Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

A Shropshire Lad – David Austin Climbing Rose

On 20th February this year it was three years since we lost Adam and to mark the occasion Sean and I went to Ashwood Nurseries and bought a climbing Rose to put in the garden as a tribute to Adam.  A Shropshire Lad is a beautiful subtle pink rose by David Austin. A vigorous scented climbing rose with very few thorns, dark green foliage and beautiful subtle pink flowers. I have admired this rose for years and so going with Sean and buying it together in remembrance of Adam made the sad day a little easier for both of us.

A Shropshire Lad – A vigorous scented climbing rose with very few thorns, dark green foliage and beautiful subtle pink flowers.

The name is taken from A. E. Housman’s collection of poems about Shropshire published in 1896 where the David Austin rose gardens and nursery are situated.  A. E. Housman’s ashes are buried near St. Laurence’s Church in Ludlow, Shropshire. David C. H. Austin, born in Shropshire, is himself a Shropshire lad.

To add to this treat Sean also bought me another rose that I had been wanting for ages, the English Shrub Rose Queen Of Sweden. I plan to take cutting of both of these when the time is right.

Queen of Sweden – Small buds open to half-enclosed cups which eventually become wide, shallow, and upward-facing. The colour begins as soft, apricot pink, gradually changing to pure soft pink over time. It has a lovely myrrh fragrance. It forms a bushy upright shrub. It was named to commemorate the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce between Sweden and Great Britain by David Austin in 2004.

 

 

English Roses have natural, shrubby growth which makes them ideal for both rose borders and combining with other plants in mixed borders. The more compact English Roses work well in rose beds, whilst taller varieties can be trained against a post and rail fence. Most varieties will perform surprisingly well in partial shade with at least four or five hours of good sun a day. English Roses as shrubs look best when planted in groups of three or more of the same variety. They will then grow together to form one dense shrub which will provide a more continuous display and make a more definite statement in the border. David Austin.

 

 

 

Herbs and Spices 4 – Ginger. Hedichium Ginger Lily – Growing and Cooking 2018

Little is known about how ginger first came to be cultivated. Historians write that the plant did not exist in its current form, but was bred by humans. These days, most ginger comes from Asia. India produces the largest quantity, followed by China and Indonesia. Zingiber Officinalis is a tropical plant which grows in shaded swamps so in the UK it needs help to get started. 

Ginger is easy to propagate using a piece of fresh root ginger, the rhizome of the plant. Choose the freshest piece you can with visible eyes. They are the small yellow tips from which the shoots sprout. The roots are like a hand with fingers of rhizome that can be separated by breaking into pieces.  Place each piece in a pot of compost  with the eyes just level with the surface and water in well. Enclose the pot in a clear plastic bag and place in a sunny spot indoors at about 20C. In a few weeks you will start to notice green tips. This is best done in the Spring. Kept in a light, warm room your ginger will become a pretty houseplant and start producing harvests after six to eight months.

Ginger plants love light and warmth but they can do just as well in strong sunlight. Avoid cold, wind or drafts at all costs. The growing tips at the end of each finger of the rhizome will sprout quickly. Long, slim leaves will grow from the end and look  like sprouting grass. Potting on is essential as within eight to ten months the ginger plant will be fully grown.

  • Garden care: Plant the rhizomes into pots using a good soil based compost. The rhizome should be placed horizontally just below the surface of the soil with the small reddish coloured buds facing upwards. Water well and then grow on under glass until all risk of frost has passed. Alternatively, store the rhizomes in a cool, frost-free place until they can be planted straight out in the garden. Keep well watered during the summer but dry during winter. The rhizomes should be covered in the Autumn with a deep, dry mulch, or brought inside and kept in a frost free spot until the Spring when they can be planted outside again. (info from Crocus.com)

Ginger is a flowering plant whose rhizome, ginger root or ginger, is widely used as a spice and a folk medicine. It is a herbaceous perennial which grows annual pseudo stems about a meter tall bearing narrow leaf blades. The inflorescences bear pale yellow with purple flowers and arise directly from the rhizome on separate shoots. Ginger is in the family Zingiberaceae to which also belong turmeric, cardamom, and galangal. Ginger originated in the tropical rainforests from the Indian subcontinent to Southern Asia where ginger plants show considerable genetic variation. As one of the first spices exported from the Orient, ginger arrived in Europe during the spice trade, and was used by ancient Greeks and Romans.

Ginger root has been used medicinally in Asian, Indian and Arabic herbal traditions for thousands of years. It is still used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an aid to digestion and to calm upset stomachs. Its warm, spicy aroma has been believed to awaken vitality and in many ancient cultures it was used as an aphrodisiac.

Ginger is the perfect way to spice up your cooking. The intensity of the flavour varies according to when the ginger is harvested. The older the plant, the hotter the root will taste. Young ginger roots are softer and more succulent and have a milder flavour. These young tubers can be eaten fresh or preserved in vinegar, sugary water or sherry. Young ginger is also perfectly suited for making ginger tea. Just add sugar and lemon to taste.

