Friday, 30 December 2016

A Grandma's Lament

 One of the most powerful statements I've read in the last few years is one that I can no longer remember the source. The sentiment, however, will stay with me for the rest of my life. It went something along the lines of 'Grandma, when you learnt about climate change, what did you do to help?'

And that simple statement, a question from a child to its grandparent has changed the way I look at the world, my day to day actions and my hopes for the future. I'd like to be able to look straight into the eyes of my grandchildren (and great-grandchildren when they come) and be able to tell them with honesty and demonstrable results how I responded to the changing environment in which we live and what I did to try to reduce climate change and lessen my impact on the world.

I've always believed that we do not own the earth, but that we are its guardians for future generations. I've been cross at my parents' generation and earlier generations for willfully damaging the earth beyond recognition in some places, but also recognise that much of that damage was not understood and so was done without the knowledge of the long-lasting impact of their actions. But we don't have the luxury of those excuses now, we know more, our scientists are discovering more and more about the impact that we, as humans, are having on the planet and surely, we have an obligation to try to preserve this beautiful world for those that come after us.

Or perhaps not, perhaps it doesn't matter whether our children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren and beyond suffer from the results of our actions, perhaps we should just do whatever we like and not worry about how it will impact the planet and in turn, those who inhabit it. Perhaps we, like so many animals that have become extinct by our actions, will also suffer the same fate and perhaps that doesn't matter. Perhaps.

Maybe all that matters is that we are comfortable here and now, that our bank accounts are filled with money, that our homes are filled with the latest gadgets, that the profit levels of huge conglomerates continue to rise and maybe it's more important to ensure that the richest folks continue to get richer. Maybe.

I don't usually discuss politics on this blog, anyone who follows me on social media or knows me in person will be aware that I do have political views, that I express them quietly and sometimes loudly, but I keep them away from this blog as it is about our life on this little smallholding. But sometimes I become so enraged by the actions of our politicians (of all political parties) that I just need to vent. And usually when that happens I write a long ranting blog and read it through, I sort out my own thoughts and then work out what actions I can take to do what I feel is right for the situation. Then I delete the post before it is published, so that my furious thoughts are not seen by the readers of this blog.

But I fear that the 'no politics' policy that I decided for myself has just ended. I am furious and saddened by the direction that our politicians appear to be taking.

It seems to me, a relatively uninformed and average bod, that on one hand the governments of the world have come together to agree that some things need to be done to protect our planet for future generations and on the other hand, many of those leaders are actively ignoring and denying the very existence of the problems. 

Will denying the issues make them go away? 
Will saying that evidence is questionable make the witnessed patterns of change in the weather stop? 
Will putting profits for the few before the preservation of our planet make the world a richer place for everyone in the long run?

I feel powerless to stop the politicians reversing the sensible albeit small steps that we, as a species, have started to make to stop the damage being done, but I can continue to take action in the little corner of the world of which I am a guardian and hope that enough of us take similar actions.

I hope that enough of us will think about how we will respond to the next generations when they ask us 'What did you do to stop climate change? What did you do to protect this planet? What did you do?'.

My wish for 2017 and beyond is that enough of us will be able to look the future in the eye and say 'I did something'.

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Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Sowing the seeds with love

After much pouring (and pawing) over books, catalogues and manuals I have finally decided the seeds that I'll be sewing in the vegetable garden and food forest in 2017. I've ordered many of them over the last couple of months and my daughter kindly gave me several packets of seeds for Christmas to complete the seed collection.
 For many of the crops I will be planting several varieties, this way I hope to extend the season of our fresh food and if one variety fails, there may be a chance that one of the other varieties will do well.

Onion Sturon
Onion Radar
Spring Onions
Shallot Zebrune
Leek King Richard
Leek Autumn Mammoth
Leek Carantan 2

Our onion crop was a bit of a let down this year. I planted two varieties and one of them almost completely failed. Well no, that's not exactly true, if one wanted small onions about an inch in diameter then I had a spectacular crop. If however, like me, one wanted tennis ball size onions that would store well throughout the winter, then I had a fairly miserable result. So for 2017 I will be growing two varieties that have given me reliable results in the past and some spring onions and the banana style shallot.

The leeks, on the other hand, have been very good this year. I sowed them into a seed tray and then planted them in a couple of short rows where they grew on until I was ready to plant them in their final positions. I ended up with around 200 healthy young leek plants which should see us through to the end of spring. The white part of each leek isn't terribly long (about six inches), but they have an excellent flavour and texture, which to my mind is more important.

