Garden :: August 2016






August is a busy month in the garden – everything tends to go a bit wild and we’ve been busily picking (including shifting bolting chard, perp spinach and fat hen into the quail or chicken pens for them to enjoy, where I don’t leave them to self seed).  Beans have been chopped and frozen and many courgettes used in many ways, as is always the way with courgettes – although they’ve not done as well as in latter years and we’ve been in no way inundated as before and I’m finding myself rather disappointed (I’ll have to remind myself of this on years I’m swearing because I can’t process them fast enough!)

The inspiring Anni Kelsey ( very kindly sent me some sweet cicely and salsify seeds which I have duly planted (and the salsify has germinated – very excited to see how it gets on, it isn’t a vegetable I’ve tried before).  I shared the seed love with my neighbour (who gave me some trays (!) of kale earlier in the year and have built a further raised bed by the patio (meaning J could empty the largest compost bin and dismantle it to be moved to the allotment) which will likely become home to Tsai Tai and more kale.

The chicken area is being steadily re-organised as we make way for a couple of new runs ready for the change in weather (one for the big egg-laying girls, another for the Pekins, although both groups will get to have a wander in a larger area as well, but the covered runs will protect fluffy Pekin feet and offer more shelter to the birds in worse weather).

I’ve been busily drying calendula and infusing it for use in balms and salves, alongside various herbs (and some onions for home-made onion powder) and regularly making various cordials for drinking with fizzy water in the sun (when we’ve had it) whilst laying plans for fruit trees to go in this winter (very excited!)


Quail Improvements


Towards the beginning of May we got our first quail.  Initially 3 week old Golden and Partridge Cortunix quail (also known as Japanese quail and the species that is farmed commercially for meat and egg production).  It wasn’t long afterwards that we went on to bring in some further white Cortunix as day olds (we raised them under heat).


White Cortunix quail chicks


Quail chicks are immensely tiny!

In researching keeping quail I have learned some very interesting things and become increasingly enamoured with these busy, tenacious little birds.

The main thrust of advice regarding keeping quail recommends that they are kept in cages (and much of it that they should be kept on wire – as in a wire floor, although people do give them some non-wired space to retreat to).  Newcomers are assured that this is the most productive way to keep quail and that it really doesn’t bother them.  NB: EU minimum space requirements for quail are horrific – the size of a beermat! Please visit the link at the end of the post for more information and support the call to end this terrible practice!

With its association (in my mind) with battery farming, there was no way that I could do that, so we started off keeping them in small numbers in a rabbit hutch.  It was indeed messy – they needed A LOT of cleaning out.  I felt rather sorry for them and, noticing that they were attempting to dust bathe in the wood shavings, we popped a seed tray of dry soil in (which they immediately dived into and proceeded to scratch and roll around in with great joy – at which point I shed a tear at the thought of birds kept with no access to such small pleasures!)  We were also “hardening off” the white quail (much like plants, as the young quail had previously been kept inside with a heat plate, they had to be steadily acclimatised to the outdoors) – popping them in a covered run, I often found them sunbathing and it was very clear they were enjoying having greens to peck at.  It became increasingly clear that they all needed something *more* than the rabbit hutches.

Free-ranging quail isn’t really much of an option for us – they’re tiny and a massive target for any passing predator (unlike chickens who are too big generally for cats or sparrowhawks), plus they have harrier jump jet tendencies (if spooked they will launch themselves vertically into the air, before zooming off in any given direction – I have watched this happen and, believe me, they are FAST!)  Apparently they are not likely to come back (although I’m not sure I’d want to if kept in a wire cage, either and I have read accounts that don’t agree with this). They are just not very safe out there in the big bad world and as a UK summer migrant at its northern limit here, I would be concerned for any escapee’s survival once winter hit (they are on the RSPB’s amber list – if you’re interested in learning more about wild quail, they have a page here).

I started to read more about keeping quail in aviaries and began to wonder whether, as with chickens, there existed a “more natural” approach to their keeping.  I found “The Holistic Hen”: who has some fantastic articles.  Reading her blog and a few threads on various forums, shored up my belief that, as with chickens, quail are best kept in as close to their natural environment as you can provide for them.

A friend was giving up keeping chickens and offered us her old coop and run.  The coop was reserved for our growing flock of chickens, but the run, at over 2 metres long, seemed perfect as an upgrade for the quail.  It was divided into two with an internal dividing door, meaning that we could introduce the separate coveys (groups) of quail to each other before letting them run together and, if a big clean was needed, could shut them all into one part temporarily, to minimise stress (and possible escape) for them.

