Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Hetty Wainthrop - Rest in Peace

The Rainbow Bridge is calling you

Hetty lavender splash Orpington hen RIP
Hetty Boom Boom RIP
Poor Hetty Wainthrop, our Lavender Splash Orpington hen has been very poorly.

She's always been the first to succumb to lice, red mite etc, I think it's because she is the bottom of the pecking order.

Add to that the fact that the breeder was trying to develop a new Orpington x Frizzle (which are not attractive BTW), and new colourways, I believe Hetty's genetics suffered as a result. Signs of this included some twisty twiddly feathers on her neck - a hint of the Frizzle genes, and her toes were twisted, meaning that we had to clip her claws regularly to keep them comfortable for her, as she couldn't wear them down naturally.

Last summer she was a big buxom beauty, inquisitive, happy, talkative.

Hetty lavender splash Orpington hen summer 2016
Hetty last summer
This summer she was a shadow of her former self. She lost a lot of weight, hasn't passed a normal poop for a couple of months, had no energy and eventually was unable to stand up, let alone move around on her own.

She was eating and drinking (if you sat her right in front of her bowls), and everything was passing out of her crop into her digestive system, but after that, something was going wrong. Our vet Alex suspected Sour Crop (but admitted that didn't really fit her symptoms very well), or that her digestive tract had become damaged somehow, meaning she was unable to absorb anything from her food.

The first signs that something was seriously wrong came when we returned from holiday. It had been very hot and sticky, and she looked pale and tired. I looked for, and found, a big 'bloom' of red mite in the coop, so we emptied everything scrubbed it, cleaned it and doused it and the flock with Nettex Total Red Mite Powder.

Felicity and Jane looked fine, so we hoped that Hetty had just been the worst affected, and that with treatment she would recover. But she didn't. She got more tired, less enthusiastic about coming out of the run for a scatter feed of mealworms, and very unbalanced. She started using her wing to stop herself toppling sideways, and if you stroked her back she fell over instantly.

Treatments we tried:

NB: We did not use all of these simultaneously, they were administered carefully over Hetty's last two months with us, and according to the manufacturers' instructions. They were given alongside a well balanced layers pellet by Smallholders Range, dried mealworms, mixed corn and Hentastic Foraging Feast.

Ivermectin Spot-on Drops
Flubenvet Poultry Wormer
Farm and Yard Remedies Wormwood
Beryl's Friendly bacteria
Chicken Lickin Poultry Drink Concentrate
Verm-X Poultry Zest
Global Herbs Loose Dropping Formula

Plus we bought The Chicken Vet Poop Sample Kit, and sent a sample off to them. It was tested for a range of worms and coccidia infection. All the tests were negative - possibly because the other treatments had killed off whatever was there, or it wasn't a parasitic problem or infection at all.

When she reached the point where she couldn't stand or move around, Mr PB finally agreed with me that it was time to take her to Alex the vet one last time. Alex agreed to put her to sleep yesterday evening, and let us stay with her until she passed away. She has been cremated.

We believe we did everything possible to save Hetty, except catch her symptoms sooner.

Hetty Wainthrop lavender splash Orpington hen
Hetty Wainthrop xx

Sleep tight Hetty Hetty Boom Boom, we love you xx

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Summertime and the Gardening is Easy

Actually that's not remotely true

Here in the South East of England we had a very hot, very dry June, leading to lots of watering, especially in the Square Foot Beds (SFB) where the vegetables were in danger of cooking in the ground.

In early July it remained hot, but oppressively humid, with just a few ineffectual rain and thunder showers. This increased the risk of blight and fungal diseases overpowering the  already stressed plants to "Red Alert"

By late July and early August we'd had much cooler weather, more significant rainfall and higher winds


Lets start with what did or is doing well.
Broad Beans - I sowed The Sutton and Hurst Green Longpod a few weeks apart and grew them on in the greenhouse. They made healthy plants, and continued to grow well after I planted them out in the SFB. Both coped with the hot spell and cropped really well, then as they were petering out, they developed Chocolate Spot (Botrytis fabae), so I simply chopped down the stems, leaving the roots in the soil to release their stored Nitrogen for the next crop.
Parsnips - After two failures to get seeds to germinate (I must buy fresh seeds for Spring - can someone remind me please :D), I bought seedlings. I lost a few to slug damage early on, but now the leaves are 50cm tall and really lush
Peas - The first sowing fail due to Bean Seed Maggot Hylemya florilega (Meigen), they eat the germinating seed and either kill off the seed altogether, or the resulting plant is stunted, deformed and never performs well. I bought some seedlings in a 9cm pot, it was literally a handful of seeds thrown in, but all of them had come up, so I decided to do the same thing myself - to heck with individual modules! Despite the late start I was rewarded with a small but tasty crop.
Asparagus - After several years patience I managed to cut a few spears for eating! Yum!
Kale, Cabbage and Brussels - These are growing well (slight caterpiller infestation) and should be good for eating over winter.
Aubergines - One grafted plant in the greenhouse has produced around 10-12 beautiful big fruits - Moussaka is on the menu :)

tomatoes aubergine cucumber harvest
A basket of tomatoes, aubergine and cucumber
Tomatoes - I have 14 plants in the greenhouse, a mixture of cherry, normal and beefsteak. The Beefsteak isn't cropping well, but all the others are fruiting their socks off. The leaves are showing signs of Septoria fungus leaf spot, but this doesn't affect the fruit, and I am simply removing affected leaves from the bottom of the plant, increasing airflow and encouraging the fruit to ripen.
Potatoes - I planted 10 Red Duke of York tubers in three white sacks, topping up the compost, watering and feeding regularly. I've just dug up 2.6kg of lovely, clean potatoes. I'm really pleased.
Potato Red Duke of York grow bags
Potato Red Duke of York grown in bags
Potato Red Duke York harvested
Potato Red Duke of York harvested
Apples - Scrumptious is in it's third year, and oh boy are there a lot of apples, I thinned them in early June, but I think it might be worth doing it again.
Grapes - The grapevines are heavy with fruit. I've pruned back the long growth to 2 pairs of leaves beyond the bunch of grapes (one bunch per branch). I'm trying to improve my pruning technique and get a tighter structure with short fruiting spurs - it's a process.
Grape Cardinal bunches summer
Grape 'Cardinal'
Raspberries - Have been abundant this year, this is just the first picking

Summer Raspberries harvest
Summer Raspberries (var. unknown)
Gooseberries - Best harvest yet, I had two red ones, no green and lots of stabbings - their thorns are vicious!


