Chickens: What are they?

The truth is, I have no idea!!dsc_0034Two of the eggs that hatched came from Bowie and his little gang. At the time, he was kept with the ‘new’ chickens and Ava (Light Sussex), so of those two chicks (both the brown ones below) one is a Gold Laced Orpington bantam (Bowie) crossed with a Cream Crested Legbar (chick-with-no-name) and the other is crossed between Bowie and the new black Polish, Priscilla.dsc_0039The other two eggs came from Silver (also an Orpington bantam) and his little gang of Pekin girls, plus Puffles, Charlie’s little black Silkie. We’ve had a big mix up around here with the chickens as my neighbour was kind enough to take Silver for me. He kept fighting with Bowie and even though I went to great lengths to keep them apart, they kept jumping fences etc and it was a bit of a blood bath. I’m rather soft on Bowie, even though he has respiratory problems and I don’t think will have a long life, so it broke my heart to see him repeatedly bloodied and having the chicken version of a major asthma attack.  Silver was the aggressive one, Bowie used to peg it in my direction to hide whenever Silver jumped the fence. Anyhow, Silver now lives with some new girls and we can go visit if we wish. We are so lucky, we have great neighbours.DSC_0013DSC_0008So, here is one of the dark chicks (Bowie’s)…and I’m thinking (hoping) she’s a girl.DSC_0021DSC_0015And chicken two….boy, I fear.DSC_0019DSC_0003One of the Pekin/Silver chicks….girl, I think.DSC_0024And the last little one, who was the final egg to hatch…also a girl, I think. DSC_0028Let’s face it, I was totally wrong with the last chickens, but time will tell. We’re in a good position to keep one boy as I have three smaller runs, each with its own Eglu (they would be better in one run, with a Cube, but there is no way I can afford that), as long as they can all get along when they are free ranging which is why I let them all out together daily. I’m lucky that Bowie and Sargent Bilko get along quite well (SB lives with the big brown hybrid girls).DSC_0056Indoors we are drowning in eggs at the moment as Charlie has given up his daily breakfast of egg sandwich in favour of avocado on toast. I’m frantically making quiches and creme caramels. I think it might be time for some ice cream too!DSC_0055I’m also obsessed with finding new, simple supper ideas as it’s all been getting a bit same, same around here. This stack is proving its worth, especially ‘Simple’ by Diana Henry.

Right, off to get some carrot muffins out of the oven before moving onto a batch of biscuits for the boys (holiday treat). Just waiting for the rain to come now, and save me from watering the vegetable patch!

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Chickens: Oops, I did it again!

IMG_20170504_133059After ending up with three cockerels and one hen last year, when we first hatched chicks, I said I wouldn’t do it again. But I have. Pretty stupid move, really.IMG_20170504_133348Ava got broody and was being very mean to the other chickens when they wanted to lay eggs in the nest. I ignored her for ages, kicking her off regularly but in the end, I moved her into the guinea pig hutch, (still in the run), so she’d stop attacking the other chickens.DSC_0023 2I removed the eggs daily. but then got soft and let her sit on four…thinking there would be a 50% survival rate. Sadly, by that point, she’d laid her ‘clutch’ and so all the eggs under her came from other chickens laying in the same nest…what I didn’t realise was they kept laying in there so actually, at day 9, when I first went to candle the eggs there were seven!DSC_0018Some weren’t fertile and on day 23, three of the chicks hatched. DSC_0021 2Sadly, Ava abandoned the last two eggs a day or so later, as she’s clearly decided they weren’t going to happen. Luckily Audrey was now also broody, so I just stuck the last two eggs under her. One hatched (actually I ‘assisted’ it as it pipped but didn’t get any further for days, and it survived – hurrah!) and the other, sadly, didn’t make it out of the egg.DSC_0001Audrey abandoned her chick as clearly she was a bit confused about it hatching only a few days after she’d started sitting!DSC_0007So I gave it back to Ava who didn’t seem to mind and she is now happy with her little clutch of four chicks.DSC_0016They are out and about most days (as I want them well-integrated with the other chickens, so any boys have a chance of not fighting) and it’s a joy to watch them learn the ropes from ‘Mum’. I’m a little sad none are Ava’s as I’d have liked a Light Sussex cross, but we’re definitely done with chicks….for now, anyway 🙂

Shed Painting…

I’ve worked like a Trojan over the holidays, in the garden; digging, planting, stripping and painting. It’s been expensive, money I don’t really have but a lot of the jobs are beyond necessary (such as power washing down the decking and giving it an oil), or it’ll cost more in the long run.DSC_0005The shed has been on my hit list for ages, as I’ve never really liked the colour (it wasn’t originally painted by me) and the wasps have stripped a lot of the stain off.DSC_0019An age ago, I stained my little tool shed in Cuprinol Garden Shades and so in order to use the left over stain (which was still in perfect condition, despite some years left on the shelf) I went for the same.DSC_0008The colour is ‘Summer Damson’ and I’m glad I did stick to something similar as it’s slightly opaque, so changing colour completely wouldn’t really have been an option. It did mean I also had to stick to something similar to the cream, which I really do dislike, but I settled on ‘Natural Stone’.DSC_0030The stain goes a long way and the half-finished tin did the side and front easily with two coats (I confess, that the other two sides still need doing!!), it’s also qutie cheap, unlike the decking oil I’m using. My top tip is to paint one coat then go over it again a short while later. Doing a second coat some hours/days afterwards doesn’t really work as the first dries semi-waterproof and so stops the second coat going on properly. I trimmed the windows with some cheap architraving to give them more definition and stained that also in the ‘Stone’. I even stained the inside of the doors so they aren’t Tango orange when open! Go me! What I’d really like to do is clad the roof in cedar shingles, but that really is expensive, so won’t happen any time soon.

I’d planned to take some proper blog worthy photos after removing all the crap from inside the windows so it looks pretty…but my garden is not a picture postcard and one of the reasons I stall on blogging is that often I feel it needs to be ‘prettier’, so I’m trying to ignore that and just post anyway. In an unintentional turn, it appears I’ve painted my shed the same colours as one of my Go Up Eglu chicken houses.DSC_0003I’ve started prepping and staining the decking, which is an enormous task and I still have to finish staining and oiling the green house as well as all the upper windows of the house. It all feels a bit endless, but I’ll get there. Planting is all on the go too, with cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, sweetcorn and many more now in the greenhouse.

Indoors, as promised, I did get a second crop of mushrooms, which I was really pleased with.DSC_0027And I’ve just put the tools down (as it’s due to rain tomorrow, all day, shame) and moved indoors to make hot cross buns using this recipe. I’m doing half, which is perfect as it leaves me with some apple for my new Craft Club gin 🙂

Cheers!

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).