Saturday 27 June 2009


Our collection of hollyhocks has grown over the years, and from now for the next few months they will dominate the back garden a bit.

I'm guessing that they breed with each other, as we now have Hollyhocks in an incredible spectrum of pink. Some years ago I started to collect the seed each year (and there is a lot of seed to collect), and dropped the seed of the best colours further afield in the garden. It takes two years to get a Hollyhock. One year after youve planted the seed you get a bit of growth but no flower, and the next year you get a flower. Maybe the plants are bi-ennial, which means it's actually even more amazing that we have so many.

Anyway. I did cheat a couple of years ago, and I bougtsome seed for a black Hollyhock. It's flowered this year!

Hmm... the reporoduction of colours here doesn't reflect the true range of colours of the Hollyhocks in real life...not the colours of them on my camera. Oh well.

Thursday 25 June 2009

Combatting Mother Nature

Mother Nature is very unfair, sometimes.

We have two gorgeous cats, who occasionally bring home a mouse; sometimes, they bring home those creatures we euphemistically call "Big Mice", and we were relieved when we saw Washburn bringing one home from across the road (as it meant he hadn't caught it in our garden).

The other day, Washburn was playing with something in the garden; it was a little bird, too small to be a fledgling, so we thought it must have fallen out of the nest. DH dispatched it, as it was too young to survive.

A few days later, another one. Bit odd, we thought.

Yesterday, a third one. We realised that Wash must be getting them out of the nest himself. But how? Fortunately, perhaps, he gave us the answer himself. No sooner had we removed number thre from him than he ran off down the garden, and we heard the alarmed cries of the mother bird as Wash climbed straight up the apple tree.

He's a fantastic climber, has been since before he was allowed out. He used to climb our large potted plants when he was a baby; and the first day he went outside he ran out of the door and up the cherry tree. Anyway, I digress.

So, he climbed the apple tree, and then went along one very long branch which curved over and gave him access to another tree over the fence. It was very precarious, as the end of the branch was quite fragile, and he was swaying a lot trying to get ready for the jump to the other tree. Horrified at what he was about to do, I persuaded him to come back.

I called for DH, and showed him the branch that Wash was using, and suggested we take it out to stop his access. DH looked at me as though I had gone mad. It was a rather large branch. It was, effectively, quite a large part of the apple tree on that side. It was the apple tree whose fruit I really liked. There probably aren't any babies left, he reasoned. There probably are I, countered, why else would he be going back and why else would the mother be squwarking? He'll use the fence instead, DH countered; Well, he might do, but that's a lot more difficult for him.

In the end DH agreed to do it, but because it was quite a large job, we couldn't do it then and there as it was already mid evening. So, we'd hve to keep the cats shut in so they couldn't get any remaining babies.

What a palaver!

Cat flap blocked up (we can't just lock it, because Wash just barges through it, yes, even if its locked) with a special barricade, backed up by the chicken feed bin. Litter tray provided.

having fruitlessly tried to move the barricade, Wash escaped by climbing out of the open fan light on the living room window. It's hard to believe that he could reach, but he sort of jumped up and got his front paws hooked over, and then he heaved himself up. His backlegs were scabbling against the window but he wasn't getting any purchase from it, so in the end he did it with the strength in his feline forearms.

He was retrieved from the front garden, and ALL windows were shut tight. in case he tried ta suicide leap from an upstairs bedroom fanlight. Lots of scratching and running around, but we remained resolute.

Next morning, DH went out to attack the tree. Meanwhile. Wash wanted to go to the toilet and hates iusing the litter tray. He's a lovely little ginger boy, really fluffy, but he has this meow which is really high pitched and pathetic, the sort of noise a six week old kitten would make. He was mewing furiously. Running round the house, hurling himself at ou legs to get our attention, and getting really stressed.

We had a few callers (parcel deliveries, that sort of thing), and each time I had to shut Wash in the living room so that he couldn't slip past me.

In the end, he gave in and did his business in the litter tray. God, what a smell! Just in time, DH came in to announce that the tree was pruned, so we let Wash out. He was overjoyed! He ran out of the house, round the garden, and then just flopped over by a flowerbed and started washing himself.

