Thursday 25 June 2015

Spinning again, and weaving?

I have just made these skeins of wool on my spinning wheel, and now I need to give them a wash to set the twist in the yarn. This wool is from one of our Jacob sheep, one of the first really good fleeces we have had from the flock, and I am so longing to get working the new fleeces, which are still sitting on a tarpaulin in the courtyard waiting to be sorted out, because several of them have some grey from the under coat which should make for an interesting colour mix.

I don't sort out the fleeces into separate colours because I don't have the time to do so, all I do is spin one fleece at at time, letting the different colours of the fleece come as they want to. Neither to I prep the wool first (wash, card, etc), again because I do not have time to faff around....I spin directly from the fleece as it comes from the sheep, but without the daggy bits, but even then I can find myself with a nobble of this or that, which I most times remove, but I am sure that some small bits escape into the yarn. Not to worry, I do wash the wool once it is made into yarn though.....

As I say, with the new fleece calling to me, I need to up the time I spend on the spinning wheel. This urge to spin has also triggered off my thoughts again about buying a rigid heddle table loom so I can weave fabric from the yarn I have already made, and this is the loom I am thinking of buying

.... and thanking Ann from for her helping me in this process (these photos are 'borrowed' from her website). The loom is a Kromski Harp and is 80 cm (32 inches) wide, is reasonably priced, and is light enough to be taken hither and thither wherever the urge to weave comes upon me. However, I do not have a clue about weaving, so onto Amazon to order the 'how to'  books which Ann recommended, then on to YouTube to watch the 'how to' vids. To learn new things is very good for the soul, that is what I kept telling myself as I watched those vids, and I am sure that as with all things I have already learnt, that I shall understand this new challenge in time.

Meanwhile, I need to get my stash of yarn increased ready for when I start being a trainee weaver, which gives me an excuse to sit out under the oak tree with my spinning wheel, not that I need an excuse, but I do get side tracked by other things sometimes, which really are not as important as spinning under the oak.

Most of our fleece this year is either black or brown, with some splashes of white here and there. We still have some white mixed race sheep here but for some reason the fibre in these fleeces is quite short this year, possibly because we had quite a mild winter,so the sheep did not need too much protection from the cold, so I shall probably use them for dusting the house and will not spin them......but the dark fleeces of the pure bred Jacobs do have a longer length of hair so are ideal for spinning,  but dark brown is a bit, well, dark, so Ann suggested that I leave a fleece outside so that the sunlight fades it, which I think is a good idea especially since we have mid 30's C temperatures next week....might as well take advantage of that hot sun. At least that would give different tones to the dark brown.......

The wall dividing the hall with the back kitchen is now up, and we have now ordered new front doors and have the floor tiles for the hallway. Out in the veg plot and I weeded about half a metre of a weed filled row of beetroot before I was beaten back indoors by the strength of the sun, and it is getting hotter over the next few days. All the fields look brown now, with hardly any grazing to be had by anyone, so Lester has kept the cows in for a couple of days to give them respite from the sun and flies. We think we might have to buy in hay to get the sheep and cows through to the autumn if we do not have a good quantity of rain during July. Last year it kept raining right the way through summer and everything and everyone kept getting muddy and wet. This year it is the exact opposite. Oh well, not to worry, we'll cope..........

Mostly, all is well here, and I hope your patch of the world is well as well!

Bye for now,


Wednesday 24 June 2015

Rescuing the seedlings, etc....

Weeding in the veg garden, that is the ongoing task at the moment, but it is good for my back providing I bend over straight and do not bend over and then do a sideways twist, and it is probably good for my leg muscles too, and it is nice to be amongst things which are growing, but not the weeds, oh no, not the weeds, which are growing so fast that some are nearly knee high and are putting down roots which are being difficult to tug up. But it is a joyous thing to find vegetable seedlings as the weeds are lifted out one by one. When I thought all was lost, and there....nestled in the forest of weeds....there I find a kale, chard, beetroot, cabbage, etc.....but once free to grow without pressure from surrounding weeds that seedling can fall over in a faint. Sometimes I can prop it up, but most times it does a flop and looks quite sorry for itself. So I give it a water, and hope that it manages to carry on living.