Fresh ginger can be used finely chopped, grated, crushed to give a ginger juice, or simply sliced. In South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent, fresh ginger is frequently added to curry pastes and it is often cooked with fish dishes in China. In Europe, dried ginger is more frequently used in baking, as in the classic parkin of northern England.

Another wonderful use for ginger is Ginger Beer. I remember my mother often had some of this on the go in out little kitchen. She made it in the traditional way fermenting it with yeast but below is a cheat recipe.

Ginger Beer Cheat Recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 lemons, juiced and zested
  • ½ tbsp. clear honey
  • 150g root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 1½ litres soda water

Method

  1. In a large jug, mix the juice and grated lemon zest with the honey, grated ginger and caster sugar.
  2. Pour in 150ml soda water and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
  3. Top up with the remaining soda water.
  4. Using a fine sieve or piece of muslin, strain the mixture into another large jug, discarding the zest and ginger pulp.
  5. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving with ice.

 

Ginger is used in many forms. Whole fresh roots, Dried roots, powdered, preserved, crystallised and pickled.

  • Whole fresh roots. These provide the freshest taste.
  • Dried roots.
  • Powdered ginger. This is ground dried root
  • Preserved or stem ginger. Fresh young roots are peeled, sliced and cooked in heavy sugar syrup.
  • Crystallised ginger. This is also cooked in sugar syrup, air dried and rolled in sugar.
  • Pickled ginger. The root is sliced paper thin and pickled in vinegar.

 

Ginger tea is good to drink when you feel a cold coming on. It is a diaphoretic, meaning that it will warm you from the inside and promote perspiration. Use it when you just want to warm up. Steep 20-40g of fresh, sliced ginger in a cup of hot water. Add a slice of lemon or a drop of honey if you fancy. This is great for lifting your mood. Packed with antioxidants, it has a whole range of health benefits so is the perfect Winter warmer.

 

Favourite Flower 2018 – Balsam Dwarf Bush

Last year I started a set of posts that I intend to continue annually. My aim is to choose a favourite flower that Ive never grown before and my choice this year is Balsam Dwarf Bush. The seeds were bought from Seekay earlier this year and sown as usual in a seed tray then transferred into 7″ pots and much to my surprise turned out to be quite large plants. I potted three of them on  into a five litre black bucket and they grew like Topsy with almost a trunk forming. The flowers were very attractive and plentiful.

Another surprise was when the seed heads began to appear. I have seen them referred to as fruits. It is now half way through September and these seeds heads are unfurling to reveal many dark brown seeds. I shall definitely have another go with these flowers next year. However, this year, as the stalk/trunk is so substantial I plan to cut them off at ground level and see what happens next Spring. The supplier described them as annual and 10″ high but in my experience they have grown to over a foot.

An annual variety of Balsam that will grow to a height of 10″. The plants produce a mass of doubled flowers that range in colour from white to pink and purple from July to Sept. Sow the seeds under glass from late Feb. Cover lightly and give a  little heat. Germination will take up to 21 days. Plant out when all risk of frost has passed. These plants will not require very much care. A little fertiliser every now and then and occasional watering will be ample.

 

Overwintering Cabbages 2018

Overwintering cabbages

Overwintering cabbages is a method whereby spring cabbages are late summer sown. by doing this they  produce small tender cabbages or spring greens in April and May. Confusingly, late spring sowing of Durham Elf can ensure earlier crops in autumn and winter so I may try those next Spring..

Overwintering cabbages

Overwintering cabbages

To over winter cabbages sow mid July to August ¼” deep in a seed bed or in trays of seed compost. Keep moist. Transplant to their final position when plants can be easily handled which should be in about 5-6 weeks.

Allow 18” between plants. Plant firmly and water well until established. Harvest in April and May for good firm hearts.

The four varieties that I am sowing today are Durham Early, Durham Elf, First Early Market and  Offenham 2 Flower of Spring.

Update – The seeds I sowed on 13th August have not all germinated. Today 4th September I have potted on 12 First Early Market.  Nothing else was big enough to transplant but I shall leave them a little longer.

I am hoping to get these in at the allotment in the middle of October and hope to harvest in April and May 2019. They will be protected by a tunnel as we have lots of hungry pigeons down there..

 

 

Alstroemeria Flaming Star

My current stock of Alstroemeria were inherited from the previous plot holder of our allotment. They were growing like weeds, prolifically, every year getting more and more, so much so that Rob began to pull them up and destroy them. I have saved a few rooted plants and lots of seeds. The flower is available in various colours. The variety I have is the bright orange Flaming Star pictured at the top of the post and I am determined to get hold of the white variety for the garden at home too. They are very sturdy plants and can be invasive so I shall grow them in large containers.

Tip – These flowers are best obtained by buying a well rooted plant as they are difficult to germinate from seeds. Plant Alstroemeria plants in a sheltered site, in part shade or full sun, any time between May and August in good soil. All Alstroemeria like good living, so give them plenty of organic matter in the planting hole. If you have a greenhouse plant some inside too. Pot them up into generous 5 litre pots and keep them frost free. Once they start to shoot in spring, feed and water well and they’ll give you an almost continual flower harvest. Pull from the root and they will continue to flower for months.

