Have you heard or seen the first skein of geese yet? I did recently and it always makes me feel slightly melancholy. On the one hand it means that nature will be slowing down and the garden needs less maintenance and attention; and on the other hand it means I’ll be spending more time indoors. It also means that I can start studying again, which I always find a nice prospect and really look forward to.

The first skein of geese
October 2021

On the chicken front.... Bib (the aggressive broody hen) is broody no more, which means her ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ personality has gone too. She’s back to being her usual clingy self, always getting under my feet! Mind you, all the chickens seem to enjoy getting in my way - when my husband and I leave for work in the morning, one of us has to distract them with treats, while the other jumps in the car, and reverses it out of our drive. If we don’t distract them, they will just wander out in front of the moving car! It’s a bit like a zombie movie… where the zombies run (or walk very, very slowly depending on the era the Zombie movie was made!) at the slightest movement, hungry for brains. I should really rub some tomato ketchup around their beaks and film it, who knows, it may become a blockbuster… ‘Chickens of the Living Dead’ perhaps?
Hank the Tank is easily the worst culprit. She literally follows you around everywhere you go morning, noon and night. I sometimes have to shut the gate practically in her face and you should see the look she draws me! “How rude!” I can imagine her thinking. She also has a bad habit of jumping on top of the table when I’m busy preparing their porridge (which they absolutely love by the way). This can be really annoying but also quite cute in a funny sort of way.

All vegetable beds are more or less empty now, apart from the ones which contain green manure. Green manure is also known as a ‘catch crop’, which you sow in between harvests or in autumn so that soil doesn’t lay bare over winter. You then dig it in while it is still green in spring. Green manure adds nutrients and structure to the soil and it also looks nicer than chucking cardboard or fleece in the empty beds. Because it was so warm this year I’ve managed to sow several beds with green manure and it looks very, well, green.
Those of you who have been reading my blog from the start will know how I like experimenting in my garden. Some of you may remember how, some months ago, I sowed broad beans a bit later than I usually do anticipating a warm summer. One slight problem – one plant got infested with black fly, so my experiment was to just leave it and see what would happen. Thankfully the black fly aphids disappeared by themselves and this is the result: a healthy crop of broad beans with no pesticides used!

My latest experiment is this: I took down the runner bean plants, and left them (and the old endive plants) on the bed as a green cover. Again, this is really what would happen in nature anyway, so my theory is that they will just decompose and release more nutrients into the soil. However, it might just provide the ideal environment for slugs and next year I’ll have an infestation of these slimy little blighters! I’ll just have to wait and see. On the plus side at least the hedgehogs won’t go hungry....

I have also been growing sunflowers, not just because they are pleasant to look at, but also to use them as bird food. In order to do this you have to.... well, not much actually. Simply cut the flowers off when you can see seeds inside and plonk the entire seed head on the bird table! Et voila! It might take the birds a few days before they realise it is something edible, but eventually they should start pecking away at it - after all it’s what they do in the wild too. Now this may sound very weird, but I’ve even dried some weeds (dock and sorrel) that had set seeds to feed to the birds over winter. I just left them hanging upside down for a few weeks (the weeds, not the birds!) and stripped the seeds into a container. Eventually, I’ll benefit from doing this, too - it means the seeds won’t germinate into new weeds and I won’t have to dig them up next year!

Feeding birds reminds me of an experiment I carried out as part of my studies last year: I had to investigate whether the birds visiting my garden preferred to eat red dough balls over yellow dough balls or if they had no preference to either colour. I was quite lucky because my birds weren’t fussy eaters at all and just scoffed the dough balls as soon as I put them out for them (I recorded the result of the experiment as ‘no difference’), but other students weren’t so lucky. This year I am a ‘student buddy’, someone who has completed a particular part of the course and is able to offer support and encouragement to other students. The new lot of students are now doing the same bird investigation and yes, a few students are saying that their birds are so fussy they won’t even come anywhere near the dough balls, never mind peck at them. My role is to offer the students some advice and, above all, alleviate some of their worries. It’s nice to think that some of my advice has been helpful to others - it makes me feel quite proud, to be honest.

That’s the problem with nature isn’t it? It never does what you want it to do!