Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Setting Up For A 2018 Hatch – White Bantam Silkies

It’s 28th April and Scarlett, the white Silkie bantam, has nine fertile eggs in the nest. I have never experienced the family set up with hatching before so I have had to do a lot of reading. I have come to the conclusion that this natural kind of breeding, with a family of pure bred chickens, is the easiest yet. I have bought fertile hatching eggs before and used an incubator or a broody hen to hatch them but this is the first time that I have let nature take its course and left it to them. All I have to provide is safe housing, clean bedding, fresh water and the correct food. Human intervention is the last thing they need. After all they were breeding long before humans domesticated them. I am much happier with this situation and Im sure the chickens are too.

My breeding group consists of Oscar, a handsome cockerel, Scarlett who is the first of the girls to go broody, Starlight and Mai. They are from a good bloodline and should produce some perfect offspring. Although Scarlett is sitting, Mai has also contributed about four eggs to the clutch. Starlight, as far as I know, hasn’t layed an egg yet.

When Scarlett first showed signs of being broody I was expecting her to sit constantly on the eggs in the nest but she was spending her days out in the garden with the others whilst gathering together quite a big clutch. In my ignorance I thought that the eggs would go off but after a bit of research I find that the fertile eggs are able to stay viable for a few weeks until the broody is ready to sit and hatch. I am excited about the prospect of chicks but have no illusions about the possibility of fertility failures as the group are all so young and this will be their first attempt.

Well it’s 4th May and although we have lots of eggs in two nests there is still no sign of either hen sitting. Update 7th May – 16 eggs back in the two nests after my Grandson Jobie decided that the girls weren’t going to sit and Nanny Chris needed to get an incubator. He conscientiously carried all the eggs into the kitchen without breaking one.  He is only five, he would say nearly six, but is very knowledgeable and is usually right about most things. However, Nanny Chris doesn’t have the money to buy an incubator and another knowledgeable chicken person said “Why would she need to sit in this weather?” currently a heatwave on Bank Holiday Monday, so I cleaned out the nest, put fresh bedding in with a sprinkle of Diatom, and placed the eggs back where they were.

Update – day 19. All the Broodies are still sitting. No sign of any pipping. Scarlett is sitting tight again after a little toilet break when she sat back on the wrong nest and her eggs went cold. I sat her back on to her eggs.

Scarlett Day 21 – still no sign of any chicks.

Laura’s Higgledy Seeds – May 2018 – Crazy Daisy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laura has become a secret Seedaholic. Although we have loads of flower seeds she has been ordering from T&M and one of my favourite seed suppliers, Higgledy. She is in love with growing things so for her birthday on 18th April I bought her a walk in greenhouse, just a plastic one from Wilkos, but she loves it. A bit of compost a few pots and seed trays and she was off. Her latest seed purchases from Higgledy are Chrysanthemum Crazy Daisy, Zinnia Persian Carpet Mix, Echinops Ritro, Tithoria Torch and Statice Blue. She loves all things ‘Daisy’ so I have given her a new name, Crazy Daisy, after the Crysanth she chose. The name suits her to a Tee.

Higgledy £1.95 – Chrysanthemum Crazy Daisy is widely regarded as one of the best Chrysanthemums for the cut flower garden. Lots of white and cream flowers. Blooms are numerous and the white frilly petals have egg yolk yellow centres. This is a no fuss easy care perennial and a great addition to your  perennial bed in the cutting garden. Sow seed from February-May or August-October, into trays of compost and lightly cover seeds with vermiculite as the seeds need light to germinate. Keep at temperature of around 15°C. Germination usually takes between 3-4 weeks. If there is low germination rates induce a period of vernalisation where the seeds dormancy is broken by moving to a cold area about 4°C for a week or so and then return to 15°C. Once seedling are about 5cm tall pot on into individual pots. Its August and these flowers are just beginning to open. They belong to the Chrysanthemum family and should be sturdy perennials.

