Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The Chick-Peas are in trouble

Dear oh dear, the Chick-Peas (our new Black Rock chickens) are in trouble.
Destroying the vegetable garden, eating the paksoi, curly kale and spinach, pooing everywhere (including the window sills!) and not giving anything in return, means they will have to go soon.

Unfortunately we've been paying way too much for these underage chickens, who weren't point-of-lay by far. Point-of-lay means they should start laying within a week or two after you've brought them home, but we've had them for 8 weeks now and no sign of any eggs.
But in the meantime they destroy everything and still we have to feed them (of course) and clean their hen house. Also I always need to make sure my shoes are clean before I enter the shop.

My husband doesn't want this to go on, not knowing if they will ever produce eggs, so he is returning them to the breeder this weekend.
Hopefully the breeder is willing to refund the whole amount, because we don't really trust him any longer. Even if he replaces them with older ones, how do know how old the new ones will be?

Anyway, we've decided we won't have any more chickens during the Winter. Come Spring we'll build a large pen for any new chickens we might decide to get then.
This means The Hooligan is on her own. Well, almost.
Luckily for her, the neighbour's chickens come to our garden too (destroying and pooing), so she is not lonely during the day.
The problem lies with the nights; chickens keep each other warm during really cold nights by huddling together. But of course The Hooligan can't do that if there are no other chickens around.
So, we've decided she has to sleep in a cat carrier in the porch. I think she is intelligent enough to go to her new sleeping place once we've put her in.
It benefits us too: no more Sunday mornings putting socks on, shoes on, jacket on, gloves on and hat on, just to let the chickens out.
Now we can just walk to the porch on our slippers, open the cat carrier and wish The Hooligan a nice day.

But we still don't know for sure if the breeder is willing to refund us, so we might still have to struggle through snow on Sunday mornings.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Conversation with The Hooligan

The other day, the new hens (the Chick-Peas) complained about The Hooligan's behaviour.
This is how it went:

Me:" Hello Chick-Peas, how was your day?"

Chick-Peas:"It was horrible! The Hooligan was blocking the exit to the garden and pecking and swearing at us! We really don't like The Hooligan."

Me:"Okay, I'll have a word with her."

Me:"Hello, Hooli Bully. I got some complaints from the Chick-Peas about you bullying them. What did you do?"

The Hooligan: "First of all, don't call me Hooli Bully! I hate that! Just call me The Hooligan! Secondly, those new ones are *#**## and ***###!!!

Me: "Calm down alright! Just tell me why you don't like them and what you did.

The Hooligan: "Those awful hens have no idea who the boss is here. I want to go to bed first. I want to eat first. I want to get out first. And I want to be in the garden first!! Yet, they refuse to listen to me. They run out before I can get out of bed, they start eating without my permission and now they want to eat the first worms in the garden too! I can't let that happen!
So, all I did was block the exit and told them to f off!!

Me: "Right, okay. Maybe you shouldn't use profane language this much. Maybe you ......."

The Hooligan:"Right that's it, I'm off. I'm sick of listening to you! I'll do and say what and when I like. You can't stop me!!!

And off she runs.

Me:"Sigh, there really is no reason in that chicken. I'll go to the Chick-Peas and tell them what happened."

The Chick-Peas:" Oh no, there is The Hooligan again! She's coming to us! She's coming to beat us up for squealing on her. Let's hide!! Aaarrrggh!"

The Hooligan: "Where are you little b####rds?! I'll get you for this!!

Me: "Oh dear, The Hooligan is chasing the Chick-Peas. I'll lure her away with some bird food. That will help."

Me: "Chicky, chicky! Come chicky, chicky!"

The Hooligan stops in her tracks and runs to the bird food, leaving the Chick-Peas bewildered, but in peace.

All is well again in Glendevon (until next time).

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Stories from the Hen house

The Hooligan is, not surprisingly,  the last one standing.
All the other ex-battery chickens have sadly passed away. They have all been buried under various trees in our garden and it's good to know that they had a nice retirement.

Because chickens can get lonely, we decided to get 5 new ones to keep The Hooligan company.
Well, introducing them to each other gave me enough inspiration to write a whole new blog about!
The Hooligan really lives up to her name.

Here is what happened:
The first day we got our 5 Black Rocks, we locked them in the run while The Hooligan was happily playing outside with the neighbour's chickens.
When it started to get dark, we let The Hooligan into the run, so that she could go into the hen house for the night. She didn't really notice there were 5 extra chickens, it seemed. She just commented on how she wasn't able to get into the run.
And went to bed.

