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Archive for the ‘CHICKENS’ Category

It’s been long time I know. Months have passed without a whisper from me. Even the Tweets have been minimal. It has not been down to a lack of intent, goodness no. Or a lack of ideas of what to say. Instead, every second of my free time during the summer has been spent frantically working or being with my family. Time passes and some things just don’t seem to get done. It’s catch up time now and in an attempt to get back up-to-date with it all I’ve decided to do a sort of summer highlights of what I’ve been up to.

So much has happened. My attempt at growing vegetables in my new plot [found via Landshare] has kept me busy. I still pinch myself at how lucky I am to have access to this growing patch, it has been a tranquil place of escape for a few moments each day during watering/picking visits.

It has proved to be very productive despite the wet summer [but we always have wet summers here in Bolton]. I have loved the challenge of making sure we use all the produce from the plot [especially the gluts] and have bought very little veg from the shops. And it is true; everything just tastes so much better. I’m now looking forward to making the most of the plot during autumn/winter and have already set in motion an attempt to grow some veg for our massive family Christmas feast. I have rows of sprouts! Not the usual smooth green ones but the red and the pretty flower varieties. If I can catch all the Cabbage White caterpillars, then there will be hope.

I have also grown Sweetpeas at the plot. They we’re my choice of flowers for my wedding bouquet many moons ago and have since become rather special. They have been so easy to grow and have filled the house all summer, even now I’m bringing back small bunches. Inspired by all this Sweetpea picking, I’m now on a mission digging up a mini field to create a proper cutting garden. Fingers crossed, it will be something to write about at a later date.

IronMan UK [ridiculously long distance triathlon that has to be completed in no more than one second over 17 hours…or you don’t get the medal] has also been a major event for us this year. Not so much the actual IronMan D-day but the year and a half build-up of constant, full on training. I’ve now had a glimpse at what being a one parent family would be like; very, very hard work. The event itself was incredible [the mass swim awesome] and I rose to the challenge of chief cowbell ringer and ‘come on’ screamer. Yes, I was the dutiful IronWife spectator with IronKids and IronDog in tow. I loved it. It was one of those moments that puts your faith back into humanity, people’s strength of mind, body and spirit to get through the IronMan hell makes anything possible. Truly inspiring. My crazy IronMan husband crossed the finishing line in under 14 hours [he’ll be cringing once he’s found out he’s been mentioned here]. Very proud of him and all done for UNICEF.

I’ve also been finding inspiration from simply going on walkies with the dog. Ever since getting Ollie, two year’s ago now, my eyes have been opened to the flora in the fields nearby. I can’t help myself, I have a frenzy of picture taking, attempting to capture the delicate weaving mass of wildflowers and grasses.

It’s that en-mass presence that makes me swoon; similar to, but much more subtle than, the jaw-dropping prairie planting style I also love. My excitement at flora spotting in my local area was then taken to new heights when I was commissioned to do a piece on the Olympic Parkland. I had no idea what to expect and was bowled over when I visited. It is a parkland like no other and what strikes you is the way how the designers have worked in harmony with the natural, historic landscape of the area.

Instead of coming up with a randomly plucked spatial design and imposing it on the landscape, the concept has stripped the very industrialised site back to its original wetlands, reed beds, wet and dry woodlands and perennial wildflower meadows. Not a rose garden in sight. These wilder areas are cleverly blended into tamer areas of expansive spectator lawns and promenades; inspired by the Victorian and post-war pleasure gardens.

Bioswales [image above] and rain gardens are some of the features that help this blending; doubling up as a functional, innovative solution to excess run-off water.

Even the Great British garden has a contemporary, nature-inspired spin on the traditional with much more relaxed planting schemes [image above]. If you want to read more about the Olympic Parkland design, the article is still live and can be viewed here.

In terms of my gardening business, I have to be honest, this year has been a struggle. I had a devastatingly quiet winter, a barely survivable trickle of jobs through spring and a summer that’s just been crackers. I’m happy to be flat out with work now, but it’s been frustrating and I need to find balance. Plan A was to go back to graphic design [freelance] during the winter.  A sensible option but one that disheartened me; it would not give me professional development in the landscape industry. Instead, serendipity intercepted in the form of a heads up on a part-time experienced gardener position at a private residence 13 minutes drive from where I live. Walled vegetable and cutting garden. Herbaceous borders and heathland beds. Meadows, grassy wildflower bunds [man-made mounds from on-site excavations that are planted up] and areas in need of conservation. Native woodland. Possibilities of introducing prairie style plantings.

I got the job and I’m over the moon. I can now concentrate on developing one garden rather then hurtling down the motorways to spend a couple of hours here and there. Just think of the amount of diesel I’ll save. It has also focused my attentions on my garden design business, how it can be developed to attract clients that desire more nature-inspired and innovative spaces. I’m actually looking forward to the winter months now, with a sense of security, I can plan for next year…and peruse the vegetable seed catalogues.

