Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Rip Big Bertha

We have had chickens pass away for one reason or another and I usually don't mention it each time as it is part of running the small holding. However today we lost Big Bertha seen on the left here.

We have had her for 7 years. We got her when Grace was 3 and I was expecting Jack. She will have been at least 8, most likely older. I thought she was around 10 but whatever the correct age is, she's had an amazing innings and I am really pleased that she made it to the small holding with us and spent her last days here. She died peacefully in the orchard today, basking in the sun and enjoying her girls around her.

We only have Jess left out of the original clan that we named. We've not named the latest lot, but these were the ones that opened up the love of keeping chickens to us.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Monday night preserves - Asparagus in oil 

On Monday nights I aim to preserve something that is in season throughout the growing season. This is to allow us to prolong the growing season and try our fruit and veg in a variety of ways.
Tonight I was going to do asparagus and also leathers. However the asparagus was such a faff on that I am keeping the leathers for another night.
We cut the asparagus that has flew up since we had the rain just a couple of days ago and I set about trimming them to fit the jar size stated in the recipe. 500ml. There was my first mistake, my jar is more short and fat than tall and slim (sounds familiar 😂) so I had to trim the asparagus a lot shorter than I would have liked. I kept the cut offs to make a soup or such.
I boiled vinegar and water then set aside and kept warm. The asparagus I charred in the frying pan as I don't have a griddle and plunged into the vinegar and water whilst I chopped 2 shallots. Placing the shallots and a tsp of peppercorns in the sterilised short, fat jar I set about fishing the asparagus out of the vinegar. This in itself was a task as I didn't want to pour it out. Then you're supposed to stand the asparagus up in the jar. This takes patience and I was losing mine.
Once it is stood up, in a fashion, I put 75ml of lemon juice in and topped up with olive oil and added some home grown herbs. 
It looks nice and now needs to sit for 6 weeks before we could use it. It'll keep for 4 months in the pantry and then once open will last another 6 weeks. So in theory we could wait until winter to use these up, which will be a nice treat.
Although it was a faff on, it's done now and looking back, it wouldn't be as hard the second time. Incidentally, the oil it's preserved in wkill be used for cooking once the asparagus is used. It is however fairly expensive unless you have olive oil and cider vinegar in bulk.

Friday, 19 May 2017

What to do with this

This is the back of an outbuilding that we have.  Inside this we store the lawnmower and process the poultry but we've another idea for what we want to put in there.  I'll post about that another time.
Today I am interested in the back of it.  What a waste of space.  It's not as simple as it looks to find a solution though.  The sheep live here, so they will eat anything we plant.

Not only would the sheep eat anything, looking at the ground here, I'm not convinced we're get a spade in it!
 Something, not sure what, is left over here.  There's a semi circle that you can't quite make out, but maybe something was planted in it years ago.  I'll see if the neighbours know.
 Speaking of neighbours, I can't put anything high in here as to the right we have the only part of our area that is overlooked by my lovely neighbours and I wouldn't want to block their view.
So I am just not sure what to do here, it seems wasted and unloved.

If you stand with your back to the barn, you face our field, but before you get to the main field there is a mass of trees.  They are very pretty but in the way.  They will have been planted as a wind break or noise break but as we're planting up the river bank with trees (which is directly behind these again), they aren't required here.
The conker tree in the far left is very pretty
Access to the field is past the sheep, round the corner of the trees.
 We're giving serious thought as what to do with these.  Some have come down an provided us with wood, others are being eaten by the sheep so will also come down.
Do we house animals in here, chickens, sheep, pigs, goats etc?  Do we pull them all down and turn it to grass to give us much needed extra grazing land?  The ideas go on.  It's worth nothing there us a slope from the edge of the grass down to the field in which the trees are growing.  I'll have a think over the weekend,  Have a good one everyone :)

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Cherry tree protection

With last year being our first year here, we were discovering what trees we have and it wasn't until too late that we realised we had a cherry tree in the orchard, nestled amongst the apple trees.  By too late I mean the birds got to them before us.
This cherry tree was really productive as were some others we have.  This tree however is smaller and easier to pick than the others, so we have claimed this one and we'll just have to see if the birds beat us to the other ones!
The tree before and after netting was put in place.  I hope we get a decent crop again this year, one we can actually harvest though!



Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Monday night preserves - Rhubarb

I have decided to dedicate Monday nights to be preserve nights. I'll post about it each week, showing how I am preserving the 'in season' products or those which simply come my way that I can't make use of at that time. 

So for my first post I am using rhubarb as it's well underway now. We've been harvesting it for a while now as we have early and regular rhubarb. You may remember back at Easter I used some of the early rhubarb to make cordial? I alluded to it and said I'd do a write up on it at a later date. Well I made some more last night and tonight. It's a simple recipe and the previous batch was used quickly, but I hope to preseve some of this latest batch to see how well it keeps.

I gathered around 6kg of rhubarb and that wasn't taking anywhere near as much as I could have, so I'll get more when I have time but making sure I don't take too much that it harms the plant.

Firstly I chopped up a kilo and added it to the jam pan with 900g sugar and 100g crystallised ginger. I covered it to stop the flies getting to it and left it for 24 hours to steep. Apparently leaving it like this forms a syrup, which it did, and helps keeps the shape of the fruit chunks.

Then I sterilised my jars in the Aga and brought the jam to setting point. It only took 10 mins max. I poured the jam into 4 small and 1 medium jar with some left over to use as the tester. If the jam sets and tastes nice then I will keep some for Christmas hampers. I've some tiny jam jars to use too so I can do a selection for people meaning there's less waste if they're not keen. 

The rhubarb cordial I also started last night by roughly chopping 2kg rhubarb and adding 250ml water then stewing until tender. 

Once tender I left it to drip into a bowl through a sterlilised jelly bag for 24 hours.

Tonight I had 700ml of juice which I thought was disappointing from 2kg fruit so I topped it up with water to make 1 litre. Then I added 700g sugar and dissolved it making sure the syrup reached 88C on the thermometer. Once done I poured it into sterilised bottles and put the 2 full ones into a water bath. Note to self, get smaller bottles as even the tallest pan wasn't big enough.

If the water bath had worked then they would keep for up to 12 months according to my book so I'll do another batch using smaller bottles that are appropriate gift sizes too.

The remainder of the rhubarb is going to be open froze and bagged up in the freezer to use as I fancy it. 

Thanks again to Patty Pan (Tricia) for her kind gift showing me how to do this and for the wise words of Dawn, Louise and others last year helping me learn what I need to do to stay safe preserving.

Next Monday will be making fruit leathers from the left over rhubarb pulp which I've frozen for now and also preserving asparagus.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Riverbank transformation - part 2

At the bottom of our field we have the river.  There's a decent sized river bank there too, which runs the full length of the field.  I've mentioned the riverbank in a previous post, as I felt it's such a shame to let it go to waste. 
Therefore we have been putting new trees in behind the fence and far enough away so the horses can't lean over and eat them.  This weekend saw us planting 4 more along side the previous 3.  It's a bit later than people say you should plant them but they're be fine I am sure.
We loaded up 2 wheelbarrows with everything we need to get the job done and the whole family trooped off to get the job done.  The kids were smiling and the dogs happy to investigate the field.
Steven did all the heavy manual work as normal and I was there handing out what he needed and making sure the dogs didn't escape and the kids didn't take an unplanned swim.

We now have:
Hazlenut Kentish Cob
Hazlenut Red Cracker
Victoria Plum * 2
Gage Tree - Reine Claude Doree
Mirabelle Tree - de Nancy (Plum)
Quince Tree - Vranja

The last 4 on my list above (which is why I have 2 Victoria Plums) were on offer for £5 from dobies and I am very pleased with them.  We planted them yesterday with the usual couple of buckets of muck and a bucket of water from the river and staked them in for support as it can get windy over there.
So the riverbank transformation is starting to take shape.  I've not planted any of the herbs down there yet as they're still a bit small and probably delicate, so I'll bring them on a bit in the veg garden first.
 The hazlenuts and first plum tree were planted on 15th April (almost 1 month to the date) and have gone from this
 to this:
 They're looking very healthy and seem to like their new home!
I plan on getting more trees a long here as they'll also act as a windbreak and noise barrier from the railway line which is behind them on the other side of the river.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Polytunnel update

