Thursday 31 July 2014

How to make redcurrant jelly

I have finished picking our redcurrant crop and and used the fruit to make redcurrant jelly. Redcurrants are packed with pectin so this is a jelly that sets easily.

Put the redcurrants into a jam pan. We strip them from stalks as we reuse the pulp afterwards. Cover with water, bring to the boil and then simmer for about two hours.

Strain through a jelly bag and measure the liquid.

We then use the pulp to add to other soft fruits to make summer fruit jam. Put the liquid into the jam pan and bring to the boil. Add a kilo of sugar for each litre of liquid. Bring back to the boil and keep up the heat until the setting point is reach (ie when you put a dollop of liquid on a saucer and it sets).

Then add to hot, sterilised jars.

A prickly problem to avoid being stung

Thistles had rather rapidly grown in front of 3 of my beehives recently. Removing them had to be a job better done after sunset when the bees had settled down and were not flying in and out of the hives. So, last night, after closing up the hen houses and duck run, with the torch as my source of light, I scrambled about the hives and pulled up as many thistles as I could remove. I fed them to the goats who love them. The photo above was taken this morning. The flight path of the bees is now clear!

Hedge trimmings

I found this pile of hedge trimmings outside my allotment recently. Food for the goats! The hedges in the area continue to grow well and another allotment holder told me this evening that he is planning to cut some of the large branches from the elder and hawthorn in the hedges around the site. He will leave them for me to feed to the goats. The more free food we have like this, the more self-sufficient we become.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

The chick invasion of the goathouse

All my chickens are able to get into the goat paddock but it seems that it is the group of 5 chicks (the ones aged just under 2 months) that have made themselves most at home there. Though they roost in their own henhouse, they have also taken to sleeping comfortably through the day in the goathouse. This may have something to do with the supply of food. The goats' feed trough is in the goathouse and when I put in the feed, the hens are often ahead of the goats when it comes to having their fill of food.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Picking redcurrants

Busy, busy busy recently. The result -lots of soft fruit still to pick. I watched as a blackbird helped herself to my redcurrants yesterday and decided we could not wait any longer to pick them. A bucketful later and the blackbird was forced to look elsewhere for her supper. I have some to pick as well on Dad's allotment today. Once that's done, I'll be making jelly and then adding the resulting pulp into a mix of soft fruits to make summer fruit jam.

Monday 28 July 2014

Weeding Dad's allotment

We have made a start with weeding Dad's allotment and discovered shallots, garlic and cabbages under the weeds! The weeds themselves were put to good use. I put them into a couple of sacks and took them down to our main allotment to feed to the poultry and goats. There are, of course, still plenty more to remove.

Moving Ginger and the chicks

I decided not to create a separate run for Ginger and her 11 chicks. Instead, today I moved her to the quailhouse. I was expecting her to use one of the unoccupied hutches as a nest box - I put her and the chicks into one but left it open so she could wander around the quailhouse. Within minutes she had abandoned the hutch. The chicks went with her to wander around with the quail. Tonight she is sitting on the floor of the quailhouse with the chicks tucked up under her wings. She looks very settled.

Bill Quay bee check

Another of the jobs we did last week was a visit to Bill Quay Community Farm to check on the bees. We should have gone up a few weeks ago but we have been so busy recently that we didn't find time to fit in such a trip. On Thursday we checked both hives and found they are both strong though they had made quite a mess of the supers on top of each in which we had put fondant some months ago to feed them. We took off the supers, removed the wild comb and honey which we put into a large box we left next to the hives (the bees will feed of the honey and take it back to the hives) and put on supers with frames to start the process of collecting honey for harvesting. We will do a return visit in a few weeks.

Potato salad for poultry

It is often a losing battle to keep the poultry off our vegetables. We don't grow many on our main allotment as the hens in particular often mount raids to get at the greens. I recently put chicken wire around a bed of potatoes. It kept them at bay for a couple of weeks but then they were able to break through. The potato plants came off badly. I've put a cage over them now. This at least seems to be working. The hens will have to get their salads from elsewhere.

