Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Unexpected rhubarb

rhubarb Mar 17

We hadn't been up to our Marley Hill allotment for a couple of weeks but a visit there yesterday meant we discovered some rhubarb growing in our compost heap. It seems some partial roots had been dug up during a weeding session and dumped on the heap where they started sprouting. We've now extended the rhubarb bed on the Farside allotment to accommodate them.

Setting up the mini-greenhouse

mini greenhouse Mar 17

The warm winter and early spring meant we were planting seeds early. The greenhouse is now full of seed trays so we have set up a mini one in the back garden. I suspect the garden will be used more productively this year. Previously, our food producing activities have been on our allotments. The garden space however is needed for growing.

A pile of cabbages

cabbages Mar 17 2

One of the other allotment holders left a large pile of cabbages outside our gate today, presumably for the goats. I sorted through them and found that many are in a good enough condition for us to eat. A small number will therefore find their way back to our kitchen. To balance this, someone has been leaving large quantities of swedes for the goats. There seems to be an endless supply.

Whinnies open day

Whinnies Community Garden Mar 17

We rent our 2 large allotments from the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside and on Easter Sunday, 16th April, from 11am to 3pm, there will be an open day. I am organising it! I am hoping we will have some goat babies by then to show off, though Georgina is taking her time to produce them. I'll publish more details about the open day once they are arranged.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Sprouts

sprout plants Mar 17 1

One of my favourite foods is sprouts. And I have just replenished our supply after a friend invited us to pick all the sprout plants for the goats. Many of the actual sprouts themselves were in a good enough condition to be used by us. I will be making sprout and stilton soup. Watch this space.

goats eating sprouts Mar 17 1

What we didn't use ourselves, the goats enjoyed.

sprout plants Mar 17 13

Blackthorn blossom

blackthorn blossom Mar 17

The blackthorn in the local hedgerows is now blossoming. For a number of years now we have had next to no sloe crop. Hopefully this year will give us at least a modest supply. We don't just use them to make sloe gin. We use them in hedgerow jelly and, were we to have enough, they make a great jelly when combined with crab apples.

Paving completed

goats on paving Mar 17 6

I have just about finished making the paved area for the goats from the broken paving stones I was given. They love it, spending quite a bit of time sleeping on it, through both day and night. I have some unbroken paving stones which we will be using to create more paths soon.

goats on paving Mar 17 3

Saved from the oven

IMG_20170325_174500621

I'm pleased to report that we have now rehoused the barnvelder cockerel. He went to a new home on Saturday evening, along with a couple of our hens to keep him company. So, fortunately for him, we did not have to slaughter, roast and eat him.

Potato planting

planting potatoes Mar 17 1

After a number of weeks chitting in the garage, the potatoes have been planted. We are growing rooster, King Edwards and pink fur apples. They have gone into the Farside allotment, where we plan to grow most of our fruit. This allotment hasn't been used for years but planting potatoes will help break up the ground.

planting potatoes Mar 17 2

Friday, 24 March 2017

Planting Up Kingsway Orchard

Kingsway Community Orchard planting session Mar 17 (83)

Kingsway community orchard which I helped set up 6 years ago in Sunniside, the village where I live, had a recent addition of 100 trees, thanks to a deal I was able to strike with environmental charity Groundwork. They had a huge number of fruit trees they wanted sold so I was able to negotiate a deal for 100 trees for a total price of £200. Given that a fruit tree typically costs about £25, this was definitely a bargain not to be overlooked. Gateshead Council's Local Community Fund paid for the trees and officers arranged for the Princes Trust volunteers to plant them on Tuesday. The orchard was therefore able to extend onto the wasteland next to the trees that have been there for 6 years. Hopefully this will grow into a great community asset in the years to come (though it will be quite some time before there will be any fruit.)

