Sunday 23 February 2014

How to make pan haggerty

One of my favourite meals is pan haggerty and it is very simple to make. Potatoes, onions and cheese are the ingredients. Slice the potatoes and boil them for about 10 minutes. Then drain them (keep the water to make into a soup) and in a deep pan put in a layer of potatoes, then of onions and then a handful of grated cheese. If there are ingredients still left, do another set of layers. Then cook on a lowish heat for about 20 minutes.

Building the goat house - the video

Goats and jazz music is an interesting mix in this video of how we built the goat house.

Friday 21 February 2014

Building the goat house

Building the goat house was one of the big jobs to be done last weekend. It is actually a bike shed but is ideal for housing the goats who took quite an interest in the construction work.

With the shed now built, we can consider getting more goats. The two we have at the moment are pygmies but our aim is to get milking goats next.

The ducks start laying again

Our ducks stopped laying in the autumn, shortly after the last fox incident. On Sunday, when I was draining the pond, I found 8 old eggs in the mud at the bottom. At least, I assumed they were old. I'm not so convinced now. Yesterday I found an freshly laid egg on the side of the pond. Hopefully, this means the ducks are starting to lay again on a regular basis.

Thursday 20 February 2014

Growing kale

Last year we planted some kale seedlings on Dad's allotment and then rather neglectfully left them unattended until we went back earlier this month to dig up the potato crop we had also rather neglected. We found that the kale was doing rather well. We weeded the patch but are leaving the kale to grow further. In the current wet but warm weather, I am expecting the kale to do well. Recipe suggestions are welcome.

More mud

It was reported today that we have had the wettest winter on record. The last few days have been without the downpours we experienced in January and earlier this month. Nevertheless, the paths on the allotment are still churned up and have a passing resemblance to a first world war battlefield. The situation is not helped by the ducks. We are yet to get the paving stones down. Hopefully, that job will be sorted shortly. In the meantime, I am having to wash my wellies in a puddle every time I leave the allotment.

Liver and bacon casserole

Time to get some of the liver and bacon from our last Tamworth pig out of the freezer. Our aim was to make a liver and bacon casserole. Here's our recipe (quantities are very much up to you): liver chopped and floured (season the flour); bacon chopped, onions quartered; handful of mushrooms; sprig of thyme from our herb garden; pork stock.

Put all the ingredients into a casserole dish and put in oven at 200C for 30-40 minutes. Simple as that.

We had the casserole on Sunday. There was a great deal of liquid left over which made a rather nice soup when reheated with some grated carrots and artichokes. Add another stock cube if needed and simmer for about 20 - 30 min.

The quails have hatched

Our little quail venture has got off the ground. On Tuesday and Wednesday, 7 of the 12 eggs hatched. I still have the remaining 5 eggs in the incubator but I don't expect anything to come of them. Tonight we will switch it off. The quail chicks are now in an old aquarium which will act as a brooder for the next couple of weeks. They are quite lively and have a good appetite.

Saturday 15 February 2014

Paving stones

The unending mud on the allotment caused by the heavy rain has meant we are admitting defeat over the state of our paths. We have bought a load of paving stones from B&Q which were delivered to my house on Tuesday. I moved them to the allotment yesterday and today. We will get them on to the paths shortly. We also have a pile of wood chip - the hedges were brought down to size just over a year ago and we had the branches and twigs chipped. We shall use the wood chippings on the ground around the hen houses to absorb some of the moisture. There is a sea of mud surrounding the henhouses at the moment. Whilst the ducks love it, the hens hate it.

hen shelter

You can see in the above photo how wet the ground has been today. The news from the Met Office is that the weather may now start to improve. Whilst that will hopefully bring relief in the days ahead, today we have been stomping around in mud. The hens have made full use of the shelter we made for them in 2012 when it rained heavily throughout the summer. The ducks on the other hand were having a great day.

Friday 14 February 2014

Quail house

When we went to Newbottle this morning to collect the wine bottles, we discovered the wine-making shop was next door to a pet shop. And outside the front of the shop were rabbit hutches. We are not planning to keep rabbits (at the moment) but we had a look at the hutches are found they were exactly what we need to house the quails which are due to hatch next week. So we bought one. It is currently on the patio of our house and for the time being, we plan to keep the quails there, rather than on the allotment.

