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!!

Vegetables 2016: The results

It didn’t go well this year. I was quite busy with the animals, the house and most importantly, the boys. In some ways, I’ve made better progress than ever in the garden; I’ve cleared away most of the ivy and years of resulting debris under our conifer trees, so we’ve gained an extra few meters of space (this is a ongiong job, it’ll be some time before it’s ivy free and usable), the lawn has been regularly mowed and his slightly less moss in it then usual, and the hedges and shrubs have been trimmed.  All good stuff, but at the expense of the vegetable patch and the borders, which have been quite neglected.  I think, going forward, that I need to think very carefully about my planting lists and only go for things that pretty much look after themselves.

Well, for now, here is how it went:


Tomatoes Brandywine, San Marzano, Tigerella & Ildi

The tomatoes were mostly a fail. They germinated well, I did pot them up but then lost interest and the plants weren’t fed properly or watered enough. We did get some nice fruit, but I may just reduce it down to a couple of plants next year.

Aubergine Money Maker F1

They germinated too late and although were looking good at one point, didn’t have time to form decent fruit.

Sweet Pepper Worldbeater

Chilli (I need to buy new seeds, again, not sure what variety yet)

Chillies and peppers never germinated…..the seed is likely too old.

Artichoke Violette di Chioggia

I can pretty much never get my artichoke seeds to germinate….need to do some reading up and find out what I’m doing wrong.


Spinach Bordeaux

Grew brilliantly, mostly self seeding and the chickens benefited greatly 🙂

Cucumbers (Need new seed, again not sure what)

Forgot to buy seed – doh!

Courgettes Zephyr

Grew well. One for next year.

Melon Edonis

Never formed fruit 😦

Radish French Breakfast, Sparkler & Cherry Bell

Grew well but went to seed quickly.

Broad Beans Crimson Flowered

Err…..not sure what happened here….not sure I actually planted them.

Peas Oasis & Purple Mangetout

Grew well.

Herbs Dill, Chives, Garlic Chives, French Sorrel, Thyme, Mint, Coriander, Lemon Grass

Hit and miss, depending on if I watered the pots properly. Will always make space for herbs though.


Swiss Chard Bright Lights & White Silver

Brilliant, as always, and self seeds everywhere.

Beetroot Bolthardy

Grew well.

Sweetcorn Conqueror

Great success…again something I’ll aways make space for.

Spring Onions Welsh Red Stem & North Holland Blood Red (seed collected from last year’s plants)

Grew well.

Pak Choi Mei Qing Choi & Rubi

Never actually got planted….should do it next year as in the past they’ve been great.

Beans Blue Climbing

These grew amazingly well this year and I’ve got lots dried and ready to sow next Spring.

Broccoli Red Arrow & Rudolph & Kailaan No 2

Carrots Yellowstone, Rainbow Hybrid, Purple Haze, Healthmaster & Sugarsnax

Turnip Sweetball & Snowball

Didn’t actually grow any of the above 😦

Lettuce various varieties

Pesky slugs ate them.

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

Squash Crown Prince, Sweet Dumpling, Turks Turban, Hooligan & Barbara Butternut F1

They fruited too late and I now have mini squash rotting in the garden.


Things that I will definitely always plant are garlic and shallots. Both grew brilliantly, with little effort so they are a must. Also, the potatoes (Anya) were good and I still have three bags in the greenhouse to tip out and eat, at some point. I have normally ordered all of these by now and see that many sites have run out (of Autumn planting garlic, anyway) so had best get on with it, if we want to grow them next year.

dsc_0008Sweetcorn was also a great success and I did my usual method of freezing them whole and raw, with the outer leaves intact. I have quite a few still in the freezer, which I shove in the microwave for a few minutes to cook (again, with the leaves on)…delicious!!

I need to sit down and have a good think about planting lists for next year. Adding an irrigation system would be the biggest help as inconsistent watering is definitely one of my biggest problems. I would love to add longer term things (such as an asparagus bed) now we’re committed to staying here (oldest has just gone into Secondary school, which has been a nightmare transition and is not one I’d like to repeat) and generally need to plant things that I can find time to maintain easily.

dsc_0087In other news, I’m back to cooking and baking again, especially now the weather is cooler. Bread is back on the menu and thanks to two new books (both recommended by my Sister) I’ve been enjoying trying new things. I have to be careful with my cookery book buying as I already have loads and so I only add new ones if I really think I’ll really use them.dsc_0085The rye section in Gill Meller’s ‘Gather’ is going down well. I’ve made the ‘Coriander and Caraway’ bread, which tasted delicious and would have been great, had it not got stuck in the tin so that it came out in pieces 😦 and the ‘Chocolate Rye Brownies’ have been declared ‘the best thing you’ve made yet’ by the boys. Awesome. I’m still miles away from the master baker that my Gran was, but I do try.