Kingsway Community Orchard planting session Mar 17 (50)

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Spring greens

goats Mar 17 (14)

We are now into spring. Hooray! Days longer than nights! The weather has been mild enough recently for grass, dock, dandelion and goosegrass to be growing well. And that means lots of extra feed for the animals.

goats Mar 17 (11)

Poorly Pinkie

goats Mar 17 (10)

Spotless made a rapid recovery last week but then the spotlight switched to Pinkie who, on Friday morning, was looking poorly. She refused to stand up and leave her shed. She was off her food. Later in the day, the vet was called. There was a second visit from the vet on Sunday. It now looks as though she could have a lung disorder. And she is probably not pregnant. She has gone quite thin and boney but now that she is feeling better, we are giving her lots of extra food. In a sense, I'm pleased she isn't pregnant as it would be too physically demanding on her. It does, however, leave us with a problem. The chances are that we are now going to be without a milking goat this year. Spot, our youngest nanny, daughter of Georgina, is a cross breed and will be kidding for the first time in the next few weeks. We have no idea if she will turn out to be a milker. If she doesn't, we may start the search for a ready-to-milk nanny.

Paving for goats

paving for goats Mar 17 2

My brother gave me lots of broken paving stones from his garden recently. Not wanting to overlook the opportunity to turn waste into something useful, we are now using the stones to create a paved area for the goats. On our livestock allotment, most of the ground surface is soft earth. The natural habitat of goats is rocky hillsides. Therefore their hooves are worn down naturally. That doesn't happen on soft earth so we have to clip their hooves, which is a challenging job.

So far we have used only a small number of the stones so this is a work-in-progress. The goats however do seem to like the paved area, especially today as the ground is so wet following heavy rain.

In the parcel post today: quail eggs

quail eggs for hatching Mar 17 (1)

We have now gone through three generations of quail since we got our first quail hatching eggs in 2014. We have decided to broaden the gene pool to avoid too much interbreeding and have therefore ordered 24 hatching eggs from a completely different source to the one we used 3 years ago. The eggs arrived this morning and have just gone into the incubator. In 16 days they should hatch.

quail eggs for hatching Mar 17 (3)

quail eggs for hatching Mar 17 (2)

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Rendering fat

rendering fat Mar 17

We found a couple of pork chops in one of our freezers on Saturday. They were from the last pig we got a couple of years ago. We defrosted them and had them for dinner on Sunday. The bones will be dried out and made into bonemeal. The fat and skin have now been rendered down to make lard. Nothing wasted.

Jerusalem artichokes for planting

artichoke tubers Mar 17

For a number of years we have grown Jerusalem artichokes. Sadly, the goats and chickens wrecked the crop we would otherwise have dug up over the recent winter. We have now bought 25 tubers which were planted today on our farside allotment. I love this vegetable, despite its ability to make you a gold medalist in the flatulence Olympics. A great winter food.

Planting onions

onion sets planted Mar 17

One of our most important crops is onions. We bought onion sets in January and recently we planted these into seed trays which are now in the greenhouse. Once they have started growing, and the final frosts are behind us, we'll plant them out on the farside allotment.

Blackcurrant vodka

blackcurrant vodka Mar 17

A rather pleasant find in the wardrobe where we stash our homemade fruit liqueurs: a jar of blackcurrant vodka with the fruit still in it. It made for a pleasant tipple on Sunday evening. I will eke it out over the next couple of weeks.

Bad news on the bees

honeycomb Mar 17

We have some bad news about our bees. We checked our remaining 3 colonies over the weekend and, as I feared, they were dead. This has badly hit our ability to produce a cash crop with a premium return. We will have to rescue the situation as soon as possible. We have put out a message to beekeeping friends to tell people we are in the market to buy bees in the spring. We have had an offer to crate 4 nucs in June. We have accepted this but will be looking to buywhole hives as well.

First quail egg

quail egg Mar 17

A couple of days ago we had the first quail egg of the year. And this morning, we had 2. So it looks as though the quails know spring is on its way. Meanwhile, I have ordered quail hatching eggs from a different source to the one we previously used 3 years ago when we first hatched quail eggs. This is to widen the gene pool. After 3 generations of interbreeding, there was a need to add some new genes to the colony.

