Friday, 30 August 2013

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Fruit of the Garden - August's Harvest

August has almost escaped us so it seems time to give you the summary for the month. We have had our first tomatoes and sampled our salad potatoes. I also lifted all our onions and garlic as some of them had completely died back.

Red Onions

White Onions



More Shallots

We didn't plant any carrots but this still turned up whilst weeding!

Salad Potatoes (Pink Fir Apple)


Our first tomatoes. Ever. Third year lucky (and first year with a conservatory)!

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Sunday, 25 August 2013

August in the Chicken Coop

To celebrate the arrival of the hens on The Urban Cottage - and because we've now been chicken keepers for one whole year - we're declaring this to be Chicken and Egg week. Today we're also starting off a new series of chicken related posts called "This month in the chicken coop".

This month our hens have been:

Standing on top of coop proclaiming it's morning. At 5am. Not impressed. Well, Joe's not impressed anyway - Jenny is much better at sleeping through these things than Joe is. There are lots of mutterings of sending them to the big farm in the hills on these mornings; though this isn't as much of a threat as it seems as the farm in the hills is a real place just quarter of hours drive from us where they would be very happy hens!

Frog in her customary "I'm the King of the Castle" pose!

Breaking into the vegetable patch. It seems no hole is too small for Frog who is rather nimble. Reinforcements are now in place on both the gate and the fence.

String stopping the sticks from moving side to side.

Extra sticks running horizontally to fill in the gaps

Starting to moult. Fizzy has started her annual moult - a little early in the year I'll admit, but Fizzy has never been one to do things on schedule.

She's not in a particularly bare phase at the moment,
but you can see all the small new feathers growing on her neck.

And that's about it for August. 
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Friday, 23 August 2013

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Soft-Boiled Bantam Eggs

To celebrate the arrival of the hens on The Urban Cottage - and because we've now been chicken keepers for one whole year - we're declaring this to be Chicken and Egg week.

Having two full sized hens and two bantams means our eggs come in a variety of sizes, and that means making a few adjustments to our recipes. One full sized egg is not quite equivalent to two bantam eggs - its more like two large to three small, which isn't a very convenient ratio. We tend to make it up as we go along, throwing in extra small eggs for good measure when we want the extra richness, and where the weight of the egg really matters - we use the large ones.

When it comes to breakfasts though we eat both in equal measure. When you poach, fry or coddle an egg you can keep an eye on it and stop cooking each egg when it is done, regardless of size. One place where timing is crucial though, is in a classic soft-boiled egg. It's tricky because you can't tell until you crack it open and dip your toast in as to whether it is wildly under, completely solid, or soft-boiled to gooey perfection. And I do like a good gooey egg for breakfast!

Strangely that there seemed to be very few internet references for soft-boiling these little eggs, so it took a little bit of research. A little help from the [egg circumference: cooking time] ratio in sous-vide water bath techniques however and we think we've got it cracked: room temperature Lemon and Pepper eggs soft-boil rather nicely in 3 mins 10 secs, and that Fizzy and Frog eggs cook in 2 mins 40 seconds. Yum.

The last little problem in the hunt for a perfect breakfast was what to use for bantam egg cups. Our normal egg cups are definitely too large. Or are they? Turned on their heads suddenly everything fits!

Breakfast is served.

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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Who's Who - One Year On

To celebrate the arrival of the hens on The Urban Cottage - and because we've now been chicken keepers for one whole year - we're declaring this to be Chicken and Egg week. Starting the week off - a guide to the girls themselves.

For all our new followers (you're very welcome), and as a reminder for some of our regulars, we thought it was about time we did a who's who in the chicken run. To add a twist we've gathered together the photos we took one year ago, when this was all new and before our garden knew what had hit it - just for comparison.

First up we have Pepper, the bossy boots of the coop and also currently one of the most tame. She's a full size light sussex.

Next up is Lemon. Large and very fluffy, prone to bouts of broodiness and very talkative (read: really loud). She is a full size Orpington.

Moving onto the bantams, we'll start with Fizzy. Fizzy's character is the most changeable. She can be shy or demanding, friendly or scared, top of the group or left on her own. It all depends on the weather it seems.... She's a bantam Orpington.