There is something about being in the energy of a vegetable garden as it pushes towards the harvests. Quite some way to go on our patch yet though, so to encourage our seedlings to give their best I gave them all a feed of fertilizer yesterday. 

The sheep fleeces, (the sheep were sheared five days ago) have not been put away yet, and were still out by the sheep paddocks until last night, when cloudy skies at dusk suggested that perhaps we might get a drop of rain over night, which would have been a good thing for the fields and gardens, but not so good for anything else left out which should have been put away. If we had left everything where it was, it would have rained. But we covered everything over, and dragged the tarpaulin with the fleeces on it into the gate entrance. Of course it did not rain! 

I am still plodding my way through making the pork fat into lard. I do a parcel of fat every day, and still have three to go. But I have had a day here and there when I have not been of a mind to keep on making the lard and it is a job which should have finished....... not to worry, I shall plod on.

The afternoons of boiling heat have pushed me indoors, and I have been sewing again. Two pairs of pants made for made out of some left over navy blue cotton sheeting, and the other from some soft brushed cotton which apparently is very nice against the under carriage. I have made myself a blouse. It is good to start sewing again. 

I have also started spinning again. Was out under the oak tree as the day let go of itself last night, and I was spinning away. watching the dogs play nearby, hearing the sheep talking to each other, watching the last of the hens go back to the courtyard, enjoying the space of being outside. But I could spin for half an hour or so because spinning makes me dizzy. Not sure why this should be so, but it does, which perhaps is a good thing because I find sitting at the spinning wheel is addictive. But with the new fleeces waiting to be spun I need to start spinning again. Still not made anything with the stash of wool I am accumulating, but will start projects with it next winter.

Meanwhile, spinning under the oak tree is going to be a favourite occupation for the summer months ahead. I did have a yearning to buy a sunbed, I have this yearning every winter, and promise myself as the new year begins that I shall buy one when the summer stock appears in the local shops, thinking that I would spend endless hours in the sun reclining on it. Hah! I think not!!!! Too much I want to do........

Work is continuing with the back kitchen, and today the wall which to separate the back kitchen from the hallway is going to be started. We have ordered the door for it, and also looked at front doors, the front door we have being the original but beyond redemption. It would be nice not to have huge gales of cold air blowing through the house via the gaps in the wood of the door, not to mention those gaps also allow in and out access for rats and mice.  I shall be sorry to see it go, but its time is done. 

Also tried to order the floor tiles in the hallway to match the ones already laid down, but couldn't, because they aren't made anymore. Oh *******!!! Now we have to go searching for tiles again..... Not complaining, just mentioning this minor irritation.....

It is now time for our day here to begin, so I must away. 

Hope all is well in your part of the world,

Sending blessings to you,


Sunday 21 June 2015

The shearer man has been, and larding...

So yesterday the shearer man came and sheared the sheep. It was a relief that he did, because now the weather has got hotter, and we could see them panting with the heat out in the field. They needed to be done, and now they have.

And a good harvest of fleece this year, but with the dark fleeces being the best. Normally I sort out the fleeces in the days after the shearer has been, but this year I did it as I was given them. I took off all the daggy bits, which were dirty and poo-ey, and sorted out the best fleeces to keep. In the past I have kept all the fleeces, and then end up with bags of fleeces littering up the house because I never manage to spin them all. So this year, of the nine fleeces, I have kept six, plus two lamb fleeces, which are deliciously soft and fluffy. If they spin alright I might get the shearer to shear all the lambs.

I have only kept one white fleece, the rest are shades of brown to black. I was hoping to have more white fleece so that I could learn to dye it into different shades, but those fleeces are thinner and of a lesser quality than the browns. Not to worry, we shall just have to wear a lot of brown! I have not as yet made anything with the wool I have spun as time has not permitted, but I am building quite a stash so that when I do start I shall have enough to make things with. I shall also get a table loom soon, so I can make fabric.......

I did get ever so hot sitting outside working with the fleece. So did the young veggies out in the veg garden. First watering for several days last night. It was nice feeling the cool of the evening descend on us. As the day went down we could feel our tensions ease. This has been a stressful year so far. Having the work done to the house has given us a lot to think about, so our heads are tired. But there are magical moments of how it will be when Builder Jim has finished this phase of work. We had one of those last night. Coming in off the fields, we had a sense of a day well done.

