Allotment Chickens

Well, they’re sort of allotment chickens. Let me explain.

I don’t house my chickens on the allotment, they live in my garden for a couple of reasons. Firstly there really isn’t enough space to keep chickens on my allotment, the site is tiny compared to others with just 33 plots in total which are compact in size compared to standard plot sizes. My garden is plenty big for them to roam around quite happily with someone always at home to keep an eye on them, which takes me on to my second reason – I would worry about them too much! Our site is not secure, just a simple gate which anyone can access, the idea behind this is to allow villagers in to use the community orchard. The site is only 10 years old and I was one of the first tenants, in all that time I believe the allotments have been targeted by vandals just once, my shed at the time was damaged but nothing stolen as is usually the case with allotment crime. However, I really do worry about livestock being left unattended for large amounts of time, particularly in winter.

Even though my chickens are not housed on the allotment they do contribute and are key to keeping my soil healthy. I collect the very best brown compost material which of course is chicken manure mixed with chopped straw. Added to a compost bin this really does help to speed things along, eventually breaking everything down into nitrogen-rich compost/mulch which my brassica love me for. So as promised, let me introduce my little flock of allotment pooping machines (just to be clear my hens are currently on lockdown due to bird flu restrictions, the photos are from previous years).

First up is Tiffany, or ‘Tiff’ as I mostly call her. I got her from a local farm along with two Brahmas as growers, she’s a cross between a Buff Orpington and Gold Partridge Brahma which are two very large breeds.

Tiff is HUGE and very very LOUD!  She likes to shout about everything and lets you know when she’s laid an egg, actually she lets the whole village know. I paid just £5 for her and was told there was a slight chance of her being a he (hence the price), feather and comb sexing can still lead to mistakes but I took her anyway. I could get away with having a boy where I live, but I didn’t realise just how loud she was going to be so I’m very pleased she was sexed correctly, I dread to think how loud a male version of Tiff would’ve been!

This black Brahma is Tara, she has the same ‘father’ as Tiff. In the sunshine her feathers have the most beautiful iridescent glow, shades of green, purple and sometimes blue depending on the angle. She’s super friendly, probably the friendliest chicken I have at the moment and is quite happy to be picked up and cuddled. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to cuddle a Brahma you’ll know just how fluffy they are. Brahmas are a large breed with heavily feathered bodies and feet, just like the tiny Bantam breeds which also have feathered feet they don’t do too much damage to lawns but with Brahmas they will flatten anything in their path due to their size. Tara is actually rather quiet, unlike her half sister Tiff.

These two grey hens are hybrid layers which are crosses to create steady egg layers. The Speckledy (the darker of the two) has a lovely pattern to her feathers, bred from a Maran which are similar. Her name is Florrie and she’s a friendly little hen and very greedy, she constantly tries to steal my food and will jump up 3 feet in the air to grab a bit of sandwich from my hand. The lighter grey hen is more of a violet colour hence her name, Violet. She’s very flighty and skittish which makes her very hard to catch if needed, the only way to get her back into the coop at night is to rattle a corn bucket. I have many skills; Allotmenteer by day, Chicken Pied Piper by dusk.

edna

This lovely lady is Edna, she’s a Light Sussex hybrid. A friendly and inquisitive hen she doesn’t lay anymore but is super fun to have around with her nosey and cheeky character.

The hen at the front is Toff. Isn’t she posh! Full sister to Tara, half sister to Tiff. She’s a Gold Partridge Brahma and really is a stunning chicken. Unlike Tara she isn’t too keen on me, she’s very suspicious and watches everything I do from a distance. Oh well, you can’t win them all round.

Toff has the fluffiest chicken pants.

