Monday, 28 December 2009

Have yourself a merry chicken Christmas

Well I hope everyone had a gorgeous Christmas.
I'm just popping in quickly to share one of my presents!!!!!

Remember my beautiful little lady Holly Golightly

Well at about 8.00 Christmas morn, I let my little darlings out the house, in my candy cane pyjamas, baileys and milk in hand. My beautiful fluffy princess came out clucking and chattering away to as I threw in a handful of corn. Looked me straight in the eye puffed out her sweet little chest and let out an enormous "COCK-A-DODDLE-DO"

To say I wasn't amused would be putting it lightly!!!!!
Oh well merry Christmas Holly Golightly or as she now is Bing Crosby.

Good job I have a sense of humour, and on the bright side I can tell you that the new year will hold some more silkie's (point of lay I think) and Bing can have a kingdom of his own with some fluffy angels and they can hatch some fluffy babies.

I'm excited already.

jess xxx

Thursday, 24 December 2009

one more sleep till..........

Brrrrrr its cold, we've had some beautiful frosts, a light dusting of snow and now everything is frozen soild.

So me, the naughty puppy and all the chickens want to wish everyone a very merry, warm + cosy, peaceful and safe christmas.

I shall return in the new year with a re-vamped blog and lots more inspiration.

jess xxxx

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Chicken dinners

So I want to talk about eating chickens, now I know not everyone wants to or will ever do this but if you do listen up. You can always by-passthis post and come back tomorrow I'm going to a bumper plant post.

I'm not going to give a blow by blow of killing, plucking and dressing for 2 reasons.

1. I'm no expert!!!! I'm still very much a novice but I have learnt a bit.

2. Its not the nicest subject in the world now is it.

If your going to to it find someone who can show you (of course I didn't do that I watched a few you tube vids and read my John Seymour bible (if you haven't already realised I like to do things the hard way)

First the bird. If you have excess cockerels you need to get rid of try and do it before 20 weeks. (If its an old rogue then when you cook it roast it in a covered tray with about an inch of water to tenderise the meat)
If your raising birds for meat then there are fast growing birds such as the hubbert or Cobb or Sasso. Or Dual purpose birds like the sussex that are good layers as well as good table birds. Or there are some traditional birds like the french La fleche or the Ixworth (I quite fancy some Ixworths in the spring) Dorking and Indian game. A cross between an Indian game and Dorking or sussex is meant to be really good.
My only real experience so far is with Indian game. Firstly (I'm sorry if this a bit cold hearted) because the boys are quite um scary looking I didn't automatically form a bond with them like I did with my little welsummer chaps. I guess this made it easier to look at them as table birds. We killed ours at 18 weeks old. Their stance is similar to a bulldog, they have huge breasts and chunky legs.
I found the meat really tasty with bags of flavour. One thing with dark feathered birds though is that after they've been plucked they don't look as neat and tidy, as white feathered. Silkies are black skinned so don't eat them (although in china I heard they are a delicacy)
I feed mine the same as all the other chickens. Growers pellets, corn and lots of treats and greens. Withhold food for at least 12 hours before. It will sweeten the meat and can help to avoid any mess when the inner bits are removed if you get my meaning.

After the kill. Make sure they are well bled and start plucking as soon as you can, don't rush plucking take it slow, try avoid tearing the skin. A fatter bird is easier to pluck than a skinny one. If you can let the bird hang for at least 24 hours it will sweeten the meat,relax the Adrenalin, and let it develop more flavour (the longer you leave it the gamer it will taste), hang it by its feet somewhere cool.

Ok so now the nasty bit. so you have a chicken on your (spotlessly clean) chopping board needing gutting. Ok so be brave and don't think about it just be confident. Make sure your knives are razor sharp, secateurs are handy for cutting through bones and small scissors are useful too. Have a bucket close by for the bits and a bowl for the bits you want. A jug of water and I'd do it near the sink in case you cut through the wrong thing and need to flush it out quickly. Remember to be brave and don't stop and think OMG what am I doing ( I'm sorry if this is sinister but I put Danse Macarbe on really loudly to help me focus) The first cut is the hardest (never a truer cliche). Check and double and triple check everything is out. Save the neck and gizzard (cut it open and wash it out) for making stock with ( I put them in a bag and freeze them till needed) The liver is like nothing you've ever tasted but I found after doing 3 birds in a row I wasn't really hungry any more so I saved them till the next day.
I gutted before hanging but you can hang for 24 hours then gut (but it will smell.

Wash everything up and freak out a bit if you need too.

If you brave enough to rear meat birds go for it, ok they might not look as perfect as nicly packed supermarket shelf ones, but they will taste so much better and I found I have even more respect for them now. If you can't do it (no shame in that at all) then please please buy only free range and check for all other chickeny products (pizza, sandwich's, take aways) I won't eat chicken out without checking to see if it is free range. Turkeys and duck too.

jess x

Monday, 14 December 2009

Dear santa,

This year has I've been pretty good so I would like

A new pair of wellies and some thick stripy socks to go underneath them

A spade, one of those with a heart shape blade

A new wheel for my barrow

Approx 200 metres of electric poulty fencing

A 3 apple, apple tree grafted onto dwarf root stock

A new garden bench

A trio of Indian runner ducks

A lionhead and a black and white dwarf lopeared (I'd call them bigwig and fiver)

A cath kidston teacosy

and Guitar hero Metallica (I asked for this last year too)

My naughty puppy would like a big rawhide bone and either a JRT or westie girlfriend

My chickens would like a big bag of corn and a big bowl of roast potatos

And Mr lovely husband would like some peace and quiet.

I leave you a nice glass of homemade sloe gin and a few mince pies but I'll have to leave them in the biscuit tin in case those damn mice get em.

lots of love jess x

Saturday, 12 December 2009

So this is a very quick roundup of events

Ok I'll be quick as I'm starving and have a little treat for my lunch.

So Cockerels I've a ton of them turned out all of the birds except for Boo, the Indian game hen and (hooray) the smaller of the two remaining Maran boys?!?

