Tatties and spuds

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Nine potatoes home grown at Cosy Cottage!

There’s always a first time for everything and that includes growing spuds. Last year, I bought two seed potato packets from JTF in April and, a couple of weeks later, I planted them in pots of varying sizes. When it was time to dig them out a few months later, in July, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find real potatoes under the stems and leaves in the first pot.

What was in the other four?

Answer?

Nothing. Not in pot 2, 3, 4 or 5.

So that was a grand total of 11 potatoes.

Out of two seed packets and five pots.

So when it came to this year I had no expectations. This year’s crop came from Wilko’s and cost £1 (so I wasn’t expecting wonders!) They were bought at the end of March and I planted them in May.  When it came to August, I started thinking, is it time to dig the ‘Nicolas’ up? When is it too early or too late?

I find timings fairly hard to master in the gardening world.

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When the Nicola seed potatoes were planted

The weather was odd this year too (I had all the excuses ready for the inevitable disappointment). Even in the north of England, there was a seemingly never-ending heatwave from May to July. I was beginning to wonder if the rain would ever make a reappearance. But of course it did, and when it came back it was as if our old familiar companion had never left us.

This climate could have been to blame for the poor showing of the lettuce this year. Lettuce seeds had been planted in a newly established bed but what came up instead of attractive crisp lettuce?

Nettles.

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But myself and Dad decided today was the day when we would see what lies underneath the green potato stalks. Just one tub of five Nicola seed potatoes – what would be the result?

The first stalk was promising – four spuds, no large ones but perfectly sized for salads. Then nothing under the remaining four stalks. But we dug under the soil with our hands and found another, another, another, another and one more…

It was like digging for treasure and this was the gold we found – Nine beautiful brown potatoes.

So okay, not economically viable or a large collection but still, it’s something isn’t it? And what’s more, those organic ‘Nicolas’ tasted extra special too.

Here’s to next year’s crop! 🥔🥔🥔

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Facts of the Day

  1. A tatty/tatties is a Scottish informal word for potato/potatoes. Spud is another slang term.
  2. According to Oxford Dictionary, the potato is ‘A starchy plant tuber cooked and eaten as a vegetable’. The plant grows underground stems, which ‘swell up with stored food at the tips to form tubers, called potatoes. The ‘eyes’  can grow into new plants using the food stores in the potato’ (Miles Kelly). The word comes from the Spanish patata.
  3. It comes from the perennial nightshade family (the leaves are poisonous) and was first grown in South America 1800 years ago.

Information courtesy of The Miles Kelly Book of Life

 

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St Benet’s Abbey

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While on holiday in the beautiful Norfolk Broads, on one of our walks we came across an unusual site called St Benet’s Abbey. We started from the village of Ludham, and walked across country lanes to the abbey. Here are 5 facts:

1. Except for low flint walls and earth mounds, only the ruined gatehouse still exists – but this has an 1700s windpump built around it.

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2. It was founded about 1020AD – the first Benedictine Abbey in Norfolk.

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3. The abbey was not officially closed in the 1530s – unlike every other monastery in the country. The Bishop of Norwich was instead appointed as the abbot. Despite this, monastic life ended soon after and the buildings – except for the gatehouse – were demolished for their stone.

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4. The local diocese still owns the site of the abbey church and it remains consecrated ground. The Bishop of Norwich holds an open air service here every year in August.

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How the abbey may have looked. Courtesy of Tim Pestell’s St Benet’s Abbey: A Guide and History

5. St Benet’s Abbey may have been established as a royal estate and King Cnut was an early benefactor. Beforehand, maybe as early as the 800s, Anglo-Saxon hermits are believed to have lived at the location.

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Information courtesy of St Benet’s Abbey: A Guide and History by Tim Pestell.

 

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Dottie’s mystery illness

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My main fear – there were a few – of having chickens was ‘what if something bad happened?’ Illness being one of those ‘something bad’ fears. And thankfully, for the past ten months, nothing untoward happened. If a hen was losing her feathers, it was because of moulting. If she was sitting down doing nothing (yes, I’m talking about you Jemima), it was because she was brooding.

