Monday 31 August 2009

Pouring over books.....

I find myself pouring over books and Googling non-stop at the moment to find the best recipes to use for our harvested goodies. In all the books shown above I just could not find a recipe for a good, simple, basic Damson Jam, so I enlisted the aid of fellow Bloggers.
Going onto Shirley Goodes' Blog I left a question in the form of a comment, and lo and behold a day later she gave me the answer, via another regular visitor to her site. So thank you AmethystDragon, no link I'm afraid I couldn't get to your Blog. I made the jam, a good simple Damson Jam and it is GORGEOUS. Today I am doing a variation with the Damsons and Crab Apples that I picked and I am also having a crack at some Bramble Jelly. This year we are keeping all the foodstuff for ourselves to see us through the winter, it's a sort of quality control so that when I can sell our excess produce next year I can advise people on the optimum keeping times etc. (Well that's our excuse for scoffing the lot anyway!!) This next week will be spent getting my lovely son sorted out and packed up ready for his year back at Uni. I am sorting through the cupboards and drawers and giving him all our extra plates, pots, pans and bedding etc. It's a chance for a good clear out and Spring (Autumn?) clean. He'll be hitting the motorway next weekend with his first load for his new rented student digs and I'll be doing a last Car Boot at the quiant village of Warborough with Lovely Hubby (as long as the weather is fine). There's something really nice about doing a Car Boot there as it's on the Village Green, surrounded by lovely old Oxfordshire cottages and barns and the atmosphere is always fantastic......... happy, jolly and fun, not one of these grab a bargain and run type of affairs. Usually there is a cricket match going on on the other side of the green and you have to watch out for low flying balls, but I think the season is over now, so we should be safe! So I'm busy, busy, busy, forgive me if I vanish for a couple of days. Sue xx

Friday 28 August 2009

Lie ins and photos...............

What happens when you have a lie in (the first one for months), and before washing your hair you get up to make your Lovely Hubby a spot of toast and another cup of coffee before he starts a day of attaching his wire to his newly erected fence posts.............
Well there I was sat reading 'Heat' magazine (my gossipy bad habit) and drinking the coffee and eating the toast with LH when what should happen but a nifty little Fiat 500 pulls up outside the farmhouse, we both go to the window and watch as a young chap climbs out puts on a pair of trainers and goes to the boot of his car. 'Who's this' we both say simultaneously and then as he pulls a camera and large zoom lens out of the car boot the penny finally drops...............the photographer to take our photos to go with the interview that LH did last week for Llantra.
I fly upstairs and wash my hair while LH keeps him chatting and fills him in on our life on the farm, they decide on the shots needed and I waft ladylike downstairs to be told 'put on your wellies and come and sit on the log pile'.
So we spent a strange hour posing sitting on logs,watering tomatoes in the PT and pretending to knock in fence posts whilst all the time trying to keep the chickens around us, the dogs within shot and beaming smiles on our faces. Then it was time to pose in the kitchen, sat around the table with our (empty) coffee mugs in front of us as though we had just sat down after a hard days work, all the time being told to 'smile your biggest smile'.
Then it was time for him to go on his way, taking with him the address of this blog and leaving us with his email address so we can keep in touch.
Then feeling quite shell-shocked, it was time to put the wellies on for real and get out there, LH doing his fencing and me weeding and re-planting in the PT.
Life is strange here on the farm and just when we think things may get 'normal' and we will be in a routine a lovely spanner is thrown in the works. I wouldn't change it for the world.
(The picture at the top is my pickings from this morning, all waiting to be made into Damson and Crab Apple jam, my next tasks on the list.)
Sue xx

Thursday 27 August 2009

Chickens and mites...................