Higgledy Free Gift – Zinnia Persian Carpet  is a very elegant and charming flower. Colours range from deep reds to shining yellows on single and bicoloured blooms. The flowers themselves are more compact than most Zinnias but also more abundant. An old fashioned variety. Drought tolerant. Take care if sowing in pots as Zinnia do not like root disturbance. Sow them in May directly into the soil after the last frost. I’ve sown a few seeds into a small pot on 4th May 2018. Its August and we have these flowering here and there in pots. The flowers are a very striking bright orange with red accents.
 
Higgledy £2.25 for 50 – Echinops Ritro. Echinops is Latin for hedgehog apparently. Flowers are beautiful silvery blue spikey spheres. Foliage is also a striking blue green colour. As cut flowers they are very versatile and they dry easily too. Echinops is a hardy perennial much loved by bees and it self seeds. A tough plant for the back of the border.
Higgledy Tithonia Torch £1.95 for 50 – Mexican Sunflower. Tall vibrant dahlia like flowers ideal for the back of the border. Easy and fast growing. This variety has extreme tolerance to heat and drought making it very useful for those dry areas of the garden. It produces brilliant deep orange flowers that are 3″ across on a plant that spreads to 3′ wide. Sow the seeds From Feb – March in trays of a good quality seed compost. Cover lightly as light is needed for germination. Germination will take between 18 – 30 days. Plant out in late Summer.These plants will not require very much care. A little fertiliser every now and then and occasional watering will be ample. Best planted in full sun. Its 3rd August and Laura has been very disappointed with these plants as they are not very attractive foliage wise and so far the only one to flower is bright a bright yellow sunflower. We should have realised what the foliage would be like as the name does say Mexican Sunflower and sunflower foliage isn’t very attractive. Update – Its 7th September and still no flowers from these seeds.
Higgledy Statice Blue £1.95 for 100Statice is easy-to-grow from seeds and it is very rewarding with bright blue,  flat flower clusters of a papery texture that hold their color well . Usually used in dry flower arrangements. Its 3rd August and these plants are just coming into flower.

 

 

 

My Viola Collection 2018

On 7th June 2007 I went to Sugarloaf Lane Nursery and bought a few plants. One of these was an Alpine Viola called Papilio. I love Violas and this was to be the first of many. They are such a versatile plant and look good in individual pots or mixed containers as well as in rockeries, gravel gardens and borders. I have listed below the varieties that I have in my garden at present. The genus Viola is a very interesting group of plants. I am not so keen on the larger pansy type of flower but prefer those bred from the Lutea and Cornuta. I have ordered my 2018 treasures from The Wildegoose Nursery.

The Bouts viola collection was established in 1978 by Mark and Stephanie Roberts of Bouts Cottage Nursery. In 2011 they retired and Jack and Laura Willgoss took over creating Wildegoose Nursery. I cant wait to visit and collect my plants. They are situated close to Ludlow, one of our favourite places to visit.

Viola hybrids, as the name suggests, have parentage that is somewhat diverse and they can be striped and splashed, bicoloured or the image of simplicity itself in pure hues of white, yellow, pink, mauve, purple and black. Many are scented too

Tips from the Wildegoose Website:- For your Violas to flourish, they need a good depth of soil for their roots to spread into. So if planting in a pot go for something at least 12” (30cm) deep and use a proprietary brand of potting compost. If planting in the open ground, make sure the soil is well cultivated, weed free and ensure you incorporate plenty of organic matter. Violas need regular deadheading to maintain their long season of flowering and they benefit from a light trim and tidy in July if appearing leggy. Cut back to within 2 inches from the base in early autumn to encourage fresh new basal growth and to deter pests from overwintering in their crowns. www.wildegoosenursery.co.uk

Viola is the name of a genus containing about 500 different species. Most of the violas cultivated in gardens are grown as annuals or short lived perennials, however, many will self-seed and give you years of delight. Violas are as at home in woodland settings as they are filling crevices in rock walls. 

