If you’ve thought about collecting chicken eggs from your garden for breakfast, if you’ve traded Netflix for digging up your kitchen garden, and if your latest outfit is a beekeeper’s overalls and hat, then welcome to the world of backyard farming.
There is a wave of people looking for a more sustainable way of life by keeping animals, growing crops and harvesting everything from honey to wild fruits and flowers. And you don’t need a huge farm or access to nature.
“From planning kitchen garden ideas to keeping your own kitchen stables like Harry and Meghan did, we find practical, home-made ways to connect with nature,” says Andréa Childs, Editor of Country Houses & Interiors. “That’s why we asked the brilliant chef and food writer Clodagh McKenna to write about her own homestead life.
“In a new monthly column, Clodagh will be covering what’s happening in her storyline month-by-month and season-by-season. Sign up to stay up to date and find inspiration for your own backyard homestead adventure.’
Backyard Homesteading: a new way to use your land
“I’m thrilled to launch my monthly column on all that’s happening at our sustainable homestead of Broadspear,” says Clodagh.
“Every month I share stories of my property and all the knowledge I’ve learned, tried and tested – from growing vegetables and tending an orchard to keeping chickens, bees and soon pigs!
‘I live in Broadspear with my husband Harry. It is a charming property which we moved into just over three years ago and is set in its own 80 acre Highclere Park in Hampshire. It’s a somewhat forgotten part of the park, but a very important part of Capability Brown’s landscape.
“This month I’ll be introducing you to your homestead and will be back in the coming weeks to see what I’ll be doing on my land season after season.”
Groundbreaking at Broadspear
“When we moved in the task of getting a garden started was overwhelming as not a single plant grew and there was so much to do.
“Close to the house is a walled garden which was built as a menagerie in the 17th century but has sadly been neglected for over 100 years. As a chef, I had always dreamed of growing my own vegetables and fruits, so we started garden renovation here.
“We leveled the entire space and built 10′ x 8′ raised beds to grow a wide variety of vegetables, herbs, lettuce and soft fruits. We also built a pergola in the middle of it all so we can eat, cook and relax while enjoying the fruits of our labor! We have also planted an orchard of 32 fruit trees, seeded a wildflower meadow and are starting a 2 acre pruning garden.”
bringing in the beehives
Beginner beekeeping is something Clodagh is passionate about.
“We introduced two hives in the summer of 2019 and added three more early last year, so we now have five working hives.
“Honey bees are among the most useful creatures in our environment. They are natural pollinators which means they help our local flora to reproduce and thrive, so bees are really important to the whole circle of sustainability that we strive for here at Broadspear.
“Plus, they provide us, our family and friends with honey all year round! I build up surpluses and sell them in my online shop.”
We present our chickens
Clodagh also turns to chicken farming. “And on to our chickens – our beautiful girls! We now have 14, a mix of Burford Browns, Old Cotswold Legbars, Olives and Dekalb Whites. They bring so much joy and life to Broadspear, as well as the most delicious fresh eggs daily. They play such an important role in our sustainable cycle as their droppings are excellent for our compost.”
Planning and planting for the coming year
“I love January and February at my homestead, it’s all about new beginnings and planning ahead for the year.
“I like growing from seed; It’s more laborious, but you’ll get a stronger plant and save money. Over the next few weeks I will be germinating my tomato, pea, eggplant, celery, French bean and lettuce seeds.
What you need is a greenhouse and seed compost, easily available at garden centers or online. For those of you new to growing fruits and vegetables, a propagator is a tray with lots of little modules to put all your different seeds in, and it comes with a lid to keep the seeds nice and warm.
“I just got my tomato seeds in the mail; this year I chose Tigerella, Chocolate Cherry, Noire de Crimee and Stupicke Polni Rane. The growing season is here; Let the fun begin!’
Recipe: Spinach-leek-feta filo cake
Clodagh created this recipe using produce from her vegetable garden. Served 4
2 tbsp olive oil
2 leeks, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed/chopped
200 g spinach (or asparagus)
200 ml double cream
80 g Parmesan cheese, grated
100 g crumbled feta cheese (or ricotta)
Grating fresh nutmeg
4 sheets of filo pastry
50g butter, melted
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Place a saucepan over low heat and add the olive oil, then stir in the sliced leeks and garlic. Cover and cook 4 minutes. Then remove the lid and stir in the spinach. Continue cooking for 1 minute. Then take it off the stove and let it cool down a bit.
While the leeks are cooking, in a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the heavy cream and grated Parmesan cheese. Season with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of fresh nutmeg and whisk again. Then fold in the cooked leeks and spinach.
Grease a 23cm loose-bottomed tart pan with the melted butter. Brush each sheet of filo pastry with the melted butter and, one at a time, place the sheets of filo pastry in the mold at different angles so that the corners of the sheet don’t stick out at the edge, gently kneading the dough to form a pretty piece of edge. Place the pie filling in the center of the pan and use the back of the spoon to spread the mixture evenly. Crumble the feta on top and gently press into the mixture.
Place the cake in the preheated oven. Bake for 8 minutes and then check if the dough is golden brown. Cover the edges of the tart loosely with foil to prevent the filo from getting too brown and bake for an additional 12-15 minutes or until the center is just set.