Thursday 30 October 2014

2nd go on butter making

Though I was a bit defeated on attempts to make butter on Tuesday from our goats milk, I decided to have a 2nd go at it today. The milk I used had been left to settle in a bowl and I found more cream on it which I spooned off into a jar. Last week when I did my first butter making, it took only 4 minutes of vigorous shaking of the jar to get the butter to form. Today it took half an hour but it was worth it in the end.

The milk, meanwhile, had already started to separate into curds and whey. I put the curds into a couple of cheese molds. End result - a modest amount of soft cheese. The whey will go into the hens' mash. The calcium in it will be good for their egg laying.

Pumpkin Pie

It's Halloween tomorrow so in recognition of it, we made pumpkin pie. We will make another one soon and video it. My guess is that it will have more interest to our American readers though using pumpkins on Halloween is something that is growing in popularity here in the UK as well. The pumpkin we used for the pie was not grown by us. Instead, it came as part of a produce swap with a local allotment society. We got 4 pumpkins  but have since traded two of them, used one and have one left.

Pickling my onions

The last of my small onions were peeled today ready for pickling. They are in a bowl at the moment, sprinkled with salt. Tomorrow morning, I'll rinse them and put them into jars with sweetened vinegar. This is one of my favourite pickles.

The milking machine arrives

We decided to invest in a milking machine for our goats. There were certain conditions any machine would have to fulfill - cheap, hand powered, easy to use, easy to clean. We found one on Amazon but had to import it from the USA. Dansha Farms manufactured it and it arrived this afternoon. We have not used it yet but David will have a go over the weekend (I will be in London so will miss the experience). We'll keep you posted on how it all goes.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

No butter today

Having made a small amount of butter over the weekend, I attempted to make some more today. The milk we got from the goat yesterday was left to stand in a bowl overnight to let the cream float to the top. When I started to spoon it off, I noticed it was rather thin. After what seemed a long period of time shaking the cream vigorously in a jar, none of it coagulated. I gave up. The fat content of this milk was simply too low. Our conclusion is that Pinkie's milk yield and fat content goes up when we feed her large quantities of greenery. At this time of year however it is in short supply. We will feed her some brambles as many are still in leaf. We are also on the outlook for privet and ivy which are evergreen to feed them over the winter. I may be using this greenery earlier than I expected.

Monday 27 October 2014

Making butter

As an experiment over the weekend I had a go at making butter from our goats milk. No elaborate equipment was used. Instead, the butter churn was a jam jar! I put some of Pinkie's milk in a bowl to allow the cream to rise to the top. This was spooned off into the jam jar. Once the lid was on I shook it vigorously for about 4 minutes and watched as the butter congealed.

I then put the butter on a wooden board and patted it with a wooden spatula to beat out any remaining liquid. It then went onto a saucer and left in the fridge.

I had some this morning spread on toast with some of our homemade lemon curd. Very nice! Notice how white the butter is.

Quail egg curry

Though the quails have now stopped laying until the spring, we still have a glut of quail eggs to use up. Si I decided to make a vegetable and quail egg curry recently. The eggs were boiled separately and then added to the pan once the vegetables were largely cooked. It was left to simmer for another 10 minutes. I will be making this again but will film it, showing how to make the curry sauce as well.

Fish soup

The bones, head and skin from the trout we had recently was not wasted. I boiled them up to make fish stock. A friend gave me a tub of anchovies recently so some went into the stock to make soup. I also added potatoes and onions. Once the soup was made, I added some of our goats milk and then blended it. Result - not bad.

Trout and chips

We did a swap recently - 3 sacks of hay with a friend for a freshly caught (and very large) trout. We cooked it in our fish kettle and had it with homemade chips. Alas, one bit of the meal was not from our own sources: the peas. They came from the supermarket, frozen, some time ago.

