Friday, 24 March 2017

Six Little Menaces

Lots of things have happened in March.
I started sowing again, doing general gardening and Houdini and the Hurkies have been so bad!
Let’s start with the misbehaving hens...
JP and I have been away for two weeks visiting friends and family in the Netherlands. I had been telling my parents (also keen grow-your-own-ers) that we were looking forward to eating spring cauliflower in just a few weeks’ time. Before we left the cauliflowers I had sown had grown into healthy, sturdy plants with small heads forming inside.
But when we got back home.... the vegetable bed had been destroyed! By the chickens.
Completely and utterly wrecked! Trashed! By the chickens!
Strangely enough Houdini and the Hurkies mysteriously vanished after I made this shocking discovery.  The soup we had that night was delicious, though....

I’m joking of course. It could’ve done with a little more salt. No, seriously, we don’t kill chickens, not even after they have gorged themselves on our spring vegetables! But to say I was very angry with them is an understatement! Thankfully our neighbour has agreed that we can use a patch of bare land next to our garden to house the 6 little menaces.
And that’s exactly where they are now and where they’re going to stay. Maybe this year we will be able to create a fenced off area within our own garden for the hens, but we’ve got so many other projects on the go, that I’m not sure if we’ll have time to fit this in as well.

It’s nice that the growing season has started again and to be honest, the weather hasn’t been that bad overall. I know we’re not out of the woods just yet, but it seems very unlikely we will have snow lying for more than a few days now. Everything is still indoors: I’ve sown tomatoes, chillies and aubergines in January and they are coming along nicely. I’ve also pre-planted onions in the greenhouse and sowed the Dutch ‘kapucijner’ peas at the start of March. Needless to say Houdini and the Hurkies are not allowed in the greenhouse, so I’ve still got some kale left to harvest. The weeds will have started growing too, so I can always eat ground elder (which is quite tasty actually!), nettles, sorrel and dock leaves.

One of the projects we have this year involves replacing more grassy areas (or should I say mossy?) with flower beds. We’ve found it very difficult to grow and maintain a nice lawn in Scotland. The wetter weather and the fact we also have tons of stones in the ground, don’t help either. We’ve already built a massive, elevated pond with all the stones and rocks we’ve dug up and now we’re creating a little pond next to it. With waterways, more bridges the whole shebang! Basically, we are extending the ‘Beechgrove Garden Bog’, to make our garden more adventurous. 
We’ll just have to wait and see how many more midges the extra water attracts.









Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Strawberries coming oot o' ma ears

The good thing about growing (and eating) your own is that you only eat fruit and vegetables which are in season.
Which, in my opinion, makes life a lot more exciting; mid winter you're really looking forward to the first fresh salad leafs, mid summer you're almost looking the neeps and tatties out of the ground and by the end of June you really want those strawberries to ripen.

And that's what is in season right now; strawberries, strawberries and more strawberries.
I wish we hadn't decided to plant over 120 strawberry plants.... And I'm not even the one picking them every single day!
My job is to make jam, lots of it, strawberry wine and eat them of course.
So, that's strawberries for breakfast, for lunch and as a snack in between.
And you know what? It's not even boring me yet!
That's probably because I've been waiting for fresh strawberries since last year November.
Apparently I miss strawberries for 9 months of the year. That's quite long, isn't it?!

Scotland is well known for its soft fruit and this year didn't disappoint. The reasonably mild weather and (sorry) the rain too, made for a bumper harvest of fruit.
So far, we've picked 8 kilograms (1.2 stone) strawberries, 1 kilogram (0.16 stone) raspberries, 6 kilo (1 stone) black currants and another whopping 6 kilo (1 stone) red currants.

This is not even all!

Needless to say, I've been spending a lot of time in the kitchen trying to use it all.
So far, I've made 18 jars of jam; our two favourite jams are 'The Full Minty' (strawberries, red currants and mint) and 'Currants in Black' (black currant).
Then we've also used 2 kilograms of the strawberries to make strawberry wine (another one of our favourites) and with the left-over pulp I make 'Some Like it Hotter' jam which is pulped strawberries, red currants, balsamic vinegar and black pepper.

Now we first go away for a short break, before I start making more jam.
I don't think I'll order strawberries with cream for pudding!

