Tuesday 26 May 2020

Rhubarb crumble

rhubarb crumble May 20

During this lockdown period, rhubarb has been worth its weight in gold! Our entire first crop has been harvested and frankly, if we had ten times the quantity, we still would not have been able to satisfy demand. Nevertheless, we decided to keep a small quantity aside to make into a crumble. Very nice!

A difficult swarm

swarm box May 20

We were called this afternoon to a small hamlet near to where we live to collect a bee swarm. Alas, the swarm had formed up on the ground, making collection very difficult. We thought we got it into the swarm box and left it to settle, returning 3 hours later to find no bees in the box and the swarm had reformed on the ground again.

We redid the process and hopefully this time we have caught the swarm. We will know for sure tomorrow when we return - at 5.30am!

Monday 25 May 2020

Rebuilding the chicken run

chicken run May 20

We are planning to hatch more chickens so we can supply the increased local market for eggs and sell hens to those who have, under the lockdown, developed an interest in keeping chickens. The old fruitcage on the nearside plot had been used for a chicken run (most notably during the avian flu crisis a couple of years ago when all poultry was required to be kept caged.) Since then, the goats have knocked it about and much of the netting was damaged though the frame remained in good shape. SO, last week, we recovered the fruitcage with new chicken wire. In it is Gingie, our ginger nut range cockerel, along with 6 hens. The first eggs from the fruitcage will go into the incubator this week.

chicken run May 20

Rehousing a swarm

Last week one of our hives swarmed. I captured the swarm and rehoused it in a spare hive. People have asked me how we get the swarm from the box in which we caught it into a hive. It is a relatively easy procedure - you tip the bees into the hive but in this video I show you exactly how it's done.

Sunday 24 May 2020

More chicks

chicks May 20

Over the weekend, the eggs in one of our incubators hatched. Four chicks pecked their way out but sadly one died. The hatch rate was a bit disappointing. Seven eggs resulted in only 3 live chicks. We opened the eggs that didn't hatch. One dead chick on one and the other two were infertile. We have come to the conclusion that five hens was possibly too many for the cockerel to service. We will therefore remove two hens tonight from the chicken run where the ginger nut ranger cockerel (Gingie) has six hens.

We have checked out the two big incubators which were causing problems when we last used them last year and we think the problem of the alarms on them going off regularly has been resolved. One of these incubators will be tested over the next couple of weeks with some quail eggs.

Monday 18 May 2020

Fried breakfast

fried breakfast May 20

A rather nice self-sufficient breakfast - our own potatoes, fried, and one of our eggs, fried. The fat in the frying pan was from our last pig.

Wild goose roasted

roast goose May 20 (2)

Earlier this year we swapped a couple of jars of preserves for a wild goose. We roasted it recently, marinated in redcurrant jelly. A very pleasant Sunday dinner.

roast goose May 20 (1)

Bean loaf

bean loaf May 20 1

I made this bean loaf recently: broad bean, onions, bread crumble, a few herbs and an egg to help bind it together. Rather nice!

bean loaf May 20 2

First swarm of the year

bee swarm May 20 (1)

We had our first swarm of the year today. The weather conditions of the last few months has encouraged an early start to the swarming season. The swarm was from one of our hives on our fruit and veg plot. It was one of the easiest swarm captures I've done. The bees went into one of the spare hives on the plot. Job done.

bee hive May 20

Friday 15 May 2020

Squeezing them in

potato trenches May 20

We still have some seed potatoes to plant so we have been checking out spare corners and unused parts of our fruit and veg plot to look for potential potato plots. Until a few weeks ago, a pile of kindling occupied a bit of land next to the side gate. It is now dug over and planted up with potatoes. There are still plenty of seed potatoes to use up however.

Moving the Rhode Island Reds

Rhode Island Reds May 20 (2)

We have 4 hen and one cockerel Rhode Island Red chickens. We have now isolated them on the Farside plot where we keep the nanny goats so that we can collect their eggs for hatching. We moved them over two days ago but the egg numbers so far have been quite low. I suspect once they are over the shock of the move, all the hens will be laying. We have one incubator on standby at the moment and another with eggs in that still has nearly a couple of weeks to go before hatching takes place.

We have orders for hens from friends to fulfill so it looks like the incubators will be running across the rest of spring and well into summer.

