Tuesday 30 December 2014

Life as been busy for us at home - I've been working longish hours and have had long journeys to work. Our young people continue to keep us busy- having four children very close together has often meant lots of attention needed all at the same time and I had in my foolishness thought that the times when they were young were going to be the hardest!! I had no idea what was in store for us.

Start of the 2014 preparations- onion and garlic bedLast year despite my best efforts, my trips down to the allotment were few and far between.
You've guessed right - one of the plans for this year is to spend more time down there. I really find it very therapeutic to be there - away from home, work and back to the simple things in life. Children, work, life will just have to wait - I need my 'Me ' time and the allotment so fills this need.
Over the Christmas holidays, hubby and I had planned to get to grips with the allotment and make it ours again as opposed to the wild wilderness it has become.
I'm rather ashamed at how bad it was!
 So over the last couple of days we have both been down digging sometimes together and sometimes separately and how lovely it was too. One of children asked recently what were we going to do when they had all left home- ' as you don't have a lot in common!'. Well how wrong they are - and we are trying hard to spend more time together - and the allotment is a great place to start! Just as long as we don't get like other allotment couples - some of which can be heard bickering away very loudly at times! 

This is my neighbours plot - we think he works overnight on it - it always looks good!We divide our work Mr H is in charge of structures layout and buildings and general up keep .We agree on what we are growing and I am responsible for sowing  and planting. It seems to work well for us !
 So lots of digging being done - the soil is lovely now after years of  applying manure and lots of digging. Even after all the rain we have had, it's an absolute delight - its dark, crumbly  and lovely .
When we first started it was full of stones, rocks and flints! It's just the weeds we need to keep on top off and that's an on going battle. Even after a couple of days digging things have improved so much. 

It was a very cold and frosty start yesterday!It was soo cold after yesterdays digging I was inspired to make some "new" wellie socks from old woollen jumpers destined for the charity shop ( sorry charity shop- I have sent you other things !!!) . There are lots of sites giving instructions and I had to look at them all for inspiration. Beware some sites offer instructions for leg warmers instead of socks! It was my toes that were cold not my legs!!
Tubular socks made from woollen jumper sleevesEventually I went for the tubular ski sock idea, using the sleeves and the ribbed cuff as the sock top. I tried the sleeve on inside out and pinned the garment so that it fitted around the leg, ankle, around the foot and toe area. I have made two pairs a shorter pair and a longer pair and  I am so hoping I don't have cold feet next time I go digging. I was on a roll and I had  previously thought about upcycling mittens  so whilst the jumper was there and the machine primed I also made these:

Mittens made from up-cycled woollen jumper sleevesSo hopefully no cold hands either!
 I am already starting to plan what I will grow and watching Nigel Slater on his new years day cooking programme ( I do enjoy watching his programmes ) he has further inspired me to get planning. So onto the Internet I go! I love looking for new seed packets  and  deciding what I will grow so that's what I'm up to  for the next few days ! I'm so glad to be back and have missed talking to you  and catching up with old friends! Looking forward to seeing what 2014 brings !!

Welcome back to Hen Corner! As featured in Country Living Magazine We hope that you’ve had a great Christmas and are now looking forward to the exciting journey that 2014 will bring. Readers who follow us on Twitter and Facebook will have seen some of the things we’ve been up to throughout the year but […]

Wednesday 16 April 2014

{forget-me-not flower floating amongst the Lemna} I have been pondering a section of the garden that is in need of a bit of a re-design. In order to create a plan, I had to consider what I really value in this … Continue reading →

Monday 14 April 2014

Thought I would start a weekly post on a piece of music I have been humming or listening to in the past week. It might be modern or very old, could be anything, I have a very catholic taste in music! This week I thought I would kick off with...

Friday 11th April After our day out at Kenilworth I felt quite industrious when I got home, so after tea I made a caraway seed cake. I use the recipe in this book, the Australian Women's Weekly, ISBN no is 978-0-7537-2209-1, if you are interested! I picked my copy up...

Sunday 13 April 2014

Friday April 11th We last visited Kenilworth Castle about 2 years ago. It was in June and the weather was awful, it was cold and rainy, and the place was overrun with unruly teenagers on a school trip. How different it was today. It was gloriously sunny, almost too warm...

Saturday 12 April 2014

Naughty me, I do not have any before photos for this refashion, oh well, use your imagination, please! My mum had a hideous long padded jacket thing, two sizes too big for her and just, well, a bit too jazzy for my liking. Coupled with the elasticated hemline and large...

