Chickens: Spring Cleaning and Legbars

I gave the chickens a full clean last weekend. Their Eglus were taken apart and power hosed down, sprayed liberally with Smite and dusted with diatomaceous earth before being put back together. I moved two of the runs onto new ground and the big walk in run floor was cleaned and disinfected.Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 14.34.59

As we live in an area this isn’t high risk, we are allowed to now let the chickens out, as long as we follow the DEFRA guidelines above, so I created a small area along the edge of the garden, with temporary Eglu fencing for the big girls to come out of their walk in run, and the little bantams (who live in their own space) were let loose in the main garden (as they are easier to put back in and they do less damage to the flower beds).DSC_0008I got sad, though, as the big hybrid hens and their cockerel, Sergeant Bilko bully Bowie and Ave (the Light Sussex bantam, above and Bowie the boy, girl, boy cockerel) and for a while they wouldn’t let them out to play. I’ve been thinking about separating Bowie off for a bit, with his own little group, so off we went to Noddy’s Pure Breeds to pick out two new chickens (should have got three, I was miscounting in my head and included Bowie as a hen, I’d intended him and four girls together, really).DSC_0013They needed to be smaller chickens, either big bantams (like Ave) or smaller ‘big breeds’ as Bowie is a Orpington Bantam and they are chunky little things. I’ve been considering adding some Cream Crested Legbars for ages so I did have these in mind, but figured we’d end up with two bantams as I wasn’t sure how Rob had them penned up and you ideally need to take them from the same pen. I was super excited, when we arrived,  to see Legbars in the bantam pen….DSC_0008only F had obsessed the whole journey about replacing his beloved Elvis (the shoulder riding Polish frizzle) and I got persuaded (quite easily, in fact) into indulging him and we got a lovely black polish (no frizzle!) hen, and for me, a Legbar.DSC_0016I have to say, I think Crested Legbars are really pretty chickens. I saw some roaming free range, last summer, at a local National Trust house and had pretty much decided then that I’d like some. We got our first little blue egg from her today! So exciting. I love having a mixed bowl of eggs. I use the bantam ones quite a lot for when I need a half egg recipe or when Charlie wants fried eggs on toast for breakfast. I also love that I know exactly which chicken has laid which egg.DSC_0007The chickens are back inside temporarily, just whilst they get de-wormed (I use pre-mixed pellets with Flubenvet already added) but I plan to shuffle them around at the weekend to make sure they all have enough run space and can get back to free-ranging on a daily basis. I have to say, Bowie and his girls settled in amazingly well with pretty much no fuss at all.

Whilst I was in the garden I spent 10 minutes picking some of the sycamore tree saplings. This is a never-ending job, but if they aren’t pulled up whilst tiny, they are nightmare to kill off later.DSC_0021I also tidied and mulched the rhubard patch and we cut some for the first recipe of the year.DSC_0022Rhubard Crumble Cake, in this case, which was a great way of using some eggs up too, now that all the chickens are all back in lay.