Wine bottles

We keep every glass jar we can lay our hands on. We need them for our preserves. Before now, however, we have not kept wine bottles. We don't get through that many anyway. However, we want to put an end to buying the occasional bottle of wine so last autumn we turned our hand to wine making. For me, this was a new experience. For David, it was a return to an old hobby. 10 demijons of red and white wine were left to ferment. They are now ready for bottling. With insufficient bottles of our own, we had to buy in a stock of 2nd hand bottles from a wine-making shop at Newbottle in Houghton-le-Spring near Sunderland. We headed there this morning to collect 70 of them. This afternoon we soaked them in the bath to remove the labels. Next job will be to sterilise them. And then comes the bottling and after that comes the sampling session.

The demijons have been kept in our spare room. We use the same room to store our pumpkins and marrows and keep the incubator and the chick brooder.

Vegetable soup with more than a hint of artichoke

We are gradually eating our way through the enormous crop of Jerusalem artichokes. Actually, this crop is more like an iceberg - we've eaten the tubers that were on the surface, there are a vast number still below the surface. Making them into soup is one of the easiest ways to use them up. Recently we made vegetable soup but about half of what went in was artichoke. The other ingredients were potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, stock and marmite. Half an hour of simmering and then blended. Very nice!

He still thinks he's a duck!

Rockie, our new cockerel, still seems to prefer the company of ducks to hens. He followed the older ducks around today but got chased away by the dominant drake. Tonight, I found him standing next to the pond again when I went over to shut up the henhouses. When he saw me approaching, he wandered off in the direction of the duckling house and when he found me following him, he headed for the henhouses. Was he going to make my life easy by going into one of them to roost? Not immediately. He circulated around them, and then he went into one of them. Job done? Not quite. I closed the door, then brought over a sack of wood shavings to put inside (some rain had got in). Alas, as I opened the door, he shot out. Fortunately, a couple of minutes later, he wandered back in of his own accord. Job definitely done at that point as I closed the door the moment he was inside and didn't reopen it. Hopefully tomorrow he can go to roost without my supervision. And then hopefully he will realise he's a chicken, not a duck!

Thursday 13 February 2014

Egg bound hen

I had the tricky problem this afternoon of dealing with an egg bound hen. One of my new hens appeared to be straining to pass faeces and it looked like her anus was hanging out. When I picked her up, I could feel an egg stuck inside the tube. It wasn't her anus hanging out, it was her egg tube. I took her home but I could not get the egg out. Eventually, I decided it was going to be too painful for her to release the egg whole. I therefore broke the egg inside her and removed the pieces. I felt inside her to see if there were any other eggs but there was nothing. She is staying the night in our bathroom (in a cat box) where she is warm. If she is okay tomorrow I'll take her back to the allotment.

Our new cockerel

This is our new cockerel. He arrived today (we swapped him for 2 jars of marmalade and a jar of spiced apple jelly). He is a light sussex/silkie cross. He was raised with ducklings so I spotted quickly his affinity for our ducks. They however did not return the compliment and made it clear they did not appreciate being followed by him. After that he managed to get into a few scraps with some of the hens.

Tonight, when I went over to shut up the henhouses, I found him next to the pond where the ducks were congregating for the night. I managed to catch him and put him into one of the hen houses. He settled down immediately. Hopefully he will learn quickly he is a cockerel, not a drake.

We've named him Rockie.

Duck pond damage

Last night we had a terrific storm, though it was nothing compared to what has been hitting the South West of England. At 11pm I decided to check on the livestock to ensure they were still safe. The goats were fine, huddled up in the goathouse. The wind had not damaged the henhouses. The pond however had been damaged. The edge of the lining had been blown over into the pond itself. It was too wet and dark to do anything about it and the ducks were not too bothered by it. This morning I found that half the water in the pond had drained away over the edge of the lining. It will be a bit of a job to sort it all out but it is quite timely. The pond needs to be cleaned and we will soon be letting the rapidly growing ducklings onto it as well, nearly doubling the number of ducks using it. So tomorrow, as well as building the goathouse, we will drain what's left of the pond, clean it and refill it with rainwater - of which there is plenty around at the moment.

The new goathouse

On Sunday we went to B&Q in Swalwell to buy a new goathouse. In reality it is a bike shed but it fitted the bill perfectly. It was delivered on Tuesday and we will assemble it tomorrow. This is part of the preparation for expanding the number of goats we have. At the moment we have a goathouse which, in a previous incarnation, was a large tool box. Whilst our two goats can fit in it, it does not give them a huge amount of room. There is certainly no room in it for any more animals. And furthermore, we need the tool box back. We put all its contents into the shed so we could use it for a temporary goathouse. Now we have run out of space in the shed. Tomorrow hopefully we will kill two birds with one stone.