But one morning, Dottie looked very poorly indeed. Lethargic and hunched down. While Florence was eager to get out of the coop, Dottie was still in the nest box, seemingly without the energy to jump/fly down. (She was on the top tier). I had to lift her out.

Whereas our bossy Dottie was previously strutting about proudly, demanding mealworm and corn, now she was sitting in one corner in the Chicken Garden. Unlike Jemima, who was obviously in a on/off broody trance, Dottie looked depressed. Had the weeks of being the sole non-broody affected her? Had she felt lonely and this was only now caught up with her? Was it a temporary state of mind?

You see how I didn’t want to admit it could be a physical illness.

Dad came round to visit and we brought her in to investigate further. Coming from a farming background, he had more of an inkling about such matters. He felt her crop, which can be felt on the chicken’s chest, and said it didn’t feel right. For the first time, I felt it and it seemed bigger than I expected.

I had a read of a couple of my chicken books.

The crop is a muscular organ that helps chickens digest their food (they are unable to chew). According to Mini Encyclopedia of Chicken Breeds and Care, food is stored and softened in the crop, which empties overnight.

An impacted crop is when there is a solid mass still in the organ first thing in the morning. The encyclopedia recommended olive oil and gently managing the crop to ‘help break up the mass’. The hen may get better on her own. If not, a vet will be needed.

So we massaged the crop and poured some olive oil in a little bowl.

We left Dottie in a box complete with olive oil and water. She appeared thirsty for the oil and kept drinking it.

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Simon came over later that evening for the weekend and we decided to call the vet and see if we could make an appointment for the next morning, hoping meanwhile she would get better. The emergency vet warned us he didn’t have much experience with chickens and it would cost £90 for an emergency appointment. But we had already decided to let her rest until the morning and see if the impacted crop (which is what we thought it was) would improve then. The vet told us he had some space free in the morning, if we rang then he would be able to fit us in.

The next day, she looked the same, lethargic and listless. I rang the vet surgery again, whose receptionist told me it was emergencies only as they were so busy. After I explained what the emergency vet said about being able to fit us in, she had a word with, I presume, the vet we spoke to the night before, and gave us a 11.30am slot, warning us there might be a delay as it was so busy.

We waited nearly an hour, among amputated hedgehogs in boxes, poorly turtle in a tray, a beautiful bear-like Newfoundland, a yappy but cute Bichon frise and various other patients coming and going.

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Finally Dottie’s name was called and we carried her in. She was a well behaved patient, both in the waiting room and at the vet’s. However, this was also an indicator of how ill she was. A chicken should want to flap its wings and try to fly out of a box and be vocal. Dottie was too tired to do anything.

The vet felt her crop but believed it felt normal. Her weight was in the right range. He checked her faeces and whether she was egg-bound. Her poo was fine and there was no egg stuck in her insides.

He couldn’t find anything physically wrong.

So he told us to come back Monday if she was still unwell and gave us a packet of high energy food and syringes. The nurse showed us how to use the syringe to feed Dottie, who was a model patient. It looked easy enough to do at the vet’s….

Using the syringe was much harder than it first looked.

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Simon held her and we tried to open her mouth. Although she was compliant at the vet’s, she was less so in my house, clamping her beak firmly shut and shaking her head away. This became more and more the case as she gained strength – and regained her old bolshy attitude.

Once her beak was prised open, we slipped the feeding tube in. Again this was tricker than it first appeared. We weren’t even sure if it was going the right way. Then, once it was in, we sucked the food solution into the syringe and then pumped it into the tube. When we saw her swallow it down, we knew she was tasting it. Then we alternated with giving her water.

20mls a day, divided into four portions a day, maximum, was recommended and this energy food powder was mixed with water to create a brown semolina-type paste. Simon referred to it as ‘gunk’. Hmm, nice!

Apart from pecking the cardboard box on the way home, Dottie remained in a very poorly state all day. We fed her a couple of times and left her on the floor, sitting on a teatowel next to the box, alongside small bowls of water, grain, grit and olive oil. When it was her bedtime (just before it got dark), she went back into the box.

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Her friends came to visit briefly. But as we didn’t know what she had, this may not have been a good idea as the illness could have been contagious to the other hens. Yet the company did give her a boost. I wouldn’t recommend it though unless you know for certain the hen doesn’t have a contagious disease.

