Saturday 31 May 2014

Leftovers soup

leftovers soup May 14

Waste nothing! That's one of the underlying principles of our lifestyle. And on Sunday, we had leftovers at our community cafe. We are not allowed to put some thawed meats back into the freezer so the defrosted burgers, bacon and beef was added to the vegetable soup that was left. The result was three days' of meals for us.

Friday 30 May 2014

Death and new hatchings

chicks May 14 3

One of my oldest hens, Kylie, a rhode rock, died today. She was three years old. She started laying the day we got her and she had been a prolific layer since then. Not only that, her eggs were a good size though she had not been laying recently. She was not the only one we lost this week. Grey, one of our columbines, died on Wednesday. She was two years old. She had been a very friendly bird who used to follow me around the allotment. As with most columbines, she laid olive green coloured eggs.

The good news from today is that the eggs in the incubator have started hatching. The first 8 are in the photo above. We are expecting more to hatch overnight (one already has). Meanwhile, the chicks that hatched a couple of weeks ago are growing well (see photo below). Their wing and tail feathers are growing rapidly. In a couple of weeks they will be big enough to go outdoors.

chicks May 14 1

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia - February 2014

Hot from the video editing suite, this is the February edition of Self-Sufficient in Suburbia. Lots of mud, ducklings, hens, seasonal cooking (we got through more artichokes than we care to admit) and our first quails hatched.

Thursday 29 May 2014

Quail update - video

Another video filmed over a number of weeks earlier this year, following our quail venture. The second batch of eggs hatch, the older birds are moved to a new cage, surplus male birds are given to friends and the first eggs are laid. These birds matured at an amazing rate.

Shortly, the aviary will be built which will become their permanent home.

Video: ducklings on the move

I filmed this video over a 3 week period, from the point they were first moved our Welsh harlequin ducklings outdoors into a temporary run, to the point earlier this week when they were moved to the allotment. Notice how quickly they have grown. Within the next couple of months they should be fully mature and hopefully the females will be laying.

Wandering ducklings

Welsh Harlequin ducklings on allotment May 14

Apart from a bit of bullying from the dominant khaki campbell drake, the move of the Welsh Harlequin ducklings to the allotment has gone without incident. We kept them in the covered run on the allotment for a couple of days so that they could learn to think of that as a safe area. Today they were allowed to wander freely. To start with they left the covered area but kept close to it. Then they got a bit more adventurous and headed off to the other side of the allotment. When I went over this evening to shut them away, the ducklings happily walked back to the covered area. A job that potentially could have involved my chasing around the allotment took only a few seconds.

The above photo was taken today. Notice how the ducklings are developing their adult plumage.

Unblocking a hen's crop

Ever had to unblock a blocked hen's crop? I guess this is something few would ever need to do but we had to do precisely this recently. The crop is a muscular bag at the base of the neck. It holds the food the hen eats through the day and in the evening, the contents of the crop are then passed into the digestive system. Sometimes they become blocked, a problem that tends to be caused by eating long, stringy material such as grass. To clear the block, the crop needs to be massaged a few times to break up the clump of food. If this doesn't work, the hen has to be turned upside down and made to regurgitate the contents of the crop. Fortunately, we didn't have to do that in this instance.

13 quail eggs

All 13 of our quail hens laid an egg today - this is the first time this has happened. So another milestone has been passed. Meanwhile, check out another video I filmed a few weeks ago and only just got round to editing. It shows the 2nd batch of quail eggs hatching. We have another quail video which shows the birds growing and maturing - and then laying their first eggs. I'll post it up shortly.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Hatching the Welsh Harlequin ducklings

Another catch up video - this was filmed about 6 weeks ago when the Welsh Harlequin ducklings hatched. They grew rapidly. They started off in a brooder box, then into a bigger one, then they were moved into a run in the back garden and a few days ago they were moved to the allotment where we keep our poultry.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

How to make artichoke soup

We are well past the Jerusalem artichoke season. Artichokes are a vegetable for the winter, dug out of the ground as we need them. I often make them into soup. I filmed this in February but only got round to editing the video today.

