Days like this in January are gems. Saturday morning, not a breath of wind, unseasonably warm, dry and peaceful, can’t beat it. Wanted to stay all day but so little to do at this time of year. It is amazing though how many plants are already starting to show new growth. The rhubarb has sent up it’s first shoot. We’ve had this plant for two years now so I’m going to dig out the books when I get home to read about forcing it and see what we can do. All the fruit bushes and trees have buds on their stems so promises of great harvests to come. Of course we are bound to get some really cold weather yet but days like today get me all excited about planting and planning.
I can’t believe my last post was so long ago. What with late nights, lie ins, lots of days off and nights away from home the daily routine of feeding the girls and attending to the allotment had gone out of the window. Now it’s back to work full time and getting up there in the early morning again and it feels good. Lottie prefers it too as she knows when I am going to be there and can get her breakfast. I’ve hardly seen her over the Christmas break but she doesn’t seem to have suffered at all. The girls are looking good too Scabbers has fully recovered and Blue is starting to get her full plumage back. The other exciting thing that happens in the New Year is the first seed catalogues fall on to the door mat. While others are pouring over their holiday brochures I am deciding which plants to grow this year. Over the short time I have been growing I have already learnt to stick with the old favourites that I know will produce well in our soil/conditions but I also like to experiment with new things too. This year I tried crown prince squash which were a success but to be honest produce too big a fruits for just two of us which puts me off eating them so this year I will be looking for something smaller to grow. We also tried sweet corn for the first time this year. We had been put off by others who had grown them in the past and had had them eaten by rats before they got to try them, but luckily we managed to get some lovely sweet cobs and they were really good so they will definitely be in the order this year.
It’s amazing what a difference the weather makes to my morning trip to the allotment. Yesterday it was throwing it down and so the girls got no attention at all as I just went through the motions and legged it home as quickly as I could. Today when it was dry and really mild I spent more time and love to feed the girls with corn on my hand. The old girls trust me now but the new ones aren’t so sure. Helga is the boldest but pecks like mad, Natasha just circles round me not daring to give it a go whilst Paris is nowhere to be seen! All the girls chat to each other when I let them out and all have a distinctive sound. I love Scabbers she has a very musical chat, particularly when you give her corn it always sounds so cheerful. Natasha and Helga sound much more ‘Russian’ and can really give you grief demanding their breakfast. Poor old Blue is in full moult at the moment and looks shocking. They lose lots of feathers and almost shrink before your eyes. It seems such a crazy time of the year to go through this process but they don’t all do it every year and some only lose a few feathers. Blue though seems to be doing a thorough job this year and there are piles of feathers in the cage every morning. They look even worse when the new feathers start to come through as they are just spikes to start with before the feather emerges. It is a good job no-one except other chicken keepers see them like this or they would think they were not being looked after. It stops the chicken from laying too another reason for the drop of of egg production in the winter but Natasha and Helga are laying most days to make up for it.
l love weekends because it is the only time I get to see the allotment in daylight at this time of year. It was also so nice today after the freezing conditions yesterday when I put my foot on the brakes and sailed past the turning into the allotment. Weekends give us time to check on the plot and make sure the girls are all well. I also gave their hut a good clean out with sterilising fluid as I could leave it open to dry out. Scabbers is a bit off colour at the moment but still came out with the others for a forage, hopefully it’s nothing serious. Poorly chickens are a nightmare as it is so difficult knowing what to do. I’ve taken some to the vets in my time and managed to nurse a few through but it doesn’t always end that way. I use a herbal tonic at times like this to try and give them a bit of help and just cross my fingers. Although there is not a lot growing in the allotment we still make sure we remove all the yellowing leaves from the brussel sprouts and other brassicas every week to keep diseases at bay. Other than that it’s just a case of dreaming of things to come and enjoying being out in the fresh air.
