Monday 27 January 2014

The 3 chicks that hatched today

I got back from London this evening and checked out the new chicks that have just hatched. They are still a bit wobbly but they have just started eating. I'll get some better photos tomorrow.

Speckled eggs

Some of the hens I bought at the start of the month started laying straight away. 2 of the birds are from a breed called speckledy. They are appropriately named as not only is their feather colouring speckled, they also lay speckled brown eggs. They are a nice addition to the range of eggs that our hens can produce.

Merging the duckling groups

I filmed this last week when the second pair of ducklings outgrew the brooder box and had to be moved to the allotment. We also needed the brooder box ready for the arrived of the chicks.

3 chicks hatched

The news from home is that three of the 10 eggs have hatched. I am hoping that today, a few more will hatch though time is running out. 3 out of 10 is better than nothing however but it is not the 10 we were hoping for. The next job for the incubator is to hatch some quail eggs which I still need to order. We will need to look again at ordering more hatching hen eggs however. And we will need to consider buying more point-of-lay birds. Ideally, I want us to have 40 laying hens. We have the capacity for more than that in the current henhouses so space is not a problem.

Sunday 26 January 2014

More green shoots in January

We may be getting news reports today of yet more heavy rain and floods here in the UK but temperatures continue to be mild. Green growth is shooting through the ground. I took this photo in London yesterday. Daffodils are growing. And it's not just here. Back home in Sunniside in the North East of England, I have seen other shoots coming through. Think back a year and we were heading into a mini ice age that lasted until late April. Let's hope we don't have to live through that again, and let's hope we don't have to live again through a wet spring and summer similar to what we had in 2012.

Saturday 25 January 2014

Inspiration from Borough Market

I am currently in London for a few days and have taken the opportunity to revisit one of my favourite markets - Borough. If anywhere can inspire me to come up with the food I want to produce, Borough Market fits the bill. It has made me more determined to set up our goat dairy herd, get quails, trade for more game, double our number of hives and generally, produce more quality foods. So here are a few photos that will hopefully inspire you as well.

Waiting for the eggs to hatch

I am in London at the moment but David is back home and is keeping an eye on the hen eggs in the incubator which are due to hatch this weekend. We have 10 - they are all exchequer leghorns - but the news at the moment is that only one has started to show signs of hatching. We really could do with a good number of new hatchlings however. We need to build up the number of hens we have as we will have more demand for our eggs this years. We are looking to increase the number of times we run the Allotment Cafe at Marley Hill Community Centre, we have more people wanting to buy our eggs and we need more to swap for other people's produce.

Friday 24 January 2014

Ducklings in the run

I'm pleased to be able to report that the 4 ducklings have taken well to their outdoor run. They have successfully managed to turn the ground into mud but that was expected. We'll give them at least a couple more weeks to put on more weight and fatten up before releasing them from the run. At that point they may joint the other group which will probably see them staying on the pond overnight (the pond is netted off during the night to protect the ducks from foxes) or they could end up continuing to use the duckhouse through the night. If they vacate the duckhouse, we will start to use it for a henhouse and move it to another part of the allotment.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Our crowing hen

You expect a cockerel to crow. Unfortunately our cockerel died last year so I was a bit surprised to hear what I thought was a cockerel crowing on my allotment this morning when I arrived to open the henhouses and feed the goats. There is a cockerel on the neighbouring allotment and he normally crows away in the morning, but I could see him through the hedge in his own run. And then I saw my cream legbar hen crowing away in the middle of my allotment. She is the only one of our hens who does not roost in a henhouse. Each night she heads into the same ivy covered tree where she is safe from foxes and kept dry by the canopy of ivy. So she is always wandering around when I arrive to open up the henhouses. She seemed to have developed the voice of a cockerel, though it was a bit croaky and not as loud as the neighbouring bird.

We looked up the possible causes. We found 2. One is a hormone imbalance. The other is an absence of a cockerel in the flock. If it is the former, I'm not sure if we have a solution. The bird herself is in fine health - she needs to be just to be able to fly every night into the tree. If lack of cockerel is the issue, that could be solved soon. Our 10 exchequer leghorn eggs are due to hatch this weekend. And we will be keeping at least one of the cockerels from this batch.

Monday 20 January 2014

Stuffed marrow

This has been our dinner for the past 2 days - stuffed marrows. This has not been an entirely self-sufficient meal as the vegetarian mince was commercially produced - we found it in the freezer during a recent sort of the contents. A point of note from this meal is that I used for the first time the tomatoes I pickled in spiced brine in October - and I was rather pleased with the results.

Eating hay whilst the sun shines

No rain today. Hooray! It meant the goats were happy to leave their goathouse and roam around the paddock. It also meant there was a bit more time for the ground to drain. The mud on the allotment has been relieved of further rain sufficiently to have moved to the thick, sticky state that sucks off your wellies if you stand in the same position for a few moments too long.

The sun also brought out the bees, not that there are many flowers around at the moment. However, the hazel catkins seem to be early this year, probably due to the mild weather. The catkins are not flowers and provide no nectar though they do produce lots of pollen which the bees can collect. I took the photo below this morning as I was surprised at just how many catkins there are.

