Saturday, 19 December 2015

Our first chickens have arrived!

There was a gentle pace to this morning, after a 4am start, I fell back to sleep on the sofa at 7am and Mr J woke me around 8.30am with a cuppa. After breakfast, I made some bread sauce for my sister for Christmas day using my mother's secret recipe and popped it into the freezer.  Mum used to make bread sauce for us all each year and since my mother passed away, I have taken up that mantle.

I also made some fudge using my father's recipe. Dad used to make a batch of fudge just before Christmas each year and even after we'd left home and had our own families, he would make a little container full for each of us. I decided to continue this family tradition making it for my sister and daughter.

There was much excitement at home this afternoon because 'the girls' were arriving. We braved the Saturday before Christmas shopping chaos, only to discover that our corner of south east Wales was surprisingly quiet and we popped to our local farming supplies merchants to buy some chicken supplies.

Back at home, we prepared their new house with straw and sawdust as they have been used to at my daughter's home and then we waited for their arrival.

Mr J went off to his study for a while and I made a big pot of butternut squash soup for supper, which Mr J had with the bread I made this morning and I had gluten-free ciabatta rolls. Then I saw car lights along the lane and the chicken taxi had arrived. Not actually a taxi of course, my daughter's partner had brought them across the bridge to their new home.

So Bluebell (pictured), Jack and Diesel are now settled into their new henhouse and tomorrow I will take some photos of them.

Friday, 18 December 2015

A wreath and a henhouse

Today was going to be a quiet and gentle one at home, it didn't quite turn out like that. Mr J headed off to the local shops to buy a few food basics and I stayed at home in case the delivery we were waiting for arrived.

When I saw my sister last week, I promised her that I would make a Christmas wreath and I realised this morning that if I didn't do it soon, it would be the other side of Christmas before she got it, so I wandered around the garden and gathered a few branches and twigs that might be useful.
I had a twig base to use, so it was going to be a relatively simple task to wire on some fir, ivy and holly. My sister wanted a simple, natural design that is slightly rustic, I think I have managed to get the right look for her.
I spent a while this afternoon reading some great blogs and playing with the design and layout of this one and then to my delight, the delivery arrived. Two large boxes containing the flat pack chicken house. Never mind that the light was failing or that it was starting to get cooler, I was in small child who's very excited mode.
So without delay, well yes actually, a small delay while Mr J made us both a cuppa, we unpacked the pieces and spent an hour or two in the piggery, building it as much as we could before we need to take it to the garden for the final pieces to be fixed together. 


So for tonight it remains in the piggery with my grandsons' toys , but tomorrow it will be taken to the garden and completed. I can hardly wait for the first chickens to arrive from my daughter's home to live with us.

VODA Heat powered stove fan reviewed

Sometimes I feel like I've just been let into a great new club. I hadn't heard of stove fans until recently, but advised by the previous owners of our home, I ordered a stove fan to see if it makes a difference to the effectiveness of our wood burning stoves or whether what it claims to do is just a load of hot air!

So a quick search online shows that two-blade or four-blade fans are most common. I ordered a four-blade Voda stove fan which I found on eBay here. It arrived quickly and I was pleased to see that all the packaging is recyclable. A card outer box with corrugated card insert that safely held the fan in place, no unnecessary plastic bag or moulded plastic holder.
Simple instructions said to place the fan on the side or back of the stove on a flat surface and to only handle it by the little metal handle on the top of it. The handle looks a bit small but in use, it is plenty large enough. I ordered the all black version, as I wanted something unobtrusive and that wouldn't attract the attention of the grandchildren (although it also comes with different colour blades).

It was quite warm in our house last night, so we didn't really need a fire, but too impatient to wait for a cold morning or evening, I placed the fan on the back of the stove as per the instructions and waited.
Mr J and I sat and watched the fan waiting for it to do something as the stove warmed up, a slight touch by Mr J started the blades moving and it merrily spun away until the fire died down and the heat given off by the stove lessened. It was very quiet, I didn't notice a whirring sound (which had been a slight reservation of mine) or a tinkling noise at all. The idea behind the stove fan is that it whooshes the hot air away from the stove further into the room and distributes the heat more evenly, so you don't get that 'burning front, freezing back' issue.

