Wednesday 29 April 2015

The wanderer returns

My assumption that our missing barnvelder hen was secretly brooding some eggs has turned out to be very accurate. This afternoon she reappeared with 3 chicks! I've put them in the quail house where the chicks will be safe from vermin. They will live there until they are big enough to join the flock. Mother and chicks are doing well.

2nd incubator goes into action

Our 2nd new incubator went into action last night. 31 quail eggs have gone into it. They take 16 days to hatch. Hopefully we will have some chicks to take to our first festival - at Whickham's Chase Park on 16th May.

Mystery on the doorstep

I am used to people leaving on my doorstep things they regard as rubbish but which I can turn into a resource. I often get home to find bags of jam jars or egg boxes waiting for me. Yesterday however I was greeted by two large bags of ivy trimmings. I've no idea who left them there but they were a great meal for my goats!

Monday 27 April 2015


I got to the allotment this morning and was greeted by the sight of water bowls frozen solid. The nights are still long enough to cause a freeze when there is little cloud cover. Hopefully in a early May we can aspire to be frost free but in the meantime, Pinkie our Golden Guernsey goat has to wear a coat through the night. After last week's sunny weather, we are experiencing a few days' blast of cold air from the Arctic.

Foraging for the livestock

Dandelions, dock and grass are growing in large quantities. They are great for the poultry so I try to pick a large bagful each day. Pinkie likes to have her share as well.

Buzzing in the sun

We have just finished a week of hot, dry weather. Perfect for the bees. They've been out in force. Sadly, today was cooler so the bees were quiet. And the forecast for the next few days is for colder weather. Well, you can't have everything.

Thursday 23 April 2015

Replanting the rhubarb

We have a couple of patches of rhubarb on the allotment, both of which were fenced off with chicken wire, to keep the poultry off them. Sadly, they launched a co-ordinated invasion recently and successfully stormed the barricades on one of the patches. The result was a great deal of rhubarb with skeleton leaves. We dug up the patch and have moved it to the allotment at Marley Hill, well away from hungry hens.

Snout in the trough

Where food is concerned, there's no holding back Pinkie. I caught her with her head in the feed bucket a couple of days ago. The feed was for the other 2 goats but sadly for Pinkie, it had already been fed to Georgina and Geraldine.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

In the greenhouse

The greenhouse tends to be used as a storage (dumping) facility over winter but once spring is in sight, it comes back into use. We have lots of seeds planted: cucumbers, tomatoes, gherkins and courgettes. Some have already started sprouting though this photo was taken over a week ago and is a bit early for green shoots.

Monday 20 April 2015

Incubator into action

We put one of our two new incubators into action a few days ago. 17 of our hen eggs went into it and in just over 2 weeks we will hopefully have chicks hatching.

Saturday 18 April 2015

Dust bathing

My chickens enjoy dust bathing and the dry weather recently has given them lots of opportunities to engage in one of their favourite activities. Annoyingly, they have selected as a communal bath the patch of ground around one of my redcurrant plants which I may have to move to a safer location. A small crater at the moment looks set to grow into a deep hole.

Gooseberry flowers

This is one of our many gooseberry shrubs, now fully in leaf. It is also flowering heavily at the moment though they are too small to be noticed in the photo. The flowers however are attracting lots of bees. I found loads on them on this plant though, again, they are too small for the camera to pick up. Small, unnoticeable flowers but noticed by lots of bees.

Tuesday 14 April 2015

The wanderer returns

For a week, one of our two barnvelder hens has been missing. We hatched both last year. Barnvelders are a rare breed and this was part of our contribution to ensuring the survival of domesticated animals that would otherwise disappear if enthusiasts didn't do their bit to protect them.

