New neighbours soon?

Having been given a very nice nest box some weeks ago, the local owl population have made quite a fuss lately because I hadn’t got around to putting it up. This was finally done last weekend and the results look quite good.

A suitable tree was picked out which wasn’t too close to the buildings and (with the aid of a ladder) I soon proved that you’re never too old to climb a tree!

I had hoped to put this up with absolutely no damage to the tree at all but this was not to be.

My original idea was to run some strong wire through a length of old garden hose around the tree trunk to hold it in place while also resting the nest box on a handy protrusion. Unfortunately once I’d done this it soon became clear that no sane owl would move into such a wobbly house and remedial measures were called for.

You can fix quite a lot of things with a hammer and a few nails!

A very desirable area for owls
A very desirable area for owls
Should I put up a FOR RENT sign?
Should I put up a FOR RENT sign?

Hedgehog rescue

There are 3 raised beds in a corner of the garden which were already in place when we moved to the house. This year I’ve just put a few squash or courgette plants in there and left them to their own devices other than the occasion weeding or watering.

This morning I happened to check that area and found what I initially took to be a dead hedgehog caught in the protective netting which was intended to keep the sneaky chickens off the beds.

Hedgehog caught in netting
Hedgehog caught in netting

Luckily on closer examination I found that the hedgehog was still alive so I set about untangling the netting which quickly proved to be almost impossible. Eventually some careful snipping with scissors was needed but in the end the hedgehog was free to wander off again.

Heading off to a cool, dark place
Heading off to a cool, dark place

There’s no such thing as a dull moment in this place…

Settling into the new routines

Slowly I find that we are settling into something resembling a routine and each day that passes sees us getting more used to the realities of our new life. Even the few animals that we already have here are adjusting well to the new regime although we’re still not too sure where some of the chickens are laying eggs

We are being careful to assess everything before making changes and trying not to jump into anything too soon which is the most common advice from every book, article or web forum on smallholding. However I am eager to start making some of the bigger decisions about things like other livestock, managing the woodland , adding renewable energy sources and expanding the growing capability.

I’m not sure that I will know how to tell when we’ve reached the point when we can start on some of these things but I’m hoping that I’ll know when the time is right. I’m also reminding myself regularly that we can do whatever we like now we have the space and also that in some cases it might be better to “do and learn as we go” rather than “plan too much and never start”!

For example, we hadn’t planned to get any more chickens yet but with one of original pet hens dying it seems very opportune that one of the hens we “inherited” from the previous owners has hatched out a couple of chicks!

Two chicks doing well
The two new arrivals


Appreciating the surroundings

One of the other hopes for this move was to have some time to appreciate things and, just occasionally, raise the eyes to take in everything that is around us rather than getting swamped by the daily grind. Obviously you don’t need to move to do this but looking around the local area here is definitely more scenic than our previous suburban existence. It’s called the North Pennines AONB for a very good reason.

A simple walk down the lane into the village on a Saturday morning recently was just one such occasion. A pleasant morning stroll with curlews and chaffinches calling all around and I noticed that the clover was flowering at the side of the road.

I’d never noticed before that clover flowers have quite a noticeably (and not unpleasant) scent. The combination of that with the other wild flowers at the moment was definitely worth a picture at least. I’m sure we’ll look back at this fondly in about 6 months time when the verges are covered in snow!

Wild flowers
Wild flowers at the roadside

Never a dull moment

It barely seems possible that we only moved in just 4 weeks ago given that there has not been a dull moment in that whole time. We have no problem in coming up with plans for things to be done but there is a definite lack of spare time to get on with things at the moment

Despite it being such a short period of time we’ve very quickly come to appreciate the whole “circle of life” thing having had both unexpected deaths and births either on or around our land. Here is a brief summary:

Chicken numbers

Sadly we lost Amy, one of the original “pet” chickens, who was discovered lying dead but at least she looked strangely peaceful lying in the long grass when we found her.


My suspicions are that the trouble was related to egg laying as she has had occasional problems in that department but it came totally out of the blue and she was fine earlier that day when seen foraging with the other 2 pet hens.

It's not all bad news
It’s not all bad news

Within a few days of this sad episode, we spotted some better news with the broody hem who had been sitting on some eggs when we moved in.

As noted in an earlier post, two of the eggs had hatched and with 5 other eggs still in place under her there are hopes for more in the near future.

While not exactly part of the original plan, having left her sitting on the eggs all this time I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that some (or perhaps all) of them may hatch in the end!