Christmas food post next, if I find time to keep writing.


Chickens: My, How They’ve Grown!

So, they are big chickens now……really quite massive,  in the boys’ case.dsc_0051Sergeant Bilko is ‘King Chicken’ and has turned out to be quite magnificent. As he’s a Orpington bantam, he’s about the size of a regular hen. Gosh he’s handsome.dsc_0039His brother-from-another-mother (not named…..can’t believe we haven’t actually named them all yet) is equally big and so far they seem to be getting along quite well. I do keep an eye on them both, and if they start to fight, I could either put one of them in with the brown hybrid chicks, or try to re-home one. As long as they seem happy, I’ll just keep both.dsc_0047Bowie, the only girl Orpington is still one of my favourite chickens from the ones we hatched. I’ve spent less time recently handling them and I’m amazed at how quickly they’ve gone shy. They are happy to be around my legs, will always come running to me (in the hope of a treat) but are less likely to hop up on to my lap for a cuddle. Shame. dsc_0036I think when I last posted….ahem…in July..we had three Pekins. Sadly, I came down one morning to find the cage door open, the chickens were all out and two were missing 😦 I think Mr Fox (who drops by nightly, leaving his little calling card on the lawn) had managed to work the door open by jumping repeatedly on it (I looked at night footage once, from the security cameras in the garden and was amazed at how much the foxes jump all over the cages, trying to get in). If the door latch isn’t pushed down hard, it can work its way lose. Bogart and the chicken with no name were both munched, I assume, as there wasn’t even a trace of feather. We now only have Lana (Turner) left (middle chick in the above photo).dsc_0052As I now have quite a little flock I’ve had to be a bit inventive with my Eglu. They really need a Cube version, but I cannot afford that, so I have put the guinea pigs’ summer house (they are indoors at the moment) up against the original ‘Up and Go’ so they have more room. When I peak indoors at night, I see that they are still mostly all crammed into one coop, and weirdly, there seems to be quite a reasonable amount of room around them, so if they continue to do that, I’ll revert back to just the one (as it’s loads easier to empty the tray that way, for cleaning).

They’re still ‘free range’ during the day. After Mabel (one of my original hybrids) got eaten by a fox in the middle of a sunny Saturday, I was a bit worried about a repeat visit, but I think it’s more important that they have a nice quality of life and so as long as I’m at home (which is most days), I let them out and leave them to it.  I have to say, I do love having chickens, they do make me happy 🙂

Chickens: Little Boys or Little Girls?

We played the game of all amateur chicken keepers and played guess the gender and quite frankly, failed.DSC_0026I did try to photograph the chicks at various stages, but they aren’t very good at sitting still and often present me with a rear view.  I did get some images though, so here’s the little chickies as they were, and now.

The Orpington Bantams

Bowie – named because I was sure she was a boy, when younger.  Oops.DSC_0033DSC_0017Definitely a girl.

Silver or Birch (?!!! Must stop letting my kids name chickens!)DSC_0036DSC_0021Boy. Sadly.

Nameless Chicken (the ‘ugly’ one that I saved from near death when little)DSC_0038DSC_0020Also a boy.DSC_0034They’ve grown a lot, even since the above photos and the boys have started to square up to each other, which is interesting to watch. I’m waiting for them to feather out a bit more, so they look a little more handsome, then I’ll try to find them new homes.DSC_0027The Pekins

(Humphrey) Bogart ‘Bogie’DSC_0016DSC_0008I was positive, a boy….still am, I think…but he’s showing no characteristics of a boy and is the softest drip of a chicken, loves a sit and cuddle. He’s one of my favourites.

Chick One (yet to be named)DSC_0011DSC_0023DSC_0011 (1)Girl – hurrah!

Chick Two (also waiting to be named)DSC_0024DSC_0013Another girl.

So, three girls and three boys. The fourth Orpington died at a few weeks old, sadly.

It’s been a fun process hatching the eggs, but the dihlema of what to do with the boys is a problem. I did know it would be, so I am ready for it, but as we are now at our chicken maximum it’s not a process we’ll repeat again, at least, not for some years.

Garden Catch-Up!