Wednesday 09 April 2014

{baby lithops – 3 months old} Lithops (or Living Stones) are the most mesmerising plants ever… …and boy do they fly out of the Finca fast?! Adapted to mimic stones in their native South Africa, these plants have very few … Continue reading →

Tuesday 08 April 2014

So we managed to decide on a new (to us) car for Compostman - it is lovely, Compostman went and collected it yesterday afternoon and I have been ordered on pain of serious marital disharmony NOT to fill it with straw, compost bins etc... how long do you think it will stay pristine?

We have been married for 29 years so I am banking on a bit of mess not instigating Divorce papers.

We shall see.

New (ish) to us car is a BMW touring - lovely rear wheel drive again at last - both Compostman and I do not like front wheel drive cars - must be all those years of driving performance and racing cars! RWD does handle so much better :)

New car has very good fuel efficiency and low RFL as a result, nice interior with various luxuries such as mp3 etc - you can tell our cars are a bit old as we find this luxurious! Also it has lots and lots and lots of lovely space inside,  for  

 straw bales, tarpaulins, FS tool bags, compost bins, chicken food etc  

 bags of shopping and lots of really nice clean stuff. LOL.

 I had a surprise delivery today in the post - addressed to The Compost Bin ( I love it when that happens!) This time there was a postcode but sometimes I have had stuff get to me with just Compostwoman and Ledbury as the address :)
Anyway the parcel contained some Gardeners Hand Treats to review,  from Heathcote and Ivory.  A proper review will follow later in the week, but the products smell divine :) Lets just say my hands are lovely and soft and clean and sweet smelling, now ;)

Finally here is the view from the Study window for early April - blue sky  ( at last! ) as the pollution has finally gone away for now. The yellow is oil seed rape so more pollen loaded misery will come soon for me  :( Personally I loathe OSR - the pollen and then the horrible smell when it goes over, before harvesting . Ah well.

Monday 07 April 2014

As you know I often get asked to review items, sometimes gardening or chicken keeping equipment and sometimes books. Recently I was sent a press release for a new book by Phillipa Pearson, published by Dorling Kindersley called Small Space, Big Ideas.

The press release said the book would  provide inspiration and practical projects to get balconies, window-sills, porches, patios, roof gardens and even stairs and walls blooming. It also mentioned that the book had a crafty homemade approach to gardening 
I thought it sounded interesting so I agreed to have a copy to review.
When the book arrived I was really rather impressed with it - a substantial hard backed book with beautiful illustrations and a very comprehensive set of instructions accompanying each of the 40 gardening projects in the book.
This book does indeed have a very "crafty" feel to it - lots of the ideas would not look out of place in a craft magazine like Mollie Makes- but the the book is still very much oriented to growing and gardening. Both ornamental and edible plants are grown in the projects and there is an emphasis on being able to produce both food and beauty in even small gardens.

Although I have a large garden, you can see I have marked a lot of projects in this book which I want to try! I particularly liked the Colourful Salad Colander ( p32) - I first saw a similar idea at the Yeo Valley Organic Gardens cafe and I can vouch for how spectacular it can look.

The Saddlebag Balcony Planters (p 74) made from oilcloth and filled with plants to hang either side of a balcony are really great - I would be quite tempted to have some on my actual bicycle :)


The Portable Hanging Insect House (p 198) looks wonderful and would appeal to many a diy enthusiast as well as a gardener - and the finished product looks both effective and very stylish.

I really liked the Wildlife Hamper (p210)- insect attracting flowers growing in a basket  - I think this could make a wonderful gift if the basket were given as a kit with the seed packets in it. I did a similar thing last year to grow Celery, and it is still going strong in the polytunnel so I know this technique does work.

In fact I liked the whole book, I really enjoyed looking through it; there are some good ideas which I want to try and as an inspiration and source of ideas this book is really brilliant. 

Although not explicitly organic, I could see no use of chemicals (apart from paint and varnish) and lots of organic growing methods were mentioned, such as companion planting and attracting beneficial insects to the garden. Composting and maintaining a healthy ecological balance in the garden was also discussed and various methods outlined. The book has a useful section on how to grow and maintain plants, with general care and harvesting advice. It also has a very good contents list at the front and index at the back, along with a list of suppliers.

I do wonder if some of the containers could be obtained as easily as the book assumes (old zinc tubs are quite expensive and I don't often see them!) and I was a bit disappointed not to see more prominent mention of using peat free growing medium rather than just saying to buy multi purpose compost.

These are minor quibbles and this book would make an interesting and attractive addition to the bookshelves of a gardener and/or craft person or indeed to a beginner in either.

