The Good Life

All Chitted!

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

My early variety of potatoes have been chitting in my conservatory now for about 8 weeks.  I was caught out by a hungry mouse in the shed last year, so this time I chose to do my chitting nearer the house!  The shoots were plentiful and just about the right size, so because the weather and the soil has become so warm this week, I have taken the plunge and planted my chitted seed potatoes.  We added compost to the vegetable patch a couple of months ago, and the worms have kindly processed it for me.  I dug three trenches and then sprinked in some Organic Wormcast Fertilizer into the bottom of the trenches before popping in the seed potatoes  This should give them a bit of nourishment to help them start off.   Next job is to plant some spring onion seeds ….

Light at the End of the Tunnel!

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

I can see and feel the first signs of Spring!  My husband always comments after the shortest day in December that we are over the worst, Summer is on the way and the days will be getting longer, and yesterday I saw this with my own eyes.  My beautiful snow drops are in bloom, bulbs are starting to send out green shoots which probably means weeds will start growing again too!

Sadly, during the extreme cold snap we lost one of our chickens, Siennna (Miller), due to a very nasty illness which luckily didn’t spread to the other four chooks.  Egg production has been greatly reduced for the last 6 weeks, and I have had to buy eggs from time to time from the local farm-shop.  When chickens moult and also when it is so very cold, the chooks have to preserve themselves to keep warm, and grow new feathers, so their body very cleverly stops manufacturing eggs …  nature never fails to amaze me.  Anyway, on Friday I phoned up my chicken man, to check if he had any chooks available, and fortunately he did.  So I popped over to his farm with an empty Ocado crate and collected two new birds …  Versace and Mildred!  Mildred is very similar in colouring to Matilda, so seems to have been accepted by the others readily, however they have taken a dislike to poor Versace and are pecking her and bullying her, but I have been assured that this is quite normal, and this is where the term ‘Pecking Order’ comes from.

My vegetable patch is looking a bit sad at the moment, with just a few leeks and parsnips left to harvest.  My red chard suffered from it’s covering of snow for about 3 weeks, so it is nearly time to plough up the soil and add some manure in preparation for this years crops.

We continue to feed the birds with high energy bird nuts daily.  However, I am struggling to feed my own family at the moment thanks to a shortage of LPG Gas in Southern England, and the backlog of deliveries due to snow.  I have turned off my Aga and will probably have to turn off the heating by the end of the week if my delivery is not made …  oh how I wish I lived with mains gas!  So today I am not inspired to cook and hopefully will add a recipe next time.

Winter warmer

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Like many people at the moment, I am suffering from my first cold (flu if I was a man!) of the Winter.  I was ordering some provisions from my milkman’s website last night and noticed that New Covent Garden Leek and Potato Soup is half price at the moment, and thought that’s just what I needed to warm me up .. however, when he delivered this morning, due to popular demand the soup was out of stock.  So I thought to  myself .. I have plenty of stock!  Lovely Leeks growing in my vegetable patch, homegrown potatoes and onions in hessian sacks in my store cupboard, bay leaves drying above the Aga and a recipe in my head!  So whilst writing this, my soup is simmering away nicely, ready to be processed when I have finished this.  The recipe I used is based on a couple I have used before and goes like this:


4 Leeks sliced and washed

2 Medium Potatoes peeled and cubed

1 Large Onion chopped

1 Bay leaf

1 litre of Chicken Stock

1/4 litre of Milk

Glug of Olive Oil and large knob of butter



Prepare the vegetables, and then melt the butter and oil in a large saucepan.  Add the chopped vegetables to the pan, coat with the buttery mixture, season, add a bay leaf, and then pop the lid on the pan, and let the vegetables sweat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Then add the stock and milk, add some more seasoning, and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes.  When vegetables are tender, blitz until smooth, taste and re-season if necessary. Serve when needed!

I have to confess that I haven’t even cleared a fallen leaf this week on account of feeling under the weather, but that hasn’t stopped me from delegating this endless task to the man of the house!