Hatching update

Recently we had two sets of eggs being incubated. The first set of 6 wellsummer eggs had been put under a broody hen and they began hatching on Thursday. You can see the first chick in the photo above. Shortly afterwards the second chick arrived. When I checked on them later, I found that the mother hen, Ginger, was on the floor of the henhouse with the two chicks under her whilst the 4 eggs were in the nest box. I could hear lots of activity from each egg so I decided to leave everything as it was. That turned out to be a bit of a mistake.

I checked a few hours later and found the eggs had not hatched and they were getting cold. I decided to break open the eggs, got the chicks out and tried to warm them in my hands. They were not strong but after a while I put them under Ginger in the hope she would warm them up. When I returned an hour later, two were dead, one was struggling to pull through and the 4th was doing well. The two early hatchings were fine and keeping warm under Ginger's wings. The next day, the chick that was struggling eventually died.

Meanwhile, we had another batch of cream legbar eggs in the incubator. They were due to hatch today (Sunday) according to our calculation but emerged yesterday instead. An interesting point about this batch is that it is the first time we have had all the eggs hatch.

All plan was to carefully introduced this second batch of chicks to Ginger in the hope they would adopt each other. So tonight, I took all the new chicks over to the allotment and put them into the henhouse with Ginger. I'm pleased to say that bonding was almost instantaneous. Ginger started chirping and purring and within a couple of minutes, all the chicks had disappeared under her wings for warmth and protection.

Ginger has spent nearly the whole of the last three and a half weeks in the henhouse. Tomorrow I need to build her a temporary run so she can get out and take the kids with her.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Harvesting the honey

The first of the honey crop has now been harvested. I took a super of 10 frames off this hive on Friday. The hive is our biggest and busiest. The frames went into the honey press last night and have produced a lovely golden honey which sold very well at our community cafe today. I will be taking honey from another hive later this week.

Early blackberries

I have mentioned this in previous summers but I will do so again. When I was a great deal younger than I am now, blackberries ripened in the autumn. From September onwards, we would be picking them. Autumn half term at school in October was knows as blackberry week. Now, the blackberries start ripening here in July. I took this photo last week in my allotment. It looks like we are heading for a good crop. I haven't started picking any yet as we still have loads of gooseberries, redcurrants, raspberries and blackcurrants to harvest but I expect to start getting in the blackberries shortly.

Saturday 26 July 2014

Pinkie the Golden Guernsey

We have two pygmy goats but as yet no milking goat. However earlier this week, we went to Wallsend to look at a golden guernsey nanny goat called Pinkie that is for sale. She is 4 years old and produces 3 litres of milk a day. We are considering whether or not to go ahead with buying her. It will mean sorting out a separate milking area. And she will need milking twice a day. It is a significant commitment but it also means filling in one of the gaps in our self-sufficient diet. The milk will allow us to make our own yogurts, cream and cheese.

A final decision will be made shortly.

Thursday 24 July 2014

Bean failure

We grow runner beans every year and normally get a good crop. We grow broad beans most years and normally get a reasonable crop. This year, we have attempted to grow both. And both have been a disaster. The runner beans did not sprout. The broad beans seemed fine but after flowering they started to die back. We aren't sure what is the cause.

The broad beans were in planter bags in the back garden but we are going to pull them out and use the bags for a late potato crop.

Talking of which, on the main allotment, the hens have broken into one the the potato beds and eaten most of the leaves from the potato plants. Tomorrow we are going to have to put a cage over them to protect them.

Ducklings discover the pond

I moved our latest batch of ducklings to the allotment on Monday. They have settled in but do not stray far from the duck enclosure in which we lock all the ducks each evening to keep them away from the foxes. They have however discovered the pond next to the enclosure and have made good use of it.

Meanwhile, the eggs I placed under a brooding hen are due to hatch shortly. I checked the eggs tonight and could hear chirping coming from one of them. Fingers crossed that we'll have a successful hatching, unlike last year when our attempt to brood eggs under a hen rather than in an incubator was a total failure.

