Down at the allotment

IMG_20170929_215927.jpg🥀 🥀 🌾 By August 2017, Cosy Cottage’s garden was as chicken-ready as it was ever going to be. Drainage (whether it works or not, we will have to wait and see this winter) set in place; a proper compost heap permanently sited, ready for that delightful manure which would work wonders for the plants; a pond dug, planted (finally) and decorated with cobbles; stone borders transformed into flower beds; the side garden becoming home to a potted floral arena… And of course, the notorious coop taking centre place, proudly standing, no longer an eyesore but a prestigious abode, ready for its lady lodgers.

There was one thing bugging me though.

I didn’t have any practical experience of hens. I didn’t think I was scared of them, but I had never been in close proximity with chickens. What if they pecked? Or drew blood? Attacked me in my bright red dressing gown (apparently they are attracted to the colour red)? What if I, for some bizarre reason, was unable to lift and hold them? Was nervous of them?

This line of thinking was preposterous. I loved my family’s Jack Russells Molly and Teddy, had zero fear of rodents, and was more concerned of accidentally hurting a spider’s leg (although I do hate touching slugs, which I have done by mistake. Sorry slugs).

And yet…

I had tried to enrol on a course but didn’t get very far. I must have read all the chicken books available but what I really wanted was some practical experience… Then a colleague came to the rescue.

J got chickens a year before, six months after he first started working on a coop. In fact, I modelled my coop roughly on his. Except he had a proper plan and I didn’t. Anyway, it took him months to build – which should have warned me that if someone says on a website it takes a ‘weekend’ they are,  ever so slightly, exaggerating (unless Superman or Wonder Woman is building it).

Eventually, his hard work paid off and he had a fine looking coop – waiting for some inhabitants to fill it. Luckily for J, a fellow allotment-holder had four hens he no longer wanted and, once J had his coop up and running, the ladies moved into their new home.

So it was by good fortune that, when J went away, he asked if I could look after them for a week.

Sure, I said, it would be great experience.

And I would get free eggs!

Sweet Caroline, Lucy Muffin, Britney Starr and Lily Sparkles were a bluebell, marans and a white Sussex. Someone unkindly said they had names like strippers – actually it was J, but don’t blame him, it was his daughters who named them!

(The hens were moulting around the bottom area so calling them strippers wasn’t too far off the mark, wear some more feathers in public, girls please!) 🐔🐔🐔

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To say I had a hundred fears (again!) is an understatement. What if they escaped? What if they died (J said to put them in a bin bag and into a bin if this occurred as they weren’t allowed to bury them on the allotment)? A fellow colleague said, how could he say that? How morbid!

But I was glad it was addressed. You know, just in case.

Thank the heavens, it was straightforward. The ladies enjoyed going out into the run when I opened the door (and no one escaped!) And were happy to wander back in when they realised I had lettuce or cabbage, or, a naughty,  very seldom treat, a slice of bread. Britney and Co were hard working and supplied three eggs each day (one wasn’t pulling their weight, I’m not pointing any fingers, Lucy… Just joking, Lucy!)

No one died or got ill. Thank you very much girls.

The coop was fox-proof, so I didn’t need to visit twice a day. It was merely a case of checking they had enough food and water each day.

Of all my fears, finding a hen dead, the four running free and wild over the allotments…

There were actually three real concerns and none really related to the hens.

J showed me the hens one lunchtime at work. The next time me and my parents visited. But could we find the right allotment? Traipsing through other allotments, attracting vegetable growers’ raised eyebrows and suspicious attention, eventually I spotted the landmark sunflower at the front of the coop. Phew!

Second, the keys which appeared to go on strike when it came to opening the shed door for the hens’ feed and corn. I visualised having to go to the Superpet Warehouse for chicken feed. Thankfully my dad came with me the next time and figured out which key to use first. (There were two keys).

Phew!

My last concern was leaving the keys in a safe but clear place for the next helper. I worried I had placed them somewhere too obvious for thieves or conversely, somewhere too obscure for the hen carer.