I am still working with the pig fat which came out of the freezers when they were shifted at the beginning of the week. I thought that there were only a couple of bags of fat, but there were eight. Not to worry, I am going to make an effort at getting the job of turning it into lard finished today.

How I make lard:

- I cut the fat into smallish chunks, although sometimes they are bigger chunks if I am getting tired of cutting the fat. It is not the actually fat which is hard to cut, it is cutting through the skin attached to the fat which takes time.

- a large pot, the largest one you have....this avoids splashes everywhere as the fat melts. Sometimes there are little mini explosions in the melting liquid, which are not worrisome, but can make little messes here and there. Also to have a strong, metal, long handled spoon handy so that you have something to stir the melting fat with. This stops too much of the 'never-going-to-melt' bits of pork from settling down at the bottom of the pan and then getting glued together in a mass. Useful, also, to have a large plate beside the cooker, so that the spoon has somewhere to sit in between stirrings. A non-plastic ladle would also be handy.

- In to pot an an inch or so of water. In goes some of the fat. Lid goes on pot. Pot goes on the smallest ring of the cooker, which is put on medium heat. Pot heats up slowly. Once putting up a good set of bubbles, the heat is put down to just about on. Lid is taken half off to let steam evaporate.

- Frequently stir the fat as it melts. Put more pieces of fat in. Make sure the fat is gently simmering, turn heat up a bit if it isn't. Must be sure not to use too much heat on the fat otherwise it will burn and not taste nice. Better to take a long time over a very low heat.

- If the pan is getting too full, to scoop off the melted lard is a good idea. Do not want an overflow as this would cause a disaster....maybe a fire as the melted lard merges with the flame of the gas ring, or at the very least, a very horrid mess on the stove. Be careful though. This is hot lard and as liquid as water is. Spoon carefully. To avoid mess on the cooker, to put a teatowel as close to the hot pot as possible. A plate is then put on it, with a Pyrex bowl put on that, which almost touches the pot. This keeps the distance between pot and pan minimal, so that all the drips of hot fat will be captured before they make a mess. It is best not to fill the bowl. Just a few spoonfuls ladled into it from time to time will do.

- All fat now into pan. Continue with low heat until it looks like most is melted. Continue stirring occasionally.....there will be a lot of unmelted bits now in the bottom of the pan.

- When it looks like all the fat is melted, switch off heat. Let cool down.

- Have a very fine meshed sieve to hand, plus some containers for the lard.

Keeping the lard:

- Lard can be kept in the fridge, larder, or freezer, depending on how much has been made. It will keep very well whichever way it is kept, providing it has gone through the sieve first.

- Be warned, the transferal of lard to container can can get messy, so perhaps to have a plate underneath the jar or jug to catch any errant drips.

- If using jars: Wide necked  screw topped ones are best. Sit the sieve in the neck of the jar, and ladle the lard in. If keeping the lard in a larder or fridge, fill to near the top of the jar. Lid on. Wipe jar. If keeping the jar in a freezer: fill the jar, leaving a good space in case the lard expands during freezing. It probably doesn't, but just in case it does.....

- Leave jar on work surface until it goes solid. Why? Because one can then see the lard turning from liquid gold to a firmer white. And one can smile to one's self about doing a good job, which is good for the soul.

- Just a word: Lard never gets hard, it always stay soft, not liquid though, just not hard. Unless it is put into a freezer where it will go rock hard of course!

- And another word: Once gone to white, look at the bottom of the jar by holding it up high, not tipping the jar, over just in case the lard is still runny and the lid has not been closed properly (learnt through experience)..... the bottom of the lard should be as white as the top, but if there is a brown sediment then know that the lard was not sieved properly. Not to worry, the lard will still keep in the larder, but once opened it is best to keep that jar in the fridge, because the brown signifies the presence of tiny pieces pork rind (crackling) which might not like being exposed to the air for too long. (another bit of learnt experience) BUT if there is a small amount of brown sediment, and the jar is kept closed, then that jar will keep in the larder for quite some time. Probably best, though, to use that jar up first, or keep it in the fridge.