Because the new additions didn't know where to go to sleep we lifted them into the hen house where The Hooligan was already snoozing. There was some gentle scuffling going on, but nothing dramatic.

The trouble started when the whole lot woke up the next morning.
I got up at 6am to let them out into the run, so that The Hooligan wouldn't eat them alive while still in the hen house.
When my husband wanted to let The Hooligan out at 7.30am; the 5 new ones were cowering in the corner while The Hooligan was shouting, swearing and generally trashing the place!
She didn't attack the 5 Black Rocks, but she was trying to break through the fence and the language she was using, gosh, I really can't repeat what she was saying.

Anyway The Hooligan was free to go and play with her friends from next door, while the new ones stayed in their run. They were quite happy without The Hooligan.
But, my oh my, can they eat! Okay, they are only 16 weeks old, so still have to grow a wee bit, but the amount of food consumed is pretty astonishing.

So night fell and we had to let The Hooligan into the run again...
Poor wee chickens, 4 of them were already on the ramp to settle down for the night, but as soon as they saw The Hooligan they clambered down. The Hooligan was now bullying them and chasing them away from the food. But I had already put two bowls out; even The Hooligan can't be at two places at the same time.
And all the time she felt she also had to verbally abuse the new ones.
Who knows what goes through their little minds.

Anyway, the top hen (aka The Hooligan) has to go in first, so that's what happened and the new ones followed one by one. There was a little bit more scuffling going on this time and I almost interfered, but all seemed well after a few minutes.
Clever aren't they? After just one night of help, they knew where they had to go!
Chickens are known for establishing a pecking order, so we'll try to let nature run its course and only intervene when there is blood drawn (which hasn't happened so far).

Tomorrow the new ones can go out into a small, fenced off area of the garden, so that they can eat grass and clover and can enjoy the sun a little bit.
We'll just have to wait and see what happens when all of them can rummage through the garden and meet the neighbour's chickens at the same time. But that will be in a few more days.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

When will it warm up?

We are now mid July and the weather still hasn't warmed up much.
Okay, we might have had one day of 26C and a couple of days of around 20C, but we are now back to struggling to get over 15C.
I'm probably the last one to complain about the weather; I quite like wind and storm and snow and dislike any temperatures over 22C, but when trying to grow your own fruit and vegetables, a little bit of sunshine is much appreciated.

Everything is just so slow this year.
The elderflower has just started flowering, the gooseberries are not ripe yet (not for another two weeks I think!), the strawberries are now beginning to ripen and the cabbages... well let's just forget about those.
I don't think we'll be making sauerkraut this year.

The kapucijners (a Dutch pea variety which you dry and then eat with bacon bits and piccalilli in the cold winter months) are doing reasonably well.

They've got lovely purple flowers which the bees and bumblebees love and after pollination the pods are also dark purple. They then form peas inside and when you leave them on the plant to dry out, you can pod them and store for use in winter.

I moved the pumpkins (Uchiki Kuri) outside, using the old herb rack from the shop. Now that's what I would call recycling!
They are okay, I suppose, but one night the temperature went down to 4.5C.
Luckily it was forecast, so we put some protection around these tender plants.

The cabbages are one sad bunch. I have no idea what I'm doing wrong, or whether it's just been too wet and cold. My first lot of white cabbages, all but 3 died. Then we bought red cabbage plants in Holland and took them with us, but all of them wilted away within a week. Last week we bought more white cabbage plants in the hope we might be able to make sauerkraut after all, but they too are still not looking too healthy. The Brussels sprouts are doing fine now, but they were also a sad bunch when I planted them out in early May. I covered them with a poly tunnel for about 2 months, until they were too big and now they've got buckets around them to protect them from the wind. But they are looking healthy enough, so fingers crossed, we'll be eating sprouts this winter.

Let's just hope the weather warms up eventually, so that my gooseberries and other fruit can ripen, the French beans can come out from under the poly tunnel and the pumpkins grow nice and big.

But that's all we can do: HOPE....

Saturday, 13 June 2015

How to be a C2 celebrity

Let me be clear first; I don't consider myself a celebrity, not for one bit.
But since some of you might have seen me on BBC2, I suppose I am a little bit more famous than my plumber (sorry Ryan!).

Watching oneself on the small screen felt very surreal, it was like watching a home video, a very well filmed and edited one.
A lot of customers watched the Beechgrove Garden either on TV or on BBC iPlayer (at the Beechgrove Garden they probably noticed a spike in online viewings!). And luckily they all liked our TV appearance.

