Wednesday 26 August 2015

I'll do my side and you do yours!

So should you have taken it upon yourself to pop in for a cup of tea and a chat you would have found us outside by the vegetable garden, Lester and me having decided that enough was enough and that the Chicken Hut was now the top priority on the list of 'Things to Do". Why?

- They need to be got out of the courtyard because the chickens we hatched in our incubator nearly six months ago are growing really well, which is good. There are fifteen of them, plus the five adult hens that we already had, plus PegLeg who has a poorly leg but still manages to live a reasonable life. So, twenty one chickens. A good number, yes indeed......but not right outside the front door. Oh and I forgot to mention the six geese, who go out of the courtyard during the day but are in over night. Their poo is rather on the large side, and is the dog's favourite, with chicken poo being their second. The dogs need not to eat all this poo. Why? Because it comes back up either as sick or out of the other end as in doggy poos, both of these eliminations from either or both ends being mostly done at night. To

- They need to be got out of the courtyard because these twenty one chickens are making a lot of poo, which is not so good, especially when they lay siege by the front door in the hopes that I will appear with some tasty morsel of food for them, which doe not happen that often during the day, but they wait anyway, and poo while they wait. Having to sidestep the various piles of poo is becoming tedious.

- They need to be got out of the courtyard because Lester is now milking Lissie in the evenings. Lissie is not particularly fussed with having to share her udder with him and Flora, her young calf. To soothe her along, Lester gives her a bucket of special cow food, which she loves, diving her nose into it, tipping the bucket sideways so she has the right angle to get maximum mouth fulls.

Unfortunately the chickens like to hang out in the cow pens.. It is their special place, or so they think. They also like to rake about in the straw and hay for little bits of this and that to eat, which is alright if what they are eating is fly lavae, which reduces the adult fly population. It is also alright if they are eating morsels of grain which escape onto the ground as the cows eat.....better that they eat it rather than the rats.

However, it is not alright to eat the grain that the cow is eating at the same time as the cow is eating it...... as in trying to get into the bucket at the same time as Lissie is eating from it. Last night a cluster of young chickens tried to do just that at the same time as Lester was milking her. It was too much for Lissie, and she threw a bit of a hissy fit. Lester didn't want to do battle with her, and since he was satisfied with the two litres she had allowed him to have anyway, he did a tactful retreat. Milking time is going to prove a difficult exercise if the chickens insist on having their share of Lissie's grain as well. They have to be got out of the courtyard if all is to be reasonably calm at milking time.

- They need to be got out of the courtyard because some of them roost in the fig tree, which is alright at the moment because there is plenty of leaf on it so they have good shelter, but it will not be so good during the winter when the leaves have dropped and they will exposed to whatever the weather throws at them. The rest roost on a saw bench which belongs to a friend. It is covered in droppings. It will have to be cleaned off. It is a job no one is keen to do. Also there is the possibility of something coming over the walls of the courtyard and taking a chicken or two away with them. It has not happened so far this year, but ..........

- They need to be got out of the courtyard because I want to tidy the place up. Chickens are cute, funny, have different personalities, and lay eggs. Where are these eggs? We do not know. One a day is all we are finding, and now I am having to buy eggs from the supermarket. We need to organize those chickens so they lay eggs where we say they should lay them, and not where they will think they will, which at the moment must be where the dogs or blackbirds or magpies or the local courtyard snake can find and eat them (do snakes eat eggs?).

 - They need to be got out of the courtyard because I would love to put the washing on the line without being mobbed by chickens. I would love to show my face outside the front door without being mobbed. I would love to come and go out of the house without worrying about either stepping in chicken poo or bringing chicken poo into the house on the bottom of my feet.

There!!! So that is why the chickens need to go somewhere else, re: The Chicken Hut Project.
Now this has been ongoing for over six years. First we used a curved piece of tin as a temporary chicken hut, which was alright for a while, and then most of the chickens we had then abandoned the hut for the fig tree, after which most of them got eaten by foxes.  Not to worry, we got more chickens and carried on, but  the Chicken Hut Project retreated down the list of 'Things To Do'.

