Confining Jurassic chicken

Anti-chicken netting... but not anti-Aliss!

Anti-chicken netting… but not anti-Aliss!

Well finally I had to admit defeat – Aliss, the velociraptor of our little flock, has proved that no amount of netting over vegetables is going to keep her out. She won the battle of the runner beans last year and this spring she has managed to penetrate my best defenses covering the oriental greens bed. So, over the weekend, we took drastic action and the garden is now split into two parts: chickenville and vegetable land. Well. three parts if you include the fruit cage, to which the hens have access at certain times of the year. The barrier across the path is temporary at the moment, but Mr Snail-of-happiness will build a gate to go there soon. On the other side of the fruit cage a more elaborate construction of chicken wire was required, as it had to go through the willow hedge and be attached to the fence between us and the field behind.

No-entry, chickens!

No-entry, chickens!

This separation of the garden into several areas follows the approach taken at Station Road… which continues to inspire me! I will carry on netting the vegetables because it keeps dogs off, but it won’t be such a problem if some of the pegs come adrift or if strong winds blow the netting about. I don’t want the chickens excluded all the time – their slug hunting and week clearing skill will be required during certain periods , but at least this way my greens will be safe!

Well-behaved terriers... it took us a while to train them to this stage.

Well-behaved terriers… it took us a while to train them to this stage.

The separation also has the benefit that chickens and dogs can be out in the garden unsupervised at the same time. Max seems to be completely trustworthy with them, but we don’t trust Sam not to chase a running or flapping hen. Having said that, all was peace and harmony when I was sorting out the contents of some of last year’s pots earlier in the week.

And, strangely, the reduction in space (they still have plenty to run around and dig in) seems to suit Lorna who, after not laying since Christmas, produced her first egg of 2013 yesterday! It probably isn’t linked to the smaller space and has more to do with longer days, abundant leafy greens over the past few weeks, and extra slugs on Sunday (found as we were moving containers around), but perhaps it has helped her to focus. I wonder if it will be another five months before we have the next one from her!

Full of eastern promise

Ever year we manage to produce some crops over the winter. We extend the pepper season  by bringing some of the plants indoors (and hopefully keep them going over the winter to fruit again next summer); we grow kale and purple sprouting broccoli; we plant leeks (unless, like last year, a family disaster intervenes); and we grow oca, which is harvested as the days grow shorter and into the early winter. This year, however, I have decided to try to make more effort, so I have also sowed winter lettuce and miners lettuce (Claytonia) seeds to give us fresh salad leaves over the winter, plus we have salsify and root parsley coming along nicely.

A new book and some seeds

However, my big experiment this year is with oriental vegetables. I have recently bought a copy of Joy Larkcom’s Oriental Vegetables: the complete guide for the gardening cook. It’s my perfect book really, not only does it have information about cultivation, it’s also got history of the different vegetables plus recipes. As usual, I decided to buy my seeds from The Real Seed Catalogue, but in this case felt somewhat overwhelmed by the choice, so I plumped for their Oriental Explorer pack. I’m experimenting with different ways of growing these plants, both outdoors and in the greenhouse, and hope to report back as I reap the harvest (or not).

Blue pipe and net cloche

On Saturday (a glorious sunny day here in west Wales) I cleared the bed that had contained the potatoes and broad beans and planted six different oriental vegetables: Komatsuna Japanese Greens; Mispoona  oriental greens for salad or cooking; Tai Sai White Stem Leaf Pak Choi; Sobi Chinese salad cabbage; Yukina oriental leaf greens; and Hot Mustard Greens. I imagine that all of these would make tasty treats for chickens, so the bed is protected with a net cloche. This structure has hoops made from blue water pipe… a classic material in permaculture gardens, as it’s cheap, readily available and remarkably versatile. As well as keeping rampaging chickens out, the cloche should increase the temperature inside a little (it’s a degree or two warmer in our fruit cage in the winter, believe it or not). Of course, we can always convert this into a more traditional cloche by covering it with polythene, but I don’t think that’s going to be necessary.

My next task is to sow some seeds in trays in the greenhouse, so that we will have some completely protected crops too… oh and to settle down and read all of Joy Larkcom’s book (along with the dozens of others that surround me in my office).

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