I'd just thought I'd do a quick post to update you on our infestation problem.
A HUGE thanks to all of you who have commented and emailed me with advice and information.
A special thanks must go to Sarah at Landcuckoo (a brilliant blog, call by and pay her a visit) who has been a fantastic help. Seemingly Red Mite are everywhere at the moment, so I am not alone. Advice from people who have had, and dealt with the problem is always so refreshingly easy to follow, sometimes no matter how much information you read you just need a fellow chicken keeper to get you on the right track.
The chicken houses have been thoroughly emptied cleaned out and disinfected today and Red Mite Powder has been liberally put down all week, the Diatom and Poultry Shield is winging its way to us as I type and we seem to be on top of things. With the new chicken house arriving next week I want to try and keep on top of this. The new house will be sprayed and dusted before we put the girls in and the old house is to be their wet weather perching station for the winter ahead. This house also has their dust bathing area underneath so it will be staying in its current position under the trees.
Our heads aren't where you think they are, we always walk this close together...!
Again on behalf of my girls,
the White Stars - Molly, Cappachino, Latte, Little Lovely, Jemima, Mother, Big Lovely, Milly and Mona,
and the Welsummers - Coco, Fudge, Bourneville and Nutmeg,
thank you to all you lovely Bloggers out there who took the time to comment and help.
Today now we are all cleaned up, the work continues on the fencing around the orchard with Lovely Hubby and Jason manfully knocking fence posts in (well with the help of the tractor and its fence post knocker-inner (it must have a real name but I do not know it!!).
I'm having a final mad sort out ready for a Bank Holiday weekend of Car Boots and de-cluttering. Roll on those empty cupboards and clear corners. I'm also cleaning up a lovely old pew that I bought at my last Bric a Brac market, it was straight out of storage in a barn so you can imagine the cobwebs and ancient yuk that coated it!
Have a brilliant Bank Holiday weekend (it will be our last one til Christmas!!)
Sue xx

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Our Own Food

One of the delights that has crept up on us almost unawares is the proportion of each meal that is now coming from our own veggie patch.
I thought it was about time I produced a little list, as much for my own information as anything else. This Blog is being used as our Diary so we can look back every now and then on the progress we are making and the many mistakes (if we don't learn from them, there's no point in making them...that's my excuse!!)
At the moment we are eating from:
The Veggie Beds


Potatoes (Redskin and White) - Now stored in sacks. Runner Beans Spring Onions Lettuce Rocket Radish Courgette Carrot

The PolyTunnel


Green Peppers


Sage Chives


Thinnings (to garnish and add extra nutrition) The Freezer


Beans Strawberries Vegetable Soups

The Store Cupboard Strawberry Jam

Courgette and Tomato Sauce

Tomato and Onion Sauce

Pickled Beetroot

and of course Courtesy of My Lovely Ladies
Free Range Eggs
I'm sure there's more but that's just a list off the top of my head. We decided that this year would be our trial year, to see what we could produce, how successful and tasty things were and what we would like to expand on (or drop) for next year.
I know now that everything on the above lists has been successful and yummy, and will all be repeated, my BIG blunder this year was to forget to plant any Pumpkins...oops!
Our main failing has been down to the chickens eating so much of what we thought they wouldn't, one of the importat things being our lovely Rhubarb plants. Just as they were reaching perfection they were eaten, stalks, leaves and everything, the leaves are supposed to be poisonous to all living things (tell that to my girls).
At the moment we are out every other night gathering blackberries, each nights pickings are frozen to await the making of jams and jellies for the storecupboard.
Nearing ripeness are our inherited Damson trees, we've found about four up to now all bursting with fruit, so my next task is to pour over recipe books and get all the necessary ingredients in for a Damson jam, jelly, cheese making session. (I hope I like Damsons!!)
The PT is bursting with life, with seedlings erupting from every bed, and last weekend we purchased four already fruiting Lemon and Lime trees, a huge Chilli plant and assorted bushes and trees to go outside the PT to start our little fruit area.
Productivity and fruitfulness, a real sense of achievement!
Sue xx

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Infestation.........itch itch, scratch,scratch.....

We have the dreaded Red Mite. We are infested, stay away if you value your itch free life....... all chickens run and hide!!
The main news today is infestation.........special report from Coco, our reporter in the Eglu.
Seriously though yesterday, I noticed for the first time little clusters of red mites in the White girls house, and because during the day the Brown girls go there to sit on the perches they must have them too.
Let us out of this infested place.....
I have read all the books and articles I have about the dreaded red mite and it all just says to dust the houses and the chickens with Red Mite powder until the problem goes away.
Little Lovely having a stretch.
I have dusted the houses and I have sprinkled the stuff in the girls dust bath area too, so hopefully some of the powder will get on to them, although they do not seem to like the smell too much. Who thought of making it smell like chickens even like aniseed?
Run for the trees.
I will, when I have Lovely Hubbys help dust the girls thoroughly too, I did try to do it myself, but I don't seem to have enough hands. You need one to hold the chicken, one to spread the wings out (one at a time that is) and one to liberally dust!