I set about fixing and amending it for the quail as one major addition had to be put in.  As mentioned before, when startled, quail jump vertically (aka “boinking”).  Over a certain height they reach a velocity that means if they hit their head they will do serious damage (or die).  My solution to this was to give them a reserve parachute to help slow any rapid ascent by loosely stretching some netting across (although, since their introduction into the run I haven’t see any incidence of boinking – and can only assume that they feel far happier and more secure).  In addition to this, the run was put on concrete blocks giving us the option to use the Deep Litter method.  I added places for shelter and some pots of plants and John added some branches for further cover and interest and we moved the quails in.  The roof has a plastic cover that can be pulled over in bad weather (and a further bit that can be dropped down over one side to add further protection).

quail run

Over the past few weeks we have watched them with interest.  They settled and mingled very quickly.  Those hens already laying, continued to lay with no break (which might’ve been expected due to potential stress from being moved) and one of the white quail has also since come into lay.  Even our invalid hen (who had been mercilessly bullied and has spent most of her life isolated in a temporary sick bay and at one point we didn’t think was going to make it) has been successfully reintroduced and, although she still looks ropey (due to feather loss from a secondary infection caused by her repeatedly scratching her wounds) she happily sun and dust bathes with the others.

Where before, opening their hutch had clearly caused quite some stress for the golden and partridge quail (and one would always desperately try to escape), the reaction to us when we open a door now is completely different.  They are more relaxed, no panic.  They have plenty of space to move away if they want to, but I’m finding that they don’t always do so and will stay reasonably close and watch what I’m doing (the white quail have always been more calm and we haven’t had the same issues with them).

Whilst there hasn’t been any “boinking” witnessed, I have seen them fly.  They have worked out that they can glide from one part to the other through the open door and they do – I assume mostly in reaction to the odd natural bicker, but also even when clearly relaxed they appear to like to have a good old flap whilst standing,  They are naturally ground birds, but every-so-often I think they enjoy giving their wings a bit of movement.

A further tray of bolting salad was popped in and they have clearly enjoyed demolishing it, so they will now have a supply of seed trays sown with various tidbits  to eat and soil to rip up. The floor of the run has soil, clippings, etc, added to it for them to rootle through and the maintenance of it is so much easier than dealing with woodshavings on newspaper on a solid wood floor! And no smell (seriously!)


Shhhhhh! I think the chickens might be jealous!

For more information on keeping poultry more naturally (and quail – who are not classed as poultry, but are a game bird), you may find the following sites helpful:

If you would like to add your voice to the demand to end the battery farming of quail in the EU (and I hope you do) please visit: Compassion in World Farming for more information.

Slow Living and Garden :: July 2016


And then the garden went Boom!  I’ve never been the tidiest gardener – a couple of years ago I took part in a series with Monty Don and he sighed at me a lot and was very patient, but did say that I was rather “chaotic” – as it was, we found out that we had to move halfway through filming, which kind of put the kai-bosh on our plans (and as it was, it was all very rushed and we moved the day after we finished filming – very, very far from ideal!)

I did try to be more tidy, really I did, but with a baby on the way and then here and some residual health issues from that experience (10b 11oz is bl**dy heavy, especially when your back isn’t at its best and said baby is baby no 6!) “tidy” went out of the window – as did getting much done in the garden.

But slowly, very slowly, we are finally getting around to pulling the garden into productive use (it was all grass and concrete when we moved in).  And yes, I do weed, when I need to, but also tolerate (and indeed welcome) more “weeds” than many gardeners would perhaps tolerate – I’m happy to leave them in their space whilst I’m not using it.  It may not work for everyone, but it does for me.


We’ve built various raised beds – the one above is closest to the patio and holds a selection of salad leaves, plus some fuchsia I had nowhere else to put and a rescued honeysuckle (we’re planning to give it something a bit more attractive to climb up next year).


The currants and gooseberries all have temporary homes around the garden, as some will be moved out front when we move on to pulling up the paving (the front is entirely paved) to make space for a front garden and others will be arranged around the planned for trees when we start planted them in the autumn/winter.  Here they’re fairly well hidden by bolted chard.


The two large raised beds are almost unrecognisable from a few months ago.  The eventual plan for the garden is to grow more perennials, but for the time being they are home to various annuals (including self-seeded perpetual spinach, amongst other things).