About a month ago now we decided the Indian game birds time was up so that morning me and the hubs went over to the field with implements of destruction to do the deed. I let all the raging horde out of the hen house and we kept back all 4 of the IGs, Hubs then went and prepared his axe, knifes and block whilst I stood there listening to the biggest one crow, with butterflies of doubt fluttering about in my tummy. "WAIT" I yelled "let the hen out". Hubs was not impressed. I told him with her gone Boo would be the lone female in a run with 7 boys and will surely be massacred. Also, I told him, she can breed baby chicken dinners for us too. That's what swung the argument. 'Quick run away little hen before hubs changes his mind'.
So only the 3 BIG boys got dispatched and bloody big boys they were too, the biggest weighed almost 3kg.
With them gone the vibe was calmer amongst the lads.

I brought over to the smaller run (inhabited by Ivan the terrible, Boris and the two Marans) my two little welsummer hens and tinkerbelle the Maran. Who were terrified to begin with, nasty little boris kept having a go a them but the big maran girl was so sweet trying to befriend them and putting herself in the way when boris went on the rampage. I was more concerned with the big Maran boy who is about 3 times their size, but he was fine.
Boris was now on his final warning!!!! Later that day when I came back to the field after lunch I could hear them all shrieking and yelling so I ran over to the paddock and saw a caramels flash of fluff leap up into the air. I got to the gate and and the Boys looked up at me all innocent. I did a head count and saw I was missing Boris he'd got into the big boy run (He likes to perch high on the fence and most likely toppled off) He was cowering under one of the shelters but he was unscathed. So I put him back and told him that was Karma biting him on the arse. Weird thing was all the big fellas were bleeding from combs and wattles. So I reckon boris managed to kick some arse whilst be was being terrorized.

All the boys are crowing now which is lovely to hear when I let them out in the morning. Blackberry (the gentle black rock) was the first to start (not counting Ivan the terrible terrible crow). Blackberry has gone though from being a sweet gentle little chap to a sex maniac, but the little Indian G hen doesn't seem to mind!!!, Boo though, not happy about it!!!.

Remember those little whites well one has turned into a massive Light Sussex, one into a teeny fancy looking bantamy thing (with full on Napoleon symptom) and the other two rather scruffy looking birds were leghorn and god knows what else in them. These two weren't the nicest of birds, in fact the were quite nasty picking fights with anyone in some kind of WWF style tag team, and attacking Boo. Yesterday they waited in the door for Boo to come out first thing to try and launch and early rape attempt on her. They didn't attack the Indian game hen as shes learnt from her departed brothers to be pretty hardcore, you don't mess with her, she feisty (another reason I'm so glad we kept her).
Now I refer to the two leghorn X boys in the past tense because earlier this morning, we dispatched with them. We had to. There is to many cockerels, they were horrid and the other boys seem to all get along with each other, and as they were not really attractive or pure breed, I could only have offered them free to a good home and that good home could well have been someones oven.
Also Tomorrow we're going to move the garden girls to the field. Hubs suggested this at the beginning of November and I wasn't keen but their run has just got so muddy and nasty, the steps up the bank have got dodgy and the path along the lawn to get to the steps has got so slippery, that is plain dangerous to walk along. (last week I was coming down the steps along the lawn I went A over T and chucked the eggs up in the air and they landed on my head!!!) so tomorrow They go and Hubs will dismantle the run dig over the mud, add some drainage and lay some turf, so its all lovely for them to come back to in the spring. I just hope Blackberry doesn't hassle them too much. Mind you they've never seen a boy, they might love it.

Holly Golightly and the silkie mini mafia are all doing grand, one of them has turned into the most magnificent cockerel (he looks like Fawkes, Dumbledores Phoenix) but he can't stay in the garden as this morning he starting crowing a bit but I'll worry about that when my nearest neighbour starts complaining.
That pleased me a lot as out of 7 only 3 are boys (Ivan and boris being the other two)

Right I'm off to cook up some lunch. I will get some pics up soon, promise.
(sorry that turned out longer than I expected. lol)

Love jess x

Thursday, 10 December 2009

oh dear.....

I well and truly lost my blogging mojo.
I think its a combination of having a really crap time recently and feeling unwell.
Now things seemed to have turned a corner but I'm up to my eyes in christmas stuff and haven't got time to do any thing else when I up to my eyes in baking, sewing, knitting and gift wrap.

Also I really lacking inspiration for words. When its just me and the dog and chickens all day I don't need to be eloquent.

But Before christmas is through I WILL post up some bits and bobs about winter plants and and long over due update on my mini smallholding.

Hopefully the new year will re-inspire me.

love jess x

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Thursdays favourite birds (and they're not chickens)

(photo via RSPB)

I've ditched the plant today (but I will be back later with it)
Now I live out deep in the sticks and I'm surrounded by loads of different habitats so I get to see a vast array of different species. The Birds that appear in my garden vary throughout the year in fact if I had no idea of what month or season it was I could tell just by whats hanging off the feeders.

I have my desk by the window looking out onto my huge buddleja globosa where I've hung a massive peanut feeder and right now as I type I can see a gorgeous Nuthatch upside down pecking out a nut and 4 Blue tits waiting on the Branch's for the Nuthatch to vacate, now hes gone and before the blue tits could even blink a great tit and a coal tit have swooped in. I love coal tits when I was little I used to call them badgers because of the little stripe down the back of their heads. Over in the field across the road I can see a small bunch of mallards dabbling in the flooded puddles and a few rooks in the old oak trees. In the back garden I can hear the shrill little call of a marsh tit the amazing huge song of a little tiny Wren(and the dulcet tones of tallulah who I'm guessing is laying an egg). There is my little robin with the white spot on his neck pecking at a fallen apple from the bird table, a couple of dunnocks hopping around in the flower beds. On Monday the Goldfinch's came back to the niger seed feeder telling me they have exhausted all the thistle and teasels in my field. See this is wear the seasonality comes in, I've been watching them all summer in the fields but the only appear in the garden in November and then drift of in June. I haven't seen any long tailed titsyet but they tend to turn up at the beginning of December. I hear their beautiful chattering voices first then suddenly the fat balls are covered in a flock of about 10 or more. I love long tailed tits they look like fat fluffy lollipops.
There are tons of Jays screeching out of the woods and yesterday I saw a green wood pecker sat in my cherry tree. Blackbirds and thrush's are stripping my neighbours rowan tree for all they are worth and then popping into mine for apples. The pheasants are drifting out of the woods and eyeing up my hens again. maybe soon the Canada geese pair might return to the river although they might have to shift up the Teal who have taken up temporary residence.
Over in the field its birdwatching heaven. Every morning when I go to let the chickens out I disturb a gang of field fares feasting on the hawthorns in the hedgerow and in the evening their numbers have multiplied and they've been joined by Blackbirds and Mistle Thrushes. I often catch a Tawney owl leaving her nest high up in the old beech tree and close the gate to the sounds of her and her mate calling to each other to begin the hunt. I then hear them all evening flitting between the woods on the left of my back garden and the fields beyond.

