Kitchen Garden

What’s Growing On In February?

Biting winds, rain, hail and snow showers, we’ve never been so thankful for the occasional glimpse of sunshine to provide some respite. Ooh naughty February! Welcome back to our monthly catch up posts where we show you what’s growing on in our garden smallholding.

The vegetable garden in February still offers fabulous things to eat thanks to a bit of careful planning. By dedicating a whole bed to carrots rather than just a couple of rows for late summer/autumn use, we’re still pulling tasty roots of ‘Autumn King’. Standing well in our soil our garden tends to get rather boggy in winter so this variety really is worth growing. The same can be said for ‘Gladiator’ parsnip, fantastic roots right through to spring.

Another great crop providing nutritious leaves from summer right through to winter is kale. ‘Nero Di Toscana’ will grow in difficult conditions such as a shady spot and poor drainage (trust us, we know!). The flavour improves after a frost and once it finally bolts the flowers can be eaten too.

We’ve just finished picking the last of the Brussels Sprouts and now we’re patiently waiting for spears of beautiful early sprouting broccoli to make an appearance. Early purple sprouting is sown late spring one year and produces from February/March the following year – so you really do need to be patient!

The veg garden in February

Autumn-fruiting raspberry canes got their annual chop this week. Rich carefully tidied around to remove the old leaves and debris being careful not to damage emerging canes, finishing up with a mulch of compost afterwards.

The canes are very spiky – gloves are needed! In just a couple of months the whole bed will be brimming with fresh new growth.

Rather than burning or composting we’ve decided to keep the cut raspberry canes and use them as organic slug and snail deterrents (due to the spikes), laying them on the ground in and around seedlings.

Something has had a go at the broad bean seedlings underneath the cloche tunnels (unlikely to be a pigeon, a mouse perhaps?), a bit of soil disturbance and a couple of seedlings vanished – one is wilting so I guess the seed bean is damaged. This is the first place we’re going to use the canes. I wonder if mice will be that bothered by a few spikes? It’s an experiment so we’ll let you know if it works.

Our chickens were beginning to lay regularly (except for Mrs Broody pants), a couple have now decided to have another moult which means no eggs.

Some of our girls are getting on for retirement, perhaps nearer summer we’ll increase the flock seeing as we have a new coop!



New Year New Garden

garden smallholding

As the new year gets underway, my mind is full of plans for the new vegetable garden. Ideas and designs have spent the best part of 2 years in a sketch pad, I really can’t wait to finally put these long and thought out plans into action. However, garden tools are now retired to the outbuilding/shed until spring arrives with drier weather. It’s been a mild winter so far and this area has missed out on any snow, but the ground is too soft to continuously walk on.


I mention the outbuilding. It sits alongside the greenhouse, sharing the plot where the new vegetable garden will go, and it really needs a make over. Rendered concrete construction, 2 metal doors and a small wooden window, it currently looks tired and unloved, to be honest it’s a bit of an eyesore. But I’m sure I can bestow some magic upon this very useful storage space. A clean up, lick of paint (I’m thinking soft cream walls, white doors and window frame), window box, rustic pots and planters, perhaps a climbing rose to scramble over and a few garden accessories should make a huge difference. I might even treat it to some pretty floral bunting in summer.

In other news, I’m collecting 5 – 6 eggs a day from the hens and of course the pullets are really helping to boost the number, it’s their first winter and they’re in great condition. I don’t think we’ve ever had such a productive winter from the hen houses, I’m baking more than usual that’s for sure! The older hens appear to be doing well, although a winter moult is expected soon.


Allotment news! Garlic is growing well, and for the first time I’ve planted some elephant garlic too. I recently removed a young rhubarb crown that I planted last year, this was taken home in a large container of compost and will start off the rhubarb patch in our new vegetable garden very soon, can’t wait for that. That’s about it for now with allotment planting, I’ll sow some hardy broad beans soon (at the allotment and potted up in the greenhouse in case of failures) and then think about which tomatoes I’d like to grow. I have Charlotte seed potatoes in trays to chit in the unheated conservatory, and I’ve sorted through my seed packets.

I’m ready. Roll on spring!


First Egg of the Year

One of our old hens has come back into lay, I found this lovely egg in one of the coops this morning. Yummy!


