Category Archives: Produce

Harvest challenges

Things have been busy here, we are well into the harvest season and I have to admit it is getting to be a bit of a struggle to keep up with everything! I do think we are doing better each year with the animals and growing, but there is still so much more we could harvest and could be doing with the land.

I’ve actually decided to join in with a challenge that I saw on another smallholding blog, Holding On 4. The aim is to harvest 5lbs of something each day for 50 days. It can be fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, meat, eggs, well pretty much anything. On her blog she wasn’t counting anything that she was eating that day, but I’m not quite that hardcore. We are including things that we pick to eat or put out to sell but we aren’t including the eggs. I do find that it can be quite easy to get bogged down in the jobs that keep things ticking over, especially in the house, and leave things unharvested, so I am hoping that this keeps me going out each day. I started on Friday and smashed the goal with a harvest of 11lbs. 2lbs 10.9oz of cucumbers, 10.2 oz yellow courgette, 11.7oz green courgette, 3lbs 11.9oz of yellow plums, 1lbs 2.4oz of cooking apples and 2lbs 4.3oz of red onions. The next day we were away for the day so I only collected a few apples to take with us. 3lbs 11.1oz of Beauty of Bath apples. And today we were out again so we didn’t harvest anything at all.  14lbs 14.5oz over 3 days. Sam isn’t sure we will manage to have 5lbs of things to harvest each day, and days we are away it will be hard, but it’s a fun little challenge.

Speaking of daily harvests, we now have another incentive to get out and picking each day. We have started putting some of the veg out on the stall to sell along with the eggs. We haven’t had many sales yet, but I am hoping that, like with the eggs, it will pick up soon. We just need people to take a chance on us and then hopefully they will come back based on the taste. Our tomatoes this year are delicious.

Our ‘farm gate’ stall

I’ve set myself another mini challenge and this one might actually be achievable. We were getting quite behind on the harvesting and the fridges and freezers were filling with the things we had harvested. To work our way through I decided to try and harvest at least one thing a day and do at least 1 batch of preserving each day. That could be freezing if needed, but also includes dehydrating, jam, wine, chutney, juice, fruity spirits, or sauce. Last week I turned my hand to drying plums (purple and red) and tomatoes, plum (purple) and blackberry wines, plum brandy, blackberry rum, blackberry and plum jams, passata and a cucumber and apple chutney.

I spoke a bit about preserving last year, mainly saying that I hadn’t done much of it so far! We did a little bit last year but chutney and jam were still new to me this year. I was quite nervous to try them but so far they have gone down a treat with everyone who has tried them. I’m really looking forward to trying to keep up this harvest 1/preserve 1 a day, it’s making it manageable and keeping the gluts under control. I’m open to all kinds of recipes so fire away if you have any. Especially anything with cucumber that will keep!

Between all the harvesting, preserving, cleaning out sheds, getting set up to sell more complicated food items, and dropping my laptop (which means it will no longer run chrome for some reason) I just haven’t been able to come on here much. I am hoping that now I’m a bit more comfortable with internet explorer, I’ll be on more regularly. I need to update about the geese, and the chickens, and all the things we are growing.

Dans

The birds and the bees

Time to talk about something other than the sheep!

The geese are doing well and we are expecting our first goslings on Thursday. We had 3 eggs under April and she was sitting really well but last Thursday I could have sworn it was her rather than Abigail off the nest. The next day I was certain and Sam checked to see that there was indeed a goose on the nest. It turns out Abigail and April have swapped. I don’t know if April was getting worn out and Abigail stepped in (April wasn’t in the best condition to start but we just could not break her broodiness). Or it could be that as we are getting close to hatching day the eggs have made Abigail go a bit broody too. Either way when I looked again on Saturday April was back on and Abigail was off. On Monday evening we got a surprise, a little gosling running around outside with April, Barbara and Athos. Abigail was sitting on the nest still.

When I finally got a peek at the nest today there were 6 eggs under April. It would seem that Abigail was sitting on the nest to lay eggs. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing which are the new eggs and which are the old ones with soon to hatch chicks. I think we will wait until the end of the week then try to candle to work out what is going on. We may have to take away the newer eggs to stop April from running herself into the ground sitting.

It’s the season for broodiness and Alice, one of our Brown Marsh Daisy hens. went broody 4 weeks ago. We popped 2 eggs from our Cream Legbar hens, 2 eggs from our Cuckoo Maran hens and 2 eggs from Brienne (a hybrid) under her. All fathered by Aramis of course. We candled the week before they were due and all 6 eggs were fertile and developing well – go Aramis! Friday before last we spotted 2 chicks.  One from a Cream Legbar egg and the other from a Brienne egg. The next day when Alice got off the nest there were two more slightly damp chicks and 2 eggs under her, another Cream Legbar egg and a Cuckoo Maran egg had hatched. She had a poop stretched her legs and I removed the old egg shells. She went back into the nest box and sat on eggs and chicks, I figured all was fine. Unfortunately, when we went out 3 hours later it turned out she had left the remaining two eggs, they were cold. It could have been from me removing the shells but it may also have been the older chicks being 2 days old now and running about. We had a similar thing happen last year and we lost those two eggs. We bought an incubator as a back up after that.

First two chicks!

