Raising chicks : broody hen or incubator?

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We began raising our own chicks this year on Franger Farm using both an incubator and a broody hen. We had varying degrees of success with each method and have discovered that they both have their pros and cons. So, which one is right for you? maybe you’ll be like us and give both a go. Here we discuss some of the good and bad points so that you can make up your own mind.

Broody hen.

A good broody hen will take care of everything for you.

A good broody hen will take care of everything for you.

The best thing about letting a broody hen hatch and raise chicks for you is just that, a broody hen will hatch and raise chicks for you, no major input required. However, we have discovered that there are a few things that need to be considered when you’re using a broody. Firstly, you cannot choose the timing of your hen’s broodiness, she’ll become broody when she feels like it and she won’t be interested in sitting on eggs until she is. Secondly, your hen will decide how many eggs she wants to sit on, our broody will only sit on two at a time, despite being a light sussex which is a fairly large bird. Our broody also managed to break one of the eggs she was sitting on quite early on and we had to separate her from the rest of the flock so that she could sit without being hassled and we didn’t have to worry about her chicks being attacked by the other hens or the rooster. We also didn’t know what sort of mother our broody would be, not all hens make great mothers, some will lose interest in their chicks when they hatch and others may even kill them. There’s no way to know what sort of mother your broody will make until she’s raised her first chick, so it’s worth giving your her a test run before you put any expensive fertile eggs under her. The big advantage of a broody comes into play once the chicks are hatched. The hen will teach the chicks to drink, eat and look for bugs, the chicks will also be naturally integrated into the flock, under the watchful eye of it’s mother.

Incubator.

An incubator allows you to control the timing of the hatch.

An incubator allows you to control the timing of the hatch.

There’s no denying that using an incubator is high maintenance when compared to using a broody hen, there are some advantages though. The main ones are that you are in control of the timing of the hatch and the number of eggs to be incubated. It does however, require a lot of commitment. The eggs may need to be turned regularly if your incubator is not automatic, there is a risk of losing chicks if the power goes out, the temperature and humidity must be monitored constantly and that’s all before the chicks hatch! After the chicks hatch and dry out, they have to be transferred to a brooder where they’ll need heat, food and water. They need to be checked constantly for the first few days and there is a chance of losing chicks if the power goes out and you can’t keep them warm.

Chicks hatched in an incubator with be friendlier than those raised by a broody.

Chicks hatched in an incubator with be friendlier than those raised by a broody.

Chickens will go from fluffy little chicks to fairly large, noisy birds inside a few weeks, it may be a while before they can be fully transitioned outside with the other hens, are you prepared to deal with the huge amounts of sawdust they kick everywhere? It’s your responsibility to ensure that they are slowly introduced to the big outdoors and the rest of the flock, this can be a slow process. Incubator hatched chickens will be friendlier than chicks raised by a broody, simply because they are used to being handled and that can be a definite advantage.

So, as you can see, there’s a lot to consider before you decide which method to use. We started with an incubator because it gave us a lot of control over timing, which can be important if you’re working or very busy, but when we found ourselves with a broody hen, we couldn’t resist giving her a few fertile eggs to sit on. What ever you decide to do, one thing is for sure, it’ll be a lot of fun.

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How to grow : Potatoes.

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Potatoes would have to be the absolutely best vegetable there is, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that there is virtually no one who doesn’t like to eat potatoes in one form or another, yet, I know quite a few people that grow their own veg but have never grown potatoes. I don’t know why this is, maybe they’re not sure how, or they think that they don’t have the space? Well, I’m here to tell you that growing potatoes is really easy and there are ways to grow them in small spaces too.

Leave your seed potatoes somewhere bright for a week or so until they 'chit'.

Leave your seed potatoes somewhere bright for a week or so until they ‘chit’.

Potatoes are best grown from certified disease free seed potatoes, but if you have never grown potatoes before, you could use a few shop bought ones that have sprouted in the pantry and plant them in a large container. They can be planted from late winter to early spring. In order to give your potatoes a good start, leave them on a sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks until they start to sprout, this is called ‘chitting’. Not all gardeners chit their potatoes and they will still grow if you plant them without chitting, they’ll just take a little longer.

Dig a trench to plant your potatoes.

Dig a trench to plant your potatoes.

Once your potatoes have chitted, you’re ready to plant. If you’re planting in the ground, dig a trench about 10cm (4 ins) deep, a bit of well rotted manure in the bottom will give your potatoes a flying start as they are heavy feeders. Put your potatoes in the trench about 30 cm (12 ins) apart and cover them with a little soil.

You can easily grow potatoes in a large container if you have no space in your garden.

You can easily grow potatoes in a large container if you have no space in your garden.

As the potato plants grow, cover all but the tops of the plants with soil, the more you cover the stems of the plant, the more potatoes you will have at harvest time. The same principles apply to potatoes grown in a container, simply plant your potatoes in a small amount of soil in the bottom of the container and then fill the container with more soil as the plants grow.

harvest your potatoes once the plants have flowered and begun to die back.

harvest your potatoes once the plants have flowered and begun to die back.

Your potatoes will be ready to harvest once the plants have flowered and begun to die back, dig them up carefully, trying not to stab any (virtually impossible, but try anyway). If you are growing in a container, simply tip it upside down to harvest!
Don’t wash any potatoes that you’re planning to store as they will not store as long once they’re clean, try to store them in a cool dark place and never store the with apples as the ethylene gas that they emit will make your potatoes rot.
So, if you haven’t tried growing potatoes before, why not give them a go? They’re extremely low maintenance,  you can grow them in a container if you’re short of space and, in the case of all home grown veg, they taste fantastic!

Deliciously simple rhubarb jam.

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Once a rhubarb patch becomes established, you can find yourself with masses of it, here’s a very simple jam recipe that will use plenty. This recipe is based on one we found on https://www.taste.com.au and it’s so easy.

Ingredients.
1kg (2.2lbs) rhubarb
1kg (2.2lbs) caster sugar
120ml (1/2 cup) lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla essence.

Method.
Remove the leaves from the rhubarb, wash and roughly chop it.

Wash and chop the rhubarb.

Wash and chop the rhubarb.

Mix together the rhubarb, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla essence in a large bowl. leave to stand overnight for the flavours to infuse and mingle.

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.

Your rhubarb pieces will shrink a little and the sugar will become syrupy.

your rhubarb will have released liquid overnight.

your rhubarb will have released liquid overnight.

Transfer the rhubarb mixture to a large pan and bring to the boil over a medium to high heat. You should use a large spoon to skim any froth from the surface. Cook it for 35-40 mins, stirring regularly.

cook for 35-40 mins.

cook for 35-40 mins.

The jam is ready when it “jells” when tested. To test your jam, place 1 teaspoon of it on a chilled saucer and place in the freezer for a couple of minutes until it has cooled to room temperature. Then, lightly push the jam with your finger, if the surface wrinkles, it’s ready.

Spoon your hot jam into sterilised jars and seal, leave to cool.
Enjoy your jam on toast or scones or how about trying it drizzled over ice cream!

How to grow : Asparagus.

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Asparagus is a real luxury veg and pretty expensive to buy in the shops. It’s easy enough to grow your own though, all you need is an area that you’re not planning to use for the next 25 years and some patience.

Asparagus is easy to grow from year old crowns.

Asparagus is easy to grow from year old crowns.

Asparagus is a perennial, so it needs to be planted somewhere that it can grow undisturbed year after year. It can be grown from seed or from year old crowns. Both are straightforward but, as the name suggests, year old crowns will give you a harvest sooner than growing from seed. Because Asparagus plants are so long lived, the soil needs to be prepared with plenty of compost and well rotted manure before planting. The crowns should be planted in winter while they are dormant in a trench big enough to accommodate the spread out roots, cover with compost. The crowns should be planted about 40 cm (15 ins) apart.
The crowns will send up ferny shoots in the spring.

The crowns will send up ferny shoots in the spring.

In the spring, the crowns will send up ferny shoots and this is where the patience comes in, it will take another couple of years before anything can be harvested from your Asparagus bed. The fronds need to be allowed to grow so that the crowns can produce some good, strong roots.
These plants are a few years old and are producing asparagus for harvest.

These plants are a few years old and are producing asparagus for harvest.

Once the strong frond growth has yellowed in the autumn, it can be cut back to ground level. The crowns will then remain dormant over the winter until finally sending up edible shoots in the spring.
Edible shoots will emerge in the spring.

Edible shoots will emerge in the spring.

The wonderful home grown asparagus shoots will increase in number every year, the bed needs to be kept weed free and fertilized in spring and autumn. If you follow these simple instructions, you’ll have sweet, tender Asparagus in your backyard in a few years time, and remember, patience is a virtue!