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A Sweet Weekend Some Weeks Ago

mrs foxs honey

On the 5th June Mrs Fox reached a bee keeping milestone.  We did our first honey extraction from the hive I inherited in October from a bee keeper friend of my mate Steve's.  It is huge, active hive with a lovely temperament, on a double brood.  

honey spinner  

mrs foxs honey

I got 29 jars of honey off.  Woop! Woop!!  That should be enough for a year or so, even with some distributed to friends and family.  Except there is another almost full super on the hive too.  Even more honey.

mrs foxs honey

mrs foxs honey

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Bank Holiday Weekend - Post Massacre Menagerie

I didn't want this post to be about chickens, AGAIN.  However, what can I say, but, it has been a month of avian adventures.  #socountry.

After the Ash Cottage Massacre, we had one depressed chicken and 2 depressed children so I called the lovely family at Handpecked Chicken's.  They are a local business from whom I've been buying my chicken related paraphernalia, feed and bedding since I got our first hens.  Lovely, lovely people, they answered my "emergency" email despite being on holiday in Turkey and on the following Friday the little foxes and I went to pick up a new buddy for Astrid.  Her name is Cecilia, she is a pretty little brown hen.

little brown hen
However Astrid, had other ideas.  She was not nice to Cecilia and, despite being much more friendly towards me than she had been prior to the Massacre, sticking close to Ash Cottage when not in her pen, peering in the windows at me and following me around the garden, she had no interest in making her new buddy feel welcome.  In fact there was a lot of chasing and a fair amount of pecking.  After a weekend of bad tempered co-existence I began to wonder if I had made a mistake.

The children and I were devastated at the loss of our old hens, Agatha, Anoushka and Ashley.  I moped a bit so for my birthday friends offered to buy me 2 new chickens.  The following Monday I was back in the car with my buddy Rochelle, driving back to Hertford with my friend Gail's cat travel box to pick up 2 more chickens.  Clarice (a beautiful Bluebell hybrid) and Caitie (a fiesty little Skyline who might lay blue eggs) joined the new flock much to Astrid's further disgust.

bluebell chicken
All is not idyllic in the garden.  Cecilia, Clarice and Caitie get chased off their food, pecked if they come too close, there are serious mind games to be played by chickens to decide who, in what order and where to roost when it comes to going into the hen house at night.  We've had to get the bright purple anti-sceptic spray out for the first time - apparently hen's can't see purple and so it stops them pecking at the wounds.  The children like the idea that with "hen vision" it actually makes the part of the hen sprayed invisible.  Anyway, there have not been any real injuries so far.

skyline chicken
However, putting the hens back into their run has been quite testing again, after nearly a year of it being a simple case of calling; "Chook, chook, chook!" and shaking a scoop of food.  This was not helped last week by my dog Bea barking constantly and incessantly throughout the whole palaver.  Particularly stressing was that the tone of her bark was that of a terrier who has found something to chase in a bush, and in my state of massacre paranoia I assumed this had to be a fox hiding in said bushes, waiting to jump out on my new chickens.  When I had finally got my unhelpful hens in their run and gone to investigate what Bea was barking at I found her with a hedgehog.

The hedgehog had, sensibly enough, rolled into a ball of defensive prickles, and I never saw anything other than this state of affairs.  There was a little blood and the dog had probably been worrying at it for a good 10 mins so I feared the worst.  I popped the hedgehog into an empty rabbit hutch that we were renovating for the quail and ran to pick up the children from school.

On my return the hedgehog was still tightly balled and prickly and the little foxes and I were straight off to one of their after school classes.  I took the hedgehog to my nearest vets en route, a hedgehog specialist (Who knew?) and promising to give details over the phone later and pay up should the hedgehog have received any dog related injuries that need fixing up.  Hedgehogs are becoming quite rare you know, and our indigenous wild-life needs preserving.

It turns out our little hedgehog was absolutely fine, no injuries sustained and I had just found myself a very nice vet who does a lot of hedgehog work.

quail with head injury
Skip forward a week and my quails seem to be under attack from something (mouse/rat) getting into their cage at night, eating their food and taking a chunk out of them to boot.  One had a nasty wound on her back and the other a large cut over her left eye.  Back to the hedgehog vet's, this time I managed to forget my purse, who nevertheless did a great job patching up Squeeky Cheese and Amber - or "Staple in Her Head" as we are now calling her.   All I can add to this is that it is not easy to get a quail to take antibiotics twice a day.

maran chicks

Over the bank holiday weekend we re-jigging our avian accommodation to; give our adult hens more room to roost at night; get our seven increasingly smelly young Maran chicks out of the house; protect the quail from attack and lower their stress levels in case the injuries are being inflicted on each other by over stressed birds.  The quail now have a much bigger pen with outside space, safely housed inside the main run.

quail house

I now have one much loved but aggressively, domineering adult hen, who is a wonderful layer (Astrid), 3 young POL hen's who live in terror of the old girl (Cecilia, Clarice and Caitie).  Three, purple streaked, stapled quails who have just come into lay - Yum, yum, (Amber, Sleepy and Squeeky Cheese).  And 7 Maran chicks whose gender we constantly debate - we think we have 3 roosters and 4 hens.

