23 December, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I wanted to make some flavoured vodka in the summer and as it takes three months to mature, I thought I'd make us something special for Christmas. I used 500g of cranberries, pricked them with a skewer, put them in a bottle, added the same amount of sugar and topped up with vodka. It looks amazing and tastes yummy, it's quite simply Christmas in a bottle.

Cheers, and Merry Christmas everyone!

20 December, 2010

Christmas Chocolates

Note to self, must make more next year! Very easy to make, delicious and using condensed milk instead of cream makes them keep for longer.

Chocolate and almond truffles

500g good quality dark chocolate
a small tin of condensed milk
1 tsp almond extract
crushed almonds

Put the chocolate and condensed milk in a bowl over boiling water and melt very gently. When melted, take off heat, add almond extract and crushed almonds and leave to cool. When cool enough to keep their shape, roll into balls, roll the balls in some cocoa powder and put in the fridge to harden.

These are the flat bottomed ones I made when the mixture was still a bit too warm to keep its shape. The perfectly round ones have already been packed away in a hamper for one very lucky lady!

16 December, 2010

Two hens a laying!

Cissy's first egg on the left, Bella's 31st on the right.

Chickens don't like cold and wet, and since it might get a bit colder again tonight, I wanted to make sure the coop was clean and dry. After emptying the poo tray in the compost I put some fresh bedding in the nest and went in for a cup of tea. What I didn't realise was that I had left the coop door shut. When I looked outside I saw both of the chickens by the dustbath, realised my blunder and went out to open the coop door. I had a quick look in the run and spotted something in the dustbath. It was a little brown egg!

I had already collected Bella's egg in the morning and poor Cissy must have been desperate to try to get in the nest, then given up and settled for the second best option. I can't believe both of my little chooks are laying. There will definitely be some egg boxes going in the Christmas hampers now!

And just when my mother was beginning to suspect that we might have been sold a cockerel!

13 December, 2010

Textbook chickens?

There were plenty of signs of Bella coming into lay, which made her a textbook chicken. Cissy, on the other hand, seemed completely clueless to this whole egg laying malarky.

In the last week or two, however, we've started to see some changes in our little hen. First her wattles and comb got a bit bigger (I would say their combs and wattles are the same size now, although Cissy's are still a bit paler). Then, I finally managed to catch her attention and get her to come when called (rattling the corn jar does the trick), which she never had the confidence to do before, unless Bella did it first. For a few days she has been getting more comfortable with me, letting me give her a quick stroke as she goes past and today she even crouched for me.

I was sure Cissy wouldn't lay her first egg until next year, but we might get a Christmas surprise after all!

09 December, 2010

Marinated garlic cloves

Another quick and easy recipe for Christmas hampers!

Marinated garlic cloves

3 garlic bulbs
1/2 dl white wine vinegar
1 dl olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
any spices and/or herbs you want to flavour the garlic with

Separate the cloves and boil them for 3-5 minutes. Rinse with cold water, peel and put in a jar, covered with vinegar. Let them marinate for 3 days and drain (if you wish, you can keep the vinegar for the next lot). Mix the oil, salt and herbs/spices, and layer this in jars with the garlic. They will be ready to eat in 5-10 days.

I tripled the recipe and used 9 garlic bulbs, so that I could try making different flavours. I've made one jar with sprigs of rosemary and thyme from the garden, and another one using chilli flakes and honey.

If you'd rather not cover the cloves in oil you can use an alternative. Bring 1 dl water and 1/2 dl white wine vinegar (and any herbs and/or spices you want to use) to the boil, pour over the cloves and close the jars. Let them cool down and keep refridgerated. This method is quicker as you can skip a step. Instead of separately marinating the cloves, you can pour the vinegary preserving liquid straight onto the cloves. I made my third jar this way and used a combination of herbs, honey and chilli flakes to flavour the garlic. I've got to say it doesn't look like much next to the other two, but the proof will be in the eating.

I hope my test batch turns out ok, can't wait to experiment with some home grown garlic next year!

03 December, 2010

We've got nasties!

Image from: http://club.omlet.co.uk/forum

Almost a week ago I finally managed to have a closer look at Bella's bottom feathers while Hubby was holding her and to my utter shock and horror, found some little critters moving near the vent. A quick look at the Chicken Clinic told me they were lice. For a moment I felt like a complete failure, but reading further on made me realise that it's a very common problem and it can be easily solved. I happened to have bought some sort of mite and lice spray* and had in fact treated the birds not too long ago as a precaution, but as I wasn't sure that they had lice I wasn't being vigilant enough. This time I made sure everything got treated. I cleaned and sprayed the coop and made sure it was dry and well ventilated before letting the chooks in. While Hubby was holding Bella, I parted some feathers and sprayed straight at the lice. Cissy wouldn't let us anywhere near her after one failed attempt to grab her, so we waited until she was half asleep in the coop before giving her bottom feathers a good squirt.

