Tuesday, 23 November 2010

A Few Set Backs

I haven't posted for a while again, we have had a few set backs in the last few weeks.

Sadly our lovely ducks were taken by a fox, the latch on the run was broken, didn't fasten properly and we hadn't noticed. We were all very upset, especially Emma who had looked after them since they were babies. We have decided to beef up security over the winter and get some more in the spring, but we all miss them terribly.

I have had some health issues, which knocked me back but hopefully is now under control, John's car window was smashed while parked in the allotment car park and Tom (who only recently passed his test) had an accident, thankfully he wasn't badly hurt, but has been suffering from some back ache since the accident.

I am hoping that we are past the worst and am now preparing for christmas. Some of the gifts I will be giving this year will be homemade, so I have been busy making preserves and pickles as well as soaps. I made all our christmas cards as well. I have made the puddings (one for us and one to take to my parents house, where we will be spending christmas day) and the dried fruit is soaking in brandy ready for making the cake.

Thursday, 30 September 2010


Introducing the latest addition to our menagerie, Willow and Amber, 2 khaki campbell ducklings. We got them at the Edenbridge and Oxted Show in August when they were just 2 weeks old.

They actually belong to Emma who has a thing for ducks! She did some research and Khaki Campbells were generally the breed recommended as good back garden ducks and good layers. We are looking forward to duck eggs in our future (they are both girls), I've heard that they are very good for cakes (the eggs not the ducks!). They are also very cute!(The ducklings not the eggs!)

They have grown at an amazing rate, there was only a week between when the first and second photos were taken. Now they have most their feathers they have moved outside into my old eglu. We shut them in at night to keep them warm and safe from foxes and have given them a large seed tray to paddle in. Eventually they will be put in the big pen where the chickens currently live and I am on the look out for a paddling pool for them.

Emma has been spending alot of time with them as she wants them to be tame this seems to be working well with Willow but Amber is a little more shy, they both however seem to recognise her voice and will start quacking if they hear her, they obviously think that she is their mummy!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010


Can't believe that I haven't posted since July! The summer has gone really quickly and it is definitely starting to feel very autumnal outside. Things have been growing well on the allotment, including the weeds, and we have been harvesting things regularly. I need to grow more onions and carrots next year as these are the veg that we use the most and are going to run out soon. My sweetcorn, which was looking quite promising earlier in the year was eaten by something, I think rabbits, whilst we were away on holiday. We only managed to pick 4 unnibbled cobs, strangely they didn't touch the carrots.

I have been preserving as much as possible for the winter, our fruit trees are still very small and only produce a few fruit, but I was able to pick plenty of pears from a friends garden, which have been bottled, and my parents have given me lots of plums for jam and cooking apples which have been cooked and frozen to be used in crumbles and pies over the winter.

We also have added to our menagerie of animals over the summer but I will post about that another day.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Allotment Update

I feel like I am finally making progress with the allotment. I have either cleared or covered all of the weedy areas and am keeping on top any new weeds with the hoe. It is starting to look tidy, well tidier.

There has been a few failures, I had very patchy germination with my parsnips, there are a few growing but with big gaps in between. I've sewn some radishes in the gaps so as  not to waste space.

The borlotti beans, sweetcorn and butternut squash seem to be doing well.

And all the potatoes are thriving although I live in fear of the dreaded blight.

Most importantly I am able to take home buckets of vegetable for our evening meals.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Busy busy busy

Just thought I would post to say that I'm still here. The race for life went really well, it was a lovely warm day, the atmosphere was fantastic and best of all we raised loads of money for cancer research (thank you to everyone who sponsored me). I have already signed up for next year!

We have  now started to harvest some of our fruit and vegetables, we are harvesting potatoes and spinach from the allotment as well as salad leaves, cucumbers, french beans and loads of strawberries from the garden. On the allotment we have also planted pumpkins, sweetcorn, carrots, parsnips, beetroot and borlotti beans. It still isn't very pretty and there are areas with lots of weeds but I am gradually clearing it, it is very much a work in progress.

