Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Wildlife

Mice in The Garden?

The header picture is Chico Grande, one of our many cats over the years at this house. She is long gone but was a mouser and would often present a mouse or a young bird to us.

We have noticed that we have been having mice in the garden since last Autumn. I am assuming that the fact that we have chickens is probably the main reason as they have a regular source of food and bedding plus warm hidey holes under the chicken houses. They are very attractive little creatures and although I am aware that they breed prolifically, I am loathe to do anything cruel to them.

The Wood Mouse

The wood mouse is sometimes known as the long-tailed field mouse and is widespread; it is probably most common in woodland, rough grassland and gardens. It is mostly nocturnal and an agile climber. Wood mice will gather food stores of berries and seeds in the autumn, which they keep in underground burrows or sometimes in old birds’ nests. Females have up to six litters a year of between four and eight young, and may even breed over winter if food is abundant.

Wood Mouse

The wood mouse is golden-brown, with a pale underside, large ears and eyes, and a long tail. It is bigger than the harvest mouse, and browner in colour than the house mouse.

The wood mouse is our commonest mouse and the one you are most likely to find in your garden. Because of this, it often falls prey to domestic cats, foxes and owls; in fact, tawny owls may not breed if wood mouse numbers are low as it restricts their diet. The Wildlife Trust

Laura has noticed that she has lost quite a few seeds and young plants from her greenhouse too.

This is only the second year that we haven’t had a family cat or two as our old girls and boys finally died and we haven’t replaced them. I can only assume that, although I was never happy when the cats brought me a mouse, the cats must have acted as a deterrent to the mice.

On the positive side, since the cats died, we have many more small birds inhabiting the garden now too.

Field Mice

Gardens are ideal habitats for these small mammals as they provide plenty of cover and a wide range of food sources. Sometimes, however, they come into conflict with gardeners when they eat highly valued plants, seeds and bulbs. When populations peak mice are more likely to become a nuisance in the garden. Mice are small mammals that sometimes feed on garden plants. They are shy nocturnal animals so there could be more of them in your garden than you suspect. Which Magazine.

Field Mouse

Field mice commonly live in gardens, where their vegetarian diet can cause problems for gardeners. For most of the year their numbers tend to remain low. However, in autumn they can build up high populations and cause a great deal of damage into early winter. Which Magazine

A wild, green garden full of colour and life is far more rewarding for both people and wildlife than a grey square of paving slabs and our garden is definitely a paradise for wildlife so I suppose we should welcome these creatures. Following a bit of online research, I think maybe our tiny lodgers must be Wood Mice.

Hmmmmmmm. Should I get a kitten?

Common Garden Frog

….did someone say frogs?..

We have waited patiently for years for the frogs to appear in our garden pond. We did have frogspawn last year and during the summer saw some tiny frogs appearing but this year our patience has been rewarded with evidence of a resident group of our very own frog family. Garden slugs look out! We have moved all the chickens to their own enclosure now as they would eat the frogs.

Common frogs have smooth skin that varies in colour from grey, olive green and yellow to brown. They have irregular dark blotches, a dark stripe around their eyes and eardrum, and dark bars on their legs. They are able to lighten or darken their skin to match their surroundings.

This species is widespread in mainland Britain and can be spotted in the garden from March to October. Common frogs are most active at night and hibernate during the winter in pond mud or under piles of rotting leaves, logs or stones. They can breathe through their skin as well as their lungs. They can emerge to forage during warm spells.

Males can be distinguished from females by the hard swellings, called nuptial pads, on their first fingers. The nuptial pads are used for gripping females when mating. Males also possess paired vocal sacs, which the females lack.

In spring males croak to attract females. The male embraces a female and fertilises her eggs as she lays them in shallow, still water. Frogspawn is a familiar sight in Spring. Tadpoles hatch and over about 16 weeks gradually change into froglets, a process known as metamorphosis.

Adult frogs eat insects that they catch with their long, sticky tongue plus snails, slugs and worms. Young tadpoles feed on algae, but then become carnivorous. Frogs cannot swallow, so they ‘push’ their food down by using their large eyes, this means they must close their eyes to swallow.

