Wednesday, 30 March 2011

My New Swedish Garden Assistant

Allow me to introduce Johanna, my new Hot Composter from Sweden.

Not tall blonde and willowy, but rather short dumpy and green, the Green Johanna is my new compost bin. She represents the latest enclosed, and therefore rat proof, composting system. Rat proof is quite important to me as I live near the Cotswold water park it doesn't take much to encourage Mr and Mrs Ratty and their many offspring to make a holiday home in the compost heap.   I do quite a bit of composting, indeed I am a trained, card carrying Compost Ambassador for the local council, and find the subject fascinating, (I know, I never thought I'd hear myself say that either).

 As a friend of mine said the other day, rats are the elephant in the room in composting circles. Everyone is being encourged these days to compost their household waste, but no one likes to mention the R word in polite society  in case it might put newcomers  off. Which of course it would. Who wants to let their children play in the garden which is also home to a nest of rats? Obviously, no one. I've heard no end of ways you are supposed to "discourage" rats from your compost - kicking the bin everytime you walk past is the favourite - I heard it on Gardeners Question Time again recently. Take it from me it's a waste of time. Not putting cooked food waste in the compost is another, - but I've even had rats in compost made entirely from garden waste, it's such a warm cosy place to make a nest.  

And lest people think I'm being excessive about it, remember that rats carry disease. People still die, albeit not in large numbers any more, from Weil's Disease, which is a kind of leptospirosis caught from contact with animal, notably rats', urine. And so I have tended to be wary of encouraging people to have garden compost containers other than enclosed wormeries,  until now.

The Green Johanna could be the answer. I've had her for a few weeks now and she's doing a good job. She arrives in bits, and is quite simple to put together. The main difference is that the bottom is not open to the ground as most compost containers are, but has small holes in it, to allow for the entry of worms, which are so necessary to the composting process, but are too small for rats to gain entry. The lid screws on quite firmly and the access doors at the bottom fit quite snugly and can even be screwed down for extra rat proofing. And because it's enclosed you can put all your household waste , including meat, fish and bones into it quite safely. You can even buy a winter jacket for Johanna so that she works faster in the cold weather.

Well that's the good news, the bad news is that price -see  the north american site and even the European one . But since good old Wiltshire council are offering them at a subsidised price of £24, I thought it worth a try, and so far I'm quite glad I did. If you live in the UK you may find your local council running a similar scheme. 

 It occured to me though, as I was assembling Johanna, that I could probably achieve a similar kind of enclosed decomposition in one of these second hand plastic drums that I bought  last year to use as water butts. If I just drilled some holes in the bottom? Might give that a try too.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Robincam off air

Sorry to everyone who's tried to tune into Robincam and found it offline or not working. I don't know why it won't work anymore, I'm trying to fix it, but frankly I'm losing the will to live  there's not all that much to see at the moment. I will upload videos as soon as there's any hatch activity if I can't get the live feed to work. This computer stuff takes us far too much valuable garden  time especially at this time of year. Must get my tomato seeds sown or I'll have no crop this year!

Video from this morning, still sitting here.........

Friday, 25 March 2011

Robin Cam Goes Live

I think I've managed to work out how to broadcast the bird box camera live to the blog. Amazing!  I don't know how feasible it will be to have this on all the time, but I'll see how it goes. The broadband service is terrible where I live, so I may have to switch it off, for bandwidth reasons, but I thought you might like to have a look at how Mrs Robin's getting on.

The box should be at the top of the page on the right hand side.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A Plague On Both Your Houses

Mr Wilkinson and I take our dose of culture once or twice a year at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon.  Stratford's only about an hour or so's drive from here, so we've  taken advantage of the close proximity for all the years we've lived here. Most of the productions we've seen have been excellent, as you would expect. Though some, to paraphrase Orwell, are more excellent than others. Mr Wilkinson has been known to nod off, and I've found myself drifting away during some of the less exciting moments.

This was the first production we'd been to in the new RSC theatre which has been undergoing refurbishment for what seems like aeons, and we had got quite used to going to the other place, down the road a bit. So it was nice to get back into the proper theatre, though I'm a bit confused as to what took so long and cost so many gazillions of pounds. Anyway, not to carp, it's all very nice.

