Wednesday 27 March 2013

Night Gardening

I've been out with the head tourch again.
10 bags of well rotted horse muck spread on my summer fruiting raspberries and blueberries. Shame I did it at 10 at night. I think my wife thinks I'm nuts. I'll get some more tomorrow and do the same!

Saturday 23 March 2013

300 Egg Boxes

We've been selling eggs since we first had chickens (some years ago now) but I'm always fed up of asking for egg boxes or people forgetting to bring them back.
So I decided to bite the bullet and buy some, and since the invention of eBay I don't buy anything unless it's in bulk.
If you were wondering what 300 egg boxes looks like
 I ordered 300 egg boxes, 100 3ft bamboo canes and 50 8ft bamboo canes (always struggling for canes). It's going to be nice not to have to hunt around for egg boxes or try to use improvised boxes.

Clean eggs every time with their new nest box
And since the ex caged birds are in their new coop the eggs have been lovely and clean every time. I need to alter my other coop so this happens in that pen as well, as we're selling more and more eggs and no one wants to buy dirty ones!

Wednesday 20 March 2013

The Shed Is Dead

Long live the shed coop.
Not pretty. I bet the neighbours were pleased to see it go!
 Last night I moved the chickens from the horrible, blue tarp covered shed (pictured above) into their new, all singing, all dancing coop. Then I dismantled the old shed in the dark, hiding the tarp like it never happened.

Tonight I went to shut in the hens and they were all perched happily inside (having figured out the ramp in no time at all) and 6 clean eggs in the nest boxes. I was quite pleased!
The old shed didn't die in vain though. It provided shelter for these birds for more months than I'd care to admit and I might yet reincarnate the side panels into another little chicken coop - watch this space!

Monday 18 March 2013

Collecting Scion Wood

Last week I went on a bit of a mission to collect scions of wood for the root stocks I've ordered. I rang a few local farmers that I know and managed to visit a couple of orchards.
The first was in the next village to ours, I had done some work for the gentleman late last year and discovered a mutual love of apples. His orchard is only about 3 years old but he was more than happy to help and walked me round a on drizzly evening to cut a few branches off.
The scion wood collected from the first orchard
The second orchard was in the same village as ours and resulted in nine varieties that I haven't already got. His orchard is around 20 years old and must be a picture when the blossom is out. The best bit really is being guided round the orchard and hearing the stories about the different varieties. The one tree, an Argile Grise, is a cider apple he called the "Upright French" as every year it sends up lots of vertical growth.
The second orchard I visited - I love walking round a place like this and hearing the stories about the different types of apples.
Now all I need to do is wait for my root stocks to turn up. Although I'm tempted to order some more M25's (large trees) to maybe grow some cider apple trees in the hedge that borders the road.
What does everyone think - should I try 25 grafts this year or buy 10 more for cider as well?

Sunday 17 March 2013

Movable Chicken Coop Finished

I'm quite pleased with this little project now it's finished.
The old style wheels really set it off. It's light enough to be moved around when needed, but I've used thick enough timber so it will last.
Dad made the metal axle up for me as I don't really do much metal work, but he kept worrying about whether I'd built the coop strong enough to be pushed around. I think he thought I was about to attempt the Dakar Rally in it the way he was talking! I only plan on moving it 10 or 20 yards every couple of weeks when the hens need moving on to a fresh bit of grass so I think it will be fine.
I do need to make a cover for the large vent so I can alter how much ventilation they get and stop driving rain.

 Every time I build a coop I learn from the last one. This time I made the door for cleaning it only half of the front, last time it was too large and awkward to open.
I've also made the nest boxes much lower than the perches this time, as I've been having trouble with birds sleeping in the nest box and I hope this will stop this.
Having the wheels on the coop should mean I'll be able to move it on my own when I want to

Moving it out of the garden into the field. Visibility isn't great when you're pushing it!
You need to make sure your path is clear first.
A nice project which I enjoyed making (terrible really when I spend all day cutting wood for a living as well!). All I need to do now is move the hens in and then train them to climb up the ramp each night, hopefully they'll learn pretty quick!

