Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

Well, you can’t say I leap into things. At least five years after considering it for the first time, and over a year since I wrote a blog post saying I’d decided to do it, I’ve bought a hen house and two chickens: a Black Rock and a Bluebell.Chickens pecking at the grass

Having reluctantly discounted the classic Eglu  – not easily available in Ireland, too expensive, non-Irish, too much like an old iMac to look right in my overgrown, ivy-covered garden –  I drooled for two years over these cool creams and greens from Donegal  but in the end I had to cut my cloth to suit my measure and I have a plain square wooden coop that doesn’t look like a computer or a cottage. I assembled it myself from a flat pack supplied by FarmFowl in Laragh. I don’t know yet whether it will turn out to be a false economy – the ladder has already splintered and the nest box roof doesn’t seem to fit properly, though the house part seems sturdy and safe. But already – three days in – I want a bigger one and one that I can be 100 per cent sure is fox proof, if such a thing exists.

Because now that the chickens are here (driven home from Laragh in a cardboard box of wood shavings on my son’s knees) all I can think about is foxes. At night, every time I start awake I dash to the window, replaying bits of Fantastic Mr Fox in my mind. I hang out of it, trying to make out the henhouse in the dark. Nighttime transforms the squawk of every bird – probably the dreamy squawks of the chickens themselves – into the scream of a vixen. I lay awake from threeish to fourish last night googling fox deterrents on my iPhone. Foxes are intelligent and chickens are daft. It’s got to end in tears.

Our silver hen, Bluebell, escapes into the next door field on day two and we spend two hours of our precious Sunday evening combing the nettles and brambles. I remember the bit in Grimble where Grimble catches pigeons by putting his jacket over their heads, and I link it to the remembered fact from Danny the Champion of the World that pheasants will not move if their eyes are covered. It all starts to make sense.
“We must cover her eyes!”
Half an hour later we realise if we could get close enough to do this we’d be close enough to seize her. In desperation we make a hole in our own fence and act like sheepdogs to drive her through it.

Everyone who has chickens has to register with the Department of Agriculture as a flock keeper. Other than reading notices about not bringing unpasteurised cheese home from other countries, and dipping my feet before and after entering Airfield, this is probably my first ever contact with the Department of Agriculture. But I am now a flock keeper, of this tiny flock of two. The internet discussion groups reassure me that it’s not that the Department wants to overregulate – the registration is just so that they can write to me if bird flu arises again. Bird flu! More tears.

Battery chickens

I’m looking forward to the chickens stalking more confidently round the garden, to watching their combs redden, to their recognising my voice (will they?). I’m hoping to find my anxieties subsiding, and in a few weeks’ time, to find the chickens starting to lay in their wood-shavings-lined nest box.

It’s fifteen years or more since I last knowingly ate a battery chicken’s egg, and I hope I never do again. The chickens in this photo qualify as “free-range”. I can’t even bear to download a photograph of battery birds.
I’d love to hear that the early days of chicken keeping have gone well for others, it might settle my jumpy nerves – I’m not sure that rereading Fantastic Mr Fox is doing much for me. It can’t be good for a flock keeper to base care methods on children’s books featuring the wrong sorts of birds.

My chicken keeping reading list:


Self-Sufficiency: Hen Keeping

21st Century Smallholder

Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance


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I’ve got my eye on a piece of ground opposite the house. In fact, I can see it from the window. In fact, I can see it from three windows. It’s dullish, there’s nothing growing there but groundsel and stickyweed (whatever its real name is) and in the spring and summer great umbrellas of deadly hogweed, a thick-stemmed brute which somehow manages to spread across a tarmac road and over a granite wall into my garden.

Now, Lidl are selling sacks of daffodil bulbs for 7.99, so I am screwing up the courage to get out my bulb dibber, sneak across the road at dead of night, and bury the lot in clumps which by March will be cheerful gangs of daffodils that I won’t tire of admiring till their heads drop and summer’s on the way again.


I’m screwing up the courage, but I’m not there yet. Why do I hesitate? I’d love to hear encouraging stories of guerrilla gardening.

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Oh, my Lord

Well. Ian Paisley was all snuggled up in ermine yesterday and is now Lord Bannside. There you go. And he won’t be supporting reform of the House of Lords, surprise, surprise.

Earl of Dublin

I was at Russborough House over the weekend, tripping over the roots of an enormous redwood – or Wellingtonia, I discover – which turns out to have been (graciously) planted by a previous Prince of Wales and Earl of Dublin. The tree’s done well so clearly the gracious approach works – must try it myself – and he allowed sufficient space for the root ball, but less horticulturally, my reaction was to think what, can this possibly be a title Charlo might still use today?

That Prince of Wales, the tree-planter, was Queen Victoria’s son, who became Edward VII, but apparently the title of Earl of Dublin was “merged with the Crown”, whatever that means, in 1901, when Queen Vic died and the Earl of Dublin took the throne. But is merging with the Crown enough? My vague understanding is that the Crown can be a sort of resting-place for unused titles while their original bearer gets on with incompatible dukedoms or kingdoms or whatever. The titles still exist, and can one day be wrapped up in ribbon as a little treat for someone’s birthday or perhaps if they get a good school report or become milk monitor.

Ian Paisley, apparently, chose his title to reflect the start of his Parliamentary career. Who came up with the Earl of Dublin, and isn’t there some mechanism for extinguishing a title which lays claim to a capital city outside your jurisdiction? Wouldn’t the Queen would be annoyed if this State made me Lady London? Oh, I don’t know. It just seems rude and inappropriate, somehow, not to extinguish an Irish title like that. Perhaps a royal expert can set me straight on what really happens in these circs. In the meantime let’s calm our rattled nerves by gazing into a blue Russborough sky through the branches of the royal Wellingtonia.

Russborough House Wellingtonia June 2010

The Wellingtonia at Russborough House

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