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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The hen houses and runs are nearly finished.  The damp weather of the last week has not helped.  I've made damson jam, damson and plum jam and beetroot chutney.  I'm hoping to go blackberrying this afternoon but I need some kind person to give me some windfall apples. 

I've also made coleslaw from the recipe from the Simple, Green Coop:

This turned out to be really tasty and my husband approves.  I like it too and I'm not a big fan of shop bought coleslaws so I'm happy to have found this recipe.  I also got an enormous cabbage from the allotment show for 50p.  This recipe says the original recipe said that the coleslaw would keep in the fridge for 6 weeks.  Like the writer from the Simple, Green Coop, I won't find out if it will keep that long.  Ours has lasted a week and now I need to make more because we've eaten it all.  It is so easy if you have a food processor.  I've often made coleslaw but have used mayonnaise as a basis for the dressing and I find that I like this recipe much better.

Just one more day of freedom : (

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I've been scrumping plums.  Our next door neighbour has several plum trees and one has several laden branches which were hanging over our garden.  They are away at the moment and the plums are ready.  For last Christmas, our kids bought me me of those gadgets for picking fruit from trees where you can't reach high enough. I don't think these plum trees have been pruned in a quarter of a century so they are rather tall.  It seemed a shame not to pick the fruit on our side when it was ready rather than wait until it drops and feed it as treats to the hens.  The neighbours won't pick the fruit themselves as you "don't know what has been on it". They sweep it up and put it out in green bags for the recycling rubbish collection and go and buy some fruit from the supermarket instead  : 0 

Monday, August 22, 2011

I've been busy today making up for lost time.  Having been ill when the soft fruit was at its best, I didn't get jam making started.  I was given a bag of damsons yesterday and I've made 10 pots of jam today.  I've another 2 lbs of damsons left so I'll make some more.  I've also made 9 small pots of rowanberry jelly.  It is more like a jam in the style of bought cranberry sauce rather than a proper clear jelly.  It is extremely tart and would go well with meat or in a cheese sandwich or maybe a spoonful in a sweet and sour sauce.  And of course it only cost me time and sugar.  That is two varieties of preserves to go towards Christmas presents.  And I'll need to give a couple of jars of damson jam to the kind person who picked the damsons from their tree for me. They said that having picked that 6lbs for me, there was so much left on the tree that you could hardly notice any difference.  Must be a good year for damsons.

I'm hoping to get my hands on a few windfall apples so that I can make some mint jelly and also some bottles of stewed apple.  Just over a week of freedom left and so many jobs still to be done.

This is the link to the recipe for rowanberry jelly:

It is on the CFR blog which is updated by Weezl from that wonderful cheap family recipes website.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Confession time.  Just don't anybody ask me how many hens I've got in my back garden now.  I haven't dared to admit to the family that I've got more hens.

It was our wedding anniversary this week and since we did not manage to get away this week, we thought we would do something special so we went to Acton Scott museum where they filmed The Victorian Farm.  We had a lovely day and a lovely picnic in the grounds. We really enjoyed it.

Now my farmer friend wants some new hens and had been talking to us about joining forces and getting some delivered.  We'd been talking about going to Henley-in-Arden poultry auctions again as the hens we'd had from there last time were so good.  However we realised that Acton Scott is only about 7 miles from Craven Arms where Cyril Bason (big firm) sells hens so we volunteered to go there on the way home and buy some hens for both households.  Doing this meant we didn't have to pay the delivery costs as we were going that way anyway.

So I have some new hens - teenagers that won't lay for a few weeks yet.  That means that I have the following:
  • my old silkie bantam who is pushing 10 years old
  • my old hens who still lay the occasional egg
  • my old 'new' hens who still lay reasonably right now but whose output will drop dramatically this winter and will go up for a bit next spring but then drop right back to where the old hens are now 
  • my new new hens
  • the three school chicks - I think one is female, one is male and I'm not sure about the third
Each lot is in a separate house and run.  I also need new names for each group.  My 'new' hens are no longer the new hens as there is now a younger group.  Middlies?  Maybe not.

