Tuesday 30 December 2014

Life as been busy for us at home - I've been working longish hours and have had long journeys to work. Our young people continue to keep us busy- having four children very close together has often meant lots of attention needed all at the same time and I had in my foolishness thought that the times when they were young were going to be the hardest!! I had no idea what was in store for us.

Start of the 2014 preparations- onion and garlic bedLast year despite my best efforts, my trips down to the allotment were few and far between.
You've guessed right - one of the plans for this year is to spend more time down there. I really find it very therapeutic to be there - away from home, work and back to the simple things in life. Children, work, life will just have to wait - I need my 'Me ' time and the allotment so fills this need.
Over the Christmas holidays, hubby and I had planned to get to grips with the allotment and make it ours again as opposed to the wild wilderness it has become.
I'm rather ashamed at how bad it was!
 So over the last couple of days we have both been down digging sometimes together and sometimes separately and how lovely it was too. One of children asked recently what were we going to do when they had all left home- ' as you don't have a lot in common!'. Well how wrong they are - and we are trying hard to spend more time together - and the allotment is a great place to start! Just as long as we don't get like other allotment couples - some of which can be heard bickering away very loudly at times! 

This is my neighbours plot - we think he works overnight on it - it always looks good!We divide our work Mr H is in charge of structures layout and buildings and general up keep .We agree on what we are growing and I am responsible for sowing  and planting. It seems to work well for us !
 So lots of digging being done - the soil is lovely now after years of  applying manure and lots of digging. Even after all the rain we have had, it's an absolute delight - its dark, crumbly  and lovely .
When we first started it was full of stones, rocks and flints! It's just the weeds we need to keep on top off and that's an on going battle. Even after a couple of days digging things have improved so much. 

It was a very cold and frosty start yesterday!It was soo cold after yesterdays digging I was inspired to make some "new" wellie socks from old woollen jumpers destined for the charity shop ( sorry charity shop- I have sent you other things !!!) . There are lots of sites giving instructions and I had to look at them all for inspiration. Beware some sites offer instructions for leg warmers instead of socks! It was my toes that were cold not my legs!!
Tubular socks made from woollen jumper sleevesEventually I went for the tubular ski sock idea, using the sleeves and the ribbed cuff as the sock top. I tried the sleeve on inside out and pinned the garment so that it fitted around the leg, ankle, around the foot and toe area. I have made two pairs a shorter pair and a longer pair and  I am so hoping I don't have cold feet next time I go digging. I was on a roll and I had  previously thought about upcycling mittens  so whilst the jumper was there and the machine primed I also made these:

Mittens made from up-cycled woollen jumper sleevesSo hopefully no cold hands either!
 I am already starting to plan what I will grow and watching Nigel Slater on his new years day cooking programme ( I do enjoy watching his programmes ) he has further inspired me to get planning. So onto the Internet I go! I love looking for new seed packets  and  deciding what I will grow so that's what I'm up to  for the next few days ! I'm so glad to be back and have missed talking to you  and catching up with old friends! Looking forward to seeing what 2014 brings !!

Welcome back to Hen Corner! As featured in Country Living Magazine We hope that you’ve had a great Christmas and are now looking forward to the exciting journey that 2014 will bring. Readers who follow us on Twitter and Facebook will have seen some of the things we’ve been up to throughout the year but […]

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Well, I'm a day late with this thanks to hackers at Typepad trying to wreck havoc for the past few days, it's the first time I've managed to log in since last week! Never mind, this is an interesting tune from the vaults of time. Remember Quantam Jump? I remember...

Sunday 20 April 2014

Happy Easter! To celebrate the warm springtime weather we’ve been having… I had a go at making some new bee houses. These little hole-filled boxes provide safe sites for lots of insects, especially solitary bee species, who love to lay their … Continue reading →

Friday 18 April 2014

@hungrybin @omlet @wiggled

I posted a couple of days ago about the HotBin sort out and I have now sorted out the various wormeries which live by the polytunnel as well. One of the reasons I got my hands so dirty yesterday :)

I first emptied out the Can o Worms wormery, bought from Wiggly Wigglers many years ago now and still going strong! I harvested three bucket fulls of lovely worm compost

I then emptied out the Hungry Bin tray and got another bucketful from that.

I don't need the compost just yet so I used  a spare CoW I got from Freecycle to store the compost in, five trays full of worm compost - that will allow it to dry out a little and I can use the worm juice in the polytunnel.  I added a top tray with the contents of the kitchen caddy so any remaining worms will move up into the top tray out of the finished compost.

