September in the garden

I was surprised that our hollyhock has just thrown out another bloom.

A late hollyhock flower

A splash of colour in the chicken’s strip

We planted this in spring and it’s been in bud for months.

In bud in August

Still in bud in September but beginning to open

This must surely flower soon. We are interested to see what it will look like. The buds have reminded us of broad beans and have been taking forever to open.

I haven’t got much further with the amigos at bedtime. Their going in coincides with me getting our evening meal ready at the moment. The problem is that Dandelion insists on perching on their perch. The last two evenings I haven’t managed to get out in time to move her before the amigos go in.

Dandelion being on the perch at the spot where they jump up makes it difficult for them. She doesn’t intentionally put them off but they can’t easily find a way up and a couple will be trying to get up, one or two will try the back perch and then one or two will start to settle in the corner.

I move Dandelion to the other side and to speed things up I have perched the amigos on their perch where they quickly settle. They no longer attempt to jump down and I can tell that they want to perch here but Dandelion obstructs them.

It’s a shame Dandelion won’t perch on the other side. She never attempts to move once I move her over there but on her own she chooses the amigo’s perch. I know that if Dandelion didn’t choose to perch there this would be sorted by now.

As they go in earlier it will become easier for me to move Dandelion before the amigos go in but longer term I am not sure if they will be able to work it out for themselves. I don’t really want to have move one girl each night but I am not sure how it will go smoothly otherwise.

It’s such a pain because Dandelion perched over the other side for a while but seems determined to perch this side at the moment. It continues to be a work in progress. I am sure it will all resolve itself in the end.

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The amigos are getting the hang of perching at bedtime

Last night was the fifth evening since starting to perch the amigos. I had decided to try them on the back perch but they had other ideas. To my surprise when I went to check on them they were already trying to get to their usual perch instead of heading for the corner of the chicken shed.

This was the line up on the other side of the shed

The three bigger girls were on the back perch

I just watched and photographed the amigos as they all tried to get into position.

Vanilla and Marmite are first up to the perch

Spangle joins them and Smoke is on the back perch

Salmon is half way and Smoke is looking for a way up

Smoke is up but has toppled Salmon down

Finally they all make it to the perch

Spangle turns to face the same way as the other girls

I can see that the problem is that the perch isn’t long enough to make it easy for the girls to jump to a good sized gap although it is long enough once they are all up. The problem is that there is extra space nearest the door but they all want to jump up nearest the back corner.

Several times Salmon jumped for the middle and landed on top of the other girls. This causes lots of flapping and some girls were getting toppled down again. Smoke once again went for the back perch but changed her mind when the others were all on the side perch. She actually went back outside the pop hole before coming back in and trying again. She managed to force her way into the middle of the group.

I think that they all like to be in the middle positions which causes lots of jostling and unbalancing. I felt quite pleased though that they all managed to get up in the end. I think that having done it once they will now perch themselves every night.

It would actually be easier for them to perch on the back perch but chickens are habitual and I think they will now want to stay with this perch. I hope that it will get easier with practice. This is the first time I have had more than three girls at a time learning to perch which has made it a little trickier.

It will be interesting to see how they get on tonight.

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Eggs and bedtime continued

Eggs

Much to my surprise Ebony and Flame are still laying nearly every day. Dandelion and Cinnamon are also laying so we are still getting plenty of eggs.

Apart from the seramas we haven’t had girls laying this late in the year for many years. Ebony and Flame are amazing layers. This month Ebony has laid 18 eggs and Flame has laid 23. Ebony had a short broody break making her total a little less. Cinnamon has laid 10 and Dandelion has laid 9 this month.

Dandelion has continued to lay long eggs.

Yesterday’s eggs

Dandelion’s egg is on the left and isn’t actually egg shaped. There is no pointy end and you can’t tell which way round it was laid. Cinnamon’s egg is next then Ebony’s beige egg and on the right Flame’s white egg.