Ohh there is a big fat male sparrow just landed on the buddleja which reminds me I better put out some seed on the hanging table. I swear all the feathered and furred creatures eat better than I do, my husbands even been setting the (humane) mousetraps with my nutella (every autumn we get little wood mice creeping in through the gaps in the bricks and beams to feast on anything they can find, last year hubby hid my chocolate advent calender under the sofa, upon pulling it out on the 1st the cheeky mice had nibbled the 1st, 5th and 24th. Its not an infestation just a few opportunists, but I think the dog invites them in as I've found dropping in his bed!!!!)

When the new year kicks in I've got new vistors to look forward too like the Bullfinchs, linnetsand if I'm lucky a few scant Hawfinchs eating the new buds on the birch trees. Then when summer comes back swallows and swifts gliding over the fields and river, warblers singing in the long grass and if I'm really really lucky I might get a Pied flycatcher nesting in my bird box again.

I really must go and chuck some seed about as I think they are trying to recreate a feathered version of the battle of britain outside my window.

jess x

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Onwards and upwards

I had another sad day again yesterday. My lovely little cuckoo maran pullet Tilly, was put to sleep. Last Thursday when her and her boys out of their coop I noticed she had difficulty using one of her feet, she was stumbling about like she was drunk. I thought I'd give her and hour or so and then go back and check on her. There was no improvement and she hadn't eaten anything. So I bundled her up in my arms and brought her home. I checked her over and could find nothing wrong, she wasn't using her left foot in fact her toes were curled up into a fist (if you know what I mean) I could find no breakage or any wounds. Anyway shes been eating and drinking for the last week, I gave her some antibiotics and have given her the run of the flowerbeds and lawn. But although she wasn't getting any worse, she showed no signs of getting better and yesterday I could see she was in pain. She had given up even trying to stagger around and just lay down and would cry out. So it was a very easy decision to let her go.
Difficult but easy when you know they are suffering.
So although I was sad, her welfare all of the birds welfare is the most important thing to me. If she had showed signs of getting better I would have quite happily have kept her as a little limping pet hen, but I would also have taken into consideration her quality of life, if I thought she wouldn't have been able to do the things like scratching, flapping and dustbbathing that make hens happy, I would have let her go.

So now I only have 1 definite hen left in the field, and a whole gang of young boys and a handful I'm still debating on (although sods law and all that).
Although.... Last night when I put her brothers to bed I noticed one of them has a much smaller paler comb and wattles...........I daren't hope but could he be a she?

Anyway everyone else is thriving despite the rain, including my darling Holly Golighty who along with her little posse have been relocated to the courtyard very close to the kitchen door and are enjoying the benefits of more veg peeling and tinned sweetcorn. She also has the most amazing electric blue ear lobes.

(If anyone says blue earlobes means shes a boy I will cry, lol)

jess x

Thursday, 5 November 2009

And they just keep on coming...........

Don't post for ages now I can't seem to stop.
My poor other neglected blog is a bit sad. So I'm going to give it a bit of a make over. I'm going to start blogging about food and cooking and housey stuff and all the other creative things that I do when I'm not knee deep in mud and surrounded by feathers, because secretly I can be a bit of a domestic goddess when I want to be and maybe if I apply myself a bit more and blog about these things it will have the knock on effect on my creativity. So be sure to go over and have a look at it (I'm sure no one ever has has, but I can't say I blame you I wouldn't either)Hopefully by sunday I'll have a few recipes and stuff posted.

My boys growing up

One year ago today in a farmhouse not too far away, a heavly pregnant abandoned dog gave birth to a litter of pups amid the crashes and bangs of firework night.

Happy birthday Alfie
He really is a little star, I love him to bits. Life is never boring with him around.
Here is 10 random facts about my little under gardener.

1* I swear he thinks he's a chicken, when the garden girls are scratching about outside he goes and sits with them all quietly and if one of them looks at him he wags his little tail.

2* I once made a mistake of giving him a bit of apple core, now when ever I eat an apple he jumps up at me and barks, hasseling me for a bit.

3* He likes to sleep on the sofa amongst the cushions flat on his back with his front legs straight up in the air.

4* Even though he is very naughty sometimes he's never chewed anything in the house or cocked his leg on anything inside.

5* If you open the cupboard where his biscuits are kept he runs into the kitchen sits on the floor, gives his paw, rolls over and barks just incase you were going to give him a biscuit.

6* He has an arch nemisis, There is a dog at a farm further up the valley who goes past in the back of a pick up. Now when alf hears him he comes rushing into the house and standis in the winter barking furiosly for at least 15 minutes.

7* When he hears the opening bars of Tom Jones Deliah, he goes nuts. Its his favourite song

8* Sometimes he likes to sit on the back of the sofa with his paws on my husbands head.

9* He has two main facial expressions, Guilty and cheeky

10* His feet look like a teddy bears.

catching up

Sorry for the long absence, things have been a bit up and down and stressful here at the cottage and I haven't really felt inspired much lately. I had this favourite plant post planned for Halloween but obviously didn't post it I might put it up later. So I've been snuggling down knitting eating biscuits and watching The darling buds of may Which is my ultimate security blanket, I watch my dvd all the time and especially love it when I'm feeling blue, I wish I was one of the larkin kids or better yet my goal is to grow up to be Ma Larkin.