Saturday 16 March 2013

Another Chicken Coop

I need my garden back.
The chickens have done their job and removed the weeds for me but they're running amuck. I can't leave anything in the veg garden or it will get pecked to death.
I want to get these ex caged birds out into the field but the old shed they sleep in now (covered in a rather fetching blue tarp) won't move without falling down.
The frame work made up - notice the two "wheelbarrow" arms to help move it.
A new coop is the only answer. And me being me I can't just go and buy one, I have to make it (I should be making things for other people and earning money - but oh well).
I wanted this coop to be mobile so I could move it round the field with the electric netting, giving the chickens fresh ground every couple of weeks. I decided to make it like a large wheelbarrow with two arms one side and the wheels on the other. I still wanted to keep it off the floor like my other coop so I raised the base of it 16", which also gives the chickens a little shelter from the elements.
Carpentry "alfresco" in between showers
Building something like this always takes longer than you think it will, but by the end of today I managed to get it all clad, I would of had it stained as well if the heavens hadn't opened.
The coop clad in shiplap ready for a coat of stain (and a roof)

The nest box

Perches - I think I'll add another yet
All I need to do now is stain the wood and add the roof, hopefully the chickens should be in this by the start of next week. I love making a new chicken coop and I'm already planning my next one - A large ark for some more silkies!
The next little project will be an honesty box to start sellign some of the millions of eggs we seem to have at the moment. Does anyone else use an honesty box and are people honest when they take eggs or produce from it?

Thursday 14 March 2013

Practicing Whip And Tongue Grafting

I'm sorry if this blog has become "apple heavy" of late but as you can probably tell I'm a little obsessed!
Last night I went out and cut some willow branches to practise cutting my whip and tongue grafts in front of the fire. Adding the tongue on these grafts makes it hold together by itself and will make tieing them much easier on the real thing. After a few cuts I really felt I had the feel for it and they were matching up quite well.
Some practise grafts
Cutting the first cut (about and inch and a quarter long)

Adding a tongue to the cut (this was something we didn't do on "the course"). Careful when cutting towards yourself though!

Checking that they match up, making a relatively straight graft. You can just see the tongues meshing into each other.

The graft holding together on it's own due to the tongue.
My root stock delivery has been delayed due to the cold weather, but I don't think this is a bad thing as it gives me time to collect more scions and prepare a nursery bed for them in the veg garden. Anyone else starting any learning projects at the moment?

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Visiting A Tree Nursery

The more I've thought about the grafting course the more I've been annoyed about it. I just didn't feel that he taught us the correct method or in a very good way, with little knowledge to back it up. My dad knew how annoyed I was so he spoke to a customer of his and arranged for me to visit a local nursery that is currently on grafting.
Three cordon apple trees
This nursery performs in the region of 300,000 - 400,000 grafts a year (plus summer budding) so they really know what they're on about.
Inside the warm grafting shed they've got a number of production lines set up. The first guy trims the roots and cuts the root stock to size (as the trees they were working on were all going to be potted up), the next guy cuts the graft and then a third man ties it and dips it in wax.
 The man making the grafts did them so perfectly each and every time and I was advised that the best way for me to practise is to go and cut some willow and use that to try out the cuts. The grafts here were much neater than the ones I saw the previous week, and as a whip and tongue graft was used, instead of just a whip, it seemed much stronger (You couldn't even spot the graft on some of them).
A seven level espalier
 I didn't take any pictures in the grafting shed or where they keep their thousands of bits of scion wood (a massive cold store) as I didn't think it was appropriate to at the time. But I did take pictures of their trained trees outside their office, all done by the head manager there! I hope my apple trees will look like this in a few years time.
A fan trained tree
 I was there for a good hour asking question after question and they didn't seem to mind at all, they just seemed pleased I was so keen. They even invited me back at anytime to see what they do next with the trees - I've told them they might regret that offer!

Trained into different shapes

Young trees being trained
An amazing way to spend a morning and I feel that I learnt so much from them. I've ordered 25 root stocks and tonight I went and cut some willow to practise on.
It was a shame that the course I went on last week was so half hearted, but I am very lucky to be able to go and speak to people who are so obviously passionate about what they do and run a thriving local business. It's also so nice to be able to speak to professionals like this who are so open with their knowledge and keen to pass it on.
Anyone local with old or interesting varieties of apple let me know so I can take a cutting, as I need some more varieties for my root stocks when they arrive!

