Sunday, February 22, 2009

Spring has Sprung!

At last it feels as though Spring has arrived. It was definitely warmer this weekend which meant that I was able to get out into the garden and start digging over the vegetable plot. The soil wasn't too damp which was surprising given as there was several inches of snow sitting on it just a couple of weeks ago.

My usual routine for digging over the veg plot involves doing an initial dig over, pulling out any perennial weeds as I go, then putting over a layer of home made compost (enriched with our own poultry manure of course), then going over with the rotorvator, and finally raking over to make sure the soil is fine and even for sowing. I didn't quite manage all that this weekend - it is quite a large plot! In fact I didn't quite finish the first dig over - there were far more perennial weeds than I had anticipated. Hopefully it will be fine again next weekend then I can get the plot fully ready for sowing.

While I out there digging I pulled back a piece tarpaulin which I had left out and found a little family of three frogs. The smallest of them was absolutely tiny - probably no more than an inch in length.

I rushed inside to get the camera, but of course by the time I got back out again two of them had hopped away somewhere leaving just this one. I have no idea what sort it is as I know nothing about frogs. If anyone knows what sort it is then perhaps you could let me know.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

This is Our Chicken House

I seem to have confused a few people with my previous post about housing chickens - the house pictured was just a random hen house picture and not one that I had built! Sadly, I am not nearly that competent where these things are concerned. I have previously built a duck house, but since we lost the ducks to foxes it has fallen into disrepair. This is a picture of our chicken house which is, well, a little more "functional" than the one I previously showed. It was built by a friend of ours a few years ago.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Housing Your Chickens

One of the first things to think about if you are getting chickens is housing that will protect them from the elements and from predators, principally foxes. Chickens are generally hardy, but they are not keen on wet weather and they hate the wind. If you live in an area where there are foxes then the threat they pose needs to be taken seriously. Often, if a fox visits it will kill all your birds even if it only takes one. A determined fox will work on door catches and will attempt to tunnel under runs.

Henhouses need to incorporate the following essential elements:

1. A pop hole to allow the chickens in and out of the house.
2. Roosting bars.
3. Nest boxes (at least one for every three birds).
4. Good ventilation to help remove moisture and avoid build up of ammonia from droppings.
5. Good insulation to keep the chickens warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
6. Surfaces that can be cleaned easily.
7. You should allow minimum of around 30 sq cm/4.7 sq ins per hen.

Chickens prefer to sleeps at night on roosting bars or perches. They need to be around 25 to 35mm/1 to 1.4 ins wide with curved edges. You will need to bear in mind the breed of your chickens when selecting the width of your perches. The perches should all be around the same height otherwise your hens will compete for the highest position. They also need to be designed to be easily removed for cleaning.

As chickens take between hour to two hours to lay their eggs, they need somewhere comfortable to do so. In fact if they are not happy with what you have provided your hens will go off and find their own place to lay their eggs. You need to provide nest boxes that are enclosed (except at the obviously at the front) and should be shady and private. The darkness also discourages the chickens from eating their own eggs.

There are a variety of options available for bedding in the henhouse; I personally use straw, which is then put onto the compost when the house is cleaned out. However, you can also use wood shavings or there are other types of bedding available made from shredded newspaper or from hemp. You may want to experiment to see what works best for you.

Henhouses can be quite expensive to buy, although it obviously depends on what you want. Simpler houses are obviously cheaper. You could build your own; there are various designs for chicken houses commercially available to assist you with this. They are relatively straightforward to build, and this is a considerably cheaper option.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What to Grow in Your Vegetable Garden

It may not feel like it right now, but Spring is just around the corner, so it's time to decide what to grow in your vegetable plot. (Well it is for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere anyway!) But what should you grow? It is easy to become mesmerized by the sheer range of seeds and plants available and choose things at random.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing what to grow:

  • What vegetables do you actually enjoy eating? This may seem obvious, but there are many vegetable gardeners who have found themselves with rows of a crop that goes to waste because they do not eat enough of it!
  • Think about your space that you have. Is it sunny or shaded? What is the soil like? How much greenhouse space do you have? It is best to work with what you have rather than try and grow crops that need plenty of sun in a shady spot or trying to grow crops that prefer sandy soil in a plot that is mostly clay.
  • Think about storage, for example some vegetables, particularly beans and peas, freeze well so are well worth growing. Other crops keep well if they are kept in dry conditions, for example onions and garlic. A few crops keep well in the ground, for example parsnips and leeks. Do your research before you choose your seeds and make sure that you plan your harvesting in order to maximize your crops.
  • Don't forget that there are other ways of storing vegetables - pickles, relishes, chutneys. Also don't forget drying as an option, particularly with herbs. Again, do your research before you choose as not all crops can be stored in this way.

So it is time to make some decisions, otherwise before you know it will be Spring! I personally tend to buy my seeds from Thompson & Morgan as they have a huge range and they are a trusted brand. They also have a good range of organic seeds and plants. I have certainly always had good results from them anyway.

So here are my choices for this year:

Potatoes - I haven't decided on a variety yet
Tomatoes - probably some plum tomatoes and another which I haven't decided on yet
Courgettes (or zucchinis)
Shallots or red onions (or maybe both - I need to work out space!)
French beans
Lettuce - I tend to prefer to cut and come again varieties
Mange tout
Broccoli (maybe?)
Various herbs - depending on how much of the new herb plot I manage to sort out.
Strawberries - if I can find some space somewhere, might grow in pots

That will do for now - I might squeeze a few others in somewhere if I can, but I need to measure out first. It easy to carried away sometimes and buy too much and then not be able to fit everything in!

What are you going to grow this year? Do you stick to the same favourites, or do you try new things each year?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

More Snow!!

More snow arrived this morning, which meant that both of our children were off school. Here are some pictures of the snow:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Well, as predicted, despite getting closer to Spring it is getting colder and much of the UK has been covered in snow. As you can see from the picture, here on the Lincolnshire coast we got off quite lightly with just a couple of inches. Nevertheless, it caused the usual chaos. For some reason, although it usually snows here at least once a year, Britain is always thrown into a state of panic and everything grinds to a halt! Most of the snow has gone where we live, but it is still very cold! More snow predicted for tomorrow, so more school closures and chaos on the roads I expect!

Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Asparagus

Late April to the end of May marks the British asparagus season. The season is only short, lasting just six weeks! I personally prefer asparagus grilled or cooked on a griddle pan, but you can boil, steam or stir fry it as well.

This recipe is taken from Rose Elliot's Fast, Fresh and Fabulous and serves 2 people.

300g (10oz) cherry tomatoes
175g (6oz) asparagus
2 tablespoons of olive oil
225g (8oz) pasta
few sprig of basil

  1. Pre-heat the grill on high
  2. Place the cherry tomatoes in a single layer in a grill pan. Brush the asparagus with half the oil, cut in half and also place in grill pan. Put under the grill.
  3. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. When cooked, drain and return to the pan with the remaining olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. The tomatoes need to be cooked so that they are on the point of collapse and the asparagus just slightly tinged brown.
  5. Add the tomatoes and asparagus to the pasta, tear in some basil and serve.
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