Looking into the Hungry Bin this shows that worms do not eat compostable caddy bags - these obviously need to go into a compost bin for other compost creatures to munch at them. I have added a caddy at the foot of the Hungry bin so we all remember to put the bags in there.

Job done. You can see the orange rubbish bits bucket on the  far left hand side then moving to the right, the "compost storage" Can o Worms, next to it is the "working" Can o Worms wormery, next to that is the Hungry Bin wormery, then the caddy I have put down for the compost caddy bags collection, then the HotBin and the plant hardening off bench with some brassicas waiting to be planted out in the ( newly dug) veg patch. Finally the wooden bench with cold frame on top, containing various perennial plants waiting to be planted out into the new Bee attracting bed by the House.

I got a lot of work done in an afternoon. This area tends to be a bit of a dumping ground ( the outdoor equivalent of the Study of Doom!) and so it was good to sort it all out. Now this area is nice and tidy again.

Thursday 17 April 2014

After all the gardening and composting and woodcraft I have been doing in the last few weeks my hands are in a terrible state. Fortunately I had a surprise delivery last week in the post - addressed to The Compost Bin ( I love it when that happens!) This time there was a postcode but sometimes I have had stuff get to me with just Compostwoman and Ledbury as the address :)

The parcel rather fortuitously contained some Gardeners Hand Treats to review,  from Heathcote and Ivory.

 This is what they say on their website.
Hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with natureEnglish green-fingered gardeners, vitamin-rich vegetable patches and dependable potting sheds have inspired our own home-grown Gardeners produce of creams to nourish and protect dry hard-working hands with a blend of nutritious ingredients, specifically designed for post–gardening, using essential oils and vitamins to tend nail beds after a therapeutic day spent digging, planting and reading the newspaper at the allotment.

For a garden scent, breathe in the juicy notes of red tomatoes and red currants combined with the green freshness of basil and mint on a base of cedarwood and earthy musk.
Free from parabens & sulphates

I really like the packaging, all recycleable card and I would love wrapping paper or even a framed poster with this design on! So very pretty,


According to the website the kit contains
Shea Butter Hand Cream 50ml
Enriched with Shea Butter and Vitamin E to nourish hands and Panthenol to help strengthen nails. Blended with essential oils to leave hands feeling soft and moisturised.

Cleansing Hand Scrub 50ml
Dig deep and lift dirt from hands and nails with this cleansing and exfoliating scrub. Combining essential oils with Shea Butter, Glycerin, Vitamin E and Pro-vitamin B5 to help refine, smooth and soften hands.

Plant Markers (10 pieces) and Crayon
Weather resistant markers ideal for labelling seed trays and plant pots.
   I gave the product a hard test - to tidy up my hands after a hard day gardening!

They were very grimy with ingrained dirt and plant juices ( mainly dandilion) and with some very rough skin. I used the scrub which got off the ingrained compost and soil and left my hands clean and soft and then I used the hand cream which left my hands moisturised and sweet smelling. Full marks!

I was a bit less impressed when I tried the crayon and black markers, which look very stylish but don’t work that well as the crayon wipes off the marker rather easily. A minor issue though as I don't think they are the main reason anyone would buy the kit :)
I was intending to email Heathcote and Ivory to thank them and congratulate them about the scrub and hand cream, so I decided to mention my views about the markers. I suggested maybe some wooden markers and a wrapped pencil would work better, be not fossil fuel based and could be composted after use.
I got a positive response back that day, thanking me for my comments and saying my suggestions had been passed on to the develpment team.
So, a nice gift set, and would make a very nice gift for a keen gardener but maybe buy them some other plant markers as well.

I was sent this kit to review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

At the end of last year I found that my Hotbin was not working as well as before - it seemed to have stopped getting up to the 60 C zone despite my feeding it with compostables as before. I dug out the bottom compost and refilled it but it just did not seem to be working as well and would not go above 40 C any more.


I chatted to Tony Callaghan at HotBin and he suggested my Hotbin may have "stalled" - an unusual situation only experienced in bins which had been working correctly but had then stopped getting up to 60 C.

He suggested I join in a trial he was running to check out a "fix" for this very unusual situation. I was keen and so was sent a part which needed to be retrofitted to the HotBin. To do this I needed to empty out the Hotbin.


 It is quite easy to put the HotBin on its side.

Lots of compost in the bottom. Compostman dug it out for me and


I put it into buckets, waiting to be used for tomato plants.

We took out the base plate and when we looked at it, as expected the holes were clogged up and not letting water drain out or air to move up.

  The holes were plugged with a very gooey sludge like material which sat there and did not drip off.

 The base was very wet and the air mesh was blocked. This bin had definately stalled!

