Wednesday, 23 November 2011

In which I check in...

It's been too long, far far too long. Who knew that teaching would take so much time! It's going well but with so much work to do my hobbies are suffering.

Now its dark when I get up and when I get home, I barely see the gorgeous Maude and Mildred during the week. I have taken to waking them up for a cuddle by torchlight but I don't think they appreciate it. I make it up to them at the weekends with plenty of time free ranging about and lots of snacks. Now the leaves are falling, they are in scratching heaven and a bucket load of leave in the run every few days keeps them occupied! Luckily the weather hasn't got too cold for them yet. Don't tell anyone but I've pinched a big box from the boyfs shop to let them sleep in by the fire when the winter really kicks in. Slightly better option that the mother's original idea to astroturf the spare room...questionable.

The allotment is being wound down for the winter. I've managed to find a spare couple of hours here and there to get things done. The compost heaps are heaving, the leaf mould bin beginning all over again. Things are looking tidy. I know it's wonderful when you have a mess of fecundity in the summer but I do like it bare neatness of it in winter a little bit.

The boyf and are making use of his shops waste cardboard (not only in chicken beds) by lasagne layering the newly cleared bed. Laying up peafmould, carboard, compost etc until the beds are heaving and then leave to rot down over the winter. The idea is that by planting starts in spring things are rotted and ready to go! We shall see!

It's nearly time to start thinking about next year's growing. The seed catalogues are out, I have already spent a small fortune on seeds in the end of season garden centre sales! I am going a bit mad for flowers next spring, I sense I will need pretty cut flowers and things to keep myself sane during the long spring/summer term and the job hunting phase. Also, I am looking for some unusual but easy to grow fruit or veg. I don't have a green house but with the success of the mystery goldenberry/ tomatillo-y plants this summer I am still keen to experiment. Any tips!?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

In which I keep my fashion pledge...

Last week I started my PGCE, thats post grad certificate in Education for those wondering. This basically means that someone somewhere decided I am allowed to teach children English. This is most exciting. But a lot of work. With all the PGCE work I have been undertaking I have unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) been a little slow on the shopping front. But today in a brief break from essay-ing I hit the highstreet, well the charity shops. The town I live in is in middle class suburban Surrey and you would not believe the stuff that people give to charity shops- it definitely beats the days I spent trawling in Leeds believe me. With a positive mental attitude and an open mind I quickly slipped back into my former charity shop shopping ways.

I came away with a gorgeous brand new polka dot dress (for when I’m a teacher dontcha know) for a mere £6 (as much as I would normally spend on a sandwich in my lunch break) and a brand new pair of M&S leopard print pumps (I’m a little bit obsessed with leopard print...) for a fiver! Amazing. I will definitely be hitting the charity shops again soon- what a fabulous way to save pennies and reduce the amount I consume! Keep your eyes peeled guys!

I hope you are all well my lovelies- I promise to try my best to keep up to date with you all this year, but stand by I think it's going to be a toughie...the chooks already feel neglected!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

a tonne of crabapples and no recipes...

What with starting uni (again) next week and signing over my life and mental health to the teaching profession- I have decided that now is the time to get all my fruit and veggies in storing mode. I am yet to master the art of chutney ( I think I just don’t really like it and I still have jars of the bloody stuff from last years’ marrows going ignored at the back of the cupboards) , jam I am very good at (if you ignore the ill fated rose petal jam which ended up going mouldy and was rejected by most of the family at first sniff). I’ve had a go at drying, I have loaded the cupboards with little jars of herbs from the garden which look very pretty but again will probably be ignored in favour of ketchup (don’t blame me!). Freezing is where I really shine. I have commandeered a drawer in my mother’s precious freezer and explained how the new system will work, she seems ok with this now but my beautiful courgette patties will probably be moved out in favour of oven chips by my brother some time soon. I’ve filled the drawer up with raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, peas, courgettes, a tonne of marrows and whatever else has come back from the lottie to be received with groans of “oh god not again”. My family may not share my enthusiasm but when I’m eating lovely organic veg right into the winter they’ll be singing a different tune I’m sure!