So Friday she was ill. Saturday she was just as ill, at least mentally. Sunday she started moving around more. I had bought some herbs from a local garden centre and left them on the floor. Next thing I saw Dottie wandering over to the mint, nibbling on it. She was still slow but she was showing more of an interest in life and this was surely a massive improvement.

On Monday morning, I lifted the lid of the box to see, not a sleepy, huddled, depressed looking hen bit an alert, curious, bright-eyed Dottie, obviously wanting to get out of the box and into the big wide world.

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So out she went, and when I saw her digging away in the garden, looking for worms and making her usual noises, I knew the worst was over.

So what was the illness? I suspect it may have been an impacted crop after all as I think it did feel more prominent before we took her to the vet the following day. Personally, I think Dottie was still getting over the illness on the Saturday, but the physical ailments had gone thanks to fasting, massaging the crop, water and olive oil. But I don’t know for sure. Whatever was the matter, going to the vet and giving her high energy food was the right thing to do.

So a lesson for me is to physically check my chickens more often. To feel the crop and pay more attention to their behaviour. Chickens are small but rather complicated individuals and every day is a lesson to learn.

🐔🐔🐔

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Many thanks to Mini Encyclopedia Chicken Breeds and Care by Frances Basso and The Urban Hen by Paul Peacock.

Also thanks to my dad and Simon for helping with Dottie.

Search for a swallowtail

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Some years ago, I picked up a paperback copy of The Butterfly Isles, by Patrick Barkham, in my local library for the amazingly cheap price of 10p. It recounts a nature lover’s quest for every British species of butterfly in one year. Before I read this book, I classed every butterfly as either ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’.

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A small white I could reasonably guess at as they are, yes, small and white. A tortoiseshell, peacock and red admiral, while stunningly colourful and beautiful, looked the same to me and as for a swallowtail, wasn’t that an accessory attached to a swallow’s body?

But over the last few years, through practical observation, guidance, and books,  I began to learn about the various breeds, their colours and patterns, habitat and food. I began to distinguish between a red admiral and a peacock and an orange tip and a small white. Although there is still a long way to go and I am still very much a novice when it comes to learning about nature.

According to Patrick, there are 59 Butterfly species in Britain, more than 500 in Europe, 7,000 in South America and oh, only about 18,000 in the world in total!

And one of the rarest in this country is the flamboyant Swallowtail. Pale yellow and black wings, with a black margin around them, its hindwings have short tails and a blue and red fake eye.

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There are plenty of good reasons to visit the Norfolk Broads, but if you are a keen lepidopterist (someone who studies butterflies and moths) or general nature lover and it’s June, odds are you will want to spot the elusive Swallowtail. It’s a tight window to see them and Norfolk is the only V. I.P venue they will wish to appear to their fans.

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Their habitat is marshy meadows so the likes of the Fens and Broads are its natural habitats.

So we – Simon and I – were in Norfolk, at the end of June. Like super fans waiting for a glimpse of our favourite star, while we walked and explored and steered a boat on the Broads, ate out in pub gardens and even when sitting in our cottage backyard, playing a game of draughts (me, losing, yet again), we were always on the lookout.

It was during a prolonged heatwave and there was hardly a breeze. The conditions could not be better. And we glimpsed many dragonflies and damselflies, heard warblers and sighted marsh harriers and grey lag geese and lost count of the various meadow browns and painted ladies and speckled woods and small whites fluttering by along the reeds.

But no Swallowtail.

Towards the end of the week-long break, we came across a sign advertising Wildlife Cruises at Horsey Mere.

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Well, why not?

So, after a short walk, we boarded the small vessel and listened eagerly to the guide who told us that he hoped we would see a swallowtail today.

And the odd thing is we were convinced that if we were lucky enough to spot one, it would be during a walk at a nature reserve (Patrick Barkham saw his at Hickling Broad Nature Reserve, one of the sites we visited).

And it was on that boat, listening to the chatty wildlife guide telling us about his mother’s experience with the dreaded horse flies, that I saw a black shape glide in the air in the far distance.

Was it a bird? Was it a bat? Was it…

‘It’s a swallowtail!’ The couple next to me alerted us all.