We dug the incubator out and got the two, now very cold eggs, inside. As I put the eggs in I saw that there was a large bit of shell missing from the underneath of the Brienne egg. You could see the chick’s back and there was no movement at all. I put the remaining Cuckoo Maran egg into the incubator and slowly peeled off the shell of the Brienne egg. There was a fully formed, ready to hatch (yolk sack completely absorbed) chick inside but no movement at all, even on the eye. The only thing I can think is that Alice either stepped on it as she left the nest or crushed it slightly while sitting. As it has been so hot she removed all the bedding from around the eggs and had them on the base of the broody coop. I waited patiently for the Cuckoo Maran egg to show any sign of hatch and my hopes dwindled.

Egg in the incubator

They were restored two days after we popped the chick in when I saw a small crack in the egg. It was pipping! We were away during the day and when we got back a bit more of the shell had been cracked open. We kept checking that evening but nothing. The next morning I heard a cheep and I cheeped back, it got very excited, cheeped at me and rolled the egg! We managed to actually be there for the hatching which was amazing to watch and we got a video so you can watch too. We let the chick dry off, and gave some crumb and water in the incubator. It was 3 days younger than any of the other chicks but we decided to try and have Alice raise it. We went out after dusk the day it hatched and slipped it under. Sam waited to hear any sounds of Alice rejecting it but there was nothing. We left it and crossed everything we had.

Freshly hatched

The next day we couldn’t see a chick, but we couldn’t see a body either which gave us some hope. Later that evening we finally saw the chick all fluffed up. The chicks all ran under Alice when I approached but when I spoke a little black one ran out, it had remembered my voice! It’s doing fine now, and although it’s a bit behind the others in development it’s still firmly one of the brood. As with the sheep it was another lesson in sitting on my hands and leaving nature to do its thing. If I had intervened too soon and ‘helped’ the chick hatch I could have ruptured blood vessels and caused it to bleed to death.

Alice and her babies. The incubator chick is the black one with the small dot on its head.

Just as we thought all the broodiness was coming to an end Brienne went broody. We decided this time to get some pure breed eggs to go under her. The Derbyshire Redcap is a British rare breed that is on the Priority list according to the Rare Breed Survival Trust. They are meant to be a good duel purpose breed and lay a good number of large white eggs. The only other white egg layer we have is Buffy and her eggs are on the small side. They also look very different to any of our hens. I had looked for some Derbyshire Redcap eggs when Alice went broody but I couldn’t find anyone selling them or adult birds. When I went searching for rare breed hatching eggs for Brienne I was very happy to find a listing for Derbyshire Redcap eggs, and not too far away so we didn’t have to worry about postage. We popped them in a new broody coop (needed something large enough for Brienne!) and she sat immediately and has been quite rooted. I do hope she makes a good mum. We will miss her monster eggs though!

A broody Brienne

It also turned out that the breeder had some pullets for sale. We have been running out of selling eggs quite quickly. When we first started we liked to have 4 boxes of eggs on the gate. We even got a back log a few times and took selling eggs into our own usage. Now we are struggling to keep even 1 box in stock and quite often a box is gone within half an hour of me putting it out. People had said we should advertise on the main road, and I did make a sign but we are selling out without it! It is great but I also hate disappointing people and we certainly have room for more hens. We would have liked POL hens, but finding POL rare breed hens that haven’t been vaccinated seems to be ridiculously hard. I have been searching and searching and finding very little. These pullets are only 17 weeks old so a few weeks off laying still but they should help us out. We bought 3 and haven’t given them any names yet. They are quite skittish at the moment but I am hoping they will settle down.

Our 3 Derbyshire Redcap pullets

Right the thread title promised birds and bees. Weekend before last we went to the Rutland show, as a day trip out but also to scout it out as a potential place to show our sheep in future. It was a great day out and at the end we stumbled past a ‘bee tent’. The Leicestershire and Rutland Bee Keepers Association were there and they literally had a tent full of bees. They had suits for people to put on and go and have a bee experience. We have been very keen on the idea of bees, they would be great for increasing our pollination, provide us with some honey (possibly for mead) and would do our bit to help out the bees. We even bought a bunch of second hand equipment from some smallholders who were selling up last year. We have been a bit nervous though as Sam doesn’t think he would have the balance to work with the bees and I wasn’t sure if I would have a panic attack being cooped up in a suit and surrounded by flying things.

It was the end of the day and we were all tired but I couldn’t walk past this opportunity so in I went. It was brilliant. I was very nervous to start with but I found the suit reassuring and felt surprisingly calm in with the bees. It was great getting to see a hive up close and be hands on. It wasn’t a full hive but it was a still a good experience, exactly what I needed to make me think more seriously about courses and our local bee keepers association. The only worry I have now (other than swarms) is how heavy the hives can get when full. My back is such a weak point on me that I’m worried I would have trouble lifting things. It’s still worth further investigation though, I’m over my first hurdle in the journey to beekeeping!

All suited up

Right I think that is enough waffling for today. Should be some posts on blade shearing and what we are getting up growing fruit and veg soon. If there’s anything you would particularly like to read about from the smallholding then just leave a comment and I’ll do my best to do a blog post on it.

Dans

 

Musical animals

I’m a bit late posting this but there’s nothing new about that!

Following from our weekend of the unexpected we decided to set some of our plans in motion and went for a non-stop Monday of Musical Animals. We had our good friend Lis over, but just for the day and the vet booked in. It ended up being such a busy day that I didn’t take any pictures of us doing bits, but I’ve managed to go around and take a few snaps in the following week.