But yesterday's visit to see Romeo and Juliet, surely the play everyone thinks they know inside out, was quite stunning. Whether you've seen a million Shakespeare productions, or never seen one at all I would thouroughly recommend it. It's very much an all action production, with fire, noise, explosions and violence aplenty, enough to keep the least Shakespeare oriented teenager transfixed, and great comedic elements supplied mostly by the nurse, played brilliantly by Noma Dumezwen, and most especially by the hilarious and somewhat pornographic Mercutio played with a strong Northern Irish accent by Jonjo O'Neill (that's the actor not the race horse trainer). I loved it.

This is the trailer, just to give you an idea.
If you get a chance to go, don't miss it, you'll love it too.

Birdbox update

I've invested in some of this for my new garden residents
Who knew you could get gourmet food for robins? Mr Wilkinson is complaining that they get better food than he does. (I'm on a diet, and when I'm on a diet, he's on a diet)

 I don't know how many eggs robins normally lay, but as you can see she is proceeding apace. But then why wouldn't she - comfortable modern house in a good area, and  more worms and peanuts than you can shake a stick at, so no worries about the kids going hungry.

She only visits the nest once a day though at the moment. She's there in the mornings when she lays an egg, and then she's off until the next day. So we will have to see when she thinks she has enough eggs to start sitting. I'm finding all this fascinating, and can't wait to check in the mornings to see what's happening. So exciting.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Marital Bliss and Harmony

Mr Wilkinson and I inhabit for the most part, a pink fluffy cloud of matrimonial bliss and harmony, but occasionally something comes up on which we hold, lets say, a divergence of views. One such is the matter of garden Edges. Not Hedges, edges. 

This is how the garden looks when the grass is mown, the border weeded and the edges cut..

This is how it looks before..

So there is no doubt that cutting a nice defined edge really shows off the border, and the lawn. The point of contention is whether the "edge" is in fact the edge of the lawn (and therefore the responsibility of the Lawn Cutting Operative - the said Mr Wilkinson)  or whether it's the edge of the border and consequently the job of the Border Patrol - me. There is no doubt in my mind that even our rather weedy old  lawn is enhanced by the clear definition of the edge, but Mr Wilkinson is adamant. Doing the edges would entail him descending from the mower and wielding a tool, not within his remit. So in the end, for the sake of marital harmony I do the edges, and it does make all the difference, don't you agree?

Sunday, 20 March 2011

First Bird Box Movie

Just a quick post today, to test out my first birdbox movie. Go on, press play -

I know, I apologize that although it's called a movie, there isn't actually any movement in it. I was thrilled last week when a pair of robins started building a nest in my camera bird box. And for the last few days Mrs Robin (or possibly Mr and Mrs Robin, since I can't tell them apart) has been in and out of the nest all week adjusting the grass and moss to her satisfaction, and has laid the first egg this morning, since when she appears to have cleared off. Temporarily, I hope. Probably stocking up on worms and peanuts, for the forthcoming brooding scenario, during which she'll get precious little of anything I imagine.

 If the scheme is the same as it is with chickens, and I imagine this applies to all birds, she first makes the nest, but doesn't sit on the eggs until she has laid as many as she considers make up a decent family, so we should see one extra egg a day until she decides to sit. This is obviously so that all the eggs hatch at more or less the same time.

I haven't worked out how to stream live video to the blog yet or indeed if this is even feasible, so this is just a quick test video to see how it looks. There doesn't appear to be any sound either I notice. I will continue to update as things proceed. I hope this is viewable to everyone, please let me know if it isn't.

Hopefully I'll have more action in my later movies, this is after all, my directorial debut.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A Small Scale Hatchery

As my stock of garden poultry was somewhat depleted last year (don't mention the fox) I thought I would have a go at raising some of my own chicks this year. I've done this before and it's always an exciting thing to do, although it can be disappointing and a bit sad if all does not go well. I would very much prefer to use the services of a broody hen, who would happily sit on the eggs for three weeks, and then look after the chicks until they were big enough to manage on their own, but since I don't have one, the incubator is the next best thing.
Cleanliness is definitely next to godliness with incubators - it's amazing to me that hens produce healthy hearty broods of chicks in general farmyardy unsanitariness, whereas if you tried to replicate that in an incubator you would almost certainly fail dismally. Everything has to be sanitized properly before you start. I use Brinsea Incubator disinfectant specially made for the purpose, and I don't recommend using anything else.  Switch the incubator on at least a day before you need it, so that it can get up to an even temperature. My Brinsea Octagon has a rocking cradle integrated into it, which is not to rock the embyos to sleep or anything, but to ensure that the eggs are turned regularly which is essential to their development. (Another job the broody hen does on her own).