Rhode Island Reds May 20 (1)

Veggie curry

veggie curry May 20

We made a rather large veggie curry recently. It meant we could use some of the marrow and pumpkin we have lots of in the freezers. Sadly, the rice came from a supermarket so this meal does not count as fully self-sufficient.

Bacon butties

bacon buttie May 20

There is something rather enjoyable having a bacon buttie for breakfast. It is an occasional treat for me but our last bacon joint has been cured and sliced. We are gradually eating our way through our final bacon from our last pig. Time to sort out more pigs for the smallholding.

Sun bathing kids

goat kids sunbathing May 20

We've been getting some sun recently and the kids have been loving it. Definitely sun bathing weather for them!

Thursday 14 May 2020

How to make rhubarb jam

About half the rhubarb crop has been gathered so we decided it was time to make rhubarb jam:

  • 1kg rhubarb chopped
  • 1kg sugar
  • juice of 2-3 lemons
Put a layer of rhubarb in the preserving pan and cover with sugar. Keep putting in these alternative layers until you have used up all your rhubarb and sugar. Leave to stand for a few hours so that the sugar extracts much of the moisture from the rhubarb. Then add the lemon juice and apply heat, bringing the pan to the boil. Keep on a rolling boil until the setting point is reached (put a dollop on a saucer and if it sets, it is ready.) Add to hot, sterilised jars.

Monday 11 May 2020

Social distancing at the Whinnies

Whinnies Community Garden social distancing May 20

The Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside has been closed since the start of the the pandemic lockdown. The garden survives entirely on the work of volunteers and local fundraising. Last month I came up with the idea of having a pop up shop in the Whinnies car park to sell plants grown in the garden and jams made by volunteers. We decided to go ahead with the shop on Saturday and I gave them my entire stock of eggs and half my rhubarb crop from my smallholding to sell (the farm shop to which they normally go is currently closed). The car park was measured out and marked up for social distancing and we opened the shop for only 2 hours on Saturday. I agreed to be in charge of crowd control though we had no idea whether anyone would turn up to buy the produce.15 minutes before we opened, the first customers arrived. And then the floods came!

People fully cooperated with the grid system we had marked up in the car park to ensure social distancing took place, and when that filled up, we ended up with queues along the access lane. Within half an hour of opening, the eggs had sold out. After an hour, all the rhubarb had sold so I had to pay a quick visit to the smallholding to pick another barrowful, which sold very quickly as well.

The pop up shop took over £800, a great boost to the funds for the garden. And Sunniside was able to enjoy rhubarb pies and crumbles this weekend!

Whinnies Community Garden stall May 20 (1)

Whinnies Community Garden stall May 20 (2)

Jonathan Wallace facemask May 20

How do we keep the benefits?

The pandemic lockdown has been a terrible experience for the world as a whole yet there have been a few unintended but positive benefits. Pollution levels have dropped, the roads are much quieter, congestion has been significantly cut, the environment is getting better. The issue is, when we return to "normal" (whatever that turns out to be), how do we keep the environmental benefits we have unexpectedly experienced? I speculated on this when I walked through the empty roads of our village at the end of April when I went to and from our smallholding to lock up the henhouses in the evening. I don't claim to have the answers but just as coronavirus kills, so does pollution. We need to build a world in which both are eradicated.

Wednesday 6 May 2020

Try some wartime recipes to celebrate VE Day 75th anniversary

Friday 8th May will be the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe (the war in the Pacific still had 3 months to run). Many people held street parties to celebrate the end of the 6 year conflict. I was involved with plans to mark the day with an exhibition at Sunniside Methodist Chapel Hall along with a "street party" for local children. Sadly, the pandemic lockdown has stopped these plans in their track.

Instead, many people are holding "street parties" in their own gardens and homes on Friday. It may not be possible for people to invite around friends but Friday does give us the opportunity to learn about what it was like to celebrate the end of the war.

So why not try some wartime recipes for your at-home street party? I've tried out a number of the more popular ones and made videos about how to make each one.

Homity pie

Homity pie was popular with the Land Girls and is vegetarian, allowing people to save their precious meat rations.

Scotch egg

How about making scotch eggs without a sausage meat casing? Use mashed potatoes instead.


Easy to make crisps made from potato peelings and curry powder. Better than anything from a packet nowadays!

Wartime salad

The Ministry of Food in wartime Britain encouraged people to eat salads to stay healthy, use locally produced food (saving on transport) and reduce the amount of energy used on cooking.

