Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Weekend Chickens and the joys of a weather "app"

Forest Hill's noisiest chicken - Tallulah!
Sometimes I bloody dislike those chickens! Right I'm the first one not to have a lie-in but seriously, 7am on a Sunday morning and you are not going to be best popular with husband or neighbours when all the girls start screeching.

Not an alarm call, just that really annoying noisy clucking cum half strangled squawk that got me out of bed to both see what the matter was and stop the wretched din. And the problem causing this poultry furore? That would be Harriet using the nestbox that Tallulah wanted to be in. For goodness sake you would have thought that Tallulah could have at least used the nestbox next door but no, she stood there screeching at the top of her voice, Nigella joining in just because she could and Harriet answering them back. Letting them into the garden solved the problem however after all that din we only got one egg. 
As I said, bloody chickens.

By odd coincidence I took some video of the girls feeding off a corn cob stuck on a skewer and dangling from a wire. A bend in the skewer has been a new addition as it twirls the corn around and keeps the girls amused for considerably longer than previous. It's alway good to do at this time of year as corn is so cheap however I do realize it's not doing anything for the girls egg laying abilities and girths. Oddly looking back it was almost a year to the day since I last videoed them doing this very thing.

Chasing the corn

RainAlarm failed to tell me about this
Much can be said of the Great British summer, for I remember it well and sadly finished in June. The past week has been the normal cycle of rain, sunshine, heavy rain, glimpse of sun, very heavy rain, vague daylight, monsoon. 
In a moment of apparent or indeed abject stupidity I downloaded an app for the iPod called RainAlarm - what a wonderful waste of time.
Firstly due to the constantly inclement weather it doesn't stop pinging and telling me that there is precipitation 4.3km away, 4.2km, away, etc. Of course what it's not telling me is that I am soaked to the skin while cleaning the chickens out and it doesn't seem to realise that the heavens have actually opened up over me! Why no monsoon warning for SE23?

Still, we can but cherish the moments of sunshine and warmth and rejoice in the fact that at least all the slugs and snails that are reproducing rampantly in these moist climes are providing a veritable feast for the girls. Lets hope it provides the edible stimulus for laying more eggs!
Harriet - all she wanted to do was lay the egg.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Three years of chickens and Hens in the City

Goodness me - how time flies when you are having fun/keeping chickens.

It's now three years since Harriet arrived in our lives, closely followed by Ruby which means that its also three years since I started this blog - heavens, that's longer that a Katie Price marriage!
The one and only Ms Harriet Princess Ping Pong McEllis
In some ways it really doesn't seem that long ago since we got the chicken run shortly followed by the Silkies, Harriet and Lottie, the first occupants however they were followed the very next day by the Sussex bantams Ruby, Cybil and Margot. I recall with great trepidation the first time that we let them out into the garden.

A rare photo of Ruby NOT moulting
I have no idea why we ever thought we had to worry. After three years we have gone through the process of hatching and loss, arrivals and departures. The garden has developed into an area of plants that can generally withstand the girls once they are established though the lawn does need areas re-turfing each year. 

The girls do an excellent job at demolishing slugs and snails though this year they did wipe out the lettuce faster than the aforesaid molluscs! 

There is no doubt that the greatest joys of the chickens are the eggs. Glorious in taste, there is absolutely no comparison to shop bought eggs to the eggy joys the girls produce. Although they are bantams and therefor bantam eggs we have found that the yolks (as well as being the most amazingly bright orangey yellow)are larger that those of a normal sized egg which could well account for the fantastic flavour. It really doesn't take long to get the hang of working out recipes with bantam eggs instead of the normal "recipes are based on large eggs" scenario. I wonder if the slug and snail diet makes the eggs tastier?  
Tallulah - her of the saggy bum 
Nigella - beware dogs and actually everything!

Poor Lottie passed away at a fairly early age. Cybil and Margot departed for a new life in rural Bedfordshire due to the fact that noisy early morning bloody chickens in the city do not go down well with the neighbours (and no, rural Bedfordshire is not a synonym for "in the oven")

So onwards to the next two lovelies that arrived. One is a partridge colour Silkie (I think she's a partridge colour? Do correct me if I'm wrong)called Tallulah. To say she was shabby when she arrived is an understatement however she moulted out into a lovely bird. She does have something of a dropped undercarriage and all the old poultry keeping books suggest that she should be straight into the pot however she's a happy hen and not a bad layer though she does turn out some very thinly shelled eggs. And of course Nigella the Destroyer. A silver Sussex (as was Cybil whom we had to move on) Nigella is full of attitude. On the positive side she takes no nonsense from the dogs and will quite happily chase Max. Unfortunately Max thinks that Nigella is playing so he takes his ball over to her so she can throw it! I have to say that I do love the Sussex bantam as a breed.