Monday 21 July 2014

Sausages and strawberries

On Friday we took delivery of our latest Tamworth pig from the slaughterhouse. We asked that some of the sausage meat be made into sausages and last night we tested them by having them for dinner! Not unexpectedly, they get a thumbs up from us. The potatoes came as part of a swap from another allotment holder. His new potatoes are well ahead of our. The peas sadly were a product from the freezer and initially came from a supermarket, not from the garden.

For dessert, we had strawberries pick fresh from the planters on the patio. The ice cream, sadly (again) was from the supermarket and therefore was the end result of an industrial production system. However, all is not lost. Tonight we will be looking at a golden guernsey milking goat that is for sale. According to the owner, she produces 3 litres of milk a day. (Our two existing goats are pygmies so cannot be used for milk production.) That will leave us awash with milk so we will be looking for lots of ways to use it up. Goats milk ice cream is something we are actively considering making.

Sunday 20 July 2014

Moving into the quail house

Hooray! At last, the quail house was finally ready to occupy today. The hutch that has housed the 5 outside birds went into the back of the land rover, along with the new hutch made from an old cupboard, for the very short trip to the allotment.

The group of 9 birds that had been kept in an indoor cage went into a carrying box. The cage is to remain back at the house and is likely to be used as a brooder box for newly hatched chicks. The two hutches will provide cover and a hideaway for the quail in the quail house.

The birds settled down very quickly into their new accommodation. The two males have not been fighting and most birds spent much of the afternoon dust bathing.

We wondered whether or not the move will affect egg production but, having returned this evening and collected 8 eggs, it seems they are continuing to produce. I will go back shortly to close down the henhouses for the night and will collect any final eggs at that point. As this is a totally enclosed aviary, there will be no need to close up the hutches to protect the birds from predators. The quail will be free to roam around the aviary or go into the hutches throughout the night.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Toad on the allotment

One of the unfortunate side effects of keeping poultry is that the frogs and toads have disappeared from the allotment. Or so we thought. Tonight when I was closing up the henhouses and netting the duck run, I spotted this toad hopping about beside the pond. I hope for its sake it has wandered off the allotment before the birds are allowed out tomorrow. Chickens in particular can be vicious killers.

Rendering fat

We urgently needed space in our various freezers so we have taken out all the bags of lemon skins (we used the lemons initially to make lemon curd) and pig fat. The fat is now being rendered so that we can renew our supply of lard. The fat was mainly bacon rind and the fatty bits of pork joints from our Tamworth pigs. It has all been chopped up and added to a couple of pans with a bit of water over the bottom. Gradually the fat has been liquifying in the heat. Every 15 minutes or so, the fat is drained into a bowl.

Rendering fat in the domestic kitchen is a dying skill. We had to go back to books and government advice leaflets from the war years to work out how to do it.

Swapping ducklings for mackerel

News got out that I had hatched some ducklings late last month and I had an offer for two of them. So today they went to their new home at the New Sands Allotments in Swalwell. We took part payment in cash but the person buying the ducklings is also going to provide us some fresh mackerel. He goes sea fishing and often has a surplus after a fishing trip. I said we would definitely be interested in having some.

Gooseberry sauce is great to have with mackerel so I must dust down the recipe books and make some. After all, we have lots of gooseberries still to pick on the allotment.

Friday 18 July 2014

A dose of coccidiosis

I moved the latest batch of chicks to the chickhouse on the allotment about 10 days ago and after a week, I let them out of it to become free range. Though small, they were big enough to fend for themselves against the adult birds. The next day, on opening up the chick house in the morning to release them, I spotted that there was blood in their faeces.

Back home I checked through our chicken-keeping manuals and found that the symptoms fitted coccidiosis. This is a single cell parasite that can invade the gut of young birds. In most cases older chickens have built up an immunity to it. To cure them, I have bought a medicine which contains 3.84% Amprolium Hydrochloride. A small dose (7ml) was added to a litre of water. The chicks have had to be confined to the chickhouse again so that they are drinking only the medicated water and so that the other hens cannot drink it.