Just the rest of the garden to sort out now 🙂

Merryhill Mushrooms

Two posts within six months…I think it might be a miracle!DSC_0022I have more thanks to give, this time to Merryhill Mushrooms who very kindly sent me a kit for growing their Yellow Oyster Mushrooms, after I’d mentioned the chestnut success (which, until recently, were still cropping!). It was quite good incentive to properly take a look at their website (I’d originally ordered via Amazon) and I liked the bit in the about page that reads ‘Everyone kept saying to us, that they have never managed to find a mushroom growing kit that actually works, with this in mind we developed a kit that is guaranteed to work’, as that has been repeatedly been my experience too, lots of plug kits, and ready mushroom logs, but rarely any actual mushrooms.Back CameraI’ve been picking field mushrooms for years and years (the above and below photos are from some time ago…look at the boys tiny feet in their little crocs…they are size 7 and 9 now!!).Back CameraHere we’re mushrooming on the farm, in Yorkshire, where I grew up. It’s never occurred to me to be nervous of picking field mushrooms, I’m pretty confident that I know what they look like and where they grow and I can think of nothing nicer than fried, fresh, hand-picked mushrooms….that was until my sister and I went on a mushrooming course at River Cottage. It was great…but the resounding message was don’t pick and eat anything unless you have a verified expert with you, or you will poison yourself and die a horrific death. OK, maybe it was less dramatic than that, but I think it was shortly after some famous writer and his family had all tragically eaten some fatal mushrooms they shouldn’t have. I’ll happily pick field mushrooms ‘back home’ but I would be nervous of picking anything else, or even field mushrooms from a location I don’t know. (The course was great fun, I should add, and we learnt lots about cooking mushrooms too! – very hot pan, and small batches so they fry, not steam).DSC_0029DSC_0039So it is perfect, I think, to buy kits that you absolutely know will produce fresh fungi and it was a delight to see them grow…amazingly quickly, in this case!DSC_0047The photos are taken a day apart. It’s likely they were in an area a bit too warm, as it’s important to spray them regularly with water, to for me that meant the downstairs utility room, next to the sink. DSC_0053I understand that overly warm means quick to grow (ideal is 15-18C, but mine were likely around 20 degrees).DSC_0068Look how pretty and intricate they are? The ones on the front, right, had evaded the early regular water spraying and I noticed they were a bit ‘woody’ and never really grew…DSC_0071But the rest were awesome…and the ones on the back did well too, especially considering I hadn’t noticed there was a growing hole in the back, so for the first couple of days they didn’t get sprayed – oops! (read the instructions, Beth, read the instructions).DSC_0072I cropped the lot, cutting low (I’m told, if I keep watering the ‘stump’ I’ll get a second flush of mushrooms) and spent an age debating what to cook.DSC_0009I settled on a Jamie Oliver recipe, for posh mushrooms on toast (Mushrooms sourdough bruschettas, to be exact). I used to have a thing about mushrooms on toast, since becoming addicted to them in a little cafe in Skipton, when we were allowed out of school to eat our lunch in sixth form. Back then they were cheap and creamy and from a tin and I do still often cook a version with creme fraiche and garlic, but this recipe calls for hollandaise and tarragon and it seemed worthy of my precious growing efforts.

All in all, it has been a lovely experience using these kits, super easy and with great results. Sorry any family reading that get these for gifts, but you’ll thank me in the long run 🙂

I Am Not Worthy…But Thank You!

It is glorious outside today, what a difference some sunshine makes!

DSC_0074I’ve been out in the garden all morning, clearing the borders (of leaves) and attempting to get on top of things before the growing year gets going. It doesn’t make for pretty photos, sadly, as my poor garden is very dull at this time of year. There are things on the way, it was nice to uncover and reveal all the little green shoots, but I’m sad that there isn’t more to brighten up the gloomy spots and it really is something I need to look into for next year (more Hellebores?…Possibly). I’ve left the leaves in piles at the side so the ladybirds have a chance to emerge, before I move them over to the recycle bins.

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 12.51.35As I was working, and as always happens, I had a running commentary of possible blog content going thorough my head. I am a perpetual ‘virtual’ blog writer….shame I’m so bad at doing the actual writing! I was just about to head upstairs and start sewing when I realised that some blog post are well overdue and do need to actually be written, so here goes.

Back in February, I was really lucky to have my blog included in a post entitled 13 Glorious Gardening Blogs  by WaltonsNot only am I now lusting over a garden studio again (they have some really lovely sheds, garden rooms and cabins on their website) but I feel rather guilty, as I haven’t been a very good blogger recently, and don’t really feel like I deserve to be on a list with other truly, decent garden blogs. Ho-hum. Perhaps it’s the kick up the bum I need to get back to regular writing? DSC_0076The kind ‘blurb’ mentioned my Whisky Marmalade recipe and it reminded me that it is Seville orange time of year. Ocado currently have them available for delivery and I was very tempted, for a moment, until I checked the cupboard and realised I still have 6 jars to use up going back to 2011 and 2012. That’s one of my problems, I like making things but then it’s usually only me that eats them, and there is only so much marmalade one women can eat, especially as I don’t have toast much these days. Still, if I say so myself (and I do) my recipe for both Whisky Marmalade and Seville Jelly really do work well and the jars from 2011 are as good as the day they were made.DSC_0004I noticed one of Miss Bumbles little spring critters hanging in the door when I closed the cupboard up. It’s not like me to be that organised, I must have put her back there when the winter version came down.