Beefing up our diet

brisket May 14

Since setting out to be self-sufficient, we have had no beef. Cattle keeping is hardly something we can do on the allotment! Instead, we have been looking for a farmer who is happy to swap for their beef. And now we've found not only a beef supplier, but one that is reasonably local and has top quality meat. Steph and Ike Brandon run Blaydon Burn Farm and we discovered each other at a small event I ran last month at Marley Hill Community Centre. They are happy to swap beef for our Tamworth pork and on Saturday we made our first exchange. We got a brisket joint, a joint of top side, sausages and bags of mince. We used the brisket at our cafe on Sunday in hot beef sandwiches. We had some grated horseradish pickled in vinegar so we were able to make up some horseradish sauce.

horseradish sauce May 14

And last night, we had some of the left over brisket for dinner. Yorkshire pudding was made from our own eggs. Runner beans we had were from last year, preserved by salting them. Very enjoyable!

beef and Yorkshire puddings May 14

Hive check

hive May 14

This must get the record for being our tallest hive. It consists of a super and brood box at the bottom. This was the original hive. Then on top of it is the brood box from another hive that went queenless a couple of months ago. The two hives were merged to create on super hive which we planned to split again. However, on checking the top brood box yesterday, we found no queen cells in it so we decided to keep it together as one big hive and added a queen excluder and super to the top to collect honey. My expectation is that this hive will swarm so I hope we are around to capture it.

We checked the other two hives on our Sunniside apiary yesterday aswell and found a similar story. We had placed brood boxes on them in the expectation we could split them once queen cells were found. Since we found none (we think they may be in the bottom brood box), we have again decided to leave the hives as large units and added supers to them to let us harvest honey over the summer. Again, we still expect them to produce swarms.

We have lots of people asking us for honey at the moment but we don't expect to start cropping until the end of June. If sales are anything like last year, we expect to be out of honey by December.

A mountain of nettles

hives and nettles May 14

One of the jobs to do yesterday was weeding the main allotment. We have a huge number of nettles that have flourished in the past few weeks. It was time for them to go. You can see in the picture above that there is a cluster of them in front of two of our hives.

Two hours of ripping them up left me with an enormous pile on the compost bin. Nettle mountain was almost to the height of the hedge. Alas, there are still plenty to remove.

I learnt recently that nettle stalks have been used through history to produce a fibrous material that can be spun. I may look into this further. Knitting a nettle jumper may be quite an interesting task.

nettles in compost bin May 14

Monday 26 May 2014

Chicks at the Ryton Hirings

chicks at Ryton Hirings May 14

On Saturday I had a stall at the Ryton Hirings. This is an annual fair in Ryton, a village in western Gateshead in the North East of England. We took along our newly hatched chicks which turned out to be a hit with lots of people, old and young. The interest in them helped to boost jam sales and raise interest in our community cafe.

Moving the broad beans

broadbeans in planters May 14 2

Two weeks ago I moved the broad beans we had in planter bags from the allotment to the back garden where they will be safe from the hens. The above photo was taken shortly after they were moved. They are doing well at the new location on the path at the bottom of the garden. Since them they have more than doubled in size.

Broad beans are an important crop. They store well but provide us with both protein and carbohydrates.

Strawberry planters

strawberry planters May 14 2

In the late winter we transplanted our strawberries into stacked planters and deep bags with side holes. We put them on our patio where they rapidly established themselves and have grown well in their new containers. There have been lots of flowers recently and already there are some fruit starting to form. Hopefully, in a few weeks we will be picking ripe strawberries.

Moving the ducklings

Welsh Harlequin ducklings May 14 5

Today was the big move for the ducklings - not that they were moving far. They had outgrown their temporary run in the back garden and had to be transferred to the allotment where the adult ducks lived. We took all 5 of them over in cat boxes.

Welsh Harlequin ducklings May 14 6

We have a polytunnel on the allotment which has a net over it. We house the ducks in it overnight to keep them safe from the foxes. The ducks are then released each morning. Today we kept the ducklings in it to get them used to it and to encourage them to think of it as a safe place to which they return in future evenings.

Welsh Harlequin ducklings May 14 7

Welsh Harlequin ducklings May 14 8

The ducklings settled in well though tonight I had to let the adult ducks into the enclosure. There was a bit of bullying but nothing more than would be expected. Tomorrow we let the ducklings out to wander around the allotment.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Another bee rescue

bumblebees in nest box May 14 2

A couple of weeks ago I rescued 3 feral honey bee colonies from Sun Hill in Sunniside. The building is being demolished and the bees faced extermination or rescue by me. News has got around of the rescue and as a result, I was contacted by Riverside Academy, down the road in Dunston. The school had a bird nest box on the wall next to a door onto the school yard. A bumblebee colony was living in it and one child had already suffered a sting. I paid the school a visit last week to have a look and found that the bees could be rescued quite easily and moved to a new site.