Lis arrived the Sunday night, with another one of our good friends, Kay. We decided to put their presence to good use and set above adding 4 more chickens to our flock. We actually bought them 10 days prior, but they have been in quarantine. We now have another 2 Cream Legbars (although these do meet the breed standard so look quite different to Annie and Awen) and 2 Cuckoo Marans. The Cuckoo Marans aren’t a rare breed but I do like the brown eggs that they lay and they are a nice meaty bird so we made an exception. The eggs are a bit lighter than I was hoping for, but they do seem to vary in colour from day to day.

The new girls

We waited until the birds had gone to bed and were sleepy then removed them one by one and added a green leg band to one of each breed, just so we can tell them apart. Their wings had already been clipped by the breeder. As we have the girls free ranging we like to clip their wings for the first season here. Once they know that this is home we leave them unclipped. We then moved the new girls (still to be named) into the main chicken house. They should all wake up together and between the large space they have and Aramis’ policing there should be a fairly peaceful merger between the two groups. We kept checking regularly for the next day or so, ready to separate if any issues, but there was no need. We also did a head count for the first couple of nights in case they didn’t find their way back to the house but they were all there.

A lot of things I’ve read has said to keep the chickens penned up but visible to each other for a week prior to introductions but we haven’t seemed to need this with our set up. There’s the odd squabble around the feeder or at corn time but we’ve not had any injuries with new introductions and this time was much the same. I do put it down to a combination of the space and Aramis’ presence.

Monday morning saw the vet here bright and early. The first stop was the geese. I have been worried about April for quite a while now. The geese don’t take the wormer very well (they very rarely eat as much of the pellets as we would expect them too) and the vet wasn’t really sure what else we could worm them with. April also has this odd protrusion on her chest, which I had thought was her keel showing through. It turns out it’s not her keel but rather her crop and it is likely showing due to her being a bit underweight. I’m not really all that sure what we can do about that as we give corn but if we give too much they just leave it and we offer pellets but they don’t eat those either. We try and make sure they have plenty of grass but obviously something is stopping her putting as much weight on. She did have a slightly mucky bum when she came out of the bird flu quarantine but that has cleared up. The vet said if she was looking at her she wouldn’t be too bothered and if the bum gets mucky again we can check for coccidia (a parasite), but otherwise she wouldn’t worry.

That was a bit of a weight off my shoulders. I’m still not sure I’m happy for her to sit on eggs (April gets very broody) but that’s no longer an issue as when we last pushed her off the nest to eat she decided to stop laying completely. We’ve had no eggs for over a week now so I’m starting to think she has stopped for the season, which is a bit of a disappointment but hopefully she will put some condition on and be ready for a good breeding season next year. So now we are down to just Barbara laying eggs. Which I suppose is a bit of a blessing as we have had absolutely no interest in goose eggs at the farm gate stall.

Next up was the sheep. We gave everyone a white wormer as I saw Nematodirus eggs in my faecal egg count, and they all got their Heptavac vaccinations which will give protection to their lambs. She had a quick look at Aeryn’s feet and suggested a little more trimming and to keep an eye on them. Anya’s feet also needed a little trim. Other than that they all seemed fine and had a BCS of about 2.5.

We waved the vet off and then got to work. First job was to release the geese. They had been penned up for the past 10 days so that there was less grass to eat, that should, in theory, make them more likely to eat the worming pellets. They still didn’t eat much but we couldn’t keep them penned forever. They were very happy to be free and had a good run up and down then dove into the grass. We set up the hurdles around the trees again and to cover their water and that will stay like that until the end of April when hopefully the restrictions will be relaxed.

Goose worming pen

The rest of the hurdles went across the road to finish fencing off the 0.5acre we are trying to get under control. We have used heras panels for the rest of it but 2 hurdles make for an easy entry point and somewhere to hang the hay rack. The aim is Anya and Aelin will get this area under control whilst also no longer bothering the pregnant girls or eating up the good grass. Then later in the year it may be of use to the other girls and/or their lambs.

Then it was time for the most daunting job of the day, getting Anya and Aelin across the road to their new home. I had ummed and ahhhed about how best to do this. I finally made a decision and I bought a halter. I figured we would walk them across with me holding onto the halter and them following Sam. The sheep have got so good at following Sam everywhere that I was hoping the halter would just be back up for us being on the road. It ended up being a bit of a disaster, likely because the sheep aren’t used to halters at all. We opened the hurdle, I let Anya out (she is the tamer of the two) and suddenly we were in a rodeo with Anya jumping and kicking and me hanging on the end of the halter. Thankfully it was probably less than a minute of this before I caught her up again and got her back in with Aelin, it felt like forever though. In the end we got the trailer out (not attached to the car), loaded the girls up really easily (have I mentioned that Sam is a sheep whisperer) and pushed the trailer across the road. The girls unloaded without looking back and have munched away in there ever since, barely batting an eyelid at us. In fact they have given us a few scares by hiding in the long grass.

More hurdle and heras panel moving and we had the middle third of the sheep field ready for the pregnant girls. They saw the gate was open and meandered in and set to work on the grass, again no longer interested in us for nuts or hay, so I take it as a good thing. The hope is that they will stay on here until they start lambing, then spend a day or so inside and turn out onto some fresh grass we have set aside for after lambing.

The pregnant girls, munching away.

That was finally all the animals moved to where they needed to be. We headed in for a goose egg lunch (fried which is positively my favourite way to have goose eggs) and then it was time for Lis to go. Sad to see her leave as we hadn’t seen her in so long but she will be back for lambing time in May. Hopefully we won’t be too sleep deprived then.

I think that is it for this post. We’ve been busy bunnies on the growing side of things so hopefully there will be a post on that soon.

