Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Spring chickens

Last November I went to Ashton-under-Lyne to visit a forum friend who had just hatched out some gorgeous little chicks.  Oh they were so beautiful!  Lynda very kindly loaned me her incubator - not that I was thinking of hatching any myself at that time you understand.  I think really she wanted it out of the way so she wouldn't be tempted to hatch any more just now. Anyway, one day in January, I was browsing eBay in the chicken equipment section and saw a 30cm trough feeder and I thought that I could really do with another feeder for my girls.  Now you'll see that I typed 30cm, but in my mind I'd got my centimetres and inches mixed up, so when the trough arrived in a little box I thought "Oooooops!".  Perhaps I was subconsciously preparing for "something".  I'd been looking at pictures of different breeds of chickens on the internet and really liked the look of Welsummers.  Beautiful plumage, big enough "for the table" and lay really deep brown eggs.  Another friend close by also has Welsummers, and when I saw her "boys" I fell in love.

On Wednesday February 11th I went to Penkridge market where they have a poultry auction "just to have a look and see what was available".  My heart flipped over when I saw on the table of fertile eggs a box containing 12 Welsummer BF (believed fertile) eggs.  It just happened!  Honestly!  At 1pm I was the proud and very nervous owner of 12 potential chicks.  The eggs were stored for a day to get them up to room temperature before putting them in the incubator.  Then followed 18 days of turning them regularly, making sure the humidity was right, and feeling very excited.  On day 20, Ebony (my cat) was showing lots of interest in the incubator so I thought it would be a good idea to move it into the converted vivarium that I was to use as a brooder box.  Oh dear!  The temperature shot up to over 40 degrees celcius and the humidity was way down.  I was convinced that I'd killed all the little ones but I moved them back into the kitchen and sorted out the heating and moisture.  Then I saw that 1 egg had pipped (the chick inside trying to break out) at just after 3pm.  By 5 pm I could hear cheeping coming from the egg.  To say that I was more nervous than I was when my first grandchild was about to be born is an understatement!  I was so stressed, worried, excited, nervous, loads of emotions.  
I was like that for 24 hours when as I was checking yet again if anything had progressed another chick bashed a huge hole in its shell and within 10 minutes it had hatched, closely followed by the first pipped one.  
2 very healthy little chicks who I thought were both girls until they dried out properly and I discovered that I'd got 1 boy and 1 girl.  I'd already called them Blossom and Petal, but Blossom is such a daft name for a boy so he's now called Rowan.
Later on that evening another 3 eggs pipped but by 9.30pm I was feeling so ill that I decided to go 
to bed and see what had happened later on during the night.  At 1am 1 of the chicks had just hatched and another 3 were on their way.  I left them to it and went back to bed.  It was wonderful at 5am lifting the lid of the now very 
quiet incubator to see 4 little heads looking up at me and start cheeping.   So then there were 6 little ones in the brooder, cheeping madly, drinking, trying to stand without wobbling, climbing over each other and falling asleep mid-step.  During the morning another egg pipped and hatched exactly 24 hours after the first one.  I candled (looked through the eggs with a torch) the remaining 5 eggs and could see that there wasn't any babies in 4 of them but no movement or any indication of life in the other one.  I decided to leave them where they were for another 24 hours "just in case".

As nothing seemed to be happening in the incubator, I considered turning it off on Saturday evening - until I heard a tiny cheeping from the remaining good egg.  It was a couple of hours before it pipped but was a wonderful thing to see a little beak occasionally poking through the shell.  The last chick hatched during the early hours of Sunday morning, about 96 hours from the first egg pipping to the last chick hatching.  So now I'm the very happy "Mummy" of 8 Welsummer chicks.  6 girls and 2 boys.  Not all of them have names yet (I can't tell some of the girls apart!) but the boys are Rowan and Aspen, 3 of the girls are Petal, Snowdrop and Hebe.  They're all just so lovely, I consider myself to be a very lucky lady.

Monday, 2 February 2009

A new year, a new start

Yes, I know it's been a long time since this blog was updated, but coping with losing my Mum and other personal problems is my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

While the garden and allotment are looking a little sorry for themselves this winter, the chickens are flourishing.  Some of the ex-battery girls decided that December was a really good time to moult!  Silly things.  They didn't seem to mind the cold though, and now Hazel, who had looked very threadbare since I first got her back in February 2008, has now grown herself some knickers and a skirt so isn't showing of her bright red bare bottom any more!

