Thursday 30 June 2016

Sheep, Chippings and Scaredy Cats and Dogs

Another load of chippings was dropped off  by the tree surgeons the other day and straight away the sheep were all over the pile.  Picking out tasty titbits and enjoying the warmth that generates from it as it quickly starts to rot down.  

Rosy is standing well back from the sheep and just watching them while I take the photo, because like the other dogs she has been 'told off' by the head sheep just once too often and has now developed an aversion to all woolly white things that live with us.

They are a lovely friendly bunch to me and come over for a head scratch when they see me but they don't like the dogs, and I think they quickly realised that if they got the upper hand early they would be left in peace.  They have told both Rosy and Mavis off in no uncertain terms, and little Suky who was desperate to make friends and stood staring at them for a long time, was head butted and flipped over ... she hasn't gone anywhere near them since.

I was walking with the dogs at one end of the paddock the other day and all the sheep took off towards the gate near the polytunnel at great speed, I wondered what on earth they were up to and then I spotted Ginger sat just inside the gate .... he was very soon sat on top of the gate post with a fearful expression on his face!!  All the sheep could do was to sniff at his twitching tale dangling down.  They were very interested to meet him but he wanted none of it ... well I suppose there is quite a size and number differential!!

Each new delivery keeps the sheep entertained for a while, and then the dogs get to have a good sniffing session, it also means that there is more for us to put around the place, I think making paths through the woodland will be one of our next jobs with these chippings as Nut Wood and the front flower bed are now full to capacity.

Sue xx

Wednesday 29 June 2016

A Home for Homemade Jams

A few of you expressed a n interest in seeing what I put into my new Bread and Cheese cupboard.  So here you are ... a post dedicated to the cupboard and it's new contents.

I had to think about what to put into the cupboard because I wanted it to have a specific use rather then just get filled up with the bits and pieces of day to day living, and even though we try to live simply there is always what seems like an onslaught of 'stuff' that continually comes into the house.

In the end I decided it would be the new home for anything homemade and home preserved.  So my jams, chutneys and relishes were all moved over jar by jar from the two cupboards they had been split between in the kitchen.  Once here they were neatly lined up on top of the chest freezer .....

... before being moved over to the new cupboard.

It makes them so much easier to get at and to see exactly what we have, and there is even a bit of room left over ... which I think I will put my empty tins into rather than even more preserves ..... I think we have more than enough of those for now!!

The cupboard below is now filled with my jam making equipment.  Jam pan, thermometer, funnels and all my spare jars, lids and labels.  It's really nice to have it all in one place.

The two drawers have also been filled, one with the tablecloths and table mats for the table, which after all is in this room and the other is full of all those bits and pieces that accumulate in the kitchen, pens, sellotape, batteries etc .... you really don't need to see the mess that is in that drawer  ;-)

Of course the knock on effect to all this was a mammoth re-jig of all the other cupboards and drawers in the kitchen, so what started off as an hour long job lasted most of the day ... oh well it was raining outside and even the prospect of the polytunnel was not appealing on a rather chilly wet day.

Sue xx

Monday 27 June 2016

Our Little Wildlife Haven

This weekend's main job apart from all the other little jobs that fill our days was to finally finish off Nut Wood.  It's in the corner of our main paddock and is so called because most of the trees planted in there are nuts.  My nickname for it is Nutbush City Limits ... but Lovely Hubby gave it it's sensible name ;-)

In fact in there we have three Oak trees, three Birch, two Sweet Chestnuts, two Almonds and four Walnuts.  One day, hopefully, we will get a glimpse of what it will become after our lifetime.  It should be a wonderful heavily wooded area, in the meantime we are continuing to make it into a wildlife haven on a much smaller scale.

Yesterday this area was raked and had lots of flower seeds scattered onto it, a mix of flowers and wildflowers that will be allowed to run rampant and set seed.  It should be a haven for all sorts of bees, insects and other types of creepy crawlies.  The bushes that were already here and the nettles along the fence are staying, and I have a few Borage plants that I will transplant into here in the next day or two.

The old plastic paddling pool that we found here when we moved in, has slowly filled with rainwater and is half buried in the soil with grassy edges, inside it there are rocky ledges and a ramp to help creatures that fall in climb out again.

Talking of climbing I climbed onto one of the soil piles to try and get a higher shot to give you an idea of the whole place.

As well as the huge boulders that we excavated when we dug back into the hillside for the garage and workshop, there is a huge chunk of the old oak tree that we had to cut down when we moved in.  These are already proving to be little wildlife havens, each in their own way for small creatures and insects.  The black charred stump behind the oak was found on an old bonfire site when we moved in and was put in here for it's unique ability to attract things.

