New Arrivals

It’s been an exciting September in Ides Garden.  Our silkie went broody and hatched out two Cream Legbar eggs (we’re hoping for blue eggs in the future) and we had a further surprise: one of our quail went broody (top right corner) and subsequently hatched a chick (seen as a little yellow ball under mum in the bottom right pic)!

As mentioned in my previous post about our quail, there appears to be a general belief in some quarters that Cortunix quail have had most of their “natural” behaviour bred out of them and that they, subsequently, won’t go broody (and if they do, they certainly won’t be able to care for any chicks).  Obviously further research showed more than a few people who, of course, had had quail successfully hatch and care for their young and we were thrilled when we discovered the little yellow quail chick peeking out from mum one sunny afternoon.  It is yet further confirmation that the quail are happy in their accommodation!

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Quail Improvements

quail

Towards the beginning of May we got our first quail.  Initially 3 week old Golden and Partridge Cortunix quail (also known as Japanese quail and the species that is farmed commercially for meat and egg production).  It wasn’t long afterwards that we went on to bring in some further white Cortunix as day olds (we raised them under heat).

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White Cortunix quail chicks

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Quail chicks are immensely tiny!

In researching keeping quail I have learned some very interesting things and become increasingly enamoured with these busy, tenacious little birds.

The main thrust of advice regarding keeping quail recommends that they are kept in cages (and much of it that they should be kept on wire – as in a wire floor, although people do give them some non-wired space to retreat to).  Newcomers are assured that this is the most productive way to keep quail and that it really doesn’t bother them.  NB: EU minimum space requirements for quail are horrific – the size of a beermat! Please visit the link at the end of the post for more information and support the call to end this terrible practice!

With its association (in my mind) with battery farming, there was no way that I could do that, so we started off keeping them in small numbers in a rabbit hutch.  It was indeed messy – they needed A LOT of cleaning out.  I felt rather sorry for them and, noticing that they were attempting to dust bathe in the wood shavings, we popped a seed tray of dry soil in (which they immediately dived into and proceeded to scratch and roll around in with great joy – at which point I shed a tear at the thought of birds kept with no access to such small pleasures!)  We were also “hardening off” the white quail (much like plants, as the young quail had previously been kept inside with a heat plate, they had to be steadily acclimatised to the outdoors) – popping them in a covered run, I often found them sunbathing and it was very clear they were enjoying having greens to peck at.  It became increasingly clear that they all needed something *more* than the rabbit hutches.

Free-ranging quail isn’t really much of an option for us – they’re tiny and a massive target for any passing predator (unlike chickens who are too big generally for cats or sparrowhawks), plus they have harrier jump jet tendencies (if spooked they will launch themselves vertically into the air, before zooming off in any given direction – I have watched this happen and, believe me, they are FAST!)  Apparently they are not likely to come back (although I’m not sure I’d want to if kept in a wire cage, either and I have read accounts that don’t agree with this). They are just not very safe out there in the big bad world and as a UK summer migrant at its northern limit here, I would be concerned for any escapee’s survival once winter hit (they are on the RSPB’s amber list – if you’re interested in learning more about wild quail, they have a page here).

I started to read more about keeping quail in aviaries and began to wonder whether, as with chickens, there existed a “more natural” approach to their keeping.  I found “The Holistic Hen”: http://holistic-hen.blogspot.co.uk who has some fantastic articles.  Reading her blog and a few threads on various forums, shored up my belief that, as with chickens, quail are best kept in as close to their natural environment as you can provide for them.

A friend was giving up keeping chickens and offered us her old coop and run.  The coop was reserved for our growing flock of chickens, but the run, at over 2 metres long, seemed perfect as an upgrade for the quail.  It was divided into two with an internal dividing door, meaning that we could introduce the separate coveys (groups) of quail to each other before letting them run together and, if a big clean was needed, could shut them all into one part temporarily, to minimise stress (and possible escape) for them.

I set about fixing and amending it for the quail as one major addition had to be put in.  As mentioned before, when startled, quail jump vertically (aka “boinking”).  Over a certain height they reach a velocity that means if they hit their head they will do serious damage (or die).  My solution to this was to give them a reserve parachute to help slow any rapid ascent by loosely stretching some netting across (although, since their introduction into the run I haven’t see any incidence of boinking – and can only assume that they feel far happier and more secure).  In addition to this, the run was put on concrete blocks giving us the option to use the Deep Litter method.  I added places for shelter and some pots of plants and John added some branches for further cover and interest and we moved the quails in.  The roof has a plastic cover that can be pulled over in bad weather (and a further bit that can be dropped down over one side to add further protection).

quail run

Over the past few weeks we have watched them with interest.  They settled and mingled very quickly.  Those hens already laying, continued to lay with no break (which might’ve been expected due to potential stress from being moved) and one of the white quail has also since come into lay.  Even our invalid hen (who had been mercilessly bullied and has spent most of her life isolated in a temporary sick bay and at one point we didn’t think was going to make it) has been successfully reintroduced and, although she still looks ropey (due to feather loss from a secondary infection caused by her repeatedly scratching her wounds) she happily sun and dust bathes with the others.