Alstroemeria, commonly called the Peruvian lily or lily of the Incas is a genus of flowering plants in the family Alstroemeriaceae. They are all native to South America although some have become naturalised in the United States, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Madeira and the Canary Islands. Almost all of the species are restricted to one of two distinct centres of diversity, one in central Chile, the other in eastern Brazil. Species of Alstroemeria from Chile are winter-growing plants while those of Brazil are summer-growing. All are long-lived perennials except graminea, a diminutive annual from the Atacama Desert of Chile.

Alstroemeria are very versatile plants and will grow in different situations. All varieties will flower from May through to the first frosts of Autumn and will benefit from the use of a free draining soil. Shorter varieties such as Princess, Inticancha and Little Miss are ideal for the front of the border or for growing in containers. Tall Alstroemeria are good for the back of the border and will provide a continuous supply of cut flowers throughout the summer months. Inca are slightly shorter but will also give long enough stems for cut flowers are good for borders and will also thrive in large containers. Some companies sell loose Alstroemeria rhizomes which is another method of propagation..

May cause skin allergy or irritant – Having skin or eye contact with these plants could result in an allergic reaction, burning or rash.

A Visit From The Local Fox And A Lucky Escape

Since my last post about the Silkies there have been a few developments. On the 14th of May Scarlett, the tiniest of the Silkie bantams, decided at last to sit on her eggs. Having decided that she was in earnest  this time I duly put Day 1 on my calendar. That very same night we had a visit from the local fox and the sight that greeted me the next morning was devastating. The group are housed in a double hutch which is inside a shed. The hutch was ransacked, the roof of it on the floor, the chickens traumatised but luckily still alive. After I had collected myself together, Laura and myself emptied everything out of the shed into the garden fully expecting bad news about the eggs. However, Scarlett was clinging steadfastly on to all but one of her eggs. We were very lucky that all the fox had got away with was ten eggs that Mai had gathered together. Oscar, my brave cockerel, looked as though he had done battle for his girls and won.

The situation today, 26th May,  is that Scarlett is on day 14 , Mai is on day 2 and Snowflake, one of my Pekins is also sitting on six Silkie eggs after she went broody with a vengeance on 22nd.  I think the total count to date is 22 fertile eggs under three broodies.  Oscar is doing a sterling job of looking after his girls and all of my fears about having a cockerel in the garden have disappeared. He is not noisy, as gentle as can be and so handsome that he can do no wrong in my eyes.

Setting Up For A 2018 Hatch – White Bantam Silkies

It’s 28th April and Scarlett, the white Silkie bantam, has nine fertile eggs in the nest. I have never experienced the family set up with hatching before so I have had to do a lot of reading. I have come to the conclusion that this natural kind of breeding, with a family of pure bred chickens, is the easiest yet. I have bought fertile hatching eggs before and used an incubator or a broody hen to hatch them but this is the first time that I have let nature take its course and left it to them. All I have to provide is safe housing, clean bedding, fresh water and the correct food. Human intervention is the last thing they need. After all they were breeding long before humans domesticated them. I am much happier with this situation and Im sure the chickens are too.

My breeding group consists of Oscar, a handsome cockerel, Scarlett who is the first of the girls to go broody, Starlight and Mai. They are from a good bloodline and should produce some perfect offspring. Although Scarlett is sitting, Mai has also contributed about four eggs to the clutch. Starlight, as far as I know, hasn’t layed an egg yet.

When Scarlett first showed signs of being broody I was expecting her to sit constantly on the eggs in the nest but she was spending her days out in the garden with the others whilst gathering together quite a big clutch. In my ignorance I thought that the eggs would go off but after a bit of research I find that the fertile eggs are able to stay viable for a few weeks until the broody is ready to sit and hatch. I am excited about the prospect of chicks but have no illusions about the possibility of fertility failures as the group are all so young and this will be their first attempt.

Well it’s 4th May and although we have lots of eggs in two nests there is still no sign of either hen sitting. Update 7th May – 16 eggs back in the two nests after my Grandson Jobie decided that the girls weren’t going to sit and Nanny Chris needed to get an incubator. He conscientiously carried all the eggs into the kitchen without breaking one.  He is only five, he would say nearly six, but is very knowledgeable and is usually right about most things. However, Nanny Chris doesn’t have the money to buy an incubator and another knowledgeable chicken person said “Why would she need to sit in this weather?” currently a heatwave on Bank Holiday Monday, so I cleaned out the nest, put fresh bedding in with a sprinkle of Diatom, and placed the eggs back where they were.

Update – day 19. All the Broodies are still sitting. No sign of any pipping. Scarlett is sitting tight again after a little toilet break when she sat back on the wrong nest and her eggs went cold. I sat her back on to her eggs.

Scarlett Day 21 – still no sign of any chicks.