Poor Simon! He was at the other side of the vessel looking in the opposite direction. By the time he was over, the large butterfly, which seemed almost like a bird to me, was gone.

‘You saw a swallowtail and I didn’t,’ Simon grudgingly said, with envy in his voice.

But then there was a loud exclamation – from Simon, no less.

‘A swallowtail!’

As you can see from the lack of personal pictures, I did not manage to capture either of the two moments on film. Nor did Simon. But we do count ourselves very lucky to see this rare butterfly.

Many species of butterfly are in decline so if you have a garden, even a balcony or window box, I’d strongly suggest researching plants to attract them. It’s good for your health and soul too to see such beauty near you! And of course, butterflies are vital for the ecosystem. They aren’t just a pretty face (well, wing). I’ll go into more detail in a later blog post, but some ideas for now are buddleja, marjoram, sweet william, ivy and bird’s foot trefoil.

Have you seen a rare butterfly? Do you have a favourite?

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Facts of the Day

1. Swallowtail adults live for about a month.

2. It’s larval food plant are milk parsley, fennel and carrot.

3. The wingspan measures about 80 to 90mm.

Many thanks to Sally Morgan’s The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Butterflies and Moths, Patrick Barkham’s The Butterfly Isles and Wildlife Gardening by Christine and Michael Lavelle. 

Fulwood Open Gardens

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A few years ago, I became aware of the National Open Garden Scheme, a proposal where gardeners invite others to look around their pride and joy for a donation to charity. It’s a great idea for other gardeners to get inspiration and advice and the money goes to a good cause. I was going to do this last year but, as so often, the year went too quickly and in September I realised I missed my chance.

 

I noticed a poster for Fulwood Open Gardens on a walk with a friend. It was displayed on a tree in a particularly eye-catching front garden. It wasn’t part of the national scheme, but was a local event, designed to raise money for the Baby Beat Appeal at the nearby Sharoe Green Hospital.

(The appeal aims to raise £100,000 each year to fund the state – of-the-art technology needed by the Maternity Unit, not covered by the budget. There is also a current funding campaign – Little Ted’s Appeal – to soundproof two rooms at the Delivery Suite).

There were 10 gardens altogether, from 10.30am to 4pm, but we only visited six because of prior commitments in the afternoon.

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All had their merits and were varied.

One was very quirky and a real mix of everything in a fairly small space. Buddhas, tick. Fairy garden, tick. Veg patch (including onions), tick. An abundance of flowers, tick…

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One gardener proudly showed us around his raised beds and containers of vegetables – carrots, cabbages, parsnips and more – and handing out tips while he did so.

A delightful slice of chocolate cake and a refreshing cup of tea was had in next door’s conservatory. I loved the summer house at the bottom of their garden.

A small garden demonstrated what could be done in such limited space and there was even a sheltered housing complex offering a display of flower borders and hanging baskets.

 

My personal favourite was the wildlife garden. As we strolled along the path, we saw crowds of bees feasting on the lamb’s tail among other culinary (for them) delights amidst the flower borders. I also came across a small white butterfly. But what I saw was only a mere glimpse of what creatures comes to visit…

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Scenes of the wildlife garden

The garden owner told me that a hedgehog came round at 9.45pm every night for his supper. Today his neighbour came to look around his garden and told him a hedgehog visited him nightly at 10pm!

I came away from the gardens feeling inspired and invigorated. What next? Raised beds for veg? Bee balm to attract bees? Sink garden of succulents? A fairy garden?

Have you taken part or visited a Open Gardens Scheme, whether local or national?

For more information on the National Garden Scheme, visit https://www.ngs.org.uk/

Facts of the Day

1. The National Garden Scheme was founded in 1927.

2. At that time, before the creation of the NHS, admission fees raised money for district nurses.

3. According to its website, the National Garden Scheme is the ‘largest single funder of nursing and caring charities in the UK’. Since 1927, £55m has been raised for charity.

 

 

 

 

Trek Diary – May 2018: Lincolnshire Wolds

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Lincolnshire WoldsWoods and Mills walk (9 miles) 

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Simon picked up a leaflet in a pub for this Lincolnshire Wolds walk a while ago and one weekend in May we decided to try it. Much flatter and easier than our last endeavour, Scafell Pike, it is an interesting walk with two choices of routes, three and nine miles. It also takes in some of the Viking Way. We embarked on the nine-mile ramble.