Friday, 15 July 2016


Did you know you could be too self-sufficient??
No? I didn't either.
But you can.

My husband and I have been exactly that; too self-sufficient.
With building works going on since last year August, illness and bereavement in the family and a garden to run, we kind of lost track of each other.
We used to joke we worked 6,5 day per week with only Sunday afternoon (from 3pm) off.
We tried to be as efficient as possible, saying to each other: "If you paint this wall then I can weed that vegetable bed." Or "If you bottle the wine, then I can clean the hen house."
In the end we weren't doing anything together any longer and every job became an unpleasant chore.
And when my mother-in-law became very ill, my husband, understandably, went back to the Netherlands to be with her in her last days.
There are things in life you can't change, but when he came back and we both felt we were strangers to each other, we had to rethink our way of life.

Why had we come to Scotland? Why did we want to grow our own vegetables and keep chickens? What are the more important things in life?
So, we decided that from then on we would be together-sufficient!
Just what we wanted (and did!) in the first place when we came to Scotland.
It's much more fun to pick fruits, make wine and bottle it together or to weed the garden together.
You're sharing these experiences and enjoying it more (like we did here doing voluntary work for wwoof).

We also decided that we really need at least one day off.
Religious people aren't that wrong when they say you have to have at least one day off. Whether that is Sunday or not is up to yourself, but you have to have time to relax and do things you enjoy.
Sunday is a suitable day, however, with most people not working, so we are trying to take the Sunday off.
It's really hard though, with so much still to do.
And, okay, I admit, we have agreed to only clean the hen house (together) on Sunday morning.

To cope with the pressure we have also decided to finish some projects first, before starting new ones.
I'm glad to say that we have now very nearly finished buildings works indoors and are looking forward to spending a bit more time in the garden (if the weather improves that is).
The garden, although planted full with vegetables, is in a bit of a state. But it's remarkable how well plants grow without any attention from our side. I suppose that's how they do it in the wild too!

So, once we've finished painting etc. it's time to spend some time together making wine, jam, pickles and everything what comes with being self (uh, together-) sufficient!

And Sundays we'll have a bit more of we-time!

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

Let me tell you about my dream of leaving this world a greener place.
I'm trying to leave more trees when I die then when I came into this world. Knowing that my legacy to this world will hopefully be some lovely big oak trees with lots of other types of native trees. As a matter of fact, I want to leave a small forest behind and leave an environment which is beneficial to wildlife and humans alike.

Last year autumn I've sowed (or should I say planted?) acorns and other seeds from trees in big pots next to the house. After a long, long wait I nearly gave up, because by the beginning of May there was no sign of any seed germinating.
Luckily there is this brilliant story book from the Forestry Commission Scotland which tells a series of stories (written by Claire Hewitt) about a tree for every month of the year.
And the oak story is my favourite and most inspiring one.
It's all about patience (which I lack sometimes).

'One day an acorn falls off a tree and wants to become something important. It's very impatient and keeps asking mother oak when it will be big. After lots and lots of years and lots and lots of questions, the little oak tree looks into a river thinking it will see a sapling, but instead sees a big, mighty oak.'

I won't rewrite the whole story, but you can read it at$FILE/fcms128.pdf

I too can be impatient sometimes, especially when growing things, but lo and behold, after being very impatient all spring, my acorns finally germinated in mid May!
And, yes, I know it would take over 60 years for an oak tree to grow big, but just seeing it grow into a tree would be good enough. I just have to think of the story and be patient!

There was this programme on BBC4 not that long ago, about a year in the life of an oak tree, which was really interesting. It showed an acorn springing into life, which looked amazing.
And isn't it just unbelievable that from these tiny plants, huge big oaks grow!
I've started to call them 'my oak babies'.
We've got an 'oak toddler' too in the garden. Which is a tree we bought some 4 years ago as a one-year old tree. It's grown taller than me already, but still looks very small compared to the oak trees nearby.
It's just acorns which germinated this time, but I'm going to sow other trees this autumn again and make sure the soil conditions are right for the right tree. Maybe dig up some soil from underneath
certain trees and sow the right seeds.
Who knows? Maybe one day, I'll have grown enough trees to plant a forest!
And at the end of my life I'll know that I've generated more trees than what I've used.
My final wish would then be to be buried beneath a tree, preferably my own home grown one! But that would all depend on how long I've got left. One thing is for sure, the 'oak babies' are most likely to overtake me in age.
And will have become 'oak mothers'!