 

Viola cornuta is a species that originates in the meadows of the Pyranees and has long stems to hold their purple, honey scented flowers high enough above the surrounding grasses, to attract the attention of passing insects. The flowers of Viola cornuta have characteristically narrow elongated petals that are so delicate, yet these are remarkably hardy robust little plants. They are often recommended for ground cover, as they happily spread to make large flowering clumps under shrubs. Viola lutea, also known as the mountain pansy, is a species of violet that grows in Europe, from the British Isles to the Balkans. I prefer hybrids of these two as they are so delicate

If growing in pots use a good quality general purpose compost and incorporate grit or perlite to aide drainage through the winter. You can also add slow release fertiliser to the compost or give them a liquid feed every two to three weeks to give them a boost. Feed first with a balanced feed for healthy plant growth and once well established switch to a tomato feed to encourage more flowers.

Violas are cool weather plants. Although they thrive in full sun it’s light and not heat that they require. Cooler autumn and spring temperatures are ideal. Higher temperatures can be off-set with mulch and diligent watering. Enrich the soil with leaf mould or well-rotted organic matter such as manure added to the flower bed in the spring.

Most of today’s violas are derived from Viola odorata, the Sweet Violet. Sweet violets are true perennials. If you’re lucky you’ll find them in fields and lawns and you can recognise them by their sweet scent and deep violet color. Most of us has found Viola tricolor commonly called Johnny Jump Up, a self-seeding perennial with tiny flowers of purple, yellow and white.

During the summer cleistogamous flowers without petals produce seeds, which are flung outward by mechanical ejection from the three-parted seed capsules. Cleistogamy is a type of automatic self-pollination of certain plants that can propagate by using non-opening, self-pollinating flowers. Especially well known in peanuts, peas, and beans, this behaviour is most widespread in the grass family. However, the largest genus of cleistogamous plants is actually the Viola. Although Violas self seed freely they are also easy to start from seed at home. Violas need darkness to germinate so cover the seeds completely. Direct sowing is another method when the weather is a bit warmer.

Alternatively they can be propagated with cuttings. You can take a cutting in August, snipping off a shoot around 5 cm long cut off at leaf node. Nip off flowers and buds on the shoot and all but three leaves. Dip into a rooting hormone and plant into a pot of compost. Water in, place outside, and roots will start to grow within 18 days and you’ll have a whole new viola plant.

Viola Papilio – A lovely vigorous perennial alpine plant producing marbled textured flowers with purple blending with white and a yellow eye above clumps of dark green, heart shaped foliage. This fragrant plant flowered from mid spring to autumn giving me lots of pleasure. It has come back year after year and seeded itself here and there. They do get leggy in Summer so cut them back and they will regrow from the base. They self seed profusely around the mother plant.

 

Viola Sororia Freckles – Quite unlike any other variety, Viola Sororia Freckles bears violet, speckled flowers from spring to summer. The unusual blooms are carried above neat clumps of heart shaped foliage. This memorable Violet will self-seed freely, dotting its offspring around the garden to provide welcome surprises the following spring. Perfect for growing in containers, rockeries or planted into crevices between paving. My garden now has lots of this very giving hardy perennial plant.

Viola Sororia Albiflora – The white wood violet. A new one to me last year. Purchased as a young plant from Websters of Wollaston. The flowers of this form are white except for delicate violet lines radiating from the throat of the flower. There is no noticeable scent. They flower for about six weeks from mid to late spring according to the weather. The root system consists of thick, horizontally branched rhizomes with a tendency to form vegetative colonies. As they are woodland plants they prefer dappled shade. Update 26th April 2018 – This plant is once again preparing to throw up a wonderful display of white Violas. I was worried about its survival as we have had a very hard, long winter and I have in fact lost a few of my favourite violas. However, today I found the original plant covered in new buds. I am hopeful of late seedlings appearing too.
Following our visit to Wildegoose Nursery I now have six new Violas in my collection. Viola Lindsay, Viola Raven, Viola Josie, Viola Aspasia, Viola Aletha and Viola Olive Edwards. Pictured below are Raven And Aspasia.