DSC_0160I know most people who drop by here know me already, but for anyone new, I live in an end of terrace, period house with my two boys, two cats, guinea pigs, chickens and a decent sized garden with a vegetable patch. I sew for a living, and sell my work on my own website (The Linen Cat – even more neglected than this blog, right now). Most of the things I make are nature or vintage influenced, often a mixture of both. My house is quite ‘arty’ and I like to support other makers, where I can, so I tend to mention any pretty things I might have come across on here. I cook quite well, but my baking is a bit hit and miss and I struggle with time, these days, to look after my boys, sew and keep on top of the house and garden but I’m not one to give up. Oh and I’m Northern, but live in Kent, so be prepared for me to ramble on about Yorkshire a lot.

I have quite a bit to write about at the moment and I have actually taken my camera with me, as I’ve been working – big pat on the back for me – but I think it might be best of I split things into smaller posts. Small posts, more often, that’s the key, like the way I garden 🙂 Mushrooms next!

Last weekend…

Last weekend I spent loads of time in the garden as, for once, it wasn’t frozen and the rain was mostly only drizzle.

I planted out 8 cloves of elephant garlic (5 that I’d ordered and 3 left from the bulbs grown last year), I also plated up 5 strawberry plants in one of the huge black containers that was kicking around empty in the vegetable patch. It was a good opportunity to get rid of some of the chicken manure (basically their droppings mixed in with straw from the coops and run floors) as the containers are so cavernous that they take a lot of filling so the bottom half is manure, with some bags of John Innes on top. We have always grown alpine strawberries but never ‘regular’ ones so it’ll be interesting to see how these work out for us. dsc_0047The variety I’m planting (Mount Everest) is an everbearer variety, so small flushes of fruit, over a longer period, which I think will suit us best as these will likely be for the boys to munch on direct from the plant. This variety supposedly grows really well up a teepee, so I’ll be trying that out too.

Indoors, I started:

Tomatoes Brandywine, San Marzano, Tigerella & Ildi, Rainbow Blend (from Thompson & Morgan)

Sweet Pepper Worldbeater

Artichoke Violette di Chioggia

Broad Bead Crimson Flowered

That’s all for sowing at the moment. There is still plenty more to add, but I’ve learnt to pull back from trying to grow too much, so I stick to things we know we want to eat these days.dsc_0046The mushrooms have been a great success, cropping over and over and providing the base for a number of meals. I forgot to say who and where they came from in the last post, but they were ordered via Amazon from Merryhill Mushrooms. They do taste amazing, in comparison to the shop bought equivalent, so I think it’s been worth it. I’d like to try an Oyster kit next time. In a linked comment, Felix has been doing Food Tech at school and (small miracle) has decided he can tolerate, maybe even like mushrooms after he was forced to include them in a stir fry. I just need to get Charlie (the vegetarian!) to eat them too, and then a whole new world of family meals opens up!ginLast thing I wanted to mention, my Sister kindly gave me a quarterly membership to the Craft Gin Club as a Christmas gift and I LOVE it!! It is expensive, I know; for the same price, you could buy yourself a fancy bottle of gin and some nice crisps etc, but it just wouldn’t be the same. Having someone else source an artisan gin, often difficult to get (this month’s have been shipped in from Iceland and are not on general sale in the UK), provide you with posh tonic and some snacks to go with it, plus a magazine with details explaining who made the gin, where and why, and how best to drink it (January’s, above, was good with rosemary and some orange zest) and ship it to you on the first Friday of the month is just heavenly. It’s like Christmas all over again. Do you like my amazing HUGE gin glass? That was the accompanying gift, also from my Sister, we know how to do a g+t well in our family 😉

That’s all……I really fancy a g+t now…but I’m being good until the weekend, only one more day to go and it’ll seem even nicer for the wait (or I’ll keep telling myself that, anyway).