It starts off from Market Rasen, a small quiet market town, and from there we walked to Tealby. Tealby is a pretty little village with, among its sites of interest, All Saints Church, The Vintage Cafe (gorgeous cakes as I can testify!) and the oldest pub in Lincolnshire, The King’s Head, circa 1367 and boasting a thatched roof.

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This walk took us through the Forestry Commission owned Willingham Woods and onto farmland.

We saw Hamilton Hill (yes, the Wolds is the hilly point of Lincolnshire!) Hundreds of years ago, it was the meeting point for protesters gathering for the Lincolnshire rebellion against Henry VIII who was busy dissolving monasteries at that time.

Later on, walking along a path through fields, we looked towards a hill on the left and saw a crowd of domesticated deer grazing – and gazing toward us. Had I a proper camera, it would have made a great picture. Believe it or not, the photo below us – showing some brown spots on a hill – is supposed to capture the scene of the curious deer.

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One moment of confusion occured when, later on, a path was diverted (hopefully this will no longer be the case or will be better signposted if you go). Amid the seemingly deserted farm buildings, we pondered what to do, go through the field with cows and calves – and, oh dear, was that a bull? Yet it looked like the correct and most direct route. We opted for the longer way through the field with placid sheep. Thankfully, this turned out to be the right one!

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Notes of interest:

Market Rasen, situated on the edge of the Wolds, is known for its racecourse. Also, did you know a 5.2 Richer Scale earthquake occurred in 2008? The town has 19th century redbrick Georgian and Victorian buildings and a medieval church. 

Tealby All Saints Church dates from the 12th century and was built with local stone. Tennyson has a link to Tealby – his grandparents came from there and Tennyson himself used to walk from Somersby (his birthplace) to Tealby. 

The walk takes the hiker into the Lincolnshire Wolds – the highest ground in Eastern England (between York and Kent) and an Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB). Why the mention of Mills in the title of the walk? Well, there were 15 Mills along the River Rase, used for grinding corn and, later on, paper making. On our way back, we came across this (not strictly on the walk). It was believed to be the site of a 1300s hermitage.  

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 The walk can be found at: http://www.lincswolds.org.uk.

Click on Publications, Gateway Walks and then Following Woods and Mills. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ode to a mouse…

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A few months ago, my dad and I tidied the small 6×4 plastic shed at Cosy Cottage. It had got so crammed with random tools, D. I. Y miscellanea and various bags of chicken grain and corn that no one could actually enter the building. It was while doing this that, out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse some thing that was tiny and dark flash past me. It was so quick, I pretended to myself I hadn’t seen it.

Fast forward another month and I am letting the hens out. Dottie is, as always, herself. Florence and Jemima are going through a prolonged broody phase which means I have to physically carry them out of the coop into their run. I bend down to lift Jemima when I, once again, spot something speeding by.

Not knowing what this is gives me the creeps. But my hens’ health and safety is important so I need to check just what is lurking in the coop.

I gingerly lift the tray where the grit bowl sits on. A nervous moment. Something scurries away, under the next tray, where the water bowl resides on top.

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Gritting my teeth, I lift this tray and see two beady black eyes look at me, in a furry brown face unmistakably mouse.

Now, I am nervous of many things but I don’t fear mice. So now I know what and who this rapid motion belongs to, I feel calm.

 

The mouse then runs away from me towards the wire mesh.

My colleague with the allotment plot, James, had a rat who got stuck in the mesh in his coop. A horrible scenario and one which the rat did not survive.

Thankfully, the mouse avoids entrapment on the mesh.

Through a mercifully quick game of ‘Escape the Scary Big Human’, the mouse finds his way out of the open coop door to adventures elsewhere (I hope).

The rat/mouse issue is one which can puzzle a hen keeper. I actually wouldn’t mind too much if it was just the one mouse but how many mice are going to remain celibate and not invite their extended family to rich pickings in Dottie’s house?

And then their numbers can get too numerous and the neighbours might complain and a multitude of diseases spring up… All because of mice or rats.