Carrots - These have been rubbish, the first sowing failed and the second are pathetic, I doubt they've formed edible roots.
Blueberries - One bush was fine but only had a few fruits, the second bush had loads of fruit, but in the heat they shriveled to the blueberry equivalent of raisins :(
Cucurbits - For me the worst affected plant group this year.
I bought a grafted cucumber plant, and sowed cucumber seeds, lots of courgettes and some squashes. They were growing happily in the greenhouse, and I had high hopes for a courgette glut this year. I planted them into large deep pots (40cm square), kept the grafted plant in the greenhouse, and everything else was placed out beside the chicken run. I thought this would give them better airflow and light than in the SFB, especially as the parsnips, broadies and peas were so tall and lush...then Powdery Mildew struck, smothering the leaves in a layer of grey dust, blocking out the light and curbing the plants vigour. I've been feeding with a liquid (seaweed based) tomato feed, and watering, but the plants are really struggling. I've had just two cucumbers and three courgettes, and there's absolutely no hope of squashes this year :(

Courgette Defender started well early summer
Courgette 'Defender'

In the ornamental garden:

Brimstone butterfly drinking nectar dwarf Buddleja
Brimstone butterfly drinking from the dwarf Buddleja 

Hollyhocks saved seed Bumble Bee
Hollyhocks from Hazelonthehill's saved seed and a Bumble Bee
 Hollyhocks, heuchera, dahlias, trailing geraniums, pelargoniums, ceanothus, phlox, buddleja, and pinks have been doing beautifully. They've all coped really well with the heat and drought.

Cactus Dahlia Purple Gem flower
Cactus Dahlia Purple Gem
Phlox paniculata pink flowers dark centres
 Phlox paniculata
Hardy geraniums, verbascum and delphiniums have suffered, but I've cut them all back hard, and hope for a new flush of  healthy growth. My new David Austin Rose 'Geoff Hamilton' has had four flowers, 2 came and went while we were on holiday in June, the other two appeared during the really hot spell in July. wilted and dropped off before I got to appreciate them. I've given Geoff some rose feed, and hope he may flower again this year.

The Woodland garden looks parched and is carpeted with sycamore seedlings - I can't quite face tackling it at the moment. The hedges have gone crazy and the native plants like Betony and Scabious are seeding themselves all over the drive! Ugh! Can't you stick to the flower bed please??

So there's lots of hard work ahead, deadheading faded blooms to encourage more, weeding, pruning, mulching. It's a neverending cycle, but that's the joy of gardening, however many failure you have,

There's always next year :)

Love PB xx

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Moving Rhubarb

From Allotment to Garden

Allotment Sit. Rep.

So, if you've been following me here or on any of my social media, you'll know that I have finally given up my allotment.

It was a 1/4 plot about ten minutes walk from our house, and I know some people would kill for that convenience, but there were so many issues with the plot, it's location, access and the surrounding plots, that trying to reclaim it every time I visited was increasingly backbreaking and heartbreaking.

Besides rescuing tools, storage boxes and watering cans there wasn't much to bring home from the plot. The only thing I had in the ground was some Stockbridge Arrow Rhubarb plants, which I had carefully lifted, divided and replanted in a new bed (well, new to the rhubarb) last year. They did really well in their new location, and we managed to get a really decent crop from them earlier this year, but trouble was brewing...

Rhubarb Stockbridge Arrow stalks
Rhubarb Stockbridge Arrow freshly picked

Our neighbour's raspberries, planted along our shared fence line, were sending up vigorous canes on our side. Initially I tolerated them, scoffing the odd fruit on my side, but as our plot visits became more infrequent, so the raspberries began to take over. First they engulfed the grass path, our main route up and down the plot. Digging is impossible in dry months as the soil is clay, flint, chalk, the raspberries didn't let that stop them, but all we could do was chop back the top growth. I considered napalm for a moment, but...p'raps not!

Then the odd shoot started appearing in the first raised bed where the rhubarb was now setting up home. These canes were easier to pull/dig up as the cultivated soil was a looser structure than the uncultivated paths, but by the time we visited in early May the runners had spread to further beds and more paths. You could barely see the huge rhubarb leaves amongst it all.


Mr PB and I worked together using a border fork and spade to dig round each plant, keeping as much of the rootball as possible. I did a quick clean up of the roots, removing any obvious weeds and raspberry runners that had wormed their way in, and then removed any damaged leaves and stalks. Some crowns were too badly compromised, so we came away with five and left the others. We popped them all in the car and drove straight home.

It was a hot day, and I had absolutely no idea where I was going to put them in the garden, so I filled a huge container with water and popped all the plants in, with the intention of making a decision within a day or two.

Fast forward about a month...

On a shopping spree at Wilkinsons, I found these great planting bags, £2.00 for one tall and one short bag with handles, made from tarpaulin type material with neatly eyeleted drainage holes. They looked perfect as a temporary/semi-permanent home for my rhubarb so I bought three packs of 2...oh and a pack of Seed and Weed gloves, 3 pairs for £1.50...and a load of other things!
Wilkinsons Vegetable Grow Bags perfect rhubarb
These Wilkinsons Vegetable Grow Bags would be perfect for my rhubarb - cute gloves too!