Breeding Miniature White Silkie Chickens 2018

I have decided to have a go at breeding Miniature Silkies and on Thursday 12th April I shall be travelling to Lincoln to collect my first family group of one cockerel and three hens. I have had experience of hatching with an incubator before but I have never kept a cockerel. I have always bought in fertile hatching eggs. I am acutely aware of the problems involved both with having a cockerel and having baby chicks who turn out to be boys. I am under no illusions and realise that although the law of averages says the hatch should be 50/50 this isn’t always the case. To add to this, although Silkies are renowned for being good mothers, I once had a silkie who ate twelve hatching eggs that I had bought from Scotland and put under her to hatch as she was broody. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I don’t have to allow live chicks. I could sell fertile eggs or eat them.

Today is 4th May and it’s the first time that I have felt able to update this post. I have had a massive setback in my plans to breed miniature Silkies. After travelling all the way to Lincoln, which is quite a jaunt from home, the Silkies on sale weren’t miniatures at all but bantams. I still bought them and they are living here in the garden. They are beautiful and I love them but I am still looking for miniatures. I may let this group breed if they are inclined to but I shall persevere in my search for miniatures. It’s a hard lesson learned. The world of show chickens do not recognise the miniature apparently so I shall have to be very careful when sourcing my group.

The Silkie is a breed of chicken named for its soft, fluffy plumage. The breed has several unusual qualities including black skin and bones, blue earlobes and five toes on each foot, whereas most chickens only have four. They are often exhibited in poultry shows and come in many colors. The Silkie comes in Large Fowl, Bantam and Miniature. After careful consideration I have decided to concentrate on pure white miniature. I have sourced some good blood lines so hope to produce some good stock.

In addition to their distinctive physical characteristics Silkies are known for their calm, friendly temperament. they are among the most docile of poultry. The hens are also exceptionally broody and care for their young well. Although they are not prolific layers themselves, laying about three eggs each week, they are often used to hatch eggs from other breeds due to their broody nature. Silkie chickens are very easy to keep as pets. They are ideal to be around children which was another reason that I chose them as the grand children love the chickens.

There is no doubt that the Silkie is a very old breed, probably of Chinese origin. It is believed by some that the Silkie dates back as far as the Chinese Han Dynasty in 206BC. The Silkie made its way westward either by  the Silk Road or by the maritime routes, maybe both. 

Their feathers lack barbicels, the hooks that hold the feathers together, which gives them their fluffy appearance. The fact that the feathers do not hold together means a Silkie cannot fly. It also means that the feathering is not waterproof so they need to keep dry.  Underneath all that fluff, the Silkie has black skin and bones. Sadly, this makes them a food delicacy in parts of the Far East. The meat is used in Chinese medicine too as it has twice as much carnitine as other chicken meat. Carnitine has anti-aging properties apparently.

Adam’s Birthday Today – Miss Him

“If you want your life to be a magnificent story, then begin by realising that you are the author and everyday you have the opportunity to write a new page” — Mark Houlahan

Today would have been Adam’s birthday. Had he lived he would have been 44 today. My heart is heavy and my mind still trying to make sense of what has happened. He has been gone from our lives for over two years. His life, though too short, was after all, a magnificent story. He has left us all with amazing memories for which I am grateful. He was a very positive person so I try always to think, what would Adam do, when I am faced with a decision to make. Love you forever my lovely boy.

 

 

Roast Marinated Topside of Beef

After Christmas I picked up a bargain joint of beef from Lidl and it has been sitting in the freezer until now. It’s Sean’s birthday on Monday and I thought they may just visit on Sunday so I have put the beef to marinate ready to cook a roast.