Anyway things are back to normal now, I spent Monday afternoon blitzing my courtyard, My whole garden looks like a bombsite what with the chickens tearing up all the grass, and all the rain we've had it wasn't really inspiring me to go out and do much. But now the courtyard is tidy and the baby silkie x english games have been brought down from the top chicken garden, as its turned into a swamp and are residing by the side of the house. Much better for me and them as they have turned feral in the last few weeks, My Holly Golighty is like a mini Sea Eagle when ever I try and handle her, but now we can spend more time together. Three of the smaller silkie Xs have got scaly leg, so the whole lots been treated. My original garden girls need to be moved as well so I can rest their run but I need to have a think about where to put them. They have all come back to laying again after I discoved they all had lice.
Over in the field I had a bit of drama last week when I let them out and Boo came out looking all sorry for herself wings and tail hanging down and hiding under the shelter so I bundled her up in my arms and brought her home where I feed her yogurt and chick crumb. There was no signs of anything wrong, although I did find one lone louse on her so I gave her a dusting and put her to bed in the spare room for the afternoon. By the morning she was back to her feisty self again so back to the field she went. I think she might have received some unwelcome attention fom all the boys there. The Indian game birds (who will be dispatched next week) have all started crowing and trying to have their way with Boo, and I think poor Boo was overcome by their advances. The two Welsummer boys Hector (previously known as Dean Martin) and his smaller brother are growing into magnificent cockerels. Hector is learning how to be a good chap, he rushes at the Indian game when they rush at Boo, and he's always the first in to the hen house and then darts in and out till everyone is safely inside. Blackberry has turned out to be a Boy (I knew it) but he's so gentle and endearing hopefully with a good few more females to keep them sane I can keep him. The little white leghorns have all grown except the one who looks more male he's tiny, I love these ones, they crowd around my feet peaking at my boots when I been walking through the grass and they're like naughty children, always mucking about at bed time.
My biggest surprise was when I took the three Marans and rogue silkie x's to the nursery pen in the field, They were the ones that fought with Holly, Literally overnight the small grey one grew a wattles and a comb.
I took them over on a day I was feeling particularly grumpy. After letting them out of the box into their new run I turned around to talk to Blackberry when this little tiny grey thing let out this very croaky and strangled cock-a-doddle-do. I haven't laughed so much in ages, all the other boys stopped what they were doing and looked over at him, and he just kept on crowing all afternoon thinking himself magnificent. I've called him Ivan (the terrible) seems to suit him. I think we might keep him just for the comedy value he brings.
So all in all I have (not including the Indian game or the garden girls) 6 definite cockerels, and 6 definite girls. Everyone else I'm still not 100 percent sure of. I have promised my husband no more chicken till the spring now. Spring will also be the time when I start on the ducks but shhhhh don't tell my husband.

jess x

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Thursdays favourite plant

The much maligned Hedera (Ivy)

I say much maligned because this plant does get a bit of a bad rap sometimes, But I think its a really versatile plant that can be used in so many ways, and theres so many different varieties other than just the plain old green.

People often say that ivy will pull your house down (if its growning up the walls) This is only true if your walls are dodgy, then yes it will probably damage the brick work/plaster etc. Also it can grow through wooden window frames (if you let it) So if you have it or want it growing up your house you just need to keep an eye on it and chop it back if it gets unruly. Another thing to be careful with is fencing, if you have that overlapping (can't think of its proper name) fencing it can push between the panels.

So negative stuff over with.

Ivy grows and climbs by having adventitious roots, which means roots growing out of the stem. That's how it attaches itself to stuff and how if you have it growing in the ground (by choice or not) it spreads and roots everywhere. You can use this to advantage if you want to propagate it or if you want to train it to grow a certain way.

I have loads of pots of little young Ivies, they are so useful for filling hanging baskets and window boxes, especially this time of year. I also have it dotted around in the house as houseplants in the winter and use tones of it as decorations Christmas wouldn't be Christmas with out Ivy (and holly). You can make topiary with Ivy by planting some in a pot and making a frame out of some wire and then training the Ivy round the frame (here's how to).

Ivy looks really good grown up through old trees and is a gorgeous when the tendrils hang down trough the branches. It also can provide a good screen if grown up a trellis or archway (just make sure its strong and firmly pushed in to the ground.

There are some amazing varieties I love....

Hedera colchica that has beautiful large heart shaped leaves in creamy white and green

Hedera 'Buttercup' little yellow leaves

Hedera 'Glacier' This is the baby one that I use all the time (I say baby its a Young one in a 9 cm pot)

Ivy is also a really really important plant for wildlife. A thick tangled mass of Ivy provides nesting for birds, there is a pub near me with it growing up the wall and in the spring there are what seems like hundreds of sparrows chattering away in there. It also provides nectar in the autumn for insects and over wintering butterflies like the tortoise-shell, and berries for birds in the winter. If you have or our planning a wildlife garden or area you'll definitely need some.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Drowning in feathers

Remember these little guys

Well this is them at 16 weeks old
This is Dean Martin (Dino) who was the cheeky one staring at the camera (the one I thought might be a boy) Isn't he handsome.

Here's Boo still a ball of fluffiness.

This is the welsummer I thought was a girl, He's not not a name because most likely he'll have to be re-homed unless he can get on with his big bro and live happily together (we'll see?)Ohh the one behind is one of the Indian game birds.

This is my black rock? Blackberry.Not sure about the sex really hope its a girl as its such a sweet little thing, he/she follows me round the paddock and pecks at the polka dots on my wellies. If its a boy I might build him a kingdom all of his own or re-home him somewhere lovely. Boo and Blackberry are best mates.

This is 3 of the 4 white leghorny chickens

Here's the 4th white one which looks very different to the others I assume they are all related but maybe not? The whites are living in a sectioned off part of the main paddock, when the table bird has departed they can move in with Dino and his lot.

Right now on to the garden gang

This is Blondy, one of the silkie x's He/she has the feathering of a silkie. He/she also hates Holly Golighty with a passion so he/she is living with the Marans. The two you can see are I think boys (Doh!)

This Maran I think is a girl (fingers crossed) I'm going by the size of combs and the fact (and please tell me if this is rubbish) that the males are lighter. There is also a little grey bird in here but he/she didn't want to come out of the house to have its photo taken. It also hates Holly Golighty.

Heres the fabulous Holly Golighty (who I'm 90% sure is a lady as she kind of clucks at me) She is living with 6 little ball of trouble. I'm not sure if she's put herself at the bottom of the pecking order or she's gone all mumsy with them, maybe it will be good practise for her as a broody.

This is what she's got to put up with.
I tried to take photos of them individually but it was impossible.

That just leaves my two welsummer girls and their baby sister maran chicklet. But the batteries in my camera have run out of juice so I'll snap them tomorrow.

Anyone got any opinons about the sex of any of them? Anyone want one?

