Chickens n Chives & it’s almost May?!!!!

Since getting Ivy and Etta who both seem to have a penchant for self-seasoning themselves in the herb garden, the other girls have also suddenly taken an interest and we no longer have a herb garden at all – totally decimated!

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exhibit A – Betty tearing up the chives

Think I’ll need to re-plant everything and then stick spikes/bamboo around the edge to stop them getting into it the little monkeys. The right-hand side of the rockery is also in need of some attention after they tore everything up to make a dust bath there as well.

At least they’re all ‘playing nicely’ now – the flock integration was pretty wretched to watch – who knew hens could be so vicious!

 

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Ivy (L) and Etta (R) taking sentry duty

In other news, after a (very) brief visit from Spring we’re back to Winter – snow and freezing temperatures mean that our conservatory is still full of plants from our recent garden centre excursions that it’s still too cold to plant out.

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We have a new front garden!

Our front garden was clearly made to be low-maintenance but we were desperate to create a ‘chocolate box’ country cottage look, especially as our back garden is mainly a kitchen garden.IMG_7716

We removed all the pebbles – most going to neighbours houses/gardens – it was quite amusing to find white car parking lines underneath from the days it was a pub.

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Then in came the landscapers to dig it all up, put in flower beds around the borders and creating a lawn – Sandy has been desperate to get a lawnmower (boys and toys?!) so now he can!

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We’ve got to wait 2-3 weeks for the grass to sort itself out before we can get in there and start planting, but in the meantime, we’ve been given some very clever-sounding garden planning software to try out/review – The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner which I’m very excited about.

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Rhubarb & Ginger Jam Recipe (easy)

Rhubarb is one of the best growers in our garden (being an arctic plant the hard frosts we get in the hills keep it very happy) and I’ve spent a lot of time refining this recipe but I’m finally happy with it. I often make up a half batch (just 2 jars) if I have some windblown stalks needing using.

It’s super quick and easy to make, not to mention, very tasty! 

IMG_7613Ingredients

1kg rhubarb, washed & sliced into 2cm lengths

1kg caster sugar

zest & juice of 1 lemon

75-100g fresh ginger, finely chopped (I like a strong ginger zing)

(This makes about 4 average jars)

Method

  • Place the rhubarb, sugar, lemon juice & zest into a bowl, stir and cover and set aside for a couple of hours.
  • Once all the sugar has dissolved in the rhubarb juices transfer into a preserving pan and set over a medium heat.
  • Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved and then bring to the boil.
  • Continue to cook until the rhubarb is really tender and it has reached setting point – this will probably take about 10-15 mins.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and leave for 2-3 mins before pouring into sterilized jars. Seal immediately.

Tips

Testing for Setting Point

Put a couple of saucers in your freezer before setting the jam to heat. When ready to test, drop ½ a teaspoon of the jam onto a saucer, leave for 30 seconds and then gently push with your fingertip – if the jam ‘wrinkles’ then setting point has been reached. If not, cook for a few minutes more and test again.

Sterilising Your Jam Jars

I do this in the microwave, soak the jars in hot water and then put the still wet jars into the microwave on full power for about 1 minute (until they are dry) and then use immediately.

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Products I love that soothe ‘outdoor hands’

I was sent some ‘Outdoor Hands’ skin cream to review last week and it got me thinking that there are actually very few products I’ve tried (& I have tried many!) that really work on my often, dried and cracked, hands and feet so, I thought I’d share the few products that I do rate. 

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Let’s start with the Outdoor Hands’ Intense Skin Therapy Cream. As you can clearly see from the branding, it’s making a bold statement being aimed directly at builders, bricklayers, farmers, riggers, fishers etc £6.95 RRP for 100ml

The claim – Outdoor Hands is a skin therapy cream formulated by experts. Made from a unique blend of nourishing natural butters, botanical oils, vitamin E and Aloe Vera. Easily absorbed with a non-greasy finish, it will relieve cracked or chapped hands, feet, elbows and other dry skin.

The verdict – It’s great! By day 2 of using this cream I noticed a marked difference in my hands and the horrible dry skin patches I had have either gone or been seamlessly smoothed. It has a pleasant but not overpowering smell, it rubs in quickly and at a £6.95 RRP it’s also kind on your pocket, I’ll absolutely be buying more of this when this runs out.

Massagical Gold (Salt Scrub) & Massagical Cream. Despite the slightly odd name I bought these after testing them out at last year’s Gardening Scotland Show. £13 each for 160ml

The claim:

Massagical Gold – Cleans, exfoliates and lightly moisturises skin. Made from cold pressed rape seed oil infused with masses of elderflowers, and then blended with other healing oils and Himalayan rock salt, creating a lovely uplifting and refreshing treat for your skin.

Massagical Cream – Combines the benefits of shea butter with the Massagical oils for an uplifting revival for your hands, feet and skin. Beneficial for many problematic skin conditions. Apply sparingly whenever your skin feels dry.

