Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Photos by Glenn and Laura

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.

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. 
 
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 know and then and occasional watering will be ample. Best planted in full sun.
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.

 

 

 

My Viola Collection 2018

On 7th June 2007 I went to Sugarloaf Lane Nursery and bought a few plants. One of these was an Alpine Viola called Papilio. I love Violas and this was to be the first of many. They are such a versatile plant and look good in individual pots or mixed containers as well as in rockeries, gravel gardens and borders. I have listed below the varieties that I have in my garden at present. The genus Viola is a very interesting group of plants. I am not so keen on the larger pansy type of flower but prefer those bred from the Lutea and Cornuta. I have ordered my 2018 treasures from The Wildegoose Nursery.

The Bouts viola collection was established in 1978 by Mark and Stephanie Roberts of Bouts Cottage Nursery. In 2011 they retired and Jack and Laura Willgoss took over creating Wildegoose Nursery. I cant wait to visit and collect my plants. They are situated close to Ludlow, one of our favourite places to visit.

Viola hybrids, as the name suggests, have parentage that is somewhat diverse and they can be striped and splashed, bicoloured or the image of simplicity itself in pure hues of white, yellow, pink, mauve, purple and black. Many are scented too

Tips from the Wildegoose Website:- For your Violas to flourish, they need a good depth of soil for their roots to spread into. So if planting in a pot go for something at least 12” (30cm) deep and use a proprietary brand of potting compost. If planting in the open ground, make sure the soil is well cultivated, weed free and ensure you incorporate plenty of organic matter. Violas need regular deadheading to maintain their long season of flowering and they benefit from a light trim and tidy in July if appearing leggy. Cut back to within 2 inches from the base in early autumn to encourage fresh new basal growth and to deter pests from overwintering in their crowns. www.wildegoosenursery.co.uk

Viola is the name of a genus containing about 500 different species. Most of the violas cultivated in gardens are grown as annuals or short lived perennials, however, many will self-seed and give you years of delight. Violas are as at home in woodland settings as they are filling crevices in rock walls. 

 

Viola cornuta is a species that originates in the meadows of the Pyranees and has long stems to hold their purple, honey scented flowers high enough above the surrounding grasses, to attract the attention of passing insects. The flowers of Viola cornuta have characteristically narrow elongated petals that are so delicate, yet these are remarkably hardy robust little plants. They are often recommended for ground cover, as they happily spread to make large flowering clumps under shrubs. Viola lutea, also known as the mountain pansy, is a species of violet that grows in Europe, from the British Isles to the Balkans. I prefer hybrids of these two as they are so delicate

If growing in pots use a good quality general purpose compost and incorporate grit or perlite to aide drainage through the winter. You can also add slow release fertiliser to the compost or give them a liquid feed every two to three weeks to give them a boost. Feed first with a balanced feed for healthy plant growth and once well established switch to a tomato feed to encourage more flowers.

Violas are cool weather plants. Although they thrive in full sun it’s light and not heat that they require. Cooler autumn and spring temperatures are ideal. Higher temperatures can be off-set with mulch and diligent watering. Enrich the soil with leaf mould or well-rotted organic matter such as manure added to the flower bed in the spring.

Most of today’s violas are derived from Viola odorata, the Sweet Violet. Sweet violets are true perennials. If you’re lucky you’ll find them in fields and lawns and you can recognise them by their sweet scent and deep violet color. Most of us has found Viola tricolor commonly called Johnny Jump Up, a self-seeding perennial with tiny flowers of purple, yellow and white.

During the summer cleistogamous flowers without petals produce seeds, which are flung outward by mechanical ejection from the three-parted seed capsules. Cleistogamy is a type of automatic self-pollination of certain plants that can propagate by using non-opening, self-pollinating flowers. Especially well known in peanuts, peas, and beans, this behaviour is most widespread in the grass family. However, the largest genus of cleistogamous plants is actually the Viola. Although Violas self seed freely they are also easy to start from seed at home. Violas need darkness to germinate so cover the seeds completely. Direct sowing is another method when the weather is a bit warmer.