I was lucky enough to come across some gorgeous crabapple trees outside The Boyfs mum’s flat (apparently 1960’s council blocks were always planted with fruit tress- result!) Anyway, as I tend to do I got a bit over excited and ended up dragging a few massive carrier bags full of the little fellas home with me- never having tried them before. The helpful Boyf bought home a huge bag of cooking apples from one of his gardening clients as well so the house is a little over run. I have made (and frozen, naturally) the standard apple pie/ crumble filling to be used at a later date. The little crabapples are actually quite sweet so I’m pretty happy with the result- their pink skin turns the whole mix a lovely girly colour too- I am definitely looking forward to a pink pie to cheer my autumn evenings! Do any of you have any recipes that could use up my glut? I mainly like puddings...

I also thought you might like to see my little kitchen helper. Maude and Mildred my chicken children have taken to coming into the the house to demand food and attention now rather than just screeching in the garden. In truely unhygenic and nosey moment, Maude has discovered this is the best place to scrounge....

My mother would be horrified to know this is going on in the house, let being posted on the internet! Obviously I do not cook when she is on the oven mum, it would be VERY unhygenic and well...a bit dangerous for little Maude.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

With a little inspiration...

So, making the most of the long weekend, The Boyf and I headed to Kew Gardens for the Start@Kew exhibition, encouraging sustainable and green living. It was a great day out, the sun was shining as we sat in deck chairs on the lawn and watched sustainable fashion shows, a musical about bees and talks from some of London’s leading eco lights.

One of the most interesting talks of the day was from a group of people who run an amazing network called Project Dirt which is a community of smaller groups who work together to make London a little bit more green. This brilliant scheme includes an amazing project called Food From the Sky, a community vegetable plot on top of supermarket Budgens in Crouch End. These guys not only grow their own fruit and veg but sell it in the supermarket. I’m hoping to get down there soon and have a proper look around so keep your eyes peeled.

We staggered home with more reusable bags than we could carry, samples of green washing up liquid and fabric softener and a head full of ideas. On the way home The Boyf and I established our own Guerrilla Gardening group, we later gained an extra member in the form of my Old’s a small group but we’re working on it!

Our first hit was a verge outside our house. This is Resident’s Association territory- living in a private road is like living next door to the Gestapo...(verges to be trimmed, gutters to be cleaned and swept, cars to be cleaned- you get the picture!) anyway we started by using some of the tonnes of seeds we’ve been collecting over the last few weeks, everything from blousy hollyhocks to dainty poppies in every colour from black to pastel yellow. I also threw a couple of butterfly wildflower seed mixes in there for good measure. My initial plan to also plant a few veggies in there (I’m always over run with courgette plants, those buggers are just desperate to grow) and turn the verge into an edible snack spot for the kids walking to school (and REALLY annoy the residents association) was shot down by the rest of my group (Old Pa and The Boyf) but I haven’t given up on it yet! I am now on the scrounge for spring bulbs and new places to plant. My horizons are broadening beyond my front verge!

Come of the Hollyhocks seeds...

Our first spot...

Thursday, 25 August 2011

A Recommendation...

If like me you are a blog whore and are always looking for more to read can I recommend a new blog to you...

I found Jo through twitter and he chicken chat never fails to make me giggle. She is a big fan of chooks especially ex batts and I know a lot of you are too. She has a lot of interesting things to say and lots of sweet chicken photos for those like me who love to oggle a hen. And don't miss out on Chicken Cuddling Wednesday!

She's at

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

I've got worms...

I never thought I would be so proud to share this with an online community.

On August the 5th I turned 23. This is old. I know. I feel the presents I got just about sum up my life- a pair of vintage diamond earings from The (lovely) Boyf and a compost wormery, the can-o-worms. glam.

As this was also the day I was unchained from my desk and allowed to go on holiday, I got an "IOU" for the actual worms from Wiggly Wigglers.

Naturally, I sent off for the worms as soon as I got back from holiday and the little loves will be winging their way to me soon. Of course, as soon as I get them settled in I will post and show you all my gorgeous new pets! Anyone got any tips for a novice?

Monday, 22 August 2011

Gone to seed...