No more privet

goats and privet Mar 17 (2)

We had hoped to have enough privet to feed the goats up to April, when the hawthorn leaves will be available. Alas, we cut back what was left of the available privet earlier this month. That meant we have had to buy in feed for the goats. We have plans to avoid having to pay for feed in the winter of 17/18. We will be making much more hay (what we made last year has now long gone).

goats and privet Mar 17 (1)

Sick billy

goats Mar 17 (3)

Spotless, our billy goat, hasn't been well today. He's had the runs and was off his food. I think he has eaten something he shouldn't have. I've seen both Pinkie and Georgina each suffer something similar. They take a day to get it out of their systems. I'm hoping he will be back to his usual self tomorrow.

goats Mar 17 (4)

Still no babies

pregnant goat Mar 17 (1)

Georgina is still as pregnant as ever. She is keeping us all waiting. I am away this weekend and I'm almost tempted to place a bet on her giving birth when I'm not there. Watch this space!

pregnant goat Mar 17 (4)

pregnant goat Mar 17 (2)

Bee improvement course

beekeepers meeting Marley Hill Mar 17 1

On Saturday 4th March, I helped run a bee improvement day at Marley Hill Community Centre for beekeepers in the North East. I was there to help serve teas and coffees, not be a lecturer! Alas, I had to leave at 11am as I was double booked. I had to go down to Whickham with our billy goat, Spotless, for a planting event. I had been invited and asked to bring a goat to help promote the event. I was back at Marley Hill at 3pm, just in time to miss most of the bee improvement day.

beekeepers meeting Marley Hill Mar 17 2

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Wild Garlic

wild garlic Mar 17

The wild garlic has already started growing. I picked some last week in Kindred Wood in Sunniside. It was used in a vegetable soup. We have lots of eggs now so watch out for the wild garlic flans we'll be making soon.

Rehousing a cockerel

cockerel Mar 17 (4)

We hatched some barnvelder eggs last year. 3 chicks have been growing up but this is a slower developing breed. That means we didn't know what sex they were until the start of March. One of them is a cockerel. We are actively looking for a new home for him (we aren't allowed to keep cockerels on our site) as he is a magnificent bird (as well as a rare breed). If we fail in this mission, sadly for him he will be joining us for dinner.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Breaking records

eggs Mar 17 1

22 eggs from our hens today. This is the highest this year so far and much bigger than what we were getting this time last year. The biggest total ever to beat is 24 which we got in the early summer last year.

Not long to go

goats Mar 17 (2)

Georgina is showing symptoms of being close to kidding. Her udders have started swelling up, her back is looking hollowed out and, this morning, her tail was curved downwards. It could be she has just a few days to go.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Spotless spotted at planting event

Planting Up Whickham Mar 17 (23)

On Saturday I was invited by Planting Up Whickham, a group of volunteers who maintain the flowerbeds in Whickham Village, to bring a goat to a maintenance event they were holding. The group decided it would make for some interesting publicity. I decided to take Spotless as the nannies are pregnant (very pregnant with respect to Georgina and Spot). As he was being moved off the site, I had to get a disapplying certificate from DEFRA.

Spot was quite a hit with passers-by and also with the Bishop of Carlisle, who was helping out at the event. As I was also the photographer and video maker for the group, by brother Andrew became goat-minder for part of the event.

Planting Up Whickham Mar 17 (20)

Planting Up Whickham Mar 17 (7)

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Releasing the poultry



On Tueday, DEFRA restrictions on keeping poultry confined were relaxed. At last, we were able to let our hens and ducks go free range again.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Planting broad beans

broad bean seeds Mar 17

The broad bean seeds were planted  at our Marley Hill allotment yesterday. Beans are a crucial crop for us. They are full of protein. We are trying out two varieties: Express and Witkiem.