Outside of the breeding season, common frogs live a solitary life in damp places near ponds or in long grass. They are normally active for much of the year only hibernating in the coldest months. In the British Isles common frogs hibernate from late October to January. They can re-emerge as early as February if conditions are favourable and migrate to bodies of water to spawn. Common frogs hibernate in running water, muddy burrows or layers of decaying leaves and mud at the bottom of ponds. The oxygen uptake through the skin suffices to sustain the needs of the cold and motionless frogs during hibernation. In the wild the Common frog has a life span of around 8 years.

Changes In The Garden

Our modest garden is split into three sections. The woodland garden. A strip along the side of the house which is shady and is planted up with trees, climbers and woodland plants. The garden at the back of the house and the chicken area.

Shady Garden

The Back Garden

The main back garden, and the area that I can see from the big window in my office, is the main area where the growing goes on and has been reinvented many times over the forty-eight years that my family has lived here. At the back of this garden, there is a shed that, up until today, housed the chickens that I bought last Spring as day olds, but as from today they have been moved to the chicken area. We now have seventeen chickens. seven Silkies; three Pekins; two Araucanas; three Welbars; and two Wybars.

Chickens

2 Araucanas and 3 pekins
Wybar Cockerel Jack
Black Pekin Jet
Silkie Chick

The next big project for us will be to renovate the shed. Clean out all the bedding, varnish inside and weatherproof the outside. Sean fixed the roof last year for me so that should last a while. Laura’s plastic greenhouse is adjacent to the shed and in front of the greenhouse is the area where the pond is.

The Pond

The pond has really come into its own now and is teeming with life. I lost quite a few of the plants that I had planted around the pond last year so we need to do a bit of planning and improve the planting.

The pond has come on a lot since this photo
Elephants Ear
Viola Sororia Freckles
Baby Frog

Spring Bulbs In Pots

At present many of our plants are in pots and containers and I would like to increase the depth of the borders and get some of the plants into the ground instead. I have enjoyed the spring bulbs in pots so I shall do that again next year as they are easy to place around when they are at their best then move away when they go over.

Honey Bells
Allium
Tete-a-Tete
Tulip
Crocus Purple King

Perrenials

This year I have bought in some perennials and we have grown some from seed too so I am hoping to stock up the borders with them and cut down on maintenance.

Wax Flower
Japanese Anemone Pink
Erysimum Yellow Bird
Spectabilis
Kafir Lily
Astrantia Shaggy
Peony

Wild Bird Visitors

We have quite a few wild birds visiting the garden. There are a pair of Blue Tits nesting in Laura’s nest box again this year and as its right outside my window, I have a good view of the coming and going.

This baby fledgling lost his way

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.

The Pond! At Last

We finally managed to get the old plastic pre formed  pond liner out and replace it with a heavy duty flexible liner and an under liner to protect it from any sharp stones. Rob did a good job of first lining the shape with sand too. It looks much better now and I have planted it up with the Lobelia Cardinalis Queen Victoria for now. I have also dotted a few creeping phlox and other low plants around plus planting a few Iris Riculata bulbs which I hope will survive the squirrels and the chickens and give us a bit of colour come next spring. Update –  22nd April 2018 – Although the Iris were few and far between this Spring, the creeping phlox are a great success and I have added Sedum and Aubretia this year.

 

Laura gathered a few seeds of Golden Eye Grass when we were in Devon at the end of September. This plant is said to be happy in a rockery and around a pond so I have just sown the seeds into the garden in the hope of raising a few plants. Update 22nd April 2018 – No sign of this grass yet so I have sown 24 seeds into a module for another try. Golden Eye Grass – Sisyrinchium californicum is a rhizomatous perennial herb producing a pale green stem which grows up to about 60 cm. The flat, narrow leaves are grass like. The flower has six tepals. They are bright yellow with brown veining. 

Sisyrinchium californicum, Golden Eye Grass produces a small clump of grass like foliage with a yellow star shaped flower. Usually this six petaled yellow flower blooms from April until the end of July. Its not actually in the grass family but is a member of the iris family. It grows well in rock gardens, cottage gardens, at the front of borders and along pathways.  It will naturalise and look good with other low-growing ground cover plants like creeping thyme or sedum.

Saxifrage Touran White – A new addition to the area around the pond. A beautiful plant which I love and so, unfortunately, do the new Silkie chickens. Saxifraga x arendsii ‘Touran White saxifrage is a low-growing evergreen perennial forming a neat cushion of green leaves topped in mid and late spring by masses of pure white flowers with bright yellow centres. 