It took a bit of planning to do the actual transplanting of the crowns. First I needed to unbag and harvest my Red Duke of York Potatoes, so that I could reuse the compost. Then I needed to empty the tumble composter which was full of well rotted chicken manure. I put a layer of each into the bottom of the bags, making sure the compost went right out to the edges so there would be no air pockets.

Wilkinsons Vegetable Grow Bags planting
Wilkinsons Vgetable Grow Bags ready for planting

Then I drained the disgustingly smelly water out of the rhubarbs' container and picked over each crown for weeds/raspberry runners again.

Stockbridge Arrow Rhubarb crowns soaking
Stockbridge Arrow Rhubarb crowns after soaking
A month in water had not done the tuberous roots any good at all, some had gone horribly mushy, and the smallest plant wasn't worth keeping.

I cut away as much rotten material as possible, put one crown per planting bag, and continued filling with a mixture of the two composts, leaving a gap of about 5cm before the rim of the bags, to allow room for watering.

Stockbridge Arrow Rhubarb planted Wilkinsons Vegetable Grow Bags
Stockbridge Arrow Rhubarb planted in the Wilkinsons Grow Bags
Hopefully the rot hasn't destroyed the roots completely, only time will tell.
Love PB xx

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Super Cute Animal Pictures

No this isn't "Clickbait", this genuinely is photos of my super cute animals...and hens :)

Today I'm posting the sorts of photos I share daily on Instagram (@pumpkinbecki). They don't necessarily fit my blog posts, so you wouldn't normally see them here, but I wanted to share them with you anyway

...Ooh and don't forget to follow me on my other platforms, direct links are on the "Contact Me and Social Media Platforms" page :)
PB xx
Cute animal pictures photos
Cute pictures of some of my pets

Friday, 14 July 2017

Sad Days are Part of Life - Amended

I try not to write sad posts

There has been a lot of press recently about 'lifestyle' Youtubers and Instagrammers working themselves into the ground night and day, taking hundreds of photos of one set up to capture the perfect 'candid' shot, so they always look amazing, have perfect product placement, perfect lighting etc etc - all at the expense of actually enjoying the experience they are photographing. They are creating the illusion that only good things happen, their photos turn out Instagram-perfect first time and life is #nofilter

It's not the reality, and certainly not the reality of life with pets.
Pumpkin Becki eating Gelato Venice
Mmmmm Pistachio and Chocolate gelato!

We'd been away on a fabulous holiday to Italy, having not been abroad for 17 years we wanted to make the most of it. We ate gelato in Venice, saw wild gentians growing 2950ft up a mountain, looked at Juliet's balcony in Verona, all the time knowing that our pets, plants and home were in the safe hands of our lovely pet sitter.

Other than Daisy poking herself in the eye half an hour before we left the house (eye drops administered and additional notes quickly scribbled on the pet sitters 'to do' list), our pet sitter had a fairly straightforward 10 days. We got regular updates and photos of everyone looking happy, and I think the pet sitter enjoyed herself too.

We had a quiet couple of days at home, playing with the piggies, hamsters and chickens, and mass-murdering a 'bloom' of Red Mite that had taken over the chicken coop, unpacking and catching up on holiday washing. Then
I went back to my day job while Mr PB took and extra day off at home.

At about 4pm my desk phone rang. It was Mr PB.
"Something's wrong with Rosie! I heard a rumpus and found her stretched out on her back with her legs in the air! I managed to get her right way up, she's breathing, but not really moving..."
I was stunned, she'd been absolutely fine, apparently even wheeking for veggies at lunchtime, coming to the front of the cage for a tickle...what was going on?

Initial thoughts were that she'd had a stroke, I got Mr PB to make her comfortable, give her some cucumber to she could keep her fluids up and make sure she was positioned near the fan - it was a rather hot day. I rang the vet, explained what was happening and made an appointment that evening. The receptionist was fantastic, and said if Rosie seemed to be deteriorating I didn't need to wait, I could take her straight in.

Guinea Pigs can survive strokes and make good recoveries, but it needs some extra care. I used Peter Gurney's 'Guinea Pig Health Guide' website  to help Mr PB over the phone until I could get there.

I drove home as quickly as possible, expecting Rosie to be in a pet carrier, ready for the 5 minute journey to the vets.

When I walked through the door, Mr PB looked glum, "I don't think she's okay, she was fitting and now she's very still"

I spoke to her softly, looking for signs of breathing. I couldn't be sure, so opened the cage and stroked her head. Her eye seemed to respond to movement but her ears felt cold. I picked her up carefully, and her little body was completely stiff - she had passed away.

I was devastated, we had rehomed her just six months ago, to give her piggie companionship. We were told she was two, so that made her two and a half. That's so young for a guinea pig. I felt I had failed her and her previous owner, who had put her into our care.

I've just looked back at Rosie's Gothcha post, and realised she was four when we got her, so four and a half when she passed away. That feels a little better, though I wish she had been with us longer, we miss you Rosie Po xx

Rosie Peruvian Guinea Pig loves Tilly English Smooth Tri colour
Rosie loves Tilly
We don't know why this happened. I don't believe there was anything we could have done, her weight was steady, she was eating and drinking normally, and she had settled beautifully into life in a trio.

We desperately miss this little girl, who spent such a short time with us. With joy comes heartbreak, with life comes death, it's just the way the universe works.

Sleep tight Rosie, we love you very much xx

Rosie Peruvian Guinea Pig died July 2017
Sleep tight Rosie xx

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Never Complain About the Weather

It's Raining and I'm a Happy Bunny!

