It was my first time at the Edible Garden Show this weekend gone (15th-17th March) and I was along there with NFU Countryside Magazine offering Chicken Surgeries, in the ‘Potting Shed’ interviewing Genevieve Taylor about her excellent new book “A Good Egg”, hanging out with Victoria Roberts in the Smallholder marquee and sitting on the “Ask the Expert” desk answering questions on chickens and gardening (although I was probably asked if I knew where the toilets were more often than any other question)
It’s the third year the show has run and the size of the crowds on all three days (despite Friday being Red Nose Day and Saturday being the crunch match in this years Six Nations Rugby) were testament to the huge numbers of people who are electing to grow more of their own food.
For many years I’ve understood and appreciated the value of poultry as part of a productive garden and a self supporting lifestyle, and I’ve long being saying that the large increase in backyard keepers is not some fad but simply the fact it’s a natural step to take when you are a grow your veg sort of person. The amount of floor space & talk time at the show dedicated to poultry was a reflection of that, and the fact the planned surgeries dissolved into a full on, flat out Q&A session seemed to prove the point too. People are hungry for knowledge and are keen to get the best out of their birds and ensure the birds get the best out of their land.
Some of us are even dreaming of more land and more chickens (my apologies to Alys Fowler, it was a momentary lapse in concentration)
I get sent quite a few bits of poultry paraphernalia from kit, to houses, dietary supplements to books as I’m always more than happy to give things a field trial on my own flocks.
I’ll always give the stuff a good go and let the supplier know my thoughts, no matter how candid. Lets face it, there’s a lot of chickenailia hitting the market, some of it produced by people trying to make a quick buck but by equal measure a fair chunk is produced by people or firms genuinely trying to aid the backyard keeper and only when give some good honest constructive feedback will they be able to improve or enhance the product.
It’s nice though to be simply sent something that needs no testing, doesn’t need dragging through a field or pouring on a pile of red mite and that’s just what I got sent from Sarah McKenzie at Stopham Garden Poultry (@stophampoultry). Sarah is an illustrator who takes on commissions for pet portraits but also produces greetings cards which I have to say I rather like as they do capture the attitude of one or two chickens I know! Here’s a few of her pictures.
April in many ways represents a mid-point in the change from winter to summer. Its weather is well known for its April showers, it’s also well known for its changeability. I recall one day many years back when all four seasons occurred on one April day, from glorious sunshine through to snow. It particularly sticks in my mind as it was the day I was married! As such it’s a month that you make the most of the good weather and don’t grumble about the bad. With the dry winters we have had recently almost all rain is useful rain at this stage of the year.
4th April 2012. The snow started to fall. The previous week I'd been sitting in that chair in that exact spot in 23c sunshine
Four days later... 8th April 2012... sunshine & blooms
As the seasons turn, so does the wildlife in the garden. Bees and butterflies will be seen more frequently, warming themselves in the rays of sunshine. The resident birds will be well on the way to making nests and the females will soon begin to brood. Most of the winter migrants will have left leaving behind a few stragglers who will catch up later. New birds will be reaching our shores as the summer migration begins in earnest.
The vegetable garden will seem empty as most of the winter crops will have been used and without the aid of a greenhouse it’s unlikely that there will be anything to new to harvest but no matter, abundance will soon return. Around the garden there will be a flush of colour with daffodils fritillaries and tulips are bursting into flower. In the shrubbery flowering currants put on a show whilst forsythia and magnolia compliment them with dainty yellows and bold, creamy whites. As the month wears on the weather continues to improve and the intensity of colour within the garden shines through to meet the warmer, longer days.
Six days after the covering of snow and the garden bursts into life, the white snow replaced by white blossom
(If you are wondering what the chicken house is in the middle of the shot is a recycled plastic coop from Solway Recycling Limited – rather discreet and handy for the free range garden gang)
But remember the opening comment… the weather can and will change as April plays host to the contest between the seasons, taking two steps to the right looking out across the field and winter was dinging the bell for Round 2…..
A hail storm readies itself in the grey corner....
I was digging through some old articles I had written and stumbled upon a section I wrote some years back. Each month I would need to produce a short section on what would be going on outdoors for that given month. Now given most monthly magazines can be working 2-3 months ahead of themselves then a piece that would appear in the March magazine would need to be written in December.
This piece was penned back in December 2008 I think and whilst its nothing extraordinary, it struck me today, with its 23 degrees C sunshine out there, just how unpredictable the weather and climate seems to be these days – my references to winter and snow seem rather out of place!
“March tends to be the beginning of the “firsts” of the year, the first primrose, the first bumble bee, the first catkin, the first glossy yellow lesser celandines appearing on the road verges. It is also the true beginning of the nesting season for birds with nests being built or repaired in earnest throughout the trees, hedgerows and nest boxes.
The first of our feathered summer visitors such as the Chiffchaff will be reaching the shores and pushing further inland. It’s a small green warbler often overlooked but always given away by its metallic “chiff-chaff” call as it perches on top of the now green tinged thickets and scrub.
Coots will begin to build their tower like nests from reeds and frogs will start to spawn in the pools and ponds where the rushes and irises start to wake up from their winter slumber..