With only these four girls laying it is easy to identify their eggs. I am thinking that it will be a whole different story next year when there will be twelve girls laying.

Bedtime continued

It was difficult to get the timing right last night. A few times I went up and none of the girls had started going in. The next time I went up the amigos were already in a heap in the back corner. I had missed them going in again!

I started moving the amigos to their perch and at one point Smoke actually jumped up to the back perch, which the three bigger girls were on, but at the opposite end. I moved Smoke to join the others but I am now thinking of another change in strategy.

I wonder if they would more happily accept perching on the back perch. I think for five girls it may be quite difficult for them all to get up on to the smaller length of perch.

I closed the door and heard a thump. I checked back and Vanilla was on the bottom rung of the amigo’s perch. I assume she had jumped down and when trying to jump back up had only made it to the bottom rung. I put her back up again and she stayed. I didn’t want her underneath the rest of the girls where she would get pooped on.

I use the side perches for the seramas because they are narrower than the back perch and I head read that broom handle width was a good width for seramas’ smaller feet but last year the seramas  perched on the back perch in the middle of winter when it’s was at it’s coldest. Also the amigos perch happily during the day on the wider, branch, perches.

I am now thinking that tonight I will try the amigos on the back perch and see if that works better. This is really a work in progress and after all no rules are set in stone. It’s just a matter of finding out what works best.

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Day three of perching

Because our evening meal needed my attention I didn’t end up going out to the girls until after we had eaten. It was already quite dark and the amigos were already in their heap in the far corner of the chicken shed.

Tonight we have an easy dinner and I will go out before we eat to try to catch the amigos as  they are going in the shed.

I perched the amigos making sure that Vanilla and Salmon were not on the outside. I took a couple of photos straight away. Because it is dark I can’t see what I am photographing so I use the flash and simply point the camera in the right direction. I usually take two in quick succession in case one is blurred and then choose the best one.

It wasn’t until I had taken two photos that I realised that Spangle had jumped down. I kept both photos as I find it amusing to see how the girls are looking around.

Looking around

Where is Spangle off to?

I put Spangle back on the perch. It seems that it’s the girls on the outside that are more likely to jump down.

Vanilla was next to jump down and I replaced her on the perch. After that the girls stayed  perched.

Ready to settle for the night

The amigos are staying on the perch more quickly which isn’t bad for only night three. Tonight I will try to get them to the perch earlier. I am gradually doing this earlier each evening.

I am happy with their progress and confident that they will get the hang of it soon.

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The second evening teaching the amigos to perch

last night I went out again after dark and moved the amigos from the back corner to the perch. This time I made sure that Salmon and Vanilla were in the middle of the group. I put Smoke and Spangle on the outsides as these two girls are the bravest girls. They are always the first to try anything new.

This strategy worked for Salmon as she stayed put. Only Vanilla jumped down and the other four stayed on the perch. Again I would close the door then a minute later take a peek in. Three times Vanilla jumped down and I replaced her back on the perch.

On the fourth time that she jumped down I opened the door to see her trying to jump back up in the dark. I helped her up and checked back a minute later to find all the girls still perched. I left it another minute then checked again and they were still all perched.

The amigos all stayed on the perch

As it was dark I guessed where to shoot a photo so it’s a bit cropped but it shows their positions. I am really pleased that on only the second night they have stayed perched.

Tonight I will change strategy slightly and try perching them a bit earlier. I will see what happens if I try to perch them when they first go in before it’s properly dark. I hope that this may help to teach them to perch by themselves.

This will be ongoing for a while but I feel certain that we will get there soon.

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Teaching the five amigos to perch at bedtime

For a while I have been thinking that I need to teach the five amigos to perch at bedtime. I had hoped they would start doing it on their own but instead they have moved from settling in the front corner of the chicken shed to settling in the back corner of the chicken shed.