Alternatively they can be propagated with cuttings. You can take a cutting in August, snipping off a shoot around 5 cm long cut off at leaf node. Nip off flowers and buds on the shoot and all but three leaves. Dip into a rooting hormone and plant into a pot of compost. Water in, place outside, and roots will start to grow within 18 days and you’ll have a whole new viola plant.

Viola Papilio – A lovely vigorous perennial alpine plant producing marbled textured flowers with purple blending with white and a yellow eye above clumps of dark green, heart shaped foliage. This fragrant plant flowered from mid spring to autumn giving me lots of pleasure. It has come back year after year and seeded itself here and there. They do get leggy in Summer so cut them back and they will regrow from the base. They self seed profusely around the mother plant.

 

Viola Sororia Freckles – Quite unlike any other variety, Viola Sororia Freckles bears violet, speckled flowers from spring to summer. The unusual blooms are carried above neat clumps of heart shaped foliage. This memorable Violet will self-seed freely, dotting its offspring around the garden to provide welcome surprises the following spring. Perfect for growing in containers, rockeries or planted into crevices between paving. My garden now has lots of this very giving hardy perennial plant.

Viola Sororia Albiflora – The white wood violet. A new one to me last year. Purchased as a young plant from Websters of Wollaston. The flowers of this form are white except for delicate violet lines radiating from the throat of the flower. There is no noticeable scent. They flower for about six weeks from mid to late spring according to the weather. The root system consists of thick, horizontally branched rhizomes with a tendency to form vegetative colonies. As they are woodland plants they prefer dappled shade. Update 26th April 2018 – This plant is once again preparing to throw up a wonderful display of white Violas. I was worried about its survival as we have had a very hard, long winter and I have in fact lost a few of my favourite violas. However, today I found the original plant covered in new buds. I am hopeful of late seedlings appearing too.
Following our visit to Wildegoose Nursery I now have six new Violas in my collection. Viola Lindsay, Viola Raven, Viola Josie, Viola Aspasia, Viola Aletha and Viola Olive Edwards. Pictured below are Raven And Aspasia.

Nasturtium Jewel of Africa – Tropaeolum

Although last year I grew these seeds from a direct sowing and they performed really well, I have decided to pop some into a plastic egg box today as the weather is extremely cold for the time of year. They are Tropaeolum Jewel Of Africa from Seekay and at 99p for a hundred seeds a good buy. Another plus is that they self seed and so, unless you fancy a different variety, you don’t have to buy seeds more than once. This is a tall growing variety of Nasturtium that produces an abundance of mixed coloured flowers held clear above very attractive variegated foliage. An easy to grow variety that gives a mass of colour.  Eventual height eight feet. This plant caught me by surprise last year by how high it climbed. Laura rigged up a bit of a frame for it by the shed and it romped away. Leaves and flowers are supposed to be edible but I have never risked it. Apparently the flowers and leaves add a peppery taste to salads and are a great garnish. Update 9th April 2018 – These seeds went in on 1st April and are showing through now on the 9th.

Sow seeds in April in cells or pots and cover lightly with compost.

Germinate best with a little heat and should take 10 days.

Harden off prior to planting out after all risk of frost has passed.

Like a light sunny position with well drained soil.

 

 

In my opinion no garden should be without Nasturtium as they carry on and on giving and the bees love them too.

 

 

Spring In The Garden

“How could we tire of hope

so much is in bud”

Denise Leverton

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide
.
A. E. Housman (1859–1936)

Too Close For Comfort

This vixen is being seen in a garden very close to mine on a regular basis so the chickens have been confined to the run for the foreseeable future. They are showing signs of boredom already but at least they are safe. The lady who is feeding the fox assures me that she won’t be interested in my chickens as she is well fed however, it is a natural instinct for a fox to kill a chicken and this will be even more true come the spring when she has cubs to feed. I love to see foxes and think they are  beautiful creatures but I know that I need to be really vigilant to keep the hens safe from now on.