Top Tips
Top Tips
Think Twice About Keeping Chickens
A very popular fad at the moment is keeping chickens. Chickens are for the most part a pleasure to have in the garden. They soon form part of the outdoor ambience, wandering about here and there much as goldfish in a goldfish bowl. ‘Garden goldfish’ is an apt term to use for them in fact.

Of course there is the added benefit of fresh eggs daily; take it from one who knows, they really are a cut above anything you can get from the shops.

Nothing comes without its down side though, and keeping chickens is no exception. You need to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth.

Chickens moult annually; usually in the autumn. They stop laying during the moult, and do not start laying again until February/March. It is possible to fool them by putting a timed lighting system in the coop, but not everyone has the skill necessary to arrange it. “Not much of a downer” you might say and you would be right. However, a wintertime break in egg production is not the only disadvantage associated with keeping chickens.

If you intend to be fair to your chickens and provide them with a good home, you need to be prepared to hand over a significant amount of your garden to them. Many companies sell coops with integral, supposedly fox proof runs which can be moved around the garden periodically. These are rarely big enough. Often they provide only a couple of square meters/yards of space per chicken. I make no bones about it. This is cruel. Despite what you may be told, or have read in books, an absolute minimum of six square meters/yards per chicken are needed to prevent them from becoming frustrated and bored. You need to keep at least two chickens, so twelve square meters or more will be needed. An alternative would be to give your chickens the run of the garden. However, chickens wreak havoc on tidy well kempt flower beds. They also produce a surprisingly large volume of droppings. Even if you let your chickens roam occasionally, I promise, you will want to keep them contained for most of the time.

Another problem is fox predation. Foxes are present in towns and cities as well as more rural locations. They rarely attack during the day, but pose a big problem at night. It is vital that you let your chickens out in the morning and lock them up again at night every day. It takes a strong stomach to deal with a fox attack. Your whole flock will be killed and the garden will be littered with bloody headless corpses.

Finally, and probably most problematic is the inevitability of red mite infestation. No matter how hard you try, sooner or later your coop will become infected with red mite. Red mites are a parasitic insect which crawl all over the chickens as they roost at night, sucking their blood.
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04 March 2013
Keeping red mite under control during the summer months can be a very big problem. Powder helps (a bit), but cleaning out the coop, burning the waste and spraying weekly is essential. Be prepared for the mites to fall on you from the roof of the coop as you clean it. You will want to shed your clothes and shower immediately afterwards to rid yourself of those irritating critters.

So now you are in the picture you can make an informed decision. I have never regretted the time I spent keeping chickens, but it really is a matter of taking the rough with the smooth.
Red Poultry Mite. Courtesy Sakdoctor.
11 February 2013
Perfect Pork Crackling
It is easy to make perfect crackling on a large joint of pork, but small joints are not in the oven for long enough to guarantee a perfect result.

If you want to make sure your crackling is crispy then here is a foolproof method:

Untie the joint and remove the skin/rind in one piece with a sharp knife, leaving most of the fat on the joint.

Re-tie the joint and put in the oven as usual.

Trim excess fat off the skin so that the fat layer is about 3mm (1/8”) thick. Score and lightly salt the rind, then lay skin-side down in a baking tray.

Put into the oven about 90 minutes before the joint is due to come out, then after 45 minutes, pour off any excess fat and turn the rind over (skin side up).

Cook for another 45 minutes before removing the rind and the joint from the oven. Leave the meat to rest, and the rind to become crisp before serving.
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Pork Crackling
28 January 2013
Mushroom Magic 2
Use a coffee grinder (all traces of coffee grounds removed) to grind dried mushrooms into a fine powder as shown in the picture above.

If you wish, you can use the mushroom powder immediately. Alternatively, spread it onto a tray and place in a very very low oven for an hour or two to remove any latent moisture. It can then be stored in an airtight container for weeks, or even months.

Unlike dried mushrooms, mushroom magic takes very little time to cook and imparts its flavour instantly.

Try it, I guarantee you will become a mushroom magic convert.
Mushroom Magic badobadop027016.jpg
21 January 2013
Mushroom Magic 1
Dried Mushrooms
Left to air in the kitchen for a few days, they will produce excellent low/no cost dried mushrooms. The drying process intensifies the mushroom flavour.

Store in a food grade paper bag to allow any residual moisture to escape. Great for adding texture and flavour to soups, stews and pasta dishes.
Never let mushrooms go to waste. Dried mushrooms from the supermarket are quite expensive. Any fresh mushrooms left over at the end of the week can be sliced in half and placed on a grill stand. Even cheap 'value brand' mushrooms work well. No need to use exotic varieties.
04 February 2013
Bags and Bins
This one doesn't sound like much, but try it and I guarantee you will become a convert.

Instead of rummaging around in cupboards trying to find bin bags, just throw the roll into the bottom of the bin before you put the bag in place. You always know where it is and how much is left. If you think the roll will become soiled, think again; it rarely happens. See the picture below:
Bin Bags
The powder in the bottom of the bin is bicarbonate of soda. It helps to keep stale odours down.
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Home dried mushrooms (see Mushroom Magic 1) can be turned into an incredibly versatile ingredient for any dish where an intense mushroom flavour is required. It goes especially well with beef. I call it Mushroom Magic. Not to be confused with magic mushrooms!
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