It is now just over a year since we moved into the cottage and so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what we’ve managed to achieve in a year. Both J and I have moments when we just want to walk away from the cottage as there is so much to do and it can feel stifling at times. Sometimes it seems as though what we have to do is unsumountable and that we will never get to the end of it so I thought it would be quite cathartic to have a look back at how far we’ve already come to help gear us up for the next phase of our work. I had originally planned this as one post but having started to write it there were just way too many pictures for one post so I’m going to spread it across three or four weeks. So this week we have the orchard.
The orchard before:
The orchard after:
When we first moved in the trees in the orchard were looking a bit sorry for themselves and the fruit trees hadn’t been picked properly for years so weren’t fruiting that well. The big pile of rubbish next to the garage was the furniture that we cleared from the house, totally filled with woodworm or infested with mice. That went on the fire.
When we came to empty the solar (the building behind the pile of rubbish in the first picture above) it had a wasps nest inside and the floor collapsed so it had to come down too and onto the fire it went. The horse chestnut tree (centre of the second picture above) was diseased so has been removed and the stump is now a climbing frame for the chickens.
Where the pile of rubbish was now stands a concrete slab large enough to fit three sheds (due to arrive in the next few weeks) and there is a gravel drive leading up to it (excuse the chicken in the middle of the drive).
The massive composting pile of garden waste (picture three at the top) had to be removed and we had another fire or two. That took a long long time.
Now the far corner of the orchard is where I’m planning on building C a cafe/shop thing out of old pallets as its a nice shaded area. The rest of that cleared space is mainly occupied by the chickens, you can see the behind the fence of the photo below where I have a nice space for C’s cafe.
I mentioned earlier that the trees in the orchard needed some serious pruning. J has taken charge of this even though he really has very little knowledge on the subject. The two apple trees in the orchard had a number of lower branches pruned back although I confess that was mainly to make it easier to get the mower round as the branches hung very low but it was also quite overcrowded. The plum tree also had a bit of a prune too. This has given us much better quality fruit yields this year.
J has built two pens to store leaves and create leaf mound.
The pampas grass that was in the middle of the orchard has had to be hacked back a bit after the chickens starting using it as an alternative nest. That still needs some work doing to it.
There is obviously still a bit to go in the orchard. The trees will get another good prune soon and hopefully will keep improving as the years go by. The pampas grass needs either cutting back and tidying up or digging up. There are a number of damson trees which have grown up in the centre of the pampas which need removing as there are too many crowded into a small space. I need to create a nice shaded play area for C in the corner and build her a cafe/shop. We have another couple of trees to plant in the orchard, another plum and another apple, in line with the existing apple trees. The sheds have to be bought and assembled on the concrete slab and the edging to the driveway needs to be finished. That’s probably about it for the orchard for now although that may change in time. Not bad work for year 1 in the cottage. Next week I’ll have a look at the recreation area which is the area I’m probably most proud of. Be sure to follow us to make sure you don’t miss it.
So this week we haven’t had as many eggs as usual. The girls haven’t been themselves really, J had to chase two of them into bed the other night as they had climbed on top of the hen house and were refusing to get down and go to bed, even though it was gone 11pm and very dark. And we’ve had workmen around a lot with getting my cabin built and the final few bits of outside work sorting the patios etc which can be quite noisy and unsettling for them. And it’s been really hot this week which can tend to make chickens lay less. So although I was a bit perturbed by the decreased eggs I figured it was just one of those things.
Anyway yesterday I let the girls out in the morning as usual before heading back in to make the morning coffees, and then at about 9:30 we went out to check and see if there were any eggs. However, we could only count five chickens, Dorothy was missing. The fence had been on the whole time and I was sure that I’d counted six chickens tumble out of their house that morning. We looked around the hen area but no sign of her or any evidence of any predator attack. It looked like somehow she had flown over the fence and escaped. After a good search, including a root around the pampas grass, we headed back inside but J and I kept popping out alternately to check and see if she had returned. And lo and behold she had reappeared about an hour after we were first looking for her. Now that really bugged me but we suspected that she had been hiding in the pampas grass and we had just missed her. We had things to do for the rest of the day so didn’t give it much more thought. However, today we were having a Father’s Day barbecue and I just went out to check the girls didn’t need anymore water before we started cooking as it was a scorcher today and Dorothy was missing again.
I was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of the missing chickens and eggs and so called J to come out and bring an old walking stick with him and we began hacking at the pampas grass. We found what looked like an entrance point to the centre of it where through their scratching about they had managed to create an archway into the centre (see below).
So we tried to clear some of the vegetation so we could get a better look inside. Not exactly easy as the leaves are actually quite sharp and so J got his hedge trimmers out to tackle it. Finally I managed to spy some eyes peeping out at me from across the other side of the pampas grass, Dorothy appeared to be laying an egg (see below you can just about make out her eyes and beak).
Now I am not happy with the idea of my chickens laying eggs randomly somewhere else, they could easily encourage rats or other pests. We started giving it a good trim right above where she had been sitting desperately trying to make our way into where she was. Thankfully she rose and scuttled out and we could then clearly see eggs. Now that is eggs plural (see below) so it wasn’t just a one off occasion. She had been using her newly established nest for a while.
As a reminder Dorothy lays our white eggs, but our discovered horde also had some normal looking ones so she has clearly had some friends also sharing her private nest. We managed to get the pampas grass cut back enough to get into them and in total from there we collected a dozen eggs. Seven white and five normal coloured. It certainly made it our biggest daily haul to date. Now we just need to find out a way to make sure they go back to using their actual nesting area!