The spray seemed like a good all-in-one product for getting rid of all sorts of nasties, but I was quite shocked to find out that after spraying the birds there would be a seven day egg withdrawal period. I was agonising over throwing away all the eggs that were laid after Sunday and decided to do some research. I found that some people think it's perfectly ok to eat the eggs, but others would rather throw away the eggs that have been laid within the seven day period. I'm going to compromise between the two and (as suggested by another chicken keeper) bin the eggs laid within 48 hours of spraying the chickens and keep the rest. We can do this as long as the eggs are for our own comsumption and won't be sold to anyone.

I should treat the chickens again this Sunday to make sure I'll get rid of all the lice and their eggs, but if the weather is as cold as it has been for the past few days, I might have to wait and do the whole thing again later. The chickens are coping with the cold (Bella's still laying almost daily), but I don't want to make it harder for them by spraying wet stuff on them as it will take ages to dry in this weather.

Sorry about the picture (just thought someone might find it helpful), it doesn't half make me itch!

*) Pyrethrin based insecticide spray to destroy lice, fleas, ticks and red mite.

02 December, 2010

Moonblush tomatoes

I love sundried tomatoes and wanted to see if I would be able to make them myself in the dehydrator. I decided to use cherry tomatoes, because hopefully I'll have loads of them come summer. This is how I made them.

Moonblush tomatoes

cherry tomatoes, halved
sea salt and pepper to season

Spread the tomatoes on a tray, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Leave in the dehydrator overnight (or for 8-10 hours, maybe longer for bigger tomatoes) on 57°C, and when dry store in a sterile air tight container. If you need to store them for a long time, top the jar up with oil.

If you want to make them in the oven, turn it up as hot as it will go while you prepare the tomatoes, then switch it off, put the toms in and leave overnight without opening the oven. The tomatoes should be nice and dry in the morning.

The drying process makes even watery shop-bought tomatoes taste amazing. They would make lovely Christmas presents, if I had any left. I'll be making some more of these next year!

Room for two, room for four?

From: http://www.omlet.co.uk/  - KIT B

I can't resist a bargain. I thought I had already stretched the run to the absolute maximum I could fit in our small garden, but then I spotted the run extensions on sale on the Omlet site. After some quick measurements in the garden I asked Hubby for his opinion on whether or not we should get another extension. It seems like my normally oh so sensible other half has also gone completely bonkers as he seemed to think it a very good idea. So, here we are with a four metre long chicken run reaching from the corner of the shed to the raised bed.

Cleaning the run will be definitely a two man job from now on, but I'm happy knowing that the chooks have more space, especially now that they show no interest in going out of the covered run to free range in the snow.

(And now I've got room for four chooks. Might go and choose a nice Black Rock or two for my birthday in the spring!)

23 November, 2010

Introducing Narcissa

I've noticed that most of the photos are of Bella, so I set myself a task of trying to snap a proper photo of the elusive Cissy. Here it is! Doesn't she look lovely?

She's still quite skittish, but luckily she can be bribed with corn and will eat out of my hand, although somewhat warily. Her beak is very sharp and that's why I haven't been really enjoying hand feeding her. I've found that a feeding glove offers a solution to this problem, since with the glove protecting my palm I can keep trying to buy Miss Beaky's affections with no pain. I hope she'll start crouching soon as otherwise we've got no chance of catching, or let's face it, even touching the panicky little madam.

Who's the boss?

When we first got the chooks, I thought Cissy, although shy, was going to be the top hen as she kept pecking Bella. After observing them for over a month now, I can quite safely say that Bella is definitely the boss. She rules gently but firmly, never pecks but has other ways of showing that she's in charge.

When it's treat time, she shuffles her fluffy knickers to block Cissy from getting to the bowl until she's had what she's after. As soon as Cissy moves to her other side to quickly snatch a few mealworms Bella shifts and blocks her again. It's funny to watch, but I do feel sorry for the little one as she won't get as many treats. Bella's one tough chook.

22 November, 2010

Special breakfast

I would have been quite happy just to have a collection of beautiful eggs to admire and be able to continue my studies on the differences between the shells and sizes of eggs, but I think they'd begin to rot eventually. So, today I decided to boil Bella's first egg and have a little taste. It was lovely! The yolk was very orangy yellow and it tasted fab (although you can't really see it from the picture as you can just see the top of the yolk).

Hound got a tiny piece as well for being good and sitting on the garden bench while the girls were last free ranging. Admittedly, Hound was on the lead, being cuddled and munching on dog biscuits, but I'd rather take things slow than risk any of my pets getting hurt. The chickens took no notice of Hound and had a fab time destroying the sorrel while I had my hands busy. Cheeky chooks!

20 November, 2010

Planning escape

The grass is definitely greener on the other side and the chooks know it. They can't wait to get their claws on the neighbour's lushious lawn and are as fed up as I am with the mud field we call our garden. I think they've established that they can't get over the hedge so now they're doing the digging dance (flick flick step step) by the border and trying to slip under the mesh.

Who said chickens are stupid?

19 November, 2010

Simple supper #3

Here's another take on butternut squash soup, only this one's got a bit of heat, so it's perfect for those chilly evenings. I found this recipe in one of the Cook Yourself Thin cook books and it's quick, easy and healthy, which is just how I like my recipes. I think I've found a new favourite! 

