On Tuesday morning we had to go to the local town to do things like banking and pick up some supplies, but on the way home we called in at our village pub. Not because either of us wanted to a drink or to eat, but because one of our neighbours told us that they had seen several pallets at the back of the pub. So I popped inside and asked the landlord if they needed the pallets and if not, could we have them. To my delight the pallets were available for us to have. So we piled seven pallets into the back of the van and made our way home again. After that we went to the garden centre to buy a few eight foot bamboo canes and some small bags of topsoil to allow me to create pockets to plant in amongst the (vast amount) of compost that we have used to fill the raised beds.
I put the canes into the super-quick raised bed that I made from filling cardboard boxes (read more about it here), ready to plant the runner beans plants that I started in modules in the greenhouse.
Wednesday morning I spent a lovely half an hour planting the runner beans out and then surrounding the bed, on the most windy side, with wind reducing netting. I'm growing White Lady and Flavourstar, which are both white flowered varieties.
We've been struggling with find a way to keep the ducks food dry from the rain and we've decided to build a feeding station, similar to the one we made for the chickens, but in the meantime I wanted a way to keep the rain away. So I used an empty milk carton and cut a hole in the side of it, which the ducks seem to like and I like too. I think that the duck has finished laying for the year, or has slowed down as we haven't seen an egg for the last couple of days.
As I've had a couple of nights of poor sleep, my days have been punctuated with naps, which probably don't help me to sleep the next night, but like many people would, I struggle to get through the day when I've had poor quality sleep and then got up at four in the morning. Anyway, this means that I have done several smaller tasks, but nothing that required sustained energy or enthusiasm.
I have been fascinated by the speed at which the chicks are growing. My guess is that Big Red is a male and Little White is female, although time will tell. They have been enjoying time outside, but I am hesitant to leave them out for too long when it's windy as they don't have a mother hen to snuggle under if they get cold.
So, this morning after they had devoured a dandelion breakfast, they went outside for about an hour and a half. As they sky got cloudier and the air cooler, I took them back inside. They have been registering their objections ever since, Little White has a particularly loud and shrill tweet. If you can't view the video above, it can be found on youtube here.
The chicks should be off the heat and ready to move to their own special pen in the chicken condo by the time they are four weeks old. This will just give us time to disinfect the box that they are in now in readiness for the next batch of chicks that are due to hatch at the end of the month. I am hoping that we have a male chick from this next batch of eggs, that way we will have a couple of cockerels to pay attention to both the Cream Legbars and hybrids and also to the Jersey Giants. As we don't have plans to sell the birds or their eggs for hatching at the moment, it doesn't matter which cockerel paid attention to which hen, it would just give us a supply of fertile eggs for continuing the flock.
We eat quite a lot of chicken, so I think we would probably want the equivalent of two or three birds per fortnight and if we had a broody hen to care for the eggs and chicks, that would be ideal. But these are all hopes for the future, at the moment we are buying in fertile eggs, using an incubator and caring for them ourselves. It's really not too much work, other than ensuring that we remember to turn their eggs regularly and the chicks are just a delight to watch so they don't feel like any work at all.
Today we have tidied up the last bits of wood from the hedge cutting. The larger stems (that we cut the branches off and shredded) have now been chopped up to go into the wood store area to dry out before winter.
I've planted out some cabbages that I started in modules in the greenhouse. They are January King variety like these ones from The Organic Gardening Catalogue. They have gone into the same bed that I planted the first batch of purple sprouting broccoli into a couple of weeks ago (or it could be kale, I can't remember without going to look at the label). The straw mulching has kept the soil moist and I was pleased with the texture of the soil which comprises homemade compost and the very poor soil that we've dug from a heap in the paddock. To my surprise it felt like it had some body to it, without being sticky like clay would be.
We've screwed together one more raised bed frame from pieces that we had already prepared, carried it to the vegetable garden and lowered it onto the thick card layer that I'd placed on the ground a few days ago. I'd also taken several barrow loads of compost from the chicken's area and piled it onto the cardboard, so all that is left is for us to add some soil to the bed and it will be ready to plant up too.
We made a start on the base for the second hand shed that will be the new chicken shed. We have a few paving slabs (that we sourced second hand), so using a long batten of wood and the spirit level attempted to make a flat base for the wooden frame on to which the shed will be built. The process was slowed considerably by eight little helpers who felt the need to scratch about and peck beneath each slab as we lifted them to reposition them, but we think we have now managed to put down enough level paving slabs to build the wooden base frame. The shed will replace these two small chicken houses which will free them to be moved and used for broody hens or chicks before they are large enough to be in with the flock.
We were delighted to find that a third Cream Legbar has now started laying. They are still laying very small eggs, but there were enough of them for us both to have a blue egg omelette for breakfast. It took four of the little eggs to make what would be a two egg omelette if we were using Diesel's eggs.
Last night I enjoyed watching Doncaster Knights v Bristol Rugby on TV. It was on a pay for channel (both Mr J and I refuse to pay for umpty-um channels that we are unlikely to watch when there is an utterly superb television service that we already pay a television licence for), so begrudgingly I paid for the one day pass, so that I could watch two hours of television.
I am very disappointed that I haven't been well enough to go to a single match this season. Having worked for Bristol Rugby for the previous couple of seasons, I rarely missed a match as I worked on match-days running the junior fan-zone area. However, I will be going to the final match of the season next week, hobbling around with my walking stick, because I am hoping that this will be the year that Bristol Rugby get promoted once again to the Premiership. Obviously it won't be the same this year - being part of the operational staff team and on the pitchside for the matches has a completely different feeling to sitting in the stands and watching it. But it was great last night to watch the lads that I've got to know over the previous few years perform so well in the first leg of the finals. Next week, Lucie and I will join around 16,000 people at Ashton Gate Stadium to watch both teams battle it out for a place in the Premiership. I've been lucky enough to have been employed to do some really amazing work, but I think that my time at Bristol Rugby was probably the happiest paid employment that I've had. For me it doesn't beat being self-employed, but it was a pretty close second.
Creating a smallholding is hard work, probably much harder than it would have been twenty years ago, as we are both older, achier and more tired. My body conspires to ensure that everything is a lot of effort including the basics like walking or bending and I spend swathes of the day in pain, but I love it (being on the smallholding, not the pain!). I like the fresh air, the feeling of being in touch with nature, of working with it, of being part of something bigger and of the continuous potential for learning yet more. We have both been on not-so-much a learning curve than a crash course in everything homesteading! For two fifty-something year olds, who have spent much of our lives working in offices, I am rather proud of just how much we have already achieved and am delighted at our 'we can do that' attitude.