Posted in Gardens

The littlest sunflower

Flowering!

Once upon a time there were five seeds who each had the potential to grow up to become tall and handsome sunflowers. This was during a pandemic and a time when an entire nation was locked down; its population was getting weary and worried. But these five sunflower seeds had power. They had the golden opportunity to grow … And grow smiles on admirers’ faces.

So beginneth the tale of the Littlest Sunflower.

Back in April 2020, my friend Emma held a sunflower competition via a WhatsApp group called Battle of the Plants. We were all sent five sunflower seeds (I received mine on May 1) and a recording form and we took it from there.

There were ‘spot’ awards throughout the growing period and prizes for the tallest plants. Photographic evidence and vital statistics were needed. There was no entrance fee but a donation to our chosen charity. I met Emma while volunteering at The Monkey Sanctuary in Cornwall – a charity which would be desperately needing funds at this time – so I donated to them.

Contestants came from all over, Lancashire, Somerset, Devon, Wales, Portsmouth, near Heathrow. Romania was the furthest. There was humorous banter about the judges. Unfortunately Mr Titchmarsh declined the opportunity to join the judging panel but Charlie Dimmock’s brother Charles, along with Monica Don and Tom Attorney, joined the judging panel! πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‚

One contestant started her sunflower’s life in a yogurt pot. Another had a M&S egg carton for hers. Then there was a milk carton, cut in half. I lovingly sowed mine in five colourful pots, trying to make sure I used proper compost so there would be no intruding weeds.

Sunflower pots

The first prize was for a seedling at least four inches tall. Some contestants’ seeds were doing well, with most sprouting. Others were still waiting for their first seedling. Like me.

Tips were given to fellow members such as: “I think mine were a bit dry and cold, have given them extra water and warmth and it seems to have done the trick.”

Some contestants got quite technical – and it paid off. The first spot prize went to “the lady who is using ‘aquaphonics and channelling the power of the super moon”.

There were disasters and near-disasters. Fellow contestant Linda told us: “I had to repot ours as we had a cat disaster. I carry them in from the conservatory at night when it’s chilly and put them on the kitchen window sill. Agatha our cat knocked them all down (on purpose I think). There were shoots everywhere and mud. I managed to find nine shoots from the carnage and repotted”.

And one day, lo and behold, I got seedlings! I happily sent a photo but was told that, alas, those pesky weeds had sneaked in after all and were busy posing as sunflowers. But these imposters were found out – their stems were too weedy to be sunflowers.

It was disappointing but I learnt a tip and that was to move the seeds further up, nearer to the top, so they wouldn’t drown.

But there was one seed which had promise, for this one had become a true sunflower albeit a tiny, feeble one.

All my hopes were on this guy now.

Other contestants boasted of great heights, already! Their seedlings were already growing up and getting moved out into the garden. Mine was a mere baby, still needing to be mollycoddled and even then ….

And even then a major disaster in June – my one hope, my only hope had snapped, breaking in two.

That was me out then. But kind Emma gave me another chance and I received five more sunflower seeds. Will these do any better?

Measuring time

While my five seeds started to sprout and grow, there was drama aplenty with the other flowers.

Some were murdered by slugs (Mr Dimmock recommends broken egg shells, cut hair or coffee grounds), others pelted by rain or blown by the wind. Mine were still indoors, carefully propped up in their pots with mini stakes.

My tallest was now 14cm. Then, like its predecessor, it snapped but its nearest sibling was now at 13cm. The smallest withered away but one continued to grow…

And then one day in the middle of October the little sunflower, the last one remaining of his siblings, woke up and started to flower.

Will it flower?

A late bloomer indeed! Not long after, I received a certificate to celebrate my little sunflower!

A late bloomer!
My certificate!
Posted in Environment, Gardens, Nature

Creating a Wildlife Pond

The new pond

Last autumn, Simon dug a pond in the newly cleared decking area of the garden.

The old pond, a large black container which was placed in the hens’ garden, had been dug out a few months prior. It was too deep, in an area which was sheltered with overhanging trees, hard to access or even see because of surrounding shrubs, and, perhaps worse of all, the chickens kept insisting on drinking from it!

The water had turned stagnant and smelt dreadful and I do not know what happened to the pond plants I had put in there a few years ago. The cobbles I had once delicately placed around had gradually slipped in over the last two years and there were no life forms living in or around this hostile environment.

