RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2012

It doesn’t seem like a year ago that I took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. But it is. Once again our feathered friends need your help by taking part in this years watch. It’s really simple, all you have to do is watch birds that visit (not flying overhead) your garden or local park for one hour on either Saturday 28th or Sunday 29th January 2012. Jot down the birds and numbers that you see and send your results in via the link below, the online results survey form will be open from Saturday 28th January:


You can download and print out this handy bird ID sheet to help with your birdwatch if needed, by doing so you can register for 10% off bird food:


I will be taking part again, will you?

Book Reviews

Book Review – The Chicken Handbook and The Beekeeping Handbook

The Chicken Handbook by Vivian Head

Regular readers to my blog will know that I’m a keen chicken keeper. I have 4 years experience of keeping ex battery hens (some of which have been very needy through no fault of their own) so I was super excited to be sent The Chicken Handbook to review, along with another book, The Beekeeping Handbook. The latter I have no experience of at all but it does interest me and is relevant to my sustainable life style.

Naturally, The Chicken Handbook was the book that I reached for first. The book has a very inviting front cover and easy to follow contents. I particularly like how the author starts the book with the history of the chicken and then carries on to cover chickens needs such as housing and feeding equipment before naming and explaining all the different chicken breeds. This gives the reader a solid foundation of knowledge on which to build on and well-informed choices, thus avoiding the mistake of purchasing chickens before being ready to cater for the most basic of their needs. I was further impressed with the section explaining in detail the daily, weekly and monthly routine required to keep chickens happy and healthy. I feel this information is well placed within the book contents and crucial to know, particularly for those thinking about keeping a flock of garden hens. There are some tips and facts within the book to avoid problems with chicken keeping in urban areas, such as seeking permission from your landlord or checking house deeds before going ahead and keeping chickens.

If you’re not squeamish (unlike me) and wish to raise your own meat birds, you’ll be pleased to know that the book covers how to humanely cull birds for the table, including plucking and evisceration. I’ll admit, this was the one and only section of the book that I was pleased not to see photographs. For those who like to dabble in the kitchen, there’s a handy section with recipes using your own meat and eggs.

Overall I am very impressed with the amount of topics and information covered in this book. There are well detailed and clearly explained sections on choosing chickens, bringing chickens home and settling them in, A-Z of pests and diseases, behavioral problems, chicken and egg anatomy, chicken breeds, predators, showing, feeding, housing, and raising chicks to name a few. My only criticism is there are no photographs, particularly of the different chicken breeds. As lovely as the illustrations are throughout the book, personally I prefer to look at photographs to get a better idea of colour and size etc. This is merely a nit pick and shouldn’t detract from the overall quality or experience of the book content.

Chickens are not the only feathered friends to be featured in the book. I’m currently swotting up on how to keep quail, guinea fowl, turkeys, geese and ducks! This is a handy book to refer to for experienced chicken keepers and very informative and easy to follow for the new chicken keeper.

The Beekeepers Handbook by Vivian Head

I’ve been reading this book as a complete novice to beekeeping, yet, I’m surprised at how much this book has taught me about this fascinating hobby already. Whilst I admit to knowing a thing or two about bees in general, I am one of those who is a teeny-weeny bit afraid of being stung. Having witnessed a swarm some years ago in my garden it left me slightly nervous. Because of this, I’ve never considered keeping bees before but I do my utmost to attract them to my garden by providing shelter and food. I understand how important bees are to our planet, which is why I like to help them in my little way.

Reading through this book will teach you everything you need to know to get started with this hobby, it provides a wealth of information on how to set-up a hive, where to place it, how many hives to have, equipment needed including suitable clothing and where, when and how to obtain bees. Other useful topics include, understanding the honey bee, bee anatomy, swarming (ahhhh!), dealing with stings, beekeeping checklist season to season, pests and diseases and harvesting honey. If you’ve been looking for information on how to rear and breed your own queen bees then look no further, the book is packed with information including stages on how to go about it.

Although I’m not about to start keeping bees anytime soon, if you’re a novice with an interest in beekeeping I would recommend this book. It’s provided me with many more interesting facts about these amazing little creatures and I found it easy to follow and understand.

Thanks must go to Traci Niese at Fox Chapel Publishing for sending The Chicken Handbook and The Beekeeping Handbook to me for review. The author of both books, Vivian Head, is an ardent cook, gardener and author who lives in a country cottage in East Sussex, UK. When she is not busy writing she tends her allotment and kitchen herb garden, which is also home to her chickens and four beehives.