Small Space, Big IdeasAuthor: Philippa PearsonPublisher: DK Publication date: 1st March 2014£16.99

With thanks to Vivienne  at DK for sending me the books. More about the other book in another post :)

Sunday 06 April 2014

Phew! It's been a rather emotional and stressful fortnight, apologies for the lack of posts (if you are a regular reader that is, otherwise, you wouldn't know any different!) Firstly, I thought I would share some rather nice charity shop finds with you. I've been lucky recently and popped in...

This is the entry Compostgirl wrote for the All Write 2013 competition.

She was a bit miffed when she read the entry in the book, as the last line was meant to be a repeat of the end of the first paragraph - but that's what happens if the author has no control over the final proof reading :)

This little gem was the very first story she wrote, when she was not quite 5 and a half. Even then she had an amazing imagination :)  I keep lots of her work :)

"At night all my toys woke up. They woke up at twelve oclock: The toys put on their clothes and go down stairs. They eat jam and then they run outside and play.

The end.

Very very proud of Compostgirl's creative writing achievements.

Saturday 05 April 2014

Yet more of the dust and pollution around here still, although nothing like as bad here as in Gloucester, where we spent a lot of time yesterday.

We are looking for another car to replace the one Compostman is currently driving. He has had the current car for 9 years and although it is in good condition and is very low mileage ( see last post!) he would like something a bit more useful, younger and which does even better mpg.

Compostgirl returned to school yesterday, finally feeling better after a nasty virus which kept her off school for most of the week. As soon as she had left the house we set off to visit a number of promising car sales places, the first group of which were in Gloucester so a bit of an outing for us. On the drive to Gloucester we passed through farmland which last month was underwater and we could see where the plants which had been submerged for so long had died. It will be a difficult year for food producers I think!

I like Gloucester and was glad to see that the flooding; so bad when we were there last month, had largely gone away, although there was a huge tidemark of debris alongside the road and around the banks of the River Severn.

Anyway, we looked around and at every single car sales place we were given profuse apologies for the state of the cars - which were filthy with sand and dust. Of course it was falling from the polluted air and of course there was nothing the car sales people could do about it.

By mid morning my face was tingling and itching, my chest felt very tight and my eyes were running  - the air quality in Gloucester was obviously a LOT worse than where we live!

So, during a very busy morning we looked at a number of interesting cars, drove a few and got some ideas about what we do and don't want. We also did some shopping in the city.

We then had to dash back to Ledbury to attend a school assembly which included a special presentation to  Compostgirl  of the certificate commemorating her All Write 2013 competition winning entry -

The head of her house read out her entry to the assembled school.

After that in the early evening we went out as a family for a celebratory meal and then after doing the chores we all collapsed in front of the TV to watch Marvel's Agents of Shield. It had been quite a busy day!

Thursday 03 April 2014

Dull and damp and dusty day here - like a lot of the UK we are getting high levels of pollution here - unheard of normally here in lovely rural Herefordshire but at the moment it  is like I used to feel when living in Worcester at the height of a photochemical smog day - my eyes are streaming, my chest is tight and my throat is sore. I used to have to use an inhaler when we lived in Worcester, but since moving to the much cleaner air of Herefordshire I have not needed one - but I wish I still had it today! There is a nasty chemically smell in the air as well.

There has been lots of comment about the Sahara dust being the problem, but actually the UK has been exceeding pollution levels for a long time. In February, the European Commission launched legal proceedings against the UK for failing to reduce levels of NO2 air pollution. The Sahara dust is the "last straw" - we are damaging the air we breathe by our own actions, mostly to do with driving cars.

I drive so I am also responsible BUT I do limit the miles I do and, even living in a very rural setting we do less than 4000 miles between us - and that is ALL miles; business miles as well as domestic trips. It is still 4000 odd miles too many, but it is not much for a two car family who live where there are no longer very many buses at all. I wonder how many other people in a similar position do so little mileage?

Rant over.

It started raining late afternoon today, but not hard enough to wash the air clean.

I collected new varifocals yesterday (from Ledbury and combining the trip to do lots of other shopping!) and am finding them a trial.

The bad news is I am tryng to prick out seedlings and keep on missing them

The good news is that they are much better for close up work - I took in my crochet and a book to show the optician what my problem was with the old prescription and he has come up with a good solution

so now I just need to get used to the new lenses. If I could change just one thing about myself it would not be to be thinner (nice though that would be) but to have perfect vision. I have been using eye correction since I was 10 and I don't like it.

