Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Feeding mash to the hens

Our hens like boiled cabbage mixed in with oats or oatmeal. The UK government bans the use of kitchen waste as a food for chickens so we use leaves from the allotment instead. It's a good way of using up the larger, tougher cabbage and sprout leaves the chickens turn their beaks up at if given raw. They do however like fresh smaller green leaves, especially cauliflower and kale.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Tackling varroa mite

Varroa mite has been a concern to beekeepers for some years now. I don't think our hives are affected but we weren't taking any risks. We applied oxalic acid to help counteract any possible infestation on Sunday. We injected it between the frames, where the bees were concentrated.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Feeding fondant to the bees

The time for feeding sugar syrup to our bees was over. It was the end of November and we switched to feeding them something stronger to get them through the winter. Fondant is a cake icing but we put a block of it on top of the frames inside the hives as close to where the bees huddle together as possible.

How to make spiced apple jelly

We have quite a store of apples which we picked in August and we are gradually using them up. Recently we have made sweet mince which contains apple and as as result we had a supply of apple cores and peel which needed to be put to good use. Normally, I use them to make jelly. It was no different this time but I decided to add some spice to it. After all, Christmas is approaching.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Bacon and egg pie

egg and bacon pie Dec 11 3

Admittedly this is not entirely a self-sufficient meal. We had to buy in the bacon, flour and margarine (to make the pastry). The other ingredient we produced ourselves: eggs, potatoes, peas. I made two of these pies last night, using three eggs per pie. Given that we are getting three eggs a day from our girls, we barely scratched the surface of our growing egg mountain.

The recipe is: line a pie dish with short crust pastry, put in a layer of potatoes and peas (both ready cooked) and then a layer of bacon. If you want to be really sophisticated, mix these ingredients together before adding to the dish but my view is that life is too short to indulge in such activities. Then pour in 3 beaten eggs and cover with a pastry lid. Put into the oven at 180C for 35 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

We had ours with some of our pickles, including some gorgeous pickled onions I made a few weeks ago.

We liked this so much we are having it again for dinner tonight.

pie and pickles Dec 11

Finding alternatives: fat

pheasant fat Dec 11

Becoming self-sufficient means finding alternatives to basics we would otherwise buy in the supermarket. Honey can, in some circumstances, replace sugar, hence the reason for our purchase of three hives. We have replaced some flour in our diet with potatoes, though we still use some commercially purchased flour. Fats were always going to be a problem. I have, however, stumbled on a source.

I hasten to add, this is not a large source. We swapped some jam for pheasants recently. I cut off the breast meat and then boiled the remaining carcass. The pan was left to stand to cool and I discovered a useful layer of fat on the surface which I scooped off (see photo above). It will be sufficient for roasting the vegetables for the forthcoming Christmas dinner.

Whilst this is only a small quantity, it is likely that we will get more from the ducks we have in our freezer.

Cabbage and mash - for the hens

hens feeding on mash Dec 11 1

Our hens like their greens! The neighbouring allotment holders leave bags of various greens for us that they have rejected for human consumption. Our hens cheerfully chomp their way through them. There are however some leaves which they find a bit tough, typically large cabbage and sprout leaves. We have discovered that the hens will eat them chopped. We make a mash with oatmeal and then add in the chopped green leaves.

Come the spring, we will be feeding them on grass, dandelions and clover which we found, during the mild autumn growing in abundance near the allotment. This is a free source of food. All we have to do is pick it for them and put it into the chicken run. They will kindly convert these greens into protein for us.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Bee keeping at Bill Quay Community Farm

Bill Quay in Gateshead has a community farm where we help look after the bees on a voluntary basis. There are three hives on the farm and today we went up to give them oxalic acid. This is to keep the varroa mite at bay. Bee colonies have been hit heavily by this parasite in recent years so keeping a vigil against it is important.

Oxalic acid comes mixed into a sugar solution and is dripped into the hive between the frames onto the bees. It turned out to be a much easier task than we anticipated. (This is the first time we have applied it.) Tomorrow we do our own hives.