At home I've been trying to reorganise the garden with the help of Tom, who is a horticulture student (four months off! it's hard life being at uni isn't it!). I have also had my brother in law (who is a builder) here redoing the bathroom. We had a huge bathroom so we have basically cut it in half to make a smaller bathroom and a new bedroom, which I have claimed as my craft room. As you can imagine this has involved quite alot of work, many cups of tea and eggs on toast for lunch for my brother in law every day (I did try giving him something different but he likes eggs on toast).

With most of the building work finished, I am now decorating and organising the craft room and have plans to try and earn a little money from it, but I will post about that soon.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Race for Life

Just a short post to tell you that I will be taking part in the Race for Life on the 6th of June to raise funds for Cancer Research. I'm not a runner by nature (I'm aiming for a brisk walking pace) but it's a great cause and I would love to raise as much money as possible for them.

If you are able to sponsor me please use the link at the side of the page. Thank you!

Jayne x

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Potatoes are in!

John had a week off last week and we spent to get some time at the allotment, these photos were taken mid week. We managed to dig a bed all the way along one side of the plot and planted quite alot of potatoes. We have also put in some onions and have sewn some spinach. It feels great to finally have something in the ground, I am now peering at the ground daily looking for green things sprouting (that aren't weeds).

The previous occupant had put in a couple of raised beds, but had dismantled and taken away. This has left a couple of patches, where she had bought in top soil, which I was able to clear these much more easily than the rest of the plot which is  heavy clay.

Amongst the weeds we discovered this very small rhubarb plant which we have moved to a better spot with a bit of compost and some chicken manure.

I was really excited one day when we arrived to find that a water tap had been installed right opposite our allotment (I know I am very very sad), up to now we have had to walk backward and forwards with our watering can to a tap by the entrance, the plot owner only installed 3 of these tanks on the whole plot so we are very lucky to have one so close. It has a water tank next to the tap which refills automatically after you have filled you watering can from it.

The communal compost bin was also emptied this week so we were able to add a few wheel barrows full to our soil which should help improve it a bit. I've never had to cope with clay soil before the other plot holders tell me that it will bake rock hard during the summer, if anyone out there has any tips on how to improve the soil, without spending a fortune on top soil, I really would appreciate hearing them.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Slow progress on the allotment

We managed to get up to the allotment for the first time today, up until now the weather has prevented us from starting it. It was more weedy tham I remembered there were lots of nettles and dock as well as loads of potatoes that had been left by the previous occupant, most of these were quite mushy.

The soil is clay and is still quite sticky. We only had about an hour but we managed to dig over a bed and removed all of the weeds (and potatoes). It's only a small bed but it's a start. 

We plan on growing the crops that take up alot of space here, such as potatoes and pumpkins as well things like parsnips which are in the ground for a long time. At home we will grow the things that require regular picking like beans, courgettes and salad crops.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Lemon curd

Making the lemon soap gave me a craving for some lemon curd, I'm just weird like that! Luckily I had some lemons in the fridge. It's really easy to make and is delicious.

You need 3 eggs, the juice and rind of 3 lemons, 100g of butter and 225g of caster sugar. 

Melt the butter and sugar together in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Then add the lemon rind and juice and the whisked eggs. Heat stirring now and then until it thickens, this takes about 25-30 mins.

Pour into sterilised jars, seal and label. This needs to be kept in the fridge and will last for about 3 months.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


I made soap! I've been reading about it for months and I bought the ingredients before christmas, but it has taken till now to pluck up the courage to try it. The reason for my hestation was all the warnings about the sodium hydroxide, an essential ingredient in making cold pressed soap, this is otherwise know as caustic soda and is used as drain cleaner!

So I collected all my ingredients together, put newspaper on my worktop, put on my apron and gloves, and got on with it. I used coconut oil, olive oil and sunflower oil. The measurements have to be exact so that all the sodium hydroxide is used up in the chemical reaction with the oil that turns it into soap. There are lots of soap calculators on the internet so you can work out a safe recipe.

I measured out my oils and put them in a saucepan to melt together (the coconut oil is solid at room temperature) and I added the sodium hydroxide to the water in a jug (no pictures of this I was too scared of it). This is where you have to be really careful, wear rubber gloves, an apron and safety goggles and open a window, it makes nasty fumes and you don't want breath them in.
The oil and the sodium hydroxide need to be at the same temperature when they are mixed, I heated the oil and then made up the sodium hydroxide solution, this was the wrong way round. When added to water the sodium hydroxide solution heats up, really hot, and it took ages to cool, I had to warm the oil back up as it was too cold.