Spicy thai butternut squash soup

olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 chillies, deseeded and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cm piece of root ginger, finely chopped or grated
2 lemongrass stalks (mine came out of a jar)
1 large butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and chopped
400ml can of reduced fat coconut milk
1 vegetable stock cube
2 tbsp nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
juice of 1 lime

Fry the onion, chilli, garlic, ginger and lemongrass in oil until the onion starts to soften. Add the squash, coconut milk, stock cube, nam pla and some boiling water to cover the squash. Bring to the boil, covered and simmer for 20 mins or until the squash is soft. Blend the soup until smooth, add the lime juice and enjoy!

18 November, 2010


There can be no Christmas without gingerbread, so I thought I'd better crack on and make some. I've never made them from scratch before, so I had to hunt down a recipe and try to find all the ingredients. This recipe makes enough dough for lots and lots of biscuits, so I can give some away as presents. I had to hide them all before Hubby, also known as the Gingerbread Monster, had a chance to find them.


300g butter
1 dl sugar
2 dl soft brown sugar
2 big tablespoon scoops black treacle

3 tsp powdered Seville orange peel *
3 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ginger

2 eggs
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
1,4 litres plain flour

Melt the butter in a pan, and add the sugars, treacle and spices. Mix it well and let it cool down. Add the eggs one by one. Then add the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt (you can leave a little bit of the flour for later to stop the dough sticking to the table). Let the dough rest overnight in the fridge. Take a little bit of the dough (leave the rest in the fridge until you need it, otherwise it'll be a nightmare to work with) and roll it out into a sheet (not too thin as it will tear easily) and cut it into shapes with cookie cutters. Line an oven tray with baking paper, lift the biscuits on top and bake 225°C/until lovely and brown (small ones will cook in about 4-5 mins, but keep an eye on them, they burn easily.). Let them cool down and decorate.  

They are a bit of a faff to make, especially if you're trying to get spindly legged animal shapes onto the oven tray in one piece. They taste lovely though, so I'll be using the same recipe again. I'll just be making stumpy legged pigs, much less hassle!

*) You can use all these spices or make your own mix with a combination of any of the following: powdered cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, ginger, Seville orange peel and/or cardamom.

One egg, two eggs, three eggs, four...

We've been getting lots more eggs from Bella, six eggs in eight days so far, brilliant! I still haven't used any of them, but will try one soon as I've just used the last of the eggs I bought from the garden hen man and made some lovely gingerbread for Christmas.

I was surprised to see that the eggs seem to be changing colour. The very first egg was definitely brown, and now that I've lined the new eggs right next to it, I can see (not sure you can tell from the picture, the two on the left are the latest ones) that they're getting more pink. No wonder people have difficulty telling who's laid what if the sneaky chooks keep laying different coloured eggs! Hopefully I'll manage to tell the eggs apart since I've only got two chooks and would like to be able to keep records of the eggs. We'll see how long I'll remember to jot down every egg on my spread sheet...

As it now stands, Bella 6 - Cissy 0.

11 November, 2010

Our first egg!

I noticed that Bella had been in the nest for quite some time this morning, but then totally forgot about it, as I was way too busy playing with my new toy, making some fruit leathers. Later on, I went to take the chooks some afternoon treats and decided to check the nest. I found a nice surprise, our first small but perfectly formed egg!

I thought Bella's eggs would be a bit lighter in colour (and would expect Cissy to lay darker speckled eggs), but this must be Bella's. I've been noticing all the tell-tale signs and more importantly, what to me must be clear proof is the bald patch that has suddenly appeared on her head. I've decided that the baldness must be egg related and there are two possible explanations. Either this egg laying business is really stressful and makes your head feathers literally fall off or the slightly more immature Blondie has been pecking Bella when she's been crouching, hard at work as if to say 'What are you doing lying there, come and play with me outside!'. I would put my money on the latter as Cissy is known to have a sharp beak and she's not afraid to use it!

Well done Bella!

05 November, 2010

Crouching Bella

I went to give the girls their afternoon snack and as I was putting the bowl in the run, Bella crouched and stayed down so that I could stroke her back. She's done this twice now and it's a very good sign (along with the before mentioned reddening head gear) that she might lay her first egg soon. I could see that she wasn't sure what was happening, she just found herself instinctively crouching and couldn't help but stay down until I pulled my hand away.

I think Cissy is slowly maturing as well, I'm sure her tiny comb and wattles look a little bit pinker every day. Still, I wouldn't expect an egg any time soon, as it seems these things can take a bit of time. Quite frankly, I'm not really bothered if the chooks are a bit younger than I originally thought or if it takes them a bit longer to lay. I'm just enjoying having them and happy to finally experience all these things first hand.

The girls will have an early night tonight. I will be following the advice of some more experienced chicken keepers and locking them in the coop a bit earlier, well before the fireworks start. That way the chooks will be sleeping and totally unaware of what's going on, I hope. I might still worry a bit.

04 November, 2010

Caught in action!

Yesterday I managed to tiptoe close enough to get a picture of Bella bathing, only this time sneaking wasn't really necessary, as she didn't bat an eye lid when I opened the run door to snap a few photos. She didn't really welcome this disturbance and kept kicking the sand in my direction as if to tell me to get lost and leave her in peace.