I gave the HotBin a good wash out

The "fix" is a length of perforated pipe, inserted through the Base plate and which sits in the corner of the Hotbin allowing more airflow through the material. Compostman made the hole and inserted the pipe.

HotBin put back togather and refilled with some compost, grass, paper and guinea pig bedding and droppings. Ambient temp was 16 C, HotBin thermometer within a hour of refill read 30C.

I also took the opportunity to have a tidy up behind the lean to and sort out the cold frames and potting area.

At the end of a hard afternoon of work it all looked much tidier.

I will update on how well the HotBin is working later in the week but it is all looking very promising so far.

{forget-me-not flower floating amongst the Lemna} I have been pondering a section of the garden that is in need of a bit of a re-design. In order to create a plan, I had to consider what I really value in this … Continue reading →

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Today, 25 years ago this morning at 6.30 was the anniversary of my Mother dying. I am an Owl not a Lark but on this day I always wake early, so today I was up at 6 am and by 6.30 am was out planting, composting and growing stuff, with Cassi Cat, the feathery gang and some tea-and-marmite-toast to keep me company.

My way of coping.

Everyone else was (quite sensibly!) still asleep - but not me. I cannot sleep in on this day.

I find this date very upsetting and sad, but I cannot escape this day even if I did want to (not that I do want to IYKWIM) as it is also is the day 96 people died at Hillsborough for a still not yet established set of situations. I will just say - my heart goes out to all of those involved    - and 25 years is FAR TOO LONG to find out what really happened to your loved ones..

But obviously I personally cannot get away from this date as the media reminds me every year. Even if my own internal clock did not.

Today, (insert number of years ago here) my Mother died. I was only 26 when it first happened - now I am 51 and in a week or so will be 52. It hurts, every day. Some days more than others. Today is a bad day as it is an anniversary of her death.

Despite the difficulties this day presents -  and other various family stuff  happening as well (which seems is not going to change, sadly!) I have had as good a day as I could - helped by getting my hands very soil-y with planting and growing and nurturing. I also was helped in my distressed state by being able to spend an hour sitting in the wood, meditating, listening to the birdsong and just being. I am so blessed that I can have the luxury to do this.

I went down to the log circle mid morning  as I really felt I needed some help with how I felt and hoped for some renewal and healing. After the last few days which have been rather fraught, I needed it. I lost track of time - thought I was sitting there for maybe 10 mins? - was actually more like an hour. I think this was healing time for me and certainly I felt much calmer afterwards.

I wish those who were robbed of their loved ones at the Hillsborough disaster could find such peace. Sadly, I fear not.

Monday 14 April 2014

Thought I would start a weekly post on a piece of music I have been humming or listening to in the past week. It might be modern or very old, could be anything, I have a very catholic taste in music! This week I thought I would kick off with...

Friday 11th April After our day out at Kenilworth I felt quite industrious when I got home, so after tea I made a caraway seed cake. I use the recipe in this book, the Australian Women's Weekly, ISBN no is 978-0-7537-2209-1, if you are interested! I picked my copy up...

Sunday 13 April 2014

Friday April 11th We last visited Kenilworth Castle about 2 years ago. It was in June and the weather was awful, it was cold and rainy, and the place was overrun with unruly teenagers on a school trip. How different it was today. It was gloriously sunny, almost too warm...

Saturday 12 April 2014

Naughty me, I do not have any before photos for this refashion, oh well, use your imagination, please! My mum had a hideous long padded jacket thing, two sizes too big for her and just, well, a bit too jazzy for my liking. Coupled with the elasticated hemline and large...

Thursday 10 April 2014

  Today we planted potatoes, Charlotte and Nicola, in these raised beds outside by the wood.

 25 of each, in each bed.

 I took the chance after the potatoes were in the ground to have a walk in the wood and admire the bluebells.

Then I got on the mower and cut all the grass.

 Also used the hand mower to get to the more difficult bits. I usually use the push mower, but my arm is still not up to doing that, so petrol power it was.

 Blondin and Sweetie admiring the fresh cut grass.

 Then we cleaned the outside of the polytunnel - it is amazing how much green manky stuff grows on the outside over a year!

Finally - tomato flowers on a Latah tomato plant inside the polytunnel :) Soon...

Wednesday 09 April 2014

{baby lithops – 3 months old} Lithops (or Living Stones) are the most mesmerising plants ever… …and boy do they fly out of the Finca fast?! Adapted to mimic stones in their native South Africa, these plants have very few … Continue reading →

Tuesday 08 April 2014

So we managed to decide on a new (to us) car for Compostman - it is lovely, Compostman went and collected it yesterday afternoon and I have been ordered on pain of serious marital disharmony NOT to fill it with straw, compost bins etc... how long do you think it will stay pristine?