Monday, November 15th, 2010

I know it is the middle of November, and I have tried to remain in denial, but you can’t get away from the fact that Christmas Day is less than 6 weeks away!  Although I haven’t started shopping yet, I have started some pre-Christmas cooking and made my mincemeat using the last of my homegrown Bramley cooking apples.  This is the recipe I used, and the smell of the mingling fruit and spices did give me my first festive buzz of the season!



8 0z  Cooking Apples, cored and chopped up small

4 0z Shredded Suet

6 0z Raisins

4 0z Sultanas

4 oz Currants

4 oz Mixed Peel

Grated zest and juice of  a Lemon

Grated zest and juice of an Orange

1 oz blanched Almond flakes

2 teaspoons mixed ground spice

1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Freshly grated nutmeg

3 tablespoons Brandy


All you do is combine all the ingredients, except for the brandy, in a large mixing bowl, stirring them and mixing them together very thoroughly indeed. Then cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave the mixture in a cool place overnight or for 12 hours, so the flavours have a chance to mingle and develop. After that pre-heat the oven to gas mark ¼, 225°F (120°C). Cover the bowl loosely with foil and place it in the oven for 3 hours, then remove the bowl from the oven. Don’t worry about the appearance of the mincemeat, which will look positively swimming in fat. This is how it should look. As it cools, stir it from time to time; the fat will coagulate and, instead of it being in tiny shreds, it will encase all the other ingredients.

When the mincemeat is quite cold, stir well again, adding the brandy. Pack in jars that have been sterilised. When filled, cover with waxed discs and seal. The mincemeat will keep for ages in a cool, dark cupboard but I think it is best eaten within a year of making

My main job in the garden at the moment is clearing up leaves still!  It has been so windy these last few days, that just when I think the garden is looking leaf free, I wake up, open the curtains, and there is another covering requiring my services.  I need to go out and cut down some of the now dead and wilted foilage that is beyond it’s best, but the days are getting shorter and there never seems enough time.

Multi-tasking in the Garden and Kitchen!

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

On seeing the weather forecast for this week, I decided to make the most of the sunny day yesterday and did some jobs in the garden. It may be a little early but I pruned my Autumn fruiting raspberries  ..  they had all but finished fruiting and it is a job that I like doing, because of the job satisfaction provided with the end results.  Note to self .. get some well rotted manure from our neighbours to mulch and provide nutrients to the soil! 

I have made an attractive Halloween display in my house, putting all my homegrown pumpkins in a rustic basket, saving the largest to be carved before the weekend.  This proved cheaper than a bunch of flowers, and is far more current!  I also used one of my butternut squashes that was being stored in a hessian sack   and made some delicious Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup  …  recipe below:

Butternut squash and sweet potato soup recipe


  • 25g butter
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cubed
  • 800g sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1.5 litres vegetable stock
  • 150ml whole milk
  • Handful of chopped Parsley or Coriander (optional)

1. Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the onion and cook over a low heat for 5-6 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally.

2. Add the garlic, squash and sweet potatoes. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, removing the lid and stirring occasionally.

3. Pour the stock into the pan and bring to the boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the milk. Blitz with a stick blender or cool for around an hour then transfer to a liquidiser and blend until smooth.

4.Return to the pan and reheat just before serving. Adjust the seasoning to taste and ladle into warmed bowls.

I noticed that my Bird Bistro needed refilling so, I quickly popped a refill on, before moving on to the next job. Just before darkness fell, I collected some eggs from the nesting box, and encouraged the chikens to go to bed (with a handful of corn) because there is evidence of a visiting fox in the paddock where the hens roam.  One last visit to the vegetable patch to grab a handful of red chard, and a couple of leeks for the stir-fry, and I would say jobs well done today!