There was no sign of a struggle with a fox, no evidence of other predators. She had simply disappeared. That was until yesterday morning. I was on the allotment at 7am. Suddenly, there she was. She was hungry but in good health. She disappeared again after I left the allotment. It all points to a possible clutch of chicks on the way. My guess is that she has laid some eggs in a hidden spot nearby and she is now brooding the eggs. Typically, a brooding hen will not leave her eggs for days on end. When she does its only for a few minutes to eat as much as she can. She then returns to the eggs. If my hunch is right, she will return in two weeks, complete with a family of chicks.

That's here in the photo above. You can just make out the other one behind the feeder.

Monday 13 April 2015

Blackberry and apple pie

Found in one of our freezers over the weekend: some homemade pastry and a bag of blackberries. And in store we had some apples which needed to be used up. The solution: make a blackberry and apple pie. Delicious. The good news is I still have some left to eat for pudding tonight.

Sunday 12 April 2015

Marley Hill update

We have been doing a bit of work recently on Dad's allotment in Marley Hill. We still have some cabbages growing there from last year to use up but we have also planted potatoes (using a liberal quantity of manure from our goats), onions, broad beans, garlic, shallots and some leeks. There's still some space to use and weeding to be done. The weeds extracted today went down to Sunniside to be fed to our poultry. Waste nothing.

New incubators

Our old incubator broke down last week, resulting in the loss of 18 quail eggs that were 4 days into their incubation period. We have now bought two larger incubators which also turn the eggs. They arrived yesterday. We are going to put in to one of them tonight 18 of our hen eggs. It will mean lots of cross breeds will hatch but as long as the hens lay eggs, we won't be worried. We may have a go at breeding some rare breeds separately.

Friday 10 April 2015


Last autumn we chopped branches from the local hedges where they were getting out of control. Most of what we cut was hawthorn but there was also a bit of elder and ash. Through the winter we also chopped back privet branches. None of this was wasted. We fed the branches to the goats who ate the leaves and quite often the bark as well. The branches were then stacked up. The intention is to chop them up and use them for firewood.

I've made a start on chopping them but sadly, we have no wood fired heating system on which to use the sticks and logs. That was not through want of trying. Last year we signed a contract with a company called Solarlec to install a biomass boiler. The company was a complete waste of time. They took a very large amount of our money, signed a contract to install a boiler by the end of October, and gave us excuses galore for failing to install the boiler. By February, after lots of very angry messages and phone calls from me, they eventually agreed to return the £3300 we had paid the as a deposit. Even then it took another angry phone call from me to the director of the company to get our money back, 10 days after they had first agreed to return it. My recommendation is NEVER EVER deal with Solarlec. Anyway, more about the whole saga on another day.

The point is that due to Solarlec's miserable failure, we are still running a gas fired boiler and an electric immersion boiler. We are planning to replace them soon though clearly Solarlec will not be invited to tender for the work. In the meantime we will continue to build up a stock of firewood. I chop a few branches each day at the moment so that the job is manageable but with the hawthorn coming back into leaf, we will soon start to feed the goats branches again. We need to avoid the mistake of last year of simply letting the branches build up. Once the goats have had their fill, I need to chop the branches straight away.

Thursday 9 April 2015

Stuffed cabbage head

We still have some cabbages to use up which have not yet been picked from Dad's allotment in Marley Hill. So we invented a recipe over the weekend to use one up: stuffed cabbage. We were able to use up some of the beef mince we got in a swap last year when we traded some of our pork for some beef with a local farm. The mince, along with onions and tomatoes, were cooked in a pan. The cabbage head was hollowed out - what came out was chopped up and added to the mince.

The cabbage halves were put into a baking tray with a bit of water to help them cook. The mince was added to them and they then went into the oven for about 45 minutes.

We also have some left over pan haggerty which we used as a vegetable sidedish.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Greenery for our poultry

Spring is definitely here. We are going through a warm patch and, after a modest damp period a week ago, the weeds are growing well, though not on the allotment as the hens and ducks eat them before they have sprouted. Greenery however is spreading and that means we can feed our animals more leafy material we have picked locally and less bought in feed. The pile above came from the flower beds around Church Green in Whickham. I am one of the volunteers who maintains the public flower beds after Gateshead Council decided to stop looking after them to save money. Feeding the weeds to my poultry also means the council does to have to dispose of them. A win win situation.