While I was busy trying to get a decent shot (impossible as I was snapping away with my phone), Cissy saw her opportunity and dashed out of the run. She seemed genuinely peed off that she hasn't been let out to free range for almost a week and neither an offering of pumpkin seeds nor trying to shoo her towards the run got me any closer to capturing her. It wasn't until I fetched the corn pot that she decided to give up and go back in the run.

Today it was back to normality after a miserable week of worming, and I was able to offer the girls some guilt free treats. Not sure how long it will take them to forget this unfortunate experience, but I'll win them back sooner or later. They can't stay angry for long, for I am the keeper of the mealworms!

02 November, 2010

The extended run

We collected the run extension on Sunday and had an all round fabulous day. I think it's becoming a sort of hobby of mine, finding good deals (so far chicken related) on Ebay and having a nice day out when collecting them. We drove past several nurseries, and then braked and reversed. I've trained Hubby well, as nowadays it's him spotting all the places of interest and asking if I want to stop and have a look.

On the way back home we had the car packed with the extension, a James Grieve apple tree (same pollination group as my Discovery), some garlic (French Thermidrome) which I planted yesterday in pots and a dozen free range eggs from a lovely man and his garden hens.

Here's the run with the extension, I'm sure the girls appreciate it as they haven't been allowed to free range while being wormed. Let's see how long the hemp bedding will stay nice and clean before they mix it up with soil and... other stuff!

31 October, 2010

Happy Halloween!

I wanted to grow my very own Halloween pumpkin and it all started really well... The seed germinated and the seedling was pampered indoors. It was then moved to the cold greenhouse and eventually planted in the raised bed with lots of manure. In no time at all, the foliage was taking over the bed and I could see tiny round things popping up everywhere. I had to chop most of these baby pumpkins off to give the selected few a chance to mature, and not long after this they suffered a major slug attack. I was left with some very lacy leaves and one measly pumpkin. It's tiny and there's not much to eat, but I'm sure the chickens will appreciate it.

Happy Halloween!

30 October, 2010

Extending the run

Image from http://www.omlet.co.uk/ - KIT A

I was lucky enough to find my eglu second hand (as they are quite pricey) and close by (as it had to be collected). I've had the girls for almost a month now and I've already been thinking about making the run a bit longer. I measured the distance from the end panel to the raised bed and there's definitely enough space there for a small extension. Adding one metre to the run will leave me just about enough space for opening and closing the run door, and pottering about with the feeders and drinkers. I might not be able to change the run bedding without poking the rosemary with the end of the rake, but that's hardly the end of the world.

I thought it was a long shot, but I had a look on Ebay and  found a second hand run extension for sale not too far from where we live. Yesterday, I was biting my nails (figuratively speaking, I didn't want my taste buds anywhere near my fingers after handling all those chillies), waiting for the auction to end. The result? The girls are going to have more room to stretch their legs soon!

29 October, 2010

Bath time

Chickens are funny creatures and they do lots of silly things, but the thing I enjoy watching the most has to be dustbathing.

Before getting the chooks, I bought a few flexi tubs and as one of them is shallow enough (and happens to match the eglu), I decided to fill it with playsand and compost (and sprinkling of diatom) and turn it into a dustbath. I can't imagine them not having one now because of its many functions. First and foremost, it is their safe haven and if anything scary happens, they can be seen flapping off to the dustbath, where they will wait until the danger passes. It also functions as a roosting bar (although not a very good one, the tub handle being a bit too bendy) and finally, what it is meant for, a place to get bathed.

I've seen Cissy enjoying a good roll in the bath and kicking the sand about, but it seems that whenever Bella decides to have a nice dusty bath to relax and de-stress, Cissy won't let her. Whatever Bella wants to do, Cissy wants to do. Poor Bell is trying to lie down, while Blondie keeps pecking and kicking her, trying to prize herself between her mate and the edge of the tub.

So far I haven't managed to get a picture of them dustbathing as they get up as soon as I open the back door in the hope of getting some corn or mealworms.

Hot stuff!

They might not be the biggest or prettiest, but they're my first home grown chillies, yay! I've already made lots of chilli jam, so I think these will be destined for the freezer. I haven't got a clue what variety they are (bought the plant on a whim and lost the tag), but I've saved some seeds and will be growing them again next year. Lots of them.

The gorgeous red chillies are on the plate for illustration purposes only, to make mine look even more rubbish!

28 October, 2010

Simple supper #2

This healthy soup is ridiculously easy to make and one of my favourites. The recipe is borrowed from Fay's Family Food, a lovely cookbook that's responsible for quite a few of our family favourites.

Butternut squash soup

1 butternut squash, cut in half lengthways and the seeds scooped out
olive oil
vegetable stock

Preheat the oven to 180°C and roast the squash for an hour or until soft. Scoop the flesh and rosemary in a pan, blend until smooth and heat it up, adding vegetable stock to get the consistency of your liking. That's pretty much it. Fay suggests to sprinkle grated parmesan on top, but I usually have it as it is or with a dollop of creme fraiche.