This old lady is Binky. She came to me as a 1 day old chick many years ago along with 3 other chicks, one of which I still have. Both are going on 7 years old which is incredible considering they were bred for a battery farm and not for longevity. Luckily, Binky and her friends never endured that life, which is why two of them are still kicking around. Binky loves to sit on my head if she gets the chance which is usually when I bend down to top the feeders up. She doesn’t mind being handled but human head perching is preferred. She lives with the Brahma-gang, on very cold nights she can be found squished in the middle of probably the fluffiest chickens in the world. She isn’t silly our Binky!

Last up is Phoebe. I took her in with Binky so she’s going on for 7 years old now. How can I describe her….. hmmm that’s a tricky one, I like her but she hasn’t been a particularly nice hen over the years. She had a nasty habit of pecking the vents of other chickens (the area under the tail from which they lay eggs and poop from), the last chicken on the receiving end of Phoebe’s cannibalistic tendencies was Binky so they are no longer housed together.

Phoebe used to go for me like a cockerel would, as she’s grown older she appears to have calmed down but she still pecks me at times. She pecked a vet so hard once she drew blood, she’s not for the faint hearted. Most people would have given up on her by now and I wouldn’t blame them, but I took her in as chick and bonded with her. So, she’s here to stay with her wickedly sharp beak and ninja moves.

Chickens are not the easiest animals to keep at times, if they were I’d have hundreds of them. I’m happy to go into more detail about chicken behaviour and care etc but that’ll be for another time. I have been a chicken keeper for around 15 years, taking in ex battery hens and dumped hens when space allowed. I actually started off with ex battery hens, so you could say I was thrown in at the deep end but I gained so much from the experience.

I’ll leave this post with a favourite photo of mine, it was used in a previous calendar by the British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT) for Miss October. Proud moment.

A Very Messy Leek Lesson

A third lockdown for England was announced by the Prime Minister on Monday which comes as no surprise given the infection/death rate statistics and concern over the new virus strain. Allotments are classed as a form of exercise which means plot holders are permitted to use them, the very nature of allotments means close proximity to others can be avoided but of course we should still be sensible. I don’t know how often I will visit the plot because the weather has taken a wintry turn, no snow here in Bedfordshire yet but it’s certainly cold enough. It’s just nice to know I can go to my allotment if I want to, I feel very lucky to have it.

I did visit over the weekend to clear the leeks and it was a horrible job, most of the leeks were just soggy mush under ground and covered in allium leaf miner cocoons (yuk), the rest were formed but in a sorry state and not fit for eating even though they looked fine from above ground. On reflection I should have pulled the lot when I first realised the problem rather than leaving the ‘good ones’ in the ground in the hope they would recover from allium leaf miner and leek moth attack.

Soup anyone?
Allium leaf miner cocoon
Allium leaf miner cocoon on my finger for size comparison
Mushy leek
Visible cocoons of the allium leaf miner fly buried inside the stem of the leek
Don’t be fooled. this leek was full of hidden horrors!

I will now avoid growing the allium family in that particular section of the plot for a while, certainly not this year. I removed as many of the cocoons as possible from the soil along with the damaged leeks and took everything home with me to burn.

Going forward I will use a very fine mesh to cover leeks from the moment of planting, probably Enviromesh or similar. Apologies if the photos gross you out, it’s not something I find pleasure in photographing I can assure you! Hopefully you’ll never experience this, but sadly the two leek pests I mention in this blog post are becoming more widespread and our allotment site is now very hit and miss with leek growing without protection.

Stay safe, wrap up warm and carry on gardening (if you can) x

A New Year Begins

It was cold and frosty this morning, a fresh new year, very fresh indeed. My early morning routine is pretty much the same each day, I let the chickens out of the coops and fill up their feeders, on a cold morning I defrost the drinkers too. I don’t keep my chickens on my allotment, there’s not really enough space as our site and plots are on the small side, I’d worry about them too much anyway so I chose to keep them in the garden at home.

