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A Visit From Mr Fox

I arrived home last night, returning from the kids ballet class and immediately spotted feathers strewn across the yard.  One of our hens, Astrid, was by the front fence behind some rocks, not a typical place for her and unusual for her to be on her own.  I sent the children indoors, grabbed Astrid and put her in her run, no sign of any of the other hens.  As I walked up the garden my heart sunk as I saw more feathers and finally a decapitated chicken wedged half under the gate to the river.  We'd had a visit from a fox and no amount of shaking their food scoop and calling their names was going to make Agatha, Ashley and Anoushka come running.

We raised the A Team, as we called them, from week old chicks and we are so sad.  The children are heart broken.  They've cried, raged against the injustice, empathised with the fear our girls must have felt as the fox attacked, declared their hatred of foxes (asked me to change my name), realised the need for the foxes to feed their cubs, plotted revenge, and declared their hatred of foxes again.

Astrid from the moment she hatched has never been without her 3 sisters at her side.  Agatha was the lead hen, my favourite, she had a big comb, very vocal and very much the one in charge.  Ashley was Louis' favourite and a little smaller than the others, but very independent.  Anoushka had the prettiest feathers and was usually to be found with Astrid.  They had so much more personality than I expected chickens would have.

This morning Una and Louis went down to let Astrid out of the hen house together.  (Although they have made me promise to keep her in the chicken run and not let her free range alone today.)  I often go let the hens out as they get quite vocal in the early light of summer mornings if the kids aren't up early enough.  But Louis warned me off this morning, it is his chore this week.  Then he went into his sister's room and asked her if she wanted to come with him.

I watched them walk down the garden together.  Open the run, the door to the hen house.  Astrid was not quick to emerge but when she did she got a cuddle from each child.  In the cool light of morning my children are no longer raging against the fox, but are worried that Astrid is lonely.

Happier times with their hens
Watching their grief and anger mellow to concern for Astrid, the hen that survived, I thought there was real honesty and empathy.  So, I will learn from my children.  I will miss my Agatha and her sisters, my days will not be as happy without the gentle amusement of watching them forage in the garden.  But I will not stop naming or getting attached to my chickens.

Even after a year, their personalities were still developing.  It's only quite recently that they whipped the dogs into a more chicken tolerant state and so have had the freedom of the whole garden.  Agatha had just started letting me tickle her under her wattle, she seemed to enjoy it.  And they had recently taken to trying to get into the house all the time.  It's funny to come downstairs and find a chicken standing in the hall.  One of them had even invaded the dog's bed the other day, much to his disapproval.

They had a wonderful, though brief, life and that was because we cared about them.  They loved to free range in the garden, and we will get back to that once our own grief is a bit more under control. We'll get Astrid an adult chicken companion as soon as possible, as the Maran chicks will not be ready to go outside for another week or so and will need to remain separate from the adults for some time still. 

And I will learn from my mistake and make sure they are always shut back in the run before I go out. 


maran eggs in incubator

Our Maran eggs came 21 days ago and so are due to hatch today.  They are presently in Little Louis Fox's class room so that he, and the rest of his classmates, get to experience the excitement of our newest members of our feathered menageries birth.

quail egg

The quail chicks laid their first egg yesterday.  They have matured really quickly and are big enough now to be living outside.  They sleep in an old rabbit hutch while I renovate a chicken house and run for their permanent home.

young japanese quail

 They get moved to an outside run every day where the rest of the chickens and the dogs seem to find them fascinating.

quail chickens dogs and children
The quail's first day outside
The chickens are very curious creatures, they do like to keep an eye on things in the garden, and in the house for that matter.

hen chicken

Hot off the iphone: - The first Maran chick has hatched;

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An Ode to Spring II

My main aim in the garden this year is to increase the number of flowering, fruiting and edible plants.

ash cottage garden

While last year involved a lot of clearing, this year I hope to plant more.  It's wonderful to sit here and look down the garden at an expanse of lush vibrant green.  Until last year your gaze would have been arrested by an ominous wall of dark, deep green conifers, which we have taken out.  We cut down a lot of trees, so this year we are planning on planting new ones and have also put up bird boxes and feeders.  I've planted a walnut tree at the end of the chicken run to replace two large conifers that were shielding us from our neighbour's view at the side of the garden.  

I've tied in the young apple trees I planted last year and am excitedly waiting to see them blossom.  James Grieve looks to have lost its' lead shoot, which is a little worrying, but there are 2 other healthy looking verticles, one of which I guess will have to take over.  

young grape vine

In the hexagonal greenhouse the fig and olive trees have made it through the winter and are starting to wake up.  And above is a picture of the cutting taken from the grape vine in our old garden, which is sending out new leaves and shoots. My Mother's Day gift this year was a quince tree, it is presently in the greenhouse, I've not decided where to plant it yet.  

We have managed to erect the frame of our other greenhouse on the veggie patch.  Just the glass to put in now and then it too can be used to propagate new life.  There are 3 more raised beds to finish building on the veggie patch.  In one that I constructed last year are autumn planted onions and garlic that seem to be surviving the chicken's attentions at the moment.  I guess the chicken's will have to be confined to their run once seed sewing starts in ernest, otherwise they will just be digging everything up as quickly as I can put it in.

geranium plug plants
Little geranium plugs in the greenhouse

In the hexagonal greenhouse I've sewn nasturtiums, tomatoes, chilli and cavalo nero seeds.  36 classic red geranium plug plants will soon be joined by some Geranium Appleblossom Rosebud, which look gorgeous in the catalogue.  I've two Viburnum shrubs waiting to go out, and cuttings from lavender, curry plants and a few other shrubs from my mother-in-law's garden.  