Squash Marina Di Chioggia
Squash Uchiki Kiri
Pumkin Baby Boo
Butternut Squash F1 Hunter
Butternut Squash Waltham
Spaghetti Squash
Squash Jumbo Pink Banana
Squash Blue Hubbard
Squash Delicata
Squash Turks Turban
Pumpkin Howden
Courgette Verde Di Milano
Courgette Soleil F1
Summer Squash Delikates
Summer Squash Sunburst F1

This year the pumpkins and squashes grew much better than I expected them to, given that they didn't start the season very well. 

So for next year I plan to grow as many varieties as I can find organic seeds, in the hope that we will have a greater number of winter squashes to store and use throughout autumn, winter and into the spring. The summer squashes and courgettes were a mixed bag this year, so hopefully the weather will be better next year in June and July and they will do well too. I wrote about the squashes I'd like to grow here.

Swede Lomond
Swede Best of All
Savoy Cabbage Vertus
Swiss Chard White Silver 2
Swiss Chard Rainbow
Cabbage Red Acre
Kale Dwarf Green Curl
Kale Curly Scarlet
Kale Nero Di Toscana
Kale Brussel Sprout Cross Flower Sprouts
Brussel Sprouts TrafalgarF1
Spinach Perpetual
Broccoli Sprouting Early Purple
Broccoli Sprouting Summer Purple
Broccoli Red Arrow Sprouting
Tree Cabbage Paul & Becky's Asturian
Aztec Brocolli Huauzontle

I made the mistake this year of growing January King cabbages which although very successful, we didn't like their taste. So, for 2017 I have a savoy cabbage seed and may grow the January King for the birds as they are very partial to it. I forgot to sew swede seeds this year until very late in the season and have been harvesting small, thin swedes which I've been adding to soups and stews. The chards were grown primarily for the chickens, but Mr J and I found that we liked the taste of the rainbow chard stems when added to a tray of vegetables roasted in the oven.
The kales grown this year have provided additional green leaves for both the ducks and chickens until the lockdown earlier this month, so I will grow them again next year to add variety to their diet. The tree cabbage and Aztec brocolli will both be planted in the Food Forest as will some of the chards and dwarf kale. The latter two will act as ground cover for the year.

I started to harvest the purple sprouting broccoli about six weeks ago and we've enjoyed large portions of it weekly (or more often) since then and it looks as though we should be able to continue enjoying the crop for a couple more months. By planting two varieties this year we've extended the harvesting season by several weeks and I plan to do that again next year. So far I haven't frozen any purple sprouting broccoli as I think the flavour and texture diminish too much when it's frozen.

Carrot Chantenay Red Cored
Carrot Cosmic Purple
Carrot Rainbow Mixed
Beetroot Monorubra
Beetroot Boltardy
Parsnip Tender and True
Potatoes early
Potatoes maincrop

Mr J and I have been surprised this year by some of the vegetables that I've sown. Beetroot was the biggest eye-opener for us, I have always liked beetroot in a salad, although prefer it not to be in vinegar as I find that the flavour of the beet becomes over-powered. Mr J tolerated beetroot, but certainly wouldn't have listed it as a preferred vegetable option. We've both been delighted by roasted beetroot, it seems the slow cooking with a selection of other root vegetables allows the sugars to sweeten and caramelise making them delicious. I also made a tasty beetroot and apple relish.

Our home grown carrots have been so nice that I am now slightly reluctant to buy them from a shop as so much of the flavour is lost in the time it takes from harvest to plate. We've also decided that we prefer the rainbow mix carrots and in particular the darker colour carrots, so next year I will grow more carrots and also try some Chantenay carrots too.

I grew oca for the first time this year, they were sent to me as a gift from Joanna who offered them on Twitter. I had no idea what they would be like, but they have been easy to grow and harvest and taste delicious. We ate them with our Christmas lunch and my daughter and her partner were equally impressed with them. This week I am sending some oca tubers to another gardener, who has sent some perennial nasturtium tubers.