Dans

December catch up part 2: Bird flu

Aside from the usual festive season and a late tupping, December had the added surprise of bird flu, which although we had known about it being in the continent we were hoping it would pass us by. For those that don’t know bird flu was spreading through Europe in November and a Prevention Zone was set up in the UK on 6th Decemeber. That basically means that everyone with birds had to do everything they could to keep wild birds away from thier birds. At the bare minimum that meant keeping the wild birds away from your birds food and water as bird flu is spread through contact with bodily fluids. Cases of bird flu were reported in December, in wild birds, in a turkey farm in Lincs and in several backyard flocks, mainly where there were ducks and chickens together. Waterfowl can get bird flu but don’t show symptoms very well. Chickens drop dead quite quickly though. If you want to read more about the current bird flu situation in the UK the DEFRA page is up to date.

As it affects waterfowl differently we started by getting the geese into the shade tunnel. It’s a large polytunnel with butterfly netting over it and weed proof fabric down but no doors. We cleared out the left over plants from the last owners (we haven’t used this tunnel for anything yet), patched up some holes in the netting and nailed some tarp to the door frame. We also set up a small shelter using an old door and some chairs so that there was a dry spot for thier food and somewhere to get out of any heavy rain. Netting isn’t ideal as wild birds can still poop on it and it gets washed in with the rain, but it is better than the birds using the goose baths or drinking water as a bird bath or hopping all over the ground they graze on. The geese made it into a slippery muck bath pretty quickly so we had to shovel it all out and threw 3 bales of straw down. That seems to have done the trick but it’s starting to get mucky again now so will need to refresh.

The goose set up pre-straw

Geese are grazers though, and grass is the bulk of our geese’s diet. There was some grass growing over the weedproof fabric in the polytunnel but they ate through that pretty quickly. We tried them on some hay (with grit available to help them break it down) but they weren’t interested. They did pick at grains from the bales of hay though. They were having corn each night anyway as the weather had gotten cold and they kept eating that but seemed to have little interest in the goose food mix we bought for them. I saw an oppertunity and switched them to the flubenvet worming layers pellets in the hopes of getting them wormed before the breeding season hits. They weren’t interested at first but are eating it now. They are still looking in good condition (apart from April who has alway had a very prominent keel, even after they were wormed with an ivermectin injection), so I guess they are getting enough to eat. I’ll be so very glad to let them out again when the time comes though!

Happy geese post-straw

The chickens were a bit more difficult. If we put them in either of our other polytunnels there would be nowhere foxproof for them to perch. After losing Bellatrix to what I suspect was a goose attack I really didn’t want to put the chickens in the shade tunnel with the geese, even if it was partioned off. They also don’t do as well in the wet as geese do. The best option seemed to be to keep them in thier current house, but even though it is a shed rather than a coop it still isn’t big enough for them to be in there 24/7. We ordered some aviary panels the night the prevention zone was announced with a 3-5 delivery. We wouldn’t be complying immediately but at least we would have something in the works. Unfortunately the seller was awful. I emailed on day 3 to find out if there was tracking and was told the parcel would be with me on day 5. I emailed again on day 5 as it hadn’t arrived (after cancelling all our plans on days 3-5 just in case it came) only to be told it had been dispatched that day and would be with me in 3-5 days. Ebay were awful and just said I could refuse delivery and get a refund if I wanted. They arrived on day 8 and as soon as the chickens went to bed I set about building a run with cable ties, tarp and some scaffold netting. It was pretty tricky building it as the light went, without a torch (because I was too gung ho and just rushed into it), especially when I dropped the black cable ties on the floor!

The finished run. It was just a tad dark!

The chickens seemed to be a lot happier in there than I expected but slowly the layer of fallen leaves and bits of grass poking through started to turn into mud and they started to look unhappy. I didn’t want to use straw as I had heard about that harbouring bacteria and giving the chickens respiratory problems. I took the plunge and threw some of thier indoor bedding down. It’s schopped straw treated with pine oil and isn’t the cheapest but they were over the moon with it. Scratching about and nice clean feet again. It’s lasted about a week and what I put down went further than I thought, so I’ll get some more down tomorrow.

The hens were surprisingly ok with the confinement

The chicks were the easiest to deal with. I used the estimated 3-5 days before the run would arrive to intergrate Aurora and Buffy into the flock (our last broody hen and her 15 week old daughter). Buffy was a bit younger than I would have liked but I didn’t want to introduce them into the pen as there wouldn’t be much space for hens to hide before the pecking order was sorted. I had been thinking of killing the boys before Christmas so they wouldn’t be in too long and the coop they live in comes with a run so we just threw some tarp over it. That was fine until I went out one day and was greeted by 3 cockerels running around. I thought I must have left the side door unlocked when I put them to bed, or the wind something open. Well the wind had blown something open, the roof off the coop had been ripped off it’s hinges and was over the fence in the goose area. We had a rush job of herding them into the big polytunnel then moving the house and run and getting them inside that. They would be ok in there as we could still open the polytunnel doors for ventilation with them being self contained. It’s the last time I buy a commercial chicken coop though.

The roof flew straight off the coop

The prevention zone was due to be lifted on the 9th Jan but instead it was extended until the 28th Feb, which is very depressing. I think the chickens will be ok but I am not sure how the geese will cope with the breeding season whilst still in there. I was hoping to get them back out on grass before then, and I don’t know where they will lay as it is all so open in the tunnel and they like to be under bushes to lay. I’m now trying to come up with some sort of additional housing in there so that they can lay inside. Any suggestions are welcome.