Sunday 26 October 2014

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia Summer Edition

This is the summer edition of Self-Sufficient in Suburbia - we got out new milking goat, a hen hatched some chicks, I had a load of sage to use up, we helped organise a surplus food swap event and I won 6 prizes at the Slaley Show.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Moving the champagne

We are gradually preparing our garage for the arrival of our new wood-fired boiler. Since we have so much stuff in there, this is no simple job. We are about half way through the job. Stuck away at the back of the garage was the elderflower champagne. It was previously not very accessible and as a result, if got a bit forgotten about. Now that we had rediscovered it and put it in a more accessible position, we'll start drinking it. Sadly, as you can see, we have lots to get through.

Friday 17 October 2014

Clearing the council car park

Austerity in the UK means public services have had to be cut back. Cuts have been going on for six years, since the consumer debt fueled spending splurge of the last decade and the irresponsible borrowing by some and equally irresponsible lending by financial institutions led to the financial meltdown in 2008. The cuts have hit most areas of spending. One of them is the maintenance of flower beds and public spaces in our local community. As a result, a group of local residents has been formed to raise money for flower beds in Whickham village and to carry out the job of planting, cutting grass and maintaining beds. I was at the organising meeting on Wednesday and offered to clear the verges around St Mary's car park, behind the Whickham Library and the shops.

Little maintenance has been carried out on the verges in recent year. The result is that they are a bit of a mess. Feral trees (mainly ash) have sprouted all over the place. Brambles are spreading. Paths are beginning to disappear under weeds. Today, I started work at the top end of the car park and cleared the patch in the photos above - you can see the before and after shots.

Gateshead Council has a double win from my gardening activities. Not only do I clear the patch, the council does not need to dispose of the resulting waste. I packed it into my land rover and then took it to my allotment.

There I fed it to my goats who enjoyed the feast.

A hive of activity

The weather this week has been exceptionally warm for October. The result was that on the allotment this morning, the six hives we have there were very busy. We are still to do a final check on the hives for the year. That job is on a very long to-do list. We will then feed them and leave them for the winter.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Exchequer leghorn

This is the exchequer leghorn we hatched in May. In chicken terms it is in its later teenage years, on the margins of adulthood. As yet we don't know if it is a male or female. Most of the cockerels we have hatched this year will not be kept but we have decided that this one will stay even if it is a male. We want him/her as a show bird (and egg layer if it is a hen). In August we saw a mature exchequer leghorn cockerel at the Slaley show. He was a magnificent bird. If ours turns out anything like him, we'd be very pleased.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Cheese-making no. 2 - soft cheese

We started our 2nd cheese-making attempt on Sunday evening. 2.5 litres of milk into a pan along with 25g of starter liquid. The milk was heated to 22C and then a drip of rennet was added. The pan lid was put on and the pan and milk was left to stand for 18 hours.

Leave the pan to stand in a room of 21C. 18 hours later and the curd separates from the whey. Put the curds into cheese strainer for 1-2 days and then tip them out onto grease proof paper.

We are still learning about cheese-making but we were quite pleased with the results. We had soft cheese spread on bread for dinner tonight.

Monday 13 October 2014

Making animal fodder

One of the big challenges we will need to tackle is how to produce our own fodder for our animals instead of buying industrially produced feed. We feed the goats branches we chop from hedgerows and trees (where there is a need to manage them). The goats love the fresh leaves. This is fine whilst the trees are in leaf. What about the winter? Well, one thing we are trying is drying bundles of nettles and thistles for the goats. There are plenty of them around. The bundle in the picture above was put together on Sunday.

In the following picture you can see Pinkie, our new goat, trying out nettles we dried a few weeks ago.

We have collected some hay from the grassed area behind our local community centre after it was cut by the council but it is not the best of quality. So we have had to buy in hay - 2 of the huge round bales (we searched for a supply of the old fashioned rectangular bales but few farms now produce them). They are too big to get through the allotment gate so they are standing on the path outside. We will shortly build a barn and then break up the bales and transfer the hay into it.