Where before, opening their hutch had clearly caused quite some stress for the golden and partridge quail (and one would always desperately try to escape), the reaction to us when we open a door now is completely different.  They are more relaxed, no panic.  They have plenty of space to move away if they want to, but I’m finding that they don’t always do so and will stay reasonably close and watch what I’m doing (the white quail have always been more calm and we haven’t had the same issues with them).

Whilst there hasn’t been any “boinking” witnessed, I have seen them fly.  They have worked out that they can glide from one part to the other through the open door and they do – I assume mostly in reaction to the odd natural bicker, but also even when clearly relaxed they appear to like to have a good old flap whilst standing,  They are naturally ground birds, but every-so-often I think they enjoy giving their wings a bit of movement.

A further tray of bolting salad was popped in and they have clearly enjoyed demolishing it, so they will now have a supply of seed trays sown with various tidbits  to eat and soil to rip up. The floor of the run has soil, clippings, etc, added to it for them to rootle through and the maintenance of it is so much easier than dealing with woodshavings on newspaper on a solid wood floor! And no smell (seriously!)

hanging_out

Shhhhhh! I think the chickens might be jealous!

For more information on keeping poultry more naturally (and quail – who are not classed as poultry, but are a game bird), you may find the following sites helpful:

If you would like to add your voice to the demand to end the battery farming of quail in the EU (and I hope you do) please visit: Compassion in World Farming for more information.

Slow Living and Garden :: July 2016

poppies

And then the garden went Boom!  I’ve never been the tidiest gardener – a couple of years ago I took part in a series with Monty Don and he sighed at me a lot and was very patient, but did say that I was rather “chaotic” – as it was, we found out that we had to move halfway through filming, which kind of put the kai-bosh on our plans (and as it was, it was all very rushed and we moved the day after we finished filming – very, very far from ideal!)

I did try to be more tidy, really I did, but with a baby on the way and then here and some residual health issues from that experience (10b 11oz is bl**dy heavy, especially when your back isn’t at its best and said baby is baby no 6!) “tidy” went out of the window – as did getting much done in the garden.

But slowly, very slowly, we are finally getting around to pulling the garden into productive use (it was all grass and concrete when we moved in).  And yes, I do weed, when I need to, but also tolerate (and indeed welcome) more “weeds” than many gardeners would perhaps tolerate – I’m happy to leave them in their space whilst I’m not using it.  It may not work for everyone, but it does for me.

salad

We’ve built various raised beds – the one above is closest to the patio and holds a selection of salad leaves, plus some fuchsia I had nowhere else to put and a rescued honeysuckle (we’re planning to give it something a bit more attractive to climb up next year).

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The currants and gooseberries all have temporary homes around the garden, as some will be moved out front when we move on to pulling up the paving (the front is entirely paved) to make space for a front garden and others will be arranged around the planned for trees when we start planted them in the autumn/winter.  Here they’re fairly well hidden by bolted chard.

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The two large raised beds are almost unrecognisable from a few months ago.  The eventual plan for the garden is to grow more perennials, but for the time being they are home to various annuals (including self-seeded perpetual spinach, amongst other things).

We have had many self-seeded sunflowers around the garden.  Some I have rehomed to pots, others I’ve sadly had to pull and compost, but some I just left to get on with it.  I like to leave the odd perpetual spinach/chard/lettuce to bolt and seed about.

Around the raised beds I’ve been planting various herbs (including transplanting strawberries from the “wild side” – yes, we do have a wilder side) and the plan is to put in stepping stones and let the herbs spread around them.

The eventual plan for the fences on both sides are espaliers and fans of fruit trees (our neighbour on the pictured side will be collaborating with us, staggering trees back and forth across the fence).

beds

So far this year we have harvested: beetroot (leaves), chard, kale, perpetual spinach, broad beans, borlotto beans, courgettes, black and red currants, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, a few carrots (the first sowing was disturbed and the carrots’ growth damaged as a result – but there will be more to come), lettuce (various), welsh onions, nettles, nasturtium (leaves so far), basil, sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary, calendula, lavender, lemon balm, various mints, potatoes, rhubarb, cucumbers (from the conservatory) – I’m bound to have forgotten something!

I’ve been busy processing berries into cordials and crumbles, plus drying a few (cherries pictured aren’t from the garden).  Rhubarb, lemon balm and mint have all been used to make more cordials (and in the case of the latter two, have also been added to homemade lemonade).  A raspberry liqueur has also been added to list of things steeping for the Winter Solstice.

Coming fast in the wings are tomatoes and dwarf beans.