But when I went back to work a week on Monday, my fears were relieved. I had done a great job, J said, and yes the next helper had found the keys. Everything and everyone was well.

Phew!

I passed the practical test. Now I could get my own hens. 🐤🐤🐤

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Facts of the Day

1. Hybrids are commercial crossbreeds, developed for the battery egg industry in the 1950s.

2. Hybrids include black rock, white star, bluebelle, calder ranger, warrens, isa browns and hy-lines.

3. Popular pure breeds – which are light or heavy, bantam or full-size – include the Buff Orpington (the Queen Mum’s favourite), Sussex and Rhode Island Red.

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The Notorious D. I. Y project

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(Picture: Proposed location of coop)

🔨When I was a teenager, I couldn’t think of anything more tedious than venturing into shops such as B&Q, Homebase or Wickes and traipsing through the aisles. When I grow up, I would think, I will avoid such dull stores, selling such humdrum products as screws and planks of wood. Who in their right mind would spend their spare time in a D. I. Y store?

Roll on 20 years and there I am in Homebase, browsing screws and planks of wood with S, feeling excited about this new project we are about to embark on. One I feel will be an educational but fun (!) learning experience. It is, of course, to build the coop.  This will test our patience and stamina, mathematical and spatial intelligence, common sense, and (although I did not know it at the time) our ability to work on a project together without arguing.

Everything in the store fascinates me in the same way when I bought weld mesh and woodscrews from Screw Fix a week earlier. Some of the tools and materials will still be a mystery for some while but already I am learning. Who would have thought drills and screwdrivers would be so captivating?

Or the debate of whether to buy wire mesh or weld mesh would be so engrossing? (Answer – think of the foxes. Weld mesh is stronger and more of a deterrence).

When S told me, at the end of 2016, that he would help me with assembling the hen house, I was delighted. It was time for the dreaming to end and the doing to begin.

Sorting out drainage was a major element of January (A massive task in itself but that’s another chapter). Once that had been sorted, we focused on the coop design.

I couldn’t find a free and easy to use blueprint so I used a colleague’s coop – he supplied pictures and information of the ongoing construction –  as a model. I had less space though so my measurements would have to be different.

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Here is a confession to make. I love words. Give me poems, stories, novels, newspaper articles, sentences, paragraphs, adjectives, nouns… My job relies on language, I’m a member of a book club, English was my favourite subject at school.

Words are beautiful. I love them.

Just don’t ask me about numbers.

Unfortunately, as you can see in the picture above, figuring out how much nest box space and roosting room hens need requires numbers. Deciding the width, length and depth of a coop (and attached run) relies on maths.

Just as I thought I had left D. I. Y stores behind only to revisit them in my adulthood, so it was with maths.

My poor word-dominated brain was already confused.

And we haven’t even started making the coop yet.

(To be continued…)

Facts of the Day

1. Correct ventilation in the indoor section is needed to prevent build-up of bacteria, ammonia and condensation.

2. A pop-hole is a low door so hens can go in and out of the coop.

3. It is suggested perches should be broad, at least 5cm (2in) across.

Rurbanites and the Quails

I had pondered and wondered, deliberated and formulated about whether or not to get hens during 2015 and, as I explain in an earlier chapter, I wimped out for various reasons. Fear of disease, bird flu, being overwhelmed with the idea of having livestock in my garden when (in conventional eyes) they ought to be clucking merrily on a farm…

But the idea never really went away.

I picked up a library book about Rurbanites who lived in the city but craved the rural life. A chapter was on quails, and suddenly I could see those tiny birds scurrying around my side garden.

(That pesky side garden, always taking centre place of my rural fantasies!)

How could anyone complain about quails, petite, no smell, cute, little eggs…

And I really had to do something with my ‘bit on the side’. It was just a waste of land but I knew I was lucky to have it.

But no matter how sweet little quails were, they weren’t chickens.

