Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

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 know and then and occasional watering will be ample.

 

Overwintering Cabbages 2018

Spring Cabbages are late summer sown to overwinter and produce small tender cabbages or spring greens in April and May. Confusingly, late spring sowings of Durham Elf can ensure earlier crops in autumn and winter so I may try those next Spring..

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.

Gaura lindheimeri – The Bride

I have finally bought some seeds of Gaura lindheimeri or Whirling Butterflies. I saw these in a garden on the estate last year and they were immediately on my wish list. The plants were a bit out of my price range so I started the hunt for some reasonably priced seeds. Today I have sown three seeds each in two ten inch pots and after a good watering Laura has put them into her greenhouse so fingers crossed. Germination could be anything from 14-28 days. I don’t expect to see any flowers this year but if I can get a couple of good plants for next year flowering I shall be happy. I bought 30 seeds from Johnsons for £2.40. Apparently Gaura is a late performer so it tends to be put into the ground too early and too small. The time to bring on your Gaura is in July as a well-grown pot plant. It is said to self seed freely and as it is also short lived I intend to let some seed fall and save some to sow myself.

Update on 12th August. I have four healthy seedlings. All I have to do now is get them through the Winter.

Propagate by seed in pots in a cold frame from spring to early summer or propagate by basal cuttings or softwood cuttings in spring or semi-hardwood cuttings in summer. Cut back in early Spring.

A fully hardy, graceful, hazy plant with airy spikes of white, star-shaped flowers with long anthers held on slender stems from May to September. This exceptionally long-flowering perennial looks equally at home in an informal cottage-style garden or among soft grasses in a new perennial border. It is exceptionally drought-tolerant and will soak up the sun. Give it space as its wispy stems will lean over plants and pathways. Resist the temptation to cut back after the plant has flowered as it takes on beautiful autumn tints, particularly in cold weather. Cut back and divide large colonies in spring. information from Crocus.com. Can’t wait.

 

 

 

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.

Laura’s Higgledy Seeds – May 2018 – Crazy Daisy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laura has become a secret Seedaholic. Although we have loads of flower seeds she has been ordering from T&M and one of my favourite seed suppliers, Higgledy. She is in love with growing things so for her birthday on 18th April I bought her a walk in greenhouse, just a plastic one from Wilkos, but she loves it. A bit of compost a few pots and seed trays and she was off. Her latest seed purchases from Higgledy are Chrysanthemum Crazy Daisy, Zinnia Persian Carpet Mix, Echinops Ritro, Tithoria Torch and Statice Blue. She loves all things ‘Daisy’ so I have given her a new name, Crazy Daisy, after the Crysanth she chose. The name suits her to a Tee.

Higgledy £1.95 – Chrysanthemum Crazy Daisy is widely regarded as one of the best Chrysanthemums for the cut flower garden. Lots of white and cream flowers. Blooms are numerous and the white frilly petals have egg yolk yellow centres. This is a no fuss easy care perennial and a great addition to your  perennial bed in the cutting garden. Sow seed from February-May or August-October, into trays of compost and lightly cover seeds with vermiculite as the seeds need light to germinate. Keep at temperature of around 15°C. Germination usually takes between 3-4 weeks. If there is low germination rates induce a period of vernalisation where the seeds dormancy is broken by moving to a cold area about 4°C for a week or so and then return to 15°C. Once seedling are about 5cm tall pot on into individual pots. Its August and these flowers are just beginning to open. They belong to the Chrysanthemum family and should be sturdy perennials.

Higgledy Free Gift – Zinnia Persian Carpet  is a very elegant and charming flower. Colours range from deep reds to shining yellows on single and bicoloured blooms. The flowers themselves are more compact than most Zinnias but also more abundant. An old fashioned variety. Drought tolerant. Take care if sowing in pots as Zinnia do not like root disturbance. Sow them in May directly into the soil after the last frost. I’ve sown a few seeds into a small pot on 4th May 2018. Its August and we have these flowering here and there in pots. The flowers are a very striking bright orange with red accents.
 