2017 Vegetable Planting Lists…

Really, this post is for me; sorry it’s so boring.

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Here we go with the lists for 2017:

FEBRUARY

Strawberry Mount Everest

Tomatoes Brandywine, San Marzano, Tigerella & Ildi, Rainbow Blend (from Thompson & Morgan)

Sweet Pepper Worldbeater

Artichoke Violette di Chioggia

Broad Bead Crimson Flowered

MARCH

Red Onion Red Arrow

Shallots Longor

Elephant Garlic

Spinach Bordeaux

Cucumbers Tiffany, Crystal Apple

Courgettes Zephyr

Melon Orange Sherbert

Radish French Breakfast, Sparkler & Cherry Bell, Rainbow Mix (from Thompson & Morgan)

Kohl Rabi F1 Hybrid

Peas Whatever I’ve got left

Sweetcorn Lark

Herbs Dill, Chives, Garlic Chives, French Sorrel, Thyme, Mint

APRIL

Swiss Chard Bright Lights & White Silver

Beetroot Pablo, Bolthardy, Coloured Mix (Thompson & Morgan)

Spring Onions Welsh Red Stem & North Holland Blood Red

Broccoli Red Arrow & Rudolph & Kailaan No 2

Carrots Mixed seed

Turnip Snowball

Lettuce Various varieties

Herbs Thai Basil, Sweet Basil, Winter Savory and many more…

Squash Crown Prince, Sweet Dumpling, Gem/Rolet, Queensland Blue, Turks Turban, Hooligan & Barbara Butternut F1, Potimarron, 

AUGUST &  SEPTEMBER

Pak Choi Rubi

Spinach Perpetual (Leaf Beat)

Purslane

ANYTIME

Kale Cavolo Nero & Red Russian

Herbs Parcel, Cress (Bubbles)

I placed an order with Thompson & Morgan and below is what’s new this year (already included in the lists above):

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dsc_0044Also, just for fun, I’m growing mushrooms indoors (in the utility room at the moment) as someone on the radio said one of the best things you can eat that you’ve home-grown (and see how amazingly different they are) are mushrooms….we’ll see!

dsc_0040We can’t stop eating the Chocolate Rye Brownies from Gill Meller’s ‘Gather’…..I think I’m addicted.

dsc_0035Finally, we’re sad the snow only stayed for one night :(, but the boys did manage to get sledges out and push each other around the garden, plus make a snowman (in the dark, whilst using torches!!) but I think that the chickens are happy as the poor things keep taking it in turns to molt and are almost naked. I think the warm (so far) winter has confused them.

More snow tomorrow, for an hour or so before it turns to rain? I do hope so 🙂

 

Chickens: Congratulations, she’s a boy!!!

I’ve been busy with the chickens recently; upgrading their runs, making them clean and fun for the chickens to be in, and in the case of the little chickens, longer. Whilst working away, I couldn’t help but notice that Bowie, is, in fact, a boy after all.dsc_0034Now, I get that looking at the above photo, there is no doubt, but just so you don’t think I’m a complete lunatic for ever thinking otherwise…dsc_0047here is a quick reminder of what she (doh! – he!) looked like in November.dsc_0039Not sure how clear it is on the above photo, but his brothers-from-other-mothers where looking distinctly male, at this same point.

Looking at the photo again, I guess he was showing signs of hackle feathers, but Bowie has never shown any aggression, has never shown any interest in the girls, did have pink, small wattles and combs and skinny legs (in November, that is), so I really was genuinely surprised she became a he and especially so much later than the others. Sargent Bilko and Bowie seem fine in together; I may have to get them more girls, between them, but as long as they can live in harmony, I’ll leave it that way.dsc_0028I moved Silver (who deserves a proper name, although Silver has stuck now) out a while ago to live with the other small bantams (all the Orpingtons are bantams, but Sargent Bilko is massive and Bowie not much smaller, after the recent growth spurt, so they fit better with full size girls).dsc_0023I just gave the little’s even more run (all the others are in the big, walk-in run) and a new fancy cover from Tarpaflex who I heard about on an Omlet forum. I have a similar cover on the walk-in and have discovered that not only are they a lot cheaper than Omlet, but they stay lovely and clear and are (in my opinion) much better value for money. All the other bits of the run have black bird netting over, that I use in the garden for the berry trees. Let’s hope the avian flu scare is over soon and they can go out again. I’ve rather stupidy put them where my bluebells grow so I will need to move them, but it’s good for now.
screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-07-02-13On a slight tangent, I just discovered these (now all sold!) amazing plates and furniture knobs by Holly Frean, sold through Anthropologie.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-06-57-40I’m slightly gutted I missed the chicken plates as the boys would have loved one each,screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-06-56-49but I just bought the two remaining furniture knobs with ‘Puffles’ like black silkie style chooks on for Charlie’s room (Puffles is his chicken, as you can tell by the stupid name!).

