Archive | May 2016

Three chickies and a funeral..

(This post is dedicated to the FB group Funky Chicken PT Fan Club with grateful thanks for all the help with chicken rearing from their members)

Funky Chicken PT Fan Club


Broody Godzilla the Hen


This is a shaggy chicken story, if there is such a thing, so if chickens are only  something you eat in batter with chips, move on, gentle reader.

I have tried very hard to remain unsentimental about my chickens, really I have, but actually I think I’d  better admit  I’m completely besotted with them. One half of my garden is devoted to them and in that part I can only grow things they can’t eat, that’s how much I love them.

The flock has a sort of natural ebb and flow about it and I like that. It’s also changing as my knowledge of chicken keeping develops. I have learned a lot over the past four years, both from the chickens and from other people who are more experienced and have helped me on the way.


Mrs Chicken

Although I do see my chickens as a very useful  source of eggs, and potentially meat (well ,you have to do something with the cockerels) I also see them as a resource for the garden. My young fruit trees are doing very well and are fairly  bug free thanks to their efforts as the chickens eat anything that moves and they are also well manured by their droppings. They cheerful ly scratch through the compost heap, turning things over and their night bedding, a mixture of wood shavings and poo is an excellent addition to the compost heap.

But my chicken flock is imbalanced at the moment. Right now, I have the three naked neck  hens, a trio of trouble if ever there was one, and Mrs Chicken and Miss Henny sitting on eggs. To make it more confusing, Mrs Chicken is sitting on 9 of Miss Henny’s eggs, as I want more bantams and Miss Henny  will be sitting on eggs from a friend’s  flock (she is sitting on one rather dirty egg at the moment as I’m waiting for the eggs)  Chickens aren’t terribly fussy about whose eggs they sit on, so there is a certain amount of social engineering a chicken keeper can do.


Fresh eggs and vegetables from the garden

My two cockerels are left with three hens. I have a big white cockerel called Phoenix, and ayou couldn’t imagine a more gentlemanly bird (if you can call a bird that!)  He watches benevolently over his three hens and the hens on the eggs, clucks lovingly when he finds a tasty tidbit for them and makes  cooing noises to them when they dustbathe together, scratching the soil about them in a heap of ecstatic rolling in the dust.


The Velociraptors

But he has his problems, in the guise of the bantam cockerel Junior or Bonarparte, as we’ve come to call him (I’ll get to that in a minute). Junior is the Cockerel Formerly  Known as “Miss Penny”. He came with Miss Henny and escaped into the wilderness, as you may remember from an earlier blog post.  Now Junior sees Miss Henny as his wife, and indeed she accepts her role, although secretly she prefers Phoenix and sometimes even sits down for his ever so gentle advances, which is just as well, since he’s three times bigger than her. But Junior also sees all the other hens as his potential wives and creeps up on them for a bit of “how’s your father” at every opportunity. When he succeeds in getting hold of their combs, which is how cockerels stay on a hen’s back  (bit graphic, I know, but you’re all grownups)   the hen squawks loudly in protest and Phoenix rushes up and boots him up the rear to Junior’s great upset. As Junior never gives up on his endless quest to steal Phoenix’s wives, he has come to be known, reasonably affectionately, as Bonaparte, or Bonar for obvious reasons.


Mrs Chicken helping me garden

Junior needs more wives, which is why Mrs Chicken is sitting on 9 of Miss Henny’s eggs. Although I can’t breed from them as that would be incestuous. Not that hens care about that, and there isn’t a law against it, but it isn’t a great idea in the long run as it will replicate weaknesses in the flock. That’s  why I’m asking a friend to give me some unrelated fertile eggs to put under Miss Henny, who is going to be renamed Godzilla the Hen, because that’s what she turned into since she’s become broody.

I have always heard that broody hens can be vicious, but Mrs Chicken isn’t. She complains a bit when I get her out to let her feed and dust bathe, but she’s never pecked me once. In fact she coos at me in what I like to think is an affectionate greeting.

The little bantam, so prissy and shy with her feathery feet, and usually very sweet, has turned into something out of a Hitchcock movie. As you approach the nest she looks at you with a very reptilian eye. Her icy stare seems to say “Go on, make my day” and then if you do actually approach her further the feathers on the back of her neck go up so she looks like a sort of puff adder . The she emits a blood curdling squawk. And God forbid the gardening glove gets anywhere near!  It’s pecked to death. I’ve learnt my lesson. I approach with the barbecue mitt and a dustpan for a shield.


Miss Henny and Bonaparte

The baby chicks are due tomorrow. I’ve been very good, I haven’t checked the eggs every minute or disturbed the hen at all. But I have to confess to listening outside the broody box for pips and cheeps, none so far, but I’m quietly confident this time, watch this space.

On a sad note, my chief hen, Lady Henrietta had to be kindly euthanised this week (that’s a nice way of putting it, I’m afraid)  She was my last hybrid hen of the four I originally had. The poor things die of egg peritonitis mostly because their ovaries are overworked producing eggs. Factory hybrids are bred to be egg laying machines and it means they don’t live long. She managed four years, pretty good going and had a lovely life. But she was a clever, sharp hen who rose from being the bottom of the pack (actually she wasn’t bottom, she just couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about being left out of things  and stayed aloof) to being the top hen , almost by default. I will miss her.


Lady Henrietta RIP

Such  is birth, life and death in my garden. The other day someone said “Your house  is something like a cross between a villa and a farm” I take that as a compliment, I think!

PS. STOP PRESS: Mrs Chicken finally did it! She hatched three chicks and they are all doing well. I’m a Chicken Granny. Weyyy Heyyy!