Meanwhile, potatoes are chitting on top of the quail brooder.

quail chicks

Of our quail; Amber and Sleepy are thriving, Squeeky Cheese remains much smaller and we are hoping this is because Squeeky is a male.  In Japanese Quail they tend to be smaller than the females.

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Spring - Part I

ash cottage garden with hens

Oh what a lovely day it was yesterday, it finally feels like spring. I sat in the garden writing and taking photos as the hens pecked around in the grass at my feet.  Lovely girls.  

We've our 7 new Maran hatching eggs due to arrive in the next day or so, just in time for easter.  
So last week I did a full on spring clean of the hen house and run ready for the new arrivals.

chicken hen having a dust bath
Astrid taking a dust bath to clean herself of mites.

I raise my hens more or less organically, but this year I decided to give the hen house a good disinfect, with a red mite insecticide.  It's a once a year thing for me and it wouldn't usually be my choice to use this type of product.  However, after much research on the various poultry forums and reading up on each of the active ingredients in my chosen brand, I decided that as the girls had spent so much time indoors over the rainy winter days, and with new young hens about to join them, I wanted to give the house a good one off clean.

daffodils and grape hyacinths

As the bees are the members of our little herd most likely to suffer from the toxins in the insecticide I was using, I thought it better to clean while they are not flying too much.  However, they are out and about in the Spring sunshine now. 

hives in spring

I have 2 hives and both seem to have made it through winter in relative health - I've not opened them up yet, but there are plenty of bees outside and they are obviously finding pollen, as I can see it stored on their legs as they come in to the hive.  

honey bee on grape hyacinth

One of the lovely things about taking photographs for this blog is how often I see honey bees on the few flowers I do have in my garden, even at this time of year.  So, hopefully, I must be doing something right, even if it is often a balancing act between the needs of one or other of our garden inhabitants.

Joining in with Annie, with How Does Your Garden Grow , pop on over to see some beautiful gardens this week.

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Egg Box Easter Wreath.

egg box easter wreath

We tend to keep hold of our old egg boxes, we sell our excess eggs in them and there are so many other things you can make with them too.  There are an abundance of Spring crafts to be made with the humble egg box. To prove a point; here is a craft that is easy and fun and perfect for Easter.

For your Easter/Spring wreath, you will need;
egg boxes
square of cardboard
green felt or paper
(glitter if you dare - I boorishly bar humbug glitter as I can never get rid of the stuff)


  1. Cut a large 'polo' shape out of your cardboard - I used an old cereal packet - and paint it green.
  2. Cut leaf shapes out of your felt OR paint a sheet of paper of card various shades of green and cut out your leaf shapes.
  3. Cut the rising tips in the egg cartons out and cut the egg carton cups out.  Cut the side corners out of the cups if you'd like to make the petals more defined.
  4. Paint your tips and cups any colours you wish.
  5. Once the paint is dry, stick the tips into the middle of some of the cups, and buttons into the middle of others.
  6. If you want to, you can poke cuts of string or thread into the button holes to create filaments.
  7. Stick the leaves around the cardboard circle and stick the flower heads onto the leaves.
  8. Stick string to the back using good tape and hang!

Here's another idea for egg box spring flowers, taken from our April Crafty Box a few years ago, the leaves can be made equally well out of paper and the stalks were made using pipe cleaners and gardening sticks.

egg box daffodils

…and if you're stuck for something to do with the lid and are putting on an egg hunt...

egg box spring basket

…or perhaps...

easter crafts

…or even…

easter crafts

Don't hold back, let loose with your imagination, it was only going to go in the recycle bin after all!

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Our Quail Chicks

quail chicks in incubator

Meet Amber, Sleepy and Squeeky Cheese.

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Chickens & Quail

Via pinterest saved from Fuji Arts

So, it has taken me more than a month to really get "into" 2016.  Not sure why.  But now it is all go here at Ash Cottage, plans are being hatched.  Our 4 lovely hens; Astrid, Agatha, Anoushka and Ashleigh have proved to be a complete success.  They have so much more character than I ever expected from birds, they have pecked the dogs into some semblance of respectful behaviour and are fun to watch when you're out in the garden.  They have laid all winter and proved their worth in eggs, entertainment and manure.

We let them out to free range most mornings, but they also have a large secure run with their house that they return to without fail at dusk and which they like to hang out in, even when the door is open for them to leave.  So well behaved are the "A-Team", as we like to call our girls, that we are getting more chickens.

I have just reserved 7 chicken hatching eggs for early next month.  I am going to start raising Black Copper, and Silver Blue Marans.  The later are quite a rare variety, in this country anyway.   They are a French breed of chicken, quite large, good for both meat and eggs, which are a dark brown in colour.  And aren't the chicks cute:

The garden is going to be busy this year, because I've just purchased an incubator and my first clutch of Japanese quail hatching eggs too.  Japanese Quail are a relativly large quail and also good for both eggs and meat.  My eggs came in the post from  C& S Quail Company  in Devon.  

It was quite an anxious wait, but they all eventually arrived safely and slightly more than I was expecting.  So, I am conducting a bit of an experiment at the moment.  I have half my eggs in a typical incubator:

 And the others are in a make-shift version of an incubator on the top of the Aga.

I'm not expecting all to hatch, but with any luck in about 12 days time I should have a dozen or so little quail chicks.

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