I've had a lady contact me via the contact form asking for details about my polytunnel.  Firstly I must apologise to her as I didn't even know there was an email waiting.
We wanted a polytunnel to help with this year's growing.  I decided to go for a budget tunnel and make it last as long as possible.  We measured the space we had available and bought a 6m by 3m. 
Here's my original post on it.  Ste did a great job of fixing it down so that the framework is going nowhere when the winds blow.  
As I said at the time, even if the cover rips, the frame will be used as a fruit cage and will be meshed, so it will continue in one form or another.
I bought it from here.  I see it's out of stock and gone up in price, most likely due to the time of year!
I paid £99.99 delivered, which was fast and efficient.  So far, it's been great.  The cover seems fairly robust compared to what I was expecting.  The zips aren't great but if you treat them with care, they may hold out. No complaints there either so far.
So if you're after a budget polytunnel, the green type with windows and doors at both ends, come highly recommended from me. 
One day I hope to upgrade to a bigger, polythene type, but for now, this suits me very well.
I've planted peas (our first ones are shown here in the pics) and broadbeans directly into the beds inside, along with early potatoes, beetroot and radish all directly sown. I've planted strawberries, swiss chard, kale, lettuce, courgette, pea and bean plugs too.  Marigold line the edges and are doing a sterling job of offering themselves to any nasty insects in a valiant attempt to save our veg.

I've got some French beans too and that pretty much takes up all of the space until we start harvesting and then I will replace the harvested items with more. This weekend we harvested our first peas!! It is the twinkle variety and is delicious!

My mornings

I am lucky.  I have 2 mornings.  1 at home then another at work.  I prefer my mornings at home ;) I thought I'd share with you some photos from my morning's this week.
I go outside around 5:30 making a mental note of what the weather has turned out like (and usually cursing the forecast if they have it wrong).
This week we have had dry mornings, though one was that foggy it felt Autumnal.
Outside our back door
Beyond the trees you see in the first photo
Looking back up to the house from the little paddock
This is where the farmers cows normally are but on this foggy morning, you can't see them.

Normally they are very interested in what I am doing.
Whilst taking note of the weather, I head straight over to the big barn to feed the horses, saying hi to the sheep on the way.
The sheep know that they don't get fed first, they are in to the routine now, so they generally just look up at me but don't get up.
The horses are always very pleased to have been fed. 
Ryan, our female goose (I know) sleeps in the barn and she follows me around on a morning until I feed and water her.  She prefers the sheep food to her own.  Typical!
Hello...feed me please
This water looks like mine
I also give the free range chickens (fully free range) their breakfast, heads down, bottoms up.
Notice the dominant cockerel and the less dominant one...
After the chickens, horses and Ryan, come the sheep.  By now they are at the gate waiting for their food.

After the sheep, the pigs are up.  They are usually awake and rootling around when I turn up with a bucket for them.  By gum they are boisterous now.  No manners and you better hope you don't get knocked over when feeding as I'm not convinced you'd get back up again.  Needless to say the kids are banned from going in there!
The look cute though.
Foggy morning
Sunnier morning
Beautiful afternoon
Once the big animals are taken care of, I open up the chickens, ducks and geese in the rest of the areas.
By now the cows have followed me along the edge of the field and watch intently.  These are young cows and most probably as stupid as last years, so we're going to strengthen this area as I don't want them getting into the chicken and orchard areas.

There are lots of them.  The gate in the below photo is where the bridleway (opposite direction to the gate) is, which is at the front of our house. 

 This is the orchard where the hens are, where we don't want any cow interruptions!

There is a bottoms up theme here.
 The ducks and ducklings are let out (this is before we moved them) and the make their way busily to the pond.

Over on the other side of the smallholding, I make sure the plastic pond is refilled for the geese who are often too impatient to wait.  The sound of running water entices them.  They can be mean, so are separate from the ducks.

The female joins the male.

She sees what he has in mind and makes a sharp exit!

 I make sure everything has food and water, which we usually top up the night before but sometimes we don't manage to complete them all or 'life happens', but I never leave without making sure all is well.
The Vorwerk hens usually settle down anywhere to lay their eggs just as we're leaving for school and work.  We've had some fun times trying to locate where they are laying!  It's just as well there's only 6 that free range so much.  The rest free range, but are restricted in their areas.

Once I've done this, I get myself, the kids and the dogs sorted, make packed lunches, load the car, forget where I've put my phone, dash round for 30 seconds looking and then leave on time, wondering most days how I managed to pull it off.
I wouldn't change it for a thing though, and no, it's not too much like hard work.  For now, we have to go out to work as we do to pay the bills and this is how we make the most of it. 

Smallholding is in our blood, I'm sure of it.