It's so easy to grumble when rain stops play, whether that's actual play, school sports days, outdoor performances, festivals, barbeques or whatever, but crikey the garden needs rain - real rain.

I live in the South East of England, and it's been over two weeks since we've had any precipitation, and even that was just a brief shower.

The grass is parched, the phlox are wilting and the blueberries are shriveled like raisins on the bushes, but the ones that worry me the most are my Carnivorous Plants. They must have a constant supply of water with a very low mineral content, the best source being rain water. I had gathered around 16 litres of rain water in empty drinks bottles stashed in my greenhouse, but it's been so hot and dry that I ran out over the weekend.

The Met Office have been threatening rain and thunderstorms for at least a week, but then they have repeatedly pushed their predictions out, eventually giving up on them altogether as the weather fronts move away.

In desperation I ordered 25 litres of deionised, demineralised water, which is due to arrive today.

Then yesterday evening, this happened...

Rain Potting Shed windows
Rain on the Potting Shed windows

Rain clouds over house
These rain clouds mean business!

The fact that I photographed it shows what a big event it is.

We have a big water butt (*and I cannot lie), but to maximise our rainwater harvest I have also placed four tub trugs round the garden. I can strain and bottle this water specifically for use on the carnivorous plants.

"Umm, so why aren't you using the water from the water butt?" I hear you asking. Well, we drained and moved the butt to a new location earlier this year, and Mr PB decided to fill it from the hosepipe. We've had rain since then, but the mineral content will still be too high to safely water the carnivorous plants with.
"But the water has been sitting around for ages, it'll be fine by now. That's all we do to age water before we put it in our fish tank". Unfortunately it doesn't work like that for carnivorous plants. It's the mineral content that is the problem. Minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium Chloride, Sulphate, Nitrate and Bicarbonate are held in suspension, simply 'aging' the water doesn't remove the minerals.

If you live in a low rainfall area - and let's face it, climate change means this will become more of a problem not less, you could buy demineralised water to keep in reserve for emergencies, or invest in a reverse osmosis water filtration system, usually used by people who keep fish and need high volumes of filtered water for tank water changes. Similarly if you are unable to collect rainwater (maybe you live in a flat/apartment), these really are your only options for watering your carnivorous plants.


Demineralised water and deionised water (aka DI) are produced in different ways, but have very similar levels of purity, they are not to be confused with distilled (boiled) water which should be avoided as the boiling process can actually concentrate the mineral content rather than reducing it. You need to look for water with a mineral content of less than 50 parts per million (50ppm). Double check what you are buying before you buy it, some people mistakenly used the term DI when they are selling distilled water...all three methods do begin with a 'D' I suppose!

Well it rained all evening, overnight and well into the morning, giving me around 45mm in each tub trug...it's not much, but it all helps.
Pumpkin Becki

*Funny pop culture reference

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Dragonfli Bumble Bee Beepol and 2017 Villa - unboxing and review

The Dragonfli Ltd Beepol and Villa

I wrote a review of the first Dragonfli Beepol and Villa back in 2011, and I really wanted to share my thoughts of the new 2017 Beepol Hive and Villa with you.

This will be our fourth Dragonfli Beepol. This year the Villa (the pretty wooden hive that the Beepol goes in) and the Beepol itself have been thoroughly redesigned, taking on feedback from customer experience, especially with regards to pest control and colony strength.

Bumble bees are at the mercy of many enemies, man being one, destruction of habitats, mono-culture farming practices, poor weather, pesticides,Varroa mite and Wax Moth. A large, strong, healthy colony is better at surviving these perils than a weak, small one.

The delightful thing about being able to keep and observe Bumble Bees is gaining an insight into their life, beginning right from the moment they arrive.

Unboxing the Dragonfli Beepol and Villa

Dragonfli Bumble bee Beepol Villa arrives two boxes
Our Dragonfli delivery arrives!
MrPB lifts Dragonfli Bumble bee Villa out packaging
MrPB lifts the Dragonfli Villa out of it's packaging.
Dragonfli Bumble bee Beepol colony outer box
The Bumble bee Beepol is revealed
Inside the box marked LIVE BEES is a white cardboard box (above), containing the plastic Beepol hive, with the colony already thriving inside. When you lift the hive out, the bees will be active and buzzing noisily. They are responding to the light and movement.

Dragonfli Bumble bee Beepol hive
The colony are contained in the Beepol Hive
Under the Hive is the new liquid feed chamber. Leaving the chamber in the white cardboard box, the cap is removed from the sponge (cylindrical creamy coloured wet thing, top centre of the chamber - see photo below) and the Beepol is clipped on top of it with the sponge poking up through the hole into the Beepol.

Previous Beepols have not come with a feeder, but should the weather be inclement after release, making it difficult for the bees to forage, this liquid feed will serve as a backup supply to keep the colony strong.

new Dragonfli Beepol liquid feed chamber
The new Dragonfli Beepol liquid feed chamber
The Beepol is then placed inside the wooden Villa. The white cardboard box should touch the back wall of the Villa, but there will be gaps on each side, and a large one at the front. The bees will be able to negotiate this gap when they leave the Beepol entrance (temporarily sealed with a yellow sliding door), to exit the villa by the wide open slot machined in the wooden Villa.

Dragonfli Bumble bee Beepol placed inside Villa
The Beepol is placed inside the Villa
Dragonfli Bumble bee colony look fit well good nest built
Sneaky peek at the Bumble bee colony, looking fit and well with a good quantity of nest built
We sited the Hive under a Fatsia japonica, with the entrance facing east. The garden is filled with excellent pollen and nectar sources, though this doesn't seem to matter, as the bees always fly off eastwards towards the North Downs.

