Sunday, 31 May 2009

Fairy Garden

Yesterday we went to Pleasure Gardens, one of the events in the South Norfolk festival of Arts. It was set in Rainthorpe Hall in the stunning Tas valley. It was amazing. Rainthorpe Hall is a beautiful tudor mansion and for one sunny afternoon we were allowed to run amok in the grounds and take part in some truly magical kids' events.

Strolling minstrels played medieval instruments all afternoon, a giant Venus flytrap chased a human fly all over the formal lawns, we made a boat from sticks and string and raced it on the River (we won!) But the best bits were the craft sessions runs by The Fairyland Trust Willow and Xanthe made Fairy gardens planted with flowers specially selected to please the little folk (photo above) and we went into a secluded woodland glade where we made fairy houses out of sticks and ferns.

Inspired by our experience I've spent today turning one of our shady borders into a Fairy Garden for the girls. This side of our garden is north facing and in constant deep shade. Hardly anything will grow there so most of it has been given over to the chicken coop. One small segment (130cm x 70cm) remains which is full of ivy, ferns, cowslips, mint and wild garlic. I've made some space for the Fairy Gardens we made yesterday and added a few other props. I'm thrilled with it, I get the impression Willow kind of likes it but seems more interested in a bucket of woodlice she collected when Adam dug over our wild front garden.

Here are a few photos of our new Fairy Garden - you won't get distracted by any woodlice will you?

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Finished Cordial

Here's our finished elderflower cordial. Willow loves it, Xanthe declared it "Horrible", oh well, you can't win 'em all!

Friday, 29 May 2009


Last year we made loads of fruit liqueurs in the Autumn. Willow quite rightly pointed out that we'd neglected to make any nice drinks for the underage half of the household, I promised her that this year we'd put that right, so today, Willow, Xanthe and I made elderflower cordial (don't tell Willow it also tastes nice with gin!)

The conditions were perfect, hot, dry and still. For a common plant, elder is surprisingly sparse around our house, I'm only aware of 3 in the vicinity, one in our front hedge and 2 down the bridleway opposite. We stripped the one in the garden (12 heads) and set off down the bridleway. Elder no 2 only had 6 or 7 heads in full flower so we made our way down to the 3rd one.

As I looked up ahead I saw a small muntjac deer cross the footpath. Muntjacs aren't as impressive as the larger red deer, they're about the size of a large dog, don't have antlers and some churlish people complain they're ugly. However, I can't shake my urban upbringing and am always wildly impressed by seeing any type of deer so I grasped the opportunity to make some idyllic childhood memories for my children.

I hissed at the kids "There's a deer!! A DEER!!!!", dropped my bag of flowers, picked up Xanthe, grabbed Willow's elbow and started trotting down the path. "Where Mum? Where?" Bellowed Willow at top volume "SHHHH!!!!! There he is, there, going across the field!"
"I can't see, can't SEEEEEE" So, ignoring squeals about nettles, I pushed Willow through the long grass at the side of the path so we could get through to the edge of the field and get a clear view of the little deer.

Just at the moment Willow burst into tears at being nettled the muntjac plunged through the hedgerow into the cemetery next to the field so neither child got to see him. With great restraint I didn't swear and used the opportunity to teach Willow to identify dock leaves. Let's hope Willow fondly recalls the idyllic sunny spring day of 2009 when Mum pushed her into a bed of nettles. Sigh.

Elderflower Cordial

25 - 30 elderflower heads
1.8 k sugar
1 litre water
2 lemons (or 1 lemon and 1 orange)
75g citric/tartric acid

Make a sugar syrup by heating the water and adding the sugar, stir until dissolved. Put in a bowl, add the zest from the lemons. Slice the lemons and add them too. Cut the stalks off the flowers (and shake off any creepy crawlies) and add them and the citric acid. Leave to steep for 24hrs (don't worry, it's supposed to smell like cat pee at this stage!) Strain through a muslin and keep in the fridge, can also be frozen.

Last year we also made elderflower gin (I didn't like it but Dad did) and elderflower champagne. If I find time later I'll post those recipes too.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Strawberry breakfast.

Much excitement in our house today, Willow ran screaming into the garden at 6am yelling "We've got a red strawberry!!!" (yes we are popular with the neighbours, thanks for asking) Sure enough I found 2 tiny, perfectly ripe, alpine strawberries in our hanging basket. The girls snaffled one each in double quick time. Poor old Mum didn't get any though (sniff)

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

P.I.T.A Chooks

We have 2 chickens, Feathers and Digby or to give them their full names Feathers McGraw and Sir Digby Chicken Cesear. We usually get 2 eggs per day, Adam brought the first one in early this morning, I went out mid morning to check for the 2nd and -disaster - it was smashed.

We've had problems with thinish shelled eggs recently and have had a few eggs with small cracks and this is the second which has been completely broken. It's a problem not only because we lose an egg but apparently if a hen decides to eat a broken egg she may get the taste for it and begin smashing her eggs on purpose.