Last night I made the return visit to do my bee-Thunderbirds rescue. The work had to be done late as bumblebees continue working much later in the day than honeybees. So we were at the school at 9pm, taped up the entrance to the nest box, unscrewed it from the wall, placed it carefully in our swarm box and put it in the car to take to its new location. By 10.30pm we had it in place on another wall near my house in Sunniside.

I checked on the colony this morning and saw bees flying in and out. (See above photo). Job done. Just waiting for the next bee rescue call. Thunderbees are go!

Sunday 18 May 2014

Creating our new herb garden

herb garden May 14 1

This is the path that leads to our main allotment. As you can see there are lots of unused verges though there are some daffodils plants in some of them. We asked the owners of the site if we could plant out the verges with herbs. The idea is that anyone will be able to pick the herbs, once they are growing. The owners are a care home who also operate a charity that provides gardening experience for people with disabilities. They were happy with the idea and even provided a tray of herb plants to go in. They were planted yesterday along with some seeds we had and the chervil and parsley I got from the Hop Garden last week. There is still a great deal of space to use up so we'll get more herbs in as and when they become available.

It makes you think however. There must be a multitude of small strips of land like this all over the country, just waiting to be planted up. How much of the country could we feed by using them more effectively?

herb garden May 14 2

herb garden May 14 3

Brambles as goat food

goats May 14 (7)

I recently chopped back a bramble and put it into the goat paddock, expecting the goats to nibble the leaves. They did more than that. They ate the stalks as well. It went down like spaghetti! As they liked it so much we decided to use any opportunity to collect more for them. David was off to Dad's allotment yesterday to do some weeding and as we have something of a bramble problem there, he chopped them back and brought them down for the goats, who proceeded to munch their way through the whole lot of them.

I'm eyeing up a hawthorn hedge on the allotment site at the moment. It needs trimming. No brambles in it but the goats love hawthorn leaves. I think I know where their next meal is coming from!

Thursday 15 May 2014

Hatching the quail chicks

This is another catch up video. Filmed in February when our first batch of quail hatched but I've only managed to edit it today.

Swapping at the Hop Garden

This is the video I shot on Sunday during my visit to the Hop Garden at High Spen in Gateshead. I swapped eggs for plants, herbs and rhubarb.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

7 chicks

From thinking the 8 eggs were dead to finding 7 chicks - what a good day for expanding our flock of chickens. The chicks are cream legbars. It seems we have 4 males and 3 females. The males have a yellow patch on the head when they hatch.

17 days to go now before the eggs in the large incubator hatch.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Rhubarb crumble

This is what the rhubarb we traded for on Sunday was used for - a rather nice rhubarb crumble. Very much to be recommended. It lasted us for two meals.

Stuffed marrow

We had half a marrow to use up, along with some apple sauce and mashed turnips leftover from Sunday's dinner. Time to do a bit of experimental mixing. I took some of the sausage meat we use for our pork burgers (it contains sage and breadcrumbs as well), grated a slice of stale bread, chopped some onions and mushrooms and mixed the whole lot with the apple and turnip. The resulting mix was used to stuff the marrow which was then roasted for 45 minutes at 200C. Very nice!

Stirrings in the incubator

You may recall that a power failure in our village 10 days ago left us thinking the eggs in the incubator may have died. Despite our pessimism, we kept the eggs in the incubator on the possibility we could be wrong. Well, the eggs were due to hatch today and it looks like I may have been wrong after all. Two are pipping and I can hear movement in another. I've not tried to check all 8 eggs but I am hoping that we may end up with some chicks by this evening.

The above photo was taken during filming in our incubator room (ie our spare room where we also keep hundreds of books). The big incubator was brought into use to hatch more eggs after the power failure incident. There are 21 eggs in it, including some we bought from Durham hens (barnevelders and exchequer leghorns) and some more cream legbars given to us.

It seems from this picture I need to sweep the floor!