So what to do? Some people would opt for poison or trapping. I wouldn’t judge anyone who does but hope I am never in that ‘last resort’ situation. I am screamish about killing, even small rodents. Also there is the horrid possibility of killing another animal inadvertently.

Molly and Teddy, the Jack Russells, would gladly help out but I would prefer not to inflict the Two Terrible Terrors onto an innocent creature! 🐶🐶

Under the trays and in the coop itself, I realised old grain and corn had accumulated and, obviously, this had been irresistible for our friend. You see, mice and rats are not attracted to chickens. But they do find grain delicious. Not just chicken food though, they also like what they see on bird feeders and compost heaps too.

So following one major spring clean of the coop and a more thorough regular cleaning routine and I have my fingers crossed that I will not encounter Mr Mouse again. 🐁🐀🐁

I forgot to mention there was a tiny gap at the bottom of the coop door, now blocked by a small piece of wood.

So my advice, gathered from books, magazines and the Internet is – keep on top of your cleaning regime so there is nothing to attract mice and rats. And block any mouse or rat-sized gaps in the coop. And fingers crossed! But if you have any more ideas, please leave me a comment. Advice always welcomed! ☺️

Facts of the Day

1. Mice generally have pointed faces, big eyes, prominent ears and a long thin tail. Rats are larger, with coarse fur and scaly tails.

2. Types of mice include house, wood, yellow-necked, harvest and dormice.

3. Voles and shrew could be mistaken for mice. Voles are chubby and have short noses and small eyes. Shrews are tiny and have pointed noses.

(Information from Readers’ Digest, The Best of Wild Britain)

I’ll leave the final words to Robert Burns (Rabbie to the Scots!) 🐀

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Brooding Buddies

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All was going well with the girls in the spring. Moulting season had ended so all were looking perky and tip top, their feathered flares, bustles and bootees appearing their very best. And didn’t they know it!

They were also putting 110 per cent into their work. For the first time, all three were laying and I was getting three eggs a day. (This coincided with a time of looking after my colleague’s hens at the allotment so I was actually getting 7 eggs a day altogether! I was having to give them away!) 🥚🥚🥚

Happy days.

And then one day, Jemima went on strike. Just like that. She wouldn’t leave the nesting area, not for food or water or grit. Or even to be sociable with the other ladies. And she wasn’t laying either. She wasn’t literally on a strike (they were getting the best conditions I could give them, what more did they want?!) And she wasn’t being deliberately awkward, awkward yes, but not on purpose.

She was being broody. Our fluffy white-feathered Jemima wanted to raise a family.

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Jemima and Florence (behind) in the nesting area

Earlier, I had been concerned Florence was going to go broody as there were a couple of times when she headed to her nest box and when I tried to take her out, she opened her beak and made a shrieking sound. Not like the nice Florence I used to know. But this only happened a couple of times.

But Jemima had it bad.

I had read that brooding hens can become aggressive if you try to move them (see Florence above). But Jemima was more docile as a broody than her normal self.

Every morning, I had to pick her up and put her outside where there was food and drink. I would close the pophole door so she wouldn’t head back.

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One week later, Florence joined her. Unlike before, Florence was no longer trying to be aggressive (as much as it is possible for Florence to be aggressive!) Unfortunately, also unlike before, this was no brief foray into the world of brooding, but a fully concentrated effort. When they still laid eggs, they would sit on them, presumably waiting for them to hatch. I took the warm eggs away and they still insisted on sitting on… Nothing.

Now Dottie has also stopped laying, in solidarity with her sisters.

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One month later, I am still having to take out Florence and Jemima, closing off the nesting area so they cannot return until later on. I have separated them for short periods of time which seems to work… For a short while until we are back to square one. I have taken all the straw out of the area too. But still they persist.

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Even when outside, the broody buddies sit next to each other  in protest at not being able to go into their nesting area. They cluck, cluck, cluck and sometimes stand up, fluffing their feathers. A constant concern is their invisible chicks,waiting to be hatched from an invisible egg.

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Florence in a desperate attempt to go back to the nesting area. Her way blocked by a closed pophole door and Jemima

Pekins, along with silkies, are breeds with a greater tendency to brooding. Great if you want to hatch chicks. Not so good for ordinary back garden hen keepers like myself.