On the upside we are getting eggs again finally. One of the Brown Marsh Daisies is giving us the odd egg which is nice. Buffy and Brienne (the two female chicks we hatched last year) have started to lay as well. Brienne is laying nice >60g eggs whilst Buffy is laying <30g eggs. I have no idea what breed Brienne is, the egg was advertised as Copper Brown Maran x Rhode Island Red, but she is pure white. Either way I think I might hatch some of her eggs this year, as she is a big bird producing big eggs, and a cross with Aramis (also breed unknown) could produce some nice chicks.

A Brienne egg vs a Buffy egg

The chicks weren’t very happy in the polytunnel though and had started to fight each other, so when the news came that they would have to be in for another 2 months we decided that d-day was upon them. We killed them the other weekend and got ok weights from them 1.2kg and (Bifur), 1.4kg (Bofur) and 1.6kg (Bombur).

The boys

It’s still not a task I relish doing, and I was a bit grumpy and stressed out leading up to it, but I was able to give them a quick end and we now have food in the freezer. Serving up our roast chicken and veg to my family for Christmas dinner was a really proud moment. Next year our own goose! Looking at how long it takes me to process them though, we may end up sending them away in future. We reckoned about an hour to pluck and then another 40 mins to an hour to process in the kitchen. That isn’t too bad if you have the time, and I am sure I will get quicker as I get more experience, but at the moment, with a toddler and still trying to get everything to set up here, it may well be a better use of time to have someone else do them.

I had another butchery task this month. We were gifted two phesants, shot the day before. Unfortunately, this was a few days before Christmas. They got hung up and I stressed about them until I could see to them after Boxing Day. I skinned these ones and I hated it, I do definately prefer plucking. I was quite shocked to see that they had full crops and gizzards, and that they were full of corn. Then I saw how much fat they had on them and how yellow it was. I had thought that with phesant shoots they were released and then you went huting them, but these birds can’t have been released much before they were shot and were fattened up ready for the shoot. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, but I’m not sure I will be accepting any more phesants from shoots, fresh roadkill may be ok.

My first phesant

The last achievment of December was that I finally braved facebook. We have a page! Pretty much just random updates from the smallholding  but hopefully interesting enough to people. I’m trying to get some advice from trading standards as to what we need to do to start selling our produce and hopefully get this smallholding somewhat productive in 2017!

Dans

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Just a little leek

Well when we set up the first veg bed back in January last year, I was very eager to get planting. So eager that I looked at what seeds I had that could be planted that early and went mad on them. As such we ended up with a lot of white onions (not too bad apart from the fact we pretty much only eat red onion) and a ton of leeks.

Now I love a good chicken, bacon and leek pie and was interested in finding other ways I might like it. I didn’t realise until after I planted them that Sam isn’t keen on them at all. Of course, once the excitement of my first planting waned, my attention got caught on other things. We ended up with 3 rows of leeks that hadn’t been thinned, sown so tightly that if you tried to pull one you got about 5!

Once Nov rolled round I needed to find a way to cook and eat all these leeks despite me being the only one who likes them. I’m firmly of the ‘if we grow it we eat it’ mentality, trying to waste as little as possible. I may just have to have a bit of a longer think before I plant things next year. My first experiment was to chuck some leeks in the roasting pan. When I do tatties I add in red onion and garlic half way through anyway, and leek is related so that’ll work right? Well it did, and Sam even liked it to boot! Roast tatties with garlic, red onion and leek are now a staple with our roasts. It also works well in my modified bubble and squeak.

I’m not entirely sure Chi is liking them but she is going through a phase of rejecting certain textures, she had been a big fan of cooked onion but has gone right off it. She is however fully embracing the food preparation. I’d been giving her pieces of garlic to peel when I’m doing meal prep, she just needs you to loosen the skin and she does the rest. I gave her a leek the other day and she loved peeling it, even though it was taller than her!

Start them young!
Start them young!

With Sam on board for roast leek I decided to brave a chicken, bacon and leek in a creamy sauce with pasta. It is horribly unhealthy for the amount of dairy in the sauce but it’s had a big thumbs up from most people (a friend who doesn’t like leek at all wasn’t very keen) and is now Sam’s request for me to cook when we have people over, with my apple and pear crumble for dessert. I’ll pop the recipe at the end of this post.

Noms

I’m starting to see a seasonal flow to my cooking. Before the smallholding we would eat pretty much the same meals all year round. In spring we had a lot of goose egg omelettes. Then in early summer egg and chips from our chicken or goose eggs and our tatties was a staple. As the polytunnel really started producing I ventured into ratatouille. Sam has labelled my chicken, bacon and leek my autumn meal. It’s not quite as home grown as the others but I’m starting to really look at what we are growing and cook that with bought foods that compliment it. I used to buy peppers and mushrooms year round, but even once the polytunnel has stopped producing them I’m still not buying them, I’m switching our meals to more seasonal. It’s exactly what I wanted to happen and it feels so wonderful.

The pinnacle for me, food wise, of this year has to be our Samhain dinner. For those who don’t know Samhain is a pagan festival that falls on Halloween. My general celebration is to do a pumpkin (or failing that a tea light in a lantern) to guide any spirits home, then cook a nice meal and eat it with some wine and a spare place set at the table for any spirits who wish to join. After the meal I libate (leave as an offering outside) some food and wine for the spirits. I spend much of the day thinking of those who have gone before (ancestors and friends) and those who are yet to come. I also view it as my new year.