Next you mix the 2 together and stir. One recipe I read said the whisk for 45min! I used my stick blender, much easier (John came in at this point and took some pictures for me). You have to mix until it reaches 'trace', think thick custard. I couldn't say exctly how long this took maybe 5-10mins (not 45!). Just as it reaches trace I added some essential oil for fragrance. I wanted everyone in the house to use it so I chose lemon, I love lavender but John and Tom wouldn't use that. It looked and smelt like lemon curd.

Next it was poured into a tupperware container lined with baking parchment. It needs to cool slowly so I wrapped it in a towel and left it like that for 24hrs.

The next day I turned it out and cut it into bars, you still need to wear rubber gloves when handling it. It will need to be 'cured' for 6 weeks before it is ready to use. It is very 'rustic' looking, I didn't smooth the top enough when I poured it and I think I need to find a better mould. I cut it into different sized pieces, big ones for the shower and smaller ones for the sinks, I may grate the wobbly edge pieces to use in my laundry detergent.
I'm really pleased, it wasn't really scary at all, you just have to be sensible. I'm planing my next batch already (lavender!) and am reading up on making shampoo bars, which would be great for taking on hoilday, and other homemade toiletries.

Monday, 22 March 2010


I love my chickens, I think they are a perfect pet. They are no more difficult to look after than something like a rabbit and you get eggs.

We have 5 chickens, there were 6 but we lost our little Millie during the winter. Millie and Poppy (the red one in the picture below) were our oldest chickens. Millie seemed to have just died in her sleep, she appeared perfectly happy and healthy, but I found her dead in the coop one morning. Poppy is still going strong although she doesn't lay many eggs any more.

The chickens live in an eglu cube which is in a large enclosure that John built in the garden, it is over 6ft high and has netting across the top to stop any foxes from getting in, we lost our first 2 chickens to foxes so we only let them free range in the garden when we are out there with them.

The Eglu cube can take up to 10 chickens and we also have an original eglu which takes 2 (this was Millie and Poppy's original home) we have been adding 2 chickens to our flock each year, this means we always have young girls to give us eggs and the older ladies can enjoy their retirement. We are enjoying 3-4 eggs a day at the moment and are planning to buy 2 new girls in a couple of months, I use lots of eggs in my cooking.

The girls get through a sack of layers pellets a month, they also like a few kitchen scraps (they are eating cooked potato peelings in the photos, one of their favorites) and they love some nice leaves (they eat the outer leaves of cabbages and lettuces and most weeds). Apart from that all they need is fresh water every day and cleaning out once a week, sometime I replace the straw in the nest box more often if it gets dirty.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Laundry liquid

There are loads of recipes on the internet for home made laundry detergents, this is the one that I use I can't quite remember where it came from. I have made a few batches of it and found that it works really well and because its a liquid it can be rubbed neat onto stains. The best thing is it is incredibly cheap to make.

All you need is soap flakes, washing soda and borax. I managed to buy soap flakes and washing soda in Waitrose and ordered the borax online although I have since discovered that they sell it in Robert Dyas. I've made about 4 batches of liquid so far and still have plenty of the ingredients left.

You first need to dissolve 1 cup of soap in 1 1/2 litres of water, I have found this is best done by slowly heating the mixture while stirring with a whisk, (I know there is a spoon in the picture I took it before I discovered that the whisk worked better.) You need to make sure that all the soap dissolves, when it has, remove from the heat and add 1/2 cup of washing soda and 1/2 cup of borax.

Then you need to dilute the mixture with hot water from the tap. I have a builders bucket that has measurements marked on the inside, it was 99p from the diy store, I pour the mixture into it and top it up to the 10 litre mark, stirring with the whisk the whole time.
I decant the liquid into 2 litre drinks bottles, you need to let it cool down first. It goes quite thick when it cools and can sometimes separate a bit I just give it a good shake before I use it.
I have a cup from the top of an old flask that I use to measure it out, we have very hard water here so you could probably us less in an area with soft water. I gives the washing a nice fresh smell, although sometimes I add a bit of lavender oil to the softener compartment if I want a bit of fragrance.