The chicks-2 days old



Gardening weekly. Read all about it!


A succulent mini garden


As I walk around garden, I think of great stuff to blog about. Then when I sit down to do a post, I forget them all! I really must get into the habit of carrying a notebook around in my pocket to jot down ideas. I can’t even blame my advancing years on these lapses of memory, since I’ve always had a brain like a sieve. It’s raining today, so I’ve settled myself to catch up. I blog really as a way of writing a diary of the garden progress, but it’s nice to know people may read and learn from my experiences and mistakes. I like to thing of you all gardening away on the other side of the virtual fence.

The other day my sister, a keen gardener,  did one of those round robin Facebook challenges of posting something from the garden every day.  She nominated me to take part, but I never got round to it  although I did take some photos and thought about what I’d include each day. Instead of posting them day by day, I’ll do it here:

So a photo for every day of the week:



This is a Scilla Peruviana. To my shock and awe when I first came here, because I just couldn’t believe my eyes, it grows wild here under the carob trees!  And long may it continue to attract the bees and insects, although many of the extraordinary habitats here are threatened by the cleaning of large areas of the serra/mata for carob or orange plantations. I have some growing in my garden, but only because a friend and neighbour found  some bulbs uprooted by one of these diggers and rescued them for me.


Giant Globe artichokes


I have globe artichokes coming out of my ears. Or should that be earwigs coming out of my globe artichokes! The plants are gigantic and I grew them from seed. I need a ladder to pick the globes.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised really, because cardoons  and large thistles grow very well hereabouts. The Portuguese use the flower petals of the cardoons as a sort of rennet to make the local sheep’s or goat’s cheese set. Unfortunately, although I love globe artichokes, they are full of earwigs, which I detest. The other day some friends  arrived from the UK just as I was putting them in a pot to boil to make globe artichoke salad for lunch. Although I’d banged them out before bringing them in, there were still loads struggling very vehemently against a watery death and my guests were greeted to me hopping about the kitchen doing battle with the little varmints. Not a great advert for lunch!


A Dutch Iris


Irises grow very well in my sunny garden. I have planted many, in honour of a very dear friend,  who loved them with a passion. Athough she has gone to the Great Garden in the Sky, I feel she walks about with me as I work in the garden. She was never shy of giving advice and I frequently feel I hear her telling me I need to be bolder with colour or more daring in my planting. I love the colour of this iris which is called “Tiger’s Eye” It has  just the sort of exotic colours she liked and I’m sure she’d approve of it. I share it in her memory. I miss her  in my world.




Some of my lettuces have been so beautiful this year I can hardly bear to eat them! Lettuces are a bit touch and go in hot climates, and frequently bolt. I bought these as plug plants in the local market, where you can get  15 plants for a euro, and planted them in a sunny spot a couple of months ago and they have done really well. The leaves have that slightly bitter taste you don’t get in the hydroponically grown offerings in the supermarket. And if you manage to grow them in between one rainfall in the winter and another before the snails and butterflies have woken up yet, you can get away with little damage, although I did cover these with horticultural fleece, which Ive since discovered disintegrates in hot sun.


Fasciating Echiums


Fasciating Aida! This is an Echium Candicans or The Pride of Madeira doing something weird called Fasciation. It should grow into a tall blue spire, but the cells get confused, something to do with slightly too rapid growth and this weird thickening and twisting happens to the flower.  I find fasciation fascinating, but not everyone likes it to happen to their plants. It doesn’t happen every year and I watch it in amazement! Google it if you’d like to know more, I’m not too sure of the science of it. The  flower should be like those in in this photo, spire like. A beautiful plant that grows like a weed in Madeira on the hills.




Large, Medium and Tiny eggs


Eggs from my chickens

These are three eggs laid by my  chickens. The first ibelons to  Lady Henrietta.   She laid huge eggs. Unfortunately she’ll never lay an egg for me again as  we had to kill her kindly this morning as she had been ill for a week and my nursing wasn’t making her any better. She went the way of all my hybrid hens, all dying of  egg peritonitis in the end, caused by the fact that they are bred to be egg laying machines and it’s all too much for their bodies eventually.  But she lived a good life; four years for a hybrid hen is a very long time and she went from being the bottom hen to Chief Chicken in that time. I stroked her head, shed a tear, looked her in the eye  and thanked her for her life and eggs,  as I always do when we have to cull a hen and with Senor Faztudo’s  help we dispatched her quickly with the garden loppers.  I hate it, but it has to be done as part of a responsible chicken keeper’s job. Unfortunatey I doubt  someone will be able to afford me such kindness when it’s my turn to go (although I’d rather it wasn’t by garden loppers of course, could get a bit messy!)

On to happier subjects! The second egg is from my bantam hen, Miss Henny. Mrs Chicken , my rather unreliable broody, is sitting on nine of her eggs right now and if we don’t have any mishaps, we may have new life in the garden by next Wednesday. I do hope so. I am learning all the time and although I haven’t hatched a brood yet, I’m hoping this will be third time lucky.

The third egg is a witch’s egg! Or that’s what some people call them and superstitious people won’t have them in the house. It’s a teeny, tiny egg with no yolk. I’m fascinated by them, but glad they don’t lay them too often, usually in the Spring after a period of being off lay.


Wild orchids


Bee Orchids

Finally here’s a photo from God’s Garden for Sunday. The wild orchids are all around us here and you can see from this shot how similar they are to bees. Bless them!  I love the way they just pop up at you on a walk and surprise you. I hope I will always be surprised and delighted by them and never take them for granted. And that’s the end of the Gardening Weekly. I just remembered I was going to write about my latest passion, perennial vegetables. I’ll get on with that then…