(The original recipe tells you to discard the seeds and orange stringy bits, but I just couldn't bare to throw them away... Pumpkin seeds being a natural wormer for chooks and everything. They loved it!)

The worming begins

Today's the day I start worming my girls. As I said, they seem fine, but the common practise seems to be to worm chickens at least twice a year, especially if they are allowed to free-range as they might pick up all sorts of things while pecking the ground. I doubt mine have been wormed (was much too giddy to ask), so I decided to go for it, just to be on the safe side.

As soon as I woke up I went out to get the chicken feed and measured 2 kg of pellets with our not so reliable scales. I put a small amount in a big bowl, mixed it in with a level scoop of the worming stuff, Flubenvet, added the rest of the measured pellets and gave the lot a good mix.

It's still dark, but soon I'll go and let the chooks out and give them their medicated pellets for breakfast... The exact same meal they're going to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next six days. I shouldn't give them any treats while they're being wormed to make sure it's effective, I must resist!

Hope it works!

27 October, 2010

Testing the nest

I think Bella might be getting close to laying. Her face is getting redder (and not just because she's splattered tomato on her beak) and she's got some wattles (small ones, but wattles nevertheless). The comb doesn't seem to be growing or getting any redder, but she does like going in the coop and testing the nest every now and again, only to be followed and kicked out by Cissy who hasn't got the faintest idea what's going on.

Whatever happens, I doubt this pale lady will beat Bella to it!

26 October, 2010

Keeping the chooks warm

It's cold, wet and dark, but at least I now know that the chickens are going to be alright. I'm still keeping a beady eye on them and my fingers crossed, but as far as I can tell, they seem to be doing absolutely fine. Yay!

They enjoyed another little outing yesterday (I sit out with them most days and hand-feed them corn, even Cissy is eating out of my hand now) and are getting braver and braver. My herbs won't be safe for much longer! I was trying to get some little jobs done while the girls were pecking the grass and it seemed that as soon as I turned my back they made a beeline for the sorrel. I had to stop turning the compost or filling up their feeder and run to shoo them off the raised bed. It makes me laugh now, but I know I'll be in trouble later. I think I really will be needing that netting.

The grass is slowly turning into mud, thanks to all the rain, and it can't be long before we get some proper frosts. I had a taste of the joys of chicken keeping in winter already, in the form of frozen water. I thought apple cider vinegar was supposed to help to keep the water from freezing. Apparently not. I have to start either emptying the water out on frosty evenings or de-freezing it the first thing in the morning.

I know the eglu is well insulated and should be warm enough for my girls, at least until the temperatures drop below -8°C. The chooks snuggle up side by side in the coop at night, so they should keep reasonably warm, but it worries me that there's only two of them in the coop. So what's a panicky hen keeper to do, order one of these?

It's a heat pad for pets, it can be heated in the microwave and in the case of chickens, put under the roosting bars to keep their fluffy bottoms warm. It should release heat slowly and keep the coop warm up to 12 hours. It comes with a lovely cover, which is probably wasted on the chickens as I think I'd rather use the pad without one, for cleanliness issues. I might even wrap the pad in a sheet of newspaper to make sure it stays clean.

Call me weird, but I don't want any chicken poo in my microwave!

21 October, 2010

Healthy chickens?

They eat, drink, poo, scratch the ground and walk about with a twinkle in their eye. In other words, they appear very healthy chooks. Despite this, I keep spotting (or imagining?) things like excessive preening, droopy tail feathers, pale faces, odd poos and scruffy knickers. Just to be on the safe side the chooks are still being fed all the possible tonics mixed with their food and water, and given warm oat porridge in the afternoons to keep them warm at night. They've been sprayed against lice, mites and every other sort of creepy crawlie known to man (and chickens) and I'm still in doubt. Should I be doing something else for them? To cover all bases, the king of the wormers, Flubenvet, is on the way.

I think the best thing to do is to stop reading the Chicken Clinic!

18 October, 2010

First free-range

After much panicking and what-ifs my girls finally got to explore life outside their run. We let them out for a little stroll in the garden before it got dark. I was imagining lots of flapping about and maybe even an attempt to escape next doors, but instead they calmly pottered about for a while, pecking and scratching the grass before making a bee-line for the run after their treat bowl. I think I feel a bit more confident letting them roam free in the garden now that I know they'll dive straight back in the run after their beloved mealworms.

Hope the weather's nice tomorrow, me and the girls are staying out!

15 October, 2010

The chooks are settling in!

The girls seem to be settling in well and are used to their little daily routine. I let them out of the coop about sevenish in the morning and take them their grub with fresh pellets. I've been mixing a spoonful of garlic powder and poultry spice into their food to help them to get over the shock of moving house and to keep them healthy in the cold weather. I also make sure they have clean water spiced with apple cider vinegar. In the afternoon I take them their treat bowl with a bit of mixed corn or mealworms and some fresh food like bits of grass or sorrel, a couple of over-ripe cherry toms or autumn rasberries, or whatever I have handy and needs to be eaten. As soon as the chooks spot their treat bowl they are lining up at the door and can't wait to get stuck in. While the girls are munching away, I'll do a quick clean in the coop, which usually means just tipping the poo tray onto the compost and covering it with a fresh newspaper and a sprinkling of aubiose. In the evening, the girls find their way to the coop before seven, and I'll go and lock them in just after, making sure I take all their food in the house with me to prevent getting rats in the garden. That's the minimum of the daily chicken chores.