We have had many self-seeded sunflowers around the garden.  Some I have rehomed to pots, others I’ve sadly had to pull and compost, but some I just left to get on with it.  I like to leave the odd perpetual spinach/chard/lettuce to bolt and seed about.

Around the raised beds I’ve been planting various herbs (including transplanting strawberries from the “wild side” – yes, we do have a wilder side) and the plan is to put in stepping stones and let the herbs spread around them.

The eventual plan for the fences on both sides are espaliers and fans of fruit trees (our neighbour on the pictured side will be collaborating with us, staggering trees back and forth across the fence).


So far this year we have harvested: beetroot (leaves), chard, kale, perpetual spinach, broad beans, borlotto beans, courgettes, black and red currants, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, a few carrots (the first sowing was disturbed and the carrots’ growth damaged as a result – but there will be more to come), lettuce (various), welsh onions, nettles, nasturtium (leaves so far), basil, sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary, calendula, lavender, lemon balm, various mints, potatoes, rhubarb, cucumbers (from the conservatory) – I’m bound to have forgotten something!

I’ve been busy processing berries into cordials and crumbles, plus drying a few (cherries pictured aren’t from the garden).  Rhubarb, lemon balm and mint have all been used to make more cordials (and in the case of the latter two, have also been added to homemade lemonade).  A raspberry liqueur has also been added to list of things steeping for the Winter Solstice.

Coming fast in the wings are tomatoes and dwarf beans.


“Purple Queen” dwarf bean flowers


The hedgerow in the chicken run is doing very well (I do dive in and weed a bit occasionally, but the chickens really enjoy access to the abundant salad bowl).



The neglected side of the garden is home to rampant raspberries and other hardy thugs competitors (I’m looking at you, feverfew).  Yes, I should probably have tied the raspberries and yes, I did forget to cut them back early this year – but the upside of that is bonus accidental double cropping of the raspberries, so not a complete loss!  Many are due to be rehomed to the shaded side of the new allotment and others will be finding a “tidy” home out front where they will lead a cultivated, tied in existence, for front garden presentation’s sake, to make room for the planned for espaliers and fans.


And finally a quick pic of my little helper – who loves being in the garden – he enthusiastically helps me pick and weed (and is the reason I still don’t have any garlic chives in the garden…)

Slow Living :: May and June 2016


We finally bottled the blackcurrant wine.  This is our first attempt at making it and lets just say that siphoning off wine with a toddler present can be a rather stressful experience (he was soaked through from head to toe dabbling about in the sterilising bucket!)  We will have our first taste around Winter Solstice (when we should hopefully also have a range of homemade liqueurs to sample – I make some every year).


Our next door neighbour has an allotment and her rhubarb went into overdrive.  She gave us armfuls of the stuff (I stopped weighing at about 10kg and there was still quite a lot more!)  Aside from the obligatory rhubarb crumble and some rather lovely strawberry and rhubarb cordial, I also made some barbecue sauce.


I used a recipe I found online at:  Prim and Primal and it was really good!  I scaled it up and was glad I did – it’s certainly on the list to make again, in much larger quantities.

Rhubarb liqueur was another obvious choice and I’m considering a strawberry and rhubarb version.  I’m also planning on making some rhubarb wine (but have had to freeze the rhubarb for this purpose, pending getting some of the other ingredients needed).

As the weather improves I spend more and more time in the garden and feel less inclined to sit and type.  Slowly the garden is taking shape.  Still looking scrappy, but a long way from what it looked like when we moved in and even just a few months ago.


I’m looking for the following if anyone has any seeds, cuttings or plants to spare.  Please see my “Offered: Plants, Cuttings or Seeds” page for what I may have to swap.

Bergamot – Red (Monad Cambridge Scarlet)
Caraway (Carum carvi)
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Garlic, Daffodil (Allium neapolitanum)
Garlic, Society (Tulbghia violacea)
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
Hosta – any
Kale, Dubenton’s (Brassica oleracea var. ramosa)
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora)
Leek, Babbingtons (Allium ampeloprasum var. Babingtonii)
Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
Liquorice (Glycyrhza)
Mint, Morrocan (Mentha spicata var crispa ‘Moroccan’)
Mint, Strawberry (Mentha x piperita Strawberry)
Onion, Egyptian Walking
Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor)
Scented pelagoniums – any
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
Tarragon, Russian (Artemisia dracunculoides Russian)
Violet, Sweet (Viola odorata)