Parsley is a delightful savoury treat – for humans, guinea pigs and even for chickens. The girls had been proudly presenting me and my family with freshly laid eggs so it was my turn to treat them. I bought three reasonably priced parsley plants in a supermarket and planted them in the side garden, otherwise known as Hen Garden.
The ladies headed straight for the herbs. In the space of less than two hours, the parsley was no longer to be seen. It had been eaten, trampled on, demolished and vandalised.
(I call them ladies but that sort of behaviour is not very ladylike really. Is it Dottie?).
And it did make me think, my back garden is pretty much green with many plants (unfortunately many weeds and unidentifiable ones too) – Hen Corner in contrast is brown and barren except for a few lonely specimens such as an apple tree.
It wasn’t always such a forlorn desert.
Where has all the greenery gone?
Then I spotted Mabel gobbling up yet another leaf from one of the lucky plants still standing.
I often have neighbours popping into Cosy Cottage Garden Cafe. It is a self-service restaurant where customers can just help themselves to the regularly replenished supplies.
Fat balls are supplied, a delicacy favoured by the tits. The long-tailed tits come as a large close-knit family, the blue tits and great tits venture in by themselves or in pairs.
Robin is a regular, a nosy fellow, he likes to keep an eye on any gardening being done. Unfortunately, he is a jealous loner too, and doesn’t like to see others in his café.
There’s plenty of room for you all, I say, keeping the peace as cafe proprietor.
But he ignores me and shouts abuse at a larger blue tit.
Luckily, when the argumentative Robin flies on to another cafe, my customers come back. But despite his bad behaviour to other clients, he is a favourite regular and is always welcome here.
Blackbird prefers the ground seating to upstairs. As well as scatterings from the bird table, he may be lucky enough to catch a juicy worm for dessert. He too comes by himself, but is happy enough to share the edibles with the other birds.
Pigeon too, is a regular customer, sometimes he brings his mate and they munch on tasty leftovers, dropped by messy eaters from above.
Fat balls aren’t the only item on offer. There are coconut feeders and an array of healthier seed is also available, although the fat balls are the most popular. A drinking area with water is also set aside for my clients.
As well as regulars, there are the more flamboyant visitors. A bullfinch and his mate have hovered in the nearby trees, a nuthatch paid a visit on a couple of occasions, sampling the goods, and a Jay has also been a colourful client, staying a short while. Sparrows, starlings, a coal tit and a shy little dunnock, who prefers not to be noticed, have all sampled the delights of Cosy Cottage café.
It is a pleasure to serve such a diversity of characters. Do you have a ‘cafe’ in your garden?
Facts of the Day
1. The tail of the long-tailed tit is more than half the bird’s total length.
2. The great tit is the largest member of the tit family in Britain. More than 50 distinct calls and songs have been identified.
3. Coal tits are the smallest tit in Britain. Its favourite habitat is coniferous woodland.
How easy is it to be green? I think it’s about being organised and consuming less and being more aware of what we buy.
I’m not a militant green who has forgone all unethical goods. I’m just me, who can only do a little at a time. Maybe it’s not enough. It probably isn’t. And maybe I’ll get judged for still doing this or that or the other.
But surely it’s better to do something, no matter how small?
Every year I come up with new year resolutions, usually broken by the middle of the year. But what if this year, 2019, was different? What if that was the year in which I kept my environmental resolution?
So here goes, five green resolutions.
1. Check for palm oil in ingredients. Making palm oil as commonplace as it is these days has unfortunately come at a high cost to the rainforests – and to animals such as orangutans who live there.
2. Cut down on plastic. This may mean buying fewer bottles of water and Irn-Bru. One thing I did this year was drink water from a cup at work, rather than getting plastic cups from the water machine. There is so much plastic in our seas that the less we use the better for the planet.
3. Drive less. Get the bus, train or walk. Might do my waistline some good too!
4. Renew my membership of The Woodland Trust. They create and maintain woodland habitats for wildlife, vitally important at a time when we humans are destroying their places to live at an increasingly rapid place.
Poor Jemima! All summer she had the broody affliction which meant she didn’t want to leave her nest box in case her invisible (actually non-existent) eggs hatched. And when she finally snapped out of that, she started losing her feathers and became bedraggled and tatty looking. A poor specimen of her former, proud, snow-white plumage-covered glory.
And then Florence started copying off her, losing her thick, soft plumage and becoming scrawny in appearance.
(If you remember, Florence copied Jemima when she started brooding in the summer too. Is Jemima Florence’s role model?)
But panic not. It’s all part of the normal annual moulting process.
It’s in late summer/early autumn when birds begin to shed their feathers and grow new ones. Dottie went through her moult earlier this year, in September. Jemima and Florence are shedding their feathers in November. I don’t know when Mabel and Ava will go through the process for their first time.