It strikes me that honey production is something that local communities could do. Here in the UK, we import large amounts of honey. There is clearly a demand for it and it is a healthy addition to the diet. Each community is capable of supporting bee keeping and honey production of some sort. All communities, even urban ones, need bees and other pollinating insect or otherwise our gardens will wither and die. Instead of importing honey from the other side of the planet, knocking up vast food miles in the process, we could produce much more of it in the localities where we live. 200 years ago, when much more of Britain's food was locally produced, hives and honey production was a common sight just about everywhere. Not everything we did in the past needs to be discarded.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Preparations for a self-sufficient Christmas feast

I am currently sorting out what we are having for our Xmas dinner. Turkey is off the menu as the meal needs to be predominantly made from our own food sources. Instead, we are having fillets of pheasant and wood pigeon with roast potatoes, roasted Jerusalem artichokes, sage and onion stuffing and broad beans. Starter will be pea and nettle soup. I am making the stock for it now from a pheasant (the same pheasant that has provided the fillets). Desert will be baked apples stuffed with our own sweet mince. I have quite a stash of hazel nuts so I may roast some of them. I'm also thinking of doing a game pie though that's not for Christmas day.

Meanwhile, it is snowing outside. I need to check on the hens shortly and see how they are coping with the weather. They are all young so have not experienced snow before. I'm making some mash for them at the moment and will take that over shortly.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Eggs and jam as an alternative currency

Were the pound to go down in a spectacular burst of flames as a result of an imploding Euro (okay, it's a worst case scenario I admit) it seems as though I have the alternative currency: eggs and jam. I suspect I will be able to add to that list preserves of any kind you can think of and honey. In trying to become self-sufficient, we have realised that there needs to be some degree of trade with other gardeners and allotment holders. We probably won't be able to produce everything we need ourselves, but other locals are producing some of the foods we ourselves haven't grown.

I am an avid preserve maker and I have found there is a ready market for jars of jam, jelly and pickles which can be swapped for cabbages, leeks, sprouts and game. With my hens now laying, eggs as well are great for swapping.

So in recent weeks we have swapped jam, lemon curd and eggs for pheasants and various vegetables. Today one jar of jam and one of marrow chutney got me a bag of vegetables grown on one of the neighbouring allotments.

Next year should be even more interesting. We will be harvesting honey. And plenty of people we know are eager to get their hands on a pot of it.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia - October 2011

This is the latest edition of the programme I present for the Horticultural Channel. It covers October. This year we have had a mild autumn and this has had an impact on our crops and especially the bees. I make a number of jams and chutneys, pickle onions and make flans using the unexpected supply of new nettle leaves and eggs from our own hens.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The ups and downs of hen keeping

Yesterday was a day for which we had been waiting for some time. Another of our hens started laying. We think the egg comes from our coral nick - we call her Snow White. Her egg was much lighter in colour, a light beige colour. Our other two hens that are laying produce brown eggs.

Alas, this morning, the news was not so good. We have just experienced our first loss. One of the hens, Gingie, the Columbian blacktail, died. I found her not looking at all happy in the henhouse when I opened it this morning. I brought her back home but she died an hour later. It's odd how attached I have become to each of our 6 hens. Today has therefore not been a happy experience.

I buried her next to the plum tree on the allotment. To cap it all, I managed to smash the one egg that was laid this morning when I cleaned out the henhouse.

Friday, 9 December 2011

How to make gooseberry chutney

We had some gooseberries in the freezer but not enough to make the quantity of gooseberry chutney we wanted, so we added marrow and apple to it. The recipe was sent to me by Ben Woodcock whose site is He picked up the recipe from So thanks to Ben for drawing my attention to this recipe. It is simple and easy to make and makes a great chutney.

How to make apple pasties

We have a number of sacks of apples in storage for the coming months. They need to be checked regularly to ensure any that won't survive storage are used up. In this video I use some of the apples to make pasties.