I come in each morning after cleaning out the houses with skin itching, I think it's mostly in my mind because I don't see them on me. I have to have another shower and wash my hair and still I'm sat here typing away feeling as though they are all over me....yuk...yuk....!!

Any tips gratefully received from all you lovely Bloggers out there who have kept chickens longer than me and have had to deal with this in the past.

Thank you.

And that concludes the news bulletin from our other reporter Fudge for Chicken World.

Itchy Sue xx

Monday 24 August 2009

The Lovely Toby.

Here is the lovely Toby, unintentionally posing for a photo this morning.
He's not a cat that basks in attention, he's very much a serious and busy cat, who has places to be and things to be doing. He's been doing them for the last eleven years and hopefully he has a lot more challenges on his list still to do.
He touches base with us at mealtimes and occasionally when he feels the need for a bit of companionship usually in the form of a few nice words, a quick cuddle and a little grooming with his brush.
Then he's off, back on the mission that he's set himself in this wonderful outdoor life that he now lives.
Time to go, bye Mum...........
I love him all the more for his self-contained, self-reliable ways. Because when he shows you that he loves you, you know he really does!
Sue xx

Saturday 22 August 2009

Yummiest Food.

Yesterday was a good day.
The nice man from the NFU called to discuss our membership and tell us lots of very interesting facts about the NFU and our neighbours!! Whilst he was doing this little Rosy was under the table chewing the end off his laces, luckily he saw the funny side of it and went away a very happy man. Later Lovely Hubby did a telephone interview about our lifestyle and our plans for the future on the farm with a journalist, they are coming to take pictures next week, (will it be the Jimmy Choos and posh frock or the jeans and wellies.....mmmmm....decisions, decisions). After this, just before it was going dark it was off to the hedgerows for bramble picking, I see a store cupboard full to bursting this Autumn with jams and jellies, chutneys and sauces, very satisfying. Last nights tea was our own beans from the climbing frame and our own potatoes, smothered in butter and parsley, with a chicken garlic kiev........mmmmmm yummy! Have a lovely weekend, we are off fence post erecting and sorting out for tomorrows car boot sale, fingers crossed for good weather.
(I've been nominated!! Please click on the little button on my side bar and vote for my blog in the Dorset Cereals Blog competition. Thank you.) Sue xx

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Mooching About

Half of the Herb Garden in the Polytunnel.
Last night I mooched. Wandered around outside with all 4 pets and all 13 chickens, we inspected living quarters, filled water pots, took photos of the PT, tidied away the tools used during the day and generally spent time together.
Jemima, Latte and Little Lovely.
The evening was calm and still, not too warm, yet not cold. No jumpers were required just a bit of activity.
Sophie, the Welsummers and Mother.
The Welsummers came to me when called, and after picking up one, the others gathered round to see what I would do next. I did nothing......I put Coco down and then left them to play around the tyres. To see their confidence in me growing is fabulous.
Coco, Nutmeg, Bourneville and Fudge.
As the light faded we made final preparations for the night, The White Girls retired to their quarters with a resignation born of habit and the Brown Girls settled down in their little Eglu with much chirruping about their exciting day.
Toby slinking off past Big Lovely.
The cats sat on and under the patio table whilst the dogs had a last run around gathering the scents of the night for their dreams.
Archie, wondering if these chickens are edible!
I heard the welcoming call of Lovely Hubby from the lit up kitchen asking if I wanted a coffee....I did, and we sat around the computer looking at Landrovers for sale and compiling the order we are putting in for the new chicken house.
Sometimes an evening can just BE. Do you know what I mean?

Sue xx

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Potato Harvest (Almost) Complete.