No more! The chickens must have a proper home......... and here you would have found us this morning should you have thought about calling in...

...out back. And you see that tall mass of greenery to the left? It is a bramble hedge, and very thick and vigorous one it is too. This is where the Chicken Hut is to be. So, first step......

....... this hedge needs to be cut down. And if you look really hard you can see a glimmer of light in the other side of the hedge, and this is where the front garden is. Lester is on that side. I am on this side. He starts cutting on his side, I start cutting on mine. The aim is to meet in the middle of the soon to be cleared area.

Two hours later and the brambles are getting thinner, and the scratches on my hands and arms are getting more....actually they weren't because I had taken the precaution of putting a long sleeved jumper on, which was sensible in one way because my body remained untouched by bramble thorns,  but silly in another because we have high temperatures again, and I roasted up a treat with so much clothing on. Not to worry, I have been scratched to pieces at other times of cutting the brambles and this time I wasn't, so I have told a wee small fib, which I shall call 'poetic licence'........

Oh, so, anyway, we pushed on......

.... and the ground became clear enough for me to be nearly walking on these stones, which I avoided doing today because of snakes. I have already mentioned the courtyard snake, but there are several other snakes around as well, not forgetting the one that got eaten by the chickens after Lester shooed it out of the house. The very look of these stones suggests that something might be living amongst them, so today I avoided walking on them. It was lunch time anyway, so time for me to stop work. By the way, these stones are where the base of the Chicken Hut is going to go.

Last photo of the day, and we nearly have that patch of brambles cleared.

Lots more to cut though, but at least we have made a start. What will we do when we aren't tripping over chickens, or standing in chicken poo, or trying to find chicken eggs..........

Bye for now.....


Monday 24 August 2015

We really need to get a hay manger.....

We really need to sort out a better place to put the hay than on the floor in the cow pens. And Bonny here showing what happens when Lester puts fresh hay in......which is why the hay gets all over the floor and ends up as her bedding.

We have tried putting the hay in a container but the cows still lift it out with either their mouth or horns, and I did try making a hay net but realised that it was going to take far to long to fill the net with hay. I couldn't see either Lester or me having the patience to do that, so on the floor the hay goes. We need either a metal or wooden manger put up on the wall. We know what we need. We just have not got round to making them.

Meanwhile, Flora is still taking life easy. Not much happening with her at the moment, just staying close to mum's udder. By the way, not sure why only one teat is visible in this photo....there should be three others! Lester says he is going to start milking tonight, 'Just a drop or two' he said, ' we can stop having to buy milk for our tea'. Not sure if Lissie is going to oblige about sharing her milk though and I anticipate a bit of an argument between her and Lester.

The cows and sheep have to be in for three days and then out in the fields for two. This is to give the grass on the fields time to grow, which it is now starting to do. This has been the pattern for all of the summer because of the heat and lack of rainfall, but now we have fallen into a pattern of four/ five days dry and then two or three days of storms and rain, which is much needed. Thank goodness that the grass is growing again........

And here is Bonny again, licking her lips in anticipation of the treat she thinks I have for her, like leaves of chard, bay, or beetroot, or a few bush beans...... Sorry Bonsy, it's only the camera and you can't eat that! She is due to calf soon. It will be her first. 

On the home front, all is well. We had a restful weekend, which was much needed. Off to make some courgette patties for toast this morning because I didn't get round to making bread, and we are out of porridge, so patties it will have to be. 

Bye for now.....

Mid morning.....last seen.....two cows plus one calf herding the sheep round and round the main field, the cows merrily kicking up their heals as they went, the calf keeping up with them very well, but the sheep, no, they were not fussed.
And I have had a good airing as well out in the veg garden. One bucket of weeds each for the pigs, cleared out one row of leeks and got them earthed up, started prepping some ground for winter seeds, never had a go at growing veg over winter so thought I would have a go....but by crikey it was blowing a gale, and, as I have said already, I really did get a good airing. After a while, though, my legs said they wanted a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. Not sure why my legs said that, possibly because they wanted to stop carrying the rest of me around and needed a sit down. Anyway, here I am, writing to you again......Vx

Friday 21 August 2015

Flora is here!