When my husband went to the allotment last night to shut the girls up he found Lottie tormenting an escapee chicken so he picked her up and put her in our spare cage for the night. When I got up there this morning and tried to catch it to take to the other allotment holders to see who owned it it got a real fright. The noise a chicken makes when being caught is deafening. I remember once having to catch one of our new chickens and within a few minutes of her screaming a red kite was flying over head to see what had died! The problem this morning was that the noise obviously freaked our poor girls out as they wouldn’t come out at all. The chicken a young male was returned to it’s rightful owner and I had to leave the girls to come round.
Just as I was about to leave though I heard a massive crunch which could only be one thing a car had hit something. The men at the allotment were off to offer their help and it looked like some poor person had gone straight on at the T-junction straight into the barrier. Those roads are deceptively slippy this morning.
Bitterly cold this morning my hands are just thawing out as I write. Still lovely to be out though, full thermals on and the blast of fresh air sets you up for the day. This morning the owls were screeching in the trees and the frost was sparkling. Because we can’t let the girls out to free range as much in the winter we supplement their diets with greens from the allotment. The Brussels sprout tops and leaves are a favourite and we grow chard in any spare patch during the summer. I do use it a bit like spinach in recipes but the main reason I grow it is for the girls over winter. The girls are very hardy and don’t seem to notice the cold. The inside of their cage is iced up with condensation but if you pick up a sleeping chicken they are always red hot and when they all huddle up together they never seem to suffer from the cold nights and are as eager as ever to come out in the morning.
One thing we do really well with every year is raspberries. We planted three rows of canes the first year we got the plot. I bought a pack of three varieties which are supposed to produce a crop at different times of the year but only one variety really does anything at all and the others are very disappointing. The one that does crop is a delicious variety and fantastic fresh over the summer but they just produce so much that we end up with a freezer full every autumn. We don’t often eat puddings and struggle to use them up, theres only so much raspberry crumble you can eat. We also made lots of jam this year but again how much jam do you need. I then sat with good old google and looked for raspberry recipes. First thing I found that I fancied trying was raspberry vodka. We had been to Russia for our hols so had brought back the obligatory bottle of vodka and made two kilner jars up which have been sitting in my under stairs cupboard maturing for three months now. We have promised friends a tipple on New Years Eve so looking forward to that. Problem is raspberry vodka actually uses very few raspberries so been googling again this week and going to make raspberry liqueur. It should hopefully be a little like chambourd the recipe promises. So I’ve been to Wilkinsons (great place for Kilner jars/bottles and anything for preserving) and bought by bottles and muslin and need to steep my raspberries in red wine for the weekend before mixing with brandy steeped with vanilla and adding sugar. I am thinking this will make a nice version of Kir Royale for Christmas Day so cheers to raspberries!
For those with a squeamish disposition please don’t read this blog!
I wondered how long it would be before I had to introduce you to the other furry friends that live with us on the allotment and today is the day. Any allotment holder and chicken keeper will tell you that rats are a real problem. Most of the time you catch the odd glimpse as they run away from the chicken feeder or out of the compost heap, but occassionally you have to face one head on. Today as I came out of the chicken run I noticed Lottie crouched in that tell tale position that cats have ready to pounce on something, then out of the gloom came a very drowsy rat. It was clearly not well and staggered towards me. We do put rat poison down when we notice an increase in the rat population and had started about a month ago after watching them running about in the chicken run one evening and finding them in the shed. It was likely that this one had eaten some and the only thing you can do in these circustances is put the poor thing out of it’s misery so out came the spade and I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. Not really something I relish doing at 7o’clock in the morning and left me feeling just a little queezy as I headed home for a day at work.
With the dark mornings and evenings we can’t do much at the allotment now so it’s time to raid the winter larder. Normally we would have had a store of potatoes to see us through but disaster struck this year and we have nothing. Believe it or not I don’t think it was due to the wet summer I think it was the dry April/May that meant they did not get away strong enough and so by the time the rain came they just rotted in the ground. I was very upset when my husband suggested we would have to go to Morrisons for our potatoes this winter it’s just not the same!
