Monday, 27 July 2015
Last night we moved the chicks from the brooder box in our house to the chick house on the allotment. This morning I opened the chick house to let them out into the enclosed run. They stayed put for a couple more hours before venturing out. They haven't yet worked out that they roost in the chick house, not on the run! I found all 6 huddled in the corner of the run tonight. I had to pick each one up and pop them into the chick house. Give them a few days and they will know to do that of their own accord.
Our hay stack was moved recently as it was partly blocking a path to the allotment which is now being paved. So, the goo have was moved to a new stack (see photo above) and the not so good hay, which can be used for bedding, was put in a large pile in Pinkie's goat house.
This has turned out to be a great boon for Pinkie. The hay has become a comfortable mattress!
Thursday, 23 July 2015
We had our 3rd bee swarm of the week today. I am baffled as to why the bees are swarming so often and so late. I hope there are enough drones around to fertilize the new queens. It's all very well swarming - the existing queen leaves with a significant proportion of the worker bees - but if the new queen left behind can't be mated, the colony will simply die out. Fingers crossed that there are plenty of sex starved drones around looking for virgin queens.
Wednesday, 22 July 2015
We've now found, by accident, where our cream legbars have been laying and hiding their eggs. I was watering the potato bags in front of some of the hives and there they were. Since removing the eggs, the hens have stopped laying there. So far, we've failed to find the new nesting site.
On Monday I discovered a very large bee swarm on the hedge of my allotment. This was a bit unexpected. The swarming season should have been over in June. I came to the conclusion that a large hive on my allotment had simply run out of space and had swarmed in response. I collected the swarm and in the evening, put it into a spare hive.
Yesterday, just as I thought the swarm box could go back into storage, we found another swarm, this time on the neighbouring allotment.
This too has been rehoused in another spare hive. I have no explanation as to why swarming is continuing to happen other than to say that the relatively cool weather of May has set back activities and growth by about 3 weeks. Even so, we had the usual levels of swarming in June so these swarms are in addition. If any other beekeepers are experiencing something similar, I'd like to hear from you.
Tuesday, 21 July 2015
Monday, 20 July 2015
Our egg yield dropped recently. Or so we thought. I then discovered a stash of 16 eggs hidden under the hedge, behind some old cupboards which we plan to use as building materials. Since then, we have also found eggs from our cream legbars hidden in a corner of Pinkie's goathouse.
As mentioned in the last post, Ginger, our Columbian Blacktail has gone broody. Since our cockerels have now gone, we have had to buy a dozen eggs for hatching. We got 4 exchequer leghorn and 8 rhode island red eggs. We have given 6 to Ginger and she has now been sitting on them for a week. The other 6 have gone in to a new small incubator. Hatching is due in early August.
Ginger is over 3 years old and is no longer laying but she does the mother hen role very well.
Before we have to remove our cockerels from our site, we put 28 eggs into one of the incubators. The hatch rate was disappointing. 7 chicks made it into the world and one of them died after a couple of days. The remaining 6 are in good health and in August they will be moved from the brooder box to a henhouse on the allotment to get them used to outdoor conditions. We did try to give them a foster mother. Ginger, our Columbian Blacktail who hatched a batch of chicks last year, went broody a couple of weeks ago so a day after the new chicks hatched, we put her in to the brooder box. Sadly, the fostering did not work and we returned Ginger to the allotment (more about her later).
We use our allotment at Marley Hill for growing vegetables and our crops there are doing modestly well. Among others, we have runner beans, courgettes, broad beans, onions, garlic and potatoes.
We have already used some of the courgettes. The not so good news is that the blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes have produced a poor crop. We will heavily prune them soon. Fortunately, our soft fruit bushes at our Sunniside allotment are producing a good crop.
Thursday, 16 July 2015
Lots of gooseberries and raspberries to use up at the moment. Gooseberries are high in pectin, raspberries are low. Combine the two together however and they make a great jam. Put roughly equal quantities of each fruit into the jam pan, apply heat and once boiling, leave to simmer for a couple of hours.
Once the fruit has fully pulped, add the same weight of sugar as the total weight of the fruit. Bring back to the boil and keep on a rolling boil until setting point is reach - check for this in the usual way by putting a small amount on a saucer, let it cool and if it forms a skin, it is ready.
Add to hot, sterilised jars.
The cherry crop is late this year so I have been picking them in July. Normally, the wood pigeons have eaten them all before the end of June.
The first use of the cherries was to make cherry vodka. 400g of cherries and 200g of sugar went into a large storage jar with 75 cl of cheap, supermarket own brand of vodka. They will remain in the storage jar for at least 3 months. I will shake the jar regularly to ensure the sugar dissolves. Later this year, the vodka will be strained off and bottled, and drunk.
Wednesday, 15 July 2015
Some of the gooseberries I picked in my garden in London have now been used to make gooseberry jam. Gooseberries are full of pectin so you don't need to add lemon juice, apple or other high-pectin fruit to make the jam set.
