Our little patch of heaven isn’t so much of a haven anymore. At least not for the feathered residents.
Last week, on a lovely dry, crisp, cold, clear, windy day, I was inside the house with the Little Paddler. She hasn’t been well. She’s snotty and chesty and has been really clingy and not sleeping well. In a word – miserable. I was planning on hunkering down by the fire for the day. Then I heard a lot of squawking and flapping. The Guard Dog took off but came back fairly quickly. I thought it must just be the wind. Did I mention it was windy? I could feel the house rocking on its posts in the really big gusts. All was quiet for another five minutes or so and then there was another bout of squawking and flapping and a duck and hen went racing past the door. I let the Guard Dog out.
Then I got a better look at Crispy. There was blood streaming down her neck as she headed for the compost bins at the top corner by the woods. Don’t go there, I thought. The fox will definitely get you. I hurriedly bundled the Little Paddler up and we headed out to try and steer Crispy away from the woods. But by the time we got there, I couldn’t see her anywhere. I started to search. Then I spotted a lump of white feathers with odd black patches. Crispy doesn’t have black patches. It was a hen. I couldn’t believe it. No sign of any other birds nearby. I headed back in to get the Little Paddler wrapped up in a sling and under my jacket and returned to the scene of the crime to dispose of the body. Except there was no body. Just a handful or two of feathers to tell me I hadn’t imagined it. I stood and looked. A few feet away from me just inside the woods, crouched a big fox cub hunkering down over my now deceased hen. It was at least half a minute before he spotted me and took off. If only I had my camera. So, like a good little blogger, I came back in to get my camera. By the time I got back to the ditch, the hen and the fox cub were both gone.
Never mind the dead hen, I had two hens missing in action and one injured duck to be located. I got a pan of grain and started rattling it and calling for the hens and duck. I wasn’t holding out hope. Further along the ditch at the edge of the woods I spotted Boris. I couldn’t believe it. How had she survived taking shelter in the woods? Who cares? I called and called and sprinkled grain for her to see. She came cautiously across the neighbouring field and headed straight for the hen house and up in to the nest box where she remained for most of the day. Who can blame her? I continued looking.
On the other side of our plot, I spotted more hen feathers on the ground. Surely that was the last hen gone. I found Crispy in the neighbouring paddock. I couldn’t get in to it and she wouldn’t come out. She’d just have to fend for herself. I came back in to call Mr. Fairweather and spotted a second fox from the bedroom window. He stood staring at me when I opened the window and shouted. He only took off when I called the Guard Dog who came racing around the corner baying like the Hound of Hell. It must be a little family out learning to hunt or maybe just desperately hungry and knowing no fear. I wish they would go hunt something else.
In the mean time, the electricity went. I had forgotten they were carrying out works in the area that day and our back boiler won’t pump the heat without electricity. I gave up on Crispy and piled the Little Paddler into the car and headed for town with its electricity and heating. Coming home some hours later, what did I spy? The last hen crouched in the ditch. She looked in a bad way and seemed to be limping badly. I caught her fairly easily and inspected the damage. No legs seemed to be broken. But she had puncture wounds on her back. I put her in to the hen house with Boris and rang Mr. Fairweather. Should I try to save her? Of course, he said. The hens were the Little Paddler’s first birthday present. So the hen is currently in ICU. Each morning I fully expect to find her dead and each morning I am pleasantly surprised.
Crispy would not be caught or herded and yet, somehow survived. I was beginning to think she was actually a cat in disguise. But I had lost track of how many lives she had used up. It turns out she had used them all up. There was no sign of her the other morning apart from a few bunches of downy feathers. When I went to visit the neighbours across the road, they brought me to the top of the field where you could stand at the gate and look in. A huge pile of white feathers lay on the ground. All of their hens and guineas are accounted for.
I’d like to take a moment’s silence to think of Crispy No. 1 who fought the good fight………
Maybe animal husbandry should go on the back boiler for a bit. Maybe I should concentrate on things that I have half a chance of protecting without building six foot fences. Like my vegetables and fruit. Although the cabbages from last year would argue differently.
Last year I attended a course at The Organic Centre in Leitrim. Mr. Fairweather has done a few courses with them but it was my first time there. I loved it. Such inspiration. The course I was doing was entitled Planning A Year’s Harvest. Just what I needed. A bit of structure and guidance as to what goes where and when. How crop rotation works. How to manage a polytunnel. I loved it. It turns out that I know a bit more than I give myself credit for. I just have to pull it out of my head and put it in to action. But in order to do that, you have to write things down.
“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”
Planning is everything. But once planned, you have a much better idea of where you are going and why. I knew I could use my polytunnel for winter growing but what could I grow in it at winter time. The backs of seed packets are sometimes vague and maybe even misleading. The climate in Ireland is actually different to the climate in England where a lot of the seed packets are packaged and labelled. Even within Ireland, the climate varies from the warm sunny south-east to the colder wild north-west. Take for example peppers and aubergine packets which say to sow in January or February. I tried that last year and nothing germinated. On the course I learned that in Ireland you are better off to leave them till late February or maybe March.
To make the most of my growing space I need to have seedlings ready to plant in as I am harvesting and taking out another crop. As opposed to what I usually do which is decide in May that I would like tomatoes again this year. The course even did the right way to sow seeds in modules and watering them in. Turns out chancing your arm, chucking things in and sloshing water over them when you remember is not really the recommended practice. Who knew?
Well now I know. And I am feeling fairly inspired and definitely well-armed. So I am going to sit down in front of the fire for a few evenings after the Little Paddler has drifted off and plan my tunnel. I have three raised beds in it at the minute and I am going to strip the soil out of them and manure everything well and then start rotating crops and planning things out like a proper grown-up gardener. Once I get in to my tunnel. The entrance is currently blocked up with piles of firewood which Mr. Fairweather promises to tidy away on his next few days off in a row. Hmmmm………
In the meantime, may I recommend that you get The Organic Centre’s catalogue and have a look and see if some of their courses take your fancy? I have a list a mile long. But then again I do love a good list…..