There are other things of course. Being new to chicken keeping is very nerve wrecking and on the first couple of days I could be seen running into the garden after hearing any noise just to make sure that the dog (or anything else) hasn't scared the chooks. Right from the start, Hound was assigned half of the garden and the girls the other half and Hound would just glare at the chooks, until he decided to go and say his piece to the invaders. Now the chooks tend to make a calm but quick escape to the coop as soon as Hound is let out, eventhough he wouldn't dare to go anywhere near the coop. I think they've found mutual respect, as long as the chooks stay in the run, that is.

I might have mentioned earlier that one of the chooks was getting pecked by the other, so one night we had to sneak in the garden after dark (as there is no chance in hell we'd be able to catch Bella in broad day light, we've both tried and failed once), armed with Purple Spray. We managed to a) get the right bird and b) do a few good squirts near the tail feathers, and I was quite happy to go to bed knowing that I've done something to resolve the pecking issue. Next morning, we saw two birds coming out of the coop, one speckled and one half gray and half purple. It did help with the pecking, but I'm not sure Bella likes her new look.

Then there was the hail storm, during which both me and Hubby ran out to save the chooks. We tried to shoo them in the safety of the coop while being bombarded by what felt like little pebbles. We managed to get the girls in after scaring them half to death with a rake...Only to find ourselves trying to get them back out into the sun twenty minutes later. Experience tells me now that if the chooks wish to shelter from a storm outside the coop, the dustbath is a perfectly acceptable option.

There are lots of things to worry about, but sometimes, when all is well I like just making a cuppa and sitting down for a minute to watch the silly birds and enjoy the last of the warm weather.

Apple cake

I normally use this recipe for a rhubarb cake, but since I've got all these apples I thought I might give this version ago.

Apple cake

1 egg
3 dl sugar
3,5 dl cream and milk (half and half)
6 dl plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
100g soft butter
apples, peeled, cored and sliced
a few pinches of sugar and ground cinnamon to sprinkle on top
(flaked or ground almonds)

Whisk the egg and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cream and milk mixture, baking powder and flour. Mix the soft butter in with the rest of the ingredients and pour the mixture onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Place the apple slices on top (they will sink slightly) and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. You could try sprinkling flaked almonds on top or add some ground almonds into the mixture before pouring it onto the baking tray. Bake 200°C/30 mins. Lovely served warm with vanilla ice cream or cold hidden into a lunch box to brighten up someone's day.

07 October, 2010

The first day

We managed to get them in the run without problems and I spent the next few hours sitting in the sunny garden, watching the chooks and going in only to make a cup of tea or a sandwich. Hound took the presence of these invaders quite well, only jumping up from his sun bed when they were getting particularly noisy or flappy.

I was getting quite nervous as it got darker, as I wasn't sure how we were going to get them in the coop for the night. Bella had already checked the coop out on several occasions during the day, but I was sure poor Cissy didn't have a clue what that red plastic thing was for. Well, I was wrong. After watching them try to roost on the handle of the flexitub (a.k.a dustbath), Hubby proudly announced that it was HIS chicken who found her way to the coop first. We watched them then trying to decide between the tub handle (too bendy) and the coop (no high perches), one chicken going in while the other was already out for a good ten minutes. Eventually both of the chooks managed to stay in the coop long enough for me to tiptoe in the garden and close the hatch. Phew!

Apple's the word!

We went to B&Q on the weekend and while Hubby was looking at what I call boring stuff, I sneaked to the garden bit and the trolley was filled with green leafy things in no time. I found an apple tree (Discovery) to replace our cherry tree (that got offended by very wet feet and was finished off by a well aimed shovelful of icy snow), a fig tree (Brown Turkey) and two blueberry varieties I didn't have yet (mail ordered Nui, Chandler and Herbert got new friends called Goldtraube and Northland). And I only went for some playsand for the chooks' dustbath!

It will take a few years before we get any apples (provided that the tree survives that long) and I really wanted to make some more of that delicious jam, so I placed an add on Freecycle asking for some apples and boy did we get some! We came home from this lovely lady's house with a big flexitub full of gorgeous tangy apples. You can see the bounty in the picture above. I used just over two kilos of apples to make some jam (result: the best jam so far!) and the tub still looks full. I think I'll have to find some more apple recipes sharpish!

Another thing on my to do list is to plant the apple tree. I was going to train it somehow, but I can't decide what would be the best way. The label suggests to plant it at an angle of 45°, so maybe I should follow that advice. I've never seen a tree planted this way though and I keep thinking that to everyone but a fruit tree connoisseur it might look like someone's planted the tree after a very long night in the pub! Anything to save some space, I suppose.

Anyone grown apple trees in big pots?

Here come the girls!

They're finally here (just in time to celebrate egg week apparently). We drove to Barnsley on Monday and came back with two girls, a Bluebelle and a Speckledy. The journey went well, although it did get a bit whiffy in the car as one of our new pets decided she needed a poo right after leaving the farm. Hubby wasn't impressed with this, but I couldn't help sniggering. Too late to complain now!

I chose the Bluebelle, she was the only completely grey bird as all the rest had a reddish brown patch on their chest. She's a beauty with bright eyes and very fluffy knickers! She's definitely the tamer of the two and I'm hoping it won't take too long before she's eating from my hand.

I let Hubby choose the Speckledy and as soon as we got home I regretted that decision. He can't see there's anything wrong with her, but I don't think she's as fluffy as the Bluebelle and her feathers look a bit ruffled. And she keeps pecking 'my chicken'! They both seem perky so maybe I should stop worrying. I'll do my best to keep them well fed and hope that the poor looking one starts fluffing up.

It took us a while to name them, but in the end we named them after the Black sisters (I trust everyone's read their Potters) as they seemed to suit them best. The beautiful Bluebelle is called Bellatrix, or Bella for short and the speckled chook is called Narcissa (because she thinks she's all that), or Cissy (sissy more like, she's a right Miss Panicky Poo and scarpers as soon as we get too close).

Sorry about the poor quality of the photo (not the first or the last one in this blog, I can assure you), but I didn't want to disturb them too much while they're still settling in.

01 October, 2010

Courgette cake

I wish I had tried this recipe sooner. Just a while ago I was drowning in courgettes and now after having just used my last one, I'm contemplating the idea of actually buying some (oh horror!) to make more of this lovely, moist cake. I think I need to raid the freezer to check if I have some grated courgette hiding somewhere.

Courgette cake (adapted from a recipe in The Edible Garden)

1 medium courgette, grated and drained in a sieve to get rid of some of the moisture
100g softened butter
150g soft brown sugar
2 eggs
100g plain flour
50g wholemeal spelt flour
50g ground almonds
3 tsp baking powder

Whisk the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, then the flour, almonds, baking powder and grated courgette. Bake in a well greased tin 180°C (160°C for fan assisted oven) for 40-45 mins.

A must recipe for next summer.

30 September, 2010

Rainbow of tomatoes

It was freezing this morning when I went out to have a little nosy in the garden. Winter's definitely on its way. The new raised bed seems to be working well as the herbs are bathing in the morning sun and it's easier for me to spot the slugs. I read recently that coffee grounds might repel slugs, so I'll give that a go, but for now I'll stick to cutting them in half. Disgusting yes, but effective.

I decided to bring the big tomatoes in. They're still all green, but I think I'd rather try ripening them indoors than let them rot on the vine (I spotted a dodgy one maybe a week ago and have been diligently checking the rest for signs of the dreaded blight). I left the cherry toms in the smallest greenhouse as they seem to be doing fine and up until now I've been getting at least a handful of toms daily.

I think I'd rather stay in with a cup of hot tea, admiring my lovely rainbow of tomatoes ripening on the sunny windowsill.

29 September, 2010

Garden plans

In my first veg growing year I had three small lean-to greenhouses and the smallest raised bed imaginable. It quickly dawned on me that I couldn't grow much in a small space like that, so in my second year the raised bed had stretched to new dimensions (and is now occupied by ten asparagus crowns to be harvested in years to come), and was quickly followed by two others.

In addition to the asparagus bed, I had a bed with a clear cut section devoted for my beloved herbs, followed by strict lines of different types of salad leaves, spinach, rocket, radishes, spring onions and useless carrots that never germinated. The third bed was taken over by two rhubarb crowns, some flowers and a pumpkin plant that got eaten by slugs.

We got a decent crop, but I wasn't happy with the lack of sun on the shady second bed. I realised that the smart (although laborious) thing to do would be to move the second bed to give the chickens a bit of shade and shelter by the hedge and then try to find a sunnier position for the veg.  Admittedly the ever shrinking lawn had to take another hit, but at least the veg and the chooks will be happy.

Currently I'm reading The Edible Garden and making plans for my third year. I think I want to jazz up the raised beds a bit for next spring and make them look a bit nicer, chickens permitting. I've got a feeling I will be forced to invest in some netting.

A taste of what's to come

We ventured out into the country last weekend and found a lovely little farm shop selling some proper free range eggs. We could see the hens happily scratching away on this big field and came home with dozen eggs. The colour of the yolk was an amazing yellow and it tasted fab. Can't wait for our own eggs now.

Talking about chickens and eggs... We lugged huge amounts of compost from one raised bed to another to make room for the coop, just in case the chooks decide to arrive soon. I also might have placed an order for some layers pellets, mixed corn and other little bits and bobs.


24 September, 2010

Simple supper #1

Not quite Nigel Slater, but you can't deny it's simple. I've made this time and time again, this year for the first time with home-grown tomatoes.

Tomato feta pasta

olive oil for frying
cherry tomatoes
feta cheese
pasta (any shape will do)
black pepper
fresh basil
optional: parmesan and/or pine nuts

Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Sweat the onions, add halved cherry tomatoes and fry until slightly softened. Add cubed feta cheese and let it warm on the pan.  Pour the drained pasta in with the tomatoes, season with black pepper and basil. If you wish, you can sprinkle some pine nuts and/or grate some parmesan on top. Dangerously moreish!

The right time?

Image from http://www.freephoto.com/

It occurred to me that it is getting quite late in the year to be getting point of lay (meaning they're getting close to laying their first egg) hens as the winter is approaching. Pure breed chooks especially aren't that fond of the cold weather and it will most definitely effect their egg laying. I might be alright with some hybrids though, because they should lay in the winter and therefore might start laying a bit sooner. Still, because of the bad timing I might be waiting for that first precious egg until Christmas time or even longer.

If I was being Little Miss Sensible, I would wait until the weather starts warming up next spring and get the chooks then. Unfortunately patience has never been my stronger points. I promise to try really hard, but I wouldn't be surprised if one of these days not too far in the future I came home with a suspicious pet carrier and sounds of gentle bokking.

(Oh and I'm leaning towards getting a Bluebell and a Speckledy, the first two chickens I fell in love with!)

23 September, 2010

Choosing chooks

Images from http://www.omlet.co.uk/
Got the coop, what next? There are lots of different breeds of chickens to choose from and frankly, the more I read the more confused I get. There are so many things to consider. There's the bird's appearance, friendliness, hardiness, egg production, egg colour, flightiness, broodiness... My head is spinning.

If I understand this correctly, the hybrids (the mutts of the chicken world) are very reliable layers, they lay most eggs the first year and then the egg production starts to diminish. So far, I've taken a liking to Black Rock, Bluebell and Speckledy. The pure breeds may not lay as frequently, but will usually lay for longer and perhaps more consistently. Pure breed hens that have caught my eye are Cream Legbar, Rhode Island Red and Welsummer.

I'm guessing the best thing to do would be to keep a mixed flock, a little bit of everything, but how will I manage that when I've only got space for two? I think I'll just ignore everything I've read, go see the hens and pick the ones that I like.

22 September, 2010

Why chickens?

Image from http://www.bbc.co.uk/

I suppose it started with watching the Edible Garden and falling in love with Alice and Gertrude... Now, for the past few months I've been reading about all things chickeny and browsing chicken houses, before finally stumbling across the ultimate chicken coop (and run) for a small urban garden, the eglu. It keeps the hens safely in and the foxes out, is very easy to clean (with plastic you don't need to worry about the dreaded red mite) and it looks lovely. The problem is that these beauties won't come cheap. After what has felt like an eternity, I'm happy to announce that I'm finally the proud owner of a second-hand eglu!

Image from http://www.omlet.co.uk/

It's all really happening now and it got me thinking, why do I (or anyone) would want to keep chickens? Well, here's how I see it. You'll have lovely pets that will gladly eat the slugs pestering your lettuce and the bits of veg that would otherwise end up in the compost bin. They will produce fertiliser for your veggies and you can use their dirty bedding to speed up your compost. They will keep you company when you're weeding in the hope of finding a juicy worm. And after all that help they still thank you for caring for them with an egg! Where could you find a better pet?

I've told all of this to Hubby, without going into finer detail about chickens wrecking the garden and eating all the veg. I guess he'll find out about that bit soon enough.

19 September, 2010

Rain, rain, go away!

I've been meaning to try some chilli recipes from Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook and as it's been raining non-stop today, why not crack on!

Chilli jam

500g very ripe tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 large red chillies (I took the seeds out as I don't like it too hot)
6-7 cm piece of ginger root, sliced (I keep mine in the freezer so that I always have some, no chance of slicing the frozen little bugger so I grated it instead)
300g sugar
2 tbsp thai fish sauce
100 ml red wine vinegar

Basically, you just blitz half the toms with garlic, chillies and ginger, pour the lot in a saucepan, add sugar, vinegar and fish sauce, dice the rest of the toms and add to the pan. Simmer for 30-40 mins until sticky and pour into sterilised jars while still warm. The jam stores for about 3 months.

It tastes a bit like shop-bought Sweet Chilli Sauce, just heaps better (and minus the salt we're trying to avoid). Even with the amount of sugar this has got to be a better option containing lots of juicy toms instead of water and preservatives.

16 September, 2010


My friend gave me this recipe and I had to try it straight away. It's absolutely gorgeous and it makes the whole house smell lovely when it's bubbling away on the cooker.

Apple jam

1 kg apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 vanilla pod split into halves
4 tbsp calvados
2 tbsp water
4 dl jam sugar (or a bit less, I found the jam a bit too sweet)

Put all the ingredients into a pan and boil 10 mins (or until the apples go soft). Pour the jam into sterilised jars and let them cool down in room temperature. Store in the fridge (or freezer if you haven't got the space in the fridge).

Easy peasy!


I tried growing tomatoes (Gardener's Delight if my memory serves me right) in pots and hanging baskets last year with some success, this year I wanted to try some different varieties. I ordered Ferline F1 and Tumbling Tom Red seeds and you can see the results above: my first 'big' tomatoes and masses of lovely cherry toms. I got some free Costoluto Fiorentino seeds with my order and I'm looking forward to tasting those wrinkly, funny looking toms if they ever ripen.

I love tomatoes, especially this one with a big red nose!