Monday 12 May 2014

Ducklings growing up

Our Welsh Harlequin ducklings are now a month old. They are rapidly losing their golden downy feathering in favour of their adult markings. They are also growing rapidly in size. Within days we will be moving them to the allotment where we will gradually integrate them into the adult group of ducks.

Meanwhile, our quails are maturing fast. Today, another two started laying, bringing to five the number now producing eggs. Only 8 more birds to go. We traded our first full box of quail eggs (containing a dozen) yesterday at the Hop Garden. Today we had our first quail egg sale - Dad bought a box. Soon we will have enough of a supply to sell them at our monthly cafe.

Bartering at the Hop Garden

The Hop Garden is a community project in High Spen, a village in western Gateshead and only a few km from where I live. Yesterday they hosted a seed and plant swap event. I did not have time to sort seeds for swapping so I took eggs instead - duck, hen and quail.

The end result was I got a load of tomato plants, some herbs and rhubarb. I also discovered they have a brick, outdoor oven. I am due to speak at a local history society in October on medieval foods. I'm hoping to use the oven therefore for some medieval bread and baking sessions.

A few shots around the Hop Garden:

I didn't get to use it but here is the compost toilet:

So, well worth a visit and I hope to be doing some more bartering there in the months ahead.

Sunday 11 May 2014

21 eggs in the incubator

This is the incubator a friend lent us recently and on Friday we put it to use. We had 9 eggs from the cream legbar hens we hatched ourselves last year. These hens are no longer ours. They belong to another friend but he gave us the eggs to replace the ones he gave us 3 weeks ago which went into our small incubator. They then fell victim to a power failure which left our village without electricity for over two hours a week ago. Though we are keeping those eggs going, we are not very confident they will hatch.

The big incubator also has a batch of eggs we bought from Durham Hens. 5 are Barnevelder which lay lovely dark brown eggs. 7 are exchequer leghorns which lay white eggs. The eggs are due to hatch at the end of May.

If the 1st batch of cream legbar eggs did survive the power failure, they are due to hatch on Tuesday. I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Our expanded apiary

This is a picture of one of our apiaries - where we have located temporarily the hives containing the feral bee colonies we rescued over the past week.It's a good location, surrounded by gardens with lots of flowers throughout spring, summer and autumn. That means there is good foraging for the bees. By this time next year, we hope to have relocated the feral hives to the community garden project in Marley Hill. And hopefully they will also be into honey production by then as well.

Quails moved out

The 8 surplus male quails have now been moved to a new home. They were exchanged this evening for 9 fertile cream legbar chicken eggs. The quail are now in an aviary on the neighbouring allotment to ours. They have taken well to the great outdoors. The eggs will go into the large incubator we have on loan towards the end of this week. We need to order more fertilised eggs in the meantime.

Even with the surplus quail now gone, we need to get on with building our own aviary. We need to purchase some materials but I'm hoping to build as much of it as possible from recycled timber.

Fish swap

We had another great food swap recently. It is the start of the trout fishing season and a friend went out to catch some. He came back with 14, 4 of which were passed on to us in exchange for some of our duck and hen eggs. They are in the freezer now but at some point soon we will be having one grilled.

Rescuing the feral honeybee colonies

The work of collecting the feral bee colonies from Sun Hill, the building in our village of Sunniside which is currently being demolished, was finished yesterday. We were in the building at 7.30am to move the three hives we set up last Friday. They have now been moved down to one of our apiaries.

The hives will eventually be moved to land at the Community Centre in Marley Hill, the next village up the road from Sunniside. I am a trustee of the Community Centre and we are trying to take over the unused land around the building to turn it into community gardens and allotments. Yesterday, at a management committee meeting of the Community Centre, it was formally agreed that the beekeeping project would form part of the activities to be carried out on the land.

Anyone interested in having a go at beekeeping should get in touch with me.

The video records the last week - from first going in to look at the honeybee nests to moving them into their hives and then moving the hives to our apiary.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Marrow, turnip and bacon soup

This has been dinner for the past couple of days - marrow, turnip and bacon soup. It sounds an odd combination but it actually tastes rather nice. The contents have however been dictated by the need to use up our stocks of last years produce. It also contains potato and onions, 4 fresh bay leaves and a sprig of rosemary, straight from the herb garden.