A marinade is a mixture of acid, oil, herb and spice. It’s designed to impart flavor and tenderise meat. There is an endless list of combinations that can be the difference between dry meat and a succulent meat.

The acid – Vinegar, acidic fruit juices like lemon or wine are the acidic components in the marinade that tenderise meats. They also play an important part in imparting flavor. An example of a high acid wine is Champagne or a zesty white wine. Use low acid marinades when marinating overnight. Go with a low acid wine. Too much time on acid can turn the meat from tender to mushy.

The fat – Apart from extra virgin olive oil and butter, there many other kinds of oils to consider such as sesame oil, peanut oil, grapeseed oil, etc. Each type of oil has a different flavor and smoke point which is something you’ll want to consider.

Herbs – The herbs and aromatic vegetables will impart the floral, vegetal, earthy and even fruity characteristics into your meat. Zest is the shaved skin of an orange, lemon or lime and an excellent way to add flavours.

The spice – Spices add heat and aromas and enhance flavours. Salt and pepper will always be your base but there are many other choices to throw into the mix. Many components in spices such as capsaicin in pepper and  vanilla are more soluble in fat or alcohol than in water. Since meat is up to 75% water using oil and alcohol in your marinades helps to better dissolve the spices and integrate them into the meat.

  • Acid – 1 cup wine
  • Fat – ½ cup oil
  • Herbs – 1 tablespoon
  • Spice – 2 tablespoons of salt

Your acid plus your oil should be enough to immerse the meat easily in a sealed container. It depends on how big the meat is but you want the final result to equal about 1 cup with half as much oil as acid. If you are planning on adding vinegar, lemon juice or Worcestershire sauce as well, you will only need ¼ of a cup. With something more pungent like Dijon mustard or overly-sweet like honey, then only 2 tablespoons are required. Whisk the acid, oil, dry herbs and spices in a  glass bowl until well integrated and the salt is fully dissolved. Gently add the fresh herbs last. If you need to increase volume to completely submerge your meat add it in the wine. Leave to marinate from 2 hours to overnight depending on the size of the meat.

When ready to roast allow the meat to approach room temperature. Whatever your method of preparation, the meat should now be thoroughly tenderised and well-flavored. I melt a little beef dripping in my meat dish and then add a chopped onion, celery, parsnips and carrot into the tin placing the beef on top. Spread mustard over the meat, I use the cheap Sainsbury’s basic for this job, then cover the whole tin with foil sealing the edges. Cook for and hour per kilogram. Today my joint is 2.5kg so I am cooking at 180 for 90 minutes before getting it out and basting before replacing in the oven to brown.

I shall serve with green vegetables, roast potatoes, boiled potatoes and mash.  The gravy is amazing made with the juices from the meat dish.

 

Look Up Stretch Up – 2018

I am a great believer in the benefits of Hatha Yoga and having had to have a break from it during the time I was looking after Adam I was eager to get started again. However, it was a good twelve months after he passed away before I felt strong enough to go back to my class. I knew it would take time to get back to fitness, especially at my age, but was determined to try. Now my teacher and the rest of my class mates are, to be polite, quite mature ladies. After a few weeks of puffing and panting and trying to get back to a semblance of fitness my teacher became ill. She had been battling cancer in my absence and had a relapse. At 80 years old she is still a strong woman but classes have been suspended for the foreseeable future. I am on my own. I know what I have to do but haven’t been doing it. On top of this my winter belly is stopping me from touching my toes and cutting my toenails. Drastic action is required. Advice from those who know is to practice little and often and to have a sequence or a plan in mind before you start. Quiet time, space and comfortable clothes are essential. I found the header image online so I hope the lady doesn’t mind.