We have been married for 29 years so I am banking on a bit of mess not instigating Divorce papers.

We shall see.

New (ish) to us car is a BMW touring - lovely rear wheel drive again at last - both Compostman and I do not like front wheel drive cars - must be all those years of driving performance and racing cars! RWD does handle so much better :)

New car has very good fuel efficiency and low RFL as a result, nice interior with various luxuries such as mp3 etc - you can tell our cars are a bit old as we find this luxurious! Also it has lots and lots and lots of lovely space inside,  for  

 straw bales, tarpaulins, FS tool bags, compost bins, chicken food etc  

 bags of shopping and lots of really nice clean stuff. LOL.

 I had a surprise delivery today in the post - addressed to The Compost Bin ( I love it when that happens!) This time there was a postcode but sometimes I have had stuff get to me with just Compostwoman and Ledbury as the address :)
Anyway the parcel contained some Gardeners Hand Treats to review,  from Heathcote and Ivory.  A proper review will follow later in the week, but the products smell divine :) Lets just say my hands are lovely and soft and clean and sweet smelling, now ;)

Finally here is the view from the Study window for early April - blue sky  ( at last! ) as the pollution has finally gone away for now. The yellow is oil seed rape so more pollen loaded misery will come soon for me  :( Personally I loathe OSR - the pollen and then the horrible smell when it goes over, before harvesting . Ah well.

Monday 07 April 2014

As you know I often get asked to review items, sometimes gardening or chicken keeping equipment and sometimes books. Recently I was sent a press release for a new book by Phillipa Pearson, published by Dorling Kindersley called Small Space, Big Ideas.

The press release said the book would  provide inspiration and practical projects to get balconies, window-sills, porches, patios, roof gardens and even stairs and walls blooming. It also mentioned that the book had a crafty homemade approach to gardening 
I thought it sounded interesting so I agreed to have a copy to review.
When the book arrived I was really rather impressed with it - a substantial hard backed book with beautiful illustrations and a very comprehensive set of instructions accompanying each of the 40 gardening projects in the book.
This book does indeed have a very "crafty" feel to it - lots of the ideas would not look out of place in a craft magazine like Mollie Makes- but the the book is still very much oriented to growing and gardening. Both ornamental and edible plants are grown in the projects and there is an emphasis on being able to produce both food and beauty in even small gardens.

Although I have a large garden, you can see I have marked a lot of projects in this book which I want to try! I particularly liked the Colourful Salad Colander ( p32) - I first saw a similar idea at the Yeo Valley Organic Gardens cafe and I can vouch for how spectacular it can look.

The Saddlebag Balcony Planters (p 74) made from oilcloth and filled with plants to hang either side of a balcony are really great - I would be quite tempted to have some on my actual bicycle :)


The Portable Hanging Insect House (p 198) looks wonderful and would appeal to many a diy enthusiast as well as a gardener - and the finished product looks both effective and very stylish.

I really liked the Wildlife Hamper (p210)- insect attracting flowers growing in a basket  - I think this could make a wonderful gift if the basket were given as a kit with the seed packets in it. I did a similar thing last year to grow Celery, and it is still going strong in the polytunnel so I know this technique does work.

In fact I liked the whole book, I really enjoyed looking through it; there are some good ideas which I want to try and as an inspiration and source of ideas this book is really brilliant. 

Although not explicitly organic, I could see no use of chemicals (apart from paint and varnish) and lots of organic growing methods were mentioned, such as companion planting and attracting beneficial insects to the garden. Composting and maintaining a healthy ecological balance in the garden was also discussed and various methods outlined. The book has a useful section on how to grow and maintain plants, with general care and harvesting advice. It also has a very good contents list at the front and index at the back, along with a list of suppliers.

I do wonder if some of the containers could be obtained as easily as the book assumes (old zinc tubs are quite expensive and I don't often see them!) and I was a bit disappointed not to see more prominent mention of using peat free growing medium rather than just saying to buy multi purpose compost.

These are minor quibbles and this book would make an interesting and attractive addition to the bookshelves of a gardener and/or craft person or indeed to a beginner in either.

Small Space, Big IdeasAuthor: Philippa PearsonPublisher: DK Publication date: 1st March 2014£16.99

With thanks to Vivienne  at DK for sending me the books. More about the other book in another post :)

Sunday 06 April 2014

Phew! It's been a rather emotional and stressful fortnight, apologies for the lack of posts (if you are a regular reader that is, otherwise, you wouldn't know any different!) Firstly, I thought I would share some rather nice charity shop finds with you. I've been lucky recently and popped in...

Omlet Cartoon