Salad Curcurbit Melothrie
Lettuce Gourmet Mixed
Lettuce Lollo Rossa
Celery Red Soup
Radish French Breakfast
Tomato San Mazarno 2
Tomato Thessaloniki
Tomato Brandywine Black
Tomato Moneymaker
Cucumber Chinese Slangen
Asparagus Connovers Colossal
Corn Fiesta

This year I grew 12 tomato plants in the greenhouse and next year I plan to grow many more. I will plant them in the greenhouse and in the garden and rig up some sort of protection for the ones grown outside to give them conditions similar to the greenhouse and thus, hopefully, reduce the risk of blight. This year I made about 12lbs of tomato and vegetable sauce, but next year I'd like to stock the larder with enough tomato sauce that I don't need to buy any tomato puree. We also have a large bag of tomato halves in the freezer which we use for breakfasts and adding to other meals, it has been lovely to have 'fresh' tomatoes that still taste as though they've just been pulled from the vine.

Runner Bean White Lady
Runner Bean Greek Gigantes
Mangetout Oregon Sugar Pod
Pea Progress no.9
Pea Ambassador Maincrop
Broad Bean Aquadulce Claudia
Broad Bean Leidse Hangdown
Climbing Bean Blauhilde
Borlotti Bean Lingua di Fuoco
Dwarf borlotto Lingua Fuoco Nana
Yellow Dwarf French Bean Minidor 

The beans were a great success this year, we had sliced runner beans with our Christmas lunch and they also tasted like we'd just picked them. I feel that this year I have finally cracked the method of preserving our food to keep the best taste and texture. I didn't manage to freeze any of the fresh peas as we ate them all (often before they got to the kitchen!), but I did freeze a couple of pounds of mangetout which I have been adding to stir fry meals and into omelettes.

So it looks like I'm going to have a busy spring in the greenhouse and if we can find an affordable one, in a potting shed. The outbuilding that was going to become my potting shed has been turned into the chicken palace because of the DEFRA enforced lockdown and now it's been converted I see little point in changing it back again as it means we are ready as and when another lockdown happens in the future.

Our move towards self-efficiency seem to be working well. We continue to eat a majority of food from the garden and are looking at ways that we can exchange our home grown food for foodstuffs that we don't have.
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Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Christmas preparations

As with so many homes at this time of year, we've had a hectic week of preparations for Christmas celebrations. Just not for our own Christmas!  

We had decided to give a few of our ducks to our friends and family for their Christmas meals and so this weeks I've processed four ducks and a chicken (for our own use last weekend) and I've made more fudge and coconut ice.
I've also been searching through my favourite recipe books for a good recipe for Tosca cake, which is a traditional Swedish cake made with almonds. It is one of Mr J's favourite cakes, I haven't had it for years and although I will be cooking one for him, I won't be having any as I developed a severe allergy to almonds several years ago (which is probably what happens if one is greedy enough to eat marzipan straight from the block!).

On Thursday I gathered armfuls of greenery from the garden to make a door wreath for my sister. I kept it very simple, using holly, ivy and a variagated euonymous.

I made lots of small bunches of stems which I tied together with fine cable ties, snipping the excess off. I then wired each bunch on to the twiggy base using florists' wire making sure that I covered the stems of the previous bunch with the leaves of the next.

I was very pleased with the final result and so was my sister, who by now will have it hanging on the front door of her cottage.

While I had all the greenery in the house I thought that it might be nice to decorate our home with some branches of leaves, so I put a few branches around the mirrors and made a candle decoration with bunches of long cinnamon sticks tied with ribbon and dried fruit.

When my sister came to visit (with her husband) on Friday, she brought with her some more of the bedding that we use for the ducks. She buys it in bulk and with the last delivery, she ordered an additional ten bales of bedding for us. It means that we can have it at a slightly cheaper price than if we bought the bales individually. We had asked for ten bales as we thought that would probably be enough for four to six months. That was before the DEFRA imposed the lockdown of the poultry. When I built the chicken palace, we needed to add a deep layer of bedding on the floor which used up five bales of bed-rap and two of wood shavings and we refreshed the floor of the chicken condo, which used three bales. So it looks as though we will be ordering more bed-rap sooner than we expected.

Little White has now grown into such a splendid cockerel that we have renamed him Big White, this also helps us distinguish him from the younger white Jersey Giant cockerel. 

The oldest Jersey Giant female is now at point of lay and although she hasn't produced an egg yet, I am sure it won't be too long before she starts laying. Big White has certainly started taking an active interest in her which she is not entirely happy about, but also isn't running away from him.
The Australorps are down to just six in number, during the lockdown they are living in the same space as the Jersey Giants and Dieselette, who prefers the company of her Australorp friend than of any of the other chickens. I still have to choose which of the young males to keep and which to despatch. I thought that I had decided but then became unsure. I am more concerned with good behaviour traits than their physical perfection, but it would be nice to have birds that aren't too far from the standards of perfection laid out for the breed.

