Ladies of the Garden
HENS: these lovely ladies are a joy to watch in the garden, they are very funny and also quite helpful. We have 9 hens and 8 eggs everyday! Supposedly hens do not lay every day but more like every 32hrs or so. Apparently ours didn't get that message and mostly lay an egg every day. They have funny habits our ladies, despite having three smaller laying boxes they prefer to group together and lay their eggs all in one nest and so just occasionally an egg gets broken as its thrown out! Its good to know that they are all getting on though as they are from 3 different ‘batches’.
We haven't always kept hens, this is a new experience for us in the last few years and there are quite a few things to learn, for instance you cannot just get new hens and introduce them straight into a flock. Apart from keeping them seperate to slowly get them used to each other, this also ensures you don’t introduce diseases. We also discovered that the easiest way after their ‘quarantine’ to introduce them to the existing coop is to move them on a night time when the rest are all settled. Hens cannot see in the dark and thus once placed in situ, won’t leave until the morning.
It only took a few nights of this to get them used to going straight in there at dusk. It doesn’t matter where they are in the garden, as the sun goes down the hens move closer to their coop until one by one they go in. Once in there, they jostle about clucking loudly until each has her own place. Apparently Hens only see out of one side of their heads at a time and it is common when sleeping in a line, for the two hens at either end to only close their ‘inside’ eye and rest that side of their brain. They will then turn around and shut the other eye to rest the other side, meanwhile those in the middle of the line sleep in peace knowing that the outer two are keeping watch! I’m assuming thats all to do with the pecking order.
You’ll notice if you see hens that they peer at you out of one side of their heads, they have extremely stretchy necks and lightening quick responses if a bug runs on that side of them. What I also never thought about is that hens are carnivores and are very good at catching mice that come to steal their food. Even our three dogs are a bit afraid of these mini monsters and keep their distance when they are out for a wander in the garden.
Just a word of warning, while its a great thing to let the hens de-bug your veg patch they will also eat the beneficial bugs and worms if they can find some. All the same I let our hens have a supervised scratch in our patch. Apparently spinach is a favourite snack for them and having let them out unsupervised, they have devoured a whole bed of spinach and lettuce, lesson learned!
Our relationship with the hens is one of mutual respect, we feed them tasty treats and they reward us with a bit of gardening, some amazing eggs and the best manure for adding to a compost heap. Just make sure that their manure is properly composted before adding any to the garden as its very high in nitrogen and will burn plant roots if you are not careful. Don’t forget to wash, dry and crush their egg shells to help keep slugs and snails away from your planting beds, that’s if your chickens don’t eat them first.
Keeping hens is a simple and wonderful thing to do. You need a secure, dry and well ventilated coop and a chicken run or area of garden that you don’t mind them digging and scratching in. They don’t take much time to look after but definitely need attention every day, collecting eggs and changing bedding, water and feeding. You’ll find once they are used to you they will greet you happily. Here are just a couple of points to think about..
Chickens like to be in a group so minimum should be three to keep your ladies happy. Depending on breed once they reach egg laying age (about 18 week) you will probably get a couple of eggs a day. Its dependent on weather, time of year and their age.
Many options included wood shavings on the the coop floor but if you use that make sure its dust free as chickens can develop repiratory conditions if they breathe in the dust. Hay and straw another good option but whatever you use change it regularly so it doesn’t harbour bacteria, mould or dampness. Add the bedding to the compost.
Food and Drink
Hens need access to fresh clean water, in summer they can each drink upto 1/2 litre. Unfortunately as soon as you change it they will probably stand in it so a good option is to suspend a self filling vessel at their head height so they just dip in it.
Chickens don’t have teeth (as rare as hens teeth!) and so they need to have an addition of grit to their diet if they are not able to forage free range themselves. The grit helps break up their ingested food and the added calcium makes strong shells!
Our chickens love a dust bath in the cold fire pit, it looks alarming when they are covered in soot but its also a great way to keep them free of mites, lice and fleas.
What Else is in the Garden?
A beautiful pink colour and a very welcome sight in the garden after the cool wet days we have had. I planted this at the top of the drive way so its the last thing I see and the first thing I see when leaving and returning home. I planted bulbs in November and its a great no maintenance splash of colour.
PURPLE SPRING CABBAGE
These cabbages were planted at the end of summer last year and a few more in December so they will mature at different times. They taste best after being touched by frost so thats lucky after the recent weather. Another splash of colour for the garden.
Is it a Cauliflower or a Broccoli? Well apparently neither, its a Romanesco and has been used as a vegetable in its own right for the last 500 years! Unlike purple cauliflower which I also have growing, this vegetable keeps it vibrant green colour when cooked!
This is a new addition to my garden this year and I have planted it where I will be planting bush cherry tomatoes as I understand it may protect them against the tomato hornworm. According to Louise Riotte, author of Carrots Love Tomatoes (1975), “Borage is an excellent provider of potassium, calcium, and other natural minerals of benefit to plants.” This means its a great addition to cut and leave to decay and add nutrients to topsoil or compost and bees love it! The plant is wide spreading and so I have planted more where I want it to act as a weed suppressant and hopefully encourage beneficial bugs which hide under their leaves. There is much information about the beneficial aspects of this hairy leafed plant and although the slight cucumber taste is not for me, it is a great addition to the permaculture garden.