DSC_0001 (1)I’m forever thinking I should try to photograph the borders and flowers more in the garden, but I never really get around to it. The top borders (as above) where looking quite good, earlier in the year. They are now rather overgrown and weedy, but there is still more colour than there has been for a while.DSC_0006I do like having the chickens roaming around. The ‘big’ girls can make quite a mess, but the Bantams are much less invasive and definitely get my vote.IMG_20160529_144610Ava was looking especially dandy in front of the side bed,DSC_0009which has my winner of a plant, Mathiasella bupleuroides ‘Green Dream’ growing in it. I just LOVE this and plan to buy another for the upper border. It flowers early, is architecturally quite fabulous and the bees are always all over it. I think you can dry the flowers…must try that some time….I wonder if you could then spray them silver for Christmas?DSC_0002I just nipped out now to try to take some photos, but it’s too windy and to be honest, on close inspection a lot of the blooms are very much past their best. We’re about to enter that period where my garden looks all faded and sad, and where I always wish I’d grown some dahlias for later colour!IMG_20160619_100525-EFFECTSI was lucky to get invited to Hampton Court Flower Show last week and the main theme seemed to be wild flowers, informal planting and lots and lots of wild flower turf.  I could happily also go in this direction, especially as maintaining my beds is quite a chore (not that I’m suggesting for a moment, the meticulously planned ‘informal’ planting of the show doesn’t take forever to achieve), but I feel like I’m now stuck in the ‘Brilliant Bold’ garden theme I opted for 10 years ago.DSC_0001My own wild flower patches, in the vegetable garden, aren’t nearly so impressive….especially as the shed behind them needs re-painting (that’s the wasps, by the way, eating the wood and removing the paint stain layer. There’s a purple wasps nest somewhere…hopefully not in my loft!).

I’m about to upgrade my chickens to a walk in run, which will likely have to be static and I quite fancy a border of wild flowers alongside.  I might just dig up this lot up though, and simply re-plant it by the run, it’ll save me spending hours weeding out the  seedlings that grow all over the gravel path, next to it, in future.DSC_0004There isn’t a lot else to report in the garden. I did harvest the garlic, including some quite impressive bulbs of ‘Elephant’ garlic that have been growing since last autumn.  It’s not the best crop I’ve had, partly due to the rain, it was in danger of going mouldy if not pulled up and so was taken out a little too early. Still fresh garlic is so amazing, it’s something I’ll always make time for.

We have courgettes, french beans, lettuce, radish, herbs, spring onions also on the go;DSC_0005and plenty to come, including tomatoes, aubergines, melons, squash and sweetcorn (which I’ve allowed flowers to grow amongst, as above) so quite a productive garden this year.

I will try to be better at photographing and blogging, it should be berries next, if the pesky pigeons have left me any!


Chickens: The Hatch

I had planned a garden post before any more chicken ones, but despite my garden being tended to better than it has been in years, I just keep forgetting to take photos.  As it is, the chicks are 5 weeks old this weekend, so I figured I’d better get on with writing about the hatch.

WARNING! Despite taking loads of photos of the chicks throughout this process, the images are mainly crap.  Sorry.  It has a lot to do with my impatience twinned with not using my camera properly and also to do with the fact that chicks don’t like to sit still, so I mostly get photos of chickens’ bums.DSC_0004I was so incredibly impatient in the early stages, much more so than I’d expected to be.  The urge to candle eggs more than I should and then going to listen at the coop for signs of a cheep around hatch day were quite compelling.  The chicks didn’t start to hatch until day 22 and most arrived day 24!!  So much for Pekin eggs hatching early.  I assume it was the cold weather and the girls not sitting well.DSC_0002In the end, I did move all the Pekin Bantam eggs under Audrey (Hepburn, white chuck above).  There were originally 2 x Lavender, 2 x Millefleur and 2 x Frizzled/Cuckoo eggs (bought from Haylor Reach Rare Poultry). One Lavender egg was neglected at the start, so that was binned; then at 10 days, a Cuckoo hadn’t developed so that went and finally, the last Cuckoo egg went bad at 21 days, which you could see as it started to ooze, and had to be taken out before it exploded over the other eggs (it was very nasty, even put into two zip freezer bags it still smelt when I smashed it to see inside, because I am nosy and couldn’t resist – it was pure yellow bacteria filled liquid BTW, no sign of anything else even though it had developed at the 16 day check).  The last three eggs did hatch – hurrah! DSC_0005Greta (Garbo, above) hatched the Orpington Bantam eggs that came from Keith’s Orpington Poultry.  Greta was a much more stable brooder and hatched 4 of the eggs.  One hadn’t developed in the early 7 day check and another egg was binned at 10 days.DSC_0002 (1)Sadly, two of the Orpington chicks tried to mysteriously die early on.  It was after a night of horrific rain and thunder and I suspect that Greta had freaked out and they had been left in the cold.  I managed to save them both by bringing them indoors, warming them up (I genuinely thought they were dead as they were stone cold and stiff, but on closer inspection saw some signs of life) and making a makeshift chick A&E in a basket with my seed warmer mat underneath. DSC_0021But the little grey one then did die a couple of weeks later.  I didn’t try so hard to save it this time, I figured it just wasn’t meant to be.  He/she was F’s favourite 😦DSC_0008F has generally been brilliant with the chicks.  He loves them and spends ages in their cages, it’s been really nice to see him so involved, but then he’s always been great with animals.  DSC_0001I eventually bought a small, low, Omlet Walk in run so he could get inside more easily, as he kept trying to crawl on his belly into the old run to say ‘hello’, which didn’t really work.  It’s ugly, but practical, and I don’t have a lot of money to spend and didn’t have the time or know how to knock up a quick run.  I can move this around on my own and I will, likely, extend it for winter and tuck it under the trees for all the Bantams to live in together, when I’m more organised and can save up the money.  I really like the appeal that it can be easily dismantled, moved, or extended, all of which work well for me.