The treatment will continue to Monday though they have responded well. There has been no more blood in their poo though sadly, one of the chicks has died, a cream legbar cockerel. He was much thinner than the others so the illness for him was terminal. Once the treatment is finished, the chicks will be able to go free range again.

I think the parasites were picked up when the chicks were in the chick run in the back garden. The origin was probably wild bird droppings but there was a time when the run got damp due to a burst of rain. We also think that it is better to move the birds at a younger age to the allotment in future. What has stopped us previously from taking them over at a young age is their vulnerability to vermin. We have solved that now. The quail house is vermin proof. Young chicks will go into there until they are an appropriate size to go free range.

Thursday 17 July 2014

Quail house almost finished

We are almost there. The quail house is nearly finished. Today I covered the mesh floor with sand and soil. There is a reasonable quantity of dolomite on the allotment, often in places where we don't want it. So this was added to the floor as well. As you can see from the photo above, the hens kindly helped me spread the soil.

Tomorrow we move in the 5 quails that live in a rabbit hutch in our back garden. The hutch will go into the quail house with them as shelter and a sleeping area. As soon as the other shelter is completed (it will be made from an old cupboard), the group of 10 birds we currently keep indoors will move in as well. I'm rather excited about getting this project finished. Once it is, we can look at expanding the number of quail we have.

Three Welsh boys, not girls

I wrote recently that I was hopeful that the three Welsh Harlequin ducklings we hatched in the spring would turn out to be girls. Alas, our plans are in a bit of a mess. All three have turned out to be drakes. They have the telltale sign of a curled tail feather, and their bills are starting to go yellow - both signs they are male. I got in touch with Bill Quay Community Farm from which we had bought the hatching eggs to see if they have any more which we could hatch in the hope we could raise some females. Alas they no longer have their own supply and were in the process of tracking down (unsuccessfully as it turned out) some hatching eggs for themselves.

We want to keep one drake but that was on the assumption we would have some Welsh Harlequin ducks with which he could settle down. If we get rid of 2 of them, either to new homes or as Sunday dinner, will the remaining one integrate with our other group of birds which consist of 2 drakes and 4 ducks? We certainly plan to get Welsh Harlequin hatching eggs as soon as we can but it is looking like spring next year before we will be able to do that.

So, if any one wants one or two Welsh Harlequin drakes, make me an offer!

Free food - for the hens

On our allotment site, we often find that other allotment holders have thrown discarded leaves from cabbages, lettuces etc over the hedge into our plot. This is not an attempt to get rid of unwanted waste by dumping it over the hedge. Rather, it is done at my request. This is free food for the poultry. The more we can feed them on food waste produced on the site, the less we have to buy in.

Yesterday however we found 2 sacks of grass cuttings and weeds left outside our gate. An extra meal for the poultry that was much appreciated by them! (And it saved having to pick a bag of dandelions and other weeds which I do most days for them.)

In return, when we have lots of chicken muck, we make it freely available for neighbouring plot holders.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Opening doors

Last night we added the "porch" to the quail house. This is our posh way of saying it has a double door to prevent escapes.

Tonight, a skirting board was added. This is to give the quail some shelter from the wind. A bit of the skirting board remains to go on (we ran out of planks from cannibalized pallets but have another pallet to break up). If I have time tomorrow morning, I will cover the nesh floor with earth.

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia - June 2014

This edition of Self-Sufficient in Suburbia is a bit like the ones we filmed a few years ago. Instead of being compiled over a month, it is a tour of the allotments, apiaries and garden to show where we are now. As you can see, we have a big weed problem!

Just over a week to go

We have hatched many eggs in our incubator but our only previous attempt to have a brooding hen sit on eggs and hatch them turned out to be a failure. That was last year but we did learn from that attempt. The biggest mistake was to leave the hen with the eggs in one of the henhouses where she was constantly interrupted by other hens. We regularly found new eggs in the nest. In the end, none of them hatched.