My chickens are also on lockdown, an outbreak of bird flu (becoming a regular occurrence at this time of year) means they’re not allowed to free range and have to be kept in a covered enclosure away from wild birds until it’s safe to let them roam again. Luckily my walk-in roofed runs are adequate for keeping my flock safe and unwanted creatures out. When I catch them sulking about the situation I tell them they’re lucky they can still mix with their friends! I will properly introduce my feathery friends on the blog at some point. 

Celeriac and carrot bed weeded and mulched with fresh compost.

I popped to the allotment this afternoon to do a spot of light hand weeding and grab a celeriac and some carrots to go with dinner. The ground was slightly frozen in places but the weeds pulled up easily enough. I love how clean the ground looks after weeding, wrapped up warm I really didn’t feel the cold and it felt good to be doing something on the plot.

Bean bed weeded, I still need to take the hazel poles down!

The leeks are one of the disasters of last year, thanks to leek moth and allium leaf miner. I gave the stronger looking plants a chance to see if they’d improve and some have but others really are just mush waiting to happen now, one small tug and they’ll disintegrate. I’ll be lucky to get a small batch of soup out of this lot. On a positive note I have fallen in love with celeriac after growing it for the first time. Looks aren’t everything, it’s true, for this rather ugly-looking vegetable is absolutely delicious roasted, I like slicing it up thinly and cooking it as crisps. 

My dad was on his plot today, he popped over with Jess the Border Collie to say hello from a safe distance before heading home.

Jess edged her way to the shed to check if I had any biscuits…

And…..

YIKES!!!!

It’s ok, I made it out of the shed in one piece! 

Happy weekend x

Beany Babies

Christmas has been and gone, it was certainly different this year. Today is my daughter’s 23rd birthday which makes me feel old, due to tier 4 restrictions all our plans and the chance to visit her went out of the window. One place I can visit is the allotment and to be honest I haven’t been able to stay away, a mixture of itchy fingers and checking the plots over for shed casualties due to storm Bella on Boxing Day. Thankfully my shed is still where I left it.

The ground is soggy underfoot so my short visits consist of pottering around holding a mug of tea, looking for signs of life emerging from the soil. Snug under the tunnel cloche the broad beans sown in November are peeking through the soil on Plot 11w, I had wondered if the seeds would rot due to the vast amount of rain since the sowing date, so you can imagine my delight seeing the first green shoots of the new growing season. 

For those wondering about my tunnel cloche, it’s simply a clear roof sheet held in a half circular shape using two metal hoops. Thick bendable wire would work just as well.

A tunnel cloche is very useful, I use mine for the following purposes:

  • Warming soil before sowing seeds
  • Keeping seedlings and seeds safe from cats/foxes disturbing the soil for toileting purposes (yuk)
  • Frost protection and overwintering frost tender crops
  • Preventing pigeons pecking crops and mice stealing seeds (block the ends off)
  • A shield against damaging rain/snow or prolonged spells of wet weather

I hope your Christmas was a merry one.

Wonky Carrots

Whenever I pull wonky carrots from the ground I can’t help but smile at the weird and wacky shapes, sometimes a childish giggle escapes from me if I find one to be somewhat risque.

Carrots from the same harvest. The wonky carrots to the left may look funny but taste just as lovely!

I entered a wonky carrot into the oddest vegetable class at my village show last year and it won the class, second place was awarded to my dad for his rude carrot. There were vegetables of all shapes and sizes and all received plenty of smirks from those who came to view the show entries, but my dads rather rude carrot raised the most eyebrows. For that reason I think he should have won.

Let’s not forget this C-shaped carrot I grew last year, possibly the wonkiest yet!

You may have noticed from the above photos a yellow carrot that looks almost like a parsnip, I usually grow ‘Autumn King’ which is a favourite of mine to grow and most definitely orange. Occasionally I pull a yellow carrot within the mix and I’m intrigued to know why this happens, perhaps a rogue yellow carrot seed in the mix or cross pollination? Please leave a comment if you have any ideas.

Next year I plan to grow other carrot varieties, do you have a favourite carrot to grow?