And Flora has arrived.....born over night, probably in the early hours because she was still damp and a little shivery as I took these photos.

We knew a calf was on the way, but we didn't know exactly when, although we should have because she was conceived by artificial insemination, but, well, we have not been very organised this year so time slipped by and Lissie got bigger, and the time was getting close, but we did not know how close, and then Flora was here.

....and a chicken on the prowl for food, and Lissie having an itch.....

..... and one eye of Lissie catches one eye of the hen.......

...... and Lissie, full of maternal protectiveness, charges the little white hen, "**** off", she says, not in real words of course, but in the language an upset mum cow would use.

..... and back to making a fuss of Flora.... we have been caught out again. The milk from Lissie after the last calf she had, well most of it fed the seven piglets so it wasn't wasted. Some of it I made into butter, some of it we drank, some it was used for cooking with, but no cheese was made because I refuse to make any more cheese until we have a special place to keep it. Cheese does not do well at all if kept in the bottom of the fridge to mature, this I have learnt. So, as I say, I went on strike with making cheese last time Lissie gave us milk.

The Cheese Cave Project:
We don't have a cellar, which is where a cheese cave is traditionally kept, but we have this.....

.... which is the understairs cupboard in the small middle kitchen, which also is the home of the electricity box, but it will have to do....

The white and brown blob is the rear end of Boolie, who is having an investigation into something or other, and on the wall to the right is the electricity cupboard.

We are going to line the space with insulation, put some shelves along the left wall, make a small hole in the wall for ventilation, and find some way of keeping an even temperature with the right level  of humidity.

Wow,.....the making of the we come!!!!

...... and soon Bonny, our other cow, will have a calf. Not sure how I am going to manage such a lot of milk coming in to the kitchen, but I shall have a go. Gosh, exciting times..... the back kitchen is now finished, and I have just about managed to get everything organised in it, and will post photos soon. The middle kitchen is going to be finished soon, which is the cheese cave and work surface for baking and cheese making area. The front kitchen, which gets tidier by the day because the back kitchen is the food production and storage area, is now finished apart from some shelves being put up.

Why do I need three kitchens?....because it separates out all the jobs that the wife of a smallholder needs to do. In other words, it gives organisation to a very busy life. I was doing all these jobs in one kitchen, which was temporary anyway, and to be quite honest with you, I just went round and round in ever tightening circles, getting very stressed along the way. But now I feel nicely stretched out as I move between those kitchens. I must say that I feel very blessed to have been given the opportunity to live this life, and have the space in which to do so.......

So Flora is here, but cannot stay because we are too small a farm to keep three cows, so she will have to be sold on. This we are not happy about, but it is as it is, there are no other options. Meanwhile we shall enjoy having her around and put away our sadness about it being for only a short time.

Chilly here this morning, the first tinge of the colder months ahead on their way.

Bye for now,


Thursday 13 August 2015

Chard, and me in my potager......

This is one of our favourite plants in the veg plot this year, and oh what a pretty plant it is. It is unfortunate, therefore, that we don't actually like the taste of chard. This might be because it is a vegetable which we have not grown before so perhaps I am not cooking it right, but then we only had it the once. But chard is going to be an ongoing vegetable here because it flourishes under difficult conditions, so we really need to learn to like eating it and not push it to the side of our plates, after which it goes out to the chickens, so it isn't wasted, but I am a stubborn biddy and would like to get in into our own food system.

However, I read that it is the white chard which is better, so I will have another go at cooking leaves from that plant only, and not mix the gorgeous red chard with it which, according to web info, is the bitter one. I shall not be defeated on this. Chard has survived the long, hot, dry, weather very well, so I think it is only right that I learn to cook it in a way in which we like it to be cooked. Would anyone have any helpful hints about how I can do this? Any help would be much appreciated.

But the cows like it. Bonny especially does. After giving her only one leaf to try she now gives a little groan of anticipation whenever she sees me. Makes her sound all gooey. I feel blessed that we have this close association with our animals. It is a lovely feeling knowing that they can feel pangs of pleasure as well.