At least the new glasses have anti rain coating, so I can see in the wet, now! Although not if the rain drops are also dusty...! I do not want to scratch the (very expensive) many coatings on them...

off to sew the last batch of tomatos seeeds, some (very late) celeriac as I only have had 20 plants germinate and want more, and some more leeks. I suspect the sowing may be a bit random due to the new glasses! 
And then to settle down and watch the new Big Bang Theory :) And eat some more fresh PSB :)
Have a good evening xxx

Wednesday 02 April 2014

This weekend at The Edible Garden Show has been pretty awesome.The show moved from Stoneleigh Park to Alexandra Palace this year so I went down to London on Thursday night to help set up our stand.As usual we were running late so most of it was done on Friday morning but it all came together in the end!
HRH Prince Charles and Camilla visited the show on Friday morning and came over to the PoultryTalk stand to meet my Pekin Bantam chicks!Charles was asking Jamie all about what we do, how long the chicks take to hatch and about the incubation process while Camilla held a chick and spoke to the school children on the stand.She held a chick which she named with the school children; they decided on Rosie!
The rest of the weekend seemed to fly by!We went out for dinner and spent most of the show networking and making new chicken friends!
I did a talk in The Experts Theatre on Sunday afternoon with Naomi from BHWT which went ok - I'd forgotten about it until half an hour before we did it so it was all quite rushed but a Q&A session at the end helped to fill time!

The year before last, the plum tree got a severe haircut. I mean… like a No.2 all over… …which meant that it spent most of 2013 in a state of shock. Just before you start clamouring at me, I must … Continue reading →

Tuesday 01 April 2014

April has come in with a damp and dull start, not sure if that has any significance other than being dull? I was really hoping for more good weather as I want to get on with the veg garden.

Compostman dug over some of it today, so I now have somewhere to plant out the broad beans. he has prepared the onion patch so when we next get some dry weather I will lay down some compost and wood ash and get planting onion sets. I have quite a few already growing in modules in the polytunnel along with onions grown from seed so I am trying lots of different methods this year.

The cockerels continue to crow at random and early hours of the morning - or even middle of the night - last night Blondin was crowing at 2 am! I think I am going to have to re home at least one of them as the pair of them sit and crow at each other, sometimes they crow in unison, just for a change :)

After I was woken by Blondin last night I got out of bed and tripped over Tabitha Cat; she was fine but I wrenched my right arm and it now hurts. Ow. A shame as I wanted to get on with clearing up the path down to the log circle in the wood, but my arm hurts too much and the rain is horrible so I won't be doing that today.

I had another walk down and around the wood and admired the daffodils, no bluebells yet but some lovely primroses and the start of the wild garlic - yum!

I also spent a fair amount of time listening to the Buzzards calling as they wheeled and soared overhead.
I then went and hid from the rain for a bit inside of the polytunnel and potted up some plants and had a tidy round.

I have a poorly Compostgirl at home, she had to be collected from school yesterday and has been sick several times and is not a happy bunny :(. Lots of bed rest is in order but I suspect we will watch a film, later.

No April Fools , here- I did not see any really good ones this year - anyone spotted a cracker?

Monday 31 March 2014

If you remember, I was recently sent some lovely fabric by Hillarys Blinds as part of a competition to design and make a craft item from a 100 x 100 cm piece of fabric chosen from one of their fabulous Country Retreat fabrics.

I chose the Wild Poppies Vermillion design and have had such fun over the last week or so making things with it.

I love a challenge so I decided to see how many items I could make from the square metre of fabric. I also decided to have a go at making or crafting things I had never made before and to use recycled materials wherever possible in addition to the sample of Country Retreat fabric I was sent (ambitious, or what!)

I have written here  and  here  about my efforts so far; this post tells you more and reveals what I managed to make. So read on...

As I looked at the very lovely fabric, the design of the flowers simply begged me do something involving a frame and paint.  So I decided to mount some of it in a frame and hang it as a picture. I selected and cut out some of the fabric and mounted it onto canvas using pva glue. When that had dried I began by adding some gold fabric paint as a colourwash over the cream background.

Mounted and waiting for inspiration
Once that had dried I then used a selection of fabric paints and metallic acrylic paints, which I got from the Scrapstore some time ago, to change the colours and alter and (hopefully) enhance the fabrics. I wanted to end up with some original artwork which reflected and echoed the pattern on the soft furnishing item I also planned to make from the fabric (but more of that later on).

The fabric before I got to work 
 and after
(colours are not this orange really, I am afraid it is the artificial lighting)

I also did two smaller pictures and experimented with altering the background colour using fabric paints as well as adding paint to the surface of the fabric.