Kalms – Herbal Medicine for PTSD and Insomnnia

Life, for the majority of us, is littered with tragedies and mine is no exception. Like most I have tried to count my blessings and carry on. However I have been persuaded  to get some help in the form of Kalms. Update – One month on and I have to say that the Kalms have definitely helped me to get some undisturbed sleep. I only take one at bedtime and as if by magic the flashbacks seem to be much less and some nights not there at all.
  • Kalms is a traditional herbal medicinal product used for the  relief of symptoms of stress, mild anxiety,  irritability and sleep disturbances.
  • Kalms Lavender One-A-Day Capsules is a traditional herbal medicine used for the temporary relief of  mild anxiety, stress and nervousness.
  • Kalms Night and Kalms  One-a-Night are traditional herbal medicinal products used for the temporary relief of sleep disturbances.
All contain Valerian Root, Gentian and Hops.

Valerian

Valerian is a perennial flowering plant, with heads of sweetly scented pink or white flowers that bloom in the summer. Its flower extracts were used as a perfume in the 16th century. Valerian has soothing, calming properties which counteracts anxiety and has been used traditionally to promote sleep. Valerian, also known as Valeriana officinalis, is a flowering plant native to Europe and Asia. The root of the plant has long been used in herbal medicine for a variety of conditions such as sleeping difficulties, digestive complaints, anxiety and headaches.

Gentian

Gentian, one of the bitter herbs, has been used by herbalists for over two thousand years to help stimulate liver function. It was named as a tribute to Gentius, an Illyrian king who was believed to have discovered that the herb had healing properties. Gentian root herb comes from the yellow gentian plant, Gentiana lutea. This European native produces wrinkled, light to dark brown roots commonly used to make health supplements.

Hop

The hop first attracted attention as a medicinal herb in early Egypt.  It was later used in Europe to treat liver disease and general digestive complaints. Hops have a long history of use in folk medicine where they have been used to treat a variety of complaints. For example, hops are thought to have a sedative action and have been traditionally used in hop pillows for the relief of insomnia. Also, hops have been used as herbal antibiotics and were incorporated into wound salves and anti-inflammatory compresses. Hops also have a long-standing reputation for their ability to affect women’s hormonal balance, being used in hop baths to treat menstrual disturbances. The list continues, with hops being reputed to alleviate migraines, earache, bed-wetting, leprosy, travel sickness, digestive problems, kidney stones and coughing. With so many cures ascribed to one plant, it is easy to see how many viewed them as old wives tales. However, over the last few years there has been a major change in attitudes. New technologies have been developed which allow the rapid and relatively inexpensive testing of chemicals both synthetic and natural as cures for chronic diseases. As a result, pharmaceutical researchers have taken an increased interest in herbal remedies in their hunt for new medicines.

Saucepan Boiled Fruit Cake

This recipe used to be a family favourite when the kids were all young. It’s a soft, moist fruit cake that can easily be adapted to become a celebration cake with the addition of treacle, alcohol, cherries etc. Another plus is that it does keep well if wrapped in foil or cling film.  I have the inclination to give it a go again.

Ingredients:

  • 12oz of dried fruit
  • 4oz margarine or butter
  • 1/4 pint of water
  • 4oz caster, granulated or brown sugar
  • 8oz self raising flour
  • tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp mixed spice if you like it

Method:

Add the water, sugar, fruit and fat to a saucepan and bring to the boil stirring to keep from sticking. As soon as the mixture reaches boiling point turn down to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. At this point the mixture will be evenly mixed and the fruit plump and juicy. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Stir occasionally to stop skin forming on top or cover with cling film or greaseproof paper. When cool gradually add the beaten eggs, flour and baking powder, folding in and making sure the ingredients are evenly distributed. Bake in the centre of the oven for about an hour and a half. It does help to line the cake tin with greaseproof paper or as I do, wipe the tin round with margarine and shake flour so that the inside is coated evenly. At this point you could sprinkle with granulated sugar, decorate with almond slices or put a few candied peel slices on top. This cake also takes well to decorating with icing. All in all, a good all round stand by. My sort of cake.