It is exactly a year since my Rhode Island reds arrived and I look back on an interesting year with them. We prepared a large area of grass with wire chicken netting sunk to a metre depth and two 30 metre interchangeable runs, I found a chicken house on moveable skids and the finally my ‘rescue’ chickens arrived. I had ordered 12 hens; they were a year old and at that great age would have been cat food by now apparently. The fabulous lady and her husband that transported them came to inspect the pens and told me she would bring fifteen in case of calamities on the short journey, stress and the like. So when eighteen arrived I discovered she had had added an extra three to the fifteen so thank heavens the chicken house is designed for twenty five.
A very regular visitor to Veryan just happens to have spent his entire working life with commercial chickens so he was quick to visit and declare that my girls are healthy and would think they had died and gone to heaven in these new palatial surroundings. However I was not to expect great laying until they were settled in for a while and what I don’t know now about yolks, whites, shells, pecking orders and chicken reproductive processes from my knowledgeable mentor is not worth knowing! My feisty Rhode Islands were having none of his predictions and were laying at an average of 12 per day until April when the weather was so hot and they have laid a lot less since. I am reliably informed that that is down to weather, a rest period that they have to have and the fact that they are getting older. Because the girls are so close to the garden I spend a lot of time just watching them and a friend so generously donated a bench!!
I am very grateful to everybody who has proffered advice in an area where I was a complete novice and woefully ignorant. What a wealth of chicken expertise we have locally. There are also huge ranges of rules and regulations regarding the numbers kept, how they ‘qualify’ as farm eggs, free range, barn or cage (look at the price differences in the supermarket) and their distribution. I was fascinated to discover that if you sell eggs (and I will not venture into farm gate sales, market sales and distribution!!) you have to provide a new box, but a buyer can bring their own used box. All to do with cross contamination from the porous egg shell.
In the year we have had the chickens we have lost one or two and it appears that it was all natural causes but the remaining birds are healthy and happy.
In fact so many people in the area keep chickens that you probably wonder at my pleasure in these few fowl, but they are proving a joy and we now have twenty seven mouths to feed with cats, dog and family. My mother generously asked if we would like another chicken house for Christmas to extend the numbers, but my husband said he would rather she had a sign made up, strategically placed, saying ‘No more livestock!’
So what has all this got to do with the garden? Quite a lot actually. I have written before about composting and we have built compost bins out of old pallets, lined them up together so that the front pallet of each is removable and all garden and kitchen waste goes therein with the exception of any cooked foods or citrus. The contents of the bins are turned every couple of months by putting the contents of one into the next empty bin. That way we keep a rotation, the contents cook down to a crumbly soil enhancer and then are transferred to all the garden borders and the veg beds. But now they will also be topped up with the manure from the chickens together with the newspaper from under the perches.
Chicken manure is alkaline and its pH value will depend very much on what the chickens are fed, with layers mash and corn probably 6.5-8.0. But it breaks down into one of the best forms of compost available particularly when mixed in layers with the grass cuttings and the other garden waste. The manure is high in nitrogen so particularly good for fruit trees and that is one area of commercial horticulture where it is used fresh. It is relatively low in nutrients compared with commercially produced chemical fertilisers and is slow to release those nutrients; however it is a good free source of goodness for the garden that is not chemically enhanced. It is easily available in pelleted form and can be found granulated but take care not to inhale the dust.
Now, further great excitement the schedule for Veryan and District Autumn Show has arrived. I was honoured to be judging again at St Ewe show last month and it gives one preview of what has been achieved this year. If you haven’t been to St Ewe Show I would highly recommend a visit next August. It is usually around the 21st, on a Sunday. Parking is very close to the Show field and it is a compact flat area with many stalls, a silver band and dog show. The horticultural entries were better than ever this year, although some of the dahlias had obviously suffered from the weather in August. Having said that, a cactus dahlia won best in Show. The children’s entries were fantastic and huge congratulations to all that entered.
So I am looking forward to Veryan Show because it has been a tricky year with early heat in April and cool spells in June and August together with heavy showers in late August too. That played havoc with getting the wheat in but I have learned over the years not to worry about weather, it’s the one thing I can do nothing about!
Also this month is St Just Show where I am honoured to be judging again. I love this Show. There is merit in it being ‘closed’ and therefore only open to residents of the parish. That keeps out some of the professional show growers and gives some of the real amateurs a chance and the Hall is always packed with flowers veg and produce, not to mention the baking and eggs. If you have a chance, go and have a look on September 10th. It is well worth a visit. I just wonder if any of the lady flower arrangers will have any energy left after the Flower festival at St Just Church. I have taken part in and visited a few flower festivals in my time and I have to say that this festival was one of the very best I have ever seen. I do not say that lightly, the execution of the themes around the Church, the pond and the grounds was exceptional; there is some serious talent in St Just!!
Back to your garden and those September jobs. There will be borders to overhaul, new perennials to plant, old perennials to split, seeds to collect, rose cuttings to take and bulbs to plant, hyacinths for forcing, spring cabbages to plant and oh so much to harvest. I have just popped in from a heavy shower having dug up loads of rooted strawberry plant runners for next years indoor crop that will be fruiting in the tunnels in May hopefully. If you have time and room in your greenhouse take some young divisions of hostas, astilbe and hellebores and pot them up in the greenhouse for bringing indoors in February for a really early display and don’t forget to bring in all the more delicate pot plants that have enjoyed summer outside.
Good luck with your show entries for Veryan and St Just. Try to remember it is the taking part that is important so that we encourage the youngsters and keep these marvellous shows going and congratulations to all the organisers of the Shows and the Flower festival, huge jobs done for love and much appreciated by all who visit! Thank you!