I suspect, although I should make it clear that I have no real knowledge, that a poultry lockdown may become a regular occurrence. If we need to protect our birds during migration of wild birds, then it would seem to make sense that there will be two periods of lockdown in a year. So with that in mind, I have been thinking about what I can do ready for next year or any future lockdown to allow me to continue feeding the birds green leaves from the garden.

Having carefully grown crops to feed to the birds during the colder months, I have a garden chockablock with lush brassica that can't be fed to them during the lockdown as it is not under cover and so could potentially have been pooped on by a sick bird. Next year I think I will create a couple of beds with a selection of brassica, chards and spinach that I can cover in early November to keep them safe from contamination from overhead. I will also grow some in pots and move them into the greenhouse towards the end of summer, then I can harvest from those too for our chickens and ducks. Then, if there is no lockdown, either we or the birds can eat the leaves and, if there is a lockdown, we'll have a good source of fresh vegetables for the birds. As I plan to grow plenty of winter squash next year, they should be able to have some of those too. If the girls have to be shut away for a month or so at a time, I want to be able to offered them a varied diet.

It's almost time for us to head out to the local shop to buy a few last minute items, like cream and milk (and chocolate!). I hope that everyone has a joy-filled and peaceful Christmas.
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Monday, 19 December 2016

200th blog post

Finding this message on the freezer door was a lovely surprise earlier this week, I decided that the best way to reply was to bake some mince pies.

I think Mr J enjoyed my response to his message.

It's a delight to find that I've had enough to write about to fill the 199 blog posts before this one. Our first year or so on the smallholding has been a busy one and despite a few hiccoughs along the way, it's been an incredibly exciting and fulfilling time.

I've been engrossed in a couple of projects this week, one I will write about when it's completed and the other has been to prepare some of the birds for Christmas. We are giving three ducks as gifts, one each to my sister, our neighbours and a friend who has been very helpful throughout the year.

Having not processed a duck before I felt a little daunted by the task. We had selected which ducks were staying with us for breeding next year (two of the last five ducklings hatched, one of the first hatched and Mrs Warne), this means that there five birds for the table.  I started with one of the youngest drakes and was pleased with how calmly and peacefully the process of dispatch was completed. Plucking it was also straightforward, but I was a little stumped by the cleaning process. I am now comfortable with how to clean a chicken and although neither quick nor perfect, I am reasonably competent, but a duck is a slightly different shape and it took me a while to work out what I needed to do.

As they say 'practice makes perfect' and I am sure that with each one I will become more familiar with the process and hopefully, over time, less squeamish. This is how it looked when it was almost ready for the oven, I spent a little time with some tweezers removing a few more of the feathers. It weighed 4lbs 6ozs which I thought was a pretty good weight. Once it was cooked, we ate our first home raised duck dinner. 

It was absolutely delicious. All that rich duck fat didn't go to waste, I used some of it to cook roast potatoes and the next evening roasted parsnips in it. So far we have had two meals from the duck and there is enough meat left on it for at least one more meal. My plan is to remove all of the meat and freeze it, so that I can make a poultry pie at a later date.

Sadly, I think it is time to dispatch Frederick, he has become almost too heavy for his legs and has started limping, well not limping exactly, but he's definitely struggling and finding it hard to put his full weight on one leg. The ducks are Aylesburys and are heavy birds and he is commercial Aylesbury, bred to become large and for the table. He's about sixteen months old, is the father of a couple of offspring (one of which we are keeping for our breeding flock) and has found it increasingly difficult to do his job of treading the girls and today I have noticed that one of his offspring now seems to have taken over the role as alpha male.
 A few weeks ago I shared a photograph of a pile of logs covered in frost and twinkling in the late autumn sunshine. Yesterday I noticed that this log had become a deep chestnut colour in the damp of the foggy days that have been with us for well over a week now. I love the way the two sets of rings (from where the tree branched) are so clear and also the way the ivy that grew around the tree is a completely different colour.

The cats seems to have settled in quite well, as I type Monty is curled up on the sofa with me, lying across my feet, keeping them warm. Tabitha is asleep on the chair that she has adopted as hers and occasionally I've noticed that she falls asleep mid-wash. They are still very nervous, they run and hide at bumps or noises in the house, but I am sure with time they will become more secure in their new home and ignore noises around them. They have only been here for a week and so we haven't let them outside the house to explore the garden yet. I think we will wait until after the grandchildren have been to visit next week (as I don't want them running off and not be able to find their way home) and then I will go out with them for the first couple of times as they get to know their wider surroundings.
 This evening we had a roast chicken for supper, Mr J has a very active job and so has enormous meals (and he's still not putting on weight!) and then, after supper, I cooked some fudge. My father used to make fudge when we were children and as we grew up and left home, he still made a batch of fudge for each of us every Christmas. 