It's funny. Most of the time he's not really bothered about being out. It was just the fact that he wasn't able to go out that made it the only thing he could think about.

I wish he'd have a go at some of the bigger birds. We're inundated with Pigeons (who are busy mating), and a really raucous gang of starlings.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Chicken number 2 dispatched

The Dinner Chickens were getting rather large. They were a breed designed to grow quickly and be culled young, but we wanted to give them a bit of a life first. That was the whole point in going down the route of raising our own.

Anyway. The remaining cockerels were getting rather large, and were starting to fight amongst themselves a bit, and chase the ladies. The Ladies weren't interested in being chased, or being caught for that matter, food and sunbathing were much more important to them.

So, we decided to cull the six remaining white cockerels. Lumpy, the brown cockerel, has a temporary stay of execution. He's bottom of the pecking order and (so far) has shown no interest in bossing anyone about. DH and OC (other chap) Did the Deed on Monday. We'd been waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for my Tripod Despatcher to arrive, but there had been some mix up somewhere along the line and it hadn't arrived. So they did all six by hand.

All 6 were plucked immediately, and 5 of them were dressed immediately. We had promised a bird to a few people, so that was 4 of them gone, and OC had the 5th. DH brought home number 6 and we put him in the fridge (in the salad box again) and left him there for 48 hours this time.

And DH has just finished dressing him and jointing him now. He's a huge thing (the dinner chicken, not DH), weighing in at over 6 pounds dressed weight. One breast weighs one and a half pounds, which is far too big..... we're having that one between us for dinner this evening, it's in the oven now.

Hope it tastes OK.

Oh, the Dispatcher has arrived. It's enormous! More about that later.

Tuesday 23 June 2009


The warm weather has produced a rush of ripe fruit. I've been picking loads, eating a lot of it or turning it into smoothies... and yesterday I started off 3 different flavours of Vodka.

I've got some Tayberry and some Raspberry vodka just started; these are fairly simple to do, and produce a very fruity flavoured vodka. I've also got some Blackcurrant Vodka on the go; this takes much longer, and will produce a kind of Vodka Liqueur. Very soft, very sweet, very delicate, with a hidden kick.

I sent some to my dad, and had to warn him that it packs a bit of a punch. He likes the taste, and seems to like how it makes him feel!

Still oodles more ripe fruit, and I'm just not in a jamming mood. Maybe I'll go for cordials next?

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Golden wedding

It was my parents' Golden Wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago. I made them a cake, and I printed one of their wedding photos onto icing for the top. Came out quite well, even if I do say so myself.

Monday 15 June 2009

Creatures of Habit

A lot of fuss this morning, with Lily calling and calling anf calling.

I went out to see what was what, and found that Jasmine was encsonced in one side of the nest box, and Lily wanted to go and lay. Normally what happens is that Jasmine starts crowing to complain that her privacy is being invaded, but for once she was sitting silently minding her own business. I couldn't understand why Lily didn't just go in the next door cubicle.

I tried encouraging her in, I tried tempting her in with corn - which was a mistake as she then forgot all about laying and just wanted the corn.

Fast forward half an hour or so, and both Lily and Jasmine were clucking like mad. Rushed out to see Lily in the run and no Jasmine. Checked the nestbox, Jasmine was still in the same place but had Lily's egg beside her! Presumably Lily wanted to lay in that nest box, and had just stood on Jasmine and laid her egg.

A bit later, I saw Daisy go in and, when I checked, she was in the next door cubicle to Jasmine who still hadn't laid.

Much later, and I saw that Delilah (she of the very fragile eggs) had disappeared. I checked the nestbox again and found Daisy and Jasmine as before, and this time Delilah had decided to get in the same nestbox as Daisy and was standing on top of her. I left them to it although I realised that, with the state of Delilalh's eggs lately, this would not end well.

Much, much later, everyone was crowing at once. I went outside and collected an egg from Jasmine, an egg from Daisy, and found Delilahs fragile offering crushed. I scooped it out: I hope none of the others tried it, as the one thing we don't need is our hens getting a taste for their own eggs.


Saturday 13 June 2009

Unprotected pruning

I've been a happy pruner since we moved toour current home some 12 years ago. I wear gloves if i'm tackling the spikey or treacherous plants, or if i'm pulling out nettles, but if i'm tackling the friendly plants I only wear gloves if I already had them on. IYSWIM.

