Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Something Fowl in the Orchard!

This persistent rain seems to be dampening everyone's spirits. Cidermakers in particular will be glummer than usual at the thought of another 'less-than-vintage' apple harvest this year. Sure, there's plenty of apples about, and the rain is certainly helping to swell the fruit, but for good sugar levels and flavour we could do with a bit of sunshine.... Please!

On a brighter note, our three lovely hens have arrived, two Gingernut Ranger's, and a Miss Pepperpot, accompanied by a smart new Eglu from the Omlet people. This system of chicken keeping suits our needs well, and three hens should be just about right to patrol our small garden orchard.

Chickens and orchards have a natural synergy. Chickens love to scratch around the orchard floor, pecking at anything that looks tasty. The pupae of Codling Moths (Cydia pomonella), the scourge of apple growers worldwide, often overwinter on the orchard floor, so we're hoping that our hens develop a taste for these and other damaging pests.

As if that wasn't enough, all this scratching and pecking around should result in the hens depositing a range of useful nutrients amongst the trees. Chicken droppings are a great source of Nitrogen, Phosphates, Potash and Calcium, as well as a range of trace elements which are all very useful to the fruit and vegetable grower. Chicken manure can be bought in pelleted form for use around the garden, but we will have our own 'on tap' as it were.

Eggs are of course essential to any self respecting orchard breakfast, and Chickens provide great free entertainment.

We'll have to keep the hens contained in their run for a few days, in the same way that a cat needs to be kept in for a time following a house move. It should help them settle into their new home. I can't see the hens kicking up too much of a fuss about this, after all, who'd want to go out in weather like this!

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