Back to the goats - they weren't too interested in their feed this morning but I broke open a new bale of hay and fed some to them. They gorged themselves on it.

And afterwards, they had to sleep off their excess.

Duckling move update

It seems the duckling move has been a success. When I let out the livestock this morning, the 4 ducklings left the duckhouse to go into the temporary run we have made for them. It was their first time outdoors but they took to it well. There are plenty of puddles for them to investigate. The adult ducks, though separated from the ducklings by chicken wire, took an interest and it was noticeable that the dominant drake was not aggressive. Hopefully that means we can merge the two groups together in the near future without too much trouble.

Sunday 19 January 2014

Operation Ducklings-on-the-move a success

It appears that moving the 2 pairs of ducklings to the duckhouse has been a success. I've just checked on them. They are settled down. There has been no fighting between the drakes. No blood drawn. Hopefully we will have a coherent group of ducks from this exercise. The next job will be to merge them with the older ducks.

The photo above was taken just after the 2 younger ducklings were put into the duckhouse and before the older ones went in.

How to make elderberry gin

I filmed this video over a 3 month period. We had a huge crop of elderberries last year. Some of them made their way into an elderberry gin recipe in October. I bottled it last week.

Duck plans

The wet weather has continued and has washed away some of our plans for today. We had hoped to go to Dad's allotment and sort out various jobs there. We have now shelved that plan. On our main allotment, there is mud everywhere. The goats are refusing (understandably) to come out of the goat house, the hens are not looking happy about the mud and the ducks are having are great time! Regardless of weather (and the forecast is for the rain to stop falling after midday) we will be setting up a new run for the ducklings this afternoon. We have 2 ducklings aged 4 weeks in the nursery unit here at home and 2 aged 8 weeks in the greenhouse. The aim is to bring them together without the two drakes fighting so that they can form one group. So, later this afternoon we will put the younger ducklings into the duckhouse in the new run first. About half hour later we will add the two from the greenhouse.

When we first got the ducks in 2012, we put three adults (one was a drake) into the duckhouse. Minutes later we added 5 ducklings (which were about 3 weeks old). The group instantly bonded. Our theory is that the older drake had not established the duckhouse as his territory when the ducklings were added. Everything, including the ducklings, were new to him. He simply had to knuckle down in an unfamiliar environment. All the ducks and ducklings then bonded. No fighting. We are hoping to replicate this today with our latest ducklings. Watch this space.

Friday 17 January 2014

Curried parsnip and apple soup

curried parsnip and apple soup Jan 14

This was an interesting soup though we are slightly guilty of making up the recipe as we went along. It consists of parsnips and apples (clue is in the name), onions, potatoes, curry powder and vegetable stock, boiled until everything is soft. It was then blended and a bit of cream added.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Elderberry gin

I bottled up one and half bottles of elderberry gin and one of elderberry and apple vodka yesterday. I set them away in October. The berries in the gin were raw and whole. In the vodka, the apples and elderberries were a pulp from making jelly last year. I normally use pulp like this to make a fruit puree but this time I thought I'd experiment by using it to make a liqueur. I sampled a very small amount of the gin - my general rule however is not to drink though the week, except o special occasions. Tipples are for the weekend.

The gin soaked berries and vodka soaked pulp have gone into a storage jar. I hope to put them through a sieve and use the resulting puree to add to some ice cream I am planning to make - all rather expeerimental at the moment.

Sprout and Stilton Soup

I made this soup a few days ago and it was a great way of using up two Christmas leftovers - sprouts and stilton. I boiled up the sprouts with some onions and a couple of peppers in some vegetable stock. Once the sprouts were softened through, I added stilton and double cream and then blended it all. Rather nice, if you don't mind me saying though not necessarily the most appropriate for your new year diet!

Vegetable curry

I made this vegetable curry recently as a way of using up some of the vegetables we have. We are now in a race to get some of the veg we have used up without having to freeze them (the freezers are full). Vegetable curries are easy to make, especially if you cheat by using a jar of curry sauce. We found an old one in the cupboard and decided it was time to use it up. This curry contains sprouts, pumpkin, artichokes, onions, tomatoes and potatoes.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Moving the ducklings to the allotment

We recently moved two ducklings to the allotment but as it is winter, we put them in the greenhouse where they will stay for a couple of weeks until they are large enough and have sufficient fat to go outdoors.

Monday 13 January 2014

Sausage and vegetable casserole

We used some of the sausage meat from our last Tamworth pig to make sausages. We got some out of the freezer recently to make a sausage and vegetable casserole. All the vegetables came from the allotment or were traded with other local allotment holders.

Sunday 12 January 2014

Goat hard-standing

The goats continue to enjoy their extended paddock but the recent rains have left the ground muddy (though the lower temperatures over the past 24 hours have temporarily solved that.) They don't like wet, soft ground and we have found that they like to stand on planks of wood or bricks. Under a hedge near the allotment, we found some dumped paving stones so we decided to reuse them as hard-standing for the goats. They seem to have worked quite well.