But it was the Hooligan (chicken) and her friends who really were the stars of the show. It was a shame the camera man didn't catch George, me and JP chasing away the Hooligan when she started digging out the newly planted plants!
Here she is, following us to see if there are any tasty snacks appearing from the soil.
JP and I made up a scale which rates how much of a celebrity someone is, so that we can say:" I had a C3 celebrity in the shop today."
The C obviously stands for Celebrity and the scale is based on the Fujita scale used for measuring tornadoes.
Our C scale also starts at C1 and ends at C5,  C5 being a celebrity who can literally blow you off your feet (excuse the pun!).
So this is it:
C1     someone who has been in the local newspaper and gets recognized on a very local scale (ie my colleague Stuart)
C2     someone who has been in the local newspaper and on TV and gets recognized slightly further afield by a small number of people (I suppose that's were me and The Hooligan fit in now)
C3     someone who is well known from TV in their own country and gets recognized by fellow brits (ie Alan Davies from Qi)
C4     someone who is also well known outside their own country and most people would recognize him or her (ie Dame Helen Mirren)
C5     someone who is super well known around the globe and you'll have something to talk about once you've met him or her (ie Barack Obama, Brad Pitt or the Queen)
Celebrity status is a strange thing; you don't really change yourself, but some people think you do and start to treat you in a different way. I know I do when there are more or less famous people in the shop. And it's silly, because you don't want to behave like that and yet it almost happens involuntarily. And now I've been on the other side as well and let's just say it has been an experience.
Anyway, I'm still that silly Dutch girl who moved to Scotland to grow fruit and veggies and just so happened to have been chosen to be on the Beechgrove Garden. After this fun and weird experience, I can't say I have any aspirations to become a C3 (although getting Brad Pitt through the door would blow me of my socks!).

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Filming with The Beechgrove Garden

We have gained another experience!
Watch it on: The Beechgrove Garden, 21st May 7.30pm BBC2 Scotland.

Last Thursday BBC2's Beechgrove Garden came to our place in Glendevon, Central Scotland to show us how to create a bog garden.
We had a fantastic day: the weather was dry, but windy (true Glendevon-style). JP and I even got sunburned! The film crew was very nice and we had lots of fun.

Firstly, George and the film crew went to film the introduction. I have no idea what they have filmed or said, though, they went filming on the path leading up to our house (we stayed at the house).
I guess we'll just have to wait until it's on TV.

Then George, JP and I had to explain what the plan for the day was.
JP and I are creating a five senses garden and the bog area is to separate the vision from the smell borders. So, I was telling George the five senses; smell, taste, touch, vision and hearing. Which, when being filmed for the first time in your life, was tricky. In the end we had to do it again and again, because I kept forgetting the fifth sense (or mentioned 'scent and smell' which of course are the same thing!) And then there was the issue of only one camera, so we had to do everything at least 3 times from different angles.


So, that was all the introductions done and we all started digging over the bog area. Our two wwoofers (Nick and Silke) were a great help and were being filmed too.
JP started building a wee bridge in the background.
Because it all had to be done 3 to 4 times, I think I dug the same bit several times. Raking the whole thing was no different.
Camera man: " Could you rake that again?" Me: "Absolutely, not sure what else to do, I've only done it 4 times so far!"
Again planting and moving plants was the same.
First we had to carry the trays with the plants to the bog area, three times.
The camera man would say: "Stop!" And we all froze in mid air. Camera man: "Okay, and walk!" So we walked.

Who knew that for only 5/6 minutes of screen time you need a full day's filming?
George Anderson (presenter), Shiona (director), Bob (sound man), Martin (camera man) and Callum (garden landscaper) and Nick & Silke (wwoofers) came at 9am to help us. And all the excitement was over again by 4.30pm (it seems ages ago now).

I wasn't that nervous to be honest, I'm more nervous about it being shown on TV than I was for the actual filming. Funny thing was, before they all came, I had a kind of impression in my head of how it would be, but didn't expect to get a microphone and a transmitter in our pocket! I suppose it makes sense, if they want to record what we are saying....

The chickens and especially the Hooligan were great. They noticed us digging and came in force 'to help us finding worms' (which they ate of course). I think the Hooligan thought it was all about her...

They are on camera too (as you can see above) and you can watch the chickens (and us) on
The Beechgrove Garden, 21st May 7.30pm BBC2 Scotland.
Or if you're south of the border (or Europe) Sunday 24th May 9.00am on BBC2 London (local time).