Both books will be published 1st April 2012.

Jobs Each Month

Jobs for January

January is usually a cold month, if the weather is particularly severe there may be little to do in the vegetable garden, but now is the perfect time to plan for the busy year ahead. Browse seed catalogues and plan what you’re going to grow and where, drawing a plan of your plot can help. If you’re a busy person, think about how much time you can realistically spend in your garden or at your allotment, try to plan accordingly, avoiding the mistake of growing too much all at once. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, especially if you’re a beginner, far better to choose crops that you enjoy eating or find easy to grow. Add more to your list as your confidence grows.

Some jobs that can be tackled in January:

  • Order seed potatoes for chitting this month or next
  • Force established rhubarb
  • Sow broad beans if you didn’t get around to it during autumn
  • Prune blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes
  • Top up empty beds with organic matter (if you haven’t already) before snow arrives
  • Make a runner bean trench
  • Clean the greenhouse including pots and trays
  • Plant fruit trees if weather allows
  • Order or buy onion sets
  • Cut autumn fruiting raspberry canes to just above ground level this month or next 

Blog Award

Fruit Garden · kitchen garden

Forcing Rhubarb

Last year I treated myself to a terracotta rhubarb forcer for my birthday, using the money I’d been given as a gift. The forcing jar spent much of the year nestled alongside the rhubarb looking rather stylish, eventually disappearing behind a jungle of rhubarb leaves. My rhubarb crown is just over 3 years old so I’m going to start forcing it. I grow Timperley Early rhubarb, as the name suggests you do get an earlier crop than other rhubarb, forcing this variety isn’t going to make that much difference with cropping time but what I’m after is the beautiful pink stems and sweet champagne flavour that forcing produces.

You can force established rhubarb by covering the crown with a forcing jar, an upturned dustbin or water-butt will do the job just as well. Doing this creates a dark and warm environment inside, forcing the stems into premature growth. Once you force a crown you should allow it to crop naturally the following year, forcing it year after year could seriously weaken it. Some gardeners force the same crown annually with no problems and would disagree with the advice above, I just tend to be a bit more cautious. A good tip is to grow 3 crowns, allow one to recover from being forced the previous year, force one and let the other crop naturally, when it should. However, keep in mind that rhubarb is a thug once established, each crown needs plenty of space and they’re hungry plants.

I’m looking forward to tucking into champagne flavoured crumbles and fools.


Welly Boots and Seeds

I took part in a spot of garden retail therapy on Monday, rather than the other option of sitting at home scoffing my face, watching rubbish bank holiday TV. It really wasn’t a hard decision, I had Christmas gift money burning a hole in my pocket and I desperately needed new wellies. My current pair have seen better days and thanks to a hard stint at my new allotment plot last year they finally split around the sole, carrying out their dastardly threat.

Clutching a new pair of welly boots I browsed the rest of the shop at my own leisure, eventually making my way over to the seed racks. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop gazing at row upon row of brightly coloured seed packets. Admiring the selection of heritage seeds I made a purchase of ‘Selma Zebra’ climbing beans, they look really interesting plus I’ve never grown them before. Each year I like to grow at least one new crop or a few different varieties of favourites, I find it difficult to stop selecting seeds to buy because there are many choices (each one is justified of course) but I have to be realistic. Growing space limitations can lead to interesting arguments with myself, no doubt I amuse the other shoppers who stop to watch me reason with an invisible person in the seed aisle.

Other seeds I managed to convince myself to buy were Thompson & Morgan mangetout ‘Shiraz’ (being a red wine drinker this was an easy-peasy argument to win), also a type of woodland/alpine strawberry made it into the shopping basket because the tiny strawberries are carried high above the foliage on upright stalks, making picking a breeze. Then somehow during my seed selecting I decided I was going to beat the current 884lb Atlantic pumpkin record. I’m still puzzled at how I won that argument and I absolutely hope I don’t beat the record or get anywhere near it. What would I do with a monster pumpkin that size anyway? Oh and some pretty looking squash managed to win me over along with ‘Petit Pois’ peas, ‘Twinkle’ early peas and a variety of tomato that I’ve never tried before. Gosh that is rather a lot of new things to try.

I think that’s it…….


Happy New Year 2012

Just a quick post to wish readers a very happy new year, I hope 2012 brings you a great growing season with bumper crops!