For all hens, no eggs (or certainly very few) will be laid during this time – even from good layers such as hybrids.
The advice for hen keepers is to make sure they have plenty of food as they will need good nutrition and protein to enable them to grow new feathers for the cold months ahead.
I pour a little apple cider vinegar into their water as a pick-me-up tonic as I saw it suggested in a book.
Thankfully, nature has kindly given hens a helping hand during this process – the feathers are replaced slowly and this means chickens won’t lose too many feathers at once. A handy thing as it means they will still be able to fly out of danger (unless they’re a bantam, in which case it might be more a case of run out of danger!)
Facts of the Day
1. Young birds moult twice during their first six months of life.
2. A partial moult sometimes also occurs in the early part of the year, often just affecting the neck.
3. A young hen will take around 6 weeks to finish the process, it may be double that for older birds.
From Choosing & Raising Chickens, Jeremy Hobs on & Celia Lewis
As regular readers will know, there are three feathered inhabitants of Cosy Cottage – Jemima, Florence and Dottie.
That is, until now.
When I first got the hens, I had been thinking of adopting between three and five but, out of caution, I ended up with three bantams. This was fine until Jemima and Florence both ended up being broody and Dottie was left out, looking as if she was Dottie-no-mates. Which she probably felt as well. At that point I started thinking, would it be a good idea to get another two?
Then Dottie became ill and I contemplated the horrid possibility of losing her. Then there would just be two and if anything happened to one of them, there would be a sole bantam wandering the garden, looking and feeling glum, no doubt.
There is a joke among chicken keepers called Chicken Maths where…
Simon’s garden is the opposite of neat and manicured – and this is all for the better as it is a shared garden, used by both locals and residents living further away. And these users – birds, insects, reptiles, butterflies and mammals – appreciate his garden, coming back to feed and drink, or living there quite happily. I’m rather envious of this as my garden doesn’t attract quite as many different species as Simon’s. Woodpeckers, blackcaps, wood warblers, goldfinches, greenfinches, frogs, blackbirds … these are just an example. So he took me on a garden tour and gave me tips along the way. We did this in August so a lot of colour had unfortunately gone, but there were still many good ideas.
The front garden
Sink pond in the front garden, which is often used by garden birds having a ‘bath’.
Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece. It is usually used for sleep disorders, such as insomnia.
The back garden
Verbena. According to the Wildlife Trust, there are around 250 species of verbena. They are very useful plants providing nectar for butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
Sink garden. At the top there is a gap caused by a plant dying in the 2018 summer drought, (even rock gardens need watering but due to the high drainage it’s difficult). There is also thrift, small leaves of thyme and a red campion seedling (weed that can be moved). Middle right, are stonecrop and thrift. Dominating slightly are the silvery leaves of dianthus (Latin name) in the middle bottom. There are a few ox eye daisies dotted around.
Water butts capture rain water which can then be used to water plants. Very handy, especially in a drought. A water butt is something I keep meaning to buy.
Buddleia, echinacea, crocosmia and evening primrose
Crocosmia, valerian and red campion
Black Niger seed attracts goldfinches. A plastic bottle on the wooden stand deters rats, much and squirrels from climbing up
Peanuts. A plant pot collects any remains – another gathering spot for birds – in the plant pot!
Above left, black Niger seed attracts goldfinches. A plastic bottle prevents rats, mice and squirrels from climbing up. Above right, a plant pot collects leftovers from peanuts. Often birds can be found in the plant pot, enjoying their breakfast leftovers!
The main pond, with frogbit on the surface and wormwood in the foreground. At the back, behind the stone turtle, is a frog hideaway. Simon has three ponds altogether – two in the back garden and a small sink pond in the front, often used by birds for washing.
A visitor and probable resident – woodpecker and frog. Simon has rescued tadpoles from elsewhere on a couple of occasions, when the water levels have dropped because of the weather or the pond has become stagnant. They lived in a second hand aquarium in his house until ready to move into the garden pond.
Nest boxes in an old tree. Several birds have lived – and reared their young here – over the years.
Flower of Kent apple tree. This is the variety of apple Isaac Newton saw falling to the ground in 1666 – and inspired his theory of gravity.
Facts of the Day
1. The single easiest way to add wildlife value to a garden is to install a pond. It doesn’t matter how small. Consider adding a plank of wood to help any wildlife that might fall in.
2. If you want to grow vegetables, it’s best to stop using chemical pesticides. These upset the natural balance and can be lethal for wildlife (and not just the ‘pests’.
3. A compost heap is an essential for a wildlife garden. It cuts down the waste sent to landfill and provides a habitat for a number of insects – which can be a good food source for hedgehogs and other animals.
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?
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.
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?
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! 🥔🥔🥔
Facts of the Day
A tatty/tatties is a Scottish informal word for potato/potatoes. Spud is another slang term.
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.
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