Quail egg hatching due next week

The quail eggs we got at the start of the month have been in the incubator for 12 days and they are due to hatch next week. This is a new venture for us and if all goes well, we will build up a colony of quails to supply us with eggs which will be used mainly as a cash crop. We will use some in our community cafe as well. Some of the males will be used as meat. I've found a medieval recipe for quails which I will try out.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

A sprinkling of snow

Snow started falling last night but it was not significantly heavy. We caught it whilst driving back from the Hexham Beekeepers' meeting. It continued to fall until we got home. This morning it was still lying - but only about 1cm on the ground. On the allotment it was little more than a sprinkling. It did not last. By this afternoon, it had been washed away by yet more rain. At least we are not getting the severity that is hitting the South West but we could do with some dry weather sometime soon.

Monday 10 February 2014

A late potato crop

We rather neglectfully failed to get in the crop of potatoes we put into Dad's allotment last year so yesterday, we headed up to Marley Hill to rescue what we could. We expected most potatoes to be rotten or, given the relatively warm weather, to be sprouting. We were pleasantly surprised. There were very few rotten potatoes, none had sprouted and the ground was not soaking wet, despite the long run of wet weather.

The potatoes are back at our house and we have laid them out on newspapers to let the soil on them dry out. Alas, the only place to lay them out is the hallway. Not the most convenient of locations but they need to be there for only a day or so before we brush off the dry soil and store the potatoes in a paper sack.

Another rabbit

The friend who borrows my air rifle used it again a few days ago. This resulted in the present of another rabbit which I skinned and gutted tonight. It is now in the freezer, as is the pelt. This means we now have 3 rabbit pelts stored away and at some point soon we hope to have enough to make into something.

Meanwhile, we now have a good stock of rabbit, pigeon, duck and pheasant in the freezer. We will be using some to make into game pie but any other recipes for game would be much appreciated.

Friday 7 February 2014

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia Winter 2013-14

My latest update video. It's a wet winter but the work goes on. The ducklings have been moved to the allotment, hen eggs have hatched, we continue to use up our vast supply of autumn's pumpkins, we plant trees on a community orchard and the sausages we made last year are made into a casserole. The joys of a self-sufficient life!

Thursday 6 February 2014

The chicks

These are the chicks that hatched 10 days ago. I filmed them when they were 3 days old. Unfortunately one of the chicks has since died, though this was expected as it was very weak. It had needed help to break out of the egg.

Increasing egg yield

As it's the depths of winter, egg yields from our hens have been minimal over the past couple of months. Yesterday however saw 9 eggs laid from our 20 birds. That's the highest since October and a good increase on the 3 - 5 we have typically had each day in recent weeks. As well as being part of our food supply, they are also currency for us, using them to exchange for other people's produce, and we also sell them for hard currency. So the more laid, the better!

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Tree planting - the video

I filmed this on Sunday when we planted the trees on the community orchard we are setting up in our village of Sunniside in Gateshead. Residents and police cadets came along to plant the 6 trees donated by Chris Bowers and Sons, a nursery in Norfolk. There are 40 trees on the site which were planted in 2012. We have space for hundreds more. This project will take quite a few years to complete.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Fruit trees added to the orchard

Sunday's tree planting at the Kingsway Community Orchard in Sunniside, 5 minutes walk from our house, was a success. Thanks to our sponsors, Chris Bowers and Sons, a Norfolk based nursery, we added 6 trees to the 40 we have already planted. Residents came along to help, as did a couple of the local police cadets (that's them in the photo above, I'm on the right).

We still have 90% of the site to plant out. If you have some trees to spare, feel free to get in touch.

Monday 3 February 2014

Cockerel on order

It's arguably the wrong time of year to be hatching hen eggs and that does seem to be a conclusion I can draw from the eggs we hatched a week ago. Only 3 hatched and since then, one of the chicks has died. We have no idea at the moment what sex the two remaining chicks are. Our plans to build up a stock of breeding exchequer leghorns are still going forward but the timetable will be a bit longer. We will get more eggs in a month or so to ensure we have hatchlings in the early spring.