Saturday, 4 April 2015

One more chicken gone to heaven.

Sadly we've lost another of our ex-battery chickens.

For some reason they all got poultry lice (apparently quite common and transferred by other chickens or wild birds) and the one which passed away was pretty badly infested with it.
We powdered them all on Monday and I even had to pull out some feathers which had the egg clusters on them, but she didn't manage to pull through.

At least I gave her the same length of her life living in freedom and running around as she had in the chicken factory.
Normally when you get chickens from the British Hen Welfare Trust (www.bhwt.org.uk) they are around 1,5 years old, they say because they've stopped laying. Well, the ones we got, kept on laying for another 6 months!
Anyway, we've now had them for 1,5 years and they have stopped laying after producing wrinkly eggs.

Three years is already a good age for an ex-battery chicken and luckily the other three are looking quite healthy.
The one which passed away on Thursday has been buried under the hawthorn tree, so her spirit can live on in the tree!

The average age of ex-battery chickens is around 4 to 5 years old, but I know the Hooligan will live for longest, simply because she is a fighter! (literally!!)

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Wrinkly eggs and wine bottling

One of the chickens has been laying very weird eggs lately. They are all wrinkly!

I suppose being retired means you'll be getting more wrinkles, but who knew hens (and their eggs) would get the same problem?! Our 4 hens are now approximately 3,5 years old, which means they are getting towards the end of their lives.
I do wish however that they will live for another half year because that would mean they have spend the same amount of their lives in the fields as they did in the battery farms.
The Hooligan is still shouting at us though, so I don't know if she is the one presenting us with those wrinkled eggs! Maybe she does, just to show us her discontent!

What else do you do in the midst of Winter apart from bottling wine? I know what you want to say. "Drinking the wine of course!"
We made around 9 gallons of wines, ranging from sweet cicely to strawberry to parsley wine. I normally just leave it in the demijohn with a solid bung and bottle it when there is nothing else to do.
Winter is a good time for that.
These are the last of the bottled wines of last year.

People who received homemade wines in their Christmas hampers said that the sweet cicely was very tasty. So, that will be the one to make next year again. Luckily we've got lots of sweet cicely growing in the wild next to our house.
Oh, can't wait for the new season to start!
In the meantime, we'll just enjoy last year's wines. :-)

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Chickens are fed up with snow (and so are we).

Another day in January. Another weather system brought snow, lots of it.

Couldn't get to work because of a snowdrift 40 inches deep blocking our path to the main road.

Dug a path to fill the birdfeeders. Dug a path for the chickens to walk on (which they didn't!) and dug a path back to the front door to let myself in.

I quite like snow to be honest. After all, we need some snow each winter to notice the change of the seasons, don't we? But living 270m above sea level gives me a bit more of the white stuff than I need to be happy. One year we had lots of snow in Glendevon making driving really difficult and again snowdrifts blocking the path, unbelievably Stirling didn't have any snow whatsoever!
My colleagues keep me up to date with the situation in Stirling and this time they have some snow as well. I keep them updated with pictures of our situation. What else is there to do?!

So chickens, well they didn't have a lot to say about today's weather.
The Hooligan was shouting first, only to pipe down when she saw the real situation. I think they were pretty flabbergasted.
I dug out a path for them to a bit of the lawn where the snow had literally been blown off. Of course they didn't pay attention and just trotted through the deeper bits.
But when the wind was picking up and I noticed two of the hens sitting rather sad in between two heaps of snow, I decided it was time to lock them up in their run.

Did you know you can actually teach chickens to follow you?
When me and my husband were wwoofing (www.wwoof.org.uk) I once had the task to look after the chickens. We were lucky enough to be there when the youngsters were let out for the first time. I think I sat there looking at them for over an hour. It was super fun to watch and some are braver than others. Chickens really do have different personalities!

Anyway, every time I fed the young chickens I said:"Chicky, chicky" and without the farmer knowing I had taught them to come whenever I called out. They never forget! When we came back half a year later with my parents I told them how the chickens came when I said "chicky, chicky" and believe it or not, they actually came!
So, when we got our new rescue hens, the first thing we did was to teach them to come on demand. And it works really well, like today when I wanted to coax them into their run.

All four of them are now locked up in their run. Not that they mind, it's out of the wind and out of the snow (sort of) and they have food with extra barley grain and water with extra vitamins.
Don't want them to catch a cold, do we? That's what I'll be getting for looking after the them!