Friday 29 May 2015

How to make apple and soft fruit seedless jam

apple and soft fruit seedless jam May 15 1

In our freezers, occupying valuable space, were a number of boxes of soft fruit puree from last year. The puree is a by product of making jelly. After the pulp is strained, it is pressed through a sieve. Nothing therefore is wasted. As we need the freezer space, the puree has been turned into jam. As some of the pectin in the soft fruit is lost due to freezing, I added grated apple.

apple and soft fruit seedless jam May 15 2

Some water was added and the pan was brought to the boil. At that point sugar is added - the same weight as that of the puree and apple combined.

apple and soft fruit seedless jam May 15 3

Test for the jam reaching the setting point (put some on a saucer and if it forms a skin after cooling, it is ready). Then add to hot sterilised jars.

How to make gooseberry and apple jelly

gooseberry and apple jelly May 15 1

Gooseberries are packed full of pectin so they can easily make a jelly. However, I had a batch of gooseberries in the freezer and I often find that some of the pectin can be lost by the freezing process. The gooseberries had to be used up as I need the space in the freezer. I decided to add cooking apples to ensure there was a good supply of pectin.

The apples were chopped and added to the preserving pan with the gooseberries and then covered with water. The pan was brought to the boil and then simmered for a couple of hours. The pulp was then strained and the resulting liquid was then measured, put into the cleaned pan and brought to the boil.

gooseberry and apple jelly May 15 2

For every litre of liquid, a kilo of sugar was added. The pan was again brought to the boil and kept boiling until the setting point is reach (put a dollop on a saucer, leve to stand for a few minutes and if it forms a thick skin it is ready). Then add to hot, sterilised jar.

gooseberry and apple jelly May 15 3

This is quite a sharp, tart jelly. It's good with cheese or smoked meats and fish.

Thursday 28 May 2015

Potato bags

potato bags May 15

A small confession. We planted up some potato bags last year. We didn't get round to harvesting them. Indeed, they were rather neglected as I didn't even get round to banking up the earth in them. As the potatoes have started growing again, I'm being a bit more hands on. I've topped up the bags with a mix of soil and manure. There is room for more to be added once the shoots again appear above the surface. It should allow for a modest crop.

Grass for goats

goats May 15 48

This year we are determined to forage for as much greenery as possible for our animals so that we can cut feed bills, ensure the animals have a healthier diet and reduce further our impact on the environment. So, everyday I now pick a sackful of grass, doc, dandelions and so on to feed to the goats and poultry. This should also help Pinkie recover and boost her milk yield.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Quail losses

quail chicks May 15 2

We have not been too successful with the first batch of quail eggs we hatched in the incubator. From 31 eggs only 12 fully hatched and of these, only 3 have survived. A number of eggs had started hatching but the chicks died before they had hatched. We think the problem was the incubator. It was new but the humidity levels kept dropping in it. We have now put a second batch of eggs into the other incubator. Hopefully we will have a bit more success with them. The 3 remaining chicks are quite strong and in about a month we will put them in the quail aviary, though any males will either be found a new home or slaughtered.

quail chicks May 15 1

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Pinkie up and about

goats May 15 45

Pinkie continues to improve. When I got to the allotment this morning I found her wandering about. She had pushed open the goathouse door. Before her operation she was allowed to wander in and out of the goathouse day and night so we have now taken the decision to leave the door open 24/7. She has a small infection in her caesarean scare but it is getting better, though we continue to monitor it. We sprayed an antibiotic on it yesterday. We are at the point now however where we feel confident she is going to make a recovery.

Monday 25 May 2015

Heading to Marley Hill

We are just preparing a picnic to take to our Marley Hill allotment. We will be spending the day there planting up lots of seedlings from the greenhouse. There will be lots of weeding to do as well. The picnic will contain a quail egg salad. We have some eggs that were cracked when they were collected. We put these to one side so that they don't go into any box that we sell or swap. They have now been boiled up ready for shelling to go in the salad.