Monday 11 March 2013

Egg colour

My one set of hens contain 5 Legbars and one Welsummer. Or at least I thought it did. One days egg collecting proves otherwise as Legbars lay blue eggs.
Eggs collected from one day

I got these hens from a local smallholding but, as you can see from the picture above, I'm fairly sure there isn't five legbars in that little flock as then I could only have one brown egg in a day (unless that hen has been working overtime).
This is annoying really as I had plans to breed from them, but now they'll only be laying birds as I seriously doubt their lineages and it wouldn't be fair to anyone buying the future hens.
I do want to hatch some chickens this year but I think I'll have to dust off the incubator and buy some fertile eggs off eBay instead. 
Anyone else been sold something thinking it was something else?

Friday 8 March 2013

£5 From Lidl

Went to the dentist yesterday and I parked in Lidl car park. It wasn't a great day - an unrepairable puncher meaning I had to buy a new tire at 85 quid and I found out I need a filling (first one in ten years)! but I did go into the supermarket before I left because I knew they had fruit trees for sale.
£5 For all this lot
The fruit trees were no good for me as I need to know what variety they are and these were poorly labelled (a green apple or red apple is not much good when you've got over 30 different varieties back home).
The seeds were cheap though, and having a bit of a thing for sunflowers I bough quite a few packs along with marigolds (great for salads). I also got some onion sets as they were 99p a bag, making growing your own onions more viable.
I know I shouldn't buy this kind of stuff from cheap supermarkets and I should support my local nursery's, but we are on a budget and at this price it was hard not to buy them. If it's any consolation I'm sure I'll end up spending money at a nursery fairly soon...
Anyone else had any bargains lately?

Thursday 7 March 2013


I think that winter squash has to be my favourite vegetable. It tastes great and stores well.
I'm not just talking about the butternut squash you buy from the supermarket, but all the other amazing varieties like Crown Prince, Sweet Dumpling and Turks Turban to name but a few. Some of these have a taste so far away from butternut you 'd think they were a different vegetable.
Half a Crown Prince
In the old days they used to keep them under the kitchen table. So long as you keep the frost off them they tend to keep fine. In fact they tend to like the same temperatures that people like, so bringing them into the house is all you need to do. We've kept them until may before now (but we normally run out way before then).
The ones that we managed to grow last year have been sat quite happily on the dining room window sill since the Autumn and they're still good to eat now. In fact we had one for tea tonight and it was great.
What's your favourite vegetable (for self sufficiency or otherwise)?

Sunday 3 March 2013

Grafting Course

Today My mother and I went on a tree grafting course.
I've been struggling what to write about the course as, to be honest, it wasn't much good and I'm not really into writing negative reviews.
I just felt that it wasn't very well run or thought out. Although the instructor knew how to graft apple trees he didn't know huge amounts on the subject of apples and the course had a very steady pace to it. Also we were only shown how to do one method of grafting an apple tree and it would have been nice to see how to do things like cleft grafting or an example of budding so we could try that in the summer.
That said the course wasn't expensive and we did go home with two apple trees each and I now know how to graft.
The one year old nursery bed
 I found how they propagated these apples really interesting and how they used a new bed each year to produce more stock to sell. The trees in the nursery beds were spaced about 1ft apart.
A two/three year old nursery bed
 Making a graft:
Cutting the scion

A photo showing the cut and the thin "wispy" end

Cutting the root stock to accept the scion

Holding the two together so that the cambium layers on each piece are touching

beginning to tape up the graft. We just used insulation tape for this

My two grafts completed

Mum still doing hers
I did learn a few key things, like the selection of the scion where and how to make the cuts and the aftercare of the tree.
When I got home I showed my brother how to do it (we had a couple of extra root stocks as he was meant to come along but couldn't) and I taught him in about 10 minutes, by the end we had another two trees ready to go into the ground.
I'm definitely planing to do some more grafting and I might even go and buy some root stocks to graft some more this year, using scions from trees of friends of varieties that I haven't got.
I think the thing I should have done before with grafting was to go out and try it, it's fairly simple and it's not the end of the world if you get it wrong. Not sure I recommend the course but I recommend going out and trying some grafting.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Wasting Time

But Not Time Wasted!
 A nice bit of sunshine today meant that my little girl could come out for a play on her slide and swing.
 It made a nice break from trying to work through my list of jobs!

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