The chippings had been piled high over the whole circle of flattened grass that you see, Lovely Hubby moved it mostly with the tractor, tipping it over the fence from the front bucket and then raking it all out, but the last loads he filled wheelbarrow and wheelbarrow full of and moved it to where he wanted it.

Including all around the doors of the poly and net tunnels.

Everywhere was looking so much neater until some of the chickens got out again and started rooting around in the chippings for bugs. The last I saw of Lovely Hubby he was chasing two chickens up the hill brandishing a sweeping brush and shouting 'get back to where you should be you little f***ers'.

There's never a dull moment!!

Sue xx

Friday 24 June 2016

Sacrificial Cabbage?

I have no idea what this is!  

I'm guessing cabbage, but it could also be a Purple Sprouting Broccoli gone mad, a seed fell through the workbench last year and grew in with the radishes, I had no idea what it was by the time it had gotten a bit bigger so I transplanted it to this bed and watched it develop.  Anyway it's been pulled up now and fed to the chickens ... I just wanted to keep them busy and out of the bloody polytunnel for a while so it was a sacrificial offering.  

It worked and they stayed where they should be and had a great feast while I got on with some planting and re-potting with the polytunnel doors open without having to shoo a chicken out every ten minutes.  The sooner they are back in their original Chicken World and have more to do the better, my Veggie Patch and polytunnel will be safe again.  

Knowing how busy my little lot keep themselves makes me feel even sorrier for caged and barn reared birds ... but even my pampered little crew are not allowed to entertain themselves on my veggies!!

Sue xx 

Thursday 23 June 2016

Fruity Perks

I picked the first three Strawberries off our plants yesterday, well the first three that made it into the house,  I've been sampling the wares for a couple of days while I've been out and about either walking the dogs or working in the polytunnel ;-)

Now three isn't many even just for one person so I had to think of a way to savour them all the more and this is what I decided on for breakfast yesterday.  The three strawberries sliced up, minus a few slices that I accidently ate while the toast was toasting, sat on a good helping of homemade bramble jam, the last jar from the 2010 stash of blackberries. 

It was a bit sweet for me but the slight edge of the strawberries made it taste lovely and fresh.  Not a bad start to the day.

Growers perks!!

Because I've been picking them little and often the plants are now filling with new fruits and I'll be able to gather a bowlful tomorrow .... if I can leave them alone long enough.

Sue xx

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Updating the Cabbage Picture

I was in the polytunnel the other day when I noticed how big the cabbages were, so I picked one for us to eat and it made me think of the now infamous 'cabbage and me' photo that graces my Facebook page and some of my other links.  So I asked Lovely Hubby to do an updated version.

(If I look tired on it ... it's because I was .... VERY tired after a long morning in the polytunnel, so don't worry Mum.)

The original taken I think way back in 2010.  I noticed that this cabbage is much bigger than that one. 

I guess the original photo will still grace most things as I don't have the energy to go round altering everything it appears on.  But at least I have a new original ...

... and two more rather large cabbages left in the polytunnel  :-)

Sue xx

Monday 20 June 2016

The Weekend

This weekend saw us doing something we don't normally do here ..... praying for rain!!

Lovely Hubby has been working for the last couple of weeks bringing soil over from our giant soil piles in the paddock and levelling the ground at the back of the house.  It's been a mammoth task even with the use of his little tractor.  Finally this weekend saw things contoured enough for us both to set to with rakes and then fertiliser and grass seed.

Those of you that have been reading the blog for a while will notice that there is something missing from this area ..... the flower bed that we installed by the hedge the Summer after we moved in has now gone, meaning that mowing of the grass will be a quicker and simpler affair in future ... and when you have as much grass as we have this needs to be the case.

We sheltered once from a heavy downpour just after we started and then worked for a couple of hours until all the fertiliser and seed was down, then it started really raining.  Smiling we went in, got dried off and cleaned up and then had lunch .... there was no need to get the hosepipe out as we had been planning.

In the post on Saturday was our second FIT (Feed in Tariff) payment .... it's so much nicer to be paid by British Gas than us paying them  :-)

A reader asked if the solar panels only work when it's sunny .... thankfully as we live in rainy North Wales it is powered by daylight rather than sunshine ... phew!!  And as it is almost the longest day it's working very efficiently at the moment.

Sue xx

Saturday 18 June 2016

The Conservatory Shelves

A couple of people have expressed an interest in where my new sugar shaker lives so here is a photo of the shelves in the conservatory.

