Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The wanderer returns

For a week, one of our two barnvelder hens has been missing. We hatched both last year. Barnvelders are a rare breed and this was part of our contribution to ensuring the survival of domesticated animals that would otherwise disappear if enthusiasts didn't do their bit to protect them.

There was no sign of a struggle with a fox, no evidence of other predators. She had simply disappeared. That was until yesterday morning. I was on the allotment at 7am. Suddenly, there she was. She was hungry but in good health. She disappeared again after I left the allotment. It all points to a possible clutch of chicks on the way. My guess is that she has laid some eggs in a hidden spot nearby and she is now brooding the eggs. Typically, a brooding hen will not leave her eggs for days on end. When she does its only for a few minutes to eat as much as she can. She then returns to the eggs. If my hunch is right, she will return in two weeks, complete with a family of chicks.

That's here in the photo above. You can just make out the other one behind the feeder.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Blackberry and apple pie

Found in one of our freezers over the weekend: some homemade pastry and a bag of blackberries. And in store we had some apples which needed to be used up. The solution: make a blackberry and apple pie. Delicious. The good news is I still have some left to eat for pudding tonight.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Marley Hill update

We have been doing a bit of work recently on Dad's allotment in Marley Hill. We still have some cabbages growing there from last year to use up but we have also planted potatoes (using a liberal quantity of manure from our goats), onions, broad beans, garlic, shallots and some leeks. There's still some space to use and weeding to be done. The weeds extracted today went down to Sunniside to be fed to our poultry. Waste nothing.

New incubators

Our old incubator broke down last week, resulting in the loss of 18 quail eggs that were 4 days into their incubation period. We have now bought two larger incubators which also turn the eggs. They arrived yesterday. We are going to put in to one of them tonight 18 of our hen eggs. It will mean lots of cross breeds will hatch but as long as the hens lay eggs, we won't be worried. We may have a go at breeding some rare breeds separately.

Friday, 10 April 2015


Last autumn we chopped branches from the local hedges where they were getting out of control. Most of what we cut was hawthorn but there was also a bit of elder and ash. Through the winter we also chopped back privet branches. None of this was wasted. We fed the branches to the goats who ate the leaves and quite often the bark as well. The branches were then stacked up. The intention is to chop them up and use them for firewood.

I've made a start on chopping them but sadly, we have no wood fired heating system on which to use the sticks and logs. That was not through want of trying. Last year we signed a contract with a company called Solarlec to install a biomass boiler. The company was a complete waste of time. They took a very large amount of our money, signed a contract to install a boiler by the end of October, and gave us excuses galore for failing to install the boiler. By February, after lots of very angry messages and phone calls from me, they eventually agreed to return the £3300 we had paid the as a deposit. Even then it took another angry phone call from me to the director of the company to get our money back, 10 days after they had first agreed to return it. My recommendation is NEVER EVER deal with Solarlec. Anyway, more about the whole saga on another day.

The point is that due to Solarlec's miserable failure, we are still running a gas fired boiler and an electric immersion boiler. We are planning to replace them soon though clearly Solarlec will not be invited to tender for the work. In the meantime we will continue to build up a stock of firewood. I chop a few branches each day at the moment so that the job is manageable but with the hawthorn coming back into leaf, we will soon start to feed the goats branches again. We need to avoid the mistake of last year of simply letting the branches build up. Once the goats have had their fill, I need to chop the branches straight away.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Stuffed cabbage head

We still have some cabbages to use up which have not yet been picked from Dad's allotment in Marley Hill. So we invented a recipe over the weekend to use one up: stuffed cabbage. We were able to use up some of the beef mince we got in a swap last year when we traded some of our pork for some beef with a local farm. The mince, along with onions and tomatoes, were cooked in a pan. The cabbage head was hollowed out - what came out was chopped up and added to the mince.

The cabbage halves were put into a baking tray with a bit of water to help them cook. The mince was added to them and they then went into the oven for about 45 minutes.

We also have some left over pan haggerty which we used as a vegetable sidedish.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Greenery for our poultry

Spring is definitely here. We are going through a warm patch and, after a modest damp period a week ago, the weeds are growing well, though not on the allotment as the hens and ducks eat them before they have sprouted. Greenery however is spreading and that means we can feed our animals more leafy material we have picked locally and less bought in feed. The pile above came from the flower beds around Church Green in Whickham. I am one of the volunteers who maintains the public flower beds after Gateshead Council decided to stop looking after them to save money. Feeding the weeds to my poultry also means the council does to have to dispose of them. A win win situation.