Did it work? Yes, it seemed to move the heat around the room very well and we could feel that the warmth was being pushed further away from the stove. Job done! I will be ordering another stove fan to use on the wood burner that heats the kitchen and snug (one of those stoves with doors on both sides) as the kitchen doesn't have an alternative source of heating.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Gentle celebrations

We've been celebrating at home, because yesterday we handed back the keys to our previous rented property, bringing with us the last of the plants for our new garden. This means that we can now give our full attention to firstly each other and secondly our new home. And after almost a month since we collected the keys to our house, we have an internet connection to the house. Its been a nuisance and quite costly trying to piggyback a laptop to my telephone but now we are back online properly we are jolly happy. Despite wanting to have a gentler life, being without the internet was never on the agenda!

I had a lovely day yesterday, I sorted and tidied a little in the morning and spent a gentle hour or so in the kitchen making some comfort food for lunch, while Mr J went to hand back the keys to our previous house. I made a shepherd's pie with organic lamb and instead of a mashed potato top, I used diced swede and topped that with cheddar cheese. And using the last of the pastry from yesterday's mince pies, I made an apple tart with cinnamon and maple syrup. It would have been perfect with vanilla ice-cream, but we didn't have any, so that is on my mental list of things to make before too long.

A 4am start meant that by early afternoon I was exhausted and once the telephone engineer had finished and left, I had a little snooze on the sofa. Actually, it was more of a deep heavy sleep which I am told was accompanied by the not-so-gentle sound of a family of wild warthogs running through the forest. This is an improvement on how my snoring has been over the last year or so. Shortly before I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and given a prescription to replace the missing thyroxine, I had got to the stage of snoring all the time, even when I was awake. Every time I relaxed, the swelling in my throat started to block my airway and I'd make the most extraordinary grunting snoring noise - I think I didn't hear the television properly for a couple of months because the sound was mostly drowned out by the noise in my throat.

Anyway, I woke up late afternoon and Mr J informed me that the internet was now available throughout the house.

So I wasted no time yesterday in choosing and ordering a henhouse for 'the girls' to live in when they first arrive and until the chicken condo is completed. I looked at the pros and cons of different designs and how they would work for the space we have and I've chosen a Cocoon 4000WX. Even though the girls will be able to roam around the small holding during the day, they will like having a secure place to sleep at night. And I like that this henhouse is raised especially as I have spotted a small family of rats in the woodshed and I'd rather that they didn't have a small dark space in which to make a home under the henhouse. It will also save my back aching too much when cleaning the henhouse if I don't have to bend down so low and this model has an opening roof which will give me easier access to their indoor living space to clean it and to check on them if I need to.
Once the henhouse arrives (which hopefully will be tomorrow), I will review it and may even try to make a short video about putting it together. On today's agenda (after another 4.20am wake up) is to create a Christmas wreath for my sister and weather permitting, to put some more glass into the greenhouse.


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Tying up loose ends

What a hectic couple of days it has been. We have been back and forth to our previous rented house collecting the last of our belongings, cleaning and putting back up the things that we took down when we moved there (like old roller blinds and shelving).
Last night I found time to put up our Christmas tree which I will talk about another time, but I am rather pleased with how nice it looks in our new living room.

Today, the last thing I did before I left the old house was to wash the last of the tiles next to where Archie used to eat his food and splatter it on the tiles. I always found this rather impressive as he was a dry food cat, so I wasn’t sure what there was for him to splatter.

So that’s it, my last visit to our rented house is done. Mr J has to go back there tomorrow to do a handover of the keys while I wait at home for BT to come to install the internet equipment (that’s taken almost 3 weeks so far – but that’s another story and one that is far too boring to tell).

I had thought that I might feel a bit sad to finally leave the building where we have lived for the last two and a half years, but I felt nothing except for relief. Relief that we have finally cleared our things from it, cleaned it and can walk away from it. My heart is already settled in our small holding, even if our belongings aren’t put away, sorted out or organised, it is our home and it’s full of laughter and love.

It feels like there hasn’t been much time for reflection recently and so I am looking forward to having more time over the rest of this week to think about life, our home, the garden and my family. I am also looking forward to being to look after myself better. The last three weeks of moving have been hard emotionally and physically, especially having spent so much of the last few months bed bound.
I am worn out and need a bit of time to rest and potter gently and regain my resources. I am once again showing many of the symptoms that sent me to the doctor’s surgery six months ago. It seems however, that too much stress and doing too much adversely affects my well-being, as of course they do for everyone, and right now I am starting to show lots of signs that I am becoming unwell again. So we’ll nip that in the bud before it gets any worse thank you!  I am sure that with more time to potter in the garden, prepare nice home-cooked food and being able to relax more, I will pick up again fairly quickly.