By next Spring we should have a few more plants that can be placed around the pond. On the whole I am very happy with it and my hope is that it will attract wild life like frogs and newts into the garden.

Pond Update – 7th June 2018 – The pond is now well established and I have added a few oxygenating plants including duckweed that floats on the top. We had no luck with attracting any frogs so I have been given a couple of gifts of frog spawn and tadpoles to give it a kick start.

Pond Update –  22nd June 2018 – We have frogs!!!!!

 

Eyjafjallajokull

Wednesday, April 14 – After weeks of reduced activity, Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland erupted beneath its glacier ice cap, which by midmorning was spewing out a substantial stream of steam and ash. By midday the surrounding rivers had risen by 10 ft and a plume of ash had risen through the air to four miles in the sky. Guardian.

Here in my small world I have seen some beautiful dry days and signs of Spring everywhere. However 20,000 feet up the UK is covered by the volcanic ash cloud that has drifted over from Iceland. Down at the allotment the only things flying in the sky are the pair of buzzards that often glide and screech overhead as we are working. There have been no planes in the sky at all for about a week as flying conditions are dangerous in the ash cloud.  The small birds are oblivious to the dangers and are busy nest building and hopping about to catch the worms that we disturb when we are digging.

 

 

Common Buzzard – image from charlies bird blog hope he doesn’t mind

Monday 19th April – Gordon Brown announces that a Royal Navy Task Force of three warships, including the flagship of the fleet, HMS Ark Royal, will be dispatched to fetch some of the 150,000 British travellers stranded overseas. Telegraph

“Farmers in South Iceland are experiencing significant difficulties as a result of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. There are great quantities of volcanic material in the atmosphere and ash deposits on the ground. There is also a risk of lowland flooding due to the volcanic activity being under the glacier.” – The Farmers Association of Iceland.

I feel so sorry for the Icelanders who are having to deal with this disaster while our governments seem to be more concerned by airport closures etc.

Abutilon Bella Mix – Scented Roses

abutilon bella mixToday I am sowing seeds of Abutilon, bought from Lidl. Abutilon Bella Mixed F1 Hybrid. A half hardy perennial that grows to about 16″. Bella Mix gives a selection of pastel colours blooming continuously. Sow February to April in pots of moist seed compost and cover with a fine sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. Place in a propagator or warm place and keep at a constant temperature of between 20-25. Do not exclude light as this helps germination. Keep the surface of the compost moist. Germination will usually takes 21-30 days. When large enough to handle transplant seedlings into 3″ pots. Harden off before planting out after all risk of frost.

 

greenfinchThere was a beautiful greenfinch hanging in the top branches of the Silver Birch tree this afternoon. With the sun shining behind him he looked almost lime green with a darkish tail. He was singing away, the most lovely song, even though the wind was waving the uppermost branch about so much. We have been told to expect snow in the next few days so I hope he has a warm nest to go home to. https://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/g/greenfinch/index.asp

 

Burgandy IceRosa Caring For YouThe bare root roses that I ordered from Harkness have been delivered today. The Roses are Rosa Burgundy Ice, a scented Floribunda. Rosa Caring for You, a pale pink Hybrid Tea. Rosa City of London, a deep pink scented Floribunda. Rosa Compassion, a climbing rose with a strong heady scent. Rosa Belmonte, a perfumed pearly blush bedding rose sold on behalf of the Prince’s Trust. Rosa Helen Robinson, a deep pink Hybrid Tea. Rosa Susan Daniel, a translucent apricot blush Floribunda. https://www.roses.co.uk/acatalog/section_hybridteas.html

 

Garden Birds Brighten up A Grey Day

It’s grey, foggy and cold outside this morning so, after making sure that all the pets are fed and comfortable, to cheer myself up I have ordered the seed potatoes for next year. I am using Alan Romans again as we have always received reliable quality goods from them. I have ordered one bag of Charlotte, three bags of International Kidney and three bags of Vivaldi. We have grown them all before so no surprises. They are first and second earlies so they should be up before any risk of Blight. Despite the greyness of the day there was plenty of colour and entertainment in the garden this morning as the birds were busy feeding.