This blog is mainly a rambling kind of diary of the transition from smallholderwannabe to smallholder.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Egg problems and bargains

My new hens -  I've had them since the end of September but number 4 of the five just started laying this week and there is one still not laying. They were supposed to have been about 15 weeks old when we got them and should start laying between 18 and 22 weeks old. The first started laying after 9 weeks and then another started 3 weeks after that and the third about 3 weeks after that. Had them 16 weeks and the fourth has just started laying and one still to start. If they were 15 weeks when we got them as they should have been, then that makes them over 31 weeks old. These are just commercial little brown layers and I've never had one go beyond 20 weeks before it started laying in 20 years of keeping hens so something is wrong somewhere...

There just don't seem to be many bargains around any more. When I see a yellow sticker, my beady little eyes light up and then I see they have only knocked 10% off the price and I go away without it. A few yellow stickers not only gladden my heart but they surely make the pennies stretch a lot further. Sometimes the yellow stickers can also mean that we eat something (I'm thinking steak here) that we love as a treat but is normally way out of my price range. However pickings have been slim around here for over a year now. Still, I did find a big bargain this week. I was down at church and popped across the road to Asda afterwards, about 8pm. There were not many reduced things there but in the reduced section someone had put a whole tray of pint pots of double cream dated for that day. But there was no yellow sticker. I spotted a chap restocking the shelves nearby and went and asked him if he knew the price. He looked at the date and said that if I waited a bit, he would go and reduce them. He reduced them to 20p! The low price must have been because of the quantity of pots of cream and the lateness of the hour. I can make almost 10ozs of butter from a pint pot of double cream and this will cost me 20p instead of £1.40. Yum! I brought home eight of the pots of cream : )             I divide the butter up into small portions of about 4ozs and freeze them. I find my homemade butter does not keep as well as bought stuff but small portions work just fine. I make the butter in the food processor and keep the initial whey and the water/whey mixture from the first washing and use that for making bread and scones. Lovely! My husband loves it when he gets homemade scones spread with homemade butter and homemade jam.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Happy New Year

A slightly belated greeting but I wish you a happy and healthy new year  for 2019  : )

We had a lovely Christmas. We spent Christmas Day with our son and his family. Elder daughter and her family spent Christmas Day with younger daughter and her family. Then on Boxing Day we all went to younger daughter's house for tea together. She organised each of us to bring certain items to contribute to the meal so that it was an easy meal for everybody. We had fun!

On New Year's Eve we went out to our friend's farm with a few other friends and saw in the New Year. I'm not used to late nights like that and it took me about three days worth of early nights before I felt human again...… And I only drank fruit juice too!

We are looking around for a new(er) car. Ours is 2004 and is definitely beginning to show its age. We have had it for 8 years now and I've been really taken aback at how much prices have gone up in those 8 years. Our car goes well but it is all those electronic gizmos that are beginning to go wrong. For example we now have two windows that won't go up and down, including the driver's window, which is a pain at a car park barrier where you have to actually get out of the car now to put in a code. There are an awful lot of other little signs of age so we thought we had better bite the bullet and start looking around - but there is too much choice. and as I said, the prices are so high. Aargh.

We went to see little grandson yesterday. His mum will have to go back to work in February so my visiting days are numbered. I really enjoy playing with him and he is virtually walking already and at nine months old. He just needs to hold on to a finger to give him the confidence he needs but it doesn't look like it will be long before he is off and away.  The cat is constantly finding new little hideaways where she feels safe from him.

We had a nasty discovery on Wednesday. We have our big chest freezer in the shed beside the house and we use that one to store meat. Well, we haven't  needed to open it since before a bit before Christmas. And it had stopped working and we have lost all our meat. And the smell of a whole freezer worth of putrid meat was just indescribable. My husband had the delightful job of  emptying it and taking it to the council tip while I went down to church to spend the day baking. He has scrubbed out the old freezer out and it is currently sitting at the end of the garden to air out before it becomes a pest proof store for the hen food in another shed. And Currys delivered our new freezer this morning. They give you a four hour delivery slot after 10pm the night before the delivery and then the driver is supposed to ring you 30 minutes before he is due to arrive at your house. Well he didn't. Fortunately my husband actually heard the doorbell because he doesn't always and I was in school invigilating an exam this morning and worrying because they had not been in touch. They were supposed to phone or text me 30 minutes before arrival but they didn't. And they broke the edge of the little wall beside the shed with their big feet so I am not happy with Currys. I've never had any problems when we have bought things from so guess where we will be buying from next time.

A friend was given several chickens. She wanted to put them in her freezer but she had to empty it out to have enough space for the chickens which were more valuable than some of the veg in there. she gave me a bag of limes so I have made lime marmalade for the first time. I am disappointed in the colour because it is a kind of a brownish colour but the flavour is wonderful. And I won't notice the colour on my wholemeal toast anyway, will I : )

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

There is such a thing as a free lunch!