Dragonfli Bumble bee Villa sited under Fatsia japonica raised flower bed
The Dragonfli Villa located in a raised flower bed
Within moments of opening the sliding yellow door we saw the first Bumble bee leave the hive. NB, the Beepol has been pulled forward in the Villa to allow MrPB to open the sliding door and release the bees. It was pushed back into position after this photo was taken.

first Bumble bee come out Dragonfli Beepol
The first bee!
We only had to wait 20 minutes for the first bee to return to the hive, with its pollen sacks bulging. That's the fastest yet!

We're thoroughly enjoying watching the comings and goings of our new furry friends.

Dragonfli Beepol Maintenance

Dragonfli treat every Beepol and Villa against Wax Moth before it leaves them, and while it is advisable to leave the colony as undisturbed as possible once it arrives, you will need to respray the whole set up with Wax Moth repellent every 3-4 weeks from date of arrival to the end of the colony's life (end of July-ish). Failure to do this could result in the Wax Moth larvae eating all the Bumble bee larvae, and leading to the total devastation of the colony. Signs to look for are cobweb like threads inside the Villa and Hive, and the appearance of greyish brown larvae. These larvae are capable of burrowing into the wood of the Hive, you may see these tunnels when you clear out the Villa at the end of the season.

Dragonfli Beepol and Villa Review

The online ordering process with Dragonfli is very simple, and if you have any queries, the customer service is excellent.

Delivery is by courier, on a specified day. Remember these are live creatures, so you need to be on hand to take delivery.

The packaging is really sturdy and beautifully sized for the contents. there is no excess space, or need for padding, and the bees have good ventilation round them.

The Beepol hive is a lovely bit of design engineering, balancing ventilation and protection needs very carefully.

The Villa is robust pine wood with filtered vents at the back, a wide entrance with landing platform, and this year a felted roof. Now I know from chicken-keeping experience that the space between roofing felt and the roof itself can provide a perfect place for pests to set up home. We will need to see if this is the case with Bumble bees.

Not only would I highly recommend Dragonfli as a company, which we have personally used since 2011, I would also highly recommend giving a Bumble bee colony a home in your garden or on your roof terrace. The hive takes up only a small space, and the colony size is a fraction of a honey bee colony, so you won't ever be surrounded by a swarm, so long as you respect them and don't bang the hive. They are fascinating, educational, docile and absolutely vital for pollination - and, lets face it, for the continuation of life as we know it on Earth.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Pet Owners Have to Take the Bad with the Good

Always be Vigilant with your Pets Health

When you've got 13 pets in your life, there are bound to be health issues cropping up from time to time. For ages there'll be nothing, then suddenly everyone needs extra attention.

As we go into the month of May, here are some of the things going on chez Pumpkin Becki.


Felicity has been dreadfully broody, so she hasn't been taking care of herself with regular dust baths, eating, drinking, having grit, so it's been up to us to make sure she's getting out of the coop to eat drink and poop, inspecting her (and the others) for lice, treating with a spot-on type ivermectin (prescribed by our vets) if necessary, plus dusting her manually with diatomaceous earth. This is good, because you pick up each bird and can also get a sense of it's weight and overall condition. It's also important to thoroughly clean the coop with a red mite treatment, as warmer weather and hot. broody hens can cause a population explosion before you know it!

Hetty Orpington Hen
Hetty is such a sweet girl

Hetty is a natural midwife, when someone goes inside the coop to lay, she sits with them until they're done. With Felicity broody, Hetty has also not been looking after herself, but we thought she was midwifing and hadn't realised how bad she was until she began holding her tail was down.

Picking her up you could feel she was lighter than before, she had a few lice too but not in significant numbers. she got a spot-on treatment and a dusting. Then she pooped...well it was more of a squirt than a poop! Bright green bits in a watery white splat. This was NOT NORMAL! The ivermectin should clear up external and internal parasites including most worms, but not all. We'd been dosing the layers pellets with Flubenvet, but with Felicity and Hetty not eating properly, they probably weren't getting their proper dosage. Felicity has now come out of her broody phase and is back to her old fabulous self, but Hetty is suffering. We are now hand feeding her a mixture of growers and layers pellets, plus Verm-X Poultry Zest, softened in apple cider vinegar and water, with a sprinkling of corn for added appeal. The cider vinegar is said to be beneficial to poultry, reducing bacterial infection, and acting as a wormer and digestion aid by reducing the pH level in the chicken's digestive system.

Hetty Orpington Hen being handfed tempting mixture
Hetty being handfed a tempting, mushy mixture
On day one Hetty was silent and disinterested, she had to be encouraged to keep lifting her head up as we carefully syringe fed her. When we put her back on the ground she was very unbalanced and though she now had fluids and food in her we were desperately concerned.

On day two she allowed us to syringe feed her a little, but as I re-mixed the mashy concoction, she started pecking it off the spoon! She took little but often and we were really pleased with how much she managed to consume. We fed her three times over the day and she began standing up for longer and making her sweet little cooing sound again.

On day three she seemed a little brighter still, she had three feeds of her special concoction again, was more active in the run, pecking for her evening corn with the others, but being very submissive to them, and her droppings were definite squirts still.

Day four (today), she only ate a little of her mush this morning, but was keen to drink when she was put back in the run, and she put up a bit more of a struggle to be caught - always a good sign. By lunchtime she was coming out of the run on her own to peck for some scratch treats and beginning to stand up for herself again. Hopefully we've turned the corner, but we still need her poops to improve.

Hetty Orpington Hen being handfed
Action Shot: Omm nom nom nom


Fingers crossed, all is quiet on the hamster front.

Pip Roborovski Hamster awesome whiskers
Pip the Roborovski Hamster has awesome whiskers

Guinea Pigs

Rosie developed a bald patch on her rump last week. I suspect it's lice related, as she is quite reluctant to be touched near it. Alternatively she may be suffering from barbering at the hands (or teeth) of Phoebe or Tilly.