So apart from taking them away from the nest box and closing access every day, what else can be done? One book suggests removing the broody hen and putting her in a temporary run (with shelter from the sun/rain but no house) where she can still be seen by the rest of the flock, apparently a day or two later and she ‘has usually forgotten about being broody’. Obviously food and water needs to be available. A mesh floor is also recommended so the hen doesn’t think of nesting. Wetting the hen’s chest with cool water is another suggestion.

I will keep on removing the girls from the location of temptation and try out the temporary run idea (the separation I have attempted has only been for a few hours at a time) if this doesn’t improve in a week. A shame as Florence and Jemima would make excellent mothers but what else can I do?

🐤🐤🐤

 

Dottie – the little red hen

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Written by guest writer Dottie Bantam

‘What do we want? Worms! When do we want them? Now!’

I’m leading the other two girls in one of our many informal protests on the picket line. I tell them this is what Jeremy Corbyn would want. For the masses to rise up against our capitalist masters and mistresses. For us to demand our rights, our freedom and our worms.

 

Waiting for fellow unionists… And meetings in progress
Successful results from protests…

Jemima is a member of the elite, she tells us.

I scoff, she is just as much a worker as me and Flo. All three of us. True, we do have better, much better conditions (thanks to being union members, I tell Jemima) than those poor slave girls we hear about, kept in tiny prisons. But we still do our fair share. We are labourers (sorry Jemima), we manufacture and produce beautiful, delicious (so I’ve been told, no less than by Jemima who had a sneaky taste) petite eggs. Our accommodation and food is supplied, true, but we should always demand more. What would our boss eat if not our perfect eggs?

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An important union meeting in the boss’ office

We have our own private gravel garden, with some herb pots for us to jump onto, dig into and nibble. But we are sometimes allowed access to the communal gardens where there is a pond and apple tree. Our boss who looks after our accommodation for us and supplies our food, nicknames it the hens’ garden.

I ask the other union members for a ballot on demanding access every day.

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On our way to a union meeting. Florence takes the lead

‘She doesn’t like us going in when it’s wet’, says Florence. In my view, Flo can be a bit wet behind the ears herself at times.

Florence continues, ‘Our human says our feet get muddy and wet and then they’ll have to get washed.’

We have fashionable feathers on our feet, top trend-setters we are. Even we reds need to look the part. Think flares in the 70s, that’s us, but up to date. Jemima thinks our feathers are more akin to Victorian pantaloons but that’s Jemima for you. Stuck in some upper class fantasy from the 1800s. She thinks Jacob Rees-Mogg is marvellous and that she ought to be living the life of luxury. Poor Jemima. At least she has the union to look after her.

And Flo. I’ve tried to boost her assertiveness, she’s appeared rather weedy to me in the past. But now, sometimes I wonder if Florence is going too far in the other direction.

‘****’ She screams at times. I’m not sure swearing at odd moments for no apparent reason will work. The boss just smiles at her fondly as if she’s eccentric.

No, it won’t do.

Reasoning has to be behind all our demands.

In our latest union meeting, held behind our house, I go through our list of demands for future protests. Access to communal garden, extra mealworms, extra corn, cabbage and lettuce, bread (as a now-and-again treat, Jemima says it’s not good for us and is fattening) …

Flo pipes up. ‘No more baths for muddy feet’.

Good point, I agree.

And if we don’t get what we want, we can always go on strike. See how the boss lives without our beautiful eggs! I cackle loudly to myself. My comrades look at me suddenly. For leadership I reckon.

Okay, I say, here our boss arrives with the red bucket. (She’s also our personal cleaner). We’re ready for action.

‘What do we want? Worms. When do we want them? Now.’

Intimidation is the key. And sticking together, backing each other up.

We follow her to the door of the shed, home of treats galore.

Our union protest is in full swing. And as I see her hand go towards the packet of worms, I know it can’t fail…

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Trek Diary: April – Scafell Pike (height: 3,210ft/978m)

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When I was a teenager, the Big One was a rollercoaster in Blackpool. Incredibly high (was it the highest in England at the time?) and rather scary, the views over the Blackpool coast – if you hadn’t closed your eyes in sheer terror – were wonderful.