When we were in Cambridge just recently, I popped into Waitrose because I had a till-spit coupon for a half price jar of coffee. They didn't stock the brand of coffee I needed at that branch of Waitrose so I was feeling really disappointed. I had a £2 off a spend of £10 coupon as well and I had planned something else to buy so that I would end up in profit and they were spoiling all my carefully thought out plans. So there I was still stood in front of the coffee shelves when a Waitrose lady stops beside me and asks me if I would like to have the sandwich she was carrying. I must have looked startled because she had to explain to me that she meant to give me the sandwich and I would not have to part with any money. So I did not get my jar of coffee but I left with a sourdough baguette filled (generously!) with roast beef and horseradish and rocket. It was absolutely delicious and I've been feeling quite kindly towards Waitrose ever since.

They are quite an expensive shop but often their special offers bring the price down to the same as everybody else's special offers and you do get a free cup of coffee, if you bring your own cup and a free newspaper if you spend over £10. We don't have a branch very close to us but we do pass one every so often and I always check their offers and the coupons they send to see if it is worth calling in. It is one shop that my husband doesn't mind shopping at because he gets the cup of coffee..... : )


Saturday, November 10, 2018


My chickens are like the rest of us - they are getting older.  And when chickens get older, they don't lay so many eggs. So we now have some new chickens. Just your typical little brown hen. And the first one has laid an egg. Just a little egg but so lovely because it is the first one. Now if the others would just follow her example, I will be well pleased.

I still have most of my old hens although we have lost several over the summer, which is why we have an empty hen house. Chicken Nugget is still with me and must be eight years old now. She is a buff Orpington which is one of the biggest domestic fowl breeds. She is a real little (big!) character and will sit comfortable in my arms because she is very tame. She was hatched at school and has been used to being handled from day 1. The boys named her and the others who hatched with her, all after some chicken dishes that they all liked. From February and all over the summer, she laid two or three eggs every week. My other old hen is a little brown hen of about the same age but she stopped laying eggs a couple of years ago. I still have two of my white hens from the last lot of new ones and four from the little brown ones who came before that. So I have 13 hens now in total but it is the new ones who will earn their keep and pay for the food for the others.

And when I got my new layers, I also got six who are destined for the freezer. Their appetites are enormous and I think I am going to have to buy more hen food to keep them supplied. The nearest reasonably priced feed merchant is now about a forty mile round trip (which is a lot of diesel) since the Countrywide chain ceased to trade earlier this year. I buy as many sacks of hen food as I can fit in the car and store them anywhere I can but I don't think I bought enough on the last trip. I can, of course, buy hen food closer to home. I can think of three places but the hen food is almost 50% dearer. A forty mile round trip at 17p per mile (elderly diesel estate car) costs £6.80. Local hen food costs at least £9.50 and some places £10.50. At the cheaper feed merchant it costs £6.75 per sack. So it does not take many sacks before we are winning as just three sacks more than cover the cost of the diesel. so I'll be taking a little road trip soon : )


Friday, November 02, 2018

Preserving year 2018

This year my preserving year has been the smallest in many years. We have things left from last year and even a few jars from before that. so we didn't need much to be made this year.  Really my chief aim in doing any preserving was Christmas presents.

So this year I have made:

elderberry syrup
elderflower champagne
elderflower cordial
blackberry and apple jam
cucumber relish
cider vinegar

The elderflower champagne and cordial have turned out really well this year. I still have a bottle of the cordial left and I will need to use that a little more sparingly as shop bought stuff is not only horrendously expensive, but doesn't taste anywhere near as nice, even when made up with sparkling water. I still need to make some marmalade as that is one thing we are nearly out of and also some is needed to go in Christmas hampers. So that is it for 2018.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Cars, Cambridge and a celebration.

We've been away to Cambridge again for five days for my husband to go to meetings and for me to go pottering about. I do enjoy pottering around looking at all the old buildings and walking along the river. I always find something new to look at and enjoy. And if I head for the town centre, there is a street with eight charity shops in it, which means that I can potter through there very happily. I can usually manage to find a new top either for my husband or for me and sometimes something even more exciting. I find that having a good supply of tops means that I can wait a few days extra until there is a dry day so that I can dry the washing outside. I try very hard not to use the tumble dryer unless there is a very good reason for it.

We'll be going back to Cambridge for another stay before Christmas so I'm hoping to do a little Christmas shopping on that occasion. I might even find something for my husband without him being with me to see it and spoil the surprise.

