The feast on our doorstep

I’ve been away this weekend for my friend’s hen do.We all had an absolutely great time and are pretty exhausted now.

So, clubbing, L plates, high heels and feather boas? Not quite….we spent our weekend mostly making fire instead!

The hen herself doing the honours

The hen herself doing the honours

We took Jo to Plaw Hatch Farm near Forest Row in Sussex for a day of bushcraft and foraging followed by a BBQ and night under canvas. The weather couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to do (but then we had booked it for the same weekend as Glastonbury so that’s our fault right?!) but it mostly rained when we were under the cover of trees and more importantly was dry for the campfire in the evening and for packing up the next morning so I think we were pretty blessed in that regard.

We had a busy day learning about different ways to chop wood, build fires and light them, learning to weave baskets out of rushes (mine is now proudly being used to store our eggs in the kitchen), making a healing salve and taking part in a most interesting foraging walk during which we gathered plants for a salad, the main ingredient for our salve and made a delicious nettle and cleaver tea. In the evening we enjoyed a well earned break and celebrated with drinks, cake and plenty of BBQ-ed food as we sat round the fire that we had built ourselves. Most satisfying!

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The bit that I really wanted to talk about though was the foraging walk. I’ve dabbled in using commonly grown plants for (mostly) edible purposes over the last year or two but my eyes were really opened to the absolute abundance of plants we can use and consume that grow all around us unbeknownst to most of us. We spoke about how we’re at a turning point and how important it is that this knowledge doesn’t get lost. It really enthused me to learn more about plants that we often ignore or dismiss as weeds. I’ve used elder for it’s flowers and berries, blackberries for jam and general eating and toyed with the idea of nettle but not taken it further than that. But crikey, I’ve been missing a lot!

For instance, I found out that nettle is a natural antihistamine and you can roll up the seeds into a little ball and eat them (actually quite tasty!) to help with allergies. Nettle is also a tasty leafy vegetable that you can use in soups and other dishes (cook as though you would spinach), it makes delicious tea and can help with ailments such as eczema, muscle aches and pains and asthma as well as allergies. We learnt that cleavers (the sticky plant that kids love to pick and stick on peoples back for fun) is great for the lymphatic system and you can brew a tea with it that can really soothe and help breastfeeding mothers suffering with mastitis.

We were shown how to strip down thistles and eat them (they were surprisingly delicious!), picked a salad made out of dock leaves, dandelion leaves, hawthorn (nicknamed cheese and bread because the whole plant is edible-a foragers delight!), wild mustard leaves, wild rose petals and clovers and identifyed plants such as the delicious smelling pineapple weed (a type of chamomile) and more that I can’t recall right now.

Finally, on our way back to the camp we were shown and picked plenty of plantain for our salve. When she said plantain we all looked and each other, slightly confused and thinking of bananas! She actually meant this, a common weed that I’ve seen all my life and been completely oblivious of. Recognise it?

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Turns out that Plantain is incredibly useful as a healing plant. It apparently has a ‘drawing out’ quality so is great for stings, burns, bites and grazes. If you have toothache and are waiting to see the dentist we were told that chewing some of it and putting it next to the tooth in question can really help with the pain. What an amazing plant! We went back to the campsite and simmered the leaves with a little oil in a bain-marie before melting some beeswax, adding some lavender oil and pouring into little tubs so we all had a tub of cure all salve to take away with us!

I just couldn’t believe how many plants there were just on a short walk that we could eat, drink or use for medicinal purposes. Nature really is amazing! I think in future I’d be much more inclined to try some natural, herbal or plant remedies before resorting to manmade medicine. Obviously being able to accurately identify what you’re picking is important but there is a lot of information available online, plenty of books you can buy (especially field ones that you can take with you) and if you’re really feeling a bit cautious you can book a foraging course with someone so you can get to grips with some of the basics.

I would really really recommend thinking a bit more about what is growing in your garden or our country lanes and the potential of using them. I was quite nervous about eating some of the plants and especially drinking the nettle tea but I am absolutely 100 percent convinced. Nature has provided us with some amazing plants to help us and feed us and providing we’re respectful in our gathering, I think we owe it to her to use them and pass on the knowledge before it all gets forgotten.

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The saga of the chickens

Apologies for my absence,  we’ve been away this week camping in rural Pembrokeshire, soaking up sun, sea and sand. I fully intended to share some photos and memories of the trip but they’ll have to wait as a matter arose upon our return that I thought I’d share.

