to create the illusion of a few select areas  rather than having them all over the whole garden.

I think the time has come to leave the Bluebells alone after many years of removing them from certain areas. This year I got the impression that they looked a little more under control so I think they deserve to break.

It may not be the right time but I think we have a Philadelphus in need of some tidying up. There was an ill-advised attempt at pruning a couple of years ago which didn’t go well – no names of course but it wasn’t me!

If I remember I may add a post with a picture of the Bay tree before I tackle it as we have left this for many years now. What used to a be a fairly well-trimmed but large standard-style tree is now getting out of control and needs a firm disciplinary hand.

At this point I should make it clear that I’m no expert with plant names but I always use these names for the plants in question so if I’m wrong then at least I’m consistent!

Planting update

First early potatoes planted and under a clocheWhat a busy bank holiday weekend that turned out to be. Thankfully the weather was kind and I was able to finish just about everything on my list. It’s good to see the new raised veg beds getting some use finally and all the effort getting to this point seems worth it at the moment.

The potatoes are now in the ground – there are only two fairly short rows but I have limited space for the moment so I am only able to put in a little bit of everything.

I’ve left a cloche over them for the moment as the weather forecast for the coming week seemed to be predicting some pretty cold nights. As we are near the coast any colder nights may not be a huge problem but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Trust me though, there are definitely two rows of potatoes under that plastic in the picture and hopefully I have planted them far enough apart unless my measuring went wrong!

Carrot seedlings planted up and under a clocheThe carrots have also been planted out now and they were kept in the toilet roll tubes which made planting a really simple task. I have also recently come across this old page on the web which claims that this approach helps to prevent pest problems too!

They might have been just a little too small to plant out but I figured that as they should really have been planted directly into the veg beds in the first place then this won’t matter too much.  By using the toilet roll tubes and leaving a cloche over them I think I’ve covered my bases fairly well.

Unfortunately the leek seedlings are just not quite ready for planting out as they are still only about 3 inches high and pretty thin, I would say weedy but that’s unfair to my leeks.

Garlic making good progressHowever this minor delay is probably not a bad thing because the weather has still not warmed up properly here in the North East of England.

It doesn’t seem to be affecting my garlic though because that is making great progress. I planted 3 cloves in this small terracotta trough (as well as in other locations) and they are already coming up strongly.

The bluebells in this picture look good as well!


Who knew that rocks could be so fascinating?

The North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) covers an area of almost 2000km2 and includes parts of Durham, Northumberland and Cumbria. It is a lovely part of the world and one of my favourite destinations for a day of exploring.

Reading The Rocks book coverEarlier this year the North Pennines AONB Partnership published some books aimed at helping visitors and local people appreciate, understand and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

One of these books is Reading The Rocks which is particularly fascinating and attempts to cover the history of this stunning landscape from the beginnings almost 500 million years ago (the Ordovician and Silurian periods) right through to the present day.

That is quite a range of history to cover but this book manages it well without becoming too caught up in the numbers, facts and terminology.

All this information is presented in a clear and concise way with helpful pictures and diagrams to explain the origins of the various rock formations. This is accompanied by some extremely useful sidebars giving map references for locations where they can be seen.

It is obvious that a good deal of effort has gone into making this a readable book rather than a dry, geological reference. As a result this book is an ideal way for both young and old alike to gain an understanding of how the North Pennines landscape was formed.

The subject is explained clearly so that even a geology novice like me can understand which means I can take that knowledge with me when I next go exploring the wonderfully rugged landscape of the North Pennines.

Back from the short break and so much to do

Finally we’re back home after a few days away in Devon and in particular a very informative visit to Hidden Valley Pigs – a great smallholding introduction course despite the worst the Exmoor weather could throw at us. The whole area is such a lovely part of the country but it’s just so far away from the North East of England.

Amazingly it seems that the chickens and all seedlings have survived both my absence and the slightly limited supervision of No3 daughter. Even the garlic I planted only two weeks ago is already starting to make an appearance above ground, no doubt greatly encouraged by the recent good weather and the persistent drizzle which now greets us on our arrival back home.

It was a pleasant surprise to find my copy of Reading The Rocks had already come in the post courtesy of North Pennines AONB. It looks to be a fascinating read and loaded with interesting facts but I’ll post a full update on the book after I’ve had a chance to read it properly.

The weekend has all the makings of a damp one but hopefully that won’t hold me back as there are so many tasks I need to get on with. Things like planting out the first early potatoes (under cloches maybe?), installing a second water butt, some minor adjustments to the chicken setup, possibly planting some leek and carrot seedlings out then of course some more seeds can get planted in seed trays if I can make some space… All that plus there are a few of our own fresh eggs to get eaten along with the tasty sausages and bacon we made while at Hidden Valley Pigs!

The first egg has arrived!

The first egg of many we hopeI suppose it was bound to happen really as I’m not there at the moment to witness the grand arrival of THE FIRST EGG personally.

It’s not entirely unexpected of course especially as the chickens were getting nicely settled and they are around the right age now at about 20 or 21 weeks.

However there is still a slight feeling of having missed a momentous event. I know it’s not on the same scale as the first steps of a child or the moment you take the stabilizers off their bicycle.

Despite that there is an irrational sense of pride – our first egg from our first chickens – even though all the effort was from the chicken and not us.

It may not look like much to others but to us this is something  special, a moment to savour. I’m sure we’ll get used to it soon enough and in the meantime No 3 daughter will be tucking into a nice egg in the morning!