A brooding quail

In our quail aviary, we have two hutches and the birds are free to come and go into them as they please. They tend to use them for egg laying. This morning I opened one of them to find a quail hen brooding a set of eggs. Quail can be difficult to hatch naturally and so far all the ones we have produced have been from eggs we have put in our incubator. However, I decided to leave the bird alone and let her incubate the eggs herself.

Hopefully this will be a success as when I got home we had something of a setback. Our incubator had broken down. The 18 eggs I added to the incubator last Friday were all cold. I couldn't get the incubator working again. These eggs are now lost to us. We will have to get a new machine or borrow one.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Buzzing in the sunshine

An Easter bank holiday and unusually we had lots of sun, so the bees have been busy. All our hives had activity so they have all survived the winter. Notice the bees in the photos bringing in yellow sacks of pollen on their rear legs. The pollen is fed to the bee larvae. Hopefully that means the queens are laying again, replenishing bee numbers. And soon the hives will start producing queen cells. That means the swarming season is not long off.

Toad in the hole

We are still trying to eat our way through our egg mountain so recently we made toad in the hole. Sadly, it only used up 2 small eggs. Nevertheless, it was rather nice with roasted beetroot and Jerusalem artichokes, of which we still have lots. Time is running out to use the artichokes. They are still in the ground (it's the best place to store them) but spring is here and the tubers are starting to sprout. Meanwhile we still have lots of Tamworth pork sausages to use up but they can stay in the freezer for a while yet.

Pan Haggerty

Pan Haggerty, one of my favourite meals and very easy to make. We made a large pan of it yesterday. Plenty left over to use as a side dish on another day.

Sunday 5 April 2015


A friend took a dozen of our chicken eggs last month and put them in his incubator. He now has 8 chicks which hatched over a week ago. This is the first time any of our eggs have hatched. Up to now we have bought fertilised eggs or got them from friends. Most of the chicks above are cross breeds but we will have a go at hatching some ourselves later this spring.

Incubator back in use

Spring is here and our birds are now producing lots of eggs. It's time therefore to dust down the incubator. First in are 18 quail eggs. They went in on Friday and are due to hatch 2 weeks today.

Friday 3 April 2015

Pregnant Pinkie

I took this photo this morning. Pinkie is now well over half way through her pregnancy and she is showing! She is due in late May. Really looking forward to this but lots of work needed to get ready for delivery day.

More fencing

I wrote a few days ago that we have fenced off part of the allotment to keep Pinkie, our golden guernsey goat, off the soft fruit and away from some of our hives. Today we had the job of cordoning off plots where rhubarb and horseradish are growing. We need to keep both the poultry and Pinkie from trampling and eating the shoots. For some of this we used the wooden frame covered in chicken wire that we used last year on a potato patch but which we sometimes take to fairs as an enclosure for our ducks or chickens. The rest of the fencing was simply wire netting and bamboo canes. Nothing elaborate.

It's been a wet day and the problem for free range chickens is that they are free to be rained on, and free to trample through mud. They appear to have adopted the frame as a perch to avoid the latter.

Bangers and pumpkin mash

Our last pumpkin from last year was not going to last much longer. Urgent action was called for to ensure it was suitably eaten. We made it into a mash with some potatoes and had it with some sausages from our Tamworth pig. Food heaven!

Rhubarb crumble

We needed space in the freezer. Something therefore had to be eaten to make room. A bag of rhubarb was therefore turned into a crumble. Delicious!

Egg record

We hit another egg record last week. Our previous record for hen eggs laid in one day was 16. The new record is 17 as of Tuesday. We have 32 chickens in total. 6 are cockerels. Of the hens, 5 are quite old and retired from egg laying though we may need them for brooding later in the spring. So we think we have 21 laying birds. Getting 80% to lay on the same day is quite a record.