It has been a hard summer for our cows and sheep. With no grazing out on the fields they have had to stay indoors a lot. To help them keep healthy we bought in some silage. They love it. but at 25 euros (about £20 / 28 dollars) a bale, which lasts about four days, it is an expensive treat. Not to worry, they are worth it, and we need to keep them well fed if they are to get through the winter months ahead.

.....and here are some leaves of chard waiting to be given to the cows sitting on top of a bucket full of snap beans, which have done really well despite a lot of the plants looking sickly. Well, so now what do I do with all that lot? Dehydrate them, that is the plan, and immediately, not tomorrow, or the day after...... in the past I have frequently dallied about getting the harvest sorted out once it has come into the kitchen. Problem is that the veggies and fruit do not want to linger at peak condition waiting for me to get round to putting them into storage. Nature is a strong creature, and will push those veggies and fruit into decay quite quickly, this is what I have learnt. Okay, so the animals will eat the rotten mush, but that is not the point of growing produce which we are supposed to eat. Get off my butt, that is what I have to do, and get a move on with getting the produce stored.

This year I have to dehydrate everything because I am not set up for using my canner, and I don't want to put anything other than meat into the freezers because of the time it takes to rummage through everything to find what I want meanwhile getting cold fingers along the way. So dehydrating everything is what I am going to do this year, and making an effort to get whatever comes in from the veg garden into the dehydrator on the same day, if not the next morning.

By the way, it has taken me several days to write this blog, and meanwhile I have done those beans in the bucket, plus another lot I picked the next day, plus the few I picked last night, and for that effort I am quite pleased with myself!

And here is me in the potager, looking serene as I harvest the coriander. To the right of me are the bush beans, then a row of cabbages which are doing well, and then the coriander. I looked tranquil, and I did feel tranquil......


...but then there are days when I am frazzled........

...just saying that 'living the dream' is not always smooth sailing, when the moments of tranquillity have to be held on to during the times when one's self is cooking away with a million tensions. And then the cows twinkle their eyes at the sight of me carrying a few leaves of chard towards them, and the chickens coo and cluck around me hoping to seduce me into giving them more food, or the rottweiller girls try ever so hard to love me up so that I forgive them for escaping to the river yet again, or Lester romps in, collapsed with laughter because the snake which was by the fridge in the front room (!!!!????!!!!! wot snake????!!!!) and which he was shooing out had got picked up by one of the hens even though the snake had gone into cobra stance and lifted its head and hissed at the chicken but which took no notice and ate its head anyway and raced off with the dangling body hanging from her beak with all the rest of the chicken flock in frantic pursuit.
.... and then there was  the sight of Lester picking up the last of the tarpaulins from off the hallway floor, which gave me a lumpy moment in my chest because it means that we are now going to have proper floors throughout the house which means that we shall have floors which are easier to keep clean, and I shall not run the risk of tripping up on the tarps when I am in 'scurry about the house' mode, which I have often done in the past. (The tarpaulins were put over the concrete floors when we moved into the house from the caravans in an effort to control the amount of cement dust which was made in the air as we walked over the floors)
...and if you have any helpful hints about how to cook chard then I would be most grateful. Thanks.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

It was the maggots that did it!

Here are some bees. They are not our bees because last year ours did not survive.
Hornets, that is what killed our bees, but not before they had set up swarms,
one of which we kept, the other we let go off to find a new home. 

The thing is, that these bees might be from that swarm, we do not know,
but it would be nice to think that they were, and here they are,
back in the courtyard, but only for a few hours,
just long enough to collect the honey,
which was made by the original bees,
and which they now were taking back to wherever they lived.

But ......why didn't we take the honey? 
After all, that is the main reason why bees are kept. 
Lack of organisation and knowledge that is why. 

So..... our bees came under attack from hornets, and / or been on crops which had been chemically sprayed. Either way, their numbers dwindled,
but we did not know this, had seen them flying to and fro the hives, 
and assumed that all was OK with them. 
It was not until late summer that I noticed the hornets hovering in front of the hives waiting to ambush the bees as they tried to fly into the hives.
But life was being its usual busy self,
no excuses, just the same old story of trying to renovate a house, and build and run a smallholding at the same time. There is not enough time and energy to efficiently do both, and things which should done are not. 
For the bees, this meant that the hornets won the day. 
The crop poisoning we could do nothing about.