- if freezing the lard: a large jug with a neck which can support the sieve is best, plus some food safe plastic  containers, with or without lids depending on whether the lard is to be kept in the container or, once frozen, then removed from the container and put into a freezer bag.

- Putting  the lard straight from the pot into the container via the sieve is not a good idea. Best to put the lard through the sieve into the jug first. Holding the sieve over a container whilst ladling the lard into it can add to the amount of drips of lard that are left here and there as the distance between pot and container will be probably greater than between pot and jug. Trust me, I know through experience that this is so.

- With the lard being put into freezer containers it is not quite such a joy to watch the liquid gold turn to white so best to get those containers straight into the freezer. Once frozen, the now rock hard lard can be got out of the containers and put into freezer bags.

Now back to the pot:

If the lard making project is still on the go and you need to get more fat melted: 

- Scoop out all the liquid lard, as above, until the remains of the pork skin, (crackling) is met. This will be sitting in a thick layer at the bottom of the pan. Providing the lard is very cool, plunge one hand down into the pan, and let the fingers feel for the hardened bits of crackling. Lift them out and put them into a handily placed bowl nearby. Go back into the pot. Let the fingers feel around for more crackling. If the crackling is glued to the bottom of the pan, use a strong metal spoon to loosen it off. It will come.

- With a lot of crackling now out of the pot, but with non melted fat left still left in, re heat the pot as before, but without adding any water to it. Continue as before until the fat is all done.

If finished with the pot:
- Take out as much of the liquid lard as possible.

- Put the mix of crackling, bits of uncooked fat, and melted lard, which is all the contents of the pot, into a large sieve over a large bowl. Let drain.

- Once drained, put the liquid lard from the bowl through the fine meshed sieve into whatever storage containers are being used.

- The crackling and pieces of uncooked fat can now be delivered to whoever is going to eat it. For us it is my husband who now takes over this job. He will pick over the crackling for the best bits to eat himself, then it is given bit by bit to our dogs as nibbles. Sometimes it is given to the chickens but not often.

And a word: DO NOT leave the pot once the best of the lard is taken out, thinking that it would be best to sort the rest out later. That pot will look like a mighty task to get sorted out, but trust me when I say that to leave that pot until later will be silly. The reason? Because the liquid lard will start going more solid, and as it does so it will glue the crackling to itself and the pan. It will set hard. Most definitely it will do so, especially if the liquid lard has mostly been removed.

- Get as much of the contents as possible into that sieve over a bowl to drain (as above)

- Now.....Do not despair over the state of the pot. It will look grim. Not to worry. It will clean up, and quite quickly if there has not been a time delay between the removal of the lard and the cleaning of the pot.

- The pot will need soaking..... put a few inches of  hot water plus a really good dobbings of laundry liquid / powder into the pot. And now you can leave it until whenever you feel like tackling the job of getting that pot clean. In my case it is normally days! Bless me, but I would probably leave that pan soaking until I needed to use that pot again! By then any reside of pork crackling would have lifted away from the pan making it easier to clean.

And so .....what a task, but how rewarding as well. The lard can be used for pastry, and for frying and roasting. I still buy in olive oil for salad dressings, but we no longer use oil for cooking. At one time it was thought that lard was a dreadful thing to have in one's diet, but now that opinion has been reversed..... and that I shall write about later.

Anyway, have a go at making lard. It is easy to do!

Blessings of love and light to you,


Friday 19 June 2015

While waiting for the vet to arrive.....

We are waiting for the vet to arrive at any minute to take blood samples from our sheep. We are not looking forward to this job. Two years ago I was smacked in the chest by a leaping sheep, and last year Lester crushed his thumb. Hopefully no damage will occur this year, and at least the sheep still have their winter coats on so they will be easier to grab hold of.

So where is the sheep shearer? Not arrived yet. Lester said that he wanted to shear the sheep himself, but I said to wait until the numbers were down. The sheep shearer man is tall and burly, but even he kicks up a sweat as he shears, his bare chest dribbling with moisture and his black curly hair soaked all through.

Great things are happening in the back kitchen, the best being the covering up of the rat holes....