So that's the incubator. Now you need some eggs. Lots of people who keep the older breeds of chicken will sell hatching eggs in the spring. Unless you're seriously into breeding you probably won't want to keep your own cockerel so it's easier to buy fertile eggs when you want them. Ebay is a good place to look and I've had some good eggs via ebay in the past.

This time I was looking for some good birds that would provide me with a supply of lovely brown eggs, and possibly the odd cockerel for the pot, and having looked on the Over the Gate country forum, I found a nice lady called Sue who keeps a lovely strain of English Cuckoo Marans, (as opposed to the French Marans, which can be discerned by their tendency to have hairy legs. Well they're feathery legs really but who can resist a joke about the french). If the eggs are clean, and these were, you can put them straight into the incubator. If they arrive in the post, as mine did, you need to allow them to rest in a cool, but not cold room for 24 hours, before setting them. Some people like to dip them in the sanitizer, and some people don't. I dipped mine breifly and dried them carefully before setting them in the incubator
All that I have to do now is to check on the eggs each day, to see that the temperature and humidity levels are correct, and keep my fingers crossed for three weeks time when there should be a patter of tiny feet, or a tapping of tiny beaks, or something. I've had failures before though with the incubator,and I would feel a lot more confident with a broody, so I'm just keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best.

Thanks for everyone who wished us well for the Community Garden Open Day. I'm pleased to say it went very well and we are working towards getting the project launched in the coming months. Updates to follow. 

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Just The Two Of Us

I don't want to bore everyone with local politics, but people who know me know that I've tried before to set up a local food group/allotment/gardening group in my village, with, it has to be said, less than 100% success. However, I'm very pleased to say that there has been a revival of interest locally so a couple of us are organising an Open Morning this Saturday in the village hall in Latton. The village is lucky that the landowner, the Co-operative Group, have offered the use of some of their land in the middle of the village for community use, and if we can just get enough support, I'm hoping we can maybe set up a Community Orchard, which once planted will be low maintenance, and possibly other things, like a seating area, and a couple of veg growing beds, not to mention things like composting, a wildlife area beekeeping, childrens growing area, preserving, and competitions, which could all follow on from this.

But Latton is a tiny village, and most people who live here commute to other places to work. And they often can't spare much time to devote to projects like this, - I'm hoping on Saturday we'll be able to persuade them otherwise. This is the field we may be able to use a bit of..

We have to make a reasonable compromise between what everyone wants including of course the landowners, who have said they don't really want to see an untidy allotment style arrangement with it's attendant sheds and plastic bins and so on, (the site is in the middle of the village) but something more attractive to the eye, and I think an orchard, and a seating area with a few shrubs, would be a great start. And before you allotment holders all start to take umbrage, let me say that I love looking round allotments and rarely if ever find them an eyesore, but I have to bow to other views here!

The Parish council are fully in support of the idea, and I've had loads of informative stuff sent to me by all kinds of organisations like Garden Organic, and Wiltshire Wildlife, and the Federation of City Farms and Gardens, to use at the open morning. But we will need funds the get the thing off the ground which means someone to organize paperwork/applications for funding/committee work etc and look after the money. Plus people to dig holes in the ground, and do all sorts of practical stuff. So our current "committee" which is in fact just me and Anne, will have to be expanded quite a bit if things are to proceed.

So I'm giving this my best shot, everyone in the village has had a newsletter with details, signs have gone up, and people are starting to avoid me in the street in case I start harping on about the Open Morning, so it's really up to local people to decide if this is something they would like to see in the village, and whether they will be up for it, or not. If anyone's passing Latton on Saturday morning we're providing coffee and biscuits, so do drop in. I so hope it won't be just the two of us.


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