I will be well egged this autumn while the older hens tail off and the new hens come into lay but when things settle down, I should be getting the same number of eggs as I've had all this year.  However the problem lies in rationalising henhouses.  I can't mix old and new hens in a run.  Henpecking is vicious.

Each summer we deepclean and disinfect the henhouses and treat the wood.  So that is what we are doing this week.  I and my clothes smell of the expensive perfume eau de Jeyes Fluid.  The small ark has been pressure washed, scrubbed with Jeyes, dried and the wood treated with bat friendly wood preservative.  The old hens, having lost 3 of their number this summer, moved from the large ark to the small ark this afternoon and have settled in as if they had always lived there.  There are four of them in the 5 hen ark with a 10 hen size extra run.  We have now pressure washed the large ark and scrubbed with Jeyes and it will be treated with wood preservative tomorrow afternoon if the rain permits.  Then the newest hens will move into that ark which also has a 10 hen extra run. Right now they are in a new henhouse and run which my lovely husband has built from an old rabbit hutch and scrap wood.  It looks a great deal smarter than it sounds and he is very pleased with it - especially as the cost was minimal to say the least.  The run is smaller than I would like for that number of hens but it will be fine as a temporary measure.The current main layers will then lodge in the new henhouse while their accomodation is washed, scrubbed etc etc and also a few repairs done. A spare henhouse is extremely useful at times like these.  Also useful for isolating a poorly hen. 

The bit that bothers me is that my old bantam is now on her own.  Also, I'm not sure of the number of females in the school chicks.  I don't want 2 lots of single hens.  For a start, they are sociable birds who tend to like to live in community but I am also thinking that I want to limit the number of henhouses to clean out at the weekend when we are back at school.  The hens are my pets and I can't bring myself to wring their necks when they get older just because it is convenient for me.  If they are poorly and not going to get better then that is a different matter.  My farmer friend tells me that I am far too soft and he is probably right.  I need a plan for the bantam and the female chick(s) however and fairly quickly too.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

We've been away on our holiday.  We had to go while the chicks were at this stage of being confined in the house so that it was easy for people to look after them for us.  Since we've been back, they have spent increasing time out of doors each day and hopefully it won't be long before they live outside permanently.  I didn't want other people who are not so used to hens to have to pick them up and move them between their home inside and the run outside. I also read about how much dust they create while they were in the house but I I really did not believe just how much that would be.  I'm really looking forward to them living outside now.  They like it out there too.  They have all put on twice their hatch weight in the last week so you can imagine how much food they get through.  They are beautiful and quite fascinating to watch.  Last night they managed to get the top off their food hopper and scattered the contents on the floor of the brooder and then took dust baths in it.  I'm amazed at just how much chicken behaviour is innate and not taught.

While we were away we had happen what every animal sitter dreads.  I had a phone call one evening to say that a hen was lying on its side in the run and unable to move.  What should be done?  If we had been home, then we would have put the hen out of its misery.  As it was, it had to get taken out of the hen run (not an easy job due to the low height of the run) and put in the spare rabbit run and hutch with some water.  The poor thing took two days to finally die and never got up again as far as we can judge.  It turned out to be the one that the fox had traumatised but if it had hung on that long before succumbing to its last illness, could it not have hung on a bit longer until we came home?  That particular animal sitter will take a lot of persuading to take on the job again.

We went down to the southwest to visit my mother-in-law and were able to stay with my brother-in-law.  It was good to see them all and catch up a bit.  We also went up for a walk on Dartmoor each day which was brilliant.  I do need a hill fix on a regular basis.  Where I grew up, the sea was in front of us and the hills behind and I find I get twitchy if I don't see some hills regularly.  My husband is just the same.  So we have had a week to chill out a bit and unwind with a few jobs done, then five days away and now three weeks to do as many as possible of those jobs which were left for the long holiday - preferably without running ourselves ragged again.