Saturday, 23 April 2016

A History of the Hooligan

My first 1,5 years

I came out of my shell around 4,5 years ago looking forward to life as a chicken. I had big plans; I was going to travel the world, eat lots of worms and enjoy a little bit of sunshine.
When I turned a few weeks old, things appeared different than what I imaged life would be like. There was no sunshine, no worms and a lot of other chickens.
When I turned teenager, I suddenly had to fight with the other chickens to get the best food.
So, that's what I did and I soon became the top hen.

We lived in a dark barn with no natural light and just a concrete floor with some straw. The eggs we laid were taken away by men in suits. The woman who came to feed us was quite nice; well she fed us, but nobody ever said a word to us.
I felt very sad in this place.
Sure, we got extra vitamins to keep us going, but in hindsight I think it was just so that we could keep on laying eggs 365 days a year. Chickens are not meant to do that! They are meant to have a resting period too!

Than after 1,5 years living in this terrible barn with thousands of other chickens and no space to move, things changed.
Lovely people from a charity called The British Hen Welfare Trust came to the barn and took some of us away. I wasn't sure what was happening, but I could see brighter light when we were moved into a carrier. Five of us went with this man and girl (who I never met again) and they spoke to us about this wonderful place with lots of worms and outdoor light.
I didn't believe it at first, I thought that place only existed in the land of stories.
But it was true!

Living in the wilderness

When we were let out of the carriers we stepped onto soil! "What is soil?" I remember thinking, but it felt nice and the light was bright too. It turned out to be a 'sun'!
So, this was going to be our new lives. A small run with a nice new chicken coop; or that is what I thought, but it only got better!
After a week or so, another hatch opened and we were let out onto something green called grass! I thought we already had a lot of space in the run, but here we had no fencing whatsoever. Where was I going to go?? Luckily, there was still the five of us, so we stayed close together. It was all very exciting, there were plants and soil and worms and sunlight and other chickens from the neighbours. Oh, and there was this lady who always gave us a few more titbits, like seeds and cheese and other things. I liked her a lot.
I had to bully and shout at the other chickens at first, so that I became top hen again, but I felt very happy in my new place.
The other chickens would follow me everywhere and I would follow this lady into the house, so that in the end the whole lot of us walked into the house. We weren't really allowed, but we did it anyway and it was fun and we always got some more seeds.

We are not as strong and healthy as other chickens after we had spent our first years in a barn, so 'The One Who Called Herself The Lady's Friend' passed away after only 1 year. That was sad, but there were still 4 of us left and we formed a clique against the neighbour's invading chickens with me as leader of course.
After a while I wanted to see more of the world and also felt an urge to stay close to my eggs. I found a secluded spot somewhere away from the chicken coop where I laid lots of eggs and guarded them against possible invaders. When the neighbour came too close for my liking I hissed and spat at him, so that he left me alone. I could hear the lady call for me, but I didn't want to leave. After 10 days I didn't feel very well and also had a constant itch on my leg. The neighbour found me limping around and returned me to my own place.
Where I was met by the lady and her man who looked aghast at my leg. I wasn't sure why, but after the lady had cleaned my leg while gagging all the time, the itch had stopped. I was put in a separate area of the house for a few days until I was recovered.

Living in the wilderness was fun. We did lots of things, like destroying newly planted seedlings and lawns, chase the neighbour's chickens out of the garden and follow the lady around. She was like our mother hen to us, it seemed that wherever she went, she would either dig up worms with her huge big claws (called garden forks for some reason) or she would give us seeds from the bird table.
The rumour went that a picture she took with us following her even won her 'Best Chicken Pix' in a well-known Chicken magazine. Apparently it also appeared on the website of the charity who rescued us. I wouldn't know for sure because I don't read and don't have access to the internet, but this might have been the first step to celebrity status for me.
Then the days got colder, there weren't that many worms or insects left and one morning when the second hatch opened, the grass had all turned white! That was scary! The other chickens looked at me as if I knew what had happened to the outside world. "You are quite the adventurer, you'll know", they said. Well I didn't!