On Friday, I decided to cut back one of our enormous shrubs. It had been gradually creeping forward (and backwards, and sideways, and upwards) and was now obscuring the chickens. It's a fairly placid natured shrub. No prickles, bit dense.

Afterwards, my finger hurt a bit. I thought i'd probably scratched it when pulling out some of the pruned branches. Later, my finger hurt quite a bit. Much later I couldn't move it and it had swollen up.

DH suggested i'd maybe strained it. "You didn't get any splinters did you?" he asked. "No". Then "Oh yes, I did". Flash of a memory, me pulling something out of my hand with my teeth, whilst still pruning, and spitting it on the ground. Couln't picture where on my hand it had been. Slathered finger with Savlin, covered it in lint, went to bed.

Rough night. Next morning, hand was purple and finger hurt non stop, whether I was trying to move it or not. Feeling a bit sheepish, I got DH to take me to the local Minor Injuries Unit (MIU)

Upshot, it's infected. Fingers taped up, arm in sling, on antibiotics. Felt a bit of a drama queen, then friend sent me this:

Don't feel so silly for going to MIU now!

But I will make sure I wear gloves next time!

Thursday 11 June 2009

Ninja Chicken

Today was sunny, and I thought it was About Time that I did a full clean out of the hen pen. When the girls are out most of the time, and it's dry, I normally do this every 10-12 week (more often if they're confined or it's been very wet). I've been meaning to do it for a while, every time it's been good enough weather I've gone in and thought "THis isn't too bad, it'll easily last another week".

Enough procrastinating. I started work, cleaning out ALL the flooring, jet washing the perches (they look like new wood now), and so on. The Girls tend to dislike the disruption, and I'm sure they prefer their well used Aubiose/Hemcore to the fresh stuff, and they like to come and voice their opposition to being cleaned.

Today they were in a group on the narrow path which runs between the hen pen and the fruit cage. Something spooked them (me probably, shovelling poo laden Aubiose into a bag), and they all seemed to jump up at once. It's a very confined space out here, and Milly (she of the floppy comb) did this incredible sideways ninja kick, which just happened to hit the door to the fruit cage. Which just happened to swing open so she could get in. I rushed out of the hen pen to shut the fruit cage door to prevent anyone else getting in, and then I tried to get Milly out.

She wasn't having it. The bottom of the Fruit Cage is very interesting. Lots of bark and bugs. The fruit bushes are full of leaves, so it's lovely and cool. After 5 minutes of trying to tempt her out, I was on the verge of giving up and leaving her to it, when she did something unforgivable. She jumped up and helped herself to a ripening blackcurrant.

So, I came out of the fruit cage, collected some corn, and fed it to the others in a very nonchalant way. Milly took no notice. So I fed the others corn in a much more obvious, Milly-what-are-you-missing kind of way, and curiosity got the better of her. Hah.

But that's not all. Having got her out of the fruit cage, there were now 5 excited hens and me standing in a very narrow space. Daisy rushed passed me, and she jumped up and did a ninja kick and opened the swing gate which stops them getting right to the back of the garden. I was....I was...gobsmacked. So shocked that I just stared as she ran through the open gate followed by Lily and Jasmine.

Tuesday 9 June 2009


He was delicious.

Very, very tasty; full of chickeny flavour.

He was quite a large bird, just over 2.25kg. Although he works out quite expensive, it was still excellent value, as we're practiced at turning good chicken into Rubber Chicken. No, it doesn't mean it tastes rubbery, it means we can stre-e-e-tch it into several meals.

We had roast chicken tonight; we'll have one of the legs cold tomorrow;the other leg will be turned into either chicken pie or chicken curry; the remaining bits will make a risotto; and finally we'll make chicken stock (some of which will go in the risotto, the rest will be frozen for future use. So, excluding the stock, we'll have four meals for 2 people, 8 meals in total.

And we can always freeze the deboned pieces so we don't have to have chicken every day. Mind you, we haven't had chicken for ages, as we anticipated having a bit of a glut, so I expect a few chickeny days will be fine.

I did have to shut the french door in the kitchen so my Girls couldn't see what we were eating.