Finally we come to Frog. Small and unassuming, she's quick and nimble and much more willing to fly than the others. She'll enjoy a cuddle once caught, but good luck catching her! Frog is a bantam Wyandotte.

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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Four new members

Today our chickens are going to be joining us here at The Urban Cottage more permanently. It's been a tough decision as this means the end of Bottom of the Pecking Order but hopefully it will give us the impetus to keep you up to date with their antics a lot more - I've become very bad at updating the other blog.

On a positive note we've now been chicken keepers for one whole year, so to celebrate our success and to welcome Fizzy, Frog, Lemon and Pepper to The Urban Cottage we're declaring it Chicken and Egg week with a few themed posts. Enjoy!

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Sunday, 18 August 2013

Patchwork Quilt: 3. A Guide to Paper Piecing + Free Pattern!

Following on in our patchworking series, we thought we'd talk you through the paper piecing process with our latest quilt as an example. Even better - we'll show you how to make one of the blocks we designed - and give you the block pattern for free!

What is paper piecing?

As far as I'm aware there are two styles of paper piecing - English and American. English paper piecing involves tacking the material to lots of paper diamonds or hexagons and then sewing along the edges that are nicely defined by the paper inside, creating intricate regular patterns. American paper piecing involves having your pattern drawn on paper, sticking the fabric to it and sewing along the lines, trimming the shapes to size as you go along. American paper piecing is often used to create more unusual shapes. At the end of both you remove the paper templates. These methods allow precise piecing of shapes and patterns which is exactly what we need with these celtic knot blocks. We're using the American paper piecing in this case.

Left: This quilt by Jenny's mum uses English paper piecing. Right: Our cat quilt is American paper pieced.

How is it done?

1. Start by printing the pattern onto freezer paper. This paper is normal on one side - which allows you to print on your design, while the other side becomes sticky when warm - this means you can iron your fabric to it and it will stay put. In the case of this celtic knot, the patten is made up of three triangles. Cut out roughly around the quarter inch seam markers.
Tip: make sure that your printer is set to no scaling, or 100% scaling to make sure your block is the right size.

A, B and C triangles printed out and trimmed.

These instructions are for one A triangle: for the instructions for a whole block keep reading.

2. Then cut out the material for the A1 shape. These pieces of fabric don't need to be accurate - so long as they are big enough to cover the shape plus 1/4" seam allowance all the way round. Place the fabric pattern side down on your cutting board and then place the paper on top of this printed side up. Cut around the shape you are after, but don't cut the paper! While you're here you might want to cut out the rest of the pieces for the A triangle too.
Tip: remember to think about which way round the fabric will end up - and which direction you might want your fabric to sit. Is the pattern directional?

A1 cut to fit the shape plus seam allowances, plus a bit extra.
3.Take your first piece (A1) and iron it, right side up, to the shape labelled one.
Tip: put the material onto the ironing board first, followed by the freezer paper sticky side down  so that your iron doesn't stick to the paper.

A1 ironed to the paper.

4.Take A2 and sit it right side down on top of A1. The shape should sit such that when you sew along the line between A1 and A2, fold A2 open and iron it flat, A2 will cover its requisite shape and seam allowance. Getting this positioning right can be the key to the whole process, so take your time and find a way that suits you. Cutting your material with plenty of room to spare will also help this.

5.Sew along the line between A1 and A2.
Tip: set your machine to a small stitch length, the more holes you make at this stage the easier it will be to remove the paper later.

Sewing the line between A1 and A2.

6. Fold back A2 along the seam and check that it sits correctly. If it does then hold the paper out of the way and cut the seam to 1/4".

Folding the paper out of the way, ready to cut the seam.
Trimming the seam to 1/4".

7. Fold open A2 and press it into position.

Pressing A2 open, and sticking it to the freezer paper.
A2 in position.

8. Repeat steps 4-7 for A3, A4 and A5, completing each in turn before progressing.

Once all the pieces have been attached and pressed, well done - that's the basis of paper piecing.

A triangle finished. Don't worry about excess material at this stage.

So how do I make the whole block?

