Monday, 22 May 2017

Composting hots up

20th May 2017
Composting hots up
I finally have heat in my compost bins! They have been just sitting there doing very little since last summer. But they got a good watering the other day and I spent a good while turning them and incorporating some of the hovered up horse manure that next door kindly let me have.
I have resolved to be a good composting boy and to turn at least one heap every week - aerating and mixing really is the way to get the bacteria going. So today I turned a steaming heap into the next bin along and filled the vacated heap with a mixture of half rotted material and horse manure. I chopped some comfrey and threw that in too for good measure.

There are three benefits of the heaps heating up. Firstly, the mass of material rots down much quicker and is ready to go on the veg beds earlier. Secondly, the heating up kills all nasties like weed seeds, roots, bugs and diseases. Thirdly, it looks like a proper gardener's compost heap!

The brassica fortress
Well that was a big job accomplished but I still had energy and enthusiasm so I moved on to the next big job, getting the brassica area set up. Brassicas (the cabbage family) get a pretty raw deal since, apparently, they are the tastiest thing on the planet and everything tries to eat them. To compound this, they need to stay in the soil for many months which gives the enemy plenty of time to find a weakness in the defences.

First of all the posts go in to hold up the scaffold netting which goes all the way round. Then the taller aluminium poles which will support the soft butterfly netting (invest in the soft as it is so much tougher that the normal stuff). The ground has already been rotavated several times and the chickens have been allowed on to scratch around. Hopefully this will minimise the number of slugs, but on this clay ground the slugs find a perfect home, taking shelter in the cracks which open up in dry weather and relishing the moisture retaining qualities in the wet. So my final defence is a liberal scattering of organic slug pellets.
When I plant the young brassica plants I will tread them in very firmly to protect them from rocking in the wind (the scaffold net helps with this too) and I will place cut-off plastic bottles over them until they grow big enough to withstand the ravages of a slug or too.
I do not use cabbage collars as many do to protect against cabbage root fly. So far I have not had a problem with this pest, but when I did use home-made collars fashioned from carpet underlay they proved an ideal daytime hideout for slugs.

And the final, final defence, is a rabbit fence around the whole area. I don't connect it to the electric fence as it sucks too much energy, but the physical barrier serves as a deterrent at least.

No pot of gold...
With late afternoon now upon us the weather changed and we had some pretty heavy showers which at one point resulted in one of the most amazing double rainbows I have ever seen, arching right over the smallholding. Unfortunately my camera gear was not quite up to scratch to capture it well.

... but a good consolation prize
I retreated to the new conservatory to watch the birds on the feeders. I was absolutely delighted to see a group of four tree sparrows fly in, especially when two of the proved to be recently fledged young birds.
Tree Sparrow at the feeders

21st May
We're not called Swallow Farm for nothing
The day started with a swallow in the house. It eventually found its way out but not before it had found some rather novel places to perch.
Off with their bits!
Most important job for today was to apply castration rings to the two new lambs. A tricky operation this, for they have an uncanny ability to breath right in and withdraw the important bits! I don't think anybody, even vets, manages to capture both balls every time, so to speak. I rather think the process is more painful in my mind than it actually is for the lamb, since it just involves stretching a rubber ring over said bits which causes them to lose their blood supply and drop off. The lambs show no distress whatsoever once they are back with their mum - well, maybe they walk a bit funny for a few minutes. This needs to happen before they are seven days old.
While we were on the sheep, I moved Rambo and the ram we 'missed' last year back in with the ewes and older lambs. After half hour of chasing around and macho behaviour all settled down. The lambs are now plenty big enough to stay away from trouble.

Poultry news
More livestock news as we sadly lost another of the turkey poults today. There is no rime nor reason to whether young turkeys live or not. They go from perfect health one minute to dead the next. But as if by magic a day old turkey chick appeared from the next which is still be sat on by the turkey hen who won't give up.
Call me hard, but young birds give up the ghost with such ease that I have come to accept it, though obviously I'd rather it didn't happen and do everything I can to make sure it doesn't. But we do lose a young bird now, my main thought is There goes a tasty meal in a few months time.

The mangel wurzel tradition continues
The afternoon was spent planting 250 young mangel wurzel plants. I raise these in modules as otherwise the rabbits and slugs get them and I end up with some very gappy rows. Hopefully the effort will be repaid in late autumn when they will supplement dwindling grass supplies for the sheep.

Mega weeding
With this job accomplished I got distracted pulling weeds. The soil is in that rare state when the seeds virtually jump out of the ground, roots and all, even deep-rooted fiends like dock and dandelion. I spent the whole evening, maybe four hours, on a mega weeding session. The slugs absolutely love to hide in amongst the weeds and under overhanging grass edges to borders, so as I weeded I collected slugs for the ducks. They were very, very appreciative. Nothing goes to waste here on the smallholding.

Enjoying the bounty
While I was doing all this, Sue was doing her farmhouse wife bit, making a selection of delicious jams from what remained in the freezer of last year's soft fruits. We now have umpteen jars of blackcurrant (& rum), redcurrant and crab apple jellies. YUMMY.

She also made a cushion as a thank you to the people who recently gave us three of their fleeces for peg looming. Meanwhile, I have collected another twelve fleeces to keep her busy!

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