Chickens Eat Mice?!

The other day I was out in the orchard/forest garden tending to some work that had to be done there clearing and harvesting and I saw the most astonishing thing. Yes – it turns out chicken eat mice! Whole! Like snakes! For the first time I could see the resemblance between T-rex and its closest living descendent. The chicken (I think it was Clara) was really almost like something from Jurassic Park.

I had heard that chickens occasionally ate mice but I found it rather hard to believe and even harder to imagine. But when I pulled some weeds up and a mouse ran out, all the chickens knew what to do and one despatched it quickly. We do have quite a lot of mice and other rodents round here so this is yet another way in which the chickens are well and truly earning their keep! Who needs a mouse-catching cat when the chickens are about?!

So, in addition to providing us with three or four eggs a day between them, fertilising our soil, activating our compost, scratching up the vegetable beds, eating slugs, cutworm larvae and other pests and keeping down some perennial weeds, the chickens are also keeping the mouse population down! They really are incredibly useful creatures.

Plums on the Brain

I think all of the work I have been doing to preserve all of our plum harvest has made me go plum crazy! Only joking, but it certainly seemed to influence me when it came to choosing a paint colour for the walls in the little living room we are using until we renovate the outbuilding. For some reason I was just drawn to a colour called ‘ripe mulberry’ – a rich plummy colour. I wonder why?!

On a whim we decided that we should really get round to doing something about the terrible 1980s wallpaper and hideous patterned carpet in there. We’ve been working on that after work in the evenings, which is part of the reason why I feel I have barely had a second to spare lately.

We did however get away camping last weekend – more about which in my next post. We have now finished painting the walls, two plum, two white and are working on the new flooring. Soon we will be able to more back in there and get back to some kind of normality!

In other news, we have created drawings of our plans for the outbuilding with our architect and are now waiting to hear whether the council planning department will agree to let us do what we would like to do. Fingers crossed. It will probably be a while before we hear so we can’t do anything on that at the moment, which is why we chose to do something about the space we are using for now. Bad timing, perhaps, but it already looks a lot better.

Enjoying a Plum Glut

A lot has been going on here since we got back from America and things have been all go – which is why it has taken me until now to write this. I have been meaning for a while to give everyone a garden update.

In the polytunnel, I have some things going to seed which look a bit scraggly now but will provide us with some seeds for next year. There is some beetroot, whose seeds are nearly mature and some radish seed pods that are still green. There is a yellow cucumber amongst the green ones still growing on other plants as I want to make sure we get some seeds to try from one of the healthiest and best producing plants. Aside from the cucumbers we also still have quite a few other plants producing food for us in there. There are little gems and other salad leaves, never-ending spinach leaves, tomatoes, little chilli peppers and we have had three or four little bell peppers, though they did not do all that well really – I think in part because of the cold weather and partly because I put too many in one container. The squash and pumpkins have not really been a success story, though I have harvested a handful of summer patty pan squash and of course endless courgettes. There are about five or six fruits growing on the sprawling plants that seem to be swelling, though whether or not they will come to anything remains to be seen. There are, still growing, some more beetroot, purple-sprouting broccoli and calabrese, winter cabbages, over-wintering onions. I did plant some broad beans but something ate them all just after they sprouted! (I suspect a rodent of some description.) Also in the polytunnel, on my hanging shelf, are more cabbage family things and some strawberry plants. (The runners from the bed in the centre of the orchard/ forest garden.)

Herb spiral in the foreground - dill and parsley are taking over but there is still also some sage, thyme, oregano, chives and seeding coriander in there too.
Herb spiral in the foreground – dill and parsley are taking over but there is still also some sage, thyme, oregano, chives and seeding coriander in there too.

In the vegetable beds out front, two have been cleared of potatoes and one has been scratched over by the chickens while the other has mustard in it from which I want the seed. One had been cleared of peas though still has some salad stuff to eat and another has some nearly spend broad beans and some chard. The squash are still producing the odd tiny patty pan.

One of the jobs I got round to after getting back from our holiday was lifting all the onions. Some (especially the red onions) have fat necks, I think from the dodgy summer weather, and they will not store so well, so we are using them up fairly quickly. The rest I have hung in a mesh bag in the outbuilding for now, after they were out in the sun for a time to dry. When they are fully dried I will braid them, mostly just because I love the way it looks!

The main post-holiday job, however, has been dealing with our fruit tree harvest. We have had a reasonable apple crop from a couple of the trees, not so good from a few others. (Still not sure of any of the varieties.) There are still plenty of fruits though. The plums, however, are the main success story of the year! Wow! We had so, so many plums that we have been scratching our heads trying to figure out what to do with them – as well as giving some away, of course.

Just some of our many, many plums.
Just some of our many, many plums.

We have been eating plenty of fresh plums but I have also been trying to preserve at least some of the harvest. I’ve made two big batches of plum jam and I also made seven jars of a sweet and spicy chutney that I think will be good with cheese around Christmas. I also just popped some half plums in the freezer so we can pull them out to make a crumble or something later in the year.

I also got a bit inventive with savoury recipes that involved plums. I made a plum tabbouleh and a spicy plum curry, also using our own chillies. Plum also lends itself well to a sweet and sour sauce in place of tomatoes.

It won’t really matter if the plum harvest is not so good next year because it looks like we’ll be enjoying this glut of plums in the form of the preserves for quite a while to come!

Preserving some of the apple harvest is the next job – when I have a spare moment!