Our car was eight years old when we bought it and we have had it for seven years now. The engine works fine but there are lots of the peripheral things which are not working well any longer or which have stopped working altogether. The driver's window no longer goes up and down, for example. It stopped working about 18 months ago and we had a new motor fitted but it has stopped again. It is very annoying as we frequently go through a barrier at a carpark entrance which means stopping the car, getting out and entering a code, getting back in and putting the seat belt on and then getting out on to a main road. Not fun if there is somebody on the main road wanting to turn in and stopping all the traffic whilst I am faffing around... There are lots of sensors not working properly too. So we are looking at new(er) cars. The thing is that the car sailed through the MOT with no problems at all in July. There are just so many makes and models of cars out there and prices have definitely gone up in the last seven years since we bought this one. Decisions, decisions. We want a larger car, probably an estate so that we can transport lots of wood, something very economical to run, very comfortable for longer journeys, and all for a very small sum of money. So we want the best compromise possible. Anybody got any recommendations?

And it was my birthday this week. My husband took me out for the day and cooked me a nice meal and my grandchildren all drew me beautiful cards. It was a lovely day : )

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Monday, September 24, 2018

Scary happenings and more besides

What a lot has happened since I last posted. The first memorable thing, which I won't forget in a hurry, was trouble with the church cooker. I was working at making extra cakes to put in the freezer, as well as keeping the coffee shop supplied. We had a coule of short stays away planned so I needed to build up supplies of cake. I had a cake in the oven and was leaning over the cooker to stir the soup in the 12 pint saucepan (a pan that size requires me to stand over it to stir right into the edges of the pan to keep the soup from sticking) when there was a big bang in the oven and the oven door blew open into my middle - which made me jump back quickly, I can tell you. There were big flames which hid the 12 pint saucepan from sight and the baking paper lining the cake tins all burned up. The flames all singed my hair and eyebrows and I lost lots of hair at the front of my head. Thankfully I had my glasses on so my eyes were protected. Had I not jumped back so promptly, it would probably have been worse. My skin was sore for the next day but my face was not burnt. After being made to sit down with a drink for a bit, I went back and finished the soup and cooled it and froze it. There were over 50 portions of soup in three pans and I wasn't losing that much work! The oven was electric but the hob was gas and had not reacted to the oven problems at all so I felt safe to continue with the soup.

When I took the cake tins out of the oven, I found a part (possibly the thermocouple??) in one of the cake tins. I have no idea what caused the problem. However I refused to use the cooker again and we have now bought a new one. this meant a lot of hours spent on the internet trying to whittle down the choices. A commercial cooker is not suitable for our situation but we need as large a domestic cooker as possible and preferably with two fan ovens. So now I have a new electric cooker with an induction hob so I need all new pans too. The old pans were a mix of aluminium and older stainless steel which does not work on induction hobs.

And as for pans - how do you choose pans from just a picture online? Not many shops stock the large size ones we need. We need something a bit substantial so that the food will not burn too readily. And the easiest way is to actually handle the pans. Not easy online! And the range of pans available is huge as is the range of prices. Still, we'll get there.

We used up all the cake in the freezer in the cooker free weeks. I also found lots of recipes for things that I could make with just the help of a microwave to eke out what was in the freezer. So now I've been trying to restock the freezer as well as keeping the coffee shop stocked. So I am spending my time either shopping for coffee shop or baking for coffee shop. Housework? Well, I remember that I used to do a bit of that from time to time when I had to, but that has totally gone by the board now : )

The rest of the stuff that has been happening has not been quite so dramatic and has not resulted in any more hair loss, thank goodness.

Two happier events were family picnics. The whole family got together at the end of August in the park at Bidford on Avon along with a few friends and we had a lovely day. There were swans on the Avon just a few feet from where we were sitting and a family of fluffy new moorhen chicks living in the bank beside us.. Lovely!

We enjoyed the first picnic so much that we all opted to have another one to celebrate three family birthdays in the same week in mid September. This time we went to a free concert in a park in Bromsgrove. The music was lovely and the weather stayed nice for us. There were also lots of stalls run by various local charities. There was also one run by the Love Food Hate Waste people. I did a game/quiz thing about recycling and got most of it right and came away with a nice hessian shopping bag which was an unexpected bonus.

I've also seen my new little grandson on four occasions since I last posted. He is five months old now and growing more capable every time I see him. I've had some good cuddles and I enjoy that lots.

We did have to call out the RAC when we had something partly come away from the underneath of the front of the car when we were travelling at 60mph along a dual carriageway. Turned out that it was not a crucial part but it still frightened us when it happened. You can imagine the noise of this thing suddenly coming partly adrift and banging along the road surface when we were travelling at speed. Not fun!

So I've baked and baked and baked some more and we are ready for our first trip away. It is back to Cambridge again for my husband to go to more meetings, but for me it is time off to wander along the river, or look at the old buildings, or look at the shops, or knit or do a crossword or read or whatever takes my fancy. And I am looking forward to it!!!

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