Sara and Andy Ward’s garden at Hen Corner is country living at its best, except it’s only taken me 20 minutes to get there on a train from Clapham Junction.
On one side of their city garden is a veggie plot sprouting potato plants, strawberries, beans, chard, courgettes and asparagus tips – cheekily peeking out through the soil. A hammock hangs lazily from the trees in the centre of the lawn; to the left are Sara’s new bee hives, and lining the back fence are nine very happy hens, pecking and scratching contentedly in the dust. The only hint of the city’s proximity is the steady arrival of jumbo jets lining up like fat arrows to land at nearby Heathrow.
I’m the first to arrive on our chicken keeping for beginners course, and quickly get acquainted with the house cat (yes – you can have cats and chickens, I learn to my relief). After a few minutes, I’m joined by husband and wife James and Kate, and Sarah – an Aussie who after just two weeks in London decided to enrol in the course.
What did we learn?
To start us off, Sara taught us about her breeds of chickens, what colour eggs they lay and which are the best layers – a move that got us all clucking with excitement and primed with questions. We saw how to identify a hen when it gets broody (their comb changes colour) and how many eggs to expect day-to-day.
Before we got carried away dreaming about fresh, poached eggs for breakfast every morning, Sara and her husband Andy got down to the practicalities. In particular, Sara demonstrated how easy it is to clean the coop out by simply pulling out a newspaper-lined tray under their sleeping quarters and emptying the contents onto the compost heap. Their droppings make great fertiliser, so nothing goes in the bin.
We talked about the best feeds and what to give them as a treat (spaghetti, apparently!), we learned about the different types of coop on the market and that Omlet’s range of Eglus are great for beginners. Natuarally, we all had concerns about urban foxes, so Sara showed us how to fox-proof the coop and make sure the hens stay safe.
The best bits from our chicken keeping for beginners course:
Getting to hold Butternut was an unexpected treat. She is a huge Buff Orpington hen – a mass of golden feathers – and is also famous having been on The One Show. The homemade apple cobbler that Sara served with tea before we all departed was also divine.
Sara and Andy gave us a lot practical advice and answered all our questions, but maintained how they’d learnt everything from scratch and that sometimes you simply have to trust your instincts. Sara summed it up perfectly for me when she said “it’s basically like having children”. We all left feeling hugely excited about the prospect of introducing hens into our city gardens. The course is ideal for busy commuters who don’t have the time to commit to a regular evening class, and the information we took away with us was more than enough to get started with.
Hen Corner runs beginners’ chicken keeping courses every Wednesday evening from May to October. They also hold preserving courses and family days on select weekends. Check hencorner.com for exact dates.
If you like this have a read of our one-to-one interview with Sara and find out more about her gorgeous urban hens.