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A novice's guide to producing his own food


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Fowl play in the chicken coop

All gone to the coop in the sky

All gone to the coop in the sky

The hens were the big upset of last year. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t stop them falling sick and dying.

I bought eight hens in 2013, and lost three that year. Then at the start of the following spring I was given another two by a fellow allotment holder, bring the numbers up to seven.

But the new year didn’t stop them going beak-up at almost regular intervals. I tried everything I could think of: cleaning the run more often, changing the water more frequently, spraying for red mite regularly, but to no avail. Perhaps, I began to fear, I was just rubbish at looking after them.

But worse was to come: whereas previous chicken deaths were protracted affairs with sickly looking beasts acting under the weather for several days before dying, by the summer I was going into the coop to find them suddenly dead. No warning.

With only three left, I decided I had to get to the bottom of this for once and for all. I took the corpse of the most recently departed to the vets to find the cause. They directed me to a department of Scotland’s Rural College in Perth where they perform animal autopsies.

After a week, I got a phone call. “Your chickens have been dying from Marek’s Disease,” said the vet. I’d heard of this, but knew next to nothing about it. “It’s related to the herpes virus, and hens catch it when they are a few weeks old. It has a slow incubation period, and they start to die after two years.” A few weeks old! To be honest, I was completely relieved at this sudden turn. None of this was my fault after all. The infection occurred before I got them. There is a vaccination against Marek’s, but many smaller breeders don’t use it, because it can only be purchased in batches of 100 doses.

Basically, it meant I bought hens that were already infected with a killer disease. I got them “second-hand” from a guy who was as much of a novice as me, and I suspect he wasn’t aware they hadn’t been vaccinated either.

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Tripping the Glut Fantastic!

Peas and runner beans

Peas and runner beans

You are going to have to forgive me if I sound a bit pleased with myself. That’s because I am. I’m in the midst of what is by far my biggest glut – and it isn’t over yet.

Behind me in a box, as I type this, are jars of strawberry jam, raspberry jam, rhubarb and ginger jam and honey.

In the kitchen are a box of eggs, a bowl of tomatoes, a bowl of onions, three cabbages, a spindly lettuce and a food-grade plastic bucket with what I hope will eventually be sauerkraut.

The freezer in the shed has two drawers with courgettes, raspberries, spring onions, cubes of pureed basil, broad beans, runner beans, peas, and vegetable soup,

Beside the freezer are two sacks, each of which contain 28lbs of potatoes (first and second earlies), with the main crop still to come.

And, finally, next to the shed is the greenhouse, where are four racks of onions drying in the heat before I string them up.

This substantial store of food means two things — we will almost certainly be eating food I have produced daily until at least until Christmas, and I reckon this is the first time since I started the allotment, that the money I have saved has exceeded money spent. That’s not, of course, the reason why I do this, but, still, it’s a wee bonus.

 

 


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video update no. 3 2013

This post will be accompanied by few words. I seem to have most covered of what I wanted to say in the video update.

There is one further thing I want to add, though. Since filming the footage above, events have moved on regarding the quails. As I said I would, I reunited the injured bird with her siblings. However, almost immediately she started to get picked on. I watched anxiously hoping it would settle down, but within a few minutes the corner of her eye was starting to bleed. The other quails were being vicious little toe-rags. One, in particular, was not only nipping the back of her neck, but was also getting a piggy-back ride as the injured bird ran around trying to escape. I had no choice but to put her back in the pet carrier.

But things got even worse. Soon after I notice ANOTHER quail was getting viciously picked on as well! Can’t figure out what’s up with them.

I took the two bullied quail back indoors and put them in the cage that formerly housed our rats.  Soon the greenhouse will be empty of tomatoes, and I intend to put the two cages with all the quails in there over the winter while I work out what to do next.

Don’t let the quails’ cutesy size and their Tribble-like cooing fool you. They’re mean little buggers.