There were 2 new arrivals in December.  Becci and Baz and the girls got me 2 more ex-battery chickens to join the flock.  Holly and Lavender are both White Stars and have totally different personalities to all the others, being quite shy and sticking together most of the time under the laurel hedge or tentatively coming to join the others when I go out with their afternoon treats.

As the original coop was far too small to house 13 chickens, Adrian helped me to build a super-dooper new coop out of shed panels.  It's big enough for me to stand up in, and so far easier to clean.  I've added 4 external next boxes since these photos were taken, so there's plenty of room for roosting, perching, laying eggs, and sleeping.  One of the nest boxes has been taken over by Holly and Lavender as their bedroom and no-one else is allowed in there after dark.

I've started sowing seeds ready for planting in the allotment when the weather warms up a bit.  On the Grow Your Own Grapevine forum  www.growfruitandveg.co.uk/grapevine/ there's lots of advice given about "Moon Planting" and I'm following that with great interest.  So far, I've got 4 types of tomato seedlings growing well, Aubergine have just germinated, Broad Beans I saved from last years crop are also just showing their first leaves and I've got Red Onions and 2 types of leeks.  Hopefully they'll all grow well and I'll get a good crop from them all.  I've also started off lots of flowers to add some colour to the front and back gardens.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Tribute to my Mum

Margaret Leathley was a remarkable woman. As we mourn the loss of her, we should also celebrate her life.

Margaret Tolson was born in Bradford on October 14th 1920. As a child, I always thought that Nanna and Grandad Tolson’s children were very special people because their names were Mary and Joseph.

Margaret was brought up in Hartlepool with her younger sister Agnes and her brothers John and Peter. Another brother, Dennis, sadly died as a baby and although she didn’t ever speak much about him, she must have felt the loss of a baby brother very deeply.

The family moved to Peterborough in 1934 leaving Margaret with the extended family in Hartlepool to continue her secondary education. Margaret re-joined the family when she left school and worked as a shorthand-typist at Baker Perkins in Peterborough. Like many of the females in our family, she told me that she wasn’t always keen to get up for work and would often be riding her bike, pedalling madly whilst eating a slice of toast.

During the war, she was called up and joined the army where she learned to drive and do some car mechanics. She mainly drove ambulances but very rarely spoke of her wartime experiences as they were obviously painful memories. I do remember a few years ago she told me that if she’d been brave enough, she would have refused the call up and been a conchi (conscientious objector). If she’d done that, then she’d never have had that dance with Clark Gable J

Don Leathley appeared on the scene in the early 1940’s and courted Margaret. With Don in the RAF and Margaret in the WRAC, stationed in different places, that courtship must have been difficult, but love prevailed and they were married in January 1944 at St Peter and All Souls church in Peterborough. They were to be honeymooning at Auntie Hilda’s in Beckenham, but because of an air raid which caused delay of the trains to London, they spent the first night of their marriage on a cold and draughty station, eventually arriving at Auntie Hilda’s at about 8 o’clock the next morning just in time for Dad to go to bed and for Mum to go to Mass.

Mum and Dad had almost 56 years of happy marriage. In 1945 I was born, followed by Christine in 1947 and Barbara in 1950. Catherine was a wonderful surprise addition to the family in 1962. Both Mum and Dad were so proud of their daughters and the families they themselves produced. Mum and Dad are solely responsible for the creation of 29 people. An achievement many of today’s generation may never reach.

During their marriage Mum worked hard in various part-time jobs to help to buy their first house and ended her working life as a cook – a talent she has passed on to all her children.

Mum was strict with us but never stern. She expected and received respect for ourselves and others, high standards of decency, dignity, decorum and modesty. Her high standards have been passed on to us girls and we in turn, in our own ways, have passed these standards on to our own children and grandchildren. In spite of loosing Dad in 1999, she still retained a wicked sense of humour, and would often have a good girly giggle with us.

Our Mum was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, mother-in-law, grandma, great grandma, friend and confidant. Mum was a proud lady. Kind, generous, dignified, determined, often stubborn. She loved to be in control and be the main decision maker. She was always a very independent lady and deeply resented loosing that independence due to her blindness and illness. She was a devout Catholic, never missing Mass if she could help it and always received Holy Communion whether at Mass or at home. The Lady’s Guild was one of her few activities in her later years and she made many good friends through that. She died on October 16th 2008; all of her girls were with her as she breathed her last. She will be so very sadly missed by so many people whose lives she has touched. She will always be remembered with love by all of us.

