Tuesday 29 September 2009

Aga love............

I've decided.........it's official....I love my Aga!
How could you not love something that welcomes you home with a warm blast of heat as you open the back door, tries her best to waft her heat over the whole house (and this is a big house), cooks all your food to perfection (once you get past the cremation of the pies that is), gives the cats and dogs (and on occasion , chickens) something warm and cosy to snuggle up against, dries the washing, cuts down on the ironing, warms the water that gives you that oh so needed bath after a hard days work............ and most importantly of all........heats the kettle that gives the water for that first cup of coffee of the day.
Yesterday was 'the day'! Aggy the Aga's annual service day. The lovely man came moved all the cupboards from around her (cleverly designed this kitchen, I never realised before) and pulled out some of her innards!! I couldn't watch.....I retreated to the computer and got on with some work. He tinkered around, shone his torch into her deep dark recesses and then took bits of her outside to his big Landrover, whereupon he started cleaning out and filing her previously secret bits!!
Then after about an hour he started to put her back together, checked her over again and gave me the final verdict........for an old girl she is in brilliant shape (better than me then!).

Phew....we live to cook together for another year.

She's running on oil with a Glowmax additive, so as we are very satisfied with this he's asked me if he can use her as a test case because seemingly some customers using this additive are not as happy as we have been.
She's a reconditioned Aga, one that was moved from another old farmhouse that our landlady owns, and seemingly in the words of the Aga man, 'the only sort you should buy now'. It would seem that new Agas (although still good) do not have all cast iron parts like these old ones.

So if I were ever to buy another one 'always go for reconditioned secondhand ones' he told me. As if I could ever cook on anything else again. I have serious Aga love. Hubby will rue the day he ever started me on this! Haha....................

Aggie the Aga.

Sue xx (The One woman Aga Appreciation Society)

Monday 28 September 2009

Ready and waiting........

Lovely Hubby has worked SO hard over the weekend, and we are now officially ready and waiting for our new arrivals next week.
We have registered with the Rural Payments Agency, got our County Parish Holding Number and our Herd Number and notified the Animal Health people, so we are all legal and above board. We have had a good piggy vet recommended to us and I am going to contact them this week, so if we have any piggy emergencies they will know where we are.
Through these trees is the chicken pen and our house.
The first two pig pens are all finished. With the straw bales lying just inside the doors of the pig arks ready to be spread on the floor the morning we go to pick up Maud and Martha Middle White, and then next week when we go to pick up Betty Berkshire.

Once through the trees you are in the orchard and the first of the 3 new pig pens. Step through the trees inside the pen and you can see the field beyond. The fencing is as secure as possible with stock wire all around and barbed wire at the top and bottom, to discourage escape attempts. We are hoping not to have to use electric fencing but that may come in the future if needed.

Each pen is 12 metres square, with a large pig ark suitable for a mum and her babies, plenty of room to roam about, space for a mud wallow and a shady woody area for rooting about in and resting from the glare of the sun (or the wild winds of winter).
I am using today to check out pig food prices, but we have an offer of shared pig feed deliveries from our new piggy keeping friends (they have THE MOST GORGEOUS farm you can imagine, real Oxfordshire picture book stuff with animals mingling and running around happily together and 50 pigs!!). We bought 20 bales of straw off them yesterday and just clicked straight away.
So it's been a good weekend getting ready for our new aquisitions. Oooh......so exciting!!
Sue xx

Saturday 26 September 2009

All is calm............

Milly watching in amazement as Rosy shares her tea.
Somedays, between the madness that is usually life here on the farm, all is calm. The animals get on with each other, the jobs go well (and get done) and life is all good. Other days it all goes to pot, but yesterday was one of the good days.
The cats sunbathed and slept the day away, the dogs rounded up the chickens and played with them and with each other. The chickens laid their eggs in the nesting boxes and mooched about the manure heaps and the orchard. Lovely Hubby got on well with his fencing and finding us a supplier of straw for the pigs and I got half the polytunnel weeded, all the chicken houses spring cleaned, the washing done and even the shopping done.
And after all this we still had time to go out for a meal and have a relaxing evening together. Fingers crossed for something similar today!!
Hope you're having a lovely weekend.
Sue xx

Thursday 24 September 2009

Shorter days......