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Fennel (for John)

I meant to to this a while ago but between one thing and another.....

Foeniculum vulgare (Fennel)

I love to use the herb in the flower border. The acid green feathery foliage is great for setting off dark purple and orange flowers and it adds height with out being to overpowering or obstructing any views. It looks gorgeous with verbena boneriensis and echnineaca. I love the bronze fennel but I'd plant it with yellow and green flowers like bells of Ireland, or nicotiana lime green. In fact as foliage plants go I think fennel is the best for sticking in a herbaceous border because it is so light and airy.

It goes really well with fish especially if you stuff it inside the cavity and barbecue it or if you use some dried stems in a cooking fire it adds a a lovely smoky aniseed flavour. The seeds go really nicely with pork.

Medicinally fennel is used to help indigestion and stomach cramps. Its also supposed to be an aid to weight loss. Cotton wool soaked in fennel tea and placed on your eyes is good to reduce puffiness and watering eyes, and a mix of fennel tea and honey is supposed to be a good face pack for getting rid of wrinkles?

According to some of my old herbal books....
Prometheus used a hollow fennel branch to steal fire from the gods on Olympus. Dionysus carried a fennel wand as a symbol of fertility (because of its crazy self seeding habit). Its reported to have grown around the fields of marathon in ancient Greece and was eaten before the Olympic games to give strength to the athletes. It was also given to gladiators before entering the arena to give them a hunger for blood lust, and a crown of fennel was placed on the victor.
Charlemagne ate it on his campaigns to curb his hunger. Edward I's retinue once consumed eight pounds of it during lent. Fast days must have been noisy -one medieval poet recommends fennel seed because in it "This virtue shall you finde, foorth of your lower parts to drive the winde."

one final things you may or may not know about Fennel is its one of the main herbs used in Absinthe. I actually have in my hands right now an old herbal book with a recipe for Absinthe. Hmmm maybe I'll work on home made wine first before I attempt to brew a potion that will most likely kill me or at the very least make me blind or insane.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Thursdays favourite plant

I've got a lot of catching up to do here so I'll rush through a bit If you want to know any more leave me a comment and I'll answer any questions.
So here we go.

Ohh my camera (and blogger) is still playing up so I've borrowed a few pictures.

Tricyrtis formosana (toad lily)

What can I say about this, its absolutely stunning. I love the way the spots are carried through to the stamen and anthers. It flowers from about late august till about now (mine has still got lots of buds on it). This is a Japanese herbaceous perennial, that thrives in shady spots, and damp soil. It has a thick fleshy roots and is really easy to propagate by root cutting in the spring. The Leaves also have gorgeous spots on them and I'd advise giving them support as the stems can flop over a bit. Give it a good thick mulch in the autumn.

Cyclamen hederifolium

(image via flickr)

This is the native autumn cyclamen you see bursting out of fallen leaf litter in shady places, under trees and shrubs or banks and hedgerows. The flowers come up first, then the leaves follow. The leaves are stunning in different patterns flecked with silver. You can buy these as dry corms or in flower. Theres a video link to Carol Klein talking about them here

Aster monte cassino

I have a few different asters but this is my favourite. It copes with dry soil better than most asters and mine has never got mildew. I love the tiny little daisy like flowers. I have mine planted with.....

Penstemon Raven

(image via Hayloft plants)
I have a real weakness for dark almost black plants, and this one is almost velvety. My biggest tip with penstemons is to not cut the old stems back until spring when new shoots start to emerge. If you live somewhere prone to frosts, mulch it with straw around the crown to protect them. These are great for bees giving them a real feast before winter.

Euonymus alatus (spindle)
(image via flickr)

Autumn colour doesn't come much better than this. This spindle has the gorgeous pink berries and seedpods. It has these corky sort of wings along the sides of the Branch's. They'll grow to about 2 to 3 metres in height.


If you've got the space (alas I haven't) then this tree will give the most amazing autumn display, I love the variations in colours. But beware it will grow to about 15to 25 feet high.

I'm off now to gaze out the window at the rain watering my freshly moved around herbaceous border that I managed to do in yesterdays perfect sunshine. Somethings not quite right but I can't decide what it is yet, hopefully I'll figure it out in time for a break in the rain.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

When I'm 65 (or nearly 30)

When I first started gardening 10 years ago there was a list of plants I banned from my planting schemes and containers as being old fashioned, old ladyish and twee.
They were:

Standard roses
Bizzie lizzies
and Primulas (the coloured ones.

So is it a sign of old age creeping in that I have a standard rose I adore, Pots of begonias by the front door, an old metal bathtub full of scented carnations, Quite a few Chrysanthemums dotted about and lots of little pots of cuttings and a tray of burgandy Primulas waiting to go in the window boxes. No bizzie lizzies yet though.

I've finally had some rain here which has turned the chicken garden into a bog (poor holly golightlys pom pom hairdo has gone spiky) and given all my poor plants a good drink before I dig them all up. I had planned on spending some time drawing out plans and the like but between one thing and another I haven't got round to it yet. Hopefully that will be a job I can do today as tomorrow's meant to be dry and sunny and unless any thing gets in the way, tomorrow's the day I'll spent in the garden trying to make it all look better.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Back in business

(What are these?????)

Hello, I'm back normal service is kind of resumed. I'm much happier than my last post. Thanks for all your kind words.
Well a lot has happened since my laptop died, on the chicken and garden front.
Here's the head count...