Pumpkin!
Pumpkin!

Every Samhain I try and cook something really homely, if I can with as much of our home grown food as possible. Sam came home this year to a carved pumpkin and a roast dinner being laid on the table. He knew the pumpkin was ours, and the chicken as we had killed two of Aino’s cockerel chicks the day before. As he tucked in he asked about the origin of various foods and in the end I said it’s all ours, right down to the wine we were drinking. That really was a satisfying meal, roast chicken, roast tatties, roast onion, roast garlic, roast leeks, roast pumpkin, roast carrots and fried chard washed down with plum wine and followed by an apple and pear crumble for dessert.

Plus we had passed what I thought would be our hardest challenge. Could we see something born, care for it, kill it and then eat it? If we can’t the whole lifestyle falls apart and I would have had to seriously think about eating meat, but we passed and knowing the animals had had a good life made it all the more satisfying. There’s still somethings I’d like to change (a better broody coop and a much bigger teenage run area) but I am happy with the lives our animals are living.

Right I promised you a recipe for the chicken, bacon and leek. The creamy sauce is adapted from this recipe.

Everything prepped for a tasty meal
  • 5 chicken thighs (cut into strips or chunks)
  • 1 pack of bacon (cut into cubes)
  • 1 bulb of garlic (cut all but 1 clove into thirds, finely dice the last one and put with the cheese)
  • 3 medium leeks (chopped)
  • 2 red onions (diced)
  • 150g mature cheddar cheese (grated)
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 200ml single cream

This goes a lot better if you do all your prep first, it’s a 3 pans going at once meal (4 if you’re doing pasta, more if other veg)

Pop your butter in a small pan and melt on a low heat.

Put a splash of vegetable oil into a saute pan and cook the garlic until you can slightly smell it/it starts to brown.

Add the chicken to the saute pan and cook.

Pop the bacon in a frying pan and cook, trying to break the cubes up as much as possible.

Your butter should have melted now, pour in your cream and raise the temperature to bring it to a simmer. Then let simmer for 5 mins. Try not to let it boil.

The chicken should be pretty done and the bacon done by the time the cream is simmering. Add the cooked bacon, the onion and leek to the saute pan .

Once the sauce is simmering add in the cheese and garlic and stir quickly to ensure it all melts.

If things have gone smoothly your sauce will be ready before the leek and onion are soft so you can just pop it to the side.

Once the leek and onion are soft in the saute pan pour your sauce over and stir everything together.

Serve with rice or pasta and some veg. We did home grown corn on the cob the other day which was tasty. I’m also tempted to do some mashed potatoes and make it into a pie but I haven’t braved that yet – pies are scary.

Enjoy and don’t think of the calories!

Dans

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Apples and pears

Well in my last post I said I’d tackle the apples and pears the next day, suffice to say that turned into the next week or two! The job still isn’t done though, the apples are resisting coming off the tree, at least the ones I can reach, but yet still falling to the floor in the masses! At least the pears are completely done.

The pear tidy up was daunting, There were so many on the floor. Pretty much all of the Conference pears were no good, they were cut or eaten in some way, some had started to rot but they still needed to be cleared up. I roped Chi in to help, she was very good at picking up the bad ones and carrying them off to the bucket for me. As a bonus it tired her out enough to fall asleep whilst eating a pear I picked from the tree.

The Williams pears were much more worthwhile. They are harder so a lot less had been damaged by falling. The ones that were damaged quite often had a split in them from the force of falling off. We did a little experiment with some of these and turned them into pear juice. This is something I’ve wanted to for a while but we didn’t actually realise we had a juicer until Sam stumbled across it in the stuff that is still waiting to be unpacked.

Just a little windfall
Just a little windfall

The juicer was quite small though and I had to cube the pears so that they would fit into the hole on the top. That was horribly time consuming. Then one of the hooks to hold it all together fell apart, the plastic must have been made brittle from age and being stored outside. Despite that we got some nice juice out of it, certainly a way to use the more worse for wear windfalls. I did a brief google on preserving pear juice but the best I found only gives you two weeks. We did it (heating juice to 80C for 20mins then pouring into sterile bottles) but I’d like to get longer storage if we did larger quantities. I’m tempted by the proper pasteurisers too. The juice was really tasty though and we didn’t add any sugar, just a bit of lemon juice to stop the colour change (it didn’t work). I don’t actually have a picture of the finished juice though!

 

I’ve been making my usual host of crumbles, apple and plum, apple and pear as well apple, pear and raspberry and I think I’ll be experimenting with adding in other red fruit from the freezer as I quite like the colour change. I’ve tried to mix things up a bit as well though. Last year when we got lots of pears I printed off a recipe for a pear pancake and a pear tart. I tried both of them. I’m not 100% sure that my baking skills are up to scratch though. My pear pancake was more of a pear on a bed on baked custard and my tart was like a very dense sponge cake. It was so awful I didn’t even take a picture, although I did eat it all! I need to find more easy baking ideas for pears (and apples). If you have any favourite recipes let me know!

Pear pancake
Pear pancake

I’m also hoping to make a dent on the pear haul by trying pear wine again this year. It went horribly wrong last year and we binned the lot. I’m gonna try again with vitamin b and citric acid added and cross everything. The problem is that we have so many chopped up pears in the freezer still from last year and I’m just not getting through them with my baking. A few that I gathered 3 weeks ago have gone bad and  I don’t want this haul to do the same.