dsc_0007I don’t actually have a decent photos of Puffles…she’s back…and a silkie…and a bantam.

So, from the eggs we hatched, we ended up with 3 boys and 1 girl. Isn’t that just the way it goes. Much as I really enjoyed the whole process, I’m too much of a wuss to do it again, as I’d never have the heart to ‘get rid of’ the boys and I’m not sure it’ll be easy to re-home them as no-one ever really wants cockerels, even handsome bantam ones that are quite tame. We’re managing as we are though; I lock them in at night and so their crow is not very loud at all, but it’ll be difficult for us to go away over summer and leave them out, as that would be very unfair on the neighbours, even though they all also keep chickens and some have cockerels too.

I’m getting my planting and seed lists together for spring, which I’m quite excited about. I’d really like to have a productive garden this year and think it can really happen, as I’ve done a lot of the never-ending jobs and feel like, for once, I’m slight ahead. Here’s to a fabulous 2017!

Ding Dong Merrily…

I’ve just done my very last trip to buy food, and I don’t plan the leave the house again for at least a week! I’ve had a Ocado order booked for ages, but there were a few things I’d missed, including some cabbages to tie from the chicken runs, to try to distract the chickens from being kept indoors, for the 30 day bird flu prevention.dsc_0089It’s just me and the boys for Christmas Day this year (with guests coming Boxing Day), which I’m really looking forward to. I’ve done loads of early freezer preparation and cheated quite a bit. We’ve still gone for a proper turkey (free range Kelly Bronze) as I know we’ll eat all the left overs and make some broth from the bones, so I’m happily to cook more than we need; Charlie (who’s vegetarian) has chosen a vegan M’hanncha from Jamie Oliver’s new book (I have to restrict my Christmas book buying, but this one seems worth the space). The boys, much to my disappointment, don’t do bread sauce, or Gran’s stuffing balls, so I’ve made those ahead, separated them into small batches and frozen them for me to have whenever we cook a roast bird (recipes in this post).dsc_0092The boys don’t much like Christmas pudding either…or sprouts (sometimes I wonder if they are really mine – ha ha), so I wasn’t going to bother, but again, it isn’t Christmas for me without my Gran’s recipe pudding, so I made a small batch with a bigger pudding (for Boxing Day) and a mini one for me on Christmas Day (recipe here). The boys will be having Heston toffee puddings, which I hope are nicer than his mince pies, which we found to be far too sweet. I made a batch of homemade ginger ice cream, to this recipe, as compensation for microwave puddings!beth-apronMy apron comes out every year for the festive season, as I love wearing it (the above is Christmas Day in France a while ago…..I’m looking very rosy-cheeked so no doubt rather a lot of wine has already been opened by the time the above photo was taken!), this year was no exception and it first appeared in November, ready for making the cake and puddings. In my head, I swan around serenely in a clean kitchen, with Bing Crosby singing in the background, ideally properly dressed and in makeup. In reality, I’m usually a bit stressed and sporting my usual bag lady look and trying to rush everything, before a school run.dsc_0206I did make a new apron for this year, but never managed to get it photographed in time for the shop. Still, I have one tucked away for me to wear on the day itself, and even though it’s just me and the boys, I plan to get dressed up and maybe put some slap on, as that will make me happy 🙂freddieThat’s it really. I just didn’t want to finish the year without a Christmas post so Merry Christmas everyone!!