Sunday 24 May 2015

Sipping on the homemade champagne

elderflower champagne May 15

A bit of a relaxing evening tonight. We have cracked open a bottle of our homemade elderflower champagne (2011 vintage) to celebrate Pinkie's on-going recovery. We still have over 30 bottles to consume before we make this year's champagne next month.

Friday 22 May 2015

Standing on her own feet

goats May 15 42

On Wednesday evening, we attempted to get Pinkie standing by using a makeshift sling. This was a last resort for us. She had not stood for 9 days and if we failed to get her on her feet, she would have no future. Our attempts failed. We returned home very upset knowing we would have to call the vet in the morning to put her to sleep.

I returned a couple of hours later to lock up the henhouses and check on Pinkie. There she was standing on her back legs! Perhaps we wouldn't need to make the call after all. Perhaps we could take a decision in the morning as she was at least trying to get up.

So in the morning I checked on her. She made repeated attempts to get up. In the late afternoon, she got onto all 4 feet and even took a few steps out of the goathouse. She was on the mend!

There is still some way to go. She has, after all, had a major operation. But the only call I expect to make to the vet now is to say that Pinkie is getting better.

This is the first time we have tried to breed the goats. We have learnt a huge amount, even if it was the hard way. We will decide whether or not to attempt to breed Pinkie again in the future, once we know her condition after recuperating. One thought I have is to consider getting another Golden Guernsey nanny, possibly a kid born this spring, to keep with Pinkie. Our plan had been that we would keep a nanny offspring of Pinkie had the birth been successful. But all this is for decisions over the next few weeks. At the moment we are just pleased Pinkie is recovering.

Meanwhile, she is producing lots of milk.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Dead hive removed

dead bees May 15 1

We carried out a hive inspection over the weekend and as predicted, the problem hive had died. It was full of dead bees clustered together. We had a close look at the bees and they did not appear deformed. That should mean it wasn't an infection or varroa parasites. It may be that it starved to death. This sometimes happens even though there is food available elsewhere in the hive.

The dead hive has been cleared away and will be used for the next swarm. All other hives on the apiary were checked and were in good order. We added supers to 2.

Pinkie is eating but not standing

Pinkie and Jonathan May 15

Pinkie is eating well, indeed very well. She is producing milk which I am drawing off (not the easiest job as she remains lying down). She munches her way through lots of crisp, fresh grass. This morning I found she was especially keen on dock leaves. However, we are still to get her to stand. Yesterday she did manage to get onto her back feet for a few seconds but her front legs weren't able to get her up fully. We will try again later today.

She remains comfortable and alert but her not yet standing is a real concern to me.

goats May 15 37

There was one sack of dried nettles left in the shed from last year. We have fed them to Pinkie. She rather likes them as well.

Sunday 17 May 2015

A great day at the Whickham May Fayre

May Fayre Chase Park Whickham May 15 2

We had a successful day at the Whickham May Fayre in Chase Park yesterday. We sold lots of eggs and preserves. We also had lots of people asking us about how Pinkie is doing. She has quite a following now!

Pinkie update

goats May 15 31

We have made some progress with Pinkie though there is a big question mark over whether or not she will pull through. After the vet's visit on Thursday, she started eating grass and leaves but wasn't interested in prepared food. This continued through Friday but yesterday, Saturday, she started eating flaked maize and wheat. We are yet to get her on her feet. That is the big challenge and until we have achieved that, I can't say she will pull through.

goat caesarean May 15 2

This is Pinkie a couple of days ago. You can see her operation stitching. And here's a closer look:

goat caesarean May 15 1

Friday 15 May 2015

More hens

chickens May 15 1

We have some more hens! Another 7. They are only a couple of months old and 5 of them were hatched by a friend from our eggs. The other 2 are gold tops (they are the 2 birds on the left above).
They were swapped for our 3 Welsh Harlequin drakes. I'm really pleased about this as we have been wanting a new home for these drakes but we wanted them kept together as they are a close knit group of 3 brothers. Now they are off to a good home.