Pear and apple haul
Pear and apple haul

As I said the apples are still going. I’ve pretty much only focused on the cooking apples, and cooking apple tree #1 has barely fruited this year which had made it more manageable. We have 3 different eating apples in fruit at the moment though and again I’m nowhere near being on top of those. We’ll put some cooking apples to wine next week when the fermenters are free again but I really should do something with the eating apples. We did do dried apple rings with the Beauty of Bath apples so I might do that with the other eating apples, get more use out of the dehydrator too.

I’m currently eyeing up some crushers and presses which have a black friday offer on and I’m sorely tempted. The one thing I do want to do is some apple sauce, I still can’t believe that with all the apples we had last year, and all that are still in the freezer, I’m still buying Tesco applesauce!

Dans

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Smallholding and ‘life’

Life has a way of getting in the way of living sometimes. You don’t speak to friends and when you do you apologise because ‘life’ got in the way. With having a little person around 24/7 and a husband who works full time I often find that ‘life’ is getting in the way of smallholding. We try and limit our trips away and make sure we have a few weekends a month to get on with the tasks.

This autumn though ‘life’ hit us hard. My stepfather, Paul, died suddenly. I knew he wouldn’t live forever but I thought we had at least another 10 years. He had been instrumental in my life, he even bought our smallholding for us whilst we sold our previous house, thankfully we paid him back in full a few months ago. My family was hit hard by his loss and as he died abroad the burial proceedings were drawn out. It ended up being a month from his death to his funeral. In that month I was home maybe 2 or 3 days a week, the rest of the time spent with my mum in London. Sam was home a bit more but for the majority of the time we got sitters in.

In terms of the smallholding it wasn’t what I wanted at all, every time we’ve been away previously we’ve had someone staying over. The sitters were coming in for the morning and night runs, checking up on the animals and doing food and water. When I was home I would do the cleaning out of houses, water buckets and some harvesting.

Literally just before we found out about Paul I’d been really happy about how we were doing on the holding. My vet friend Cassie had been over for a weekend and showed us how to trim the sheep’s feet, we’d put up the first of 2 fences to subdivide the sheep field and I was filled with that feeling of pride you get when you see your holding through someone else’s eyes. It felt like we were finally getting on track, I had some things to plant in the polytunnel, our local garden centre was selling old stock of organic manure dirt cheap and a trip with the trailer was planned and the apple and pear harvest were approaching. Life was good. I came in to do dinner and Sam did the night run, as he stepped in the door the phone rang and the world fell apart for me.

On the times we came back to the smallholding we did what we could but you could literally see things falling apart. The first time back after a week away the polytunnel was heaving with fruit flies all over the tomatoes and the peppers, the onions that I thought were ok still in the ground had started to sprout green stems again, the fruit trees we’d impulse bought in  our garden centre’s sale were looking worse for wear, the felt roof of the goose shed Paul had helped us build was flapping in the wind and I didn’t have the energy to make the calls needed about our incoming ram lamb.

I felt awful about it. Paul had been so proud about what we were doing, he’d boasted to people at my daughter’s birthday in June that nothing goes to waste here, but things were. All in all the smallholding survived. The animals were ok. I guess that goes to show that whatever is happening life does go on, and that my gold standard of care for the animals can slip in emergencies without the world ending for them.

Now we are back, have been for about 2 weeks, and we are ‘cracking on’ as he would say. We’ve done the second fence in the sheep field so we now have 3 areas to rotate around. The buying of the ram lamb has been replaced with the hire of 3 year old tup as the owner isn’t sure the ram lamb is up to the job, we’ll buy him in the spring and not use him on his half sisters. We are trying to get on top of the apples and pears but a lot have been lost. We did two large batches of pear wine (neither worked) and 2 batches of apple wine (both very tasty) last year. This year I don’t think we will have enough fruit for wine. We also stored cooking apples through until the new year but we currently have about 3 that are ok to store. Tomorrow we are back out on the land so we’ll be focusing on apples and pears, hopefully I’m just underestimating numbers.

I guess I’m feeling disheartened by the loss that I have seen around the holding in the last month. Or maybe that’s part of the depressed stage of grief. I keep reminding myself that what happened was rare and in such times as ‘life’ gets in the way in such a massive way things will slip. I learnt a few lessons:

~ The smallholding can be managed in the short term by someone coming in morning and night.

~ ‘Life’ will get in the way sometimes, and that is ok.

~ Life is too short – I think we will be going on holiday more than I had originally thought.

~ I do want to do this – sometimes I have thought that smallholding isn’t working but I want to succeed at this. Paul put effort into helping me get into this way of life and was proud of my achievements so far. I want to keep making him proud.

Maybe this is more a personal post than a smallholding post but I am sure this will happen, and indeed has happened, to other smallholders. Before it did I wouldn’t have thought it would be possible for me to be there for my family whilst I had the holding to look after but it can be done, sometimes ‘life’ is important enough that you have to allow it to get in the way.

Hopefully more smallholdery posts soon.

Dans

Goose house in the making
Goose house in the making

 

Preserving tomatoes

Well it’s harvest time and with that comes preserving time. I’ve not had much experience preserving foods, freezing, turning into wine a single go at red onion chutney and hawberry sauce is the extent of my dabbling. That needs to change now that I am smallholder. We want to still be eating our home grown foods deep into winter.

We had a little go at pickling cucumbers but then I didn’t feed the plants and the harvest wasn’t great so that was 3 or 4 jars that were only set to last a couple weeks in the fridge. Not going to see us through winter there.