It's been nearly a month since I last blogged, and during that time we have had loads of rain.

A birthday.
and spring finally seems to have arrived after what seems to have been a very long winter.
I have to thank my parents for Toms lovely cake, he is a horticulture student and they cleverly managed to find these really cute little garden tools and a gardener.

They also bought this sparkler instead of a candle.

We had a lovely afternoon with the family, and the cake was yummy.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Making Soft Cheese

 I've been without a computer for a couple of weeks so haven't been able to blog, it's now back from the repair man and is working better than before. I've had an eventful couple of weeks my husband and son were involved in a car accident, thankfully neither were hurt, although he car was a write off. I've now left my part time job at the pre-school and will be home full time now. I have loads of plans including soap making, expanding the fruit and vegetable garden at home as well as starting the allotment, I am hoping to get more chickens in the spring so we will probably extend the chicken run and I want to make more cheeses.
I currently make a basic soft cheese, I use standard whole milk from the supermarket, I have read in a few places that you can't make cheese with homogenised milk but I not had a problem with it.

I bought some starter in powder form and made it up then froze it in an ice cube tray. I use 2 cubes, defrosted, for about 2 litres of milk.

The milk I buy is already pasteurized so I just heat it to 30 degrees C and then add the starter, it is important that it's not too hot or the heat will kill the bacteria in the starter. It then needs to sit somewhere warm for about and hour. While this is sitting I add 2 drops of rennet to 2 teaspoons of previously boiled cooled water and then stir this into the milk. Leave it until it sets into curds, you should be able to touch it without it leaving a milky stain on your finger.

I then spoon it into a sterilized cheese cloth, (I boil the cloth to sterilize it) tie up the top and hang it from a cupboard door knob over a bowl. I usually leave it over night, during which time the whey should drain out leaving soft cheese in the cloth. I save the whey and use it in cooking, it is makes tasty bread when used instead of the water and can be used instead of milk in lots of recipes.

I roll the cheese into logs and flavour them, the one on the left has cracked black peppercorns on it and the right one has garlic and herbs. They are standing on a rack from the bottom of a Tupperware vegetable crisper, I store them in the crisper in the fridge as some more whey will often drain out and the rack holds them above the liquid.

I'm hoping to try mozzarella soon, I'll post about it once I've tried it.

Thursday, 28 January 2010


I went to see an allotment today it is on a privately run plot, about ten minutes away from home and near to the station that John uses to get to work.

The plot is slightly smaller than I was expecting, but this might be a good thing as I have a tendency to bite off a bit more than I can chew.

The plots are laid out in a big circle, so all the allotments are wedge shaped, imagine a big cartwheel. The 2 stones on the picture below mark the narrowest point of the allotment and it widens to a path that runs around between the inner and outer plots.

It has been used recently and was apparently quite productive. I'm hoping that along with the veg plot in the garden I will be able to grow all of our vegetables.

So as soon as the weather starts to improve and the ground dries out a bit, the soil is clay and a bit sticky, I will be up there weeding and digging and hopefully in a few months I will be able to post some pictures of some lovely veggies growing on my plot.

Friday, 22 January 2010


I've been making all our bread for a while now. It tastes so much better than shop bought and works out cheaper. Although it takes a couple of hours overall, most of that time it is just sitting rising, I don't need to actually do much to it. I use my food mixer with a dough hook attached, so I don't even knead it myself.

The basic recipe I use is
500g Strong Flour
1Tsp fast acting yeast
1Tsp Salt
1Tsp sugar
A 'glug' of oil (usually olive)
About 300ml warm water

Everything goes into the mixer for about 10 minutes, it should form a ball of dough, sometimes it needs more or less water (if it gets too wet I just add a bit more flour). The dough gets left in the mixer bowl, with a clean tea towel over it, until it has doubled in size.

I then tip it out onto a floured worktop give it a quick knead and put it in a bread tin or sometimes I make it into rolls. Then it needs to be put in a warm place until it has risen.

It needs to be baked in a hot oven for 20 minutes (rolls take 10 minutes).

This is the bread that I make most days. I have also used this recipe to make currant buns by adding extra sugar and some dried fruit and pizza bases by using half plain and half bread flour. If I'm short of time I make soda bread which can be made and baked straight away.