Fish-free fish pie

Fresh fish was in very short supply during the war years so try this alternative - mock fish pie made using artichokes and mashed potatoes.

Try out these recipes and enjoy VE Day!

Tuesday 5 May 2020

New chicks

Barnvelder chicks May 20

Some happy news in the midst of the pandemic lockdown: the first batch of eggs we put in the incubator has hatched. Seven eggs were incubated and 6 hatched today. The eggs were from our Barnvelders. We have a second batch of eggs in another incubator though these only went in a few days ago. They are for a friend who lost her hens over the weekend to foxes.

The first incubator will be given a rest over the next week and will then go into action. We will be incubating Rhode Island Red eggs though we will need to separate off our RIR cockerel and 4 hens to avoid cross breeding. This breed is both table and layer and the cockerels are a good size. We may therefore drop our plans for turkeys for Christmas and fatten up the RIR cockerels instead. No final decision has yet been made but were we to go ahead with keeping turkeys, we would have to create a separate run for them as they need to be kept away from chickens. Apparently, turkeys can fall victim to illnesses carried by chickens.

Making a pear drink from peel and cores

making pear juice from peel and cores Apr 20 1

After I made the pear chutney, I was left with core and peel to use up. I boiled it up in some water and then strained it. It made a pleasant drink and ensured the waste from the chutney making was turned into a resource.

making pear juice from peel and cores Apr 20 2

making pear juice from peel and cores Apr 20 3

How to make pear chutney

I was recently given a donation of a significant quantity of pears to feed to the animals at the Whinnies. They had gone by their sell-by date but were otherwise in good condition. I thought they were too good to be used as animal food. I made them into chutney instead which will be donated to the Whinnies Community Garden to raise funds.

This recipe was remarkably easy and I was rather pleased with the results.

Sunday 3 May 2020

Veggie soup

vegetable soup Apr 20

Here's a tip: go through the contents of your fridge and gather together everything that urgently needs to be used up. That's how we ended up creating this large pan of veggie soup, made almost entirely of food that was well past its best but which was better consumed than thrown out.

Last bacon joint

bacon Apr 20 1

We took the final bacon joint out of the freezer over a week ago. The joint was cured and we are now enjoying some very tasty bacon. At this point, we have not arranged to get some pigs. Buying such animals in the middle of a lockdown is not easy!

bacon Apr 20 2

First signs of potatoes growing

potaotes growing May 20

April this year was the dryest on record. Ironically, it followed on from one of the wettest winters on record. Most of the potato crop has been planted (I have a few salad potatoes still to plant) but I was so concerned about the lack of rain that on a number of occasions during April we took water down to the smallholding in the land rover. It was not a very efficient use of resources but I was concerned that if water was not applied to the land, the crop could fail. Fortunately, over the past 3 days we have had some rain. And we have also had the first appearance of the potato plants growing. At last!

Rhubarb crop ready

Rhubarb crop Apr 2020

This is our first rhubarb crop of the year and it's ready for picking. Normally, we would take most of it to the farm shop where we sell our eggs but the shop has been closed for most of April and will not open until 18th May. That means much more of the rhubarb crop will need to be turned into preserves though some has gone into the freezer and some will go into pies and crumbles. Hopefully the second crop will be able to make its way to the shop.

We are however selling some of the rhubarb this Saturday. The Whinnies Community Garden where we rent our 2 allotments will be running a pop up shop for 2 hours (1-3pm) on Saturday 9th May. Our eggs will also be on sale as well. Social distancing will be adhered to at all times. The Whinnies will also be selling their preserves and plants.

Friday 1 May 2020

Making compost

We use all our garden and kitchen waste to make compost. Now that we have the smallholding, we need all the compost and manure we can get. In the current pandemic lockdown, many councils have suspended collection of garden waste so I have set myself the task of encouraging people to use a compost bin or heap instead. Hence this video I filmed last month. We use commercially produced compost bins and ones we have made ourselves from old pallets. Avoid putting food waste into compost bins - food should never be wasted. Leftovers are for eating, not for throwing out. Kitchen waste such as the inedible parts of fruit and veg can go into a compost bin but leave bones out. Dry them out in the over to the point they are brittle, and then smash them up to make bonemeal which can then be used as a slow-release fertiliser.

We also avoid putting animal waste into the same bins as garden and kitchen waste. Manure should not be put into beds which are used to grow vegetables that are eaten raw. Put it on your potatoes and rhubarb instead.