Rosie's bald patch

Barbering is where a guinea pig's hair is pulled out/ chewed off by itself or a cage mate. It shouldn't be treated lightly, and you must establish whether the hair loss is self inflicted or not. If self inflicted it could be the sign of a skin infection or infestation, and that must be dealt with. As with the chickens, it's the right time of year for a population explosion of creepy crawlies, so you must be vigilant for signs such as excessive hair loss, clumps of hair falling out with skin attached, scurf and bald patches. You may even see the lice wiggling around near the skin. they look like tiny fawn-brown...insects (sorry, I gave up trying to find a better description!).

If Phoebe or Tilly are barbering Rosie, it may be because she has long hair that looks a little hay-like (sorry Rosie, I'm not suggesting your hair looks like straw, honest!). If that's the case I may have to cut it shorter, but the patch is very localised, my instinct says it's lice.

I'm treating Rosie in several ways; she, Tilly and Phoebe have all had a spot-on treatment of ivermectin, then about five days later Rosie had a Gorgeous Guineas CocoNeem Melt treatment and a lather, rinse, repeat in Gorgeous Guineas Lice 'n' Easy shampoo. She is due for a follow-up bath one week later.

Rosie also has ongoing earwax issues. I've never known anything like it! Cotton wool buds don't really remove it, it needs emulsifying with something first and then wiping off. The internet suggests a mineral oil, but I also emailed Chrissie at Gorgeous Guineas to see if she has anything in her range to suggest. She doesn't have anything specific, but recommended an off the shelf product Otodex drops, or repeat applications of her CocoNeem Melt over three days.

Rosie is bright in every other respect, eating and drinking well, so if I don't see any improvement, including hair regrowth after all that, she will be going to the vets.

The Moral of this story is:

Always be vigilant with your pets, their health and well-being is your responsibility and yours alone. Changes happen quickly, particularly with 'prey' animals, who tend to hide their symptoms until the very end. Quick action on your part can reduce the chances of long term problems or fatality.

If you've experienced any of this issues too, do let me know in the comments.
Pumpkin Becki xx

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Stoneacre National Trust House and Garden Visit

Several years ago at a party, someone mentioned they had visited a charming National Trust property called Stoneacre not far from our village. Despite my extensive childhood visits to National Trust properties, I'd never heard of it, so looked it up online. The NT website shows a stunning Medieval Hall House with garden, it's described as small, and being tenanted is only open on Saturdays and Bank Holiday Mondays between April and the end of September.

What with one thing and another, it's been a long time since Mr PB and I have been out for a proper jaunt, and this May Bank Holiday weekend we took the opportunity to drive over to Stoneacre, in the village of Otham, near Maidstone, Kent, an absolutely beautiful area of the county.

The journey to Stoneacre

Otham is off Junction 8 of the M20 motorway,  then travelling along the A20 Ashford Road towards Bearsted and Maidstone. The turning (Otham Lane) is marked with a brown tourist sign for Stoneacre.
Otham Lane becomes Green Hill and both are very narrow and twisty. There are lots of passing places, but oncoming traffic comes up on you very quickly, so do take care.
Turn left down Stoneacre Lane. Again this is narrow and twisty, but also drops very steeply. Concentrating too hard on oncoming traffic and the ford at the bottom of the hill, I completely missed the NT car park sign tucked in the hedge on the right hand side**

The car park is a small field below the house and gardens, but you have to walk back to the road and turn right out of the gate, over the wooden bridge crossing the ford, and on up the steep hill. There is no footpath.
There are disabled car parking spaces in a tiny stable yard immediately opposite the black iron gates of the house, but probably only fits 2 or 3 very well parked cars.

I had to just catch my breath for a moment before drawing level with the gates, only to have it taken away again by...

Stoneacre house

Stoneacre National Trust property garden front facade
The front facade of Stoneacre NT
I'm a huge fan of half timbered, Medieval/Tudor buildings and this one is really special. This is the view from the iron gates on the roadside, so anyone could enjoy this view on any day.

Walk down the path to the archway, turn right, MIND THE STEP! and you are inside the building where you pay your entrance fee. Compared to other NT properties, entry to Stoneacre's house and gardens is very reasonable, and in keeping with the size of the property. When we visited it was £5.50 per adult and £2.60 per child (inc optional gift aid, so a little less without).

Most of the house is kept private for the tenants, but visitors can access the main hall, parlour, ante-room, library (tea room), the spiral staircase and tower (a 1920's addition), plus a bedroom (see 1st floor windows in the front gable, on far left of photo above).

Once you've paid you can either cross through to the other wing of the house, or go out into the garden. The whole house has undergone a lot of modification and restoration during its lifetime, mostly during the 1920's when a building historian and restorer bought it, and began removing the smooth plaster covering all the frame timbers, inside and out - can you imagine! He also added the little stair tower, spiral staircase, fireplaces and more. He bought and demolished a similarly aged building in Chiddingstone, and used much of it for the renovations on Stoneacre, including the oak spiral staircase. This feels like a very mercenary, almost vandalistic (I think I made that word up!) way of 'restoring' a house, but it's almost a century too late to cry over spilt milk. Much of the decorative paneling, the paintings and furniture appears to be from other properties as well, bought in by Aymer Vallance during his 1920's restoration. Whilst it all looks sympathetic to the house, some of it doesn't quite look like it belongs there, more like stage props.
Stoneacre NT property garden rear courtyard
The rear courtyard with the 1920's brick built stair tower, contrasting the mellow half timber of the original medieval hall.

Stoneacre garden

We may not have picked a perfect time of year to see the garden, but you could see how it was gently easing itself from early to late Spring. The first flush of tulips and hellebores were making way for late season tulips, aqueligia and euphorbia.

