Cracking eggs and mystery spuds

IMG_1773We might not have achieved true self-sufficiency or anything approaching that lofty ambition, but we can at least claim – like many of our fellow henkeepers – to be self-sufficient in eggs. And it felt positively indulgent at the weekend when I raided the rack and used all 11 freshly laid beauties in some simple dishes for a lunch with friends. It was a delicious feeling beating those stunning deep-orange yolks and firm whites together to make two different recipes, the first of which required a whopping ten. I cooked double the quantity of ‘Courgette Slice’, an easy summer main course that makes the most of fresh garden produce at this time of year. It was created by an allotmenteer called Tessa Webb who starred in a Country Living series called ‘Grow & Cook’ during 2011 and features in her own delightful cookbook. IMG_1771Alongside it, I served salad and our own potatoes – not any ordinary tatties, but the source of some controversy in our household. In early spring, James and I chose a few ordinary spuds to chit on our windowsills ready to plant out over the Easter weekend. We decided to plump for straightforward, reliable first and second early types – having grown some weird and wacky varieties in the past that either disappoint in terms of yield or prove fiddly to clean and cook (I don’t rate ‘Pink Fir Apple’ for this reason). When James went to lift some the other day he dug up a huge number of purple potatoes just like the ‘Violetta’ tubers that I planted back in 2013 when I visited a Potato Day in Suffolk with my gardener friend Lucy. My theory is that we must have left some of these in the ground from then and the spirited spuds grew from the same crop. Having thoroughly dug over the bed, James is adamant that this couldn’t be the case and that we must have accidentally selected this kind again from the garden centre this year. Can anyone shed light on this peculiar event and resolve the dispute between us?! Is it possible that potatoes can crop two years after an initial harvest? Whatever their origin, they are a tasty and colourful addition to our dinner plates, retaining a gorgeous indigo-blue hue when cooked and proving a good topic of conversation with guests – as well as the source of a continuing debate between James and I. In fact, it turns out they’re rather moreish and may well be a staple of the Smallholdings plot in the future. Anyone else cultivating some mystery vegetables this summer? Happy henkeeping all!IMG_1761

Animal antics

IMG_0518 In a bid to simplify life a little now that we’ve our baby Charlie to care for, James and I are laying down a few ground rules for our beloved, but rather needy, menagerie. Although the way Margot and Audrey make their way into our house is very charming, we are constantly clearing up droppings in our porch and utility room as a result. Plus, there’s the embarrassment it causes when visitors (of which we’ve had many in recent weeks coming to meet the new addition to the family) arrive and accidentally step in one; and the horror when we inadvertently track it through the house. So, as much as it pains us to do so, we now keep this cheeky pair of Araucanas confined to their (very large) run. If we could trust them to roam around the garden like the other free-rangers we’d happily let them do so, but they’re strangely drawn to our home, as I’ve declared in this blog before.

Beau, our rather highly strung Bengal, is insanely jealous of Charlie and does his best to make his sentiments clear whenever he can. Unfortunately, all baby paraphernalia – cots, playmats, bouncers – are super feline-friendly in terms of size and cosiness and the cat probably assumes, in a way only that species can, that it’s all been bought for him. The other week he not only crawled into the (unoccupied) pram, but was actually sick in it (my mother, very altruistically, dealt with the carnage). A dirty protest, if ever there was one. So now our dining room is crammed with all this extra equipment we’ve acquired in recent months and Beau is barred from access. That way we can keep it free of the naughty feline.

James enjoys lifting some spuds after a hard day's DIY – the house is coming on a treat and we're confident that this year it will be finished, at last!
James enjoys lifting some spuds after a hard day’s DIY – the house is coming on a treat and we’re confident that this year it will be finished, at last!

Even in the garden we need to animal-proof our veg from our poultry and pets. A couple of summers ago, our German Shepherd Darcy dug up several potato plants and ate the tubers without our knowledge for several days. The first we knew of it was when he collapsed due to dehydration and James rushed him to the vet’s. It turned out the dog had continued his raw spud diet despite being ill each time he consumed them. Those were the most expensive potatoes ever – the bill for his treatment, which involved a stay in animal hospital while he was on a drip, cost several hundred pounds. Tomatoes, however, don’t seem to attract any canine attention, thankfully, so they’re thriving in growbags in front of the barn, the brick walls of which radiate heat long after the sun’s gone down.

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This year, we’re trying ‘Golden Sunrise’, which has medium-sized yellow fruits, and ‘Gardener’s Delight’, of the red cherry kind – both varieties are from nearby merchant Kings Seeds. As well as looking forward to a their harvest, one of late summer’s simple pleasures, around this time we also bear winter in mind and order logs now so we can finish off seasoning them and save a few bob on an autumn delivery when the wood’s ready to burn.

IMG_1547Every season has its highlights and autumn’s is lighting the stove for the first time. But we’re certainly not wishing these warm months away – we’ll be outdoors as much as possible with Charlie in tow making the most of the glorious weather. Happy henkeeping all!

Eggless!

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There’s very little going on in the nesting boxes at the moment. No doubt this is mostly down to the heat, although we also have an ageing flock with just a few young hens to keep up the yield. Twice this week we’ve opened up the lid to search among the warm straw to see not a single egg to collect. Coming back from the chicken coop with some freshly laid beauties is a ritual we never tire of, so when you’ve nothing to bring in to the kitchen, it can leave you feeling surprisingly hollow, I find. At least our Ixworths and Araucanas (the black birds pictured above with one of our white Ixworths) are pulling their weight the rest of the time. We scrambled their fine offerings this morning for a superb start to the day.

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Our disappointing egg yields have been compensated for by the arrival of our latest toy. James has finally fulfilled a long-held ambition: becoming the proud owner of a Little Grey Fergie. Named the smallholders’ tractor when it was first made, the Ferguson TE-F 20 was created for working small parcels of land. This one was made in 1954 and has had just two previous owners and is in pretty good nick.

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If we’re honest, it’s a slightly overblown piece of machinery for our modest plot of just over an acre but it’s a lovely thing to own in itself and we’re hoping it will hold its value. The plough attachment will come in handy for cultivating the old pig run, on which we’ve kept the animals for two years so needs to rest before we have more on it – we’ve plans to loosen up that well-fertilised soil and cart it up to our veg patch to work its magic on future sowings. This season, we’re growing a limited range of crops – potatoes, tomatoes, salad leaves and courgettes. Due to cracking on with renovating the house, we didn’t have the time to dig some larger beds earlier in the season as we’d hoped, so we’ve a ‘capsule’ collection of edibles on the go instead. How’s your growing season going? 

Happy henkeeping all!