All our potatoes are harvested (well almost). This is a late bloomer that showed her face after the bed had been dug and then weeded ready to rest for a week before re-planting with other crops. We are leaving her for one more week just to see what we get!
We have done surprising well for potatoes, the first harvest was in the first two weeks of July, these were dug up slightly earlier than they should have been as the dreaded Blight struck two of our beds very hard.
Although we were warned that harvesting them the way we did, (because of the blight and in our rush to save the spuds) we chopped the plant tops off one day and dug up the potatoes the next, would cause them not to keep too well, we have been pleasantly surprised. What we should have done, I now know, is chop the tops off but leave the potatoes in for a week or so, so that the skins could toughen up a bit.
We are still eating the baby new potatoes as they are, just boiled and then served with parsley and a knob of butter, and the larger ones we have either as boiled, mashed or (yummy, yummy) cut into wedges sprinkled with sea salt and garlic and roasted in the best olive oil for 40 minutes in the Aga . And this is now seven weeks after harvesting and they still taste lovely and fresh.
We are storing them in hessian potato sacks in our utility room which is quite cool, but unfortunately light, so we do lose a couple every now and then because they turn green. I think we are going to have to do a Tom and Barbara Good storage system next year, and use a spare bedroom, kept cool and dark to store our supplies.
Then last week we dug up the final bed of redskin potatoes. I should know the names, but although I carefully labelled the boxes containing the 'chitting' potatoes I forgot to transfer the labels to the beds after we planted them (ooops). Next year I will be more efficient.
We managed to get just over five and half stones of potatoes (thats about 77lbs).
Next year I think I should also check what the costings are for all this and see if we save any money by growing our own, as well as the obvious advantage of having such gorgeous fresh, organic spuds.
Because they are all keeping so well we have not had to eat potatoes at every meal as I thought we might. As much as I love potatoes I could not think of a breakfast dish I could face after eating them for lunch and dinner the day before.
The only drawback is that because we have so many I tend to cook too many at once, sometimes I use the cold, cooked leftovers to make a potato salad for lunch the next day or as a last resort the chickens seem to enjoy them as a snack with their corn.
This morning I have been weeding in the veggie beds and in the polytunnel. In the PT all of the planted seedlings (except the celery) are now showing their heads above the soil, in fact the radishes are already turning red and expanding. I'll take some photos later to show you tomorrow.
Have a lovely sunny day.
Sue xx

Monday 17 August 2009

A Lovely Weekend

Colin and Fran - Congratulations.
We have just had THE BEST weekend for ages.
Saturday morning saw us all up bright and early, me to go to the Farmers Market in Tetsworth with Jason to set up the stall, Lovely Hubby to pack our bags and clean out the chickens, feed the pets etc. Then it was a dash home for me to get changed and set off up the motorway to the lovely town of Chinley in Derbyshire for Colin and Frans wedding celebration.
Posing around the lovely wedding car.
The bride and groom looked happy and relaxed, amazing considering all the preparations they had been doing and continued to do during the day. It was a lovely fun, family atmosphere with a childrens entertainer for the multitude of children at the party, a gorgeous buffet and later a BBQ, cooked in the front garden.
Happy, relaxed photos taken around the trampoline!
We all sat around catching up on family news, drinking wine and beer and eating burgers, the children behaved impeccably and had lots of fun, the adults chilled out and enjoyed themselves. Then all too soon it was time to go to our little B&B in the next village.
Lovely Hubby - always picking up strange women!!
After a good nights sleep and a gorgeous home-cooked breakfast it was time to hit the road again, this time heading towards Chatsworth House. We wandered around the gardens, were fascinated by the kitchen garden (lots of tips picked up there) and then had a look around the house.
After a lovely meal in the courtyard restaurant it was time for Lovely Hubby to have a little snooze in the car and me to do my bit for the credit-crunch (I'm single-handedly keeping the country afloat with my shopping according to LH!!).
Then it was time to go home, happy and relaxed and with no worries, as during our absence Jason had coped admirably with all the animals.
Mmmmmm ..........lovely!
Sue xx

Friday 14 August 2009

Racing Towards Another Weekend

Now it's Friday and another weekend is upon us, this time a somewhat different weekend.
All necessary jobs are being squeezed into today and tomorrow we are off to High Peak in Derbyshire for a lovely family wedding celebration. The animals and birds are being left in the care of my lovely son, who is at this moment dragging himself out of bed ready to face another day.
Tomorrow he will be up bright and early to man the stall at the Tetsworth Farmers Market, which I will help him set up before hitting the motorway with Lovely Hubby for our weekend of freedom.
Soon he will be back off to University to do his Masters Degree in Document Analysis and we will have no built-in animal sitter for the farm, our jaunts will be curtailed and limited. So whilst he is here we are making the most of his talents and farming skills and leaving our little homestead in his safe and capable hands.
That's a lie in for everyone on Sunday then!!
Sue xx

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Big 'Boys Toys'.......