Hellebores tulips and aqueligia
Hellebores, tulips and aqueligia

Some flower beds were a subtle blend of deep purples, mauves and pinks, but other beds, such as those at the front of the property, were an exuberant riot of colour, a precursor to the blousier summer planting inspired by Great Dixter and Christopher Lloyd. The garden planting of tenanted National Trust properties is in the hands of the tenant. Physical structures,trees or important plants must remain, but herbaceous plants, bulbs and annuals are bought, paid for and tended by the tenants, so the garden is free to evolve and develop with time .

A beautiful collection of trees provided a canopy over much of the garden, the polished red bark of the Prunus serrula was a definite highlight, as was the stunning white-blossomed tree along the front wall of the garden with a welcoming bench underneath. Sadly I can't remember what the tree was called, even though the lovely volunteer gardener did tell me. He was a delight to talk to, and clearly relished being able to garden in this amazing place.

Prunus serrula tulips tower house
Prunus serrula forms a canopy over purple and white tulips at the tower end of the house.
In contrast to the vibrant Spring flowers was the lush Kelly Green growth of the Shuttlecock ferns, planted in a huge swathe next to a moss-clad stone wall.
Shuttlecock ferns stone wall
Shuttlecock Ferns
The scent of this Chocolate Vine (Akebia quinata) in full flower over an archway, was rich but not overbearing.

Stoneacre Chocolate Vine Akebia quinata
Akebia quinata aka Chocolate Vine
The house is never out of view as you wander round the many twisting garden paths, and your eye is always drawn back to it's mellow solidity.

Stoneacre viewed woodland path
Stoneacre Hall House viewed from a high woodland path
Stoneacre Wealden Hall House Garden
Stoneacre is a collection of additions on a classic Wealden Hall House

I am almost guaranteed to find a small fluffy creature wherever I go, and Stoneacre was no exception.
This little chap must belong to the tenants but is clearly very used to strangers in his garden.

Tenants Stoneacre sweet little dog
Cute dog! :)

Stoneacre accessibility

Unfortunately there are quite a few areas of the house and garden that can't be accessed by wheelchair, but it is still possible to enjoy some of it.

Stoneacre visit in summary

I thought Stoneacre was beautiful, and very well worth the visit. It is on the smaller side, so 2-3 hours is more than enough time to look round everything thoroughly, as well as speak to the guides and gardeners.
You don't need walking boots, as everything is very close by, but I wouldn't recommend wearing heels either.
The car park is a field in the bottom of a valley, sited next to a pond and stream, so probably gets rather soft in wet weather.
Would I go back? Probably not to see inside the house, but I'd definitely like to go back and see the garden at other times of year.

Have you been to Stoneacre? Let me know in the comments.
Pumpkin Becki xx

**If you should miss the turning for the car park like I did, you will drive over the ford at the bottom of the hill, follow the road sharply right and upwards again. A few moments later you might glimpse the black iron gates of Stoneacre, set into a stone wall which runs along the right of the roadside, with a tiny yard of four stables opposite (Disabled parking). Immediately beyond these is a farm yard, with the road continuing through it. The road narrows to single file and becomes a horrible, bumpy, rutted, stone-laden dirt track. This track is soul and car destroying, but does eventually bring you on to Honey Lane.
Clearly I do not recommend contact with this section of 'road', so if you overshoot the car park, drive up to the farmyard, turn your vehicle round in it, and try again.
I have emailed the National Trust asking them to review the car park signage for the sanity of their visitors and the farmer, but I am yet to hear from them. Personally I did not find that a disagreement with a stressed out MrPB was conducive to an enjoyable visit to this rather lovely property.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

We're on Instagram too!

I've added another string to my social media bow!


I'm loving the quick updates I can do, sharing photos with you all as they happen.
I'm using a little selection of hashtags on my posts, including (but not limited to ;) :

Cookie Syrian hamster Instagram
Cookie is excited about Instagram x

and most importantly... #pumpkinbecki - oh yeah! My own hashtag :)

Make sure you follow us on Instagram too @pumpkinbecki
Pumpkin Becki xx

Monday, 24 April 2017

Triffid Nurseries Carnivorous Plants Unboxing and Review

There's something you don't know about me, I like to keep...

Carnivorous Plants

In the beginning there were Venus Fly Traps

I've owned carnivorous plants (on and off) since my teens, I seem to remember collecting margarine lids and sending them off for my first Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula).

It was tiny with three or four softly blushing traps. I wasn't great with it. I gave it tap water - very infrequently. I would try to make the traps close by poking it, try feeding it dead flies, you know how it is. Needless to say, the poor thing died very quickly - probably from tormented exhaustion!

Then there were Sundews

Later I got a gorgeous Sundew (Drosera), which was fantastic at catching fungus gnats, and other teeny tiny flies. The glistening, sticky 'dew' fascinated me, as did the unfurling leaves and graceful flower heads. My mother was very enthusiastic about keeping it on the kitchen windowsill.

I stuck with sundews over the years, though I thought I wasn't very successful with them. Now I realise they could just have been in their dormant phase...why didn't you tell me the go dormant?!

When we got the greenhouse I decided I wanted to step up my game a bit.

And then there were Pitcher Plants

Ohh yeah!
I currently have two Pitcher Plants...a tall one and a short one. The tall one is Sarracenia farnhamii, and the short one doesn't say. I bought them from a garden centre, so they didn't have very detailed labels. But what I do know is that they've come through two winters in the greenhouse, and they are throwing up new pitchers as I type.

Carnivorous plants Sarracenia Pitcher Plants
Carnivorous Pitcher Plants, Sarracenia var unknown
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
When I cut back the dead pitchers, I split a few open along their length, and noticed they'd been very successful hunters, trapping and digesting huge blue bottles and wasps among other things!