So we took the large tub out, dug compost over the hole and relocated the pond – this time using a small (albeit heavy) sink. Duckweed and water plantain were planted in the pond and cobbles decorated the edges. It was all set and ready for wildlife to visit. In fact, a mere five minutes or so after completion, a little robin arrived and perched at the side of the pond as if giving his approval.

The old pond in the chickens’ garden, guarded by Florence

Pond Facts

1. Wildlife loves ponds, whether it’s as a habitat or watering hole. In fact, I’ve heard that one of the best things you can do for wildlife in your garden is to dig a pond. For example, frogs are dependent on garden ponds as they need water to breed.

2. My first pond was in an awkward place, not helped by overhanging trees. Christine and Michael Lavelle suggest trying ‘to avoid a site that is shared by trees because they will not only cut out light, but their leaves will drop into the water, enriching it with mineral nutrients.’ This attracts algae in the warmer months.

3. There are three types of plants for ponds – oxygenator (for oxygen), deep-water aquatics (shades water from too much sunlight), and marginal/emergent plants (offers shade and cover for animals at the edge of pond. They are also used by dragonflies and nymphs to ‘crawl out’ and pupate).

Information taken from The Illustrated Practical Guide to Wildlife Gardening by Christine and Michael Lavelle.
Posted in Chickens, Gardens, Pets

Tribute to Florence

Florence

Just over three years on from her arrival at Cosy Cottage, Florence crossed over the Rainbow Bridge following a period of ill health.

Florence’s life and death left a bigger impact on me than I thought possible with a hen. It was Florence who really showed me how complex and lovable chickens really were. And what an impact such tiny creatures can have on their human guardians.

She made me smile and worry and feel protective.

She made me laugh, like the time she was brooding and stubbornly insisted on sitting on a plant pot after I closed the coop door.

Broody Flo

She taught me to be more patient and caring during her illness.

And to be less screamish about mealworms!

Flo first arrived with her two sisters Jemima and Dottie in 2017, they were slightly older than her by a couple of weeks. The difference in Florence and her siblings was apparent straight away. While Jemima was quiet and reserved and Dottie was chatty, they were both confident in themselves and about humans. No, they did not want to be picked up, thank you very much, but this was only because it was their personal preference. They were not scared of humans on arrival. Merely tolerated them.

Florence, on the other hand, was terrified. When she saw a human, she flapped her wings and made a big fuss.

“Murder! I’m being murdered!”

It’s hard to believe now but this state of fear was really the case for the first few weeks of Flo’s life here.

Florence

She was a real little scaredy chicken.

Was the sky going to fall in? It was, it was!!!

Oh dear, poor Flo.

Dottie would then helpfully peck her on the top of her head to put her back in her place.

And then, as I wrote in https://cosycottageandthequestforthegoodlife.wordpress.com/2017/11/11/florence/

Florence changed from a frightened Cinders into a confident and charismatic Cinderella.

She became popular with all. When my godchildren came to visit, she proved a big hit with Noah, five at the time. As she was the only hen laying, she was the most amenable for being picked up. Which she was. A lot. But Flo’s patience shone through.

Dad admitted she was his favourite and Mum described her as the “best hen”.

I think it was because of her personality, but the eggs would have helped too.

Of all the chickens, she was the best layer. During spring and summer (except when brooding), she laid eggs nearly every second day. This year there was no brooding so she broke all records for her egg laying.

No mean feat for a little Pekin bantam.

And the eggs were absolutely delicious.

She knew it too. How Flo boasted about her eggs after she laid them! Her egg song proclaimed her eggs were the best of all the world! Not just the world, the universe!

But she also had her broody moments, where she proved very stubborn indeed. She was going to have chicks and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

Florence and Jemima

Her broody adventures can be seen here: https://cosycottageandthequestforthegoodlife.wordpress.com/2018/06/23/brooding-buddies/

and here: https://cosycottageandthequestforthegoodlife.wordpress.com/2019/08/17/the-broody-sisters/

Jemima, Dottie and Florence

Flo was very independent, often seen doing her own thing, digging away for worms. Worms was her favourite food. Whenever I held a bag of mealworms, she would be jumping, trying to grab them from my hand. When I started digging, she would be first there, eagerly anticipating tasty creepy crawlies.

She was also demanding. Especially first thing in the morning when she would insist that it was time to be let out of the coop.

Did I say she was popular with everyone?

