The battle of the runner beans

Regular readers will know that Aliss the hen has turned out to be some sort of reincarnation of a velociraptor… but with a taste for vegetables rather than people. This is something of a relief – I wouldn’t want to take my life into my hands to go out and collect eggs, and the cost of a rifle might outweigh the savings as a result of not having to buy in so much protein – but there is now something of a battle going on as regards the vegetables.

The reason for growing vegetables is so that (mostly) Mr Snail-of-happiness and I can eat them. Aliss disagrees. She is not content with left overs – lettuces running to seed, weeds, peelings, slightly manky kale leaves – she wants the good stuff. And she wants it fresh off the plants. The answer, therefore, is to place the vegetables out of harm. I want free ranging chickens to keep the slugs under control, so the hens run free whilst the vegetables are confined.

Runner beans, denuded to a height of four feet or so

This approach worked well with our previous little flock, but Aliss is wily… like a coyote as well as a velociraptor. In the past the hens were allowed in amongst some of the vegetables once they reached a suitable height. Runner beans were great – none of the old hens wanted to eat them and they provided shade if it was sunny. So, this year, once the beans were well on their way up the bean poles, we opened the area to the hens. All went well until…  Aliss developed a serious taste for runner bean leaves. And not just one or two, and not just up to a height of a foot. Once she’d stripped the bottom leaves, she started jumping up to get at leaves above chicken head-height.

Anti-Aliss barrier!

Enough was enough, so we reinstated the chicken wire… it’s about two feet high and is usually enough to put them off. Not Aliss, though. She simply jumped over it. And then beans started appearing, so she decided to try those… and found them to be delicious. So, I erected an extra layer of chicken wire… four-foot high now. Aliss managed to breach the defences and also use the structure to reach beans that were otherwise out of her reach. By this stage, she’d also convinced Perdy, her partner in crime, to join in too!

A new use for a clothes airer

I reinforced the barrier – ensuring that there were no handy chicken foot holds, holes, gaps, points of weakness or nearby launch pads. I realised that the adjacent lettuce cage provided a location to jump down from so employed an old clothes airer as a barrier, balanced between the lettuce enclosure and the beans. And finally, I think I have won… a whole day has passed without the cry of  ‘she’s bloody well in there again’ ringing through the house. Perhaps my beans are safe… perhaps I will get to eat the whole of some beans rather than just the top half that she couldn’t reach… and perhaps I’ll go out there tomorrow and she will have organised the others to form a chicken pyramid from which she can flap over into her favourite place in the whole garden…

The nightly mollusc hunt

As previously reported our garden is relatively mollusc-free. The chickens see to this around most of the place and the fruit cage has some resident frogs and toads which do the job in there. Chickens are not allowed in the fruit cage because as well as eating slugs and snails, they also love soft fruit and, I’m sorry to say, frogs. Since we don’t want our predators eating our other predators, we keep them apart as much as possible.

So, why would we be conducting a mollusc hunt ourselves each night?

Well, with our new use of the area in front of the house, we now have a productive place without anything guarding against those pesky devourers of vegetables. So, I was unsurprised to discover potato tops eaten down to the stalks and lettuce seedlings disappearing every night. As I have mentioned before, we are trying to cut down on the feed brought in for the chickens and, to this end, it seems a waste simply to kill the snails and slugs and not make use of them. As they say in permaculture… “every problem is a solution”. So our molluscs are just a source of chicken food in the wrong place for use. The solution? Transport this food to the right place. This means that when it has gone dark, you can find us out the front of the house with our torches and an old plastic take-away container gathering a ‘harvest’.

I’m sure that any neighbours who look out of their windows at this time of night just have their suspicions confirmed that we are completely bonkers. After all, we are the people who ask them to give us their grass clippings, boil our water in a Kelly kettle, keep chickens (which have been known to escape and wander around out the front of the house) and now grow vegetables in containers and a dumpy bag in the drive. This cannot be considered normal behaviour, so the two of us rooting around in our drive with torches at 10pm is probably just par for the course. Don’t get me wrong… they are kind to us, but perhaps they see it as care in the community!

Then yesterday we found another unexpected source of food for hens. It’s now time for harvesting potatoes… last night for dinner we wanted salad with new potatoes straight out of the garden. So, one of the potato bags was taken round the back for harvesting. I wanted to collect the compost and put it into another container in which I’m going to experiment with pot-grown leeks. We started transferring the compost very carefully so as not to miss any of our harvest. The first harvest, however, was unexpected – slug eggs. These sticky white spheres are easy to spot and make a tasty snack for chickens… which clustered around us as we harvested. We started taking the eggs out in little clumps and putting them on a saucer for the hens, but we decided that we didn’t want to risk contaminating the new pot, so in the end the whole top layer of the compost was transferred onto a bare patch of bed (destined for planting up soon) for the chickens to scratch through and the lower layers of compost (where there were no signs of eggs) were placed in the pot. A very satisfying activity.

Results:

  • slugs and snails converted to hens eggs
  • slugs and snails eggs converted to hens eggs
  • reduced population of adult molluscs = more vegetables for us
  • fewer baby molluscs = smaller population = more vegetables for us
  • reduced feed bill

I think we’re on to a winner.

%d bloggers like this: