Chickens in the backyard

When I raised the question of keeping chickens in the backyard, everybody in the family agreed with enthusiasms. It took my husband and I two hours to complete the fence enclosure of 3m x 3.5m, built using wooden posts and chicken netting. We were so proud that we made the fence door all by ourselves using the same wooden posts, chicken netting and some wooden panels. The completed fence door was more than ok in its appearance; more importantly, it’s served its purpose perfectly.

We immediately went to a Sunday market and bought 3 medium-sized young chickens. The stand-owner told us that the chickens were about to lay eggs in a week or two. And they did. Only by the next morning right after they came to our backyard, one of the chicken laid an egg!!!!! What a wonderful feeling it was to collect the eggs of your own chicken. The eggs were small in the beginning, but got bigger when days went by. From an average of 1 egg per day in the beginning, we collected at least 2 per day later on. These were fresh, healthy and nutritious eggs!

My initial idea of having chickens in the backyard was only for the simple reason of recycling garden and kitchen wastes, and for fresh eggs. But once the 3 chickens arrived, they did not only what I expect them to: recycled wastes and laid eggs; they became our source of daily joy. We went to watch them scratching around; listen to their clucking. They are just enjoyable animal to have around. They are very social animals who love company. When they first came to our backyard, they were very cautious whenever we approached them. When time passed by, they became acquainted with us; they came running to us even if we had no food with us. We just adore them.

Like other animals, we need to make a commitment to care for them everyday: give them food, fresh water, keep their litter clean. We do that with pleasure. But it is easily said than done! There are practical problems. In spring and summer, it was no problem; we could atten to them in the morning, and again in the afternoon when we were back from work. We had more green leaves from the vegetable garden for them. But when late autumn set in, days got shorter, by the time we were home, it was already dark. We could give them food, fresh water only in the morning.

I used to buy straw and scattered it in the coop and the nesting box. The chickens just kicked the straws around to where they need, but their poop was left on the wooden floor in their nest. I now use shredded newspapers mixed with straw and put a thick layer in the nesting box. The mixture is not easy to be kicked away. It works beautifully: the mixture doesn’t cost me much, it is easy to clean and they are great materials for the compost heap.

Now that the autumn gets to its end and the winter is approaching, we know that the chicken’s egg laying process will come to a halt. We hope that our chickens will get through their first winter safely.


A Trip to Giverny


This long holiday weekend has made my long-waiting dream – a visit to Giverny – come true. Giverny, the home to the famous impressionist painter Claude Monet and his world-known Japanese inspired water garden, is about 70 km west of Paris.
Once out of the highway, we immediately found ourselves driving into wonderful countryside and through villages with narrow streets. Giverny is a small garden village with irises and wallflowers growing alongside its streets.

Monet’s garden is in two parts: the flower garden in front of his house and the famous water lily garden across the street. The flower garden is now bursting into vivid spring colours: tulips, forget-me-nots, irises, wall flowers, pansies and other spring flowers and bulbs are grouped in blocks of similar colours complimenting each other in harmony. The spring-flowering clematis is producing light pink flowers on long arches, complimenting the light pink walls of the house. Monet was such a plant lover who exchanged plants with friends, or often bought new plant species. ‘All my money goes into my garden’ he once said. I see some of myself in him (aren’t we all gardeners are alike in so many ways?!).

Across the street lies his famous lily pond, a large water garden. Though it is till early for the water lilies, the garden shines
through bamboos growing alongside a stream where the lily pond gets its water resources from, the rhododendrons next to the water are in full blossom and the wisterias above the famous bridge are just beginning to show long-stripping flower buds, birds are singing… it is here tranquil and harmonious.

One of this long weekend days happens to be my birthday. There is nowhere else I’d rather like to be than in the master’s colourful and harmonious garden, walking around, or simply sitting down on a bench among the flowers and their sweet scent, and let myself melt into the master’s living paintings. I love the garden and its atmosphere and would love to go back again and again to see the garden in its summer or autumn glory.


2008 / A happy start / First sowing

We are approaching end February, the daily temperature is above 10C already for a few days, the sun is shining, my sandy soil is dry and warm, and everything looks right! The temptation to sow is too strong to resist. I went out and sowed 2 varieties of peas in my raised beds (raised bed 2 + raised bed A): The Sugar peas ‘Norli’: is a dwarf pea grown for sweet and crispy sugar peas. This variety was proven to be a star performer last year, very productive, producing good quality fruits throughout the spring. The other variety was seeds brought back from my trip to Kunming last December. This variety of seeds is developed specially for producing pea shouts. They should produce fatty tender pea shouts ready for pick in a few weeks time. The seeds were soaked in warm water overnight. The raised beds had been well prepared in the past few weeks with lime, self-made compost and dried cow + chicken manure added. I sowed the peas 2 cm deep in shallow trenches. After sowing, I’ve placed 2 long lines of ribbons across my raised beds as a kind of scarecrow. This is a trick I learned from a neighbour of mine to expel birds once the seeds begin to germinate.

After more than a week of dry weather, it rained last night, the night right after my sowing! A sign of happy start for 2008!


Plan Ahead


At this time of the year, nights fall early, at 16.30h, it is already very dark outside. With that much rain lingering on already for days, there is not much garden job I can do outside. Sitting down relaxed, it is time to plan ahead for this year’s vegetable garden.

The main focus is on the 4 evenly divided raised beds I’ve built myself last year for the sake of easy crop rotation. I intend to rotate the beds each year in sequence so that build-up of pests and diseases in soil is reduced and that the life cycles of the crops are broken. Other advantages of crop rotation include weed suppressing, soil structure improving, and soil replenishing. Last year’s 4 plots were planted as follows:

Plot 1: legumes – half plot for beans and the other half for peas (mixed salad as intercrop)
Plot 2: brassica – Chinese cabbages, pak choi, amaranth
Plot 3: fruit crop – courgettes and pumpkins
Plot 4: roots + tomato – carrots and tomatoes

For 2008, last year’s beds will be moved each bed back one space:
Plot 1: roots + tomato – root crops break up soil structure
Plot 2: legumes – fix nitrogen for future crops
Plot 3: brassica – need need nitrogen-rich soil, need liming
Plot 4: fruit crop – need manure, need liming

The 4 beds should look like this:


Chinese Toon 香椿

My 2-week’s trip to Kunming ended just before year-end. It was a comfortable and relaxing trip. The warmth and the sunshine of the city Kunming and its daily temperature of 18-20C during my 2 weeks stay had unfortunately to be left behind, what I could bring back with me though were the many seeds I’ve always wanted to have, seeds such as Chinese Toon, Water Convolvulus (Water Spinach), Chrysanthemums, just to name a few.

A tree I’ve always wanted to grow in my garden is Chinese Toon, a fast-growing deciduous tree. Its new tender leaves can be used as a vegetable in the Chinese cuisine. When mature, the plant can grow into a big tree of 25 meters. People used to harvest young leaves (shoots) with a long bamboo cane. Pruning can get the size and the shape of the tree under control, I should reckon, but this is yet to be proven once I have the tree going in my garden. The winter cutting I took the year before failed to produce new growth. My trip to Kunming gave me the opportunity to look for Chinese toon seeds and I did find them.

There are two kinds of Chinese toon: a purple version and a green version. The purple one is said to be more aromatic and tender. There is no way to find out whether the seeds I brought back from Kunming were collected from the purple species or from the green ones but to sow them. These are rather big seeds that are difficult to germinate; they need to be pre-treated. Here is how I sowed the seeds and I prayed to God that it was the right way to do and that the seeds would germinate in a few days time. They did:
1.Soak the seeds in warm water (30C) overnight
2.Spread the soaked seeds on a wet kitchen towel and leave the seeds to germinate
3.Wait with patience
4.Once seeds germinate (took 6-7 days), pot them up with potting compost and water in well