We did do well with other veg though and have a good store of onions and pumkins. I tried Crown Prince squash this year as the mags said it tasted like butternut squash but was much easier to grow. They are a great plant to grow but you need alot of space. The tendrils grow across the soil like a triffid and take over the whole patch. I’m looking forward to trying Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe for Roast Pumkin and Apple soup which I saw the other day on 3 good things. One thing growing your own veg does do is make you experiment with new recipes. I’ve got a great patch of Cavolo Nero Kale this year and always scouting for new recipe ideas for using that. Not sure about Hugh’s Kale and Chestnut pizza though!
I like to walk up in the morning at weekends if I have the time and this morning was bitterly cold, the wind freezing on my face. During the week the allotment is busy by 7am with the regulars but at the weekend everyone is just that little bit later so was the first there today. Lottie met me on the path and walked with me to our allotment getting under my feet all the way. A hard frost again so glad I took the water container in last night so it didn’t freeze. Weekends are a time for jobs up here and I was doing some planning in my head this morning about what could be done. There is always room for improvement and we have been having trouble keeping the chicken feeder dry with all this driving rain so it will be thinking caps on with the husband when I get home to see if we can come up with a solution today. DIY is not our strong point but we’ll think of something that uses all the bits and pieces allotment holders accumulate.
Very cold this morning with a hard frost to sweeten the brussel sprouts and parsnips ready for Christmas dinner. We have started to harvest the brussels and take a stalk home every week. They are so easy to grow though we spent many an hour picking off the caterpillars this year. There were the usual cabbage white plain green ones and another sort which I have not noticed before. Every year we cover the sprouts with mesh but somehow the butterflies still manage to get in and lay their eggs. They do most damage to the leaves and if we pick them off religously most of them have gone by the time the sprouts start to develop and therefore don’t ruin them. Despite our efforts we know we never manage to get all the catepillars so hopefully some still make it to the butterfly stage to keep us busy again next year.
The resident robin was obviously feeling the cold this morning too as he was demanding his breakfast as soon as I arrived even though it was still dark. We have the top of an old broken bird table nailed on to the fence and add dried mealworms to the diet at this time of year to help the birds through the winter, the girls often get a few too and they go mad for them.
Clear skies and full moon this morning, beautiful. Not as cold as we thought it would be as that cold wind has gone but had shut up the girls last night for the first time this year to keep them cosy. When I open them up they troop out one by one in the pecking order. Blue is always first at the top of the order and last is poor Paris. We only got Natasha, Helga and Paris in the autumn and Scabbers who was previously at the bottom of the pecking order took great delight in relinquishing that position and now takes every opportunity to put Paris in her place. Red the old girl is not one for early mornings and will stay inside while I clean them out talking to me all the time as I disturb her morning lie in.
I thought it would be nice to start my blog with an introduction to the main stars of my blog and the reason for my daily early morning trip to my allotment, my girls.
We started with an allotment in Bramham 4yrs ago and soon after added some chickens which another allotment holder kindly gave us. When we got these the older chicken keepers didn’t think having names was the done thing so in keeping with true allotment life they stayed nameless. All well and good but when I wanted to tell a story to the husband on returning in the morning I had to identify them. Only one of these is still with us and as a consequence has the endearing name of ‘Red’ she is a standard commercial breed know in the industry as an ISA brown. She is no longer laying but is such a sweet friendly chicken definitely my favorite. Others have joined her along the way as we replace those we lose and we also have ‘Blue’ a bluebell, ‘Scabbers’ a rescued battery chicken who arrived with no feathers, ‘Helga’ and ‘Natasha’ two very large marans and ‘Paris’ a welsomer. As you will see we now give them proper names as they really have become part of the family over the years. The other girl I have to introduce is ‘Lottie’ my namesake she is our adopted allotment cat who appeared one day pregnant and decided to stay with us. She unfortunately lost the kittens at some point but we had her spayed courtesy of the Leeds Cat Rescue society and she lives in the next door neighbours shed popping over to see me every morning for breakfast. So now you know the characters in my blog and hopefully will enjoy being up there with me every morning as the seasons change.