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.