Mr J and I are missing Archie dreadfully, the house seems very quiet and my morning routine just isn’t the same without him. I wake up ridiculously early, mostly because of my illness, but I have always been a morning person and it is odd now, to get up and not have a morning cuddle with the cat while I have my first cup of tea. I am looking forward to being able to find a new handsome fellow to join me for a quiet half hour each day (I mean a feline friend of course!).
I am also beginning to think about the animals that we’d like to keep in the garden. The three chickens that I have persuaded my daughter to let me have should be with us very soon and I’d like some others in the spring or before if I can find them, and I’d also like some ducks.

I have mentally allocated an area in the garden for the ducks and have the fencing ready to put up when either Mr J or I get the time and have chosen a suitable duck house for them which I will order later in the week and have a large shallow container which will be their pond until such time as a large pond has been created in a different area of the garden (at which time no doubt the ducks will want to move their home). But all that is in the future, for now I just need to order the duck house and find some ducks that are suitably ‘us’. These ducks are not going to be ornamental birds, they will need to earn their keep by laying eggs and eating slugs and snails, two things which I understand ducks do quite well. I’d really like some Aylesbury ducks, the ones that look like Jemima Puddleduck, but we shall see.

As I write I am getting tired, so will go and find my chair and put my feet up, I think after the last three weeks of moving, cleaning and sorting Mr J and I have earned a rest.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Organic garden compost bins

Needing to keep myself busy so that I didn’t dwell too much on the events of yesterday morning, I set about creating our first compost bins.
The field that I will be turning into our fruit and vegetable garden has been home to alpacas and a pony for the last few years and whilst it is probably nutrient filled (at least the very top of the top soil should be) the soil is compacted and heavy and I will need to improve it as much as possible over the next years. As I am aiming for the garden to be fully organic, I need to start by adding as much composted material as I can to the beds. For this to happen, I will need to create some seriously big volumes of compost.

So yesterday morning I had a root around to see what I could use to make compost bins from and put in it. Great results of my search found several wooden pallets and great piles of poo. Pony poo to be precise. I took three pallets to the area where I want to build one of the compost bins and propped them up with sticks before lashing them together with twine. As and when I find some wire, I will replace the twine with that to make them stronger and more permanent.
 I want to make the compost bins in pairs or trios, so that I can easily turn the compost piles over to aerate them, but I decided to start with a single and get some material into it to start rotting down and then move on to make the other half of the pair later on. I hope to have enough pallets to be able to have at least three pairs of compost bins in different areas of the garden so that I don’t have to carry material to be composted too far. And, once the rotting materials have turned into rich black compost, I don’t want to have to transport it too far to the beds.
This morning I started to fill the first compost bin. Filling it with layers of material to rot down over the next few months, I plan to get it filled fairly quickly so that I create a hot compost heap. This means that the composting heap warms up and the material will break down more quickly turning into nutrient rich compost, which should improve the soil structure and make a variety of nutrients available to the growing fruit and vegetables. 
I started with a layer of half rotted manure from a pile at the back of the piggeries, this was mostly pony poo, but also some alpaca droppings and grass cuttings, then I added the fruit and vegetable peelings, teabags and eggshells from our kitchen that we have collected since we moved in two weeks ago. On top of this I added some wood ash and then leaves that have fallen from the sycamore trees behind the piggeries. After that I pruned the raspberry plants that we brought with us to add the prunings to the compost heap.
I was amazed to find that some of the raspberries plants are still flowering and still producing little berries. These are autumn fruiting raspberries, which I lifted from Mr J’s parents’ house before it was sold. Autumn fruiting raspberries are pretty easy to care for, they just need cutting down to the ground at this time of year as the fruits are borne on the same year’s growth, so old stems are a bit pointless for the plants to put energy into.
The pruned plants look really healthy so I’m looking forward to making raspberry jam, sauce and wine next year.

Tomorrow, if I have the energy, I will add further layers of pony manure, leaves and wood shavings from the stable and cover it in a piece of old carpet to keep the heat in. I hope to have the first heap completed by the end of the week and will go on to build the next compost heap on the other side of the field. But that's for another day.