We sisters, her 4 daughters, all make a solemn promise to you Mum that we will always stay in touch with each other, we will share our good news and our not so good news with each other, we will ask each other for help if and when it is needed. We will also, for as long as we are able, have at least 1 silly get-together every year.

We love you Mum, so very much. We will miss you. God bless you and keep you safe.

By the way Mum, don’t forget that you’ve told Christine you’ll send her a text message or an email to let us know what it’s like where you are now.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

October - oh dear!

October has been a bad month for me, so until I get myself in the "proper" mood, I'm not doing anything to this blog for now. Just wanted you to know that I haven't forgotten it!

Monday, 29 September 2008

Some good news

I've been able to start harvesting more produce from the allotment. Even the biggish pumpkin that was hammered by the hailstorm has continued to grow, and although it still shows the scars, we may just have something for hallowe'en. I had a really good crop of climbing french beans, so many that I've got plenty in the freezer to see me through the winter. The remaining beans I'm leaving to go to seed and I intend to save some for planting next year as well as having a go at drying them to add to soups and stews.

On Sunday we harvested beautiful carrots, baby turnips, a cabbage and a lettuce, oh yes, and just a few beans.

I had some thrilling news last week. Becci, my youngest daughter (the one with the chickens) had told me a couple of weeks previously that she'd been nominated for "something" but didn't know what it was. She found out last Thursday that she'd been nominated for the Student Midwife of the Year Award! How wonderful is that! But - it gets better. She's been shortlisted as a finalist and will find out the final results at an award ceremony on October 9th in Birmingham. I'm so proud of her, her determination and commitment in everything she does, whether it was studying when the children were tiny so that she'd have the required "A" levels to get into University, bringing up 3 little girls (though at 14, 13 and 9 they're not so little now), coping with 2 dogs, one of which has epilepsy, and caring for 6 ex-battery chickens. It's been really tough for her, and still is as she's only just coming to the end of her 2nd year of her training. All my children make me feel really blessed.

This weekend, Adrian told me he was taking me out for the day. I've been through a bout of manic depression and he felt I needed a bit of "me" time, time to relax a bit and get things into perspective again. We set off from Stafford at 11am and went down the M6 and M5 towards Evesham, then towards Oxford, then Banbury. At 1pm (or thereabouts!) we arrived at Cotswold Chickens. I was flabbergasted! He told me we'd come to choose my birthday present, even though it's a bit early. Oh the beautiful pullets they had there, it really was difficult to choose. Anyway, we came away with 2 Black Star and 2 Bluebelle who I've named Marigold and Honeysuckle (Black Star) and Bluebell and Pansy. They're so cute, haven't grown their combs and wattles yet. They're 17 weeks old so it'll be a few weeks yet before they start laying any eggs.

This is Pansy on the left, and Marigold below.

Honeysuckle on the left peering out at this strange new world.
As you can see, they seem to be not too phased by their new home. Bluebell did a very good impression of Houdini just before bedtime, she managed to fly over the fence and joined the other flock quite happily. She did want to get back in to her enclosure though when it was time to go to bed. I let all the chooks out just before 7 this morning - isn't it getting dark early and not getting light till late now? When I opened the converted hutch door, 4 pairs of bleary eyes looked and me and blinked. Honeysuckle was the first to venture out, followed a little later by Marigold. Pansy put in an appearance about 8.30, but Bluebell didn't appear till after 10am. I didn't want to push them, I want them to do their own thing and get used to where "home" is before taking the next step of integrating them with the other 8 girls.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

September? Feels more like winter to me!!!

Since my last post, I've been busy in the garden and on the allotment.

I've harvested loads and loads of french beans, there's so many packets of them in the freezer I certainly won't be short of a veg to go with dinner :). The peas are coming along too, lovely and sweet, though the pods don't look very inviting, they seem a bit mildewy. I tried one of the purple cauliflowers and I must admit I'm not that taken with it. It tasted ok raw, very strong flavour, but cooking it - well!! I made the mistake of putting it in boiling water to blanch it for freezing. It went a sort of bluey-grey colour, not a feast for the eyes at all. The water turned bright blue too. Wonder if it'd make a good dye? Might try that one day when I've nothing better to do.

