Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Winter has arrived

Winter has well and truly arrived here in the Welsh mountains. After a couple of weeks of high winds and constant rain we have now been hit with back to back frosts. With the sun barely high enough to clear the hedge during the short days we're having, the garden hasn't had a chance to thaw before being hit by another frost.

Part of my morning routine is to now break the ice on the duck pond and both the chickens and the ducks drinkers. With the temperatures hardly rising above zero in the day it only takes an hour or so before they have another layer of ice on top requiring me to clear it again.

Despite the solid ground and the cold air the chickens don't seem to mind the weather at all. They're happy feeding on any leftover greens from the kitchen, plus whatever else they can find to supplement their normal feed.  I am slightly concerned that one still decides to sleep in a tree every night rather than in the coop with the rest but have still decided to leave her up there. It's perfectly safe from any predators and the amount of distress I know it would cause cooping her in with the others after living the free life wouldn't be worth it. She has the option and chooses the tree. A note on that, the rogue cockerel mentioned in my previous posts turned out to be a hen! She eventually laid and saved herself from the kitchen table by providing us with eggs once the ducks had stopped laying. A very fortunate result for her and us! She's a real character to have in the garden and joins forces with the ducks for most of the day, retreating to her tree just before dark. In addition we also have two Marans, a breed originating from France, highly regarded for their fine meat. These are penned in on what will be an further vegetable patch next year. Despite being only four months old they have already reached the size of the aforementioned hen. For feed I am now starting to mix corn in with their growers pellets and will eventually finish them entirely on corn ready for slaughter at some point in February.

This does leave me with a dilemma of what to do with the resident hen in the summer, as I found out this year, chickens and summer vegetable patches do not mix. Still I have a bit of time to decide with that one. Having free ranging ducks and chickens during the autumn and winter has left my lawn looking pretty bare. Far from being an idyllic looking rural garden, it is beginning to look a bit tired, something only a bit of sunshine will fix. They seem to prefer the clover to grass and it turns out most of my lawn was clover. I'll reseed this in March or April but am not too concerned it's the veg that I'm most focussed on.

The ducks are less keen on the cold weather, gingerly stepping out of the coop in the mornings onto the frozen grass. However this week I have had my first duck egg since September, something I was not expecting until at least March. I have no idea what has triggered her to start laying again but it is a welcome surprise.

Overwintering outside in the vegetable patch I have leeks and some swede which in terms of growth have almost come to a standstill, something else that needs bit of sun to kick-start them. These should be ready early March way ahead of  anything else. I had planned to fill up the veg patch throughout he winter but due to the chickens eating some of the seedlings and me underestimating just how many I would need to sow to see an end result, more than half of the patch remains empty. Something to work on next year and if I am harvesting veg in March it's certainly an improvement on anything I've managed before.

In the polytunnel I have sprouting broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage all doing quite well despite something having a nibble on a few of them. The polytunnel has provided some much needed protection from the frost and there is no question the plants are doing better than they would have done outside. Some of the stronger gusts of wind that we have been having recently have had a detrimental effect to the plastic on the polytunnel with a few small tears appearing in the sheeting. To combat this I have anchored the door down with some wood to reduce any movement and hopefully put a stop to the tears. If it doesn't last for at least a couple of years it could prove an expensive way of getting my tomatoes and chillies.

Apparently this year there were more slugs about than ever due to the mild winter. The ducks certainly did a good job of keeping the numbers down in my garden but there were still a few about. I don't think I can even remember a single frost last year so if this is going to drive down the numbers of garden pest and diseases then I'm glad there is a cold spell.

I'm already getting excited looking ahead to next year, the days getting longer, the weather getting warmer, ordering and maybe even sowing a few seeds in the near future. We just need this weather to pass first.

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