Since he passed away in 2006 I have continued that tradition and made some fudge for my family and for my sister's family. My brothers both live on the other side of the Atlantic, so sadly they don't get any. If I remember I will make some for my younger brother when he visits us in the spring.
One of my favourite things about making fudge is that I get to have the sticky, gooey fudge balls that are made from what's left in the pan after I've poured the fudge mixture into a tray to set. 

I've also made some brandy butter and also some bread sauce for my sister. Mum used to make them for us each year, but now I make them for her. She is perfectly capable of making them herself, but I like being able to give her something for her Christmas lunch table. She often makes a smoked trout pate for me, from trout caught by my brother-in-law that they have smoked at home. We don't exchange gifts as such, so it is nice to be able to give her a little something.

The rest of this week will be taken up with the other project that we're tackling and some more preparation for Christmas. We will be having our usual very low key Christmas day, Mr J is working up to and including Christmas Eve and will no doubt be tired the next day, the animals will still need attending to and I'm also getting very tired. My daughter and grandchildren will be visiting on the 27th, so we will have a celebratory meal then. But tonight, I am happy to be celebrating that I have reached the milestone of 200 blog posts.
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Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Sunlit vegetables in winter

After I had let the chickens and ducks out of their houses into their covered enclosures, I spent a pleasing half an hour in the vegetable garden lifting the last of the oca tubers that I am going to harvest (as I'm leaving some in the ground to see if they will over-winter). The weak winter sun was warming my back and making the vegetables look beautiful and it occurred to me that although the vegetable garden has the potential to look rather dull in winter, it is actually filled with contrasting colours, shapes and textures.
 This red cabbage is ready to harvest, I will braise it slowly with apples, cinnamon and nutmug and it should make a delicious accompaniment for several meals. 
 I planted eighteen red cabbage which I thought would be plenty to see us through until summer even if we eat it is once or twice a week. My daughter loves braised red cabbage, so I will freeze some for her too. The glossy leaves of Swiss chard planted next to the red cabbages are a nice contrast to the matt purple of the cabbage.
 The young purple sprouting broccoli plants should give a crop in early to mid spring and follow on from the purple sprouting broccoli that I am harvesting now. 

I've been picking these delicous flower heads for about six weeks and now there is more than we can eat with a meal, so I will pick it and freeze it to use later.
 I planted three different varieties of leeks to ensure that we had a constant supply throughout the winter. We've been eating them since September when I harvested them at a little thicker than a pencil. Now some of them are nearly to two inches across and packed with flavour.
 I thought that the parsnips hadn't done very well, the foliage didn't grow very high and although I thinned them, I suspected that they were still too close together. Having lifted some of them, my suspicions about spacing has been confirmed. Where I didn't thin enough, I have small, almost baby size parsnips, but where I have given them more room, we've enjoyed large, tasty, sweet parsnips. Lesson learnt for next year, thinning really does make a big difference.
 Storm Angus flattened the tall kale plants but they are still growing new leaves and also they are providing some shelter for the January King cabbages. On the left of the photo are some hollyhocks that I tucked into this bed to grow on. I will plant them into the food forest next spring in their permanent positions. 
 The January King cabbages are huge and very strong in flavour. They are actually too strong in flavour for either Mr J or I to enjoy very much and next year, I plan to grow a savoy cabbage instead. But they aren't going to waste. During this month of lockdown for the birds, I need to supply them with more greens than I usually give them as they aren't getting their usual diet while locked inside under cover, so these huge cabbages are proving very useful. Even the ducks who are very often picky about which vegetables they eat are now racing to eat the cabbages and other leafy greens offered to them.
 Likewise the purple curly kale is being enjoyed by the birds, I grew this for them so that they'd have fresh leaves throughout the year. I am not a kale fan, I wish I was because it has grown very well. I have, however, enjoyed it regularly as I've looked at the dew, rain and frost on the leaves.
 The Cavolo Nero kale has grown very well. I like these structural plants that give shape and form to the garden and stand up to the cold. They've been a little battered by the wind, as has everything in the garden, but they seem to cope.