We may have read up on chickens (and many other subjects) in preparation for this big adventure but a few books or videos have nothing on actually learning through practical experience.

Unconnected deaths

Luckily (if that’s the right word) another of the deceased animals was a wild rabbit which my grand-daughter found – fortunately with no blood or guts on display. However, rather than being upset by the episode, she was most impressed by how soft the fur was and was happy for us to move it somewhere out of the way so that nature could take it’s course.

Within the first week or so of living here, we also came across a dead ewe in an adjoining field along with her lamb which was looking a little confused. However  a couple of quick phone calls to the neighbouring farmers eventually tracked down the owner and everything eventually worked out well – for the lamb at least.

Not so noisy guests

Our paddocks at the back have been set aside for another neighbour to use for his sheep but after 2 week delay in their arrival we can see very clearly how things can get out of control at this time of year. The grass has grown at an impressive rate but now that the sheep have arrived things can return to normal.


The visitors are looking slightly surprised and very pleased to find themselves with so much good food around them. Perhaps this is why they seem to be very quiet with little noise other than the satisfied munching of grass?

I’m told these are “teenagers” which is a little worrying because we’ve already been through that phase some time ago with the children so I hope these new guests will be less troublesome.

What next?

So far there has been everything we hoped and a whole lot more that we hadn’t quite appreciated – I’m keeping my fingers crossed for much more like this in the future too! Perhaps with slightly fewer deaths though?

I’m certainly happy to get this sort of view while travelling back from work at the end of the day:

View of the North Pennines
I can see my house from here!

There’s more to the garden than vegetables

Lavender in flower with a bee
Bee on the lavender

Our lavender is looking pretty good at the moment although I really can’t take much credit for that. Apart from the fact that I originally planted it they have been left to their own devices but maybe that is the trick? It could be a lesson I should learn and apply to the vegetable side of things when i  consider the variable results I’ve had this year.

By not interfering I’ve allowed the lavender plants to develop at their own pace, as they have nicely filled the space allowed – sometimes exceeding it so I’ve had to clip them back – there has been no need to worry about weeding around them too much, just the occasional half-hearted effort.

It certainly looks like the bees love the flowers and I’m not known for my love of bees but I am coming around to them a little. They may even have a place in the future smallholding plans but only after learning more about then and taking all relevant safety precautions!

I was interested to find this link to the Newcastle and District Beekeepers association which looks like the best place to start and at least I know there’s somewhere fairly local to get help and advice!

Butterfly on lavender flowers
Butterfly on lavender flowers

I also took this lovely photo of the lavender flowers with a butterfly as well but I know very little about the different types of butterfly and further research has taken the shine off this in the end

According to my research this is a Cabbage White butterfly and is probably the reason for large holes in the leaves of the broccoli plants. More accurately this particular butterfly could be partly to blame for the damage to my cabbages earlier in the year.

I don’t like to hold a grudge though and it does look nice even if my photo doesn’t quite do it justice!

This isn’t just some idle ramblings about pretty flowers and wildlife though, I’m now curious to find out whether I can make use of the other plants in my garden for cooking and eating.

The initial signs are good and after a quick web search there are some promising recipes and ideas. Here are the first few that I think I’ll be trying in the near future

Lavender Infused Shortbread – this looks like the easiest of the lot so I may try this first!

Lavender Tea Cake – looks good and uses fresh lavender so limited preparation needed

Amy’s Lavender Still Lemonade – the recipe says “dried lavender” but I might try fresh instead

It’s a jungle out there

imageThe other evening at chicken lock up time it was pouring with rain – nothing new there of course! However, as I went out the back door I spotted a small green visitor on the back step just at the last minute.

I don’t think he realised how close he came to being under my welly boot or how unwelcome his visit might be with the lady of the house in particular. It is enough to say that she doesn’t generally welcome uninvited visitors like this round at our house but of course with the weather being so wet there are quite a few around.

We’re never certain where they come from but suspicion usually falls on the neighbours pond a few doors along. I’ve blocked up any holes at the bottom of our fence but a few still manage to get through apparently. I don’t mind them though and at least they help to keep the slug and snail population down to a manageable level!

The visitor was last seen heading off under our bay tree after I moved them away from the back step. That should also be far enough from the hungry chickens to keep him/her safe for the moment.

It made we wonder though as we have also had a hedgehog in the garden recently and I’m not sure whether hedgehogs and frogs get along. Presumably they would compete for similar food sources but I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I don’t know for sure so I’m off to research the subject!