Carnivorous plants Pitcher Plants Sarracenia farnhamii
Carnivorous Pitcher Plants, Sarracenia farnhamii
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
I also have a Cape Sundew Dorsera capensis alba...the big question is - Is it dead or just dormant? I guess I'll have to wait and see...

Carnivorous Plants Sundew Drosera capensis alba
Carnivorous Plants, Sundew Drosera capensis alba
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Buying from a Specialist Carnivorous Plant Nursery

Inspired by the new growth on my Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia), I decided to expand my collection. I looked around online, and settled on Triffid Nurseries, a UK based carnivorous plant specialist. Their website was easy to navigate, had good photographs and product descriptions, and the ordering process was very easy.

Please note, I paid for everything except for a free plant which was an offer on the website, and a packet of seeds. These gifts were genuinely available to all customers at time of ordering, I did not announce I was a blogger, or writing a review until after my order had despatched.

 I ordered:

Plants (supplied bare root)


  • Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea x Open Pollinated
  • Drosera binata 'T' form 


  • A bag of multipurpose Carnivorous Plant Compost (UK)

I was also really tempted by the pygmy sundews, they're soooo cute! but I didn't want to get too carried away.

The delivery charge is £8.95, which at the time felt like quite a lot for bare root plants and some seed (the compost price already includes P&P), but the plant and seed prices were very competitive compared to garden centres, where you 're lucky if the labels tells you what varieties you're buying, plus the individual plant packaging is so intricate and careful, I soon realised the charge was totally justified

I picked varieties described as easy and/or hardy on the website, but they also ask you to give a few substitutes, just in case what you've chosen is unavailable. I just said that I was a 'mildly experienced owner of carnivorous plants, keeping them in an unheated greenhouse year round' so alternatives need to be 'hardy and easy to grow'.

I placed my order via the website on Wednesday 12th April. Normally their plants are selected and packed on the Monday after your order is placed, but as this Monday was a Bank Holiday, I fully expected to have to wait an extra week, which was completely fine with me. They also warn you that they do not send out order confirmation emails, so don't get anxious when you don't hear anything.

I did send them a message via their website, to see if they could advise me what the chances were of my sundew coming back to life. Not only did they confirm shipment of my order (which was sooner than I expected, and I hadn't directly asked about), but Andy also gently broke it to me that poor old 'Alba' was very probably dead *sadface* It apparently should have lots of new leaves by now. I'll do a post mortem once I have the new compost...maybe the roots will be clinging to life...maybe.

Triffid Nurseries Haul, Unboxing and Review

My parcel arrived by courier on Friday 21st April.
The box was an appropriate size and strength for the contents, and the filler was shedded paper, which I can recycle - yay!!

In the top of the box was a personalised letter from Andy and Alison of Triffid Nurseries, and clipped to the top was a ziplock bag with my two packets of seed and an additional free packet. The website stated 10 or 20 seeds of each, but there were definitely more than that in each packet. There wasn't a packing note though, and as you don't get an order confirmation, I'd kinda forgotten what I'd actually ordered (oops).
Triffid Nurseries Carnivorous Plants unboxing letter
A personalised letter, with the seeds stapled to the front in a ziplock bag
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
Triffid Nurseries Carnivorous Plants unboxing, letter
Opening the box from Triffid Nurseries
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Each plant was beautifully and creatively packed to protect as much of the leaf and dew as possible. The letter said the plants were just coming out of dormancy, but I think they were a bit further along than that, with lots of fully formed leaves. Each came wrapped in soaking wet paper towel (remember they are bog plants), and with a proper plastic plant label, so it was easy to identify each plant. I was really pleased with them all. Below are photos of every plant I bought and how it looked on arrival
Triffid Nurseries Carnivorous Plants unboxing Drosera capensis
Two lovely Drosera capensis plants
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
Triffid Nurseries Carnivorous Plants unboxing Drosera hybrida filiformis intermedia
This pot should be Drosera hybrida filiformis x intermedia but look at the tiny spatulata (my guess) round the edge - so adorable!
Phot by Pumpkin Becki
Triffid Nurseries Carnivorous Plants unboxing Drosera spatulata
Drosera spatulata
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Triffid Nurseries Carnivorous Plants unboxing Drosera filiformis ssp filiformis
My freebie! Drosera filiformis ssp filiformis
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
The Pumpkin Becki Award for Most Ingenious Packaging goes to Triffid Nurseries
The Pumpkin Becki Award for Most Ingenious Packaging - I love the sticky tape roll to give extra height!
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
Carnivorous Plant seeds Drosera binata T Form Drosera binata Otaki Forks NZ Sarracenia purpurea ssp purpurea
All the seeds are sown, Drosera binata T-Form, Drosera binata 'Otaki Forks NZ' and Sarracenia purpurea ssp purpurea
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
 And finally...
'Alba' made it through after all!! Yay!!! I started pulling away the rosettes of dead leaves and discovered all this lovely growth. I am so bloomin' happy :D

Carnivorous Plant Drosera capensis alba emerges from dormancy
Drosera capensis alba emerges from dormancy at long last
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
And when I unpotted it to upgrade it to a bigger one, I discovered strong shoots coming from the root ball as well!
Shoot root ball Drosera capensis alba
The arrow points to a shoot coming off the root ball on Drosera capensis alba
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Huge thank yous to Andy and Alison at Triffid Nurseries for sending me such fantastic quality plants, seeds and compost, and providing additional support via email. I would highly recommend buying from them, and I'm sure I'll be ordering again soon...I'm still hankering after the pygmy sundews afterall!

Let me know if you're interested in Carnivorous Plants in the comments,
Pumpkin Becki