These little lettuces have been a lovely surprise, they've grown from seeds that were broadcast when I pulled up a lettuce plant that I had let go to seed. I didn't expect them to germinate this year, but they have and they've coped with the frosts so far. I've lifted a few of them and planted them in the greenhouse and covered with them horticultural fleece as a precaution in case the weather becomes much worse.

Now the oca has been lifted I need to wash it and leave it on the windowsill to sweeten for a few days before using it. It has a gentle radishy-lemony flavour and is nice boiled and mashed or sliced and used in stir-fry meals. But before I wash the oca, it is time for a cuppa!
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Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Monty and Tabitha move in

It has been a full year since we lost Archie, our much loved cat (you can read a blog post about him here) and we are ready to have a new cat share our home with us. As it turned out, we found two cats that needed rehoming via Bristol and Wales Cat Rescue. They have clearly been well cared for and loved, but their last owner had died and they need a new place to call home and we jumped at the opportunity.

On Sunday morning we tidied up in the boot room and put a new coat rack. Last week we'd bought some coat hooks and I had screwed them to a piece of wood. Mr J drilled some holes in the wood and the wall and once he'd fixed the rack to the wall, we transferred the coats. After a year of using a child's cloakroom rack, it was lovely to get our jackets and coats hanging up high and clear the space on the floor below them.

We moved the child's cloakroom rack to on top of the units in the boot room, stored our scarves and gloves in baskets on it and I vacuumed the floor in readiness for our new arrivals.

Then we drove to Bristol to collect Monty and Tabitha. They are pedigree British Short-haired tabbies and we were supplied with their pedigree paperwork when we collected them. Splendid as that may be, to us they will just be 'the cats', our feline friends.

When we got home, we showed them the litter tray and their food and water bowls in the boot room and they responded by running under the boot room cupboards and staying there for most of the day.
Monty is braver than Tabitha and by early evening on Sunday Monty had decided it was safe to come out and explore his new surroundings. 
This included being fussed and given a tickle under the chin. Tabitha is more shy and nervous, she spent a full day hidden away and only came out to eat when we weren't around.

Monty had a good look around the downstairs of the house and then settled on my lap on the sofa. Each time I moved my legs (which were going numb under his weight) he would hop off the sofa, only to return a moment or two later. 

 As has happened all week, I fell asleep on the sofa quite early in the evening and when Mr J woke me around 10pm to go to bed, Monty was still stretched out on me deeply asleep. So I think we can say that he has started to settle in.

On Monday afternoon Tabitha started to venture out from under the units and from the boot room. She was much less adventurous to start with and has taken her time to explore her new environment. 
However, once she started she wanted to explore everywhere. Under cupboards, behind curtains, on top of tables, she's inspected the waste paper baskets and even the inside of my slippers.

When we sat down at the kitchen table to eat our supper, both cats appeared and attempted to make themselves appealing, presumably in the hope that they would receive tidbits from us as we ate. Feeding animals at the table is not something that either Mr J or I approve of and the cats, realising that they weren't going to receive any tasty treats, wandered off to find the wood burner and flopped in front of it.

We shut them into the boot room again overnight. Once they are allowed to go outside, they will be coming and going via the cat flap that is in the boot room door, so getting them used to being in there seems a smart move.

By this morning (Tuesday) they were feeling settled enough to run out and greet me when I opened the boot room door. Their food bowl had been emptied over night and the little tray filled, so they seem to have got into a good routine.

As I type Tabitha is wandering around the house, sniffing and rubbing against everything while Monty seems to have found a quiet spot in which to curl up. 

I need to head outside and unlock the bird houses, the chickens and ducks still have at least three weeks of being confined under cover while wild birds are migrating. The ducks have had their space restricted, their feed, water and pond covered and can no longer access beneath any of the trees. We have ordered a large walk-in run for them, which we can cover with tarps, this will keep them under cover completely and I am hoping that this will arrive in the next 24 hours. We will keep this up permanently and remove the tarps once given the all-clear by Defra. Then next time we have to confine the birds we will have all the infrastructure in place.

But before I do the morning chores, I think there's just time for a cuppa!
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Saturday, 10 December 2016

Tackling Prevention Zone jobs

 Last Monday I spent the afternoon moving some pallets to the edge of the vegetable garden to complete the pallet fence with compost bays. I was very pleased with how nicely it finished off the vegetable garden. 

The pallets held down one side of weed suppressing membrane and on Tuesday I moved several barrow loads of wood chippings (from our trees that were taken down last month) to cover the membrane and complete this side of the vegetable garden. It looked splendid and I was very excited to have quite so much space in which to make compost.