The week before our holiday we had our first clucking casualty. Sophia and I had gone searching for eggs mid afternoon only to spy one of them looking distinctly unwell.  We summoned Dan, (working from home) who agreed that she didn’t look right. She couldn’t hold her head up and couldn’t stand, was just kind of rolling around.  Cue us asking our kind neighbour who happens to be a vet to take a look and she confirmed what we thought, the chook was dying.

I asked if we needed to put her out of her misery and upon her agreement I took Sophia out of the enclosure so Dan could do the deed. Under instruction he wrung her neck. Unpleasant but necessary.  Unfortunately though, also rather inefficient as the chicken was still alive.  Our vet friend then had a go… definitely still alive. But all agreed she must be in her death throes so we went in to save the almost cremated dinner, leaving her under a box whilst she departed.

After dinner we went down to the bottom field and dug a hole in which to bury her. Isaac and Sophia brought their spades as well! By now, Sophia’s initial upset (as it was her chicken, Ruby Redbum-the only chook we’d named) had passed and was now replaced by intense curiosity in the whole process.

Dan went to get the body only to find (and this is where it starts getting ridiculous) that she was still alive. It was at this point that I was so incredibly thankful that he had taken lead in the role of chicken dispatching.  He tried wringing her neck again it was most definitely fully dislocated and broken.  We didn’t want to leave her in pain so Dan got the hammer, thinking a swift blow to the head would, ahem, finish the job. She seemed to twitch a bit but we thought we were finally successful. By this point though the kids were late for bed and I was late to go out so we popped a box over her and planned to reconvene when kids were asleep.

I got back from homebirth group a couple of hours later and popped to the enclosure only to see the box moved. I thought the other hens might have been inquisitive and so put the box back only for her to flap her wings and let out a strangled noise. I let Dan know and with heavy hearts we got the axe. After a few horrendous blows she was finally, definitely dead and we were able to bury her. Dan and I were both fairly disturbed by the whole encounter!

But the next morning the shock had subsided, Sophia put flowers on the ‘grave’ and we thought nothing more of it.

However, we returned from holiday to discover another had died in our absence and two had escaped. One was found living in the greenhouse but the other remained stubbornly hidden for several days. We assumed a fox must have got her. Then I let them out yesterday morning and there she was with the others, leaving me completely confused about where she had hidden!!

The greenhouse escapee is now living by herself in our garden. She seems much happier by herself; we think the two that died might have died due to stress as Gilbert the cockerel and the older hens can be a bit mean. Only problem is that we don’t have a home for her yet so currently she is sleeping in a cardboard box!

The whole thing has been ridiculous, who would have thought that chickens would caused such fuss and mystery! But all’s well that ends well, Sophia and Isaac are chuffed to have a pet chicken in the garden and they all seem happier. Now we’d better sort out a permanent home before it rains!!

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In our garden

The garden has been slightly neglected of late, I’ve been watering the tomatoes, peppers and strawberries daily and as I do I keep spotting more and more jobs that need doing; potatoes need earthing up, onions and garlic need weeding, peppers need planting out, peas need guidance…. 

This week though, enough was enough. I’ve been grabbing ten minutes here and there, where I can to get some of the jobs done. And whilst doing it have been taking stock of where I’m at which is probably roughly where I thought I’d be right now! The potatoes (main crop King Edwards) are doing remarkably well, I can’t earth them up fast enough and they’re about to flower. The pumpkins are doing very well but the broccoli that was planted in the same bed is a no show. I was a bit lazy and planted the seed straight into the bed which I don’t think I should have done because our soil, even with added manure and compost is fairly unforgiving. The blackcurrant bushes and leeks are doing well though and the dwarf beans are trying to survive despite being ravaged by slimy intruders. The carrots were also a total no show but the onions and garlic are doing incredibly well which makes me happy! Our tomatoes are slowly but surely getting there, they are much smaller than our landlady’s (who they share a greenhouse with) but a different variety and they are starting to flower so it’s all good. Our peppers are thriving and I’m just deciding when to make the scary decision of planting them out…I really don’t want them to die! Our strawberries are producing copious amounts of fruit although they seem to be of a small alpine variety rather than the traditional plump  British that we envision with cream and champagne. The kids though, could care less, they are still very much enjoying munching them. I’m on my third planting of sunflowers…apparently they’re a tasty treat! So am going to let them get much bigger before they go out in the flower beds. And finally, our pea den is doing very well, peas are slowly and steadily climbing, runner beans aren’t doing as quite as well but hopefully will still be fairly productive. 

