Friday, 17 October 2014

Clearing the council car park

Austerity in the UK means public services have had to be cut back. Cuts have been going on for six years, since the consumer debt fueled spending splurge of the last decade and the irresponsible borrowing by some and equally irresponsible lending by financial institutions led to the financial meltdown in 2008. The cuts have hit most areas of spending. One of them is the maintenance of flower beds and public spaces in our local community. As a result, a group of local residents has been formed to raise money for flower beds in Whickham village and to carry out the job of planting, cutting grass and maintaining beds. I was at the organising meeting on Wednesday and offered to clear the verges around St Mary's car park, behind the Whickham Library and the shops.

Little maintenance has been carried out on the verges in recent year. The result is that they are a bit of a mess. Feral trees (mainly ash) have sprouted all over the place. Brambles are spreading. Paths are beginning to disappear under weeds. Today, I started work at the top end of the car park and cleared the patch in the photos above - you can see the before and after shots.

Gateshead Council has a double win from my gardening activities. Not only do I clear the patch, the council does not need to dispose of the resulting waste. I packed it into my land rover and then took it to my allotment.

There I fed it to my goats who enjoyed the feast.

A hive of activity

The weather this week has been exceptionally warm for October. The result was that on the allotment this morning, the six hives we have there were very busy. We are still to do a final check on the hives for the year. That job is on a very long to-do list. We will then feed them and leave them for the winter.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Exchequer leghorn

This is the exchequer leghorn we hatched in May. In chicken terms it is in its later teenage years, on the margins of adulthood. As yet we don't know if it is a male or female. Most of the cockerels we have hatched this year will not be kept but we have decided that this one will stay even if it is a male. We want him/her as a show bird (and egg layer if it is a hen). In August we saw a mature exchequer leghorn cockerel at the Slaley show. He was a magnificent bird. If ours turns out anything like him, we'd be very pleased.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Cheese-making no. 2 - soft cheese

We started our 2nd cheese-making attempt on Sunday evening. 2.5 litres of milk into a pan along with 25g of starter liquid. The milk was heated to 22C and then a drip of rennet was added. The pan lid was put on and the pan and milk was left to stand for 18 hours.

Leave the pan to stand in a room of 21C. 18 hours later and the curd separates from the whey. Put the curds into cheese strainer for 1-2 days and then tip them out onto grease proof paper.

We are still learning about cheese-making but we were quite pleased with the results. We had soft cheese spread on bread for dinner tonight.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Making animal fodder

One of the big challenges we will need to tackle is how to produce our own fodder for our animals instead of buying industrially produced feed. We feed the goats branches we chop from hedgerows and trees (where there is a need to manage them). The goats love the fresh leaves. This is fine whilst the trees are in leaf. What about the winter? Well, one thing we are trying is drying bundles of nettles and thistles for the goats. There are plenty of them around. The bundle in the picture above was put together on Sunday.

In the following picture you can see Pinkie, our new goat, trying out nettles we dried a few weeks ago.

We have collected some hay from the grassed area behind our local community centre after it was cut by the council but it is not the best of quality. So we have had to buy in hay - 2 of the huge round bales (we searched for a supply of the old fashioned rectangular bales but few farms now produce them). They are too big to get through the allotment gate so they are standing on the path outside. We will shortly build a barn and then break up the bales and transfer the hay into it.

Nevertheless, we need to step up our fodder production if we are to become fully self-sufficient.

Leftovers soup

We had some leftovers from our pork and vegetable stir fry last week. And in the freezer I found a bag of cooked bacon and sausages. We also continue to enjoy the benefits of a glut of courgettes. So, to use up some of the glut and leftovers, I made a large pan of pork and veg soup. The space created in the freezer as a result is especially welcome.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Sticking with mother

Ginger and her chicks have been free to wander around the allotment since they were removed from the protection of the quail aviary over a week ago. The chicks are now two and a half months old and I was expecting them by now to be making a break for independence from Ginger. Instead, they are still keeping close to her. Where she is on the allotment, all 10 chicks will be close by. It's the same at night in the henhouse.

Next year we will hatch more chicks in the incubator but we'll ensure they are adopted as quickly as possibly by surrogate hen mothers.