It’s not easy to see in the photo, but there is a very temporary fence as well, made from just some old rabbit fencing stuck into the ground with garden canes that runs right up to the big glass doors of our kitchen.  It means I can let the chicks and chickens out each day so we can handle them as much as possible, as I’d really like them to be tame.   DSC_0002 (2)This is my new favourite place to sit, I really enjoy chick watching whilst I’m laptop working (lots of shop photos to edit and things to list at the moment) and we often open the doors right up when the sun is shining and the brave chicks come into the house.DSC_0028It’s been a joy hatching out our own eggs.  Hearing the first cheeps and then seeing little heads pop out from between Mum’s feathers is great fun and I really am getting a lot of mileage out of watching them learn life’s lessons from the older chickens.  The big question of what to do with the boys is still looming, but I do have possible homes lined up and I’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.  I can see how these things become addictive, but we’re done for now as this will be my chicken maximum.

The weather over these school holidays has been rather grim, mostly, but we’re due sunshine and high’s tomorrow, so it’ll be all chickens out and all doors open and, hopefully, a BBQ.  Something to look forward too 🙂


Chickens: Broody Hens

Last chicken post for a while….DSC_0002I have two chickens sitting on hatching eggs, which I am ridiculously excited and impatient about.  Clearly, I am new to this, but this is how it went for me:DSC_0014Gertie sat longer than usual on the nest, mostly refusing to move of it, even at night to roost, and when I went to see what was going on, she hissed and pecked at me, especially if I tried to move eggs from under her.  She also had her sweet fat little belly and feathers all flattened out over the nest (see above), covering the (totally infertile!!) eggs that were in it.  My original plan was to try to stop her brooding, so I shifted the eggs, kicked her out of the coop and shut the door so she couldn’t get back in.

DSC_0005I did also notice there were a lot of feathers in the run (I originally thought maybe one of the other chickens was being a monster, and pecking the Pekins, but once I realised she was broody, it was obvious she’d been plucking her own feathers to line the nest – bless).  DSC_0006Lastly, there was broody hen poo which looks, to me, like a mini cow pat – nice!

After about a week, when she was showing no signs of giving up, I did begin to think it might be fun to try to hatch just one set of eggs.  I was a bit stressed about the idea of them all hatching and possibly having to dispatch the boys, if I couldn’t realistically find homes for them (I knew I could manage to keep two roosters myself, more of they were happy to live together which I read sometimes Pekin Bantams can, although I hear they also often turn once they reach maturity, even if they appear OK together when younger).

DSC_0001 (1)I tried to make her a separate nest in the end of the big run, but that clearly wasn’t going to work out, plus I’d read a lot that she would have to be moved away from the other hens, so I moved her into a run of her own.  I used one of the cats plastic carriers, with a plastic box on top for her nest (it’s still quite cold in the mornings so I figured the double insulation would be best). I put some diatomaceous earth in the bottom of the cat carrier, as I figured she wont come out for her usual dust bath, then I put both sawdust and straw on top and popped in quite a few existing eggs so she might think she had enough to settle for hatching.

DSC_0003Choosing eggs.  God there are just soooooooo many.  In the end, slightly by mistake, I double ordered and got 6 mixed Pekin Bantam and 6 mixed Orpington Bantam eggs.  I was planning to only put 8, max, under her, but then Audrey turned broody too, so I made her a little house in the chicken maternity hospital, next to Greta, and put six eggs under each (I mixed them up, for insurance).

