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 🙂

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).

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!!

Rhubarb Chutney and Guilt…

Apparently, I write lots of posts but never publish them.  Seriously, I found loads in my draft area….it could be that I did publish them as part of a re-named post and I’ve just forgotten (if so, sorry) but as it seems a shame to have put the time into writing them in the first place, I’ve decided to get them up updated and press the button to finally make them live.

DSC_0001The below post was written some time last year, since then I have bought a larder cupboard, which was a great investment for me as the kitchen here has very little storage (due to the two walls of glass, that give an amazing outlook into the garden, but at the price of space to put units).  I painted it myself to save money (it was a bit of a labor of love), in ‘Elephant’s Breath’ Farrow and Ball paint as I had two unused tins that were supplied about 10 years ago as part of the kitchen fitting (it’s the colour used inside the wall glass units in there).


It has made a big difference to me as I have all my jams and jellies in there now, along with loads of kitchen gadgets that otherwise would be cluttering up the work surfaces.  It means I can easily get to everything instead of hunting under the stairs when I need a new jar of jam, which I’m often too lazy to do.


I also found an awesome way of using up marmalade, in this BBC recipe for Bitter Orange and Cardamom Martinis.  They are seriously amazing, especially if you freeze the mixture and leave it for a while, it turns into a blow-your-socks-off grown up kind of slushi.  Lush.  Yes, I am – ha ha ha!  Not really.

Anyhow, back to the post as written some time last year…or maybe even the year before:

I’ve decided to make chutney for the first time in years, largely out of guilt that the rhubarb grows so well in our garden, but then often sits uneaten, despite trying out various ways of using it up (I blame the kids, rhubarb, like my lovely pink gooseberries just don’t rock their boat no matter how I present it).  To add to that guilt, and explain why I haven’t made chutney for years, below is a list of what is lurking in the cupboard, under the stairs, where I keep all my preserves (with links to their making, where appropriate).

You see the problem?  Look at those year dates.  I LOVE making jams and jellies, however no-one but me eats them, and as I’m seriously off bread (love it but it doesn’t love me, or my waistline) the poor jam gets left…for years, apparently!  The strawberry jam is no problem, Charlie loves it and gets through it quite swiftly.  When I do give in and eat toast, I will go for the blackcurrant jam or marmalade so I’m slowly working through that backlog.  I try to make puddings and cakes with the marmalade, but I have to be careful as the boys soon tire of the flavour if made too often, I even once tried to make myself chuck all the really old jams, but the honest truth was upon opening them they were perfectly fine, in fact more than fine and I just can’t justify throwing it away.  The fruit jellies will get eaten this year as sausages are appearing frequently on the menu, especially now BBQ season is upon us.’

To add to my guilt, also hiding in the cupboard are the following bottles:

  • 2 x Pontack (elderberry potion for adding to stews etc)
  • 4 x Cassis
  • 3 x Rumtopf Juice
  • 2 x Seville Gin (only just ready so not opened yet)

I’m not too worried about the above list, I’m sure I’ll happily get through that, given time 😉

So, knowing the above, why am I making chutney?  Well, because my youngest (the strawberry jam eater) yet again comes to my rescue, he’s taken to loving cheese and chutney sandwiches so I’m using it as an excuse to make some chutney, which I haven’t done for a long time.  I’ve learnt my lesson though, and I’m only making a half batch using this recipe from River Cottage.


What else?  My sister came over for lunch on Sunday and instead of flowers, she brought me a bunch of asparagus, celery tops and herbs from her garden, which was a lovely gift…..I am seriously considering adding an asparagus bed to the garden, I know I’ll have to wait years before cropping any but it tasted so delicious freshly picked that it might just have to happen.


There was some added protein on the parsley leaves.  I love these little tiny snails at the moment, they are popping up all over the place in the garden, I suspect I wont be quite so happy when the slugs and snails eat all my crops due to my not using nemetodes this year.  Also, really, REALLY annoyingly iPhotos has totally changed and I can no longer edit photos as precicely as I could.  I’m gutted as I had got quite comfy with the editing tools and rather relied on them to seriously improve my photos, it’s going to be a nightmare for taking my shop images, I’m just going to have to learn photoshop, I guess, life is so hard 😉


Late Summer Garden…

This year started so well, I don’t think I’ve ever been so prepared with the raised beds or kept the grass so well ordered (thanks to the earlier moss killing and scarifying sessions), but what started well has all slipped down hill rather swiftly as time has gone by.

DSC_0160For the first year ever, I’ve hardly used any of the berries.  The blackcurrants and gooseberries both went to the birds.  The cherries, though, were eaten by us, as where the alpine strawberries.  The apples, which I’ve managed to grow in decent amounts for the first time ever on my family apple tree have mostly dropped off, just as I thought to go pick them, are now laying bruised and rotting on the grass.  On the plus side, I did manage to pick the redcurrants and hand them out to friends, they were too glorious to waste.