I loved it.

Go forward a few (and then some!) years later and wanting to go up the Big One has a very different connotation to way back then. This time the Big One is in the Lake District and is Scafell Pike.

High, tick. Scary, tick. Views (weather permitting), tick.

Simon and I were going on a walking weekend to the Lake District. And as it was a ‘big’ birthday, (21st since you’re asking 😉), I decided I wanted to do what any normal person would want to do to mark a significant date.

Climb the highest mountain in England, of course! ☺️⛰️

So with trepidation, I awoke sluggishly at 5.45am one Saturday morning and by 7am, we were off. We headed past Wast Water, a tranquil lake overlooked by steep mountains, and parked in the National Trust car park, complete with wooden refreshments stall, information board on Scafell Pike conditions (cold in a word) and festival-style portaloos.

There were many walkers on our distinct stony path leading uphill and seeing them resting en route made me feel happier, as if I was given permission to rest too. But we kept going mostly. It was hard, as there appeared to be very few flat sections – so when there was one I felt as if it were the equivalent of a good afternoon nap compared to the uphill trudge! Compared to Pendle Hill, it was more gradual, not as steep, but much longer. And still onwards and upwards… And upwards…

I was grateful then that we had trekked up that bewitched Pendle Hill twice as this felt, definitely not easy, but more tolerable than I was expecting. And I was glad I had tried to become fitter by swimming and walking. I wasn’t fit at this point, but more so than a few months ago and it made a difference.

 

Looking back was the stunning sight of Wast Water.

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Wainwright says the usual route from Wasdale Head (near where we started from) was via Brown Tongue – the shortest way but ‘also the dullest unless the opportunity is taken to visit Mickledore by a deviation from the path’.

Do we take the nice easier option to the top (my choice!) or go the, what Wainwright calls, ‘magnificent’ journey into Hollow Stones and along the Mickledore Ridge? 🤔

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Mickledore it was. Its name reminded me of Mordor in Lord of the Rings. What would Frodo do?

I thought it was tough walking up the path. It was nothing compared to what was ahead. A steep scree gully called Lord’s Rake.

At first, it was not so steep and the scree not so loose, it was manageable. But it got narrower, steeper, and the rocks I placed my feet on seemed to collapse on contact.

Falling, sliding and slipping all seemed viable options… And the bottom seemed to get further and further away with each foothold.

I was not enjoying this. Concentration was key and so was bravery. A young woman in front of me was crying, her courage having left her. I knew the feeling. Along with her boyfriend, they let us go in front. As Simon told me the safest places to climb up, I felt sure that, behind us, his advice would help her too. And once we got up, they weren’t too far behind.

Like me, she too had conquered her fears.

At the top, on Mickledore, we followed the ridge – once again full of rocks and stones – past a mountain kit store, mentioned in my 1979 map, up a more gradual path to the top.

The final hurdle was a rocky barren landscape, there was even a patch of snow. We had to be careful we didn’t fall through the cracks of this makeshift pavement. Onwards and upwards, passing various cairns but not the real deal until…

 

There it was – the summit. A huge cairn and a trig point. Many fellow achievers were there, celebrating having made it, including two Yorkshire terriers – in mini-rucksacks adorned by their humans. It was misty so no wondrous views although there was a lake – Buttermere we were told – in the distance as we climbed down.

 

As Wainwright says, the paths are distinct but uneasy to walk on, because of the boulders. We headed back to Wasdale Head via Brown Tongue and Lingmell Col. Wainwright says this tourist route is ‘a tiring and uninteresting grind, designed to preserve users from falls’.

But at that moment, that suited me fine. We passed various hikers and they passed us. A couple of weary travellers asked us hopefully, ‘How long to the top?’  ‘About half an hour’, Simon said honestly. Faces fell. A man in a group on the way down clutched a can of lager, perhaps to celebrate reaching the top?

Instead of venturing left to the car park, we went right, heading to the little village itself. The mile stretched itself as far as it could. Once there, a quick visit to the gift/hiking shop – you can buy a certificate marking your achievement for a pound  – and an evening meal in the pub before wearily traipsing back to the car and to our B&B.