So still very happy with our "girls" and we are forever indebted to our lovely neighbours who are always more than happy to chicken sit when we are away. It was also lovely to meet Alan and Sarah in the park the other day, more fellow chicken keepers in our road. Hopefully at some stage I might get to upload some pics of their girls.

Despite the oddness of the weather and blight attacking lots of people outdoor tomatoes we are doing good, harvesting lots of fruit and veg. Tomatoes and outdoor ridge cucumbers are doing well, just planted out kale, calvo nero and celeriac at the allotment for winter crops and also just had our first chilli of the year - yup it was a right hot little bugger even though it was still green. Courgettes haven't overwhelmed us yet - you can always tell when there are too many as its straight to the glut crop recipe pages! We also have some really good squash coming on for later in the year. Just trying to fit in a last crop of Florence fennel as the first lot got too hot and bolted but think I'm too late.

So three years just went that'er way. Thank you for reading and your comments and all of those of you who contact me via facebook about the chickens (and don't forget the read the latest Max and Millie
Ruby after being severely "app'd" by my hubbie

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Celebrations - any excuse for a glass of fizz

A bit of a celebratory blog this time for a couple of reasons. Firstly it's now two years since my lovely husband and I got "married". It seriously doesn't seem to be that long ago and it's been a wonderful two years.
Me and my man
Secondly its a year since Millicent Hermione Oprah McEllis arrived into our lives. From the frightened little smelly black dog she has now grown into a very beautiful young lady with a huge appetite, wiggly bum and the most lovely demeanour as long as she can't see another dog!

Being licked to death by a very happy Millie
The joy of chickens - how I love to see them wandering around the garden, scratching through the lawn, trashing the dahlias, getting into the pots and rooting everything out, eating lettuce so loving grown. How I would love to see them all in a nice chicken casserole!

Seriously for a moment, the garden has passed the point of being established for the summer. All the delicate young shoots are now healthy plants and strong enough to usually survive an onslaught of the chickens so as they pass through the borders chomping snails and bugs as they go all is normally well. This year Miss Harriet has had the devil in her. Every pot is fair game and despite my continued optimism that the damage is never that bad the sight of a white silkie surrounded by the devastation of what was a collection of lovingly grown plants. Silkies can thank their lucky stars that their blue skin stops me from throwing them in the roasting pan.

Naughty chickens - Harriet, Ruby and Nigella waiting for a treat
Saying that, egg production, while not going to make us millionaires, is doing okay with a couple of eggs each day which is more than enough for our needs.

For some reason a couple of the chickens (Miss Harriet and Nigella shall remain nameless) seem to get mucky bottoms. Why this should be I can offer no answer, especially as Ruby has never ever had a problem. It just means that once a month there is a rather undignified bum washing ceremony however the girls do look especially lovely after the event and they always get a treat to counteract the indignity.
Thanks to all who baked and commented on the plum clafouti recipe. I’m glad that you enjoyed it. Saying that I am still loving this huge harvest of blackberries and can hardly stop myself picking more every time we go out to walk the dogs. Our dear friends Tim and Katt came over for Sunday lunch with their lovely son, Finn so decided to cook another clafouti recipe I found which was even more delicious. Here it is

Blackberry and raspberry almond clafouti

Heat the oven to 190c/gas 5. Lightly butter a 23cm flan dish or tin (again not loose bottomed or it all dribbles out)

To make the batter mix together 50gm ground almonds, 2 tbsp plain flour, 100gm golden caster sugar 2 bantam eggs and 3 bantam egg yolks. Beat this up with 250ml of double cream.

Scatter 400gm mixed blackberries and raspberries in the buttered dish

Pour over the batter

Bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes until well risen and golden.

Best served warm as opposed to really hot, and with lots of cream

So the end of another week, here's hoping that summer returns soon, I need some sunshine! As ever, don't for get to also check out Max and Millie's blog - link in the sidebar.