Last night I decided to wait until after dark when they were properly settled and lift them from their corner to the perch.

The five amigos in a heap in the back corner

The amigos on the perch

I closed the door quickly and waited outside for a few moments then peeked in. Salmon who is closest in the photo had dropped down from the perch. I picked her up and placed her back on the perch.

I waited again and checked again and three times Salmon dropped down. I didn’t want her to sleep alone or underneath the others in the line of poop so I replaced her again and went indoors. I decided to wait five minutes and then check again.

When I returned both Salmon and Vanilla were snuggled up together in the far corner. The remaining three were still on the perch. I decided to leave them like that. Salmon and Vanilla could keep each other warm and be company for each other and were now out of the line of poop.

I didn’t take any more photos as I didn’t want to disturb them any more. It is funny that it is the two outside girls that didn’t stay on the perch and I wonder if they felt less secure.

I am taking this as a partial success as three out of five girls stayed on the perch. It will be interesting to see what they do tonight.

I will keep this up now that I have started as I would like to get them all perched before winter. I don’t want them to be sat in poop during the longer nights and would like them all together so that they can keep each other warm.

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More about the berries

My mum asked what the plant is, in my last post, with the pretty multi coloured berries. I couldn’t remember as we bought it years ago and we couldn’t even remember where we got it from so I googled it.

It is called amur peppervine but is commonly known as porcelain berries vine or wild grape. It is related to the grape vine. Birds and squirrels relish the berries but they are inedible to us. It is a fast growing climber with tendrils, for clinging, like sweet peas. It is deciduous so loses it’s leaves in winter. It is grown for the coloured berries but we are lucky that ours is variegated so the foliage is very pretty too.

Amur peppervine

Ours has grown huge

Another interesting berry in our garden is the himalayan honeysuckle. This has burgundy, hop like, flowers which then produce berries that ripen to dark brown then almost black. They are edible and are sweet with a slightly chocolate flavour. Again the birds love them and in our garden it is the black birds that make the most of them.

When I first read that they were edible and tasted of chocolate I decided to give them a try. They do taste vaguely of chocolate and are sweet and juicy but they are so small that they would be very tedious to bother with. Best leave them to the birds. I love this for the late summer colour.

Himalayan honeysuckle

We also planted a new plant last year at the edge of the vegetable plot where nothing much ever did well and it was always a dull corner. It didn’t really get going last year but this year it has given us another  welcome splash of late colour.

Another late splash of colour

It is lovely to see colour in the garden at this time of year when it feels like summer’s end.

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A good year for berries

It seems to be a really good year for berries of all sorts. When I look out of our bedroom window the roses are now a mass of rose hips.

The climbing plants on the fence opposite our kitchen window are loaded with berries and they are so pretty.

Shiny red berries

Pink, mauve and blue berries

They remind me of jelly beans. I am not about to eat them any time soon though!

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The girls love spring greens

I give the girls greens every morning. I usually give them some spinach and some big spring green leaves. I put spinach on the patio area which is devoured quickly and big leaves in the run to keep the girls occupied.

By the end of the day just the centre stalks are left as the greens are picked clean.

I spread them around on both sides of the wire so that all the girls get a chance at them. It is interesting to see the different groups in action.

Speckles is firmly top girl. She is happy to share her leaf with Dandelion and Cinnamon. They have been together the longest and she has mothered them at times and seems to regard them as her girls. She will share with them easily.

However she won’t allow any other girl on her leaf. She chases off Ebony and Flame. She chases off the silky girls and the five amigos don’t dare to get close.

The silky girls will share a leaf and the amigos will rush in and steal a bit. The amigos do get leaves to themselves when the other girls lose interest.

Ebony and Flame will share and the silky girls are brave enough to move in too but not the amigos.

The amigos are the bottom girls. The silky girls are next. Ebony and Flame are next and  Dandelion and Cinnamon are above them with Speckles firmly at the top.