Autumn Harvest

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

I love this time of year watching the autumn colours develop in the garden, and also on the occasional day feeling the last rays of heat from the fading sun.  My garden is looking quite healthy at the moment thanks to the regular supply of rain, and the grass is probably looking better than it has all Summer, possibly due to its recent helping of Organic Lawn Feed which has  added beneficial micro-organisms to the lawn that invigorate grass.

My Rhubarb is coming to an end, and I had heard that you shouldn’t harvest rhubarb after August because it is poisonous, although after doing some online research I am beginning to suspect that this could be an old wives tale?  Anyway, fortunate for me, I had some early rhubarb stashed in the freezer, and on the basis my family prefer apple and blackberry crumble at the moment, I decided to make rhubarb and date chutney and this is the recipe I used …. 

  • 50g fresh root ginger , grated
  • 300ml red wine vinegar
  • 500g eating apples , peeled and finely chopped
  • 200g pitted dates, chopped
  • 200g dried cranberries or raisins
  • 1 tbsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 400g light muscovado sugar
  • 700g rhubarb , sliced into 2cm chunks
  • 500g red onions


  1. Put the onions in a large pan with the ginger and vinegar. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 mins. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the rhubarb, plus 2 tsp salt to the pan and bring to the boil, stirring. Simmer, uncovered, for about 10 mins until the apples are tender.
  2. Stir in the rhubarb and cook, uncovered, until the chutney is thick and jammy, about 15-20 mins. Leave the chutney to sit for about 10-15 mins, then spoon into warm, clean jars, and seal. Label the jars when cool. Keep for at least a month before eating.


I had a taste before it got sealed away in the jars, and it is delicious  …  have given some away, but I must save some for us!

Earlier this week I harvested my pumpkins, and have put them in a hessian sack and hung them up in my potting shed to ensure the mice can’t get them before Halloween!  I also picked all the pears, which will not ripen on the trees, and I am now searching for recipes to use them when they have started to ripen.

On Sunday we had the first batch of leeks from the vegetable patch with our roast pork, accompanied by my own grown roast potatoes and apple sauce .. my kids get fed up of me pointing out the organic nature of our meal but at least my husband acts suitably impressed!

I enjoyed watching Alan Titchmarsh interviewing Prince Charles at Highrove house last week.  The Highgrove estate has become synonymous with all things organic, and Alan finds out from Head Gardener Debs Goodenough and her team what inspired the beliefs of the most hands-on royal gardener in history.  Catch it on BBC iPlayer if you missed it but it was truly inspirational, but it will only be viewable for the next 5 days.

Anyway,  just off to make some scones to go with my homemade raspberry jam for my youngest daughter to eat when she returns from school  … I shall no doubt remind her about the organic nature of the jam!

Nocternal Vision!

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

I am happy to report that my trial of seed tapes was very successful with my carrot crop this year  …  I am harvesting the most wonderful carrots, which are straight and perfectly formed, and large and juicy!  I did feed them regularly with Ecocharlie Organic Fruit and Vegetable Feed I have been making delicious Carrot and Coriander Soup which I have to say is a hit with all three of my children, with the added bonus that I have told them it will help them see in the dark, and on the basis they are all teenagers, this could be positively advantageous to their nocturnal lifestyles! Recipe to follow …


  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 potato chopped
  • 450g carrots , peeled and chopped
  • 1.2l vegetable or chicken stock
  • handful coriander (about ½ a supermarket packet)
  • Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion, then fry for 5 mins until softened. Stir in the ground coriander and potato, then cook for 1 min. Add the carrots and stock, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat. Cover and cook for 20 mins until the carrots are tender.
  • Tip into food processor with the coriander. then blitz until smooth (you may need to do this in two batches). Return to pan, taste, add salt if necessary, then reheat to serve
  • My pumpkins seem to be doing very well, although I am not sure they will be as big as I had hoped for Halloween …  they are ripening, and I am going to get some straw to rest them on, so they won’t rot before I need them.  I can’t wait for my leeks to be ready, which will probably not be for another month or so  …  they are looking good and have really benefited from all the recent rain.