Well to start with we have the garden girls Then Holly Golightly who I'm pleased to say has coped well with the loss of her buddy (better than I did)
Then we have the two Welsummers who have both turned out to be cockerels, and Boo the little Buff Sussex who fingers crossed its very much a girl.
4 Indian Game birds, these are destined for the table in a few weeks time. Hubby was after some Hubberds or Cobbs at the auction but got chatting to an old farmer who recommended these as birds he'd kept before, being slower growers and bigger . breasted. They are living it up in the field along with the Welsummer boys and Boo
Next up another impulsive auction purchase was a box of 5 farmyard chicks?? which consisted of a older larger black chicken (who I really hope is a girl as its a bit of a wimp but follows me round the paddock and has the most gorgeous purple green sheen to its feathers) I'm not sure of its breed I'm thinking maybe a black rock? This one was put in with the wels and boo, and was terrified of the wels who didn't pick on it as such but weren't exactly nice to it, luckily boo was nicer. This one is in the field with the wels and the dynamic is much improved. And 4 little white birds again I have no idea at all of the breed, they all look a bit different one has a crest and a fan shaped tail a bit Dutch bantamy and the others look a bit Sussex x amberlines. As these are tiny they are in the nursery run in the paddock.
The same day we bought them I also got a box of 3 Cuckoo Maran chicks, obviously I knew very little about link/auto sexing and its turned out that 2 of them are 100% boys and the other one I'm not sure yet,. They were 2/3 weeks old when we got them and are now about 6/7 and massive.
Then 2 weeks ago my husband bought 8 Game x chicks at the auction, these are adorable. Hubby thought they were Indian game but they're Old English Game which is a totally different bird. there are two sets of chicks in this group, 5 of them are crossed with silkies, (I've got a fuffy one, one with 5 toes, one with a rose comb and 2 with feathery feet) the other 3 are tiny wee little thing, so pretty and if I didn't know any better I'd say were part quail. I had a chat with the seller after hubbys purchase (50p a head)and quite frankly I don't think she had clue what they are. These are living in the converted hutch and run with Holly golighty except for the fluffy silkie x and a very pretty grey one who hate Holly and she hates them. I tried putting those three together first but the fighting was really nasty and blood was drawn, which is a shame because the fluffy one was my hopeful as a broody to go with Holly (obviously I have no idea about the sex of any of these yet and If I'm honest still not 100% about Holly although I've heard her cluck, please be a girl, please be a girl.)They are co-habiting with the 3 marans.
Then lastly Saturday was a rare and minority breed auction and hubby was at work so I was flying solo. Unbelievably I bought nothing there was tons of birds there. I was tempted by some quail and Indian runner ducks, but sensibly didn't even bid as practically we not set up for either yet. Also some Buff Orpington bantams but again sensibly knew as lovely as they are aren't a practical buy. I was after some welsummer pullets but I was hugely outbid, they weren't massively expensive but for that price I'd rather buy them from a breeder face to face.
In a way I was quite pleased I came home empty handed as I've spent the last week moving chickens around the garden and paddock, building and securing proper (make shift) houses and runs and got my garden back ready for some care and attention. So it was quite nice to come home and not have to run around with chicken wire rigging up a temporary home in the garden.
Off course that didn't last... An hour after I got home I was googling local breeders and came up with one that had some Welsummer pullets, hooray. So yesterday me and hubby drove out to South Yeo farm east rare and traditional breeds and got some 6 week old girls, now these look very different to the orignal welsummers I bought. Much more salmony coloured. The lady there was lovely, she showed me around her breeding pens and gave me lots of advice. I've fallen in love with some new breeds and plan to go back in the spring and maybe get some Ixworths, Vorwecks and Legbars. I found this place really inspiring. Oh and I also bough a baby Cuckoo Maran girl too.

So in total if my maths is correct that give a grand total of 31 chickens. Wow

I've learnt a heck of a lot in the last month or so, mainly the hard way. Auctions are a great place to buy inexpensive birds as long as they look healthy but most young chicks will most likely be unwanted males (if its a breed that can be identified young)I plan on defiantly keeping one welsummer and one Maran. Buying from breeders is better as you get to look around and chat and some more comeback if things go wrong. I've learnt how to (try) and deal with sour crop and have a much better understanding of a chickens digestive system. Even though I know I did all I could, I just wish I known about sour crop sooner and how to deal with it, maybe I could have prevented Eliza losing so much weight and saved her, although being so young her chances were so slim.

Unfortunatly I haven't got photos of everyone yet but theres an old photo of the black one and one of the little white bantamy things at the top of the post. If anyone has an idea what they might be please please let me now.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

The mean reds...

I'm back with a brand new computer......

I really wanted to give the blog a bit of a re-vamp and post up lots of flowery and chicken stuff that's been going on in my absence, but today is a very sad day here and I really need to get this out.

Earlier today my husband had to break the neck of one of my darling little silkies.
Tuesday morning I noticed little eliza dolittle was looking a little hunched up and wasn't eating much, so I make up some yoghurty mashed potatoes with a dash of poultry spice for her(and all the others I now have 28 birds but I'll talk about the
new ones another day).
Wednesday morning she had gotten worse looking really sad and wasn't eating anything, now being without a computer and having lent my chicken books to a friend I was a total loss of what to do. I lifted her out of the run and she was so light and her breast bone was sticking out. The vets were closed and I couldn't have taken her to the poultry vets (which are miles away and only really deal with commerical poultry)so I rang a few places that sell poultry to ask advice and the only one I could get through to told me if it wasn't a bird sold by them they couldn't help but told me as it was a silkie it was mareks and it would by dead in a few hours so knock it on its head. This really upset because if it was mareks the other one would be infected too and possibly all the others. The silkies are in a run separate from the others but I could have spread the disease to the others. I quickly took eliza away to the spare room and sat there sobbing with her cradled on my lap.
I looked up in a book the correct way to dispatch a hen and lifted her gently up and got my hands in the position around her neck to practise (sorry if that sounds a bit macabre) and that was when I felt her crop sort of gurgle. Sour crop.

Hubby came home that night with the computer and I spent a few hours reading up on sour crop and what to do. So I sat there with her and gently flushed her crop with warm water, gave her olive oil and massaged it trying to cleak all the fluid in it. I managed to induce vomiting and cleared some horrible gunk and some corn and grass. I got her to drink because the vomiting will cause them to dehydrate and tucked her up for the night.
Thursday morning I took her to the vet and he gave her an injection and some antibiotics. To cut a long story short Thursday and Friday I tried to nurse her back to heath feeding her yoghurt and mashed chick crumb with a syringe and massage her crop but she showed no real signs of improvement I didn't want to give up on her as she was still moving about slowly and cheeping that beautiful little cheep silkies do. I even had her in the flower bed with me and dug for worms which she pecked at ate. This morning though she had really gone down hill over the night, she wouldn't even get up just lying with her eyes shut I tried one last attempt to massage her crop and gave her some sugery water but nothing. So hubby did the deed. She had lost so much weight and even if the sour crop had cleared up she didn't have the strenght left in her.

I feel so amazingly sad almost grief stricken. I know I tried everything I could for her but I feel like I failed her by not being able to make her better.