Clearly, I am a total novice so I read up lots and lots about how best to deal with posted eggs and setting them under broody hens and here are the guidelines, as far as I can work them out:

  • Unpack the egg box carefully and inspect each egg for hairline cracks etc. Discard any that are damaged (obviously).
  • Wash/do not wash the eggs (if dirty). Lots of conflicting advice here. Some say do not, under any circumstances, wash the eggs, as you wash off the protective ‘bloom’.  Others say you must, if dirty, to remove as much possible contamination before setting them under the chicken.  I went for washing on the ones that were especially dirty but then immediately wished I hadn’t.  I did heed the advice to use only very tepid water so as to not change the temperature of the egg too quickly.
  • Sit the eggs, pointy side down, in cartons, at room temperature for 12-24 hours, so the air sack can stabilise at the top of the egg (it needs to be here, apparently, for the last part of the chicks development, when the chick pierces the air sack so it can develop its lungs before breaking out of the shell…..or so I read).
  • When letting the eggs stabilise, make sure they don’t warm or cool too quickly.  Put them back in the carton they came in (once inspected and washed….or not washed!) so they gradually come up to room temperature over the 24 hours.  This bit varies, again, as some people say they need to go into super clean new cartons to cut down on possible bacteria and infection.  What is this???  Chicken World War Z…do they become zombie chickens if they touch a tiny speck of dirt?? I know, I know nothing and do bow down to those that do know best.
  • If you are storing the eggs for use later, the possible storage time, again, varies according to what you read.  Most say a week, 10 days max for a viable hatch, other places say you can go as long as three weeks.  If stored, they need to be in a room, not too warm or dry, ideally between 10-15 degrees celsius.  Some say turn the eggs regularly and store then at an angle, others say don’t touch them once stored and others still say simply flip the box they are stored in twice a day. Make your mind up people, I am a novice 😉
  • Ideally, put the ready eggs under the broody hen at night, clearly marked with pencil, so you know which are the fertile ones you’ve set and what’s what (mine came clearly labelled by both sellers, as they were a mixed batch, and I removed all the regular eggs when I put the new fertile ones under).
  • Candle them to see what’s going on at day 7 and day 18 and remove any that aren’t developing correctly.  Again, lots of conflicting advice about this one so I’m not going to even go into it all.

There are lots of amazing online sources for info on all of this, written by people who know what they are talking about, some good ones are:





Hatching Chicks Nature’s Way

and this site for candling the eggs is just awesome:


DSC_0001The girls started off a bit crap, to be honest, they weren’t great at keeping the eggs covered, I ended up giving Greta 7 and Audrey only 4 (one got chucked out, at this stage, as it’d been left out for too long and was freezing cold when I checked). Interestingly, I read on a forum from someone very experienced (sorry, can’t remember who) that they believe you can ‘re-set’ incubating eggs once in the process, as long as it’s before day 15.  They reckon that the eggs go into a kind of stasis so they can get cold for quite a long while, but then be put under another broody hen (a more reliable one) and will still hatch, just a little later than the original hatch date.  It’s a thought, anyway.  They also both managed to poo in their nest and walk it all over the eggs, which I decided to gently and quickly try to wipe off.  Could be a mistake, but there was just too much chicken muck to leave it.  They have settled right down now, though, and are both doing a great job, they’ve also been moved into an Eglu that I’ve split with cardboard so they get half each.

I’d planned to wait until day 9 to check the eggs, but as I’m rubbish, and couldn’t wait, I candled them on day 7 instead. I used my trusty torch with a bit of foam taped around the top and sat in the dark, in the cupboard under the stairs, as you do.  I really thought only half were likely to have started to develop but was surprised to see veins in 8 of the eggs, with 2 maybes and 1 doing not a lot (that got removed). I’ll check the 2 maybes tomorrow (day 12) then all of them, for the last time, on day 16 (you normally do day 18, before ‘lock down’), as I’ve read that Bantam eggs sometimes pip early, on day 18 or 19, not day 21 as for regular chicken eggs, so they shouldn’t be moved after 16 days. I’m also going to move the Bantam eggs all under Audrey and the rest under Greta, so if they do hatch early, it doesn’t prompt the chicken to abandon the other eggs too soon.


On the gardening front, the kitchen table has been turned into a greenhouse ,so I can get everything started indoors. I’m a bit behind on my list, but I’ll get there 🙂