First hard frost

Despite the recent storms, temperatures this winter so far have been mild. We have had no snow and before last night, we had had no significant frost. And then this morning I went to the allotment to let out the hens and feed and goats and found everything covered with a white layer of frost. The mud was frozen and stayed so throughout the day, except where we were working. We also used the incinerator this afternoon so in one corner of the allotment, the mud was back. The forecast is for the rain to hold off on Monday until the late afternoon. At least we aren't flooded out like some areas of the UK.

Thursday 9 January 2014

Eggs in the incubator

We got 10 exchequer leghorn eggs to go into our incubator on Sunday but we could not fit them all in. One eggs was left out so I made a one-egg incubator out of a small plastic box with some kitchen paper in it (to stop the egg rolling around and to hold a bit of water to ensure there is moisture) and then put it on top of our immersion heater in the bathroom. I don't know if it will work but I didn't want to waste the egg. We are expecting hatching to take place on 25-26 January.

We keep a lid loosely sitting on to of the box but have removed it for the photo to show the egg.

My new hens

I managed to get some photos of my new hens today. There are 3 rhode rocks, 2 speckledies and one ginger nut ranger. Here they are:

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Our new hens

These are the 6 new hens we got on Sunday.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia Autumn 2013

We had it all this autumn: moulting hens, crops to be preserved, gigantic pumpkins to be used, storm damage to clear up, foxes taking our ducks, game to be cooked, wild food foraging to be done, fresh trout to be eaten and ducklings to be hatched. An eventful time for those of us who grow our own food.

Monday 6 January 2014

Earning their keep

There were two eggs today from the new hens we got yesterday. So they are earning their keep from day one. Good news - especially as, in a couple of months, pancake day is coming up and we are hoping to do a special pancake event at our Allotment Cafe. We will need all the eggs we can get.

Moulting hens

Since I shot this video a few weeks ago, most of our hens have finished moulting. They are looking fantastic but egg yields have not yet picked up. The shorter hours of daylight will be discouraging the hens from laying. Nevertheless, I did find 3 eggs under the shed today.

Feeding pumpkin to the livestock

I am in a constant battle to reduce waste. Indeed, we should regard waste not as something to be dumped but as a resource. So when I had finished with my pumpkin lantern, I fed it to the goats and hens. Since then we have fed the goats with chopped up peel from another pumpkin. They rather like it.

Replanting the rhubarb

Before we could extend the goat paddock yesterday, we had to dig up the rhubarb. We moved it to another bed which we are prepared to leave permanently to rhubarb. It was also an opportunity to split some of the larger roots.

We also moved the horseradish. When we dug it up we found a far more extensive root system than we expected so we split it into about 6 pieces and replanted it onto another bed which, as with the rhubarb, will now be used only for the one crop.

Exchequer Leghorn Eggs

We bought 10 fertilised Exchequer Leghorn hen eggs yesterday and 9 went into our incubator last night. There was no room for the 10th so that is in a box on top of our immersion heater in the bathroom. This breed is on the Rare Breed Trust's endangered list and ideally I would like to get a breeding group up and running. We also want them for their white eggs. Of our other hens, one lays cream coloured eggs, the rest a variety of brown.

The eggs are due to hatch on 26th January.

Pumpkin chutney

I made pumpkin chutney recently. This one is slightly tart but you can add more sugar to reduce the tartness. We still have 2 very large pumpkins to use up. More recipes to follow.

Sunday 5 January 2014


The UK is being hit by a series of bad storms at the moment. Here in Sunniside we are not as badly affected as many other areas but the rain and wind are, nevertheless, very heavy. Through daylight hours today, the weather wasn't too bad so we were able to carry out the long planned extension of the goat paddock. This involved moving the goat house to the middle of the enlarged paddock. This evening, in the middle of the rain, I did a check on the goats to ensure they were okay and not suffering from the weather. Alas, I found both of them standing behind the goat house trying to take shelter. Both were rather wet and looking miserable.

I led them into the comfort of the goat house itself where they settled down and started eating hay. Quite why they had not gone into the shelter is beyond me. Goats hate the rain and naturally gravitate towards cover when it is wet. Hopefully they have learnt their lesson. I am going back in a few minutes before I go to bed myself to check they are still tucked up in the goat house.

I can report however that the goats seem to enjoy the increased size of the goat paddock. And they had a great time charging round the allotment whilst we were erecting the fence.

Saturday 4 January 2014

Moving the hen houses

We spent the afternoon today moving the hen houses in preparation for extending the goat paddock. In the photo above, you can see the hen houses before the move with the goat paddock behind them. The paddock needs to be extended so that we can get milking goats and also give our two existing goats more space and ground that is less muddy.

The hens did not take long to find the dry ground where the hen houses previously stood. Given all the rain we have had recently, this was their only opportunity to have a dust bath until the drier weather arrives.

As well as moving the hen houses, we also dug up the soft fruit bushes, the horseradish and the rhubarb that were on the patch as well. These have been moved to new locations on the allotment.

Tomorrow we will move the fence to extend the goat paddock and then head off to Durham to buy some more hens and some fertilised eggs to put into our incubator.