The 7 hens have fitted in well. They needed no encouragement to roost in the hen houses overnight.

Our first market of the year

Whickham May fayre preparation May 15 3

After nursing Pinkie this morning, I headed down to Whickham's Chase Park to help set up the tents and marquees for tomorrow's May Fayre. It's open from 12pm to 4pm and I will have a stall selling eggs, jam and pork. I also hope to take the hen with the 8 chicks which are bound to be of great interest, especially to children. I'm keen that they learn where food actually comes from, rather than thinking it simply is picked off a supermarket shelf.

Whickham May fayre preparation May 15 2

It will be the first market of the year for us. Last year we were rained off but the forecast for tomorrow is more promising.

Terrible time for Pinkie

Goats May 15 27

Pinkie's pregnancy has ended badly. On Wednesday evening, after 11 hours in Labour, the vet was called to carry out an emergency caesarean. The two kids died after only a couple of minutes. Yesterday, we moved Pinkie on a makeshift stretcher, to her goat house. Afterwards we nearly lost her. She went into a state of shock. Another visit from the vet and she was put on a drip and given various injections. After that she showed some signs of recovery. She started eating fresh grass. This morning she ate some more fresh leaves though she is less interested in prepared food. We still have a long way to go if she is to recover and that recovery is not yet guaranteed. She has not stood since Monday and getting her on her feet is going to be the next big challenge.

Photo above: Pinkie in Labour on Wednesday evening before her caesarean. Below, Pinkie this morning in her goat house eating grass.

Goats May 15 24

Wednesday 13 May 2015

A dead hive

beehives May 15 1

We have 9 hives at the moment but it looks as though one has died out. It is the one on the left in the photo above. It was a swarm hive from last year but there is very little activity in it now. We will clean it out and use the hive for any new swarms - we are approaching the swarming season.

The other hives seem to be fine and in between the rain recently, there has been lots of activity by the bees.

beehives May 15 2


lovage May 15

Our lovage is growing very well in our herb garden. It's great in soups but I'm going to use some in a salad with quail eggs and wild green leaves (dandelion, dock and wild garlic). I'll post up the photos once I've made it.

Quail hatching due soon

quail eggs in incubator May 15

We have 31 quail eggs in one of our incubators. They are due to start hatching tomorrow so last night we took them out of the cradle that turns the eggs. They will remain in the incubator until they have hatched.

Sadly, I have to report that the eggs being incubated by a quail hen in the quail house have not hatched. We have removed and disposed of them.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

A night at the goat maternity ward

goats May 15 20

Yesterday morning I decided to leave open the door to the new goat house to ensure there was plenty of fresh air. Pinkie had previously shown no interest in leaving it. So when I returned in the afternoon, I was surprised to find her lying down in her favourite place on the allotment, next to the quail house. For the previous 2 days she had been standing. Was lying down a sign that she was getting close to giving birth? She had, after all, many of the signs of impending birth.

goats May 15 18

Pinkie however refused to move. We couldn't get her to stand. This suggested to us that she was even closer to giving birth than we had expected. Unable to move her, we decided as an emergency to build a temporary goat house around her. We also decided to spend the night keeping watch over her, with the expectation we would have kids by the morning.

goats May 15 19

I had the 11pm to 4am watch. For a while, I lay on the hay in the goat house with Pinkie next to me. At one point she put her head on my lap. Alas, by the time David came to relieve me, there were no babies. When I came back at 8am, there were still no babies.

She hasn't budged from her temporary goat house today. Had she given birth today, she would have been very early. This is day 137. We would expect at least another 3 days and more likely 8 days to hit the usual gestation period. She nevertheless is very large. She is likely to be carrying twins or triplets, maybe even quads (she had 4 the last time she gave birth though that was when she was owned by someone else.)