Then the tomato harvest came in and it was truly a glut. The first wave was about 12kg of tomatoes (two different salad types and one cherry) and Sam reckoned that would be about a quarter of it. We needed to get preserving and fast!

Our first tomato harvest
Our first tomato harvest

The cherry tomatoes went into the dehydrator and turned into a very tasty treat that I didn’t even know I liked. I think sundried tomatoes in oil put me off of the idea of dried tomatoes and I’d never been a fan of dried fruit. The smell that filled the room whilst the dehydrator was running was divine and we soon found that the end product was quite addictive.

Drying cherry tomatoes
Drying cherry tomatoes

We still had the salad tomatoes to deal with though. In hindsight most of our tomato consumption is in the form of sauces, both for cooking and condiments. With that in mind we should have gone for very fleshy tomatoes rather than about 15 salad tomato plants. We will learn for next year! We decided to still try and make passata despite our poor choice in variety. After all there was no way we could eat that quantity of tomatoes fresh and we aren’t set up to sell at the gate yet.

We had two methods to try. The first was out of the River Cottage book. Basically chop your toms in half, stick them in an oven for an hour, press through a sieve or passata maker (we didn’t even know these existed), bring to the boil and bottle. The second was from an Italian friend of mine, Cassie. Pop your toms into boiling water to split the skin then peel (a lot easier than it sounds), chuck them in a pot and cook until it’s at the thickness you want then bottle or push through sieve and bottle.

We tried both methods and, although the River Cottage was less labour intensive to start, the pushing through the sieve took a lot of time and effort and I don’t think it was very efficient. We did get a beautiful thick sauce though, maybe more paste than passata. Would be a great base for ketchup, which is another thing I am hoping to make.

The Cassie method was daunting but I actually really enjoyed skinning the tomatoes. The boiling down took forever, was on the hob for most of the day before it got to the right thickness and by that point I couldn’t be bothered with the sieve. It was bottled seeds and all but actually makes  really good base for sauces, I’ve used a couple already. Despite peeling the tomatoes and the length of time it takes to cook it actually feels like a less labour intensive method because you just leave it be for a lot of the time.

We have since harvested 3 more batches of tomatoes and the Cassie method has been the one we stuck with, until the most recent batch. We decided we like making and cooking with passata so much that we should buy a passata machine. We switched back to the River Cottage method and ran the toms through the passata machine when they came out of the oven. Thick seed free sauce that was quite quick to make. I’ll probably do a batch or two each year the Cassie method as I think having the seeds in worked really well for ratatouille, which we eat a lot at the moment thanks to our abundant courgette and aubergine plants!

Passata machine in action
Passata machine in action

So we can now add dried cherry toms and passata to our list of preservation methods conquered. I am hoping to have a go at ketchup as well, but for now I’ll be satisfied that we have coped with our first real glut!

Dans

The story of the missing eggs

Well I said in the broody post that we had eggs turning up left, right and centre whilst Aino was sitting in the favourite nest box. We hoped that once she was gone things would go back to normal but we didn’t and we had hens laying away in bushes and changing the spot every few days. Our egg production went right down and I was convinced there was a pile of eggs hidden somewhere in our garden.

We finally got everyone laying in the house (or under it as one Brown Marsh Daisy insists on doing), except a Brown Marsh Daisy who we thought had a very well hidden nest. We spent days watching the chickens outside to see when there was only one BMD in sight and then go hunting. No luck at all.

The BMD who lays under the house was pretty consistent though, an egg a day. Earlier this week I noticed her under the house. I went back later but no egg. I really searched. The next day Sam found two eggs under the house. We thought I must have missed it but I suspected that both BMD were laying there and we had a thief in our midst. We popped a rubber egg under just in case, in the hopes that it put off whoever was eating them. Sure enough there were two eggs again the next day but no rubber egg. I was hoping that would be the last of it, we put a rubber egg down again but we then had a couple days of only getting one egg and the rubber one. It might be time to block the chickens off from there and hope they return to laying in the house. Although I’ve found some eggs from inside the house outside it so the thief may be going inside too.

After a week of hunting for the second BMD nest Sam finally found it, in the most overgrown part of the garden. There were 9 eggs in it. They all passed the floaty test though so we made a nice spanish omelette with some veggies from the polytunnel. Unfortunately, she hasn’t laid there again so we are back to hunting her! Ah the joys of truly free range chickens.

Any suggestion of who might be stealing our eggs, or ways we can prevent would be warmly welcomed!

Dans

Shopping smallholder style!

We went shopping – smallholder style. A member of our local smallholding group is leaving the smallholding life and offered up a bunch of their stuff to the group members to buy.

A couple of our purchases were to do with future interests. We know we’d like to get into keeping bees, although I’m slightly worried as to how I will react with a bunch of bees flying around me but we should find that out when we go on a bee keeping course. The equipment was at a really good price should get us pretty much set up to go so we went for it. We also want to keep goats for milk in future, but we’d like to see if we like and will use the milk first so a cheese making kit (soft and hard) seemed like a good buy.

On the practical side we bought a scaffold tower as some of our fruit trees are high and it will help us do repair work on sheds, the house and polytunnels. The most useful of all is that we have now bought a trailer! Once we get a tow bar on the car and collect the trailer it will come in handy not just for transporting animals but collecting muck, moving things around the land and crazy spending sprees like this! As it was, somehow Sam defied the laws of physics to fit it all (except the trailer) into the car plus me, Chi and a pushchair!

Our car, aka a TARDIS
Our car, aka a TARDIS

Dans