..... and here is one of them. When I first moved into the back kitchen a couple of years ago the walls were rough but there were no holes. Over time holes were made at floor level, but I did not know of the existence of these higher ones. I felt quite sick when Jim showed them to me. But now....

...... what's this! Feet and hands walking up the wall? Nooo, just Builder Jim  messing about in the wet plaster now covering the rat holed wall!

All three freezers are now out in the Middle Barn....

.... it was supposed to be a temporary move while the back kitchen was being done, but we think that we shall leave them out there. Not sure where Lester is going to put the mini tractor next winter, because this is the space he used last winter. 
And here is the now empty back kitchen.....

..... with the walls starting to get covered over. The door is the one which goes into the Middle Barn and the freezers, so they are still close by. This area is where the food storage shelves will be.

...and here is the right hand side of the space...this will be the laundry area, and on the left there is to be a sink and work top space which will be a mini dairy.

And turning round to look back towards the front kitchen.....there is to be a wall put up to separate this space, on one side will be the meat processing area, and on the other side will be the food prep area. It was not planned this way, but sort of arrived as work progressed. It is with some surprise, and relief, that I have come to realise that I shall have separate areas to do our food preparation and storage. It should make things a lot easier for me, and save a lot of time. It would be nice not to have to keep tripping over things. It would be nice to be tidier.

....well the vet still has not arrived, so I am off out into the veg garden to plant the onions which have been waiting a week to go into the ground. But first, in the middle of a patch muddle, here is Lester having a moment with Maz....


Tuesday 16 June 2015

All the cherries are done, so is one of the pigs....

Well I've done the cherries. I am sorry to say that having the harvest arrive when it did was a bit of a nuisance because of having lots of other things to do, like keep on finding homes for all the equipment and other stuff which was in the back kitchen. It's all moved out now, and Builder Jim is now working on the walls. He has already found a rat nest, with one mummified rat in situ. I was right about the rats having rat runs inside the actual walls, because the nest had two runs, one going downwards, the other going upwards, and all unseen by us. Oh well, it's all been stoppered up by concrete, which is a good thing, because when I was pottering about in the back kitchen it was always in the back of my mind that a rat would be around. And they were. The nest was at head height.
Anyway, I have got the cherries stored away, but dehydrated them instead, which was less effort to do than putting them into canning jars, which I did last year. I didn't do anything with the cherries, just got the pips out, cut them in half, and put them cut side uppermost on the dehydrator trays.
..which dried them into these....
..... which all went into a bag for winter use...
I am keeping an eye on the bag to make sure that no moisture appears on the plastic, which means that the cherries have not dried properly. So far so good. And the oddness is,  that these cherries of ours taste sour when fresh, but when dehydrated, they are a lot sweeter and definitely yummy, and will be taking the place of raisins and sultanas in cakes and desserts I bake.
I need to prune the cherry trees now. Keep dithering about doing so. Apparently you can never kill a fruit tree by pruning it, yet I still feel nervous about taking the scissors to our trees. I bought a big posh book about pruning trees. We have other books about pruning trees. There is the internet full of info about pruning trees. But still I dither.........
Did one of the three female pigs the other day. Had to do the job at daybreak because of the flies. We just managed to finish the job just as the first flies arrived. It is not the best time of the year to be slaughtering animals, but the job had to be done.
To cool the carcass down we put it into the freezer. Good job we bought big freezers. A few hours of chilling, and we were able to get the meat butchered. All done. 
Trying to stay positive at the moment. The back kitchen is now empty, which is good .....  and memories of the rat infestation in that area will fade away, encouraged to do so by the work of pour builder as he gets the walls repaired and then covered over with lime plaster. I once loved the look of the stone walls, but have come to realise that they might look attractive, but that they also are home to insects, rats, and mice, this I have learnt by living beside those walls. But our positivity seems to want to go downhill at the moment, probably assisted by this ongoing stormy, oppressive weather we are having at the moment.
...... and our builder has just said that the walls are sprinkled with lots of rat holes....must have been like the M25 inside those walls as rats scampered along their rat highways. Crikey, but I felt quite sick as I looked at those walls. Not to worry, the other side of the wall has already been repaired and sealed, and this side will be sealed soon. The rat war continues!!!