Late Tuesday afternoon we learnt that Defra had announced a 'Prevention Zone' to protect our poultry from the risk of Avian Flu. It took me quite a while to find out what was needed to be done to comply and the announcements that I saw said it covered England. Mr J and I realised that if Wales didn't have such measures, it very soon would. And Wednesday morning I found the relevant information saying that it applied to Wales and Scotland too.

So after careful reading I came to the conclusion that I would need to find a way to keep the birds inside a covered area for the next month at the very least. Reading between the lines, I suspect that this situation may well continue for longer.

Our birds are kept in four separate areas, one for each breeding flock and so we needed to create four separate pens for them. What a headache! But, looking for a positive in all this chaos, it has meant that we've had a long hard think about which birds we really value and we've assessed whether we want to keep all the birds or reduce the number of different breeds that we keep.

In the end, I decided to put the chickens into two areas and the ducks in their own pen. So armed with strong resolve and somewhat weak body I started to tackle the task. The irony of this announcement coming a few hours before Mr J went back to work for the week didn't pass me by. There is an urgency to getting the birds under cover and so regardless of my body being in the throws of another hashimoto's attack and regardless of having used just about all my energy making the pallet fence, my plan for the rest of the week curled up on the sofa had been scuppered as Mr J works four days a week and he was returning to work on Wednesday morning. It was time for me to dig deep and get on with it!
 I started by putting chicken wire around the top section of the stable where up to now it had been open.
 The gate was only waist high so that also needed extending to full height. I am so pleased that we have collected so much scrap wood this year, it meant that I could rummage around in the piggery and find suitable pieces of reclaimed timber to use. There are still nails in the wood and I didn't have the strength to lever them out, so I wrapped duct tape around them to protect our hands and act as a warning to be careful handling that section of wood. This week I have wished over and over that we had electric drill/screwdriver (one of those ones with a battery pack so they can be easily used where there is no power supply), because using a manual screwdriver for this kind of task was rather soul destroying.

The chickens will still be sleeping in their shed, so I moved their flexible fence to give them a narrow corridor between the shed and stable along which to travel morning and evening. This corridor will then be covered and enclosed to ensure that the chickens are protected from contact with wild birds.
I hung their vermin proof feeding station from a beam and placed buckets of water with apple cider vinegar and garlic on to a pallet (so it's less likely to have wood shavings kicked into it.

They don't seem terribly impressed at their sudden confinement. The Cream Legbar girls aren't too bothered as they prefer to be out of the wind and rain, but the boys and the other chickens are looking quite stressed. I am sure that they will settle down, especially once I have the walkway covered and enclosed as they will then have access to at least a small area outside.

 Mr J and I spent Wednesday evening trying to work out where and how to create a covered area for the Jersey Giants and Australorps. We spent half an hour or so looking at the back piggery, but it's roofing panels have deteriorated significantly over the last year and there are large oil drums of 'we don't know what' that could well be toxic to birds, so we talked about ways to fence off that part of the piggery to allow the birds to use the rest of it. It looked like a nightmare of a job and I was already feeling fairly fragile.
Thursday morning I had a lightbulb moment, I had realised how to turn the outbuilding that I've refer to as my garden room into a comfortable place for the black and white birds. I took out the wood, hazel poles, bags of bags, paddling pool and a host of 'stuff' that we had dumped there to be put away once we had somewhere for these things to live. The dry wood I stored in the wood store in the stables and I put everything outside the old barn door (which doesn't open, so I wasn't blocking it). Once clear it became obvious that this would be an ideal chicken palace.

 So with the drizzle steadily soaking me through I went to the vegetable garden and dismantled the lovely pallet fence that I put up only four days earlier!
I had almost run out of cable ties having used so many to create the fence, so was careful about not waste them, placing all the pallets before actually securing them together.

I used the gate that I'd made by lashing together chicken wire panels which had been between the two chicken fields, but as it wasn't going to be needed for the next month, this seemed the simplest way to make a door. I found the longest piece of wood that we had, but still it wasn't quite long enough to reach the top of the outbuilding, so I created a small base from two pieces of wood which, once bedded into the ground at just the right place, allowed the upright wood to be wedged into place. In this photo you can see that I hadn't quite managed to knock it vertical yet. I put a piece of 2"x1" across the top of the door to stop the door falling out and another length of wood (2"x4") to brace the vertical length. It was still pretty wobbly and needed securing at the top, but I didn't feel well enough to be climbling ladders so I sent a message to the tree surgeon to see if he was free to help me for a short time. 