    I have just taken delivery of some new Jumbo Jute Gardening Hessian Sacks, just in time for the Autumn leaves, which have just begun to fall from the trees ….  an essential aid for filling up and then dragging to  my compost bin!

    The chickens have enjoyed the dry summer and are still producing regular supplies of eggs for my family and friends  … two of them seem to be losing feathers from their chests, so my next job is to catch them, turn them upside down and hold them my their feet and inspect them for lice or other nasty parasites  …  not my favourite job I have to say!

From one extreme to the other!

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Last time I was complaining about the frost scorching my pumpkin seedlings, and this time I am going to mention that the extremely hot sun this week has made my vegetable patch almost dessert like!  What I would really like now, and I am sure many other gardeners would agree, is some rain to hydrate my seedlings automatically!  Anyway,  earlier this week I served up a salad made from my homegrown lettuce and rocket with some spring onions that I planted from seed in the Autumn.  I thought I would  astonish my teenage daughters and their friends with my organic offerings, but sadly this generation are not easily impressed!  I still get enormous pleasure from growing my own fruit and vegetables and providing this nourishment for my family  …  I hope that when they are grown up they may be inspired too!

The weeds are sprouting at a great rate with these perfect growing conditions …  I have been hoeing regularly and although I have been taking great care around the seedlings, I have  reapplied some Slug and Snail Deterrent   around my lettuce plants to ensure there are no gaps allowing access to the slugs.  I have also applied the Slug and Snail Deterrent around the bases of my hostas that have, as if by magic, reappeared  in my tubs.

Now that the weather seems set to stay warm, I have been busy planting up some hanging baskets and tubs ….  my father-in-law very kindly shared with me some beautiful plants including Geraniums,  Bizzy Lizzie’s and Petunias that he has been nurturing in his greenhouses.  I am also experimenting with a hanging basket with tomatoes this year too, and have just given it the first feed of EcoCharlie Tomato Feed


And as for my hens ….  well they love this sunny weather, and have been laying consistently well …  in fact now is the time of year I make meringues and lemon curd with the left over egg yolks  ….   I have made one batch already, and will be making more this weekend.  This is the recipe I use for the Lemon Curd



Makes 2 small jam jars
zest and juice of 4 unwaxed lemons
200g sugar
100g butter
3 eggs and 1 egg yolk

Put the lemon zest and juice, the sugar and the butter, cut into cubes, into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the basin doesn’t touch the water. Stir with a whisk from time to time until the butter has melted.

Mix the eggs and egg yolk lightly with a fork, then stir into the lemon mixture. Let the curd cook, stirring regularly, for about 10 minutes, until it is thick and custard-like. It should feel heavy on the whisk.

Remove from the heat and stir occasionally as it cools. Pour into spotlessly clean jars and seal. It will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

I have been using the automatic plant watering system for my indoor conservatory houseplants, and my final job for today is to go and top up the bottles with water on the Aquadrip spikes ….

Poorly Pumpkins!

Thursday, May 13th, 2010


For the last three mornings I have woken up to a ground frost, and today I regret not taking better care of my newly planted pumpkin seedlings  …  they seem to have been doomed from the beginning .. first the mice dug up the seeds and ate them! And now Jack Frost has visited my vegetable patch and decided that the pumpkins are not to be, and has damaged them beyond repair.  Determined to not be beaten in the quest for homegrown pumpkins for Halloween,   I planted out a packet of seeds directly into the ground when I planted my seedlings, so I am hoping they will germinate when the soil warms up, and produce some heavyweight fruits!