My current best guess is that this is being caused by the feed. It supposedly contains all the calcium the hens need to make nice strong egg shells. Last time I bought a different, cheaper, brand of food and the shell problems began shortly after. We've now stocked up on our usual brand again so fingers crossed that's the end of the matter.

We really enjoy keeping our chooks and especially appreciate our supply of fresh, free range eggs but, dear God they can be a pain the bum! Keeping chickens in a small space and growing veg at the same is quite a challenge. All our veggies are imprisoned behind chicken proof fences or are grown in hanging baskets, up out of their reach.

The chickens refuse to accept this status quo and are continually pushing the boundaries, poking their heads through 'chicken proof' fences, jumping up on garden furniture to raid hanging baskets and - Adam's bete noir - scratching dust baths in the lawn. The grass is currently festooned with a variety of milk crates, flower pots and childrens toys to keep them off the vulnerable spots. I'm not even going to start on the poo and beaks capable of drawing blood from a 2 year old's finger ......

Monday, 25 May 2009

I heart Lollo Rosso

We went to the car boot sale at Banham Zoo yesterday, we were staggered to discover they now charge an entrance fee! The site looks like Guantanamo Bay with 6' fences and guards on the exits (Willow asked if they would make us pay again to leave!). It's only 50p per adult but seeing as the overall spend at a car boot is quite low that's a substantial percentage. There are signs up claiming it's for 'site maintenance' but isn't that what the stallholder fees are for?

Adam is stubbornly refusing to go EVER AGAIN!!! But have to admit I'm tempted by the Thursday morning sale during half term .....

Anyhoo, I picked up a tray of lollo rosso seedlings, about 16 for £1.50. I grew these last year and they were a great success giving us all the salad we needed over the summer. Slugs and snails seems to leave them alone probably due to their slightly bitter taste, so I'm trying again this year. 16 plants is really too many for us, I ran out of containers so they're jammed in between the garlic and I even have a couple of stragglers on the playroom windowsill (see photo)

I also got a couple of strawberry plants for £1 each, a variety called Loran which are supposed to fruit for longer. We shall see. I am woefully inadequate at growing strawberries. Last year the fruit were all nabbed either by the chickens on a netting breaking raid or by Xanthe who pulled them off and ate them when they were still green. This year they're up in hanging baskets away from sharp beaks and tiny fingers but now I have all the wild birds to worry about.

First forage of the season

This time of year makes my soul sing, it's lovely to feel the sun on my back again and I'm quite giddy with the tantalising promise of free dinners to come. The hedgerows can't offer anything too substantial just yet but there are fresh greens in abundance.

This year I've tried the amusingly named Jack by the Hedge for the first time. In the absence of a local supply of wild garlic I was intrigued by the reported garlicky tang of this wild herb which dominates the hedgerows locally. A tentative nibble by the roadside was not encouraging, it was bitter in the extreme. Being a determined type I tried again, this time smaller leaves from a different location and they were much more pleasant. Strong tasting, hot and peppery. More akin to mustard than garlic in my humble opinion.

We discovered thick clumps of it growing in the cemetery which is ideal as it's a nice safe place for the children to help with the picking. We collected a generous pile of leaves, back home I chopped them finely and added white wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar (like making mint sauce) hand chopping is more effective than using a food processor as the herb is chopped smaller. Next time I'm going to try pounding it in a pestle and mortar to see if I can get a smoother texture.

The resulting sauce is lovely, verdant and refreshing and goes very well with chicken and fish and not overpoweringly strong.

And guess what I found growing in our neglected, half wild front garden yesterday? A single stalk of Jack by the Hedge!

The very first post!

Welcome to my brand new blog! This web diary is all about my efforts at foraging wild food from the lanes around our house and the veggies I manage to grow in our tiny yard outside. We don't have much space but manage to grow peas, broad beans, borlotti beans, strawberries, salad, herbs, jerusalem artichokes, carrots, courgettes, tomatoes and swiss chard. And we somehow squeeze in two chickens as well.

We are hoping to get an allotment this year. I think it's common knowledge that there's a shortage of allotments at the moment. It's suddenly become hugely fashionable to grow your own (Adam and I went on an Open Gardens tour last week, every single garden had a veggie patch) so demand for allotments has shot up and most councils now have extensive waiting lists, some lasting years.

I e-mailed my local parish council (Roydon) to ask to go on their waiting list, thinking that I'd get an allotment in a year or two and this would fit in with Xanthe (our youngest daughter) starting school and I'd have more time for an allotment. They told me that the next village along, Bressingham, had purchased some land which it was turning into allotments and they'd agreed to make some available to Roydon residents. I've been in touch with Bressingham Parish Clerk who thinks I should be able to have an allotment in the Autumn - I can't quite believe my luck!

The downside is the site is 2.5 miles away from home, only a 5 min drive but not doing much for my food miles. However, it's a beautiful site, on the edge of a pretty village, bordering open countryside with amazing views. I'm trying not to get too excited as nothing is signed and sealed and, as they say, there's many a slip twixt cup and lip but watch this space!