Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Mellow fruitfulness

We went recently to Priorwood Garden, in the Borders town of Melrose, on one of our occasional "old peoples" trips. Next to the graceful ruins of Melrose Abbey is a small orchard containing apples dating from medieval times to the present. We'd waited to visit until the apples were ripening, so that we could be tantalised by the prospect of one day picking our own apples. We'll have to be patient for a couple more years, but I'm persuaded that we might add a Victoria plum to our tiny orchard, along with a couple of unfussy cherries. Our old crab apple, though, is covered in fruit, and younger son has plans for making jelly.

Priorwood, a tiny garden, has a dried flower shop where you can see the drying process taking place (and buy dried flowers, of course), and holds an apple day in October (I think possibly on 2 October - for anyone interested there is a phone number on the website). It's a lovely place to visit at this time of year.

Melrose Abbey

Crab apple, John Downie

This damson has rooted partway along its stem

Cooking apple, Dr Harvey

Eating apple, Miller's seedling

Friday, 10 September 2010

The old ladies sunning

The Bluebells do like to take advantage of good weather - it was very wet most of the week, so they didn't get out much. Today is warmer, if a bit windy, so they can enjoy it. Here they are - scraggy old dears!

For most of the past two months my dressing table has been home to various bottles which might make you wonder about my toilette regime. Alongside the delicately packaged Calvin Klein 1, Paloma, something with such a pretty box that I can't bring myself to start it, and the usual prophylactics against ageing that we over-50s allow ourselves to be conned into buying (though mine are distinctly closer to the cold cream end of the market than the designer labelled kind - indeed, they would be cold cream if it weren't that I don't much like the smell!)...I digress, alongside these fancy bottles are white containers stating "Total Mite Kill!", "Poultri-Drops", and "Just for Scaly Legs!". It comes of living in a small cottage - when you unwrap a parcel there is nowhere to put anything down, and the last line of resort is always my dressing table - things there are out of the way but easy to find. They should, of course, be on their way to the bin where all such items are kept, but the scaly leg treatment needs to be applied regularly, so it's good to keep it where I notice it from time to time.

I'm happy to report that the Bluebells and I are recovering nicely from our scale problems, but this has been the worst year I've known for pests and unpleasantnesses. We made the mistake, too, of moving the girls into a wooden house - we had to move them from their wheeled Eglu, a wonderful beast known here as the Vardo, because Steerage is rather feeble, and stopped being able to flutter up the ladder. We tried customising the ladder, to no avail, and for several weeks younger son and I took turns at crawling into the run to pick her up and put her into the house each night, but that was less than ideal on several counts: first, she also tended to take a nose dive (beak dive?) or her way out in the morning; second, it was frequently a horrible, muddy task and very difficult in the dark, taking both of us, one to hold the chicken and one to hold the torch; and third, it meant at least one of us had to be here, since OH is, like Pooh Bear, a trifle stout, to put it kindly. The wooden house was a cheap option, but by mid-summer we were fighting mite infestations (and more earwigs than you've ever seen, yeuch!). The roof blew off in a summer gale, too, leaving three rather ruffled and indignant ladies, so a necessary accessory ever since has been a large bag of potting compost on top. I expect you know that if you heave a bag of compost off a chicken house roof and onto the ground, it tends to split?

We got tired of the wooden retirement home (not as tired as itchy hens, I'm sure) and the new retirement home is a handsome latest-style Eglu Go. I think with two Eglus we are probably producing the most expensive eggs in the history of humanity (best not to mention this to OH!), but they taste wonderful (the eggs, that is), and we do love our girls. We do manage to be pragmatic up to a point - one was despatched when she became ill: the vet might have been able to prolong her life at the expense of her comfort, but it seemed much kinder to get her misery over and done with. As long as the girls take pleasure in strolling round the paddock, and stretching their wings out in a dust bath, though, we are happy to clean them out, chat to them and provide quantities of dried mealworms for their delectation. Boy, do chickens love mealworms! How do they know they're so good? Betty runs across the paddock shrieking with excitement when she sees the tub. Yesterday, she flew half its length (possible slight exaggeration, but it was an impressive feat for an old lady).

Off now to check that the buzzard isn't anywhere to be seen - regular readers may remember Betty's nasty experience? Her confidence is entirely restored, but when they are out frequent checks are necessary, and if it's about, the girls have to go in. If we're in the garden, of course, it's a different matter, and then they really enjoy the company.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Millefleurs barbus d'Uccles

Since I am in chicken mode - still besotted with the new girls, who are so keen on mealworms that taming them is going well - I thought I would post a picture of the prettiest breed of chickens we ever kept. I was going to use the picture from Wikipedia, but it really doesn't do them justice, so I thought that perhaps the British Belgian Bantam Club might be glad of a bit of extra publicity, and so wouldn't mind if I used one off their site.

When we lived in Scotland, we had a trio of these chickens, who were extremely tame, and liked to sit on people's shoulders (my mother-in-law was not keen). Unfortunately, they were really a bit too tame, and also liked to go for walks. In those days we lived opposite my sons' primary school, and it was a regular occurrence for the Barbus to turn up in the playground, at which point elder son was usually deputed to bring them home. Sometimes, they would set off straight down the hill through the village, and I am afraid that one day someone seized both opportunity and chickens; the someone is question, of course, might have been the fox, but we searched high and low and there was no sign of anyone, not so much as a feather, so perhaps they went to a new home. I was very sorry to lose them, they were tiny bundles of personality.

I don't think I would want to keep them on our clay soil here, they would get very weighed down in the mud. And I don't think that one of our neighbours would be frightfully keen on having a cockerel next door! It is exceedingly quiet here, and we're always rather embarrassed when the dogs choose to demonstrate their guarding qualities: a chicken shrieking his head off at 3.30am might not be popular!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

New girls

 The Bluebell girls are getting quite elderly, and we only have three left, so we decided it was time to add to the flock. We're delighted with the four new girls - 1 black rock and three speckeldys. As with the Bluebells, where the original leader of the flock was one of the two white hens (succeeded when she died suddenly by the other one), the black rock has immediately appointed herself Chicken-in-Charge, and is living up to her name, Pocahontas. (Well, it suited her.) The others are just a little younger, I think.