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Cherries, watering, and the well......

Well. things are as they are, and we are quite happy about this. However, sometimes this smallholding life can be quite tiring, making us wonder if it is all worth the effort. Of course it is! In our better moments we know this, but sometimes things have a habit of piling up, making one feel as if one is under a mountain of 'things to do'. That's when it is best to stop. Just for a little while.

We have a week off from our builder this week, which is a good thing because I have to shift everything out of the back kitchen so that can be sorted out. The lounge is now done, and looking good and ready for painting, the music room/ snug is just needing the paintwork finished, the kitchen is finished, apart from shelves still needing to be done, but is looking a total mess as it gets stuffed full of the contents of the back kitchen. Three months time, though, and all should be sorted out again. Meanwhile ..........

.....we suddenly noticed that the cherries were ripe. Good thing that the weather has been damp and breezy which seems to have discouraged the birds from doing a raid on them, leaving us time to pick them.

Nearly 6 kgs of cherries......that is what I now need to de-pip and can. 

Out on the veg plots......

Veg Plot 1:

The greenery you can see on the left is all weeds! But the faint lines of green on the right are seedlings coming up. Unfortunately those seedlings are tangled up with vigorous growing weeds, and it is taking an age to rescue them. A lot of seeds have not come up at all. Last night I got despondent about the state of the veg plot. Having started so late in the season we could not expect much effort from the seeds we planted, but the kale, cabbages, chard, some beetroot, a couple of tomatoes, a few coriander, other brassicas, and all the courgettes are up. But what we are doing well with are the beans. We had the idea of planting them along the fence line (on the right) so that they can climb the wire for support. All have come up. 

To make me feel a little cheered up about the veg plot, we bought a few plants. They looked a little sad in the shop, so I was quite happy to rescue them. 

We are watering the rows by hand, with watering cans. I am building quite sturdy arm muscles now. Carrying two full watering cans from the water butts to each individual row was a hard on me at first, but now I swing along, ....... well not quite, but I am getting there! 

So why water by hand? Because the weeds don't need any help to grow, and by using the hosepipe they are assisted to grow even more rampantly that they already are. Watering by hand gives us a feeling of having some control about what is watered and what isn't. 

So where is the water coming from? Our well out in the front garden. Lester has rigged up hosepipes, pumps, more hosepipes, another pump, and goodness knows what else, and fills this container, which is out back by doors to the middle barn .........

......the well dries up when the container is half full, so Lester does a morning and evening pump to give us the water we need. However, the well is starting to give us more at each pumping so we think that regular use is waking up the underground streams which feed the well.

From here the water is then pumped to Veg Plot 1, where we fill the water butts up. 

It's a start. Last year we watered from the pond in the woods, but we had a lot of rain last year so the pond remained full for most of the season. Most years, though, it dries up mid summer. We could use water from the river, but our big pump has died, so we can't. So, hopefully, the well will keep us going. 

Collecting rain water is on our list of 'to do's' but is way down that list at the moment!

Veg Plot 2:

...... and obviously nothing growing here, not even weeds! This is the work of the pigs, who have tilled the ground for us, but also given it a hard surface. If I have time I might plant some winter squash in this plot. Last year we had a huge harvest of squash, which fed the pigs for weeks, so it would be well worth the effort to get some harvest off this plot. Just need a bit of rain to soften the surface.

Veg Plot 3:

The three young pigs have just been put in this plot, and are just about to start digging it up. We are under pressure, though, to get them into the freezer because they are getting bigger by the day. Being Tamworths they are slow growers, but they seem to be doing a growth spurt lately, and are getting bigger by the day.

Need to have an Internet search about what to do about flea beetles, which seem to be happily populating themselves on the kale and brassicas. Would appreciate any helpful hints about what you do. Thanks.

Off to get some more cherries pipped, and then off out to the veg plot to get those plants I bought into the ground, otherwise they will sit around for days waiting for me to remember to do the job, which is a habit of mine........ I shall not say too much about the onions and leeks I bought and which sat in the bucket of water waiting to be planted out for so long that they all rotted. I felt bad about the waste of plant life and the waste of money, and vowed to be more self disciplined in the future.