Sara Ward, the lady behind West London’s Hen Corner, talks to us about grabbing city life in one hand and country living in the other.
There’s been a huge amount of interest in Hen Corner since you launched your venture – why do you think it has been so successful?
We’ve been really pleased with the interest in Hen Corner, it all started when a friend encouraged me to start a blog. I’m discovering that there are many of us living in towns and cities that have aspirations of country living and we want to encourage people to grab the city in one hand and country life in the other. We believe you can have a bit of both and it adds fullness to life.
I think another reason that people like to follow us is that we’re learning as we go. We’re not professional farmers and encourage others to join us on the journey. Like many other London families we have busy urban lives with work commitments, children in two different schools and voluntary roles in the community. Finding time and space to learn new skills and produce some food is a great hobby that is so rewarding.
What are you most proud of since you started it?
Each year we try something new. Last year it was cheese-making – the Camembert style is my favourite and it has come out great each time. This year beekeeping is the new venture. It’s going very well so far, but I must admit I do get a bit nervous every time I open the hive. We had an unexpected gift from them recently of four frames of honey (about five jars). It was a real incentive to take it seriously and make it work. Honey on toast for breakfast is certainly a daily taste of the good life!
Tell us a bit about your hens – how many do you have and what are their names?
I was given my first two hens (Pepsi and Shirley) with a Classic Eglu (chicken coop) as a surprise birthday present from my husband in 2007, the next two were a couple of chicks from a project at my daughter’s school. We then invested in the bigger Eglu Cube and currently have nine hens. In age order we have:
Pearl (Crested Cream Legbar), Butternut (Buff Orpington), Ascot (Silver Laced Wyandotte), CouCou (Maran), Salt (White Leghorn), Duracell (Copper Black), Cinnamon (Columbine), Bunty (Chocolate Bantam Orpington) and Barnie (Barnevelder).
Do you have a star layer?
The hybrids tend to lay eggs most days and between them they lay a variety of colours. Salt lays a perfect chalk white egg and each morning we collect a pale blue egg from Cinnamon. Duracell and Cocou give us pale brown eggs most days and then when the pure breeds are in lay we could have a full house (or nest box)!
Do you think more city dwellers are now keeping chickens in their gardens?
Oh yes, we’ve had several friends start to keep chickens at home including some of the families from my daughter’s school. We run courses from Hen Corner to give people a taster and some of our attendees have come from only a short bus ride away. I’ve also noticed how many chicken products are available at local pet stores and garden centres, so yes, it’s definitely become a hobby for those living in cities.
How much space do you need?
We started to keep chickens in a very small garden and found that the Omlet Eglu Classic was an ideal coop. It needs a footprint of 3m x 1.5m and will happily house two to three hens.
What breeds would you recommend for beginners?
I would recommend hybrid hens for beginners. They will lay the most eggs and are less likely to go broody. Many people start with Rhode Island Red, which is the classic ‘Little Red Hen’, but there are also many other hybrid breeds available with different coloured plumage laying a variety of coloured eggs. Choose the chickens that you like and ask the breeder or supplier for their advice.
What are the key things to think about for people considering keeping urban hens?
It’s really nice for the chickens to get the opportunity to roam around free now and then, however, given the chance they will try and make a dust bath in your flower beds or peck at your veggie patch. It’s worth thinking about where you are happy for them to wander and where not. Netting and fencing can help give them a bit more freedom without them doing too much damage. Unfortunately, most towns and cities have their fair share of foxes, so do make sure your run and coop are fox proof. Finally, think through who will look after your hens when you go on holiday. I expect your challenge will be who to pick from the willing volunteers queuing up to collect the eggs as a reward for feeding and watering the chickens!
What else do you have in Hen Corner?
We’ve got an overflowing kitchen garden, complete with asparagus bed, 11 fruit and nut trees, and a new colony of bees. Our shed stores the chutneys, preserves and our cider press. We’ve got a small pond with goldfish and frogs and may try hatching some ducklings next year.
Are you planning any new courses for this year at Hen Corner?
Most certainly – we’ve found that early evening mid-week works quite well for busy Londoners. Our Urban Hens course is available every other Wednesday between May and September, from 6.30-8pm. Then we are holding a ‘Pick and Pickle’ course in September and a ‘Family Feathers and Fun’ course in November.
What is your idea of a perfect family day in London?
London is great, there is so much on the doorstep for families to enjoy. Kew Gardens is just across the river from our home, if it’s wet then the museums in South Kensington are nearby and if it’s a special occasion, a West End show makes the day complete.
If you do escape to the countryside, where do you love to go?
We take most of our holidays in the British countryside and have recently spent time in the Yorkshire Dales, South Wales, Norfolk and Dorset. We like to get to the coast if possible, it’s an added bonus and the fresh air and unrestricted views are priceless.
What are your top tips for injecting that country feel into our busy city lifestyles?
Oooh, there are lots of things we can all do…
- At least once a week, try and make a meal using only fresh ingredients.
- Grow something that you can eat, such as herbs, tomatoes and salad. If you have a garden, then try something bigger – new potatoes are easy to grow and so rewarding.
- Support your local farmers markets and treat yourself to some of their produce.
- See if you can source local eggs and honey, you may even get to meet the chickens.
- Get out into some green space, breathe deeply and be thankful.
For more info on the courses Sara mentions and the daily goings on at Hen Corner visit hencorner.com
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