DSC_0162I’m amazed (as I always am) at how quickly the weeds take over if neglected for even a short time.  We were lucky to get a few days on Yorkshire, a couple of weeks ago, during which time there was some much needed rain down here in the south and when I finally went into the garden to do a tidy up last week, I couldn’t believe how many weeds had taken hold.  I’ve resigned myself to just trying to keep on top of things by pulling any heads off before they flower and removing the stems when I have more time.  I’ve done the same with anything I don’t want to self seed next year, such as the poppies.  I’m happy for them to grow, as they are lovely, but I’ll make a point of scattering the seeds in places I want them permanently to be, instead of their growing like crazy all over the place.
The biggest success of this year has been growing the flowers for cutting in and around the vegetables (instead of in separate raised beds).  This was mostly down to my not making a plan and just planting up seedlings as and when they were ready in whichever spot was free, but it’s kept all the beds ‘interesting’ to look at, over a longer period. 
Of the new flower seeds I planted, the Rudbeckia ‘All Sorts Mix‘ has been the greatest success, I’ve always struggled to germinate Rudbeckia in the past, I have no idea why, but this year they went well and their lovely bright pop of colour is very welcome at this time of year, I’m pretty sure I’ll be growing these next year to be put into the main border to add some colour late in the season.  We’ve had sunflowers, marigolds, nigella, snapgragons to name a few others, all grown in rows amongst the vegetables.


The end of the garden, where the veg patch is has generally been well used this year.  I added two hammocks to the decking area and it’s really pleasant to sit there and look back at the house through the planting.  I had to buy two hammocks to stop the boys arguing over who can sit where, when!!
DSC_0160 (1)

I’ve concentrated on keeping the decking clean and leaf free this year, another first.  I hope that if I keep clearing it regularly, we wont get a build up of slimy leaves  and that lovely green slippery surface that comes with them.  The birds make a bit of a mess too, from one of the trees they like to sit in so I’ve kept that area regularly scrubbed down.  The table and seating was power hosed down at the beginning of the year and I’ve slowly worked through getting a good coat of oil on it all.

We’ve had a lot of BBQ’sDSC_0165

whilst listening to old records on my portable player…the boys quite like the old rock and roll ones but were less impressed by my Nik Kershaw tracks.

petersham3 I was lucky to be taken to lunch at Petersham Nurseries last week, by my Sister.RadishIt was heavenly, the food was fresh, tasty and amazing.  We both had grouse for our main course, served very simply with chard, sweetcorn and new potatoes and I have to say, it was the best tasting grouse dish I have ever had, cooked to perfection and just delicious….I would show you a photo but I was too busy enjoying eating and looking at the equally lovely surroundings, besides, I do feel a bit of a prat photographing my food (I did take a single photo of the radish nibbles though, but not until after we’d eaten half!!).Petersham FlowersThe visit made me want to grow dahlias again, I’ve had a bit of a break from them here, but it was the main flower used for arrangements and on show in the garden when we visited.

paradise barsBack at home, I can’t help but notice the interest in healthy eating recipe books at the moment.  I think it’s partly to do with my age and the age of my friends, we’re all busy attempting to look after our bodies as the reality that we aren’t spring chickens any more sinks in.  The latest to be added to my collection is Helmsley Helmsley ‘The Art of Eating Well’ which I mainly bought because I wanted to make Paradise Bars.  Oh.  My.  God.  Best thing ever.  Like top quality Bounty bars, although like many healthy recipes, I have to remind myself that just because the ingredients are ‘good’ the bar itself is still very calorific, even if it is all good fat, so I need to not chomp them all in a week.  Which is hard.

Off to get one from the freezer now!

Winter is Here!

Clearly.  There has even been scraping of the car window screen in the mornings and on a couple of days, the frost has still been on the grass as evening has arrived.

DSC_0148Brrrrr, time to cook Boston Beans with the remaining barlottis that were hastily brought indoors from the greenhouse, where I’d left them to dry out, still attached to the vines.  I’m lucky the mice didn’t get them.  I always make beans as it’s such a nice staple tea to have in the freezer, neither of the boys will touch them so it’s just for me.  I use this HFW recipe, only I add some tomato puree and I cook the belly pork separately, so all the fat doesn’t end up in the beans, I know the fat is very flavoursome but I can’t face the calories.  When I freeze it, I spoon the beans into a container then place a few chunks of cooked pork on top, to reheat it I make sure the belly pork is still hovering on the beans, that way it ends up nice and crispy – yum!  I’d show a photo, but the truth is it looks a bit like brown mush, tastes heavenly though!


The garden is now dormant for the winter.  I tried (quite half heartedly, if I’m honest) to make sure it was tidied and ready to plant up, come spring.  I finally got the garlic in.  I ordered a small variety box this year, just for the change, but still from The Isle of Wight Garlic Farm, it’s been a while since I tried elephant garlic (which isn’t really garlic at all but a variant of leek, I believe) so I’m excited to see if it grows (I struggled last time).  I haven’t ordered potatoes or shallots yet, they’d normally have been paid for by now, ready to arrive in the New Year, but I’m unsure about my plans to grow either this time.


Indoors we are getting ready for Christmas.  The boys have their fabulous sock advent calendar (from Germany) and I decided to re-use my Betty’s one, bought a couple of years ago, but filled with my favourite Lindt truffles.

DSC_0151 The cake has been given a layer of marzipan and icing, then finished with some cute vintage style decorations from Cox and Cox.

DSC_0154Since this photo was taken, half the cake has been eaten!  I’d rather it’s that way then it sits there for weeks, possibly months on end and everyone looses their Christmas sweet tooth and it gets abandoned.  My verdict on trying Delia’s Creole Christmas Cake?  Good decision, I LOVE it and will be cooking it going forwards…until I get bored and fancy a change, that is.

I have more to write about but I just want to get into the habit of posting again, so for now I’ll leave it here 🙂