And I knew if I got these quaint little creatures, I would still wish for, at a later point, hens.

Again.

So my loved ones had the pleasure(?!) of, once again, hearing me rabbiting on about chickens and how one day, I would have some. Probably ex-batts. Maybe bantams. Possibly hybrids.

One day. Not today. Or tomorrow. But definitely one day.

Finally S, exasperated at listening to the exact same spiel for the hundredth time or so, said words which, I am sure, he must have regretted many a time since.

‘If you draw a plan, I will help you build a coop.’

And so the Notorious D. I. Y project of 2017 began…

Facts of the Day

1. Quails belong to the pheasant family.

2. Quails’ eggs are seen as a delicacy and may be eaten in posh restaurants.

3. They lay about 230 eggs per year.

A Dirty* Weekend in Llandudno (*Dancing Part 2)

 

 

Facts of the Day

1. Llandudno Pier (2,295 feet/700m) is the longest in Wales.

2. The pier was opened in 1877.

3. Alice Liddell (the inspiration behind Alice in Wonderland) first holidayed in Llandudno in 1861.

Will They Make It? 

It was a lovely meander up the hill of Great Orme via the quaint heritage tram. We had, it was thought, enough time to fit in this charming journey before our 7.30pm trip to watch Dirty Dancing.

Our brief trip was a reminder we were here for such a short stay and a pity we would have to miss many attractions, such as the intriguing bronze age mine which we passed by.

Here’s what we could have gone to see…

A quick changeover at the half way station (and if you do have the time, do check out the history on the display boards) and we boarded our second tram for the next chapter of Great Orme.

At the summit were scenic views, a visitor centre and wildlife garden. Alas, no time to ponder. A few quick snaps and back on board, along with a much larger, noisier crowd than the one which came up with us.

But Llandudno, we have a problem.

The driver’s voice broke into pleasant thoughts, telling us there was a failure with the emergency brake on the tram below us. It would only take 10 minutes, the driver told us.

Those minutes stretched…

The horn honked. Our hopes raised.

The horn blasted again. Our hopes raised again.

But we weren’t going anywhere.

We speculated on whether we had enough time to leave Great Orme (by tram or by foot), get changed, eat at a restaurant (devouring fish and chips on a seafront bench in our theatre finery was rapidly becoming an option) and find Venue Cymru, our destination for Dirty Dancing?

The horn tooted again and this time we were off. A cheer resounded in the carriage. If wine was available we would have raised a glass. Cheers!

After a tasty fish and chips meal at the restaurant across from the tram station, we quickly dressed and headed down to the Promenade for a scenic walk beside the sea towards Venue Cymru. With the sea, wide prom and beautiful grand buildings, I would rate it as my number one walk to a theatre of all time.

And as for Dirty Dancing? Magnificent. So much energy and passion. How wonderful it would be to dance like that. Or just be able to dance…

Back to Zumba for me!

(Pictures showing various scenes of Llandudno, including a delightful pot of tea for two at the Alice in Wonderland inspired Lemon Tree cafe)

 

 

A Dirty* Weekend in Llandudno (*Dancing)

Facts of the Day

1. The tramway up Great Orme is the only cable-hauled street tramway in the UK.

2. It’s a one-mile journey to the summit of Great Orme (which is a country park and nature reserve).

3. Back in 1901, the tramway was built. In 1902, the first paying passengers travelled on the tram.

 

 

We gazed out through the open air ‘window’, a cold breeze chilling our faces and hands. In the distance, behind us, as we climbed steadily up Great Orme,  was the under-rated splendour of Llandudno Bay. We passed pleasurable scenes of hardy sheep grazing, hikers clambering up along the path, pretty little lopsided cottages, a long-defunct bronze age copper mine…

Yet there was a tense feeling in the air as we changed trams at the half way station. A cloud had emerged over the journey…

It started from my friend’s desire to watch Dirty Dancing. The popular musical had already been and gone at theatres closer to us. But it was due to be performed at Llandudno, some three hours away. Too far just for a day at the theatre, but we could always make it a weekend adventure?