They were made from the offcuts of the wood bought to top the windowsills and which act as a bench for when there are lots of us sat around the table.  Most of our furniture is oak, including the table, bench and although the new Bread and Cheese cupboard is Pine it is almost exactly the same colour, 

Here's a photo of the room taken just after we had finished doing the window sills, the shelves are now on the wall at the left of this picture.  They ended up a bit more cluttered than I originally meant them to be but it's all stuff we love, and anyway there will soon be some more space on them as my large silver Vegetable Show winners cup has to be handed in at the end of this month ready for this year's Llanrwst Show.

Talking of which I better start talking to my plants to get them to grow a bit faster if I want to stand a chance of winnings any certificates this year!!

Sue xx

Thursday 16 June 2016

We're supposed to be saving .....

We're supposed to be saving like mad this year to pay off the mortgage but an opportunity that was simply too good to miss came up ... and I just went for it. 

 A lovely little antique shop in Deganwy is soon to be closing it's doors for the last time, the chap who runs it has been in the business for over 30 years is retiring and he was having a genuine closing down sale and everything was half price ... including this cupboard that I had first fallen in love with not long after we bought our home in Wales almost three years ago, when I had first discovered the little treasure of a shop called Acorn Antiques.  

While he was writing out the receipt and taking down our delivery details we had a lovely chat about how sad it is to close down a business that you love, I've had to close down two shops in the past and it's like giving a piece of your heart away.

 Anyway back to my 'new to me' cupboard it's a pine copy of an original Welsh 'Bread and Cheese Cupboard'.  I don't think this is as old an example as I have seen before and they are usually in either Mahogany or Oak so mine is most likely a 'poor man's bread and cheese cupboard', which suits simple old me just fine.  ;-)

It was made locally to us, just forty minutes up the road on Anglesey, seemingly these cupboards were only ever made in the Welsh counties of  Anglesey,  Caernarfonshire, Denbighshire and  Merionethshire, so it makes me happy to have one in our home.

Now I've cleaned it all out I just have the happy job of filling it up ... although I doubt there will be any bread and cheese stored in there.

As we were leaving the shop, the owner rushed after us and handed me a paper bag, saying 'I hope you like this as much as you said you did', it contained a lovely Pewter sugar shaker that I had picked up when I first went into the shop and showed to Lovely Hubby.  

His thoughtful and generous gesture made my day, and now it's taken pride of place on my shelves in the conservatory, and will stay there to remind me of such a lovely man .... and such a special day ... more of which will be revealed as soon as I can.  :-)

Sue xx

Tuesday 14 June 2016

The Gadgets Were Out

For the last few weeks of hot, hot day and night time temperatures the Aga was off and the gadgets were out.

The rice cooker was in use most days.

The soup maker was in use most days.

The Remoska in use every day.

The microwave did it's usual stirling back-up job.

This week the rain is falling non-stop, the temperatures have plummeted, the builders have had to pack up early yet again due to the most violent thunderstorm and torrential rain.  Rosy is quivering in her Thunder Jacket she's really scared of thunder and lightening, so I'm joining her on the sofa for an afternoon movie and some snuggle time.

Oh ... and the gadgets are back in the cupboard .... we needed the warmth of the Aga.  

It warms the house, dries the washing, gives a scared dog something to stand against when Mum leaves her for a few minutes ... and come teatime it will once again be doing the cooking.

Luckily I can now bring it back up to temperature with the solar panels powering the return to full heat capacity and it doesn't cost us a penny.

Hope the weather's better where you are.

Sue xx

Monday 13 June 2016

Fathers Day is Coming Up

This time of year can be tough for those of us who have lost our dads.  I know the first couple of years after my Dad died it was so hard to see all the cards and gift ideas in the shops in the run up to the weekend that quite rightly is devoted to all those lovely dads out there.

But when I was sent one of these Brew Barrels as a trial thing for Lovely Hubby to have a go at brewing, my first thought was 'What a brilliant Father's Day present that would make' ... and it really would.

Due to us being so busy just recently with the ongoing work on the house and another venture that has just cropped up LH has yet to get his Brew Barrel going, but I am going to suggest that this weekend he takes a few minutes out from everything, read the simple instructions that came with it and get his beer brewing.  Just one week later he will be able to sample his wares and will no doubt be a very, very happy man.

To find out more about this product visit the Brew Barrel website, just click HERE.  There are lots of different beers and lagers to choose from and if all this is too late for Father's Day, then there are always birthdays. Christmas, special occasions .... or simply that you or the man in your life would like some home brewed beer in a week.