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“Purple Queen” dwarf bean flowers

anastasia

The hedgerow in the chicken run is doing very well (I do dive in and weed a bit occasionally, but the chickens really enjoy access to the abundant salad bowl).

hanging_out

feverfew

The neglected side of the garden is home to rampant raspberries and other hardy thugs competitors (I’m looking at you, feverfew).  Yes, I should probably have tied the raspberries and yes, I did forget to cut them back early this year – but the upside of that is bonus accidental double cropping of the raspberries, so not a complete loss!  Many are due to be rehomed to the shaded side of the new allotment and others will be finding a “tidy” home out front where they will lead a cultivated, tied in existence, for front garden presentation’s sake, to make room for the planned for espaliers and fans.

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And finally a quick pic of my little helper – who loves being in the garden – he enthusiastically helps me pick and weed (and is the reason I still don’t have any garlic chives in the garden…)

Growing our flock

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With one older lady of a bantam and a grumpy, broody Silkie freeloader in residence, we’ve not been getting much in the way of chicken eggs recently (quail eggs are another matter) so we have had some openings for chickens that will actually lay.

They are a few options when buying chickens and one of the more expensive is to buy what are called “Point of Lay” (POL) hens.  The reasons for this are both obvious and understandable – after all, said hens will be 18 weeks (plus) old and the seller will be taking into account the time, effort and feeding involved in raising the hens to this point.  Hybrid hens will be cheaper, but we have been interested in keeping a few breeds and seeing how we get on with them and prices can be quite a bit more expensive (and that price rises for adult birds from “good” lines).  So we took a cheaper route and bought chicks that were less than a week old.  NB: it is also possible to buy fertile eggs and hatch them either under a broody hen or in an incubator – but our regular broody had been broody on nothing for quite a while, so I wasn’t sure she would either still be broody by the time we’d had some eggs delivered, or sit on the eggs long enough as she had already been sitting for ages.

chicks

lavender_pekin_chick

rhode_island_red_chick

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We bought seven chicks, sadly one died within days, but the rest continued to grow at a fast rate.    By about 6 weeks (and with pleasant warm temperatures) they no longer needed added heat (we used a heating plate to brood them in place of a mother hen they could sit beneath) and started to move outside to meet the resident older girls.

 chicks

First trip onto the grass and they’re still so very tiny and a tad fluffy still.

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However, a few weeks later they are looking so much bigger and it’s pretty clear that we have three cockerels.  From front to back: Rhode Island Red (female), Light Sussex (male), Black Pekin (male), Silver Laced Wyandotte (pretty much hiding and probably male) and at the back a Light Sussex female (clearly showing the difference between her and the other Light Sussex).

chicks2

Rather happy that these two are very likely girls (as they’re both absolute dears).  The are a Rhode Island Red (at the rear) and a Lavender Pekin (she is so much smaller because she is a bantam).

The chicks were then moved to a separate outdoor coop with covered run so that the resident girls could start to get used to them, until, more recently they are allowed out to explore the main run under strict supervision: they are vulnerable to passing cats and sparrow hawks – the older hens aren’t particularly bothered with them, although they occasionally give them a warning peck and the little black pekin came under a mini beating this morning for trying to nick the old girl’s treat – she very quickly put him in his place!

They absolutely love having a good run around and forage in the hedgerow and it gives them a chance to dustbath in the sun and watch the older hens and learn more of their chicken ways.

bosslady

The next step will be to introduce them all (old and young) into a new (to us) larger coop (that currently needs work to fix and spruce it up as we bought it secondhand) and hopefully their “new” additional covered run (we’re converting our old shed – but they’ll still have access to the outside grass run when we’re around and the weather is fair).  Hopefully I’ll have pictures of the new housing soon!

Slow Living :: May and June 2016

blackcurrant_wine

We finally bottled the blackcurrant wine.  This is our first attempt at making it and lets just say that siphoning off wine with a toddler present can be a rather stressful experience (he was soaked through from head to toe dabbling about in the sterilising bucket!)  We will have our first taste around Winter Solstice (when we should hopefully also have a range of homemade liqueurs to sample – I make some every year).

siphoning

Our next door neighbour has an allotment and her rhubarb went into overdrive.  She gave us armfuls of the stuff (I stopped weighing at about 10kg and there was still quite a lot more!)  Aside from the obligatory rhubarb crumble and some rather lovely strawberry and rhubarb cordial, I also made some barbecue sauce.

barbecue_sauce

I used a recipe I found online at:  Prim and Primal and it was really good!  I scaled it up and was glad I did – it’s certainly on the list to make again, in much larger quantities.

Rhubarb liqueur was another obvious choice and I’m considering a strawberry and rhubarb version.  I’m also planning on making some rhubarb wine (but have had to freeze the rhubarb for this purpose, pending getting some of the other ingredients needed).

As the weather improves I spend more and more time in the garden and feel less inclined to sit and type.  Slowly the garden is taking shape.  Still looking scrappy, but a long way from what it looked like when we moved in and even just a few months ago.