Following our Thelma and Louise style Road Trip (perhaps with fewer exploits than our Hollywood duo, unless they too queued for half an hour at a Costa Coffee for a tea and toastie), we arrived at our seaside destination.

Llandudno, nestled between scenic hills and a beautiful sea backdrop, is a town of interesting historical buildings, Alice-related statues (apparently Alice of Wonderland fame used to holiday here), quaint cafes and independent shops galore, and a close proximity to stunning Snowdon.

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Five minutes away from our Victorian hotel, which was the old town hall no less, was a path to Great Orme. And a tram for those who were pressed for time or too weary for the climb. We opted for that as we had an appointment at 7.30pm with Johnny and ‘Baby’. Calculations told us that a 45-minute round-trip, leaving at 4.20pm, gave us plenty of time to get back, get changed, eat at a restaurant near the Venue Cymru and be on time for the show.

So we thought…

To be continued….

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Pictures showing journey up Great Orme

 

 

 

2015 – year of the pig

In 2015, I was all about the chickens. After seeing an article about ex-battery hens looking for homes, I could literally imagine them in my garden. My side garden wasn’t doing anything. It was just there, a spare piece of land filled mostly with stones or random plants, I knew not what they were. So that tiny plot was obviously waiting for my hens, right?

So I joined chicken internet forums, asked questions, made notes of the answers, bought books, became a regular visitor to Fulwood Library (great customer service, thanks Caroline and Chris!) read and researched, perused and contemplated. I saw images of poorly hens and dead roosters, articles on culling and roast chicken recipes, library book chapters on coops and breeds. My relatives told me about rats and smells and noise and neighbours who would report me for annoyances.

I attended jury service and bought a book one lunchtime from Oxfam about ultra-small smallholdings. Somehow during deliberation, among seriously talking about what verdict to reach, there was chat from jurors who knew people who had chickens. So many real people – that is people like me who had normal gardens, not acres – had them pottering about their patios.

For five months, I chatted about chickens.

In March, Simon asked me when I was getting them.

In May, he asked again. Had I got the garden ready for them yet?

Procrastination was in charge though.

I dithered because chickens seemed too ‘alien’ to me, too unusual. It felt like I would be giving farm animals a home rather than pets. I wasn’t a farmer. I shouldn’t have livestock.

And the pictures of poorly hens, queries about rats, criticism about smell… And then there was a case of bird flu not far from me! The last straw!)  🙁

So I rehomed Loco and Bugsy (I did not choose those names!) instead. Not hens, but two guinea pigs who are very endearing and cheeky, and were residing in a pet shop’s Adoption Section.

Loco, the black and white guy, thinks with his stomach and is a first class beggar. Bugsy, the punky red head, can be a tad irritable and reclusive (not as much now he knows there’s food around so it’s worth getting out there to see what’s happening!IMG_20170915_221432_BURST001_COVER.jpg) IMG_20170915_221448_BURST003.jpgbut Loco is his best pal and he misses him when he’s not around.

I had guinea pigs as a child. I knew how to look after them. If you put in the time and effort, they’re pretty easy to care for.

2015 – the Year of the Guinea Pig. 🐹

Will there be a Year of the Hen? 🐔

Damsels in Distress

310628Reading can take you to places of wonders and dangers. Like travelling, it can open your mind and take you places you never dreamt of going to before.

Which is how I ended up getting obsessed with chickens.

It was an article on the Internet, pleading at my heart strings. These birds need you, it said, showing a picture of a group of bald brown hens with sad eyes. They were former battery hens, kept in cramped cages for eggs,  and were being ‘released’ from their miserable prison years.

Many of the homes these previously unlucky – now lucky – ladies now resided were ordinary suburban (some even urban) houses with patios and lawns.

It was a revelation.

I never thought about hens in that way before. They were farm animals or lived in smallholdings. (As I found this was also a firm view held by my nearest and dearest).

