A Country Diary: 25
27 June 2005
I WAS AWAY from on business in town and our neighbour was looking after the hens. On Sunday she called to say that disaster had struck: total wipe-out. But it wasn’t a fox, it was a badger. It seems she locked the hens in their house as usual one evening. The following morning she opened the door to find six dead hens and a skulking badger. It seems he had crept in during the day when the door was open, then kept his head down till the hends were ushered back inside. Then he had a whole night ahead to do as he pleased. I now think that the first massacre was probably carried out by the same badger; as you might remember, I had seen a badger loping around in the barns on the morning of the attack.
SO WE ARE FEELING under siege by animals. Our other problem has been slugs. A friend brought us a dozen nicotania plants, which we planted out. On return from London, they had completely vanished, having been eaten by snails and slugs. My friend Alan says he has never seen so many slugs in all his gardening years. Maybe it’s something to do with the weather conditions.
ANYWAY, I have been heartily depresssed by the second chicken massacre. Having spent sixty pounds on buying them for a total yield of probably forty eggs, I realised that we had created the most expensive eggs in history, and the idea was to save money. I’m not really sure what to do now; perhaps a whole new system of keeping hens is in order. I understand anecdotally that the fox problem seems to have grown worse over the years; people who used to let their hens run free found they were getting killed so they moved them to more secure quarters; they contined to be killed so many gave up. Local farmers keep their hens in completely enclosed wire cages. What happened to the sight of hens running free and pecking around in the farmyard? Is that really dead? And why?
BETTER NEWS on the vegetable patch. The peas are growing to an enormous height; over six feet. Pods are appearing. And while I was in London, I received a call from young Arthur. “The strawberries have turned red!” he said. The problem there, again, is slugs. It seems they wait till the precise moment the strawbeyyer has ripened, and then steam in a chomp it to pieces. I think perhaps you have to pick them just before they are really ready, and then hope they ripen on their own. Another trick I heard was to attach a piece of brass to the sides of the raised beds; slugs will not pass this barrier as it’s like an electric fence to them.
THE POTATOES ARE looking healthy but I don’t know when I should be digging them up. Do you wait for the flowers to die down? We’ve had a few nice lettuces and as for the brassicas, well, I am feeling quietly smug about the cabbages, kale plants, brussels sprouts and broccoli. They are positively blooming. The only problem is where to put them; they are too crowded together bu there is no space anywhere else. I think I may move them to pea and potato land when those harvests have come in.
THE FOXGLOVES have gone crazy this year. Everywhere from the hedgerows spring giant, slightly ungainly pink foxgloves; and in some gardens beautiful giant white ones. It seems as if different years have different specialities when it comes to wild flowers; violets are another rbig one this year.