Oh, and 2 hives of bees; one doing great shakes, the other has not really built up numbers since winter and is bad tempered and mean.

However, I must admit that in the last week I have spent more than one very satisfying evening sat in the sun watching the hens negotiate their new world order.  Pecking squawking, chasing aside it is all very simple and understandable and quite amusing to watch.

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The Maran Chicks

We are restocking the adult birds, post our fox visit and much to Astrid's disapproval, but I simply cannot go without fresh eggs.  Friend's clubbed together and bought me 2 new hens.  I'll add some photos of our new girls, Cecilia, Clarice and Caitie, once they have settled in a little more.

Meanwhile our Maran chicks are growing like weeds.  It's been over 10 days since the photos above were taken and we are just taking some new photos to document their development.

So they went from these, lovely dark brown Maran eggs, from Highfield Marans:

To this in 21 days:

And to take the photos above there was a lot of this:

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A Visit From Mr Fox

I arrived home last night, returning from the kids ballet class and immediately spotted feathers strewn across the yard.  One of our hens, Astrid, was by the front fence behind some rocks, not a typical place for her and unusual for her to be on her own.  I sent the children indoors, grabbed Astrid and put her in her run, no sign of any of the other hens.  As I walked up the garden my heart sunk as I saw more feathers and finally a decapitated chicken wedged half under the gate to the river.  We'd had a visit from a fox and no amount of shaking their food scoop and calling their names was going to make Agatha, Ashley and Anoushka come running.

We raised the A Team, as we called them, from week old chicks and we are so sad.  The children are heart broken.  They've cried, raged against the injustice, empathised with the fear our girls must have felt as the fox attacked, declared their hatred of foxes (asked me to change my name), realised the need for the foxes to feed their cubs, plotted revenge, and declared their hatred of foxes again.

Astrid from the moment she hatched has never been without her 3 sisters at her side.  Agatha was the lead hen, my favourite, she had a big comb, very vocal and very much the one in charge.  Ashley was Louis' favourite and a little smaller than the others, but very independent.  Anoushka had the prettiest feathers and was usually to be found with Astrid.  They had so much more personality than I expected chickens would have.

This morning Una and Louis went down to let Astrid out of the hen house together.  (Although they have made me promise to keep her in the chicken run and not let her free range alone today.)  I often go let the hens out as they get quite vocal in the early light of summer mornings if the kids aren't up early enough.  But Louis warned me off this morning, it is his chore this week.  Then he went into his sister's room and asked her if she wanted to come with him.

I watched them walk down the garden together.  Open the run, the door to the hen house.  Astrid was not quick to emerge but when she did she got a cuddle from each child.  In the cool light of morning my children are no longer raging against the fox, but are worried that Astrid is lonely.

Happier times with their hens
Watching their grief and anger mellow to concern for Astrid, the hen that survived, I thought there was real honesty and empathy.  So, I will learn from my children.  I will miss my Agatha and her sisters, my days will not be as happy without the gentle amusement of watching them forage in the garden.  But I will not stop naming or getting attached to my chickens.

Even after a year, their personalities were still developing.  It's only quite recently that they whipped the dogs into a more chicken tolerant state and so have had the freedom of the whole garden.  Agatha had just started letting me tickle her under her wattle, she seemed to enjoy it.  And they had recently taken to trying to get into the house all the time.  It's funny to come downstairs and find a chicken standing in the hall.  One of them had even invaded the dog's bed the other day, much to his disapproval.

They had a wonderful, though brief, life and that was because we cared about them.  They loved to free range in the garden, and we will get back to that once our own grief is a bit more under control. We'll get Astrid an adult chicken companion as soon as possible, as the Maran chicks will not be ready to go outside for another week or so and will need to remain separate from the adults for some time still. 