Last night, after two weeks away I decided to brave the allotment. Whilst we were in France The Boyf's mum had been looking after the plot, watering and harvesting so we knew nothing would be dead...quite the opposite in fact. Everything from the broccoli to the chard has gone to seed.

Now, I feel the normal reaction to this would be disappointment but the hippy in me was pretty pleased. Who knew broccoli turned into such beautiful flowers? It almost seems a shame to eat it. The bees were absolutely mad for it and that makes me just as happy as having a plate of steamed broccoli...well almost.

Interestingly, for those who are inclined to neglect their veggies, chicory also transforms from a horrible hairy bitter vegetable into a lovely flower...although I won’t be wasting space with them again as they’re yicky.

My chard, another vegetable I have been particularly uninterested in this year has grown to absolute mammoth proportions, at least 6 foot. Do you think I could enter it into the tallest sun flower competition?

I also found this beauty growing up my runner beans...I think it could be a beetroot or a radish gone wild...pretty though eh?

My wildflower section, which is my favorite part of the plot was absolutely blooming when we got back. Full of bees and bugs and lovely things. I cut lots of little bunches of flowers to take home and fill the house. And the sweet peas are still going!

I have decided next year to focus more on fruits at the allotment as I think it’s the most value for money and I get the most pleasure from them, jams, pies, compote....yum yum yum. Alongside the usual raspberries and strawberries I have also been growing goldenberries, which taste like a cross between a tomato and a pineapple apparently- they’re the things you sometimes get on the side of your pudding in restaurants, in the Chinese lantern like leaves. Mine have been falling off the plant too early which is no good, but at least the chickens are enjoying them. I have collected and frozen a few but I’m not really sure what to do with them! I have also picked up a goji berry for a couple of pounds in a garden centre sale, I don’t know if it will grow but we’ll see. Does anyone have any recommendations for interesting fruits which are fun to grow and productive?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

In Which I Return...

Never fear dear readers, I am back. I nearly stayed in Provence but I was dragged cruelly from my pool side lounger when the wine was dried up, the cheese finished and all the fruit and veg eaten.

Eating has been the theme of my fortnight- it’s so easy to eat constantly when all the food is so absolutely beautiful. Even the most simple dish of pasta becomes a gastronomic delight when you add freshly made sauce, herbs straight from the garden, locally produced cheese and a carafe or two of wine from the vineyard down the road. I was in food heaven.

One particularly beautiful restaurant, where we sat nestled amongst lavender flowers and surrounded by butterflies and hummingbird moths and later bats sticks in my mind as some of the most beautiful food I have ever eaten. Most small French restaurants don’t do so well with the old vegetarian option, the veggie main option on a very limited menu, explained at great length by the owner was- “tomato”- I wasn’t expecting great things. How wrong I was. The starter of summer salad was bejewelled with stunning edible flowers, miniature mushrooms and interesting leaves. Even The Boyf, the ultimate salad dodger was impressed. The “tomato” main blew me away as I was presented with a platter of more types of tomato than I could count, in every colour from black to green to yellow, interlaced with a mixture of fresh and smoked mozzarella. I ate so much I had to be carried back to the house.

The town we stayed in had some stunning markets -it was easy to see where the restaurant got their produce from. Tuesday morning is the big one, the whole of the town is taken over by stall after stall of homemade bread and crafts and home grown fruit and veg. For next to no money you could fill bags full and spend the next few days eating nothing but fruit, veg, bread and cheese. Returning to the tomatoes, I was completely baffled. How can one farm produce so many different types of tomato every week when Sainsbos and Waitrose can only deliver watery red tomatoes whose variety extends to small , medium, large? I think we’re being diddled! (I am, needless to say, already drawing up plans for a greenhouse where I can gow my own!)

There was also a small, more local market on a Saturday morning. Here old farmers from the small holdings and farms around the town bought their weekly wares to sell. There was everything from cut flowers to olive tree saplings- including one very elderly man selling tiny little bunches of Parsley and nothing else. They won’t let you buy anything until you have had a taste so you come away feeling as if you’d eaten dinner. It was absolutely stunning.

