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