This is the hard thing with animals and it doesn't help that I'm a big softie but when you spend so much time nursing some little creature it really breaks your heart.
I've been wondering if becoming a smallholder and raising birds for sale, eggs and especially meat is something I'm cut out for. I think I am, even though I feel so upset at losing a bird. We currently have some indian game birds living in the field that are due to be dispatched for the table in a month, this is something that I feel ok with, I let them out in the mornings have a quick chat with them feed them then come back in the evening and shut them up for the night. Ok I will probably get sad when the time is up but I can make the separation between them and pets. Also they are having a great time free ranging, eating corn, scratching about , dust bathing etc which most meat chickens don't get (and intensive/battery farming degusts and upsets me deeply). The bunch of cockerels I've got can't all stay with me so I'll try to rehome them if I can and I'll be a bit upset by that too. The silkies though are something I wanted since I was a little girl and I first saw them at a country show, they were destined to be pets and broody mums.
Its making that distinction between destinys. I know I'll get upset over many things but this silkies demise has really affected me hard.

But life goes on I have three 5 week maran boys who I can see trying to balance on their perch with is very funny to watch, boo the buff sussex is trying to catch flies and flipping margo and pixie keep creeping down to the bottom garden and are trying to dig up the bulbs I planted yesterday. Also I need to pick out some of the silkie x english game bantams (hubby bought them last week)to be friends with little holly golighty whos know all alone and alfie is trying to climb on to my lap because he's worried about me crying and wants a walk.

I'd also like to say a huge thank you to John (Going Gently) Sara (completly quackers) andy spicySpicy cauldron Rachel (Hernegardens)and Norah (Norahsark) and anyone else I've forgot, for all the help, advice and love you gave to me and eliza over the last few days, you guys are true legends and the thing I missed most about not having a computer was chatting with all the cool people I've virtually met through it.
Bless you, your all stars.

Also thank you to my gorgeous husband for not being insensitive and laughing at me when I was sat on the kitchen floor rubbing her crop and singing bright eyes and moon-river to her or when we went to the supermarket and you not noticing I had yucky chicken goo on my jeans and t-shirt and for being brave and stopping her pain.

Friday, 18 September 2009


My computer has tragically died........

But I shall return very soon

Thursday, 3 September 2009

The good the bad and the adorable.

So this is definitely Boo (is it me or does she have a similar look in her eye to pixie)

But would you say this is a Rosie? (yes she? is pulling the same face as the last photo)

And do think her behind Boo looks like a lily?

I'm still not sure, any suggestions?

Christmas has come a little bit early

Well it was inevitable.........

Meet Holly Golighty and Eliza Dolittle

Oh and a note from my post on sunday about Ethel, she came out into the garden quite quietly and was soon joined by Tallullah (her best mate) then the others. As it started to get dark they all went up to the henhouse together like she'd never been away. Bless em.

Thursdays favourite plant

Abelia x grandiflora

I've been umming and ahhing about getting one of these for ages, on Saturday I found one at a local garden centre in the reduced section that looked better than the full price ones so that decided it. These are known as semi-evergreen which is such a confusing term. Basically it means that unless the winter is really cold it will keep it leaves other wise it will be bare. I reckon down here in the south they'll be fine but maybe in northern parts they will lose their leaves.
Now they are supposed to be almost hardy so need to be planted in a sheltered and sunny spot. They flower from midsummer to autumn and one of the things I love is that when the flowers fall away your left with a pink bract type thing (the sepal)that hangs on through the winter (or at least it has on the ones that grow in the village).

This variety grows to about 4 to 5 feet throwing out long whippy upright stems but there are also smaller compact varieties like confetti which grows in a nice little ball with smaller variegated leaves.

I can't wait to plant mine but will have to wait until 2 other plants have flowered in the border then the huge reshuffle can begin. I have a collection in the courtyard waiting to go in the ground (I also got a 1/2 price rose on Saturday) plus I've starting buying bulbs and autumn bedding. I still need to finalise some sketchy plans and do a full stock take inventory but I'm dying to get started. Must wait for the 2 lovelies to flower as they will be featured here as soon as they do.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

The saga of the eggs

Well Friday evening big mama came leaping out of the broody coop so I had a peek inside to be confronted by a truly evil smelling broken egg. So whilst trying valiantly not to throw up I cleared up the mess (even the dog ran away from the stench) and she went back in. So the eggs have been removed I double and triple checked by giving them a little shake (horrible glooby rattle) and candling them. At the moment she's sitting in the box but with the door open, so today I'll be trying to break her broodiness and over the next few days trying to re-integrate her back with the others.

I'm disappointed but these things happen. I'll try again next spring (even more reason for getting a couple of silkies) and I'll be better prepared and organized.

Wish me luck with Ethel, I have a feeling this may not be easy.......

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Thursdays favourite plant

Rosemary(Rosmarinus officinalis)

This is one herb I could never be without. If I was only allowed one herb no scratch that if i was only allowed one herb there would be a mutiny and I'd find a way of sneaking more in.
So Rosemary, I find the scent of rosemary so comforting and warm, there was always a huge bush of it in my mums old garden and I used to lie on the grass hidden by it reading Watership down and Narnia, so the smell reminds me of home. Its supposed to grow in the gardens where the women wears the trousers or if your rosemary grows rampant your daughters will never marry (not true well not in my case anyway) or something (I'll have to dig out my book on old wives tales) Its also considered a lucky plant to grow by your garden gate. Its also supposed to be really good for you drunk as a tea but as much I love the smell of it I've never fancied Drinking it.

I use Rosemary more in autumn and winter cooking, roast potatoes, stews, tomato pasta sauces, pumpkin soup etc. Its a very robust flavour that lends itself better towards the colder months than summer. Saying that though I keep a jar of sugar with a sprig of rosemary in the larder for baking, and I make a mean rosemary and honey cake with the little flowers sprinkled over the icing, that I only ever bake in summer. Just remember a little bit goes a long way.

Rosemary couldn't be easier to grow, just remember being a Mediterranean plant it needs really really good drainage. If you grow them in pots you want about 50/50 mix of compost and grit/sand. If it looks far to sandy then its about right. If you have it in the ground dig in plenty of sand/grit to the planting hole. If your soil is heavy and holds moisture or clay than I'd play it safe and grow them in pots. They can grow quite huge in the ground if they're happy. Ohh and never ever over water them.