Remove stalks and weigh the gooseberries. Add them to the jam pan and put in a small amount of water, just enough to stop the fruit burning when you apply heat to bring the pan to the boil. Once it's boiling, simmer until all the fruit has broken down. Then add the same weight of sugar as of fruit and bring back to the boil. Keep on a rolling boil until the setting point is reached - put a dollop on a saucer, leave for few minutes and if it has formed a skin, it is ready. Put into hot, sterilised jars.
We recently had a glut of radishes, given to us by a friend in an exchange for a cockerel, a huge amount of lovage in the herb garden, and a lake of whey, a by-product of cheese-making. We decided to use all these ingredients to make a rather unusual soup. It was more a case of make-it-up-as-you-go-along.
We also had a few potatoes and tomatoes to add to the soup. In addition, we had some of our cottage cheese and chives which I had slightly over salted.
The end result was a rather thick, cheesy soup, more like one of those fondants people had back in the 70s. It didn't go into my top 10 best-ever meals but at least it used up a load of surplus ingredients.
Tuesday, 14 July 2015
Our raspberry crop is ripening fast and it looks as though it will be an abundant crop this year. We will be using the raspberries to make jam, vinegar, ice cream, pies, fruit liqueur and fruit salads. No doubt there are items I've forgotten to include. The big problem at the moment is simply getting this huge crop harvested. And then we will have to check the wild raspberries as well.
We went to the fair at Emmanuel College, Lobley Hill in Gateshead on Saturday to sell preserves and eggs. We were very pleased with the results. We normally take chicks with us to attract people to our stall but as the ones we have had only hatched on Thursday last week, we thought they were a bit too young. Instead, I took our two gold top hens. They got lots of interest. All told, a successful day.
We have moved all 13 of the quail chicks to the quail house. We needed the space in the brooder box back home for some hen chicks which hatched recently. At this point we think the young quail consist of 7 hens and 6 cocks. There will need to be a bit of culling of the males when they are fully grown (in about a month). All the birds settled in well into the quail house with the 16 other birds.
The young birds are those with the red leg rings.
Thursday, 9 July 2015
Not all our cockerels have been rehoused. 2 were scheduled to join us for dinner regardless of the need to remove all cockerels from the allotment site. We slaughtered them on Saturday and I sat outside in the back garden to pluck them. It is so much easier than trying to do it in the kitchen - and more hygienic. The two birds did not have a great deal of meat on them. They were cream legbars, a breed kept for eggs. Hatching eggs however does generate as a by-product the cockerels for meat. We have put them in one of the freezers. At some point, they will be used in a chicken casserole.
Wednesday, 8 July 2015
At the start of last year, we swapped some jam for a silkie/light sussex cross cockerel. We named him Rockie. Sadly, there is a new set of rules on our allotment site which now bans cockerels from the entire site. 3 of us who keep them have been spending the last month arranging for our birds to be rehoused. My beautiful cream legbar cockerel, who I was hoping to put into shows, has now gone to a friend. Another friend has taken another of my cream legbars and my exchequer leghorn. On Friday, we were able to rehouse Rockie on a small holding a few kilometres from my house. The new owner will be providing him with a few light sussex hens. He's pictured above in his new ark.
I was in London over the weekend and managed to pick about 5kg of gooseberries which I brought back to Sunniside yesterday. I will be making jam with them this afternoon. And then I'll be making chutney and fruit liqueurs. I also have a large quantity of gooseberries (and raspberries) on the allotment ready for picking so there will be lots of preserve making coming up.
I cut grass for hay making last week as we were expecting a heatwave. As expected, the heatwave arrived, but so did some very heavy thunderstorms. The grass has turned to hay but the ground is still too wet to get the crop in. I'm hoping today and tomorrow will be dry enough to gather up the hay but rain early this morning was not helpful.
One of our speckeldy hens went broody last week so we bought her 6 exchequer leghorn hatching eggs in an attempt to raise some of this breed of hen of which we failed to raise any hens last year. (We got one cockerel.) She's been on the eggs for a week now so we have 2 weeks to go before they start hatching.
I swapped some eggs recently for a bag of strawberries. Meanwhile, Pinkie's milk is flowing (3.3 litres yesterday) and it is giving us lots of cream. So strawberries and cream were on the menu recently. Delicious! We have frozen the rest of the strawberries. They will be used in ice cream making shortly.
Wednesday, 1 July 2015
I checked out the local cherry trees earlier this week. Normally, the cherries are ready for picking in late June. There is often a race to beat the wood pigeons to them. This year the crop seems to be reasonable but late. I don't expect to be picking any fruit for at least 10 days.
A long predicted heatwave has hit the UK and in response, I decided to cut some of the long grass at the local community orchard to make hay. That was 2 days ago. And this afternoon, we were hit by a huge thunderstorm which dumped a huge amount of water on the ground! Not good timing! I will need to leave the hay longer to dry out.
I snapped this photo from my front door this afternoon in the middle of the storm. At least the land rover got a good clean!