Anyway, sometime over the next few days she is due. Watch this space.

Swap your home

I've been contacted by the BBC to ask me to promote a programme called Home Away From Home and encourage people to put themselves forward to be on it. So if you have an interesting home and want to stay in someone else's house while appearing on tv, you can find details below.

Dear Jonathan,

I hope you don’t mind me contacting you, but I’m working on the new series of BBC One’s Home Away From Home and thought you might be able to help, as we are particularly interested in featuring any self-sufficiency and eco-living enthusiasts on our programme!

The series sees couples (be it partners, friends or family members) from across the UK swap homes with one another over the course of three days. It’s a chance to have a new experience and discover local cuisine, sight-seeing that goes beyond the guide book, and an authentic place to stay. It might be that people are considering a home swap for the first time or have swapped many times before. It’s very much a warm-hearted series and celebrates the beauty of our homes and localities in the UK.  

Here is a link to the website:

I was wondering whether you might be able to help circulate our details whether that’s via social media, an editorial piece on your blog etc, in the hope that we might find some lovely would-be home swappers for our series?
Any help you could give would be greatly appreciated.

Kind regards,


Emma Linstead
Assistant Producer, Home Away From Home

Monday 11 May 2015

Hatched chicks and adoptive mothers

chicks May 15 1

The eggs in the incubator produced a disappointing hatch rate. Of the 17, only 8 hatched and of these only 5 survived. We took them to the allotment and gave them to the mother hen who recently hatched 3 chicks. She immediately adopted them and the family are now living in the fruit cage. We initially put her with her first three chicks in the quail house but discovered she was eating the quail eggs and attacking the quails. The fruit cage is much bigger but she will be moved out of there in about a month so that she and her chicks can join the flock.

chicks May 15 4

Sunday 10 May 2015

New goat house finished

building a goat house May 15 2

We finished building the new goat house today. The timing could not have been better. We moved Pinkie in straight away. We think she is in labour. She is pawing the ground, hadn't moved from her old goat house for 2 days, her back has fallen and she's less enthusiastic about her food. If we are right, she is early.

goats May 15 8

Milking Pinkie

goats milk May 15

Pinkie is not due to give birth for a couple of weeks but she is now lactating. Her udders were full yesterday and she was looking a bit uncomfortable. I decided to relieve the pressure but milking her. I didn't want to take too much off her, just enough to make her a bit more comfortable. So I took off 1.5 litres. I'm not sure what we'll use it for but expect milk recipes to go into operation shortly.

Saturday 9 May 2015

Building another goat house

goat in goat house May 15

Pinkie is due to give birth in the next couple of weeks. We need a more secure goat house for her and her baby once its born so today we have been building her a new goat house, from a couple of wall panels and a couple of old garage doors. The job isn't quite finished. The roof will go on tomorrow. Once ready it will be much bigger than her current shed (see above) and should keep out foxes when the birth happens.

building a goat house May 15 1

Tuesday 5 May 2015

A sack of rhubarb

We took delivery of a sack of rhubarb from a friend last week. As I don't have time at the moment to use it so it was chopped up yesterday and put in the freezer. In the weeks ahead it will be used in pies and jam.

Meanwhile, the rhubarb we transferred from the allotment to the garden is doing rather well:

Monday 4 May 2015

Eggs ready for hatching

The eggs we put in the incubator 20 days ago should now be ready for hatching. Yesterday we took the eggs turning mechanism out of the incubator and are now waiting for the hatching to start. This is the first time we have hatched eggs produced by our own chickens. All other eggs we have hatched have either come from friends or have been bought from suppliers. It will be interesting to see how they turn out though let's not count any chickens yet!

Friday 1 May 2015

More photos of the chicks

I managed today to get a few better photos of the chicks that hatched in a feral chicken nest on Wednesday. Here are a couple.

I suspect we have one cockerel (the one with the yellow spot on its head) and 2 hens.