This time we are hoping to be more successful. Ginger, our Columbian Blacktail, went broody recently so we have put her in her own henhouse with 6 welsummer eggs where she can't be disturbed by others. We let her out once a day though she is getting a bit aggressive towards other hens. The eggs are due to hatch a week on Thursday. We have some eggs in the incubator as well and they are due to hatch three days later. I am hoping Ginger will act as foster mum to both the eggs she will hopefully hatch and to the incubator chicks.

My plan is to put them all into the quailhouse which should be finished by then. This will give the chicks protection against vermin. The quailhouse itself is very large so there will be plenty of room in there for our 15 quail and Ginger and her chicks. Once they are big enough, at about two weeks, we will move them out to go free range.

Photo above - Ginger taking a rest this afternoon from brooding.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Assembling the quailhouse

Over the weekend, we assembled most of the quailhouse. It was designed by David so that it consists of panels that could be joined together. There are 10 side panels (one is pictured above), a floor covered in mesh (to prevent vermin burrowing in) and a roof covered with corrugated, transparent plastic sheets to keep out the rain but let in the sun.

We started the assembly in one corner and worked our way out from there.

Ready now to add the roof.

There is to be a double door to prevent escapes. The door fits the space of one of the panels. In effect, it is a "porch" to the quailhouse - David is building it below.

And tonight, we will aim to attach the porch to the quailhouse.

More preserve making

Preserve-making is in full swing now so here are a jam and a jelly I've made recently. Above is raspberry jam (I have lots more raspberries waiting to be picked) and below is sage jelly. We have only scratched the surface so far of the sage crop. We filmed making the sage so I'll post up the video once it is edited.

Cracking the window

The land rover was loaded up with building materials last Thursday for the quailhouse. Unfortunately, on slamming shut the back door, something smashed into the windscreen. The result - badly cracked glass. It cost £95 to replace it. Since the repair was done in the mainstream economy, payment had to be made in cash rather than eggs, jam and honey.

Friday 11 July 2014

Making hay

The unexpected hay crop at Marley Hill Community Centre, up the road from our village of Sunniside, got a bit of a soaking over the weekend. The result was that much of it had gone rotten. Yesterday, I gathered in some of it. I only needed a couple of sackfuls. Obviously I didn't collect any bad hay but I wasn't convinced the goats would want the reasonable dry grass I did gather in. In the end they didn't have a problem with it and have been munching their way through it.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Quail house roof

The floor and the wall panels of the quail house have been built already. Today it was the roof that was built. The floor has a cross beam running the length of it. The roof has two across the width. This was to allow us to put corrugated transparent plastic roofing on it - the sort that people often use on conservatory roofs.

Alas, transporting the roofing resulted in the windscreen of the landrover being broken. A man is coming tomorrow morning to replace it. I guess he will want paying in cash rather than eggs and preserves!

I couldn't resist taking this photo

I took this photo this afternoon. The goats had managed to knock through a temporary open window in the side of the goathouse. The cream legbar chicks spend most of their day in the goat paddock and decided to make the "window" into a temporary perch. Alas for them, the panels have now been nailed back into place.

Mini eggs

Some of our new hens which we got last week started laying shortly after they arrived. As is often the case, they will take a short while to get fully into their stride. We have had a small number of soft-shell eggs and some that are very small - such as the one above. The hens will be over these starting problems during the next couple of weeks.

Quail egg and root vegetable salad

This was dinner yesterday for me. We made the pickled onions last year but they are still firm and crisp. The turnip, carrots and radishes were from recent swaps. The quail eggs were a month old and needed using up though they last up to 6 weeks.

Recent swaps

The swapping season is getting underway as more crops are harvested. The above onion, carrots and radishes cost me a jar of lemon curd. The turnips below were part payment for some fence posts.

We also got three rabbits, 3 woodcock and a sack of squirrels for a jar of our new raspberry jam and a dozen eggs yesterday.