I reused some old frames from prints I found in a charity shop to add the final touches to the "paintings" I had made.

Having satisfied my painting urge I went back to playing with the fabric. I used a kit I had previously found in a charity shop from a craft magazine (Mollie Makes) which contained the materials to make a small metal clasped purse. I used "my" fabric rather than the one in the kit, and after choosing a striking flower from the design and cutting it out of the fabric, a bit of hand sewing and gluing of the clasp produced this.
Small change purse

Next I decided to make a slightly larger, zipped purse. I have put in a few zips on skirts (many years ago!) but have never made a lined purse like this. No pressure then!


The size of purse I wanted to make was dictated by the recycled small zip I had to use - so I cut out the fabric and recycled liner freehand to fit it and then put in the zip by hand, as it was a bit small and fiddly to do on the machine. I also like hand sewing! After a bit of thought and head scratching and looking around online, I worked out what to do next to sew up the liner and fabric so they would end up how I wanted it. I did actually get this bit wrong a couple of times, but that is what a seam ripper is for.

I put the right sides of the liner and patterned fabrics together (as above) and stitched around the hem.

 ...leaving a small gap in the liner to turn it all " right way round" by pulling the whole lot through the liner hole. Which is harder than it sounds!  I then hand sewed up the inner hole in the liner and stuffed the liner inside the purse having turned it the right way round.

I knew I also wanted to make a cushion and a tote bag from the material and looking at my fabric, I could see I would have around an A4 sized piece left over.

After a bit of thought I decided to make an A5 notebook cover.

I cut out the fabric so it was slightly larger than an opened out A5 hardback book and hemmed all around the edge - I used a 1 cm seam allowance.  I then folded the top and bottom over the book cover to mark where to stitch and then made a small pocket to slip the edge of the cover in each end.

Here are the notebook, metal clasp and zipped top purse waiting to be finished off. Lots of loose threads to tidy up and lots on the floor, the rug, the cats, me...

 I felt flushed with success at my efforts so far :) So I decided  to have a go at a simple envelope type cushion cover. I looked at a pillowcase and worked out how to make it and got cutting. I used a cushion pad I already had, free hand cut a rectangle of material slightly larger and then hemmed all around it.

I then turned over one end to make a pocket and pinned it , then with the rest of the fabric right side to right side I hemmed around three sides ( not the opening side, of course!) 

 Cushion waiting to have the ends sewn in, with the fabric pocket for the pad now hidden inside at the top.

I had planned to have just enough material left over to make a small tote bag which would hold a magazine and purse, phone etc. I cut two strips for the handles and hemmed them all around, folded them wrong side to wrong side and stitched along one side as close to the edge as possible.

Bag handles
I made a simple bag shape by hemming the rectangle of fabric all round, folding it in half lengthwise and then right side to right side stitching the two long sides. I attached the handles and squared off the bottom of the bag inside by stitching across the corners. I then attached the handles to the inside at the top.

 After all this flurry of activity I had some very small scraps of fabric left over - about 20 cm x 20 cm. I had to think very hard what to make with them.

 But I did use them up :)


  So - the big reveal! How many items did I manage to make from a metre square of fabric?

A cushion

Tote bag, notebook and zipped purse

Large framed painting on fabric,  next to cushion to show size


A very small fabric chicken :)
Small framed paintings on fabric
Collection of things I made
Large painted fabric

From a square metre of Country Retreat Wild Poppies Vermillion fabric I ended up making 

A cushion (35 x 30 cm)

A tote bag (30 x 40 cm)

An A5 notebook cover

A small clasp purse

A small zippered purse

1 large (35 x25 cm) painting

2  small (15 x 11 cm) paintings

and a very small chicken !


and I have two fabric scraps left over measuring about 10 cm x 3 cm which I might turn into bookmarks...

I really enjoyed making items for this competition - I must thank Hillarys for sending me the georgeous fabric to work with - I have no idea if I have satisifed the competition rules as I don't really think I have done anything "original" - all the techniques I have employed are all "out there" somewhere, but regardless of that I have really enjoyed myself. Everything I have made (apart from the chicken) was the first time I had tried to make that particular craft item.

Saturday 29 March 2014

This beautiful Hyacinth was given to me by a lovely friend. Incredibly, it hasn’t become all top-heavy, with long leggy stems which struggle to support the weight of the flowers. (Unfortunately, this seems to happen with many indoor Hyacinths). It … Continue reading →

Omlet Cartoon