The verdict – I adore these products, they smell divine (it’s quite heady), and the scrub followed by the cream combo is like a Spa treatment in your own home. They’re also good value, I got a ‘show deal’ £20 for both products and I still have plenty left, which is just as well as they make them by hand they have a limited stock each year.

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Hebridean Seaweed, Aloe Vera Handwash by The Highland Soap Co. I was given this for my birthday last year along with a host of other gardening goodies. £7.50 for 300ml.

The claim – Moisturising Aloe Vera handwash with nutrient-rich sea kelp extract, refreshing Peppermint and healing Lavender essential oils. Seaweed is rich in essential vitamins and anti-oxidants for skin. Naturally fragranced with plant extracts and essential oils. Made with over 95% Organic ingredients. 100% of the total ingredients are of natural origin.

The verdict – Clearly I love it to feature it here, but it’s a real treat when I come in from the garden with very grubby hands to use this product, it feels silky on the skin and has a lovely low-key but delightful aroma, which is just as well as it usually takes me quite a while to scrub my hands after a gardening session!

Now I just need to find a really good nail brush!

So, these are a few products that I do rate for looking after hands that spend a lot of time outdoors! I’ll add more as and when I find them.

 

 

Top UK Gardening Blogs 2016

It was really lovely to receive an email this week telling us that our Pentland Garden Diary has been listed in magazine.co.uk’s Top UK Gardening Bloggers List for 2016. Amazing to see our humble journal being amongst some of the country’s gardening elite.

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On top of last year’s listing in Vuelio’s Top 10 UK Gardening Blogs it’s really quite astonishing. A big thank you to anyone who’s ever stopped by and hopefully you’ll continue to enjoy our, more grubby than green, fingered journey.

An evening with our local Bonsai Society

I’ve always been completely fascinated by the art of Bonsai – I guess my ‘Beautiful Bonsai’ Pinterest Board says it all.

I’ve unsuccessfully tried to keep a couple before but after a very long chat with a very enthusiastic member of the Scottish Bonsai Society at last year’s Gardening Scotland we came out with two lovely new Bonsai and a couple of pots, our only job was to keep them alive until March 2016 when we could then pot them.

How on earth are we going to get that in to that pot?
How on earth are we going to get that into that pot?

March arrived and we only had one surviving Bonsai and looking at the size of the plant and then the size of the pot we realised that help was needed so we looked up our local Bonsai Society group in Penicuik – the next meet wasn’t until April, hopefully not too late!

What a lovely evening we had – there was some amusement at our specimen as it was overly-wired (not by us), unidentifiable, very very dry (but looking very happy on it), and with a huge root system. Basically, it was a rather unpromising start for our wee fella.

Dave takes control of the situation
Dave takes control of the situation

After much chat between the members they decided ‘surgery’ was in order and Dave, the organiser of the group got to work digging down and cutting back to see if there was any noticeable root structure (very important to have good visible roots in Bonsai) that would then define the front of the tree and then how it should be developed.

It was absolutely fascinating, some decent roots were found (things started to look up) and we now have what looks much more like a tree, some wiring was removed and some new wiring was added and some pruning took place and now there is hope!

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The beginnings of the all-important visible root structure

 

We now need to let it recover from it’s ordeal (fingers crossed) and we’ve been advised to tease out the root system with a chopstick and then sit it in a pond basket along with bonsai grit (or Sanicat cat litter) and feed it (with Miracle-Gro) and see how the shape of it develops over the next few months.

Loved meeting these local enthusiasts, some of them are working on 50 or so plants of their own, very inspiring and I have a feeling that we will now also be on the look-out for some more to start nurturing and learning from. We’ll definitely be going back to the Penicuik Bonsai Society meet as well.

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The results of it’s session with The Society

You can find out more about your local Scottish Bonsai Association groups & meetups here.

We were also recommended the Bonsai4me website as an excellent resource.

New Girls on the block – Ivy & Etta

Meet the latest additions to our Pentland Garden – Ivy and Etta.

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They are Maran chickens, Ivy is a Copper Blue Maran and Etta is a Copper Black with lovely iridescent feathers. They lay a dark brown coloured egg and they’d even thoughtfully laid one for us en-route. (We thought it’d be a nice complement to the blue eggs we get from our Cream Legbars, Betty, Marge & Rose).

Still being newbie backyard chicken-keepers we had a lot to learn very quickly when we discovered they were being delivered a few days earlier than expected. A mad dash saw a neighbour kindly bring us over an old dog box and run as we tried to cobble together a separate area for them from random materials lying around and about.

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There was certainly a lot of noise from all of the girls to start with – there’s also been a lot of squaring up and pecking through the fence, hopefully it won’t last too long and they get used to each other quickly. Marans are a more docile breed so I’m assuming our girls, who are quite territorial, will stay top of the pecking order but we’ll see.

We had one escapee moment (I’ve now ordered a big fishing net for future chicken catching shenanigans) as well as raising the divider even higher. Have a feeling these two will be just as entertaining but in very different ways and who knows these ones might even be a bit more cuddly – would love a proper chicken cuddle (like in this cutest video below).