The nights really are drawing in now, the chickens are tucking themselves up for bed earlier and earlier each day. Yesterday it was 7.10pm, at the start of the week it was 7.30pm. That's a whole 20 minutes less of a day for them.
# I must admit I quite like the extra time this gives us in the evening, without a break from what we are doing to put everyone to bed. They struggled to come out at all this morning, it was damp and a heavy mist lay over all the fields. If I was them I think I would have turned over and gone back to sleep.
# As it is they are all up and pecking around now, although one of them is in for a shock. Cappachino is very mucky around the rear end (to put it politely) and is going to be dunked in some mildly soapy water to clean her up. Last time I did that (to Latte) she ran back to the flock with a most indignant look on her face as if to say "guess what SHE just did to me?"
No wonder they get mucky...........

I'll wait for the sun to show it's face and then go and do Cappys little spa treatment.

A yellow courgette plant in the tyres producing it's last fruit of the season.
Have a good day.
Sue xx

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Two legs are better than one!!

I don't often feel the urge to photograph what I'm preparing for tea, but when I pulled this little beauty up from the ground I immediately imagined it wearing little tartan trousers!!
I did resist the urge to make it some however, and sooner than you think it was grated and added to our lovely home grown salad last night.
Sue xx

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Moody Morning........

It really is a moody morning here in Oxfordshire.....the sky that is, not me. I have woken in a positive mood, the pace of our lives has been hectic in the past few weeks and now suddenly we have the time to take a breath..............and it feels good. As I type the sun is pushing through the clouds and glimpses of blue are begining to show, truly the promise of another lovely Autumnal day.
I picked up my new lavender order this weekend, 30 more assorted lavender plants, Hidcote, Grosso and Munstead, the plants are sitting in their newly dug over and sand added bed, awaiting a planting session. I had to hastily erect a chicken proof fence with the help of a couple of hoes and long sticks and a roll of chicken wire, as the minute my back was turned to get the hosepipe the chickens rushed en masse for a quick lavender snack....back off girls THIS lavender is mine!!
The Leylandi (is that how you spell it?) trees were delivered over the weekend. We were expecting trees on pallets or in wooden boxes and all we got was a one and a half metre square cardboard box.
Lovely Hubby opened it in disbelief, and there they were 200 trees packed so tightly together. We have unpacked them carefully, watered them well and stood them in little groups so they can enjoy the sunshine. Poor things, what a way to travel!
The front of house is suddenly very green and lush looking. The trees will be used to ring the orchard to soak up some of the excess water that accumulates there over the winter, so we have a busy planting time ahead of us, we have been warned though that pigs love the taste of Leylandi , so they will be planted outside the perimeter fence, hopefully away from little piggy snouts.

I'm off out now as I hear the crowing of a chicken showing off about its egg laying skills and feel that this one will make the freshest breakfast imaginable, what better way to start the day than with a lovely soft boiled egg (and maybe a couple of buttery soldiers for dunking).

Have a good day.

Sue xx

Monday 21 September 2009

Into a fresh week............

Misty morning in the orchard.
This morning is clean, crisp and fresh and there is a gentleness in the air that belies the activity that has been going on around here over the weekend. Maybe now is the time to slow down the pace and take things as they come instead of pushing forward incessantly striving for more and more. The days are already getting shorter and the evenings longer, with more time for relaxation and reflection on how far we have come up to now.

There has been some urgency this weekend in preparing the way for the pigs, but more was accomplished than we set out to so I think we can safely take things down a notch for next weekend.

The orchard has been tidied and two of the three pig arks assembled with only a minimal amount of swearing and losing of nuts and bolts. The fence posts are in place around the individual pigs pens and the wire has started to be put in place. Next week we have to complete the final touches and make them piggy proof. This week my challenge is to find suppliers of straw and pig nuts, read through our pig keepers manual, and generally get myself up to speed on pig keeping, it's been quite a while since our course, I hope somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my cluttered mind that some snippets of information linger!!
After a hard days work Lovely Hubby came in to tell me he was ready to set off for our manure pick up ( a new hobby of his!!) and I said to give me five minutes to finish what I was doing. When I came into the room ready to go, this is what I found........poor tired man and his dog grabbing a siesta.