On the move

The chicks in the run in the back garden were, yesterday, moved to the chickhouse on the allotment. That meant that the older chicks have now had to move into the henhouses on the allotment to roost at night. The run in the back garden has been moved to another part of the lawn and today I moved into it the 7 ducklings that hatched two weeks ago. They have settled in well.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Bottling the elderflower champagne

Job done - the elderflower champagne was bottled yesterday. The bottles were cleaned in detergent and then steeped in cold water to rinse them. 22 bottles were made. I have a feeling however that I may have left the elderflower champagne in the fermenting bucket for too long. I could turn to vinegar. This happened three years ago. The result was 33 bottles of elderflower vinegar. None of it went to waste. If we have managed to repeat our mistake, we simply replenish our supply of vinegar. There are still 15 bottles of champagne left from last year to use up so we won't go short. And in the late summer, I'm going to have a go at making red champagne from blackberries and elderberries.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Raspberry, rhubarb and apple jam

The raspberries I picked on Sunday have now been made into jam. I have decided to avoid the traditional use of lemon juice as the source of pectin. Instead, I used apples. Into the mix went some rhubarb as well which I got as part of a swap last week (one sack of rhubarb for a dozen eggs).

Here is my recipe: equal weight of raspberries, rhubarb (chopped) and apple (minus the core and peel which can be used to make a jelly - waste nothing!). Put them in the jam pan with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer until the contents have pulped.

Then add sugar - the same weight as the total of the other contents. Bring back to the boil and keep on a rolling boil until the setting point is reached (the usual test of a dollop of jam setting on a plate applies). They put into hot sterilised jars.

Monday 7 July 2014

Building the quail house

Building the quail house is David's project. It has to be securely constructed. It needs to keep in the quail and keep out the vermin. It has to be gale-proof, storm-proof, vandal-proof. The side panels have been made but yesterday David made the base. It is 290cm by 188cm. It is covered with the same steel nesh that covers the side panels. This will prevent vermin burrowing into it.

The base will be sunk partly into the ground and a skirting board will be added to give extra shelter. Quail love to have dust baths so we will also cover the ground nesh with earth and sand. Extra shelter will come from shrubs we will grow in pots in the quail house. All that however is for the future. The floor and side panels may be built but we need to join them all together. That's a job for the coming weekend.

How to make gooseberry jam

In recent years we have planted quite a number of gooseberry shrubs and this year they have produced a good crop. Gooseberry jam is always a favourite so I made this batch last week. The berries actually came from the shrubs I planted a few years ago in my garden in London (alas I still have my home there from my rat race days when I commuted to London every week for work.) I brought the berries back after a recent trip there and topped them up with some fruit from our allotment.

Gooseberry jam is a simple recipe. Remove any stalks and put the berries in the jam pan with enough water in the bottom to stop them catching on. Bring them to the boil and then simmer until all the berries have pulped. Add the same weight of sugar as of berries and bring back to the boil. Keep on a rolling boil until the setting point is reached (put a dollop on a plate and see it it sets). Then add to hot sterilised jars.

Gooseberries are full of pectin so set easily. I often use them with other fruit such as raspberries which are low in pectin. It means I don't have to buy lemons to add lemon juice to get jam to set.

More eggs in the incubator

We have so far hatched three batches of eggs this year. About half the eggs that have gone into the incubators have been cream legbars. The eggs came from a friend who in turn got his birds from me last year as part of a swap. Unfortunately we have had more cockerels than hens hatched from these eggs. We want to keep one cream legbar cockerel but so far have eight! Against that, we have only three cream legbar hen chicks (we actually hatched five but we gave two to our friend as payment for the eggs). But he has kindly given us another eight eggs which we got yesterday and which are now in the incubator. Hopefully we will have a few more hens from this batch.

Soft fruit picking

The soft fruit is ripening quickly now. We have lots of raspberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants ready with redcurrants not long to go either. So, yesterday I made a start. Some of the raspberries and some of the blackcurrants were picked though there are still more ripening. The jam making season however is now in full swing.