Hmm, maybe not the neighbours.

There’s a reason why the girls have longer lie-ins these days.

I used to have to run to let them out during the early mornings before a squawking Florence would fly and jump angrily at the coop door.

“Let me out! For **** sake, I’ll be missing the worms!” I could imagine her screeching.

Florence had her ups and downs with her friends. She never had any ‘besties’ and was often on her own, digging away. Although when it was brooding time, she was often seen cuddling up to Jemima, her fellow brooder.

Dottie always seemed to patronise her, pecking her in a “I’m bigger and older than you” sort of way. But it was Mabel who she had a real feud with. A feud that started a year ago when Florence was brooding – in what Mabel perceived as her nesting space.

This summer, Florence had a welcome break from Mabel when her enemy was stuck indoors.

‘Staying at Home’ like a good girl during lockdown? No, she was brooding, waiting for imaginary eggs to hatch. Sometimes – the irony – she would be in what Flo would think was her nesting space and Flo would fuss and grumble until I took Mabel out and left Flo to do her hard work in peace. Eventually Flo realised that there were other levels and other corners in the coop, which could also be used to lay eggs in.

But when Flo was out enjoying herself and saw her broody foe come out of the coop, she would give a loud screech.

“**** off!”

And sometimes she would ‘swear’ for no known reason.

Ava and Florence investigate the wood shavings

Flo always came across as a sweet girl so her reaction to the new kids on the block, Mabel and Ava, was very surprising. The pair came to Cosy Cottage a year after Flo, Dottie and Jemima. Of course, I had heard that chickens could be hostile to newbies to the pecking order but somehow I expected more of Florence.

But no, instead of acting like a good neighbour, when she saw the new ladies, she flew at their coop in a fit of anger.

Towards the end, when I looked after Flo in my house, she proved to be a determined girl as she battled illness. A scratch on her eye developed into an infection. She went to the vet on two occasions, receiving antibiotics, an injection and painkiller. But despite a brief recovery, she took a downturn and never recovered.

On her last day, I thought she had gone but then she half opened her eye … as if to say “goodbye”.

Florence

Goodbye Flo, a golden girl in colour and personality, the garden and coop feel a lot quieter without you.

* For those who don’t know, Rainbow Bridge is a poetic term for the afterlife for animals.

Posted in Gardens

Garden Makeover 1: Goodbye Decking, Hello Patio

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The decking in my garden served as a patio, container garden and convenient place to keep the guinea pig hutch and other miscellenia. It was already there when I moved in nine years ago and I was fond of it.

It was, however, also the home and hiding nest of a family of rats who would often come out and steal food from the chickens and wild birds. Now, I could tolerate a small number of rats if I had a massive garden, and lived far from neighbours, out in the countryside. But rats don’t know how to use birth control and my garden is tiny and far too near neighbours. If there were complaints, would the hens get the blame?

It was time for eviction.

Oh, and just in case you think removing the decking is a drastic way to get rid of rats, the decking, which has been there for at least 10 years, probably much longer, was rotting and far from looking its best. It needed a complete revamp, with new planks installed, or a total removal.

So Simon made the first move in removing the planks with the help of a crowbar. A much harder job than expected as the planks were so firmly stuck down. Eventually, by the end of the first day, he had removed the side and floor posts.

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It was a mess, but it needed to be done.

Then the remaining posts were loosened and taken away by Dad.

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Slowly, over the week, Dad worked on the decking, a little at a time. Digging out remaining stumps and donning gloves and cleaning up ‘what lies beneath’ (including a rat’s nest).

We thought a path continuing from the rest of the garden to the back door was essential, as was a path to the chickens in the side garden. Perhaps a little patio, just right for a table and chairs on the right, and a vegetable/herb patch to the left.

A membrane went down where the path would be and golden flint stone placed on top. Moonstone had been the option for the previous path but no longer seemed to be stocked by the nearest JTF, the nearest store.

The plan was to finish this part of the garden during my week off, but after a glorious spell of sun and heat, the rain decided to come back. Good for the plants, not so much for working outside. Thanks rain.

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But there is always tomorrow and every time I look out at where the decking used to be, instead of seeing a mucky mess, I’m thinking: ‘Things are starting to look interesting….’

To be continued…

 

Posted in Chickens, Gardens

Jemima, Dottie and the Golden Bloom

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Jemima and Dottie are wondering why their servant (i.e me) is standing at the other side of the fence with a spade and a plant.