There is more info here

One last thing watch out for Rosemary beetle. Why do all the nasty bugs look so pretty with the exception of beautiful beneficial ladybirds or the evil Vine weevil that looks quite harmless and dull.

Don't count your chickens.........

Well my eggs are now 2 days over due, my little superstar Ethel has been sat snugly on them for 24 days with only a short snack break each day. I'm beginning to think that they're not going to hatch at all. I'm a bit disappointed but I always thought of this as a bit of an experiment and if we got some babies that would be a lovely bonus (sometimes I tend to veer towards the pessimistic) but I'm not sure what to do with her or when to throw in the towel. She'll need to be re-integrated back in with the big girls and her broodiness gently broken. I think I'll give it until the weekend to see if anything happens before I give up on the eggs.
What do you think? If anyone with experience of hatching eggs has any advice for me, please let me know.
I wonder if poor Ethel will upset at her lack of babies.

The little girls are doing really well. They are now living in a converted two storey rabbit hutch with a small run tagged on (the bright side of no babies will be extra chicken wire to make their playground bigger. They've learnt to walk up a ramp and roost on a little perch when its bedtime, which is earlier than the big girls. They've stopped being scared of Alfie when he goes to see them, one of them even pecked him through the wire (as much as he behaves himself loose with the girls, he has a healthy respect after being chased and pecked by Pixie and Margo, I'd never let him get too close to the little ones). They are still as yet unnamed although I think the adorable little buff sussex will end up sticking with the name Boo. I must really get round to naming the other two soon.
Another thing that need a name is my smallholding, Hubby has fixed up the hen sheds and fenced of a nice little area so hopefully next weeked he'll be bidding for some birds at the auctions. We are going to start off with birds for the table, now I know I'll find this difficult, but we eat a lot of (free range) chicken here so it makes sense to have a go at rearing are own. I reckon I'll be a total wuss with this side so hubby will be in charge and when I start stocking up with layers (and all the other birds I'd like for all my plans) we've agreed (well I shouted, had a tantrum and shed a few girly tears) to keep them seperate from each other.
I just hope there are more silkies at next week auctions as some so and so outbid me on a pair last time, if not I might happened to bid for a few ducks when the mr isn't looking, unless my little eggs hatch......

The photo of Tom and Barbara is included because, well why not.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

All I want for christmas is.........

I really really want a few of these

and some of these

this would be nice

and this

I wouldn't mind a couple of these

and I think I definitely would like some of these

and maybe a few

these would be lovely

and I'd love love love a little gang of these

Oh and my Mr wouldn't mind one of these

(photos from the devon county show, way way back in may)

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Thursdays favourite plant

Acidanthera (abyssinnan gladiolus or peacock flower)

These are so gorgeous.

I planted 20 of these bulbs and only 1 has flowered but I think its because I planted them too early and didn't put them in a sunny enough spot. According to this article they are best planted in may or june and lifted in the autumn like dahlias. I think next year I'll plant them in pots and sink them into the ground (which makes them easier to lift out). Even though I only have one bloom that's ok as it's stunning. Added bonus is that its highly fragrant, smelling a bit like a gardenia.

I love bulbs, absolutely love them. I've had 3 bulb catalogues through the post this last week and I'm compiling a long wish list. Ohhh I can smell the scent of paperwhite Narcissus's and hyacinths now. Also those damn chickens have decided to dig up the huge drifts of daffs in their half of the garden, so I'm going to have to replant and fence a section of with chicken wire.
I'm getting really anxious for the middle of September (I know, I know wishing the summer away) so I can begin the major re-arrange of everything and dust of my bulb planter. But until then I have bulb shopping lists to make, lists and plans to draw up, design books to pour over and chicken babies to play with.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

All bases covered.

I came across this article of the best 100 plants yesterday via Help save bees on twitter. I love the fact that it covers all the seasons, as during the autumn and winter my patch seems to fall short of interest.

Hmmm I can see a shopping list coming on......

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

My new venture

The other day I mentioned something about an exciting project that I've got in the pipeline......


One of my neighbours has this field and he's renting it to me so.......

I can start my own smallholding.

Here's a picture

Isn't it beautiful, ok so its a bit overgrown (this photo was taken in may, the grass is beyond waist height now) its a bit of a mix of woodland, meadow and marshy meadow, there's a very overgrown pond and a stream. You can see some stables hidden behind the grass (husband was all worried that I'd be all can I have a pony, can I have a pony pleasssssseeee) but my neighbour is using them for storage, however there are two chicken houses.
So that is where I shall begin. I'm going to keep chickens for eggs and raise chicks for selling. I'd like to breed tradional and or rare breeds, and show them. I'm also very keen to get ducks too (did I mention the pond) but I'll start with hen's first.

Hubby's cleared some ground behind the stables (waist height in nettles) and put up fencing and fixed the houses up. So we're almost ready to get started.
The three little chicks will be going there in about 4 weeks, I want them to get bigger and more confident first, So I've built a chick-ery in the garden as a sort of halfway house for little'uns before they move into the field.

There is also a huge veg patch there but its overgrown with docks and nettles and ash tree saplings, so I'll have fun clearing that over winter.

One of the best things though is the abundance of wildlife there. There's deer (fallow and roe) which will cause problems with eating crops and fencing but hey ho, Dormice and the rare yellow necked mouse. Hundreds of different wild flowers and grasses and tons and tons of different butterflies and moths. It really is a beautiful spot and I'm so excited about it all. I'd like to eventually (few years down the line) keep sheep, goats, pigs, turkeys, alpacac's but one thing at a time.

I'm off to another auction on saturday so I may well come back with a few more little ones.
The chicks are all doing really well, perching and dust bathing eating all my swiss chard and trying to catch flies. They are still sort of un-named as I'm not sure if one of the welsummers is a boy or a girl as it's bigger and darker than the other (who's definatly a girl). But the little buff sussex who's adorable like a fluffy powder puff goes by the names of boo, buffy or buttercup sometimes. I really hope she's a she ( I think she is), this ones all cute and fluffy looking but a real cheeky little trouble maker.
Ethel is still happliy sat on her nest with only about 6 days to go so fingers crossed this time next week She'll have some babies.
I'll post some ore pics of the soon.

Anyway got to go as I have a million and one things to do

jess x

Ohh if anyone has any tips or advice please drop me a comment or send me an email.

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