Nevertheless, we need to step up our fodder production if we are to become fully self-sufficient.

Leftovers soup

We had some leftovers from our pork and vegetable stir fry last week. And in the freezer I found a bag of cooked bacon and sausages. We also continue to enjoy the benefits of a glut of courgettes. So, to use up some of the glut and leftovers, I made a large pan of pork and veg soup. The space created in the freezer as a result is especially welcome.

Sunday 12 October 2014

Sticking with mother

Ginger and her chicks have been free to wander around the allotment since they were removed from the protection of the quail aviary over a week ago. The chicks are now two and a half months old and I was expecting them by now to be making a break for independence from Ginger. Instead, they are still keeping close to her. Where she is on the allotment, all 10 chicks will be close by. It's the same at night in the henhouse.

Next year we will hatch more chicks in the incubator but we'll ensure they are adopted as quickly as possibly by surrogate hen mothers.

Rendering pork fat

The fat on the pork joint we used recently was not to be wasted. I rendered it by putting it into a baking tray, with some water and then heating it gently until the water had evaporated. Some of the fat liquifies and this can be strained off through a sieve. The process is repeated a number of times until there is virtually no fat left. It is stored in bowls in the fridge.

I searched the freezer before rendering the fat and found some bags of pork fat and bacon rind. They have been frozen awaiting the day they were to be rendered.

I'll be doing some baking soon, making traditional game and pork pies, so some of the fat will be used then.

Pork stir fry

We used part of one of our pork leg joints the other evening in a stir fry. It also gave me the chance to use up some of our glut of courgettes as well as cabbages, potatoes (parboiled first) and onions. I also had some spice mix I picked up in Morocco a few years ago and some of it was sprinkled in to give it a bit of a kick.

Here's the result:

Friday 10 October 2014

How to make radish curry

This was filmed a couple of months ago - I'm currently catching up with my video editing. We had a glut of radishes so were looking for unusual ways to use them up. Radish curry fitted the bill. There is a surprise ingredient - instead of spinach (we had none) we added nettle leaves.

How to make plum, apple and marrow jam

I filmed this last month when we had lots of plums but not so many apples. We have, of course, more marrows than we really need! Apples supply the pectin to set the jam and the marrow absorbs the taste of whatever it is cooked with.

Thursday 9 October 2014

Medieval talk

You may have noticed that there was an eight day gap in the posts I put on this blog. The cause of it was a talk I gave on Tuesday to Sunniside History Society. I had a great deal of work to do to get the presentation into shape - lots of photos to take, research to do, maps and plans to draw. I chose as my subject "The Good Food Guide to Medieval Sunniside" and it appeared to go down well with the people there.

The talk allowed me to combine my interest in history, food growing and photography. It also allowed me to go back to an era in our history when most people were genuinely self-sufficient. And whilst I am nearly self-sufficient in terms of the food we consume in our household, a study of the medieval period reminds me that when it comes to my livestock, we still have some way to go to be in a position in which we are genuinely living only off what we produce. Whilst I try to maximise the amount of locally produced fodder for our goats and poultry, we still have to make a monthly trip to Hexham to the animal feed supplier. We need to look seriously at how we can reduced and then end completely our reliance on manufactured animal feed.

One issue I covered in my talk was the importance of local woodland to medieval communities. Use of woodland was strictly controlled by the local lord of the manor, and for good reason. They were vital local resources for firewood, fodder, foraging and in some cases hunting. We use local woodland around Sunniside for fodder and foraging. Soon we will be using it for collecting firewood as well. Our old gas boiler at home is about to be replaced. When it is (within the next month) the gas supply to our house will be terminated. Our new biomass boiler will burn logs. We have been building up a supply of them on the allotment for over a year, knowing that at some point they would be needed. Nearly all are from the local hedgerows. We chop the branches off so that we can put them into our goat paddock where the goats eat the leaves. When they have finished with them, we chop up the branches.