Moving away from work, there is one more thing I just have to quickly mention… my chickens! They are such a highlight to our busy lives. Every day they put a smile on my face with their odd habits, little quirks and beautiful eggs. They are simple little pleasures, no trouble to look after and have become the soul of our garden…so thank you chickens. [I just need to re-think that planting.]

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This month’s entry is a version of the June article written for the BL Magazine.

Summer, in theory, has arrived. However, June, in reality has been a tad on the disappointing side; May wasn’t that great either. I don’t, obviously, refer to the South but the North West. A couple of days ago the daytime temperature here was just over 9˚C followed by a rather chilly evening; we ended up lighting the wood burner [the one in the lounge, not in the garden]. Doesn’t sound much like June does it.

Earlier this year, around Easter, the North West was blessed with some dry weather; we certainly deserve it after four consecutive years of wash out summers. I often joke about how the wetter summers being entirely my fault… they arrived the first season I set about the gardening round. But they are no laughing matter; gardening in the rain is certainly no fun; postponing jobs means postponing your income; and, more worryingly, they allude to a more sinister underlying fear that our climate really is changing.

The delicately balanced world we inhabit is being bombarded by all manner of ecological assaults [pollution, depleting resources like oil, mass farming, GM crops…etc]; it is inevitable that there will be consequences somewhere down the line. You only need to watch Professor Brian Cox’s ‘Wonders of the Universe’ to realise how humanity hinges on a myriad of scientific laws, subtleties and what seem like incredibly random coincidences. Our world is sensitive and even the smallest changes are bound to make a difference at some point; it is only logical.

Living more sustainably [eyes rolling or not] is gaining in momentum and is something I’m having a go at; from making a conscious effort to buying British to growing my own fruit [and harping on to everyone else how great and easy it is to grow]; to buying the kids chickens instead of rabbits [got to have something that earns its keep].

As gardeners we tend to be patient and appreciate the seasons, we will plant bulbs in the autumn and look forward to their colourful blooms six or seven months later. We will plant young fruit trees and happily wait a few years for the first fruits, we can plant an acorn with the thought that we probably won’t see it in its maturity…but our children will. I love this about gardening and have realised that living sustainably commands the same kind of patience and forward thinking.

There are many things that we can do in the garden to reduce our impact on the environment. Recycling water, from collecting rain in butts to re-using our grey water from our sinks or baths is an obvious step… although up here in the North West we seem to have enough rainfall during the supposedly dry summer months to not have to do this…at all. Next would be the organic way by avoiding the use of pesticides and harnessing nature’s natural predators and remedies to do the work. Growing-your-own is a sustainable choice and the idea of using our gardens more resourcefully is without doubt becoming even more popular.

However, there is a darker side to gardeners. One of the most contentious issues facing the horticultural world and the home gardener is the use of peat. Peat is in demand as a growing medium for our plants because it possesses a number of qualities; it has the capacity to hold good amounts of air and water and has naturally low pH and nutrients… which suits a diverse range of plant species. The problem is peat is a natural material formed by the decay of the sphagnum moss, found growing in wetland bogs, taking hundreds of years to form. Peat lands also have the ability to store carbon [CO2] rather than releasing it all into the atmosphere, making them incredibly important habitats to help balance our increasingly warming climate.

The horticultural demand for peat to fill our hanging baskets, containers and seed trays has resulted in the loss of an incredible 94% of the UK’s lowland peat bogs since the beginning of the 19th century [according to figures from The Wildlife Trust]. What are left are fragmented areas struggling to regenerate. No garden, no matter how spectacular, should knowingly be at the expense of our natural habitat.

There are numerous peat ‘alternatives’ available made from a range of different by-products like coir [coconut fibre], leaf mould, green compost [council compost], garden compost, composted bracken, wood based residues, worm compost and other natural manures. If you live up North, check out Dalefoot Composts in Cumbria www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk for some very interesting sustainable alternatives.

Another option, and a very cost-effective one, is making your own compost. One thing I would add to this previous post [gained from my recent experiences of becoming a chicken keeper] is that chicken poop plus the biodegradable bedding I use [Bliss Bedding] has created the hottest and steamiest compost heap I have ever had! It’s incredible! Within five weeks of having the chickens I noticed the change in the heap; the brown and green stuff ratio is obviously perfectly balanced now and with the regular decanting of chicken droppings into the bin it also gets more of a mix…speeding up the whole decomposing process. All-in-all…chickens rock!

Since writing this article for BL Magazine back in May, Mark Diacono has written a brilliant article for the Daily Telegraph ‘Do we need to use peat?’ which goes into more depth about the alternatives and is accompanied by Monty Don’s peat-free compost recipes.

So, the next time you’re planning to fill up your hanging baskets look out for compost with the Peat Free label on the bag; if they don’t stock any…don’t stand for it, complain and demand the alternatives. By 2020 all growing media products for home gardeners are to be Peat Free… if new Government targets are reached…

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