In order to make a 9" x 9" celtic knot block you will need:
  • 4 print outs of the pattern
  • 1 backing fabric
  • 2 contrasting patterned fabrics for the rings - we used a jelly roll for these (2.5"x44" of fabric)
This pattern relies on making four matching quarters but in two different colourways.

Following the paper piecing guidelines above you will need to make:
  • 2 A triangles where
    • A1 is colour 1
    • A2, A3 and A5 are the background colour
    • A4 is colour 2
  • 2 B triangles where
    • B1 is colour 1
    • B2 and B3 are the background colour
  • 2 C triangles where
    • C1 is colour 2
    • C2 is colour 1
    • C3 is the background colour

  • 2 A triangles where
    • A1 is colour 2
    • A2, A3 and A5 are the background colour
    • A4 is colour 1
  • 2 B triangles where
    • B1 is colour 2
    • B2 and B3 are the background colour
  • 2 C triangles where
    • C1 is colour 1
    • C2 is colour 2
    • C3 is the background colour
When you have this it will look like this:

 Yes, this is made from different material - but the theory is the same.

Next sew each C triangle to a corresponding B triangle (the colours of B1 and C2 should be the same), so that the points marked match.

Ready to sew B to C

If you're happy with the join then trim the seam allowance to 1/4" and remove the paper along this edge. Press open to make a large triangle. 

Then sew each B/C triangle pair to a corresponding A triangle (the colours of A1 and B1 should be the same). Repeat the process of trimming, removing the paper and pressing the seam. After this you should have four squares, two of each colour option.
Tip: getting all points to match nicely can be hard work. We tack ours in place before sewing properly. 
One half done, time for the other.

Finally, sew the squares into pairs, and then into a whole square. Again, trim and press each seam as you go.

Congratulations, you've completed the block, time for a large cup of tea!

Here's the pattern. We've made a PDF version for you, but also included the Quilt Assistant file. This program is free to download, and will allow you to scale the block to make different sizes - or modify it completely if you wish.

If you make the block do send us a picture - we'd love to see the different variations.


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Friday, 16 August 2013

Photo Friday - Gromit

We've been watching in delight this summer as all our Bristol friends have been facebooking photos of their Gromit adventures. So when we were in Bristol this weekend we just had to take a brief moment to find the nearest one. It also happened to be the one decorated by Simon of Simon's Cat fame for bonus points (big Simon's Cat fans in this house).
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Wednesday, 14 August 2013

A Garden Update

Linking up with Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day for the first time, though I'm afraid this post is rather lacking in flowers! 

A steady trickle of things have been going on in the garden. None of them seem big enough to write about in their own right but I thought it was high time to bring everyone up to speed on what has been happening. The biggest changes have been happening on opposite sides of the garden as one big project.

As we built our chicken run we discovered a large area of hardcore. This isn't great for the chickens - there isn't much to scratch around in it for! We decided it needed to come out. Excellent, thought I, free hardcore to use as a basis for paths. Over in the vegetable plot the grassy paths between the beds have been awaiting the moment of their demise. Being a bit shy on good topsoil I decided not to waste it by burying it so have saved it for later use - I left the chickens guarding it (nicely tilling it and fishing out any weeds)! I intend to dig it out later for use where it matters and refill the space with a lot of wood chippings.

Chicken run with hardcore in bottom half of the picture.

Vegetable plot (much earlier in the year) with grassy paths.
Soil comes out, hardcore goes in.

The chickens working over the spoil heap in their improved run.

Nice solid paths in the vegetable garden.

In order to try and give our vegetables the best start we've chicken proofed that area of the garden. Unfortunately our two bantams are too nifty for us. This time it was Frog who'd found a gap in the fence and we caught her several times strolling around our potatoes and onions. Time for reinforcements!

Re-enforced chicken fence. 
Here are a few of the smaller things that have been going on in our garden (mostly unaided):

Our tower of sweet peas - still going strong!

Courgettes doing what courgettes do - sneakily growing under a mass of leaves.

Cabbages looking more like Swiss cheese. There have been a lot of cabbage white butterflies around the garden...

Our new rhubarb plant seems to be taking.
Our apples are growing big and juicy.

Our holiday gift to ourselves - one bay tree. There are already double the number of leaves on it!
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