Eggs in the hedge again

Every so often, we stumble across a clutch of hen eggs hidden away on the allotment. This is our most recent find, in the hedge next to our haystack. Since discovering and removing the eggs last week, the hens have stopped laying there. We suspect that one hen at least is still laying somewhere away from the henhouses though our guesswork on this is complicated by the new hens we got on Friday, over half of which have already started laying.

Whickham Community Festival

I am a member of a group called Lighting Up Whickham which raises funds for the Christmas lights for Whickham, the next town down the road from my home village of Sunniside. We organised our third community festival on Saturday and this year we chose the Great War as the theme, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. I was there selling my preserves and eggs and promoting the community cafe we run at Marley Hill Community Centre.

A special request from the group was made to me to bring my ducks to put next to the hook a (plastic) duck game. I also brought our 10 day old ducklings which were on my stall - and which proved very popular.

As a member of the organising group, taking part in the zumba was compulsory!

The full set of photos from the Festival can be seen on this link.

Friday 4 July 2014

Buying timber

The gradual process of building a quail house took another step forward this morning when we headed over to Jarrow to buy timber for the frame of the aviary. Hopefully within a few days we will have it built. The wall panels are all made. We still need to buy plastic roofing.

The land rover is certainly paying its way. We could not have been able to transport the timber in our little Polo. The timber went onto the roof of the land rover and David tied it down using the ratchet straps we bought for holding together beehives when we move them.

Thursday 3 July 2014

Early signs of late summer

This is a not very good photo of some hawberries. I took it last night when cutting some branches off a hedge on the allotment site for the goats to browse. The important point about it is that the haws are already ripening. This is not something I would expect to see until late summer. It seems the mild winter and the early start to spring has moved everything forward a few weeks.

New hens

I was hoping to avoid a situation in which I would be buying hens this summer. My hope was that our existing birds would get us through until the early autumn by which time the chicks we have hatched would be ready to start laying before the winter sets in (ie when egg production goes down significantly). Alas, it was not to be. Our flock simply has too many older birds whose productivity has declined in the past few weeks. So, after some thought, I decided it was better to buy 6 new birds. This morning I went to Durham Hens to get them: 2 white leghorns, one blue haze, 2 ambers and one speckledy.

I'll post up some photos once I have taken them.

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Letting the chicks go free range

On Monday, the first batch of cream legbar chicks - the ones we took to the allotment a couple of weeks ago - were released from the chickhouse to let them go free range. As is often the case when releasing new birds into the flock, we keep an eye on them to ensure they don't get into trouble or don't find a previously undiscovered escape route. And as usual, they were fine. Admittedly, they did attempt to roost on the ground in the evening when all the other hens had gone into the various henhouses but I simply picked them up rather than leave them where they would make a snack for the foxes and put them into a henhouse. Last night they made their own way back to roost, in the chickhouse.

The other hens, on releasing the chicks, immediately decided to invade the chickhouse. The chicks then took a bit of a liking to the goat paddock where they now spend most of their time.

Three of the cockerel chicks will be advertised for sale soon. The 4th will be kept as part of the flock. If no homes are found for the three, they will end up as dinner later in the year.

Meanwhile, we have 12 chicks in the back garden which will soon be brought over to the allotment to go into the chick house. This group contains 6 more cream legbars though only 2 of them are hens. The other 6 are barnevelders and exchequer leghorns and as yet we have no idea what sex they are.

More pigeon breasts

When I told my friend Mick, who goes shooting, that I'd take whatever game he could get us, I was rather pleased when he turned up with a sack containing 35 pigeons. I stripped the meat from the breasts and froze it. I wasn't quite expecting however another delivery - this time of 100 pigeons! My time today is going to be taken up with dealing with them! I may be some time.

We have duck, rabbit and pheasant in the freezer so we are planning lots of game recipes but the first is likely to be game burgers, followed by game pie.