I'll let you know the results as soon as the beer is brewed and we have had the chance to give it a taste test :-)

Sue xx

Saturday 11 June 2016

In the Tunnel on a Rainy Day

Yesterday the builders finally arrived to start the process of cleaning up and repairing the house after the awful Winter downpours of a few months ago, that saw one side of the house letting in water above all the windows.  Their first job was to wash down the roof with a pressure washer so the state of the ridge tiles and slates could be checked properly.  

Rather ironically Mother Nature decided to give them a hand,  and after just a couple of  hours of working and with only two thirds of one side of the roof cleared of moss and debris the heavens opened in spectacular style.  A good rinse for the roof but not safe for being up there for the chap at the top of the roof ladder, so tools were downed and everything was cleared away, hopefully they'll be back on Monday to carry on.  Of course it cleared up for a couple of hours just after they'd packed everything away such is weather here on our wild Welsh hillside!!

While they were busy outside I was tucked up safely and dryly, if rather noisily in the polytunnel, weeding, potting on and doing all the other little jobs that needed doing.

I swear sometimes that I could be out there all day everyday and never actually run out of things to do.

As you can see the tomatoes are coming on really well, it doesn't take much warmth and sunshine for teeny, tiny little tomato seedlings to put on a spectacular spurt of growth and they are making good use of the strings that are this year taking over from the bamboo canes in the polytunnel.

I have planted some of the excess of tomato seedlings into the net tunnel so I can compare the two growing temperatures.  I am also considering  having a couple of the plants out on the hillside planted in the warmth of an old tyre just for an experiment, although I doubt they will do as well, we are quite exposed here.

In front of the tomatoes in this net tunnel bed are my ordinary Cauliflowers, I was going to add some Romanesco cauliflowers to the side of them in the same bed but when the heavens opened I got pretty wet and had to retreat to the polytunnel, before giving up completely and coming in the house to change clothes and grab a cup of coffee.

Today although still looking very grey it is a lot drier and Lovely Hubby is out cutting grass and having a general tidy up of all the green areas, of which we have lots.  After finishing this post I'll be going to clean out the henhouse and then back to polytunnel pottering, as I said there's always something to do.

Have a good weekend everyone, and lets hope for some more sunshine.

Sue xx

Thursday 9 June 2016

A No News Day

It's felt like a bit of a 'no news day' today.  The builders who were supposed to arrive on Monday then I found out on Tuesday that they weren't coming until this morning, then texted Lovely Hubby to tell him they weren't coming until tomorrow .... obviously haven't been here.

The dogs are snoozing the day away in the cool of the house, only waking up to follow me to the bathroom every time I go, heaven knows what they think I do in there, they must have noticed by now that there is most definitely not another way to the great outdoors in there.

I've pottered between the net tunnel and the polytunnel and sadly discovered that my Leeks are going to seed and have pretty much all gone woody quote Dick Dastardly drat and double drat.  So I concocted a pot of soup using just the outer layers, and leaving the central woodlike stem in the compost bin, pulled up an onion that was also about to flower and a handful or so of lettuce and kale leaves .... and then remembered I switched the Aga off such was the heat in the house the other day.  

 I hoiked out the soup maker and set it all in action.  It tastes good by the way, although I've probably added a bit too much garlic paste to the mix, I have a tendency to do that when there's only a bit left in the tube, or so I think until I start squeezing and it turns out there's inches and inches of the stuff.  I'll have a bowl for tea tonight and some more for our lunches tomorrow and then I'll probably harvest all the rest of the leeks before they get any worse.

The chickens have all been pottering on the hillside enjoying the slightly cooler day.  The new girls have started laying, although two of them are just laying the teeny tiny eggs that start off a hens egg laying life.  Nature is kind that way they get gradually larger and larger as their bodies get used to the process.  It bodes well for one of them, although her eggs are still pretty small she laying mostly double yolkers .... tiny little pairs of yolks in one egg.  The yolks of them all are also gradually turning to the lovely shade of orange that our girls lay, thanks to the fresh greens that they get to forage and the daily treat of a small bowl of corn.

I've spent far too long on the computer, drank a few too many cups of coffee and now it's time to feed the hounds and wander round the paddock with them.  My son phoned earlier while I was in the orchard collecting eggs and the background to our conversation was the baa-ing of the sheep .... every time they see me they think I should feed them as well as the chickens.

There you have it .... a no news blog post.

Sue xx

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Mad Dogs and Scottish Men ....