Dad.....I think she's spotted us!!

I didn't have the heart to wake them, so I let them rest for half an hour! Then it was time to hit the motorway with our big tipping trailer and pick up a ton of manure from the stables of the sister of a friend of ours. After that all that was left to do was to put the Lovely Hubby in a hot bubbly bath and make us some supper to eat in front of Countryfile, our new favourite Sunday night obsession.

Sue xx

Thursday 17 September 2009

Puppies and piles..........

Well, now it's back to normal, or as normal as it ever gets here on the farm. The fields all around are buzzing with tractors and contractors, scarifying, raking, ploughing and doing all the tidying that the huge farm around us needs to prepare it for the winter. Our landlord is a lovely gentleman farmer on the verge of retiring and handing the reins over to his son and it appears he is having a good old fashioned sort out before he does. So just when I thought I might be all alone, the place is alive with big, burly farm men!!
# Here on our little bit of the farm, there is much work to be done. After our weekend away the weeds seem to have had a meeting and decided to invade the polytunnel, so I am going to trot off armed with my gloves and trowel and stage a counter attack. But first I thought I would catch up with reading some of the lovely posts that have appeared on the Blogs on my Blog List.
I couldn't resist posting a couple of pictures of Rosy, she is getting bigger and cheekier by the day. She's a lovely intelligent little thing and is slowly picking up lots of commands and is almost house-trained now, although we still find the odd little puddle when excitment has taken over from training. She usually has a quizical, happy expression on her face and has learned to 'smile', a proper doggy smile that makes us laugh all the time.
Well that the 'puppy' part of the post, what about the piles I hear you ask....well, yes I have piles........... piles of books spilling over every surface stacked in every corner and all waiting to be read. Just when I thought I had conquered my Amazon habit, it sneaked up on me and caught me unawares.
I love books, I have always loved books and I hope I have passed that on to my children, looking in Jasons' wardrobe, yes, I have passed it on! He is an avid reader of books, magazines and articles on the internet, usually connected with science and the weird and wacky.
Me, I love books with stories, books with lovely pictures, books that set my imagination and thoughts a whirling. Books that teach me how to make yummy recipes and treats for tea, and how to take the lovely things we are growing and preserve them for the dark winter days ahead. Books that give me ideas on how to make gifts for my lavender business, to brighten someones day and help finance our little venture.
I think one of my favourite types of books are biographies and autobiographies, to get a glimpse into someone else's life is a treat and to see snippets of their photo albums adds to the pleasure.
I am looking forward to the dark, cosy evening of winter, with the fire crackling, music playing gently in the background, the animals snuggled up for the night and me and Lovely Hubby immersed in our books and magazines, reading, learning and relaxing.
Will it happen........oooh I hope so!
Sue xx

Tuesday 15 September 2009

The Best Weekend.