Higgledy £2.25 for 50 – Echinops Ritro. Echinops is Latin for hedgehog apparently. Flowers are beautiful silvery blue spikey spheres. Foliage is also a striking blue green colour. As cut flowers they are very versatile and they dry easily too. Echinops is a hardy perennial much loved by bees and it self seeds. A tough plant for the back of the border.
Higgledy Tithonia Torch £1.95 for 50 – Mexican Sunflower. Tall vibrant dahlia like flowers ideal for the back of the border. Easy and fast growing. This variety has extreme tolerance to heat and drought making it very useful for those dry areas of the garden. It produces brilliant deep orange flowers that are 3″ across on a plant that spreads to 3′ wide. Sow the seeds From Feb – March in trays of a good quality seed compost. Cover lightly as light is needed for germination. Germination will take between 18 – 30 days. Plant out in late Summer.These plants will not require very much care. A little fertiliser every now and then and occasional watering will be ample. Best planted in full sun. Its 3rd August and Laura has been very disappointed with these plants as they are not very attractive foliage wise and so far the only one to flower is bright a bright yellow sunflower. We should have realised what the foliage would be like as the name does say Mexican Sunflower and sunflower foliage isn’t very attractive. Update – Its 7th September and still no flowers from these seeds.
Higgledy Statice Blue £1.95 for 100Statice is easy-to-grow from seeds and it is very rewarding with bright blue,  flat flower clusters of a papery texture that hold their color well . Usually used in dry flower arrangements. Its 3rd August and these plants are just coming into flower.

 

 

 

Sowing and Growing Sweetcorn in 2018

 

I’ve gone from saying that I am not growing any sweetcorn this year to sowing three different varieties. This morning I have sown 16 seeds of Sweetcorn Fiesta, a colourful, edible variety that I have never grown before and 30 seeds of Sweetcorn Mini Pop. I have sown them into a flat seed tray, side by side and hope to grow them on a little before they are planted at the allotment. Although we are into May the temperatures are very low so I decided to start them at home. The other variety is Sweetcorn Incredible, an F1 variety that we have grown before. These Rob wants to sow directly into the ground at the allotment.

Fiesta is an incredible multi-coloured variety was developed from traditional Indian corn with kernels of yellow, red, black, purple, pink, even marbled! A Traditional Indian Corn, that produces long cobs with multicoloured grain. Fiesta is a large, annual, cereal grass with erect, leafy, dark purple stems bearing dark purple ears containing sweet, edible, multi-coloured seeds, ready for harvest as early as late summer. This cultivar is suitable for cooler climates.

Sweetcorn Mini Pop Has been specially bred to be small. Each plant produces 5-6 long pale yellow cobs witch have  a sweet crunchy taste. They are useful in stir fry, curries or just on their own.

Sweetcorn Incredible is an F1 main season variety that produces medium sized sugar enhanced cobs producing a high number of  average sized cobs.

 

 

 

Growing Leek Musselburgh From Seed For 2018

This morning I have sown the last of my leek seeds. They are Musselburgh bought from alanromans.com and can be relied upon for a top sweet flavour, winter hardiness and good all round performance. It is a variety with good disease resistance and an excellent flavour. This year I have gone for sowing the seeds individually in toilet roll tubes just eight at a time for staggered planting at the allotment.  The seeds should germinate in about 21 days and will be left to grow on until they are about 8″ high and pencil thick. We shall plant them out in  May leaving a gap of about 6″ between them and with rows about 1′ apart. We have grown this variety before and had varying results so fingers crossed for this year.

Tip – When planting Leeks, choose a well drained bed and apply a general fertiliser a week before. Water the bed the day before if the weather is dry. Make a 6″ hole with a dibber, drop in the leek plant whilst at the same time gently filling the hole with water to settle the roots. Do not backfill with soil at this point. Keep ground moist and earth up when the white base starts to show. NO MANURE. 

Cooking with Leeks. Leeks are part of the onion family but have a sweeter, more delicate flavor. Leeks contain good amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, making the vegetable a wise addition to a healthy diet. You can cook leeks by poaching them in chicken broth, pan-frying them in a little oil, or boiling them until tender or you can include them in a variety of other recipes. I use Leeks mainly in soups, stews and casseroles but they are equally useful as a side vegetable or in a pie.