It is amusing because Speckles came in at the bottom and was afraid of her own shadow. She was beneath the smaller girls at that time. As she is now the longest serving member of the flock she has worked her way up to top position and isn’t at all fazed by Ebony’s sturdier size. She is now a very confident top girl.

I couldn’t get photos without some blurring because all the girls were pecking with their heads constantly bobbing.

Speckles shares with Dandelion and Cinnamon

The three are happily pecking together

Flame sneaks a bit of leaf

The silky girls share another leaf

Spangle has just nicked a small bit of leaf and has it in her beak.

Ebony moves in

Marmite manages to take a bit of leaf

All the girls get a share at different times but it is interesting to see the pecking order at work.

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Our vintage crockery

We have been catering together for twenty years but have been doing afternoon teas on vintage crockery for the last five years. We also hire it out if people want to use it with their own afternoon tea.

It came about when we did an afternoon tea for a wedding and they wanted to hire vintage crockery for it but found it too expensive. We lent them our own vintage set for their top table and used our standard crockery for the rest of the tables.

We decided to start collecting vintage crockery at antique shops and charity shops to provide our own service and we made it more affordable.

We decided that we would need enough for between 100 and 120 as that was likely to be the largest number for a wedding.

A school that we catered events for asked for a couple of afternoon teas from us and liked them so much that they asked if we could supply afternoon tea on vintage crockery for their speech day/prize giving event as a treat for the parents and students at the end of the event. They asked us if we could cater for 170!

This was five years ago and we rushed out to the antique shops, further away from us, to top up our collection to cater for them.

Every year it meant that all the vintage crockery came out for this event and we would replace any breakages to keep the number at 170.

This year we gave the school notice that this would be our last year of catering for the speech day. We have been finding that this is just too big for us. It is stressful and hard work and as it takes place on a Thursday we also have to fit in our corporate lunches as well.

We started at half past six in the morning on Thursday and got back home at half past six in the evening. The following day the washing up took all afternoon. It all has to be washed by hand. We have a system. My husband washes up in our work kitchen and does the cake stands, sandwich plates, tea pots, coffee pots, milk jugs, sugar bowls and silver ware. I wash up in our domestic kitchen and do the trios which consist of matching cup, saucer and side plate.

It takes me as long to those as they all have to be matched up to their sets once more and stored in boxes of 20 trios all different. This means if we have a tea for 20 we pull out one box and for 40 pull out two boxes and so on.

As this is the last year of this event we decided to go through the crockery and get rid of the trios that we like the least. When topping it up to 170 we bought whatever we could get our hands on.

I am taking the overflow to the charity shop so it will have gone full circle. I have reduced the trios to 128.

Last year I took a photo of the crockery on our dining table after I had washed it up. As this is the last year of this number of trios I have taken photos before and after washing it up. It took me four hours to wash it up and another couple of hours to sort through it all and separate out the trios to go to the charity shop.

I have boxed it up with the 20 I like best in the first box then the next best 20 in the next box and so on. This way the prettiest crockery will always go out to the smaller functions.

Vintage trios waiting to be washed up

A daunting task ahead of me

The trios are washed up

And stacked in sets

I am so happy that this is done and that we will never have to do such a large number again. It has been a good event to make buying the crockery worth while and the crockery has paid for itself many times over.

In future though we don’t want to take on anything of this sort of size. Afternoon teas for 50 or under are the ones we like to do. We have a minimum number of 10 and are happy to do those too. We have been averaging nearly one afternoon tea a month for these smaller events which is much more in our comfort zone.

We are not getting any younger and we are trying to make our lives easier. We have stopped doing any hot food, stopped offering to stay and serve at events, stopped taking on any events that are too large and will no longer take on more than one function in a weekend.

We are both feeling so much happier now that we have this last big one out of the way. That washing up alone was daunting where as I don’t mind washing up from the small ones. I just need to make a few trips to the charity shop next week.

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