I am still in my sunny foody day dream, despite arriving at St Pancras international in the rain last night and being plunged right back into the madness that is London on a Saturday night. To go to work tomorrow seems like a complete travesty! Tomorrow it is back to reality, the post holiday diet must begin and I must venture to the allotment. But for now, I lie back, eat a tomato and dream of Provence.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

A creative weekend...

This weekend the sun has been shining and I had four long sunny days off work...bliss. So I decided to get my creative hat on. The last time I dusted down my creative hat the experience ended in a paddy that the ingredients I wanted for my gruyere and asparagus quiche had not magically found their way into the fridge. I was left holding four eggs and a smashed up quiche tin. Bad times.

Taking it easy I decided to go for one of my famous “allotment” prefixed recipes...allotment soup, allotment jam, essentially anything I can get my hands on mixed together. Now I have a new one to add to my list, Allotment Coleslaw. An assortment of raw allotment veg covered in mayo. No quiche tin involved. Despite almost losing a finger tip in the onion cutting process- this came out lovely. A massive bowl of Coleslaw for lunch and dinner yum. I used one of my amazing red cabbages (which have really taken me by surprise this summer), a red onion, some of my lovely little French market carrot (a little tricky to grate- I really am surprised I came away with 10 fingers after this...) and one of my many many courgettes.

During a particularly productive internet recipe porn session I came across and recipe for Rose Petal Jam. The whimsical, Enid Blyton sounding name of it was enough for me to head out with my secateurs, determined to serve it with lashing and lashings of cream and ginger beer.

I think the essential recipe is to match whatever you have in rose petals with sugar and a squeeze of lemon. I kind of blagged it. But a word of warning- 5oz of rose petals is a lot of roses! I ended up going feral and collecting wherever I went- it took me about 3 days to get enough petals. You have to cut off the white bit at the bottom of the petals and then boil the rest with sugar. I did read somewhere that you should only use white, red or pink petals. I haven’t yet got a nice photo of the jam. I think that says quite a lot- it’s not very pretty. The texture is a little strange because I used fairly big petals, next time I think I’ll cut them up and mix with some fruit. It didn’t taste that bad though- just not as good as my lovely raspberry lovely.

With a slightly different creative hat on, The Boyf and I travelled up to Oxfordshire on Sunday morning to build a Princess Fort. Oh yes indeedy. I say we, obviously I was supervising from the sidelines whilst The Boyf and my cousin my lovely baba cousins Tabitha and Scarlett their castle, complete with slide. What talents that boy has!

Tonight I am going blackberry picking- I can’t stand the thought of going on holiday and leaving all that lovely fruit lying around to go off by the time I get back. I will pick as much as I can, with the help of the long suffering Boyf and his massive blackberry picking boots and stick (flip flops will not cut it on this mission!) and freeze them, ready to make jam and compot when I get back from France.

I hope you’re all out enjoying the sunshine!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

My fashion pledge...

I feel as though I have let the side down a bit in the fashion stakes. During lent, I managed to avoid buying anything that didn’t have top notch ethical and/or green credentials...this basically meant that I managed to avoid buying anything. This was fine then, I was still in the new chicken love haze and happy to mong about the house in dirty dungarees and old pyjamas covered in feathers and mud. Eco living was easy...

Since then, my ethical conscious has been ignored by the greater need to buy clothes that will allow me to pass for a teacher come September. Admittedly I haven’t tried that hard. A quick wiz round a charity shop here, a browse of People Tree there...ultimately I have ended up relying on and Zara for their wonderful, cheap, fashionable work clothes. At what cost? I feel bad, but the stress and panic of starting out in a new career and wanting to look professional and maintain my fashion credentials have momentarily outweighed my desire to buy green.

I have come to my senses. I vow to start again. Sales do not count as eco shopping. I must buy better. I am going to start doing a bit of research for good value, fashion led brands which have the same focus on people and the environment as I do. I also intend to find some high end charity shops and finally get my head around E-bay.

I will, of course let you know how my hunt goes and what I end up with...if, that is, I can stop myself posting pictures of the chickens...

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Is that it for summer then?