Our first dozen quail eggs

A 2nd quail has started laying. To our surprise, it is one of the younger birds, from the 2nd batch of eggs we hatched. It means we are now on 2 eggs a day, rather than one. So yesterday we reached our first dozen quail eggs!

Monday 5 May 2014

Catch up: planting the onions

Onions are a staple crop for anyone wanting to be self-sufficient. We got our crop planted a few weeks ago. I've been rather tied up with other activities recently, hence the delay in reporting on some of our activities and in editing our videos. The onions were planted on Dad's allotment but we have since been given another bag of onion sets. They will have to go onto the new site we have. That site was taken on for the goats but we have decided to keep them where they are and shift vegetable production to this new plot. That means our main allotment can be used mainly for livestock and soft fruit.

Sausage, kale and mash

This was dinner for us recently: sausage, kale and mash. The kale and potatoes were from our own sources. Alas, the sausages weren't. They came from the butcher who slaughtered our pig. We bought a bag of them when we collected the bacon from him a few weeks ago. I have to admit, the sausages were lovely!

Quails on the move

Yesterday, the first two our our surplus male quails were rehoused. A friend, Chris, who lives in Sunniside took them. He already has an aviary in his garden so they two birds - now called Tony and Chris - have moved into an established collection that already includes some quails.

Chris has sent the above photo. The other surplus male quails are now ready to go to another friend.

Sunday 4 May 2014

Rescuing the Sun Hill bee colonies

On Friday we went into the partly demolished Sun Hill old people's home here in Sunniside to rescue the three feral honey bee colonies. I'm pleased to say the job was easier than I expected. I was able to cut the honeycomb from the roof and drop it into the hives. I think I captured the queens as it appeared that the bees were content to remain in the hives rather than evacuate them and return to their original nest sites - which they would have done if the queens were not captured and were still in the initial locations of the nests. The three hives are still in the building.

That said however, with one colony in particular, there was a cluster of bees at the original location. It appeared not to be interested in moving into the hive. And this afternoon, when walking past the building, I noticed lots of the bees still flying around the airbrick through which the bees had accessed their original site. It may be that the bees are flying out of the hive but instead of flying out through the wideopen window in front of them, they are flying up to the airbrick as they know that as the route to and from the colony. Let's hope that is the explanation as I would hate to find the entire colony of bees clustered back at its old location.

We deliberately left the hives to settle for a couple of days. They are now about to be moved to a new temporary location.

That's me in the picture above with one of the hives. Below, me with some of the honeycomb that did't make it into the hives.

Power failure puts question mark over incubating eggs

I am not going to have a rant over how western society has become over-reliant on a limited number of organisations to supply our everyday needs but an incident on Friday brought it home to me. Our area had a major power failure. The electricity was off for over 2 hours. It is amazing how modern life grinds to a halt when the power stops. Because there was a grid failure, and our solar panels are linked into it, they couldn't generate power for us to use in our own home to tide us over.

Among the consequences of that was the loss of power to our incubator. We have 8 eggs in it. I wrapped the eggs in a towel with a bottle of hot water but I am not convinced this worked. When the power came back on, I needed half an hour for the incubator to come back up to the correct temperature before the eggs could go back in. My actions may have saved them but I am not convinced. The eggs themselves were from a friend whose hens were hatched by me last year. For us, this would have been a second generation of chickens. He has agreed to give us some more eggs and we will attempt to hatch a larger number than what is in the current batch as we now have, on loan, a bigger incubator. We will also persevere with the older eggs in the hope that some survived. We will know a week on Tuesday if they did.

Ducklings on the move

Our 5 Welsh harlequin ducklings were moved from their brooder box today and have gone into a temporary run in the back garden. They will stay there until they are big enough to go to the allotment to join the other ducks. Judging by the rate at which they are currently growing, they won't be in the back garden for long. They have settled quickly into their new run and are enjoying life outdoors. However, we will put them into a box overnight. Temperatures are occasionally getting low at night time but the box should be quite cosy for them.

Friday 2 May 2014

Catch up: late potato crop

Again, another video I should have edited weeks ago. This was filmed in February on Dad's allotment. The potato crop there should have been dug up in the autumn but we didn't get round to doing that until February. Nevertheless, the crop was fine. We are still using the potatoes!

Thursday 1 May 2014

Catch up: mud!

Another of my late videos from the winter. We had lots of rain and it turned the allotment into a mud bath, as you can see in this video.