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Phew. That was a bit of a brain dump. Apologies dear readers. I just wanted to have some notes for later in the season and/or next year! 

It feels like summer has finally hit and we have been very much enjoying it! Sophia had a dip in the sea at Torquay on Monday after we saw the Philharmonia Orchestra for the concluding part of an installation and events called iOrchestra. Isaac, oddly, couldn’t be persuaded to even put a foot in the water – very unlike him! Tuesday and wednesday  we mainly pottered at home and in the garden but also took a walk down the lane to hunt for more elderflower (it’s finally here and EVERYWHERE). I’ve just set to work on our fourth batch! (3 cordial, 1 ‘wine’…) It’s so easy to do and so yummy, we’re going to have a fair few in the freezer to keep us going which was my intention so I’m pretty happy with that! 

Today we went back to Topsham for the day; it was lovely! We had a picnic in the little park, went for a swim, had an ice cream and fed the ducks and then me and Isaac chilled out whilst Sophia was at dancing. It all felt rather idyllic and made me miss Topsham quite a lot! I saw and chatted to lots of folk and realised that I really miss the sense of community that Topsham has. I love love love where we are now but it is a bit lonely in that respect. But I guess we’ll have to just make sure we make a conscious effort to keep our ties with Topsham despite not living there anymore. 

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I’ve been feeling a bit drowned by the kids this week. They seem to be going through a phase of being incapable of independent play or occupying themselves without my input and it’s pretty frustrating!! Dan (and articles on the internet) has been gently reminding me that this is just a season and one that I’ll probably miss when it has past. And he is probably right. But I would so like to be able to go to the toilet without having to mediate through the door or answer numerous inane questions whilst in the shower! 

Anyway, I realise this is a pretty rubbish post, all rambling and incoherent. My apologies (for the second time)! We’re off camping soon so I might go a bit quiet (though will try and update) so until next time, enjoy the sun and be well! 

In the dark of night

I couldn’t park outside work last night. Not particularly surprising given that it was a warm sunny (ish) friday evening in June but it did mean that I was a bit late to work as I had to park on the high street and cut through the church yard and along the front to the pub.

Leaving in the dark five hours later I did consider taking the streetlight lit way back to the car but being tired and just wanting to get home I went back the way I came. As I started walking back through the churchyard I noticed a man approaching me. I nodded as we passed and continued on engrossed in replying to a text. I happened to glance over my shoulder and realised that he had stopped, turned round and was walking towards me. He caught my eye and said ‘hey’. I completely freaked out. I let out a strangled ‘bye’ and sprinted out onto the high street and down to my car.

As I sat in the car, doors locked and heart pounding I felt like a complete idiot. Why on earth did my gut tell me to run away?! He was probably completely innocent. Perhaps he wanted to ask the time or maybe he thought he recognised me. I probably made him feel awful by running away when he did nothing more but greet me.

It made me wonder, was this my overactive imagination at work or would have other women reacted in the same way. At what point did a culture of fear permeate our society to the extent that we see strangers firstmost as potential threats instead of fellow human beings. Where has our trust in the kindness of strangers gone?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be sensible about risks and choices that we make but maybe we err on the side of fear and caution too much. Or is it a sad fact that there is much more crime than 20, 50 years ago and that our instincts are an evolved reaction to the state of the world around us?

The news is full of stories of violence, rape, murder. Are we simply reporting more than we used to or is it really on the rise? I don’t know the answers but I do know that I don’t want my children to grow up in fear, suspicious of strangers. I want them to be safe, to be able to make well informed sensible decisions, not to be instantly distrusting but also not to be naive.

I have no idea how to achieve this, how to impart these values and skills. I suspect part of it depends on the community that you live in. A closer knit community means that you can get to know and trust those around you. I’m aware that that isn’t always possible though. So I guess it’s just finding the fine line between making wise choices (streetlit road over dark churchyard!) and not living in fear of the unknown. I still want them to be able to stop and help folk in need though even if others are passing on by, wary of what they don’t know.

Those of you with older children, would love to hear your thoughts on teaching them to be safe but not fearful…