“Why is she not coming into our garden?” Jemima queries.

“She uses that thing to dig for worms. What’s the point of doing it where we can’t get to the tasties? Also, what’s this delicious looking treat?

“Planting it in the wrong place. That’s what it is. A very silly thing to do, Dottie. Why did she not give it to us? We would look after it for her.”

But, alas, the goldenrod remains out of the girls’ reach.

On the plus side, their trusty and loyal servant did not let them down. Feeling that she had neglected the wishes of her superiors, she volunteered to go into their garden to dig some soil.

A good job was done and the hens happily found some worms.

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Posted in Gardens, Self-sufficiency

Herbs and Bee Bars (update)

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Do you remember a post I wrote a little while ago (it was March 28) called Herbs for the Kitchen? I planted basil, chive and parsley seeds in three little pots. Well, as you can see from the top image, it’s worked. My guinea pigs Tom and Tim were eager to be, well, guinea pigs and experiment with the basil and parsley. They gave it the thumbs up!

My Bee Bar (which I wrote about on April 11) of hyssop, verbena and lavender seeds has started to show green shoots so here’s hoping that soon I will have more food for the bees and more beauty for my garden.

 

Posted in Gardens

A bar for the bees

aromatherapy beautiful blooming blur
Photo by Palo Cech on Pexels.com

At the time of writing, it’s early days of lockdown and I don’t know how long it will last or whether it will get even worse than it is now. Like many people, I have a lot of worries about it but I’m aiming to live in the present and make much use of my time indoors and in my garden.

Today I decided to grow my Bee Bar Grow Bar. It’s a bee-friendly coconut fibre bar of hyssop, verbena and lavender seeds. I received it as a Christmas present and have been planning to plant it for the last three months.

Happily all packaging can be recycled and the coconut fibre is a sustainable alternative to peat.

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I grew this in March, the instructions say to start it between February and June so this is good timing hopefully.

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I placed the bar in a container and then poured half a litre of water into the tray. When it was nearly dry, I poured more water into the tray and have left it next to my patio door where it should receive sunlight and heat.

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Apparently in a few weeks my bar will have little seedlings and these will grow for a further month before being ready for separation and planting. So I will be keeping a careful eye on both my kitchen herb seeds and this bee-friendly bar of lavender, hyssop and verbena.

P. S Thank you very much Caroline for this thoughtful present! πŸ˜€

aromatherapy beautiful blooming blur
Photo by Palo Cech on Pexels.com

 

 

Posted in Gardens, Self-sufficiency

Herbs for the Kitchen

 

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I bought these little herb pots in December and, now I’m living at a time when home and garden life has become more important, it seems like the ideal time to sow these seeds. I have planted parsley seeds before with mixed success, but if it works, I and the guinea pigs will be very happy!

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There are three lovely little china planters sitting on a tray, 10 compost pellets, basil, chive and parsley seeds.

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First, I placed the compost pellets in a container and poured 450ml of lukewarm water.

I left it to stand for about 45 minutes. After this time, I mixed the compost.

I then filled each pot two thirds full with the compost and scattered a sparse layer of seeds – parsley, chives and basil – in a pot each. I then covered each pot with a thin layer of compost.

It now takes pride of place on my kitchen window – a warm, well lit area as suggested by the instructions on the box.

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According to the instructions, it says ‘keep compost moist at all times ‘ and ‘after a few weeks, harvest with scissors as required ‘.

I haven’t used up all the seeds or compost so I’ll put both in a convenient place and re-seed when ready.

Hopefully I will have some herbs for both myself and the guinea pigs in a few weeks!

 

Posted in Chickens, Gardens, Reblog, Self-sufficiency

Down at the allotment

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This is an earlier post I wrote, back in September 2017. I feel like I have learnt a lot about chickens since then!

March 2020

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, Β 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!) πŸ”πŸ”πŸ”

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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, Β 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.

Posted in Chickens, Gardens, Pets

Chickens and Compost

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Apart from a deluxe dust bath, there’s nothing like a good rummage through freshly turned over compost. One never knows what one might find – worms, grubs… There’s a whole treasure trove in the compost, waiting to be discovered and devoured.

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Unfortunately, as my dad was digging out the compost, he spotted two rats, feasting themselves. So when we put the bin back in place, we placed some wire netting underneath to deter these intruders. Fingers crossed, this will work!

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