The heat of the past few days really divided the camp here.  The dogs and Lovely Hubby were determined to be in the heat of the sun no matter how much it beat down.  LH riding round on his tractor, humping bags of compost around and generally carrying on as normal.

Suky did retire to the kitchen every now and then to flop on the cool tiled floor, but she likes to be with the others so she came out whenever I did and for me that was as briefly as possible.  Hanging washing on the line, dashing over to the Orchard with fresh water for the chickens, the quickest ever watering of the seedlings in the polytunnel.  There was not a hope in hell of me working in there with the temperature steady at 45 degrees even with all the doors open.

Rosy just wanted to get through the fence to try and get to Mr Mole, who's tunneling exploits were still ongoing.  Ironically this house is known to older locals as 'The Mole Catchers House' as that's what one of the former owners did for a living.  He would no doubt be horrified at this recent invasion.

Ginger, as you saw yesterday, just lay in the shade, stretched out to his full length, keeping an eye on everyone from his vantage point near the door.  Today it's so much cooler and that makes me happy. 

 I'm not a hot weather person at all ... I've even turned the Aga off !!

Sue xx

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Our Littlest Weekend Visitor

Saturday evening saw Lovely Hubby erecting the old chicken fence around his now flattened 'molehills'.  He was about the start properly smoothing the area, but then he came in for some lunch and in the thirty minutes he took off to eat his dinner (and the forty five minutes he then had for a nap) Mr Mole ... the real molehill maker .... erected two new edifices to mole life in the previously flattened ground.

Losing the will to live he decided to put the fence up to keep the dogs from walking wet dew ladened soil into the kitchen every morning ... I think Lovely Hubby must have heard the slight use of swear words and banging of doors first thing on Saturday when they did just that!!  I think we will leave it for a week and see how many new real molehills appear before we sow the new grass seed.

On Sunday someone decided the new fence was the perfect place to sit to observe what we were up to ....

... he stayed there for ages, long enough for me to firstly stand and admire him from the conservatory and then to risk dashing into the other room to pick up my camera.

Not even a lazy cat cooling off in the shade on the patio was enough to scare little Mr Robin off.

Sue xx

Monday 6 June 2016

New Birds - Self Sufficient In ... Eggs and Chicken

This is another in a series of posts about what we are, or are on our way to being, Self Sufficient In  ...

Saturday evening after tea we went to pick up four new birds to add to our now slightly diminished chicken flock.  With this year's natural deaths we were down to just sixteen birds, one cockerel, Jack and his fifteen wives, a couple of which are now barely laying due to their age.  

We don't cull our birds when they have stopped laying at the moment. but we have discussed this long and hard and from now on most of the birds we buy will be dual purpose to give Lovely Hubby a few chickens a year as home reared meat.

With this in mind we set out to purchase four Light Sussex hens which are large dual purpose hens exactly as we need.
(both these photos are from Google Images, I will photograph ours soon)

But then I got tempted by the Calder Rangers ... aren't they just a glorious colour, so we got two of each.

We are just in the process of setting up a schedule of buying four birds, once or twice a year to bring fresh laying capability into the flock and ease out the sparser laying older girls.  I have to grit my teeth and go along with this as it makes much more financial sense and will seem a bit easier to me than rearing a whole flock of birds separately that will all go to meat after a few months.  We also do not currently have the space to keep two flocks on the go at once as they couldn't live together, birds being bred purely for meat are on different food to those that are egg layers.

I sat and worked out our entire chicken keeping journey in financial terms the other day to see for myself how 'self-sufficient' we actually are in eggs, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that including our purchases of the five hen houses we have had over our lifetime of chicken keeping, adding back in the proceeds from the sale of two of them, the cost of the birds, the food, the vet bills for Daisy and all the other paraphernalia involved in hen keeping we come out nicely in the black .... just!!  It helped to balance the figures when we had our large flock of rescued free-rangers, and sold masses of eggs to regular customers at Lovely Hubby's workplace and also at the Farmers Markets we had monthly stalls at and the regular car boot sales in between markets.

Now we sell a lot fewer eggs but there was enough in the chicken kitty to buy the new girls and pay for feed for the next couple of months ... and of course there are eggs here still waiting to be sold.

So I can hand on heart say we are Self sufficient in eggs ... and one day, hopefully we will be self sufficient in chicken meat*.  

Sue xx

* Chicken meat will be supplemented by Lovely Hubby culling the rabbits on our hillside ... it's supposed to taste pretty similar, or so I've been reliably informed by the man himself, so he will use this in lots more of the dishes he currently uses chicken in.