Hidden treasure

I realised just before dusk one night last week that one of my hens was still out, so I went searching for her with a torch. She started to make some noise and I followed the sounds, eventually finding her in a cosy little spot in the back hedge. When I reached in to scoop her out, I discovered there were some eggs tucked in behind the undergrowth.


Eggs in the undergrowth




The next morning I went to take a closer look – my hen had hidden herself in a long tunnel, a natural underground passage between the bank and a web of overhanging ivy. I reached in with the camera to take some pictures and then pried back the leaves to gather the eggs – there were sixteen in total!

All those mornings when I’d found no egg in the nest box, I’d assumed that the old girl was having an off day – not thinking for a moment that she had found a nest box of her own!


eggs 3





I disposed of the eggs sadly as I had no way of knowing how long they’d been there. Happy nonetheless to have found her new spot and I’ll make sure to check it on my rounds in the mornings.

Winter Jasmine

We’ve been away and hence the inactivity here and elsewhere. My family and I have just returned from a culture ( and fun ) soaked trip to London – more about that another time and much work to do here on the painting front. However I pause today to post a photo of my gorgeous Winter Jasmine plant. This was green and unremarkable before we left and now it is a tumble of delicate scented flowers. This is remarkable for me who has failed many times with this garden. Dead plants have often been flung into the hedge by me in a fit of disappointed pique. This little wonder was bought in Lidl two years ago when I was tempted by attractive packaging and the promise of sweet scent but it looked like a small stick. I was pleased when it didn’t die and seemed to settle into our thin and loamy soil. This year I attempted to train it up the side of the hen coop by tucking little sprigs into the wire and low and behold it took off!

I think our hens are very pleased with their new surroundings – might even make for tastier eggs..


My Winter Jasmine plant

It’s a Hens Life

This post was inspired by fellow blogger, musician and writer Robin McArthur who recently invited me to send some pictures of my hen house for her blog. Well that just got me thinking about my own hens and how much I value them.

We decided to get some hens three years ago this Summer. It was something I’d hankered after for a while, inspired in part by stories about my Great Aunt Rita and her brood of hens in inner city Dublin a generation ago. She would invite her nieces and nephews to put cocoa in the hen food on Easter Saturday which miraculously turned into chocolate eggs for Easter Sunday, a treasured memory of my mothers. These hens would have been more than a fancy, they would have provided food for the table – breakfasts and suppers and supplies for baking. This lady made a wonderful Buttermilk cake with egg which my mother and I make regularly today – I think of Rita when I make it myself.


Bottoms up!

Bottoms up girls!




There is something important about these simple values – good husbandry and good housekeeping that we are beginning to return to. The pleasure that these productive creatures bring is hard to quantify.

Getting started does involve some work however and some investment. You will need a secure coop with nesting boxes and a safe run for your hens to exercise. Our hen house was a gift from my Dad. It’s a very handsome one and suitable for up to six hens.


Winter coop

Our coop with three hens – ‘Pip,’ ‘Cocoa’ and ‘Muffin’




We started off with two Rhode Island Reds which we were told are the best layers. We reckoned two hens would provide ample eggs for our family’s needs. I had been advised that having too many hens and therefore a lot of eggs is a consideration since you then have to then decide what to do with the surplus. If you have lots of family and friends who would welcome the eggs on a regular basis then this might not be an issue but the eggs still have to be collected and delivered. Once your coop and run are secure, the main threat to your hens is human error. I learnt this the hard way when I left the coop open for the first time in almost two years and the fox took both hens overnight. I’d been in Galway for the day and came home late, forgot to assign the job to another family member and forgot to check myself. I thought that this was just very bad luck but an expert later told me that the fox most likely goes round all the gardens every night. One error is all it takes for a happy fox and a very unhappy hen owner.