As the chicken house is wider than the doorway I needed to move it inside before putting up the second side of pallets. This meant moving the Jersey Giants who, by this time, were looking very stressed at all the change going on. I moved them into the field that Big Red and his girls had been in and Little White continued to crow his stressed and mournful crow while he watched me push his house out of his field and into the outbuilding.

I moved the last few pallets into place and was so tired that I started crying as I screwed them into place. I was relieved to hear Mr J's van come along our lane only to realise that it wasn't him, it was our friend the tree surgeon coming to help. There is something about having someone you don't know terribly well arrive, it makes you put on a smile and not show how rotten you are feeling and that is exactly what I did. And it helped to have somebody else there, I felt less overwhelmed by how much still needed to be done. 

He hopped up his ladder and straightened the vertical post, securing it with a fixing plate that I had ready. Then he stapled chicken wire from the roof downwards across the full width of the outbuilding. 
When Mr J got home he carried more bales of wood shavings and chopped rape seed stems (bedding often used for horses) to the outbuilding. I had managed to spread the contents of two below and around the chicken house, but run out of strength to carry enough to cover the whole floor area. The light was fading fast, but there was just enough light to carry the Jersey Giants to their new accommodation and put them in the house for the night.

I ached all over and headed inside to start cooking our supper and looked forward to having a long hot soak in a bath. After supper we watched a little television and then I headed to the bathroom. This was going to be the best bath - ever! 

Or not. As I turned off the hot water tap, it came away in my hand with water gushing at full flow into the bath. To avoid flooding the bathroom I pulled out the plug. We searched for an isolating valve for the bath, but there wasn't one, so Mr J turned off the water at the mains. Too late I realised that now I had no water in the bath and so that was the end of my hot soaky bath idea. It seemed that this week was just going to throw everything it could at me to make life awkward. I went to bed feeling rather sorry for myself and as I lay there in a cold achy grump I started thinking about just how much worse things could be. Sometimes it's good to give yourself a mental kick in the pants, I pulled myself out of my sorry mood and fell into a deep sleep.

On Friday morning before I let the birds out of their house, I fixed the final row of chicken wire into place securing the bottom of it to the pallets and overlapping it by about fifteen inches with the top section put on by the tree surgeon. I secured the overlap in a few places to ensure that the birds wouldn't be able to get out and created a makeshift lock (with baling twine and a hook) for the door. Then I let the birds out to explore their new temporary home.

I moved the Australorps into the new chicken palace, Little White greeted each one by letting them know who is boss. There was a bit of jostling and shoving, but nothing violent, but then if I was a chicken, even one as big as an Australorp cockerel, I don't think I'd take my chances against Little White, he is a very large bird.

Then I turned my attention to the ducks. I lifted the flexible netting that has been around one third of the vegetable garden (the short side at the far end of the veg area and along the side by the duck enclosure) and moved it to create a narrow passageway from the duck house into the small enclosure where the ducklings were in the summer. This means that the ducks avoid walking under the trees where wild birds like to sit and deposit their droppings below. The ducks are very upset by all the change, they now have an area about forty feet square, but that will reduce by at least half.

Tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon Mr J and I will create a makeshift covered enclosure for the ducks. I have run out of strength to carry any more pallets, so will need to rely on him to move them from the garden to around the duck pond.

We have looked at the options of buying an enclosure, which I think will be the answer in the long term, but we need to get the ducks under cover as soon as possible, so a rough framework covered on the outside with chicken wire and covered over the top with a tarp, some corrugated metal panels and a rigid, clear, twin wall plastic panel will have to do. It will keep them safe even if it doesn't look pretty and we will have complied with the Defra order.

I have hung a bottle of hand gel on the gate for visitors to use and we've bought an approved disinfectant for a foot dip before we enter the birds' enclosures. Hopefully, we now comply with all the biosecurity measures that we need to.

I plan to spend most of next week on the sofa or in bed to recover from the stress and physical strain of the last few days. But before then we have one other event to enjoy.

Tomorrow morning we are heading to Bristol for several reasons. Firstly I want to visit my parents' grave because I like to place a Christmas wreath on their grave. Then we are going to a shop to buy a few essentials that we will need in the next couple of weeks. After that we will be heading to collect our two new family members.

Monty (front) and Tabitha are nine years old, their last owner has passed away and we jumped at the opportunity to give them a home. Hopefully they will be happy to curl up on the sofa with me as they get to know us over the next week or so.

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