The lady kept looking at us from that white world and laughed. But when she called us over and were throwing seeds in the white fluff, I took some tender steps outside the run. Gosh, it was cold! I sank away a little bit and couldn't see my feet. Scary stuff!
The other chickens followed me after a while and we got used to cold, invisible feet.
Then the grass turned green again and we were back to normal.
Becoming famous
I had lots of adventures. That time wasn't the last time I sat on eggs for a while, I did it two more times and got the lady all worried. Although the other times I made sure I didn't get ill.
According to the others, I shouted and bullied, which of course I never did! Anyway, because of all of this and my many adventures, I became quite the celebrity.
I was well known in Stirling, because the lady wrote about me in her newsletter. Not that she ever asked permission for that! Ach, I didn't mind, I would still get my special treats.
By this time, I was known as The Hooligan. Don't ask me why, I never did anything! I can't help it either, that I've got such a loud voice!
After a while more of my pals passed away and there were only three of us left. Not that I minded, it only meant fewer chickens to keep under control.
We still had fun with the three of us.
But I wasn't content with just being famous in a newsletter, I wanted to be on TV too!
I told the lady I wanted a newly planted garden, where I could scratch and cause mayhem and that I had heard of a TV programme where they came to do up your garden.
Good job, she understood what I said, because in May 2015 The Beechgrove Garden descended in the garden. It was great fun posing for the camera and being a general nuisance, although I didn't like the presenter's 'joke' of us ending in the soup!
People spoke about me how they had seen me on TV and I heard that even people in Holland had seen me! I was quite the star!
Soon after the filming however, more of my pals passed away. Maybe they couldn't cope with the pressure of being recognized, or they were just old and got ill.
And in August 2015 all of a sudden I was on my own. All my pals from the barn had passed away. Luckily they had lived more of their lives in the wilderness than in the barn and that made me feel good.
Being on my own was fine too, the neighbour's chickens had also reduced to just three and they had formed their own clique. Although I was still top hen, I went back to my own private chicken coop at night. Life was good and bright!
The ChickPeas
Don't ask me why, but the lady and her man decided I wasn't laying enough eggs any longer and that they needed more chickens. How stupid is that?!
I'm retired, of course I don't lay an egg a day any more!!
So, when they introduced me to the five 'ChickPeas' I made sure I told them who was boss! Those idiotic 'ChickPeas' were cowering in a corner of the run while I was trying to break it down! Yeah, now they can call me The Hooligan!
Luckily, the wilderness is quite large, so when we went out, I could leave the 'ChickPeas' on their own and play with the neighbour's chickens. Just at night I had to share my coop with them.

On this picture one of them is asking for help from the lady because she is being bullied by me. Which is nonsense of course!
I had this plan of getting rid of them again.
I told them not to lay eggs and how to thoroughly destroy the garden. Because they were that afraid of me, they did exactly what I told them. The silly sods didn't lay one egg for 8 weeks and also demolished the whole garden. The man became increasingly frustrated with them while I secretly laughed at them being naughty.
My plan worked however and after 8 weeks the man was so fed up with these destroying garden monsters, that he took them back.
I finally had the wilderness for myself again.
My final months
After the debacle of the 'ChickPeas' the lady and the man didn't introduce any other chickens and I happily lived my life in the wilderness on my own. During the day I still had company from the neighbour's chickens and during the night I had my own private bed chambers.
Talking about the good life!
Being the adventurer, I tried to stay the night with the neighbour's chickens, but I was that used to being on my own at night, that I kept it to just the one night.
By now I was around 4,5 years old and sometimes I was feeling a bit stiff in the legs.
Then one day I laid my last egg and it was massive! I was impressed myself, let alone the lady and the man!
Being on my own had an other advantage; I got spoiled to bits!
Life was good and entirely as I expected from the day I crawled out of my egg.
I had forgotten about my first 1,5 years of my life and was just living life to the full.
Still being the adventurer and having mistakenly been locked up with the neighbour's chickens at night, I decided I would try to stay with them for a few more nights.
But when I started feeling unwell again, I wanted to go back to my trusted own chicken coop. By this time I could hardly walk, but the lady and the man weren't home to pick me up. But I made it and when they came home at night I was sitting in the run.
I really didn't feel well.
The lady gave me Echinacea, which had helped in the past, and herbal worming solution, but it was too late.
After one more day at home, I saw a very bright light and somehow knew this was not the sun.
It looked so good and peaceful and that's when I left my life on earth to sunbath forever and eat all the worms and seeds I could.
Looking down from the eternal wilderness, I could see the lady and man were sad I wasn't there any longer. They buried my earthly remains and made a sign especially for me. 
Well, I was Stirling's most famous chicken after all!


Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The Chick-Peas are in trouble

Dear oh dear, the Chick-Peas (our new Black Rock chickens) are in trouble.
Destroying the vegetable garden, eating the paksoi, curly kale and spinach, pooing everywhere (including the window sills!) and not giving anything in return, means they will have to go soon.

Unfortunately we've been paying way too much for these underage chickens, who weren't point-of-lay by far. Point-of-lay means they should start laying within a week or two after you've brought them home, but we've had them for 8 weeks now and no sign of any eggs.
But in the meantime they destroy everything and still we have to feed them (of course) and clean their hen house. Also I always need to make sure my shoes are clean before I enter the shop.

My husband doesn't want this to go on, not knowing if they will ever produce eggs, so he is returning them to the breeder this weekend.
Hopefully the breeder is willing to refund the whole amount, because we don't really trust him any longer. Even if he replaces them with older ones, how do know how old the new ones will be?

Anyway, we've decided we won't have any more chickens during the Winter. Come Spring we'll build a large pen for any new chickens we might decide to get then.
This means The Hooligan is on her own. Well, almost.
Luckily for her, the neighbour's chickens come to our garden too (destroying and pooing), so she is not lonely during the day.
The problem lies with the nights; chickens keep each other warm during really cold nights by huddling together. But of course The Hooligan can't do that if there are no other chickens around.
So, we've decided she has to sleep in a cat carrier in the porch. I think she is intelligent enough to go to her new sleeping place once we've put her in.
It benefits us too: no more Sunday mornings putting socks on, shoes on, jacket on, gloves on and hat on, just to let the chickens out.
Now we can just walk to the porch on our slippers, open the cat carrier and wish The Hooligan a nice day.

But we still don't know for sure if the breeder is willing to refund us, so we might still have to struggle through snow on Sunday mornings.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Conversation with The Hooligan

The other day, the new hens (the Chick-Peas) complained about The Hooligan's behaviour.
This is how it went:

Me:" Hello Chick-Peas, how was your day?"

Chick-Peas:"It was horrible! The Hooligan was blocking the exit to the garden and pecking and swearing at us! We really don't like The Hooligan."

Me:"Okay, I'll have a word with her."

Me:"Hello, Hooli Bully. I got some complaints from the Chick-Peas about you bullying them. What did you do?"

The Hooligan: "First of all, don't call me Hooli Bully! I hate that! Just call me The Hooligan! Secondly, those new ones are *#**## and ***###!!!

Me: "Calm down alright! Just tell me why you don't like them and what you did.

The Hooligan: "Those awful hens have no idea who the boss is here. I want to go to bed first. I want to eat first. I want to get out first. And I want to be in the garden first!! Yet, they refuse to listen to me. They run out before I can get out of bed, they start eating without my permission and now they want to eat the first worms in the garden too! I can't let that happen!
So, all I did was block the exit and told them to f off!!

Me: "Right, okay. Maybe you shouldn't use profane language this much. Maybe you ......."

The Hooligan:"Right that's it, I'm off. I'm sick of listening to you! I'll do and say what and when I like. You can't stop me!!!

And off she runs.

Me:"Sigh, there really is no reason in that chicken. I'll go to the Chick-Peas and tell them what happened."

The Chick-Peas:" Oh no, there is The Hooligan again! She's coming to us! She's coming to beat us up for squealing on her. Let's hide!! Aaarrrggh!"

The Hooligan: "Where are you little b####rds?! I'll get you for this!!

Me: "Oh dear, The Hooligan is chasing the Chick-Peas. I'll lure her away with some bird food. That will help."

Me: "Chicky, chicky! Come chicky, chicky!"

The Hooligan stops in her tracks and runs to the bird food, leaving the Chick-Peas bewildered, but in peace.

All is well again in Glendevon (until next time).