And I will learn from my mistake and make sure they are always shut back in the run before I go out. 


maran eggs in incubator

Our Maran eggs came 21 days ago and so are due to hatch today.  They are presently in Little Louis Fox's class room so that he, and the rest of his classmates, get to experience the excitement of our newest members of our feathered menageries birth.

quail egg

The quail chicks laid their first egg yesterday.  They have matured really quickly and are big enough now to be living outside.  They sleep in an old rabbit hutch while I renovate a chicken house and run for their permanent home.

young japanese quail

 They get moved to an outside run every day where the rest of the chickens and the dogs seem to find them fascinating.

quail chickens dogs and children
The quail's first day outside
The chickens are very curious creatures, they do like to keep an eye on things in the garden, and in the house for that matter.

hen chicken

Hot off the iphone: - The first Maran chick has hatched;

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An Ode to Spring II

My main aim in the garden this year is to increase the number of flowering, fruiting and edible plants.

ash cottage garden

While last year involved a lot of clearing, this year I hope to plant more.  It's wonderful to sit here and look down the garden at an expanse of lush vibrant green.  Until last year your gaze would have been arrested by an ominous wall of dark, deep green conifers, which we have taken out.  We cut down a lot of trees, so this year we are planning on planting new ones and have also put up bird boxes and feeders.  I've planted a walnut tree at the end of the chicken run to replace two large conifers that were shielding us from our neighbour's view at the side of the garden.  

I've tied in the young apple trees I planted last year and am excitedly waiting to see them blossom.  James Grieve looks to have lost its' lead shoot, which is a little worrying, but there are 2 other healthy looking verticles, one of which I guess will have to take over.  

young grape vine

In the hexagonal greenhouse the fig and olive trees have made it through the winter and are starting to wake up.  And above is a picture of the cutting taken from the grape vine in our old garden, which is sending out new leaves and shoots. My Mother's Day gift this year was a quince tree, it is presently in the greenhouse, I've not decided where to plant it yet.  

We have managed to erect the frame of our other greenhouse on the veggie patch.  Just the glass to put in now and then it too can be used to propagate new life.  There are 3 more raised beds to finish building on the veggie patch.  In one that I constructed last year are autumn planted onions and garlic that seem to be surviving the chicken's attentions at the moment.  I guess the chicken's will have to be confined to their run once seed sewing starts in ernest, otherwise they will just be digging everything up as quickly as I can put it in.

geranium plug plants
Little geranium plugs in the greenhouse

In the hexagonal greenhouse I've sewn nasturtiums, tomatoes, chilli and cavalo nero seeds.  36 classic red geranium plug plants will soon be joined by some Geranium Appleblossom Rosebud, which look gorgeous in the catalogue.  I've two Viburnum shrubs waiting to go out, and cuttings from lavender, curry plants and a few other shrubs from my mother-in-law's garden.  

Meanwhile, potatoes are chitting on top of the quail brooder.

quail chicks

Of our quail; Amber and Sleepy are thriving, Squeeky Cheese remains much smaller and we are hoping this is because Squeeky is a male.  In Japanese Quail they tend to be smaller than the females.

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Spring - Part I

ash cottage garden with hens

Oh what a lovely day it was yesterday, it finally feels like spring. I sat in the garden writing and taking photos as the hens pecked around in the grass at my feet.  Lovely girls.  

We've our 7 new Maran hatching eggs due to arrive in the next day or so, just in time for easter.  
So last week I did a full on spring clean of the hen house and run ready for the new arrivals.

chicken hen having a dust bath
Astrid taking a dust bath to clean herself of mites.

I raise my hens more or less organically, but this year I decided to give the hen house a good disinfect, with a red mite insecticide.  It's a once a year thing for me and it wouldn't usually be my choice to use this type of product.  However, after much research on the various poultry forums and reading up on each of the active ingredients in my chosen brand, I decided that as the girls had spent so much time indoors over the rainy winter days, and with new young hens about to join them, I wanted to give the house a good one off clean.

daffodils and grape hyacinths

As the bees are the members of our little herd most likely to suffer from the toxins in the insecticide I was using, I thought it better to clean while they are not flying too much.  However, they are out and about in the Spring sunshine now. 

hives in spring

I have 2 hives and both seem to have made it through winter in relative health - I've not opened them up yet, but there are plenty of bees outside and they are obviously finding pollen, as I can see it stored on their legs as they come in to the hive.  

honey bee on grape hyacinth

One of the lovely things about taking photographs for this blog is how often I see honey bees on the few flowers I do have in my garden, even at this time of year.  So, hopefully, I must be doing something right, even if it is often a balancing act between the needs of one or other of our garden inhabitants.

Joining in with Annie, with How Does Your Garden Grow , pop on over to see some beautiful gardens this week.

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