Saturday, 6 February 2016

New chickens on a blustery day

Despite it being very wet and windy this morning, Mr J and I headed off to the Forest of Dean to collect the new chickens that we had agreed to purchase. Tintern, which is so often flooded was clear but some of the smaller roads were heavily laden with excess water. We carefully took note not to return home by the same route and to take a slightly longer route, but with wider roads. As we headed into 'no road signs' territory, we drove hoping that the directions he'd given me were correct. When I lived in Mid Wales I was used to people saying to drive up a hill and at the rock turn left then take the third track by the trees, it's such a long time since that's happened I forgot how accurate these instructions usually are.

The vendor of the chickens was one of those fabulous characters that are now almost of times gone by. A septuagenarian who had bought his house (for £2000 he told us) before he married his wife so that they would have a proper place to live and they have been there ever since. He said that weeks go by without him venturing further than the end of driveway and, given what a lovely position his smallholding is in, I fully understood. He regaled us with stories of his childhood and of how he gained a love of farming and we listened politely until our feet had gone numb with the cold from the shed floor. He suggested that we grow the girls on and think about selling some and breeding from others, he was very encouraging in us building an income for our smallholding. Perhaps he just liked us as we shook hands with him as we met, perhaps it was because we'd turned up exactly when we'd said we would (and others had let him down this week), or perhaps he could see two newbie smallholders full of enthusiasm, but with little knowledge and plenty of determination to make it work! What ever the reason, it was nice to meet him.

We brought the new chickens back and decanted them into the chicken house that will be their home for a little while until Jack and Diesel have got used to having other birds in their territory. Once the little Crested Cream Legbars are settled, we will let them into the chicken condo for a while and after that they will go out into a penned area in the paddock so that they have access to plenty of grass and other plants to scratch about in. They found their way out of the house and down the ramp and spent most of the afternoon pecking about at the floor.
Jack and Diesel watched them from a distance before they decided to get a closer look. The new chickens didn't take very long to look relaxed (if a chicken can ever look relaxed!) and start to flick the wood shavings, straw and soil around and look for edible things amongst it.

At dusk as usual, Jack and Diesel made their way towards their own hen house to go to bed for the night. The new little chickens, which will remain nameless unless we decide on a collective name for them, were making a racket of high pitched squeaks and cheeps which I assume was a 'it's getting dark, danger, danger' call.  At this point it occurred to me that they have been living in an pen in a shed and know nothing of going up a ramp to roost and snuggle in a hen house. They simply had no idea of what to do, so armed with a couple of sheets of cardboard, I blocked off the access to the underneath of the house with one piece and one by one encouraged them gently up the ramp with the other piece of cardboard. This must have looked very funny, they were like reluctant teenagers and the final one to go inside kept jumping off the ramp and hiding beneath it. The whole process only took at few minutes but did have us giggling. Hopefully over the next few days they will learn how to put themselves to bed (and then I won't have to miss the first few minutes of the late afternoon matches during 6 Nations 2016).

This afternoon has been gentle and I am now sitting on the sofa with Scotland v England on the telly. I can't remember the last time it took me so long to write a blog post, but with one eye on the telly and one on the laptop screen I keep having to pause to watch the next bit of play. I love seeing some of the lads that I used to work with coming on to the pitch to play and, regardless of which team they are playing for, I like to see them do well.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Making the best of it all

It's been a tough week physically but lots of fun. There have been a couple of afternoons where I have felt so rotten that I've given up on the day and headed to bed but thankfully have woken up the next morning feeling well again. So I've been making the most of the times that I feel good and continued to make the kitchen curtains, preparing small areas of the garden and clearing out the old stables to become the chicken condo. All good stuff.

I came across some photos that I took on 8th February 2007 when I lived in Mid Wales, I had forgotten just how snowy it has been in the winter recently and