We have just had the most amazing weekend.
First we stayed at The Lavender Patch, the most luxurious beautiful B&B we have ever had the pleasure of staying in, highly recommended and we would go back anytime. Then we had a great day finding out all about keeping chickens on a larger scale (12,000 instead of 12!!). Will we do it? We don't know for sure yet, lots to think about, but the main thing in my mind is how happy (and healthy) the chickens were even when in a flock this size (2 x 6,000).
Then we nipped home for a quick turnaround and we were off on Saturday afternoon to Lyme Regis and to a B&B of such a contrast it was unbelievable. It was perfectly clean and had everything we needed but it was tiny, teeny tiny in fact. The en-suite was a cupboard, you had to open the shower to stand up from the toilet!! Everytime one of us stepped out of our 'bathroom' the other was in fits of giggles it just looked like you were coming out of the wardrobe!!
But still this was just a base for the day we had been looking forward to for so long, the chance to see River Cottage in all it's glory and to meet the lovely Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. And lovely he was, just the same in person as you see on the TV, no airs and graces just a really nice down to earth chatty guy, if only all celebs were like that!
We both got our new books signed by him and then Lovely Hubby joined the end of the last signing queue to have a more in-depth discussion with him. And he didn't mind a bit, they had a good chat about our thoughts and plans for the future and Hugh gave LH a few tips for really making it pay, even away from the celebrity, tv, book route. The whole of River Cottage (or Park Farm as it is really called!) was lovely, a mine of good ideas and full of like-minded people who were all out to have a good time. The thing that really stood out was the cleanliness of the place, they catered for over 2,000 people over two days and even with all the litter this would normally produce the place was spotless, everyone used the recycling bins dotted about and a little golf trolley drove around emptying these into the main recycling bins by the farms entrance on a regular basis. Everyone had time to chat, the well-known faces off the TV, the visitors and the experts that were exhibiting and showing their
Gorgeous food was produced, cooked and sold on the site and you could see the chefs and cooks in action, picking the herbs from the kitchen garden, making burgers and veggie stews and serving them up piping hot and as fresh as fresh as could be.
The animals were happy and healthy and just as you see on tv, living in their little ram-shackle houses in their little paddocks occasionally escaping and then trotting back to get away from the throngs of people. The polytunnels and greenhouses were all available for walking through (and pinching ideas from), and the whole site was open to the visitors to stroll through and see in action. (Some naughty, nosy ladies even pressing their noses up against the house windows for a closer look at the living quarters.)
We thoroughly enjoyed our day and would repeat it in an instant, visit your selves next year, just sign up to the River Cottage website and you get information on all these days and other fabulous courses run by the team, although you have to act quick, this day was sold out within hours of going on the site.
Today I am off to Preston to drop my lovely son off at University, am I sad? No, not really, yes I'll miss him, but he is a lovely lad full of confidence and more than ready to take this next step in his academic career. We felt all the pangs that parents do when he went to University the first time to get his degree in Forensic Science, and now we know, he knows this is exactly what he wants to do we are just happy that he has this brilliant chance to do it. We will be here always ready to help, but for now he's back off into the big wide world and away from our little farm.
See you soon.
Sue xx

Thursday 10 September 2009

Gorgeous morning.....................

This morning is gorgeous.
At first light there was a mist hovering just above the fields and as the sun gets stronger the mist is lifting and the world is coming alive., the chooks are pottering in their runs and I am waking up slowly at the computer, coffee in one hand typing with the other.
I am taking a mini Blogging break over the next few days. We have a really busy weekend, sort of work, but lots of fun too we hope.
Tonight we hit the road for Derby, we are doing a one day course tomorrow on the feasibilty of keeping mass Free Range chickens here on the farm. At the end of the day we will be heading home for a pit stop, then on Saturday lunchtime we will be setting off for the Devon/Dorset border so we can spend Sunday at River Cottage, it's the Hugh FW's Autumn Fair and promises to be a day of good food and lots to learn. Monday we will be spending in Lyme Regis where Hugh films all his fishing/sea stories and then we will head back home.
Tuesday I will be dropping Jason off at University in Preston, Lancashire, ready to begin his Masters Degree in Document Analysis, then it's back down the motorway to my lovely Mum and Dads house and a well earned overnight stop to catch up on news and pick up our supplies from their allotment shop.
My Dad helps run the Trading Hut, a wonderful shop split over a container and a pavilion style hut, stacked high with rustic sacks, veggie seeds and plants. in fact most of the supplies needed by allotment keepers and gardeners. Everything weighed out into brown paper bags (with always an extra onion or potato for luck) from the old fashioned weighing scales. Dad always lets me know what goodies are arriving and my order is usually placed on the spot and picked up as soon as I can. This time I am buying some overwintering onion sets to get us ahead for next year.

Then on Wednesday lunchtime it will be time to head home, this has all had to be planned with military precision, to make sure that the animals are all fed at their usual times and the dogs are not left too long on their own. Whilst I am travelling Lovely Hubby is working slightly shorter hours so he can be here to do my usual chores as well as his own.

And after all this..................we have to prepare the farm for the arrival of the pigs. We have two weekends to get everything ready. That includes the planting of 200 trees around the perimeter of the orchard, building the pig arks (Jason is going to creosote the bases whilst we are travelling this weekend), and buying our piggy troughs and sourcing a good supply of pig food, both dried and veggie scraps.

Busy, busy, busy then!!

Back soon, the sign on the door says 'Gone Travelling'.

Sue xx