To help carry forward our poultry plans, we have decided we need another incubator, one larger than the current one we have (which currently has 12 quail eggs in it.) In my plans for building up a local network of food producers who swap their produce, I am hoping to be in a position to provide such a network with poultry, as well as eggs (and jam, honey, preserves etc). Another incubator to run alongside the existing one is therefore a must.

Meanwhile, because of the uncertainties about the sex of the chicks, we still need to get a cockerel for our flock of hens. We have been offered a light sussex/silkie cross by a friend who lives in a hamlet near Sunniside. We will be collecting him next week. At this point, he will have 20 hens to look after!

Bagging a bunny

A lad in our village borrows our air rifle most weekends to hunt for rabbits. We are happy to let him use it for this purpose. It means the gun gets used regularly (what's the point of having something if it's not used much?) and the rabbit population around Sunniside is more effectively managed. In addition, this activity increases the local food supply and keeps the kids off the streets. Yesterday I saw a group of them heading off to the local woodland kitted our in combat gear and carrying a ferret box. Last night they appeared on our doorstep obviously having had a good day. As a thank you for letting them use the air rifle, they gave us one of the rabbits they caught. It will be skinned and gutted soon. The carcass and the pelt will go into the freezer. Rabbit pie will be on the menu shortly.

Sunday 2 February 2014

Another pig

Whilst at Bill Quay Community Farm today to do some volunteer beekeeping, we had a word about buying another Tamworth pig. They won't have any ready until March but we are likely to buy one of the two in the photo above. Tamworths provide excellent meat with flavour far better than any of the mass produced breeds used to supply supermarkets. They are well worth the investment. Ideally, I would like to get some land to raise some myself but this is someway off, unfortunately.

Bee keeping at Bill Quay Farm

We are just back from Bill Quay Community Farm in Gateshead where we help look after the bees. The purpose of the visit today was to carry out the varroa treatment on the hives. This is the mite that has spread throughout the UK's beehives over the past 20 years. Varroa will probably never be eradicated. Instead, we have to manage it. To treat it, we inject oxalic acid in a sugar syrup into the hives where the bees are clustered. This is the time of year to do it, before the hive fills with brood in the spring.

There are three hives at Bill Quay Farm but we found that one of them has died out. This bad news at least meant we were able to take off the honey crop the dead hive left behind. We have brought it home to put through our honey press and will put it into jars before returning it to the farm where it will be sold in the cafe. We will also process the squeezed honeycomb in our wax extractor - indeed, we need to to process the large bucket of honeycomb from our own hives from last year as well. The extracted wax will go back to Bill Quay though I'm not sure what they plan to do with it yet. We are going to use ours to make candles but may also have a go at making table wax.

Bill Quay are keen to sell the honey. They are no longer financed by Gateshead Council and are now self-supporting. The honey will be a useful addition to the cafe.

Saturday 1 February 2014

Fruit tree planting in Sunniside

I was recently contacted by a nursery in Norfolk ( offering me some fruit trees in exchange for a link on this blog. I persuaded the company to donate the trees instead to a community orchard project we have on Kingsway in Sunniside, my home village. For the past week or so, the trees have been sitting in my garage but tomorrow we plant them on the orchard.

I emailed lots of people to ask for help to plant them. I have no idea how many will turn up but I do know that the local police and police cadets are coming along to give a hand.

The site itself is huge and it could take years to get it fully planted. We are totally reliant on donations if we are ever to complete the project but up to now we have 40 fruit trees on the orchard. I am also hoping that we can plant some traditional hedgerows there as well, though that is a job for the future.

The site belongs to Gateshead Council but was never used by them. Before the years of austerity, the grass was cut there in the summer once every 3 weeks though what purpose that served I'm not sure as no one used the area, not even kids to play football. Turning it into an orchard - and using donations and voluntary effort to do so - means in coming years we will have a great local asset at no cost to the local taxpayer.

Quail eggs ready for incubator

Just arrived in the post: a dozen quail eggs. They are going into the incubator this morning. We are aiming to build up a modest colony of quails. The eggs we hope any future hatchlings will eventually produce will mainly be used as a cash crop though we will also use some ourselves. They can fetch quite a good price. Quails can also be used for meat as well.

We will be building a secure run for them shortly. It will have to be fully enclosed with netting, top and bottom - these birds can fly but also vermin can dig under fencing so netting under the ground is needed to stop them burrowing in.