Wild forget-me-not is coming into flower and on sunny days the first ladybirds sit there warming themselves as they come out of hibernation. Cow parsley will be ready to burst into flower after throwing out a profusion of fresh green growth complimenting the delicate white blooms of the blackthorn which sits on the bare stems like a reminder of the snow falls of winter. ” Mar 2008
Telephus, son of Hercules, was destined to die at the gates of Thebes but was also destined to rule foreign lands and fight his fellow Greeks before reaching Troy. He became the King of Mysia and when the Archaeans happened upon the city en route to the Trojan Wars there was a savage battle. In it Telephus was wounded by Achilles, a titanic force on the battle field.
Telephus’s wound would not heal so he consulted an Oracle. “He who wounded shall heal” came the response leaving Telephus no option to but to seek the assistance of the man he had fought.
Pretending to be a beggar Telephus sought out Achilles and asked for help, Achilles though claim he had no medical knowledge. A lie as the centaur Chiron had shared his herbal secrets with human pupils and had taught Achilles to use a certain herb on the battle grounds to stem the flow of blood from the wounds of his soldiers. Telephus eventually convinced Achilles to heal his wound in return for showing the Achaeans the way to Troy – to heal it Odysseus had reasoned that the weapon that inflicted the wound must be used to heal it, so shards of Achilles spear were used along with the herb, and Telephus’s wound was healed.
The herb in question? Yarrow or as it is known Achillea millefolium.
Whether you garden because you like the colours and structures you create, or you are just passionate about plants, or maybe it’s simply a case of keeping the place tidy, your garden and the plants with in it are a mass of murder, mystery, suspense and tales of old – a storybook of myth and magic.
Walking around any garden is like walking through a library and behind some many plants is a story to be told. Understanding plants can be so much more than the physiology, habit, appearance and care. Understanding the origins of their names can open a completely new aspect with yarns to grip even the most reluctant of garden visitors, taking a garden and plants beyond the sensory and design aspects to food and fuel for the imagination….
It’s a bright day outside today and whilst the seasons are changing as we travel through autumn towards the winter, the world about us still contains its jewels. I was out gathering some images for future articles when I noticed … Continue reading →
I’ve driven past Llnclys Hall Farm and its shop many times over the years, it’s on the Oswestry to Welshpool road, which given that’s one of the few main routes out of Oswestry then that should come as no real surprise to anyone local reading this.
I’ve been into the farm shop on a number of occasions over the years too but one thing which always stands out to me is the shop at this time of year. Why? It’s because of the pumpkins. Some years back there would be a few pumpkins placed on the roadside wall which you would see when driving by. As time passed each year would see a slightly bigger display and each year we would pop in to buy a few, in part for Halloween carvings and also for cooking. We do grow our own here sometimes, but given the fact we try to maximise our crop to space ratios pumpkins are one of those vegetables that are a bit of a luxury item given the ground they can occupy. Thankful I am then for the people at Llnclys Hall Farm as they seem to have become quite avid pumpkin growers, and it’s not just trying to grow big ones, it’s all manner of squashes and gourds!
And so today I happened to drive that way as I went to collect this weeks chicken feed and I spotted the pumpkins had appeared on the wall again for the year. Time was on my side so I pulled in for a nose at what this years crop was looking like.
Once again the place was a mass of pumpkins, a large shed just to the side of the shop was already chock full, there were crates filled with orange ‘footballs’ and ‘boulders’ dotted around the yard and up the lane I could see another tractor heading in with even more. But best of all was the shelves outside the shop and I just had to grab a snap of it.
Sure there may be more dramatic or impressive displays of said vegetable elsewhere, but there is something about the quiet appreciation of the varieties of pumpkin and the way they farm them at Llynclys Hall that always bring a smile to my face every year. So if you happen to find yourself driving along that road and have ever wondered what lie behind the wall with the pumpkins on it, pull in, mind the cow pat, and take a closer look.
(By the way, if you do grow pumpkins and fancy making sure everyone knows which is yours then have a look here for a handy hint on how to make sure it carries your mark)
We grow quite a few houseleeks, or Sempervivums to be Latin about it. They are great little plants that need very little attention and seem to comfortably spread out when planted in clay pots. They also make for very useful plants when creating a green roof.
As a child I pondered if the name Houseleek (or as my dyslexia led me to believe “Houseleak”) derived its name from the fact it would have been used to plug a leak in the roof of medieval houses and huts. Well despite my inability to spell I wasn’t too far from the truth as I found out later in life that the good old houseleek had in fact been grown on roofs in Anglo Saxon times to protect from witchcraft and lightning. Its common name – Houseleek – simply means house plant (leac being ‘plant’ in Anglo-Saxon). Its Latin, Sempervivum tectorum also reinforces much of what the plant is about with semper meaning “always”, vivo meaning “alive” and tectorum “of roofs”.
So what? These are things I’d learnt and knew but it wasn’t until earlier this year that a flowering pot of sempervivum (which had been blown over by the wind) released another old English secret ….. and I’m not pulling anyones leg here this is true, meet the good old houseleek who has a little known, but somewhat longer old English common name of…. “Welcome-home-husband-however-drunk-you-be”…
As mentioned in an earlier post, a twitter friend of mine sent me some chilli pepper seeds at the beginning of the year to try out. I like my chilli peppers but had yet to be adventurous enough to branch … Continue reading →