Late autumn 2014, and it was with much sadness that we realised that all the bees had died.
A few weeks later, and Lester had the urge to have a look inside the hive, just in case there might still be a few bees left. There were not. But what he did find was a super half laden with honey. 
This he brought into the house.
He was keen to immediately get the honey released, but I was in the middle of doing other things, so we didn't. And then I did have time but Lester didn't and so it went on, with neither of us finding a moment which both of us were not occupied with doing other things. 
So the super sat on top of one of the freezers, covered over, waiting for us to do the job.

 And then it became time to move the freezers out into the middle barn. 
The super was picked up. It was sitting in a puddle of honey. This tweaked my guilt no end. I hate waste, and this was indeed a waste.
So the super was put on a box in the front kitchen.
It had not quite climbed up to the top of the 'To Do' list, but was on its way up.

Weeks continued to roll by. 
I kept almost starting the job of getting the cells uncapped from the frames,
but didn't, 
looking at the little trickle of darkness dribbling down the side of the box on which the super was sat as honey drying in the air. 
It wasn't.
But I thought it was.
No good. Must do. 
'Honey harvest' day had arrived.

And so it came to be the morning of the day, and it was time to get the honey out. 
Ah, but no, it was not to be........
As I lifted off the cloth on the super, what did my eyes see,
but a jumble of maggots.
The dark trail running down the side of the box was their excrement.
Oh. Oh, Oh.

Nothing to do but go find Lester.
On wings of speed did my feet fly,
with the main thought being in my head that I hoped that the maggots would stay in the super and not go gallivanting all over my nice new kitchen. 

But Lester responded with admirable speed,
and he gathered up the super, still covered with the cloth,
and got it out into the courtyard,
there it was upturned so the frames fell out,
some were still full of honey,
the maggots not having got to those yet. 

So what to do with all those maggots!
Charging out from wherever they had been skulking came the chickens, 
racing at full speed towards what they saw as their breakfast.
They must have had full tummies by the time the last of the maggots was eaten.
There had been an awful lot of maggots.

And then the hornets came, to feast off the harvest.
 But no, they were not going to be allowed,
 so I covered everything up with a cloth, 
not sure what to do with it all, but a problem for tomorrow.

To tidy the courtyard up a bit, I scooped the now maggotless frames into plastic storage bins,
and covered them over to keep them away from the hornets.
The flies were also buzzing. 
I did have a silly fleeting thought that perhaps I should let the flies go on the frames again,
so they could lay eggs,
which would then produce good protein meals for the chickens,
once the maggots hatched.
But I dismissed this thought quite quickly,
realising that this was the stuff that nightmares were made of.

It was now the morning of the next day,
and I could not help but lift a tiny corner of the cover to see if all the maggots were done.
None could be seen,
so yes, all were recycled into our egg laying hens.

And then it came to be time for the afternoon nap.
Upon waking, Lester called out that he was off to get something or other from the shops,
adding that there were lots of bees flying about.
What bees....

These bees!
And wow, but there were thousands of them,
milling about,
dancing on the cover of the box,
and making a thick carpet on the frames inside the box.

Bless them, they had come to fetch the honey.
And it had a 'feel good' factor that they had done so,
for not only was the problem of what to do with the honey sorted,
but it was being recycled to a worthy cause.
After all, bees had worked hard to make the honey in the first place,
it was only right that they should make use of it,
when we could not.

And then the hornets came.
And I started swotting the hornets.
I only got stung once.
Not to worry.
A slosh of cider vinegar on the bite sorted that out.

And now the feasting is done.
No bees have come,
the hornets have finally given up,
and now the frames lie waiting for me to get the wax unstuck from the frames.
It may take a while. 
This job is on the bottom of the 'To Do' list at the moment.

We have not given up with bees.
I have an affinity with them which I do not fully understand.
Perhaps in a previous life I was a bee keeper,
or maybe even a bee.
But the Bee Project is also down at the bottom of the Project List.
Ah well,
there is always another year.