After a suitable mourning period ( we have three young daughters ) we decided to get three hens, one for each girl, which they chose themselves. This new brood consists of two Rhode Island Reds and one Bluebell. The Bluebell doesn’t lay as frequently as the Reds who produce one egg each every day but I believe that her laying life will be longer so she will be productive for more than two years. It’s an impressive production and something I feel grateful for on a daily basis – such hardworking girls! If your hens are happy, well fed and have as much roaming around room as possible, they will lay well. They need a bit of extra care over the Winter ( as do we all ) and so you need to make sure they are reasonably warm in low temperatures. I line the coop with cardboard and put a thermal picnic blanket and an old carpet over the top of the house for insulation.

I am the chief hen caretaker in our family and taking care of them is now a part of my daily routine. It takes me less than ten minutes in the morning to let them out, clean out the coop and put out enough food and water for the day. I usually check up on them during the day and I lock them up in the evening  – they can’t see in the dark so they usually make their way in themselves at dusk. I simply could not recommend this way of life enough and apart from the trauma of losing them to the fox ( may you learn by my mistakes! ) I cannot think of a single reason not to have hens. Did I mention that they make excellent models for painting?


second hen - third stage


Hen painting in progress




I leave you with my Aunt Rita’s recipe which is especially nice on the day it is baked with butter and hot tea.



Rita’s Buttermilk Cake

2 Breakfast cups Flour

2 oz margarine

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bread soda

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup sugar

fruit ( a generous handfull of raisins )

1 egg

8 fl oz Buttermilk or sour milk


Sieve flour into a bowl. Add baking powder, bread soda and salt. Rub in margarine. Then add sugar and fruit. In a separate bowl, beat the egg with the buttermilk. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients with enough milk to make a stiff batter. Pour into a greased tin ( I prefer a large loaf tin – my Mum likes to use an 8″ cake tin ) and leave for 15 mins before putting into a moderate oven ( 170 degrees ) for 45 mins. You’ll know it’s cooked when it becomes a warm golden brown colour and the base should sound hollow when you turn it out.


Apple-Ripe September

Ripe apples, back to school, my birthday, blackberries, evening classes, woolen scarves, crispy air and pink skies. These are just some of the things I like about September.

We’ve been collecting apples from our trees for the last few days. We have just two – a crab and an apple blossom. The crab is still young so not enough fruits yet for jelly, but their colour brightens up the garden (below), a last hurrah before the Autumn settles in.

G likes to stew the apple right down to a pulp, then he adds molasses and pours it over yogurt. I like it barely cooked with porridge, a set-me-up for the day, delicious and all the sweeter because it’s our own. It was warm and bright this morning so I took some photos to capture them before they disappear into the kitchen.


crab apples




All this talk of September and apples brought the much loved Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh to mind. His poem ‘On An Apple-Ripe September Morning’ with its imagery of early Autumn and the threshing recalls another time. Men folk gathered together to get the crops in, neighbours and friends lending a hand or paying their dues and all the loose chatter and gossip in between. Nature soaks through the lines – mist-chill fields, wet leaves of the cocksfoot and glistening bog-holes. The last verse ends on a note of awe and admiration towards all this beauty  ‘I knew as I had entered that I had come through fields that were part of no earthly estate.’


On An Apple-Ripe September Morning


On an apple-ripe September morning

Through the mist-chill fields I went

With a pitch-fork on my shoulder

Less for use than for devilment.


The threshing mill was set-up, I knew,

In Cassidy’s haggard last night,

And we owed them a day at the threshing

Since last year. O it was delight


To be paying bills of laughter

And chaffy gossip in kind

With work thrown in to ballast

The fantasy-soaring mind.


As I crossed the wooden bridge I wondered

As I looked into the drain

If ever a summer morning should find me

Shovelling up eels again.


And I thought of the wasp’s nest in the bank

And how I got chased one day

Leaving the drag and the scraw-knife behind,

How I covered my face with hay.


The wet leaves of the cocksfoot

Polished my boots as I

Went round by the glistening bog-holes

Lost in unthinking joy.


I’ll be carrying bags to-day, I mused,

The best job at the mill

With plenty of time to talk of our loves

As we wait for the bags to fill.


Maybe Mary might call round…

And then I came to the haggard gate,

And I knew as I entered that I had come

Through fields that were part of no earthly estate.


Patrick Kavanagh

(1904 – 1967)