I guess we shouldn't have complained when there was no rain back in May or whenever those glorious sunny days were... As soon as the words "hose pipe ban" or "drought" get banded about you can almost guarantee the entire summer will be a wash out. And here I am, in July, with my raincoat and wellies at the ready. Forget your new summer shade chickens...

Last Friday, on my lovely, well earned (I might add!) day off- the sun came out!I dust down the sun cream and hit the garden. I was not the only one enjoying the brief warm spell... lovely Mildred was also out enjoying the sun. If you have never watched a chicken sunbathing you are missing out- Mildred is a pretty dedicated sun worshipper. She walks around the garden with her wings out, finding the spot with the perfect sunshine to shade ratio before collapsing onto the grass where she lies cooing. Not even the dog can move her on!

Even lovely Maude, who normally dives straight under the hedge and sets up camp, was out in the sun. She likes plonk herself right on top of my wonderful chamomile- She even picks the flowers and places them carefully on her back. She is such a hippy chicken!

Apart from the glorious fortnight in Provence that awaits me at the start of next month, (11 days of sitting at my desk away...) I am pretty much writing this summer off. I am turning my attention to Autumn/ Winter before it's too late. I may not be ready to buy my annual winter coat and boots but I am ready to buy veggies.

I normally lose interest in planting vegetables at this time of year, as I'm too busy trying to eat what I've grown, so once again lovely readers I turn to you for advice. What should I be planting right now? This weekend? That will bring me a full tummy and a bit of sunshine through Autumn and most importantly winter...

Brussels Sprouts are a given, they are my favourite...but what else? What works for you lovely lot?

Thursday, 14 July 2011

A Plea from Miserable Maudey...

Hello lovelies-

I have a problem that would love you to help me with...

Maude the Chicken is laying soft eggs. I don't mind her not being productive, she is after all, my pet and I love her whether she's laying me delicious breakfasts or not (obviously I would prefer the egg ended up in my tum rather than the run floor though!)but I just want to be sure it's not something that I am doing wrong. I don’t mind her being useless if she’s just going to be one of those awkward types but she looks like she’s in so much pain when she’s laying a softie...

So here are the clues-

She laid one wonky egg a couple of weeks back, since Sunday she’s been laying eggs with paper thin shells which obviously don’t hold up and the eggs end up being eaten to smushed about. She laid a hard shelled egg last night, in the run, but it was really rough and the colours were very patchy.

Mildred is laying fine, she doesn't like doing it as it interferes with her "pretending to be a human" activities and reminds her of her poultry status, but she's laying good eggs.

We recently moved the run from grass to bark chippings.

I changed their brand of layers pellets a few weeks ago, they haven’t noticed.

My dad has started feeding them bits of bread in an effort to train them to sit on his shoulders, I suspect this is a reaction to his narrowly missing catching an escaped parrot to keep as a pet a few years ago.

She is now laying softies in the evening, out in the run. This is not like her. She loves hanging out in the nest box. She has always been a bit of a funny one for this, when we let them free range she immediately makes herself a little nest under the hedge and stays there cooing.

I know lots of my lovely followers are chook mad too so if you have any ideas as to what’s up with my little Maudey and how I can help her I’d be dead dead chuffed and send Maude round in person to thank you with one of her special cuddles.

Monday, 11 July 2011

In which I become Handy Andy...

It feels like I'm always starting these posts with an apology- but I am, once again, sorry for taking so long to post. Work is taking up more and more of my life and I'm dreading going back to university again next year- no weekends! agh!

Anyway- an update from my weekend:

New Chook House:

Maude and Mildred's rampage of the lawn is over. We can no longer sustain their destructive digging tendencies by moving the eglu every day so we have built them a permanent patch. Normally, this would be a precision engineered, long time planned and expertly carried out Boyf job- not this time. The dad and I took a little trip to Wickes and built the whole thing ourselves- we're feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. The chickens weren't too impressed at first but seem to have settled down now. I'm so impressed with my handiwork, if that Ground Force was still about, I'd no doubt be employed to take over from Tommy Walsh...

We're a little worried about Maude chicken who has generally been looking a little down in the dumps and is laying soft eggs. I'm starting her on a regime of calcium supplements and cuddles so hopefully she will improve- watch this space!

