Saturday, 12 May 2012

Workin' five till nine!

Saturday 12th May 2012
Three minutes of light rain late afternoon prevented this from being the first completely dry day since the hosepipe ban.
Last night I went to bed with 6 new chicks and two peeping eggs. Both eggs had small holes in, but I wasn't sure if it was getting a bit late for the chicks to force their way out.
But not to worry. At 5 o'clock this morning, there were two broken egg shells and two more chicks. They actually continue to gain nourishment from the yolk sac for the first 24 hours after they hatch, so I'll leave them in the incubator for most of the day until their feathers have dried out. Then they can join the other six.
One of the other eggs got smashed by the chicks stumbling around. There was a young embryo in there, but for some reason it had not grown. The other 3 eggs are showing no signs of life.
So I have four Cornish Indian Game chicks and four Welsummer chicks.
I will be able to breed the Indian Games with the two teenagers of this type. A project for the future. For the moment, the plan is to breed the hens with our cockerel to produce the next generation of meat birds. The Welsummers (well, at least the females) can look forward to a long life of laying nice dark brown eggs for me.
Overall then a 66% hatching rate, which is considerably better than we were doing with eggs delivered through the post.
Now to find somewhere to buy some more Cream Crested Legbars (blue eggs!)

Five till Nine
A dry day. And a Saturday. Better make the most of it.
That I certainly did, having been pretty much stuck inside, or at least unable to work the soil, for quite a few weeks now.

First job was to empty the wheelbarrow of the weeds pulled from the sorrel and horseradish bed. This is where the pigs come into their own. Perennial weeds are not good on the compost heap, but the pigs love them, especially clover and dandelion roots. Anything they don't eat gets trodden down to nothing.

The geese, on the other hand, have not been doing their job. They are neither laying eggs or keeping on top of the paddock grass. Sue got to work on the mower, ploughing through the sward that used to be a front lawn... until a ghastly plume of rubbery smoke billowed from underneath. A close inspection revealed a willow stick jammed up underneath, but once removed things did not sound quite right. I'm no good at mechanical stuff, but the blade drive belt did not seem to be following the right course - though I had no idea where it should be going.
I decided to gingerly tackle the rest of the grass, as it was in danger of becoming totally unmanageable if we had to wait for the mower to be fixed. I successfully tackled the longest of the grass and moved onto the shorter grass which I had already cut last week. Typically, after about 5 minutes, the belt snapped completely. So I guess it will be an early service for the machine.

Before all this happened, I had begun the Herculean task of tackling this...
... the spare veg patch.

Unlike the potager, my main veg patch which is organised into a geometric design of 52 veg beds, this patch is to be the straightforward, functional one to house all the spare veg and the crops which demand oodles of space.

In here belong rows of maincrop potatoes, interspersed with sowings of all the spare parsnip seeds which won't be viable next year, as well as beetroots to sell or to grow big for the pigs. Wigwams of runner beans and rows of French beans will provide fresh green pods as well as pulses for the winter.

A bed too, for all those spare onion sets and garlic cloves, and for maincrop carrots to store over winter.

Then the fodder crops. I've already extolled the virtues of mangel wurzels and this year I'm intercropping them with chicory, apparently a favourite of pigs.

Finally a glorious selection of cucurbits - summer and winter squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, all growing in a sea of flowers and in the shade of towering sunflowers.

Three Sisters
Some of the trailing squashes, such as trombolino, will form part of the Three Sisters planting scheme. I have read various reports on this system of planting, ranging from the enthusiastic to the sceptical. Certainly very trendy, based on South American Indians' system of growing sweetcorn, beans and squashes together. It seems to be a good use of space and light and, in theory, the plants are complementary in terms of nutrients and light requirements. However we are not in South America, so I will give it a try and make my own judgements. I'll let you know!

So, ambitious plans for this patch of ground, but how to get it ready? In the past it's been turned with a tractor twice, it's been weedkillered (despite by better judgement), it's been power-harrowed, but every time the weeds have jumped straight back in with renewed vigour. In fact, many of these mechanical treatments actually propagated the worst of the weeds, such as dandelions, dock and couch grass, by dividing up the roots.

There was nothing else for it. This weekend's task was going to require dogged determination, hard graft, more determination and more hard graft.
And, to help out, call in Mr Rotavator!

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