September 2nd saw the most awful hailstorm I've ever experienced. It lasted a good 15 minutes, and the hailstones were almost the size of a 1p piece.

The chickens all hid under the laurel hedge while it was going on, but once the hail turned to rain, they all came out to investigate all this white stuff!

The weekend of 5th, 6th and 7th September saw Adrian and I at Whiteley Village Outlet Centre near Gosport where we were selling our jewellery. It wasn't a bad weekend sales-wise, weather-wise rain, rain and more rain interspersed with showers. I didn't take my fleece off all the time we were there! The B&B we stayed at though was wonderful, I can highly recommend it. A thirties house restored as close as it could be to the period, perfectly cooked breakfasts, and really comfortable rooms. The Art Deco style gave Adrian lots of inspiration for more jewellery designs, one of which was a piece of Whitby Jet with fine silver bands inlaid into it - sold within half an hour of it being finished! Steve and Angela Macauley are the owners of Milvil Corner in Lee on the Solent.

Beccy phoned me on the Saturday to tell me some sad news. Petunia, my hop-a-long chicken had died. She was soooooooooooo loving, always the last one in to bed, always waiting at the gate for me to pick her up and give her a goodnight cuddle. I've buried her in the garden near Rose. I'm getting paranoid now! Every time I go to the chicken run, I'm counting them all and if there's 1 not visible I steel myself to look in the coop hoping that I won't find another one has gone to chicken heaven. I know it's bound to happen to them all sooner or later, they've had a really stressful life before coming to retire with me, but I love them all dearly - even Hyacinth when she pecks at a thin shelled egg to try and steal the contents.

I didn't go to the allotment today. Instead I started clearing a pile of composty rubbish in the corner of the front garden to make into a flower bed. Got loads of small plants that have been ready to be planted out for ages. After shifting 3 wheelbarrow loads of soil and compost from the front to the veggie patch at the back, I was exhausted! Anyway, it's all been spread over one of the raised beds, then a good thick layer of compost from the "dalek" before I covered it all with weed-suppressant membrane. I've planted lots of my strawberry plants through holes cut into the membrane and hopefully, slugs and snails permitting, I'll get a good crop of strawberries next year.

I've thinned out and potted on some Kale and some of the Ailsa Craig onions. They're looking quite sturdy little seedlings, but they're not going out into the allotment until I've got some fleece or something to give them some protection from critters and the elements.

Right then, think that's all for now - till next time :)

Monday, 25 August 2008

Bank Holiday Weekend

Gill and Adrian came up from Milton Keynes for the weekend to help me with the allotment. Wow, what a difference a couple of extra pair of hands can make. Almost all the digging and weeding is completed now, just a small patch where I'll let the chickens have a scrabble around in, and the patch under blue tarpaulin that has pumpkins growing through it. I'm fighting a battle with caterpillars too, so Adrian had the job of going round all the brassicas and spraying the little pests with Garlic Fire Spray. It's a constant battle, but I don't want to loose too many. I know the chooks will have a feast when I've harvested and washed them all.

The pumpkins have some golf-ball size embryo fruits on them, and it's just this last day or two that there's been both male and female flowers open at the same time. That being the case, I gave nature a little bit of a helping hand and hand-pollinated 4 or 5 just in case the bees don't get round to doing it for me. I've also got a couple of tiny red cauliflowers starting to head up. Never tried them before so hope they taste nice.

I've dug up the biggest Olive tree from the back garden and re-planted it at the allotment. I've also dug up a big peony and a little peony. The big one has found a new home over at my friend's garden together with a clump of a blue flowered plant that I think might be cat mint, and a clump of Jacob's Ladder, 'cos she admired them both every time she came over for elevenses. The little peony is in the front garden now underneath the front window. should look nice in a couple of years or so when it gets bigger.

Gill had a lovely time this morning collecting eggs from the chooks, was really excited (or eggsited) each time she found one. She's taken them home with her - might last a couple of days :)

Here's a couple of pictures of Adrian sitting on the make-shift coop (a converted rabbit hutch) with Ivy. She's a tart!!! She doesn't mind being picked up and admired.
I've been down to the allotment again with Gill this morning to get a basket of goodies for her to take home. They've gone back with potatoes from Stewart's allotment (they're getting big and slug-eaten!), a lovely butterhead lettuce, courgettes, and some french beans from mine.
That's all for today folks, might get some more nice photos uploaded again soon, well once I've given them names so I know what's what that is.