Lovely Hubby hiding behind his favourite 'toy'.

Saturday was spent shopping for chicken supplies, at the Farm Supply Shop, mostly chick crumb and pellets for my wonderful 'girls', and then getting stuck into some work on the farm for Lovely Hubby and Eglu washing and getting my stock ready for Sunday morning for me.

Now going to the Farm Supply shop may sound quite boring but with the noticeboard full of wild and wacky things for sale, it's very interesting. I don't know what half of them are but they sound wonderful. There's the bog standard things like hay, straw and 'fields wanted for grazing' etc... but then there's the appeals and it always gets me thinking, should I buy the 'last 6 ducklings looking for a good home' or could I help rescue a donkey and 'let it live it's retirement in peace and tranquillity down on a farm'.  LH usually smiles his little smile and leads me away, a sense of proportion is usually resumed as we pay for our chicken feed, necessary nuts and bolts and head on our way into town for 'proper shopping'.

Jason spent most of the weekend getting in the potato crop. A bumper harvest from the last raised bed, almost five and a half stone of red skinned potatoes, all different sizes and absolutely yummy!

Tractor with fence post 'knocker' and the other tractor with hedge trimmer attached.

Largest digger, it hasn't moved for years but proves a handy resting spot for the chainsaw and safety helmet!
After shopping it was back to the farm and on with the work. LH was trimming back the wild and woody hedges that surround the orchard with one tractor and putting in more fence posts with the other and then getting the area level for the gate into the next farm field with his 'big digger', this is an important gate as it will be our access for piggy pick ups etc.
  Everything stops for a cool down and a nice cup of tea.

I played shop, setting my wares out on the kitchen table in preparation for the Farmers Market on Sunday in the Village Hall. I am trying to get to a stage where I know exactly what to take, but after having shops for the last umpteen years I find the packing up and setting out repetitive and confusing. I used to be able to arrange my shelves and if they didn't look right I had all day to play until they did, now I have to be set out and satisfied within half an hour!!

Help is always at hand when you have chickens.
I have come to a decision to only do my 2 most successful Farmers Markets from now on and to drop my Aylesbury one. Aylesbury is a full day market that entails me leaving the farm at 6.30am and not getting home until 5pm, a long time to leave the dogs and chickens cooped up and it's not the most financially rewarding either in terms of pounds per hour.

If I am to simplify our lives, decisions like these need to be taken every now and then. Because I am also dropping the Aylesbury Bric a Brac market we are having a whopping sale of stock at Tetsworth Car Boot sale next Sunday (23rd), if you are in the area drop by and buy!! 

It is in a large field just off Junction 8 of the M40 with free parking for cars and all the usual facilities. When the sun shines and the rain stays away it is a great morning out, it kicks off at 8am and usually all cars remain selling until at least 12.30 ish.

Eglu in pieces after its weekly scrub.

Sunday was a lovely, busy day. LH came to help me set up at the Farmers Market and then he went home to continue playing with 'boys toys'. I had a fantastic morning, lots of sales, compliments on the stock and nice talks with the locals and their visitors from far and wide.

Then after a few purchases of my own ... Lemon Drizzle cake and Carrot Cake ... it was time to go home to 'get stuck in'.  After just an hour of work some friends from the village called by on a doggie walk, (there's no other reason for people to come this far out usually) so it was 'down tools' so we could have coffee and cake on the patio with the sun shining and lots of interesting chat about when our farmhouse was an old ruin in 1999 and how he helped rebuild it from the ground up.

A new pathway between the house and the orchard and the lovely view.
After an afternoons hard labour it was time for the obligatory Sunday bonfire. We sat around it with a can of cider each and the sun setting red on the horizon discussing the successful, but interesting and productive weekend.

A flower amongst the rhubarb.
Hope your weekend was as fulfilling.

Sue xx