Thursday 30 May 2024

Hatching plans

So far this Spring we have successfully hatched 10 quails, 18 hybrid  chickens of one variety or another and 8 Norfolk Black Turkeys. Our hatch rate for the turkeys has been relatively poor this year for reasons we are not sure about. We have another clutch in the incubator. In addition, we have bought in 20 day old broiler chicks.

The incubation period for each poultry group varies: 16-18 days for quails, about 21 days for chickens and 26 days for turkeys. Janet oversees this part of the proceedings. They need close attention in respect of temperature, turning. timing and humidity. 

We hope for the incubated eggs to hatch within a day or two of each other. The newly hatched chicks can remain in the incubator for 48 hours as they have enough nutrient from their egg to see them through. The problem is if you open up the incubator and the humidity level suddenly drops the membrane enclosing an unhatched chick is likely to 'shrink wrap' it and make its survival doubtful. Sometimes we find a half-hatched chick which we will keep in the incubator and hope for the best. This happened over the weekend and a late hatching chick eventually got free of its egg and joined its clutch siblings. It is rather sprightly and a testament to its determination to survive.

Once the poultry are hatched I take over and see them through the stages of their time in the brooder, weaning them off heat and eventually transferring them to their outside house and enclosures. And also dealing with their rapidly growing appetite and need for water. 

We have a turkey that is currentlyy broody so we have left it to its own devices sitting on a few eggs. In the past we have found that once hatched the turkey does not always remain interested in it chicks so we need to be alert for when they hatch so that we can take over parental responsibility if need be.


A newly hatched quail

Monday 6 May 2024

The Season of White

For me May is one of the most enjoyable times of the year to be out and about in the English countryside. I think of it as the 'Season of White'. This is not strictly true as it is also the time of the year when bluebell woods are at their most impressive. But in the open, uncultivated countryside, at least, white predominates. It is when Cow Parsley lines the verges and Hawthorn, or May Trees, are in full flower. When they are situated together en masse it is strikingly effective. The whiteness of the flowers stands out all the more against the backdrop of fresh greens from the newly emerged leaves of trees and the lush Spring grass. 

There is a muted simplicity in May-time beauty. A very different visual effect from the self-conscious planting of garden borders with their increasingly vivid palette as the year progresses. 

This morning, in the field opposite us, I passed by an unpruned Hawthorn (photograph below) which, was probably at one time long ago part of a field hedge, in full flower (six week's later than Blackthorn). It gave off a familiar pungent scent which I rather like. In the Autumn it will be covered in bright red berries until the birds have had their share.

Here is my poetic eulogy to May.

Cow Parsley 

From my window I can see

A woodland edged with cow parsley.

Frothy blooms, billowing white 

Gleaming bright in the morning light.

Above the hedge, in company,

May trees flower and shine with thee.

Beneath the trees snowdrops rest,

Now white bells of the lily guest.

It needs no Capability,

Nor Jekyll choreography.

No need to visit Sissinghurst

To marvel the white palette burst.

Nature’s abundant elegance

Springs up from unplanned happenstance.

But left to flourish at their will

A pure splendour will surely spill.

Thursday 2 May 2024

The joy of seeds

There has been a step change in the weather over the last few days. After a prolonged cold spell the daytime temperatures have jumped from single figures to the low twenties and that chilly northern wind has turned away. I've made a start on planting out the greenhouse plants. Tomatoes, peppers, chillies are now in situ. Aubergines are lagging behind a bit so they will follow later. 

Also in the greenhouse are a range of seed grown hardy and half-hardy annuals destined for the borders and the cutting garden. Most of these have now been pricked out or potted on. Some have been moved to the cold frame, still protected but away from direct sunshine. Those in the greenhouse have to be carefully tended because the afternoon sun generates quite hot conditions even if the temperatures outside are still modest. This causes the compost in the modules or small pots to dry out quite quickly. Watering them has to be done carefully, usually in the cooler mornings and the early evenings. Water droplets on plant leaves act like a magnifying glass and can result in scorching as the sun shines on them. I always water the thirsty tomato plants at the base of each plant to avoid this problem. Watering the greenhouse now becomes part of the daily routine through to September.

Growing plants from seed is a constant wonder whether for food or looks. Here are the tiny seeds of Nicotiana sylvestris (Tobacco plant) sown in a 3 inch pot. Too small yet to prick out. By the end off the summer each of these seedlings will be 3 - 4 feet high with large paddle-like leaves and displaying pure white trumpet shaped flowers 3 inches long.