I spent a bit of time at the allotment and came home with the usual bounty. We're pretty over run with chard, but I have no idea what to do with it- any tips? I bought a griddle so I can cook and store some courgettes in oil according to a recipe I found ages ago- again any tips welcome here!

I can't get over how many sweet peas we're bringing home! Once a week I totally strip the bushes and I come home with pots full and then a week later the bushes are full again. They really are the most wonderful flowers- I'm going to try and grown perennial ones next year as well as saving the seeds from these fellas.

I've also been taking cuttings from next doors hydrangea- with permission of course. I absolutely love these plants and the cutting a took a couple of years back is growing well in the garden.

Of course, alongside all this hard work and harvesting there was a bit of time for some rest and relaxation. Although not for my old dad...

...every time he sits down, his little friends appear waiting impatiently for snacks!

I hope you all had a lovely weekend too! Monday comes too soon eh?

Friday, 1 July 2011

Foraging for Jam...

Last night whilst out walking Alf the dog with the Boyf we came across a hedgerow full of raspberries. This particular spot is always overflowing with blackberries in late summer but I've never seen raspberries growing wild like this before. The hedgerow lines an allotment site so I assume that the bushes have escaped from someone’s fruit cage and grown like mad!

The school children had got there before us and munched their way through the easy to reach berries- no worries, I sent the boyf and the dog deep into the nettles in search of bounty.

We came away with a fair few, topped up with some of the strawberries from the garden we had enough for a jar of yummy jam!

I’m very pleased with my free hedgerow bounty! It was yummy on my toast this morning!

Thursday, 30 June 2011

A gift from a friend...

This morning I got the dreaded work to find this on my desk...

A wonderful gift from a lovely work colleague who I often chat chickens and communes with (we all need a little dreaming to help get through that mountain of paper work..)
And all because I gave her a box of Maude and Mildred's eggs. (Those girls are starting to earn their keep!) It's a book I've always meant to get round to buying as it's such a classic and canonical work for wannabe Good Lifers. I'm desperate to get home and read it. What a lovely start to the day...

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A little progress...

As I'm swamped with pre- PGCE schools observation, I haven't had much time for the good life lately (I hope this is not a taste of things to come..)

So here is a little update from the allotment...

The broccoli I thought had been destroyed by the slugs is making great progress. I was so surprised to see the lovely little florets and promptly steamed them and ate them with lashings of butter! yummy!

My sweet peas which are growing in reclaimed tyres- thanks KwikFit- are looking absolutely beautiful! The trick with sweet peas is to pick all the time to keep them flowering, well I'm running out of vases! They're just so beautiful and smell so lovely, I've got them all over the house making me feel all summery.

Also I finally got round to starting off my wildlife area. The wildflowers I've been planting are growing well but not blooming yet, apart from the stunning lavender which I don't think you can ever have too much of! I've also got perennial cornflowers, more perennial sweet peas, marigolds, budleia, meadow flowers, grasses and teasels. I think it will really come into it's own next year. I sunk my council approved healthy and safe washing up basin and filled it with rocks and rain water. I also surrounded with with logs and old roots and sticks and things so hopefully something that likes eating slugs will set up home there soon!

I hope you're all enjoying the sunshine!

Holly x

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Alf the dog...

My name is Alfie, mostly Alf, sometimes Alfington Dogsburry...those humans are so silly. I am four years old and I’m a labradoodle. My mum tells me that a labradoodles are a bit wimpy and I have to wear a coat when I go out in the rain, but I think that’s just because she doesn’t want me to get the carpet muddy.

I spend my days living with my five humans and two chickens, if I play nicely and don’t bash about I’m allowed to play with them but they get in my way when me and dad are playing catch. And they poop in the garden. Animals. I pretty much love cheese and maltesers and I refuse to eat my dinner without gravy on it- imagine! I sometimes eat grapes but only if the chickens are eating them, I don’t want to miss out.

Sometimes I'm allowed to watch TV after my walk

I sleep. I sleep a lot. On the carpet, on mum’s favourite Laura Ashley blankets, on the sofas or on my mum and dad’s bed. They don’t seem to mind unless I’ve been swimming...