No Valentine’s Day Eggs for Me

Tradition will tell you that hens start laying consistently again after a winter break or slow down, on or around St Valentine’s Day. Our hens are over the moult, healthy and fed a good diet, but this is the first winter that we’ve had no hens laying at all. It’s hardly surprising really, given the girls are getting on a bit (egg production slows right down or stops as hens mature) plus we don’t have as many hens as we did.

Days are gradually starting to get longer and the extra light will stimulate laying, but for one or two of our girls I suspect their egg laying days may be already be over. At some point I will be looking to add a few new hens to the flock, perhaps ex-caged hens or I may opt for POL hybrids, I might even mix. I’m unsure at the moment. We shall see how things go, either way, any non-layers will live their retirement out here.

Happy Valentine’s Day!



Sorry for the silly post title, couldn’t resist.

A few days ago I collected an enormous egg from one of my chicken coops, I literally blinked in amazement upon first seeing it. I could tell simply from looking at the massive egg that Lily hen had laid it – you recognise colour, shape and patterns of each of your hens eggs. Well I do anyway! The first thing I did was check her vent and general well being, everything looked OK so I picked the egg up for a closer look. The shell was firm and the egg was unsurprisingly heavy, but heavier than I had originally expected. I began to suspect a double yolk egg, so I cracked it open. This is what I found….

As you can see from the photo, there’s a normal yolk and what looked to be either a yolk covered in shell or a smaller round egg. I decided to open up the other strange-looking ‘egg’ to see what was inside…..

You can clearly see that there isn’t a fully formed normal yolk, I believe this to be a wind egg? Correct me if I’m wrong. Even though I was amazed at the contents, I know of all sorts of strange stories with eggs (not just from ex batts) from running my ex battery hens forum . Lily is fine and back to laying normal size eggs, her diet and general health is good so it isn’t anything related to that. She is, however, pretty old for an ex battery hen. Egg laying can present problems in older hens, so my wild guess would be that it’s something to do with her age.

I hope she doesn’t lay another one like this in a hurry.


Tough Old Birds, The Morning After Bonfire Night


I spent most of last night worrying myself sick about the hens while the fireworks were whizzing and crashing around, and im sure I was not alone. Our dog does not bat an eyelid at fireworks, in fact he seems to rather like them. I have always said he was wasted on us and should have been a working dog. Our rabbits have seen it all before, if the fireworks get too loud they happily hop into their bedroom department of their hutches and sit it out, but the hens I was very worried for.

I let the girls out earlier than usual this morning, purely because I was fretting about what I would find. All sorts of scary images flashed through my mind, I took a deep breath and opened the pop hole… worry was all in vain! They all barged their way eagerly out of the coop like they always do and started eating and scratching around in an instant.

Its amazing really how tough ex battery hens are, but then again I guess they have to be considering their past lives. I did expect their egg production to be down or of poor quality due to the trauma of the fireworks today but again I was wrong, all six hens laid and not one soft shelled egg amongst them.

They truly are tough old birds!


Monster Egg

Another huge egg from our chicken Rose, alongside another ‘normal’ size egg for comparison. Whoa!


October Harvest

Its not much I know but very satisfying all the same, especially as I did not think we would get any runner beans this year due to my failure to sow them on time, whoops. We hope that this time next year we are harvesting a bit more produce, rather than one big bang all at once in the summer. Planning is the key, this we need to learn and fast.

The hens all layed today, the white egg belongs to Dolly. Lily’s eggs are the deepest brown so again very easy to spot, whatever she produces needs to be thrown away for the time being, which feels awful to do but totally necessary. The chillies are a tad yellow but they do ripen once brought indoors into the warmth. We used one last night and it gave off alot of heat, perfect.


Spent Hens?

We have been keeping a record of how many eggs per month our hens are producing, with surprising results. In May they produced 171 eggs, and also the same total for June. July has been the record so far, 179. August they produced 161, a couple of blips here and there but still a steady amount. They have laid a staggering 790 eggs to date including April and the first half of this month. This is obviously far more than we need to feed our family of 4 so the eggs have been gratefully received by family, friends and neighbours. We have swapped them for vegetables, given them away as gifts and sold a few at the gate.

Spent hens? I think not!