On the chicken front, I have had a poorly hen too :(   Her tail feathers were looking a bit mucky, so I tried to bath her in a bucket of warm water, and then on closer examination, I found that she had louse eggs firmly cemented to the base of her feathers.  After seeking some advice from a fellow hen keeper, I have dusted all the girls with some Livestock Louse Powder and will check later in the week, to see if the problem is under control.  I love the ethos of  the EcoCharlie Garden, and would prefer to use environmentally sustainable products as much as possible, so I researched some methods for keeping chickens fit and healthy, and found that if you add Apple Cider Vinegar and garlic to their drinking water, it works not only as a poultry tonic but also to control intestinal worms and parasites.  My garlic is growing well at the moment so we soon be self sufficient, and I have found a local source the the vinegar  … it has to be live and non-pasturised and not the sort you buy from the supermarkets.



On a more positive front, my rhubarb is immense, and I have been picking it regularly for the last couple of weeks.  This will also encourage it to keep growing throughout the Summer months.  I usually simply roast the rhubarb in orange juice and zest, fresh and ground ginger and a sprinkling of brown sugar for about 15 minutes in the Aga.  the combination of flavours works so well, and the cooked rhubarb can either simply be eaten with a dollop of creme fraiche, or made into a crumble or fool, or used with any other recipe requiring cooked rhubarb.

My next job of the day, is to sow some Cat Clear as I have a continual challenge of the neighbours cats using my front flower bed as their toilet area!  Cat Clear is an Eco-Friendly solution to feline control in all sized gardens.  It works on two instinctive properties of the plants that are grown from seed – odour and texture.

Hopefully the next time I write, the frost should be gone for this part of the year, and I can continue to plant out some of the more succulent varieties of vegetables including some courgettes.

Cold Enough for Soup!

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

I can’t believe how cold it has become again …  I even woke up this morning to frost on the roof of my car!  But luckily it hasn’t seemed to settle as low as my lettuces, and new potato shoots that have been emerging from the ground during the last week.  3 years ago we planted some asparagus plants in our vegetable patch, and somehow we managed to lose 2 of the plants the second year but the remaining plant has this year done exactly what it said on the label … started to produce really respectable looking asparagus spears!  My home grown spears are too precious to use to make soup, however my local farm shop and all the major supermarkets have shelves bursting with asparagus at the moment, so this weekend I used the last of my homegrown leeks and some of my white onions, with the shop bought asparagus and made some really delicious soup bursting with nutrients, and this is the recipe I used:



  • 800g asparagus, woody ends removed
  • lug of olive oil
  • 2 medium white onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, trimmed and copped
  • 2 leeks, trimmed and chopped
  • 2 litres good-quality chicken or vegetable stock, if preferred
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Chop the tips off your asparagus and put these to one side for later. Roughly chop the asparagus stalks. Get a large, deep pan on the heat and add a good lug of olive oil. Gently fry the onions, celery and leeks for around 10 minutes, until soft and sweet, without colouring. Add the chopped asparagus stalks and stock and simmer for 20 minutes with a lid on. Remove from the heat and blitz with a hand-held blender or in a liquidizer. Season the soup with salt and pepper until just right. Put the soup back on the heat, stir in the asparagus tips, bring back to the boil and simmer for a few more minutes until the tips have softened.

We ate the soup hot, but if the weather was warmer this soup is equally tasty served chilled.

I have reason again to sprinkle EcoCharlie Natural Slug and Snail Deterrent in my vegetable patch.  Last year I vowed to never again buy a shop bought pumpkin for Halloween.   After a false start due to a mouse digging up the planted pumpkin seeds to eat, from the 4 little pots that were waiting to germinate in the potting shed, I was able to plant out the replacement seedlings that germinated in my conservatory!  I loaded the soil with some well roted compost, and once the plants were securely in the ground, I applied some Natural Slug and Snail Deterrent around each plant to save them from the next potential attack! 

I am happy to say that the seed strips that I have been experimenting with, have all germinated and I have perfectly straight lines of well spaced rocket, beetroot and carrots emerging.  Also the first of the rhubarb is now ready to harvest, so I feel sure there will be a recipe to follow next time.   Anyway, must be off now ….   it’s time to give the hens their afternoon treat of mixed corn!