Then I remembered a former colleague who chatted happily about her backyard chickens.

I perused the article. I gazed out at my petite garden. Could a coop fit out there? Would I have the discipline to wake very early to let them out each morning? Be responsible enough to arrange hen sitters to come and look after them?

I looked at those bald hens again in the photo.

Jemima would be a nice name.  Maybe Mabel and Ethel…

Hmmm.

Not yet. But maybe one day.

That was at the start of 2015.

A two-year odyssey of research, day dreaming, procrastination, hard work, blood, sweat and tears followed… 🐔

Note: I came across the title of this blog in a book called Chickens as Pets and thought, how apt. So Damsels in Distress title courtesy of Andrew Hinkinson’s Chickens as Pets.

 

 

The Buddha in my garden

There is a Buddha who sits on my patio. He appears to be gazing into my living room, meditating on the wonders of the universe. Or maybe he is just contemplating the weather and thinking, will this rain ever cease? 🤔

I live in what feels like the rainiest city in England. Now when one becomes a gardener, amateur or otherwise, one looks at what comes down from the sky differently to non-gardeners. Okay, during a dry spell, there will always be the odd complainer. It’s too hot, they will say, in an exasperated tone, fluttering a newspaper in front of them to fan their face from the relentless heat. (To be fair, it can get just a little too hot and then I am that person moaning!)

But most others will delight in such temperatures. What no rain, no cold, what’s there not to like?

I used to hate rain. What was the point of it? But when a myrtle dies slowly, leaves sadly curling up and falling off, because I, selfish person, forgot to water the plants on the patio during a rare dry summer, it’s time to rethink priorities. (Good news is, like Lazarus, my myrtle came back to life). 🌿

For most of the year, however,  there is no need to water my container plants thanks to the never-ending rainfall which appears attracted to my little haven. The clouds, very kindly,  prefer to water my lawn, which for the last five years has had rather a bog like appearance. ☔

My guinea pigs were eager to munch the grass. I was keen to be able to walk to the end of the garden without needing the help of Cedric, the Queen’s Guide to Morecambe Sands. At its worst, the lawn appeared as slippery and treacherous as the notorious sands themselves. And if I did get hens, they might well enjoy a wander and a nibble.

But at the moment, it was impossible.
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Something had to be done. ☔

From potboilers to potatoes

IMG_20170912_080521_BURST004.jpgI was once a rather different person. An avid bookworm, I could spend a full weekend absorbed in someone else’s world. More academic than practical, and much more a dreamer and thinker than a doer… This was who I was. And I still am that dreamer but since I was fortunate enough to acquire my first ever garden I realised practicality was a valuable skill to have if I wanted results. My garden is not large nor perfect. I have had a lot of help with it (thanks Dad and Simon!) especially during the bog years… And it has taken a long time to get to a point where I know what I want and what I want to do. Five years to be precise.

My love of all things connected to nature started with childhood walks with my dog Snoopy through woodland near my home. I lost interest in nature in my teens yet I would still love being around trees, plants and flowers. In my 20s, I always preferred rented accommodation with a garden to look out to or somewhere scenic nearby.  I turned 30 and discovered house plants, a gerbera was my first. And then one day I realised, despite protests to the contrary from my earlier self, it was time to put down my own roots. And so I had my little patch of land – decking,  a tiny boggy lawn, bamboo bed, two raised beds, stone borders. At the side of the house was a wild area of unknown weeds, a random ‘Christmas tree’, a derelict, falling-apart wooden shed and stones, lots of them.

My first ever garden.

What is this all about?

This is a tale of a 39-year-old woman and her dreams of living the ‘Good Life’ in a small modern house in the suburbs of a once-industrial city. I am Clare (without an i) and I want this journal to inspire others in the same way others have motivated me. There will be elements of smallholding, gardening, adventures, green tips, thoughts on environmental, lifestyle and animal welfare issues and optimism in an often negative world. 😊🦋🌲🌻🐔