Living like this has certainly brought home to me just how important local woodlands were to medieval people. Without them, people would simply freeze to death.

More rhubarb bottling

At last, all the rhubarb has now been preserved. Some went into the freezer, some into jam, some into chutney and quite a bit of it was bottled. I've filmed a video of the last batch I did so as soon as it is edited, I'll post it up here.

Homemade coleslaw

This was not an entirely self-sufficient meal. We found some fish fingers in the freezer which must have dated back to our pre-self-sufficient days. And the bread was bought as well. The coleslaw however was homemade and tasted great. It had quite a bit of beetroot in it, which helped to make inroads into the beetroot mountain we have from recent swaps. Much of the beetroot however is due to be picked or turned into a beetroot and horseradish relish.

Releasing Ginger and the chicks

Ginger, the surrogate mother to whom we gave some eggs in July to hatch when she went broody, had been living in the quail house with the chicks for two months. Recently, we decided the chicks were big enough not to need the protection from vermin the quail house afforded them. We also assumed the chicks would want to make a dash for independence from Ginger.

On Friday last week we removed her and the chicks from the quail house and out onto the allotment proper to be with all the other hens and ducks. As expected there were a few scuffles. Since then however, all the chicks have stayed close to her. She has taken over one of the hen houses and the chicks continue to huddle up to her at night and she spreads her wings to cover them, even though some are approaching her size.

This is the first time we have let a hen raise chicks. Previously all our chicks were hatched in incubators and grew up in their first 8 weeks without adult chickens around. They became independent quite quickly. I guess we are still learning.

How to pickle quail eggs

I filmed this in August when we had a glut of quail eggs. The birds are not laying many at the moment but when we have more eggs than we can eat, they can be pickled.

Our first attempt at milking a goat

This was filmed in late August so it's a bit late. This was my first attempt at milking Pinkie, our new goat, before we bought her.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Straws in the wind

I need bedding for the goats and by coincidence I discovered over the weekend an abandoned straw bale on one of the country lanes near Sunniside, where we live. It was one of those huge, round bales but it was damaged and one one side going moldy (the other side was fine). It had clearly been abandoned by a local farmer. I rescued as much of the good straw as I could and put it into my land rover. We've stopped buying wood shavings for the hen houses and use shredded paper instead. However, our shredder has inconveniently broken down and so, having run out of shredded paper, I used some of the straw today in one of the henhouses.

We don't buy or swap for the round bales as they are too big to handle and we are still looking for a source of hay and straw. Not many farms produce the old fashioned smaller square bales but I hope to contact one supplier tomorrow. In the meantime, the grass at Marley Hill Community Centre has been cut and I hope to collect some of it for fodder and bedding.

Being self-sufficient is not just about producing our own food, it's also about producing our own fodder for our animals. So the more hay we can produce ourselves, the less we have to buy in.


Earlier this year we did a swap with a local farm, some of our Tamworth pork for their top quality pedigree beef. As part of the exchange we got some beef mince. We rarely use beef as it is a very inefficient and unsustainable way to produce protein. For us it is a treat. Meanwhile, building up in our fridge was a great deal of milk from our goat, along with some of her cream and the ricotta cheese we made recently.

Along with some onions, carrots, courgettes and tomatoes from recent swaps, they all went into making this rather nice lasagne. The only commercially produced part was the pasta. We'll definitely be making this again.

Ducklings moved to the allotment

The two ducklings that hatched last month have now been moved to the allotment. We thought they would be young enough to adopt one of the older ducks as a mother but instead, they have kept themselves to themselves. They have however taken well to the allotment and quickly found the sources of food and water.

They have also discovered the pond in their wanderings and have used it quite extensively. We are housing them overnight in the spare duck house rather than in the netted duck run where all the other ducks spend the night. It is warmer and sheltered (obviously) but in a few weeks, when they are much bigger, we will aim to get them to adopt the duck run as their night time accommodation. With a bit of luck they will join up with one of the other groups of ducks.