The Deed has Been Done

Well, we slaughtered the first two Dinner Chickens.

DH and OC (other chap) did the deed on Monday morning. Not perfect timing really, it's better to do it in the evening while the birds are all dopey. But they managed to do it without stressing the birds, and the birds had not had the trauma of having food withdrawal (they went to bed after eating on Sunday, as normal).

They used a friend's plucking machine, which I wasn't very happy about. The plucking machine is really quick, but it doesn't pluck as thoroughly as by hand. That wasn't my real objection though. Given that they only culled two birds, it seemed a bit.... disrespectful... not to pluck by hand. Still, I wasn't going to be the one doing the plucking, so I shouldn't complain.

The question then arose about how quickly to dress the bird. The correct thing to do is to leave the bird for 3 days. We did this last time (when we went on a course to learn how to cull humanely), and the smell was a bit strong for us. But I read that you shouldn't gut straightaway, because the meat can be a bit tough if you do. So we decided to leave it 24 hours, and DH has just done it. He managed to do it very quickly and efficiently. OC gutted straightaway, so it will be interesting to compare results.

We're going to try roasting the bird, as that seems the best way of evaluating the flavour. I hope it's OK.

Saturday 6 June 2009

Cordially yours

Last year I tried my hand at making cordials.

We have a lot of fruit, and I make jam, fruit leathers, dry it, preserve it blah blah, I've also made fruit vodkas, but up till then never ordinary cordial. They came out really well. I decided that I'd try Elderflower cordial, as I personally keep Bottlegreen in business. Somehow though I missed the Elderflower "season".

This year, I caught our elderflower in time, and managed to cnip enough large heads to make one batch. I followed Hugh's recipe (well, it seemed as good as any other), and I was surprised at how quick and easy it was, easier than blackcurrants anyway.

It doesn't taste like Bottlegreen's Elderflower cordial, but it is a really pleasant drink. I think I might have to go foraing for more Heads so that I can make "champagne"

Thursday 4 June 2009


I've given up buying Actimel/Yakult/Pro biotic tablets, and I've gone back to eating Natural Live Yoghurt (NLY) and Kefir. The easiest way I find to do this is to make a banana or strawberry (or whatever) smoothie each day.

I'm consuming vast quantities of NLY this way, and it's most cost effective to make my own. The only "special" equipment you need is a flask, preferably wide-mouthed otherwise it can be a bit hard to get the yoghurt out at the end. Check the capacity of your flask: my "one pint" flask is actually only 500ml, and that's useful to know when you're working out how much milk to use.

So. Put the milk on to boil. You need a bit less than the capacity of the flask. I use about 475ml. You need to boil it to sterilise it, so that the only thing that ends up growing is your yoghurt.

While that's boiling, boil some water and fill and seal the flask. This is to get the inside warm. If it's not, then when you put your final mixture in the flask, the cold walls of the flask will make it too cold to work.

Once the milk has boiled, take it off the heat and leave it too cool to body temperature. You can test this by putting a - clean - little finger in. If it's hot, it's too hot; if it's cool, it's too cold. I Try not to forget about it. If you're in a hurry, you can plunge the saucepan into a sink of cold water.

When it's at body temperature, you can add your other ingredients. I use 2 tablespoons of milk powder (makes the yogurt a but thicker), and 2 tablespoons of Natural Live Yoghurt. You can use yoghurt from an earlier batch; I find that after a while this ends up with a sourer yoghurt, which I don't always like. So, I use a really good quality NLY (My current starter of choice is Rachels's Live). It might seem odd buying yoghurt to make yoghurt, but you can get a number of pints of yoghutr ot of a carton of the bought stuff.

Stir or whisk these in. Empty the hot water from the flask, and put the Yoghurt into the flask. Screw the lid on and leave on the side for 12 -24 hours, or even longer. Sometimes the yoghurt is lumpy (although I've only had this happen once), in which case you just need to stir it briskly.

I've also done this successfully with a Greek Yoghurt (again, I use Rachel's) as a starter, but I find that it's best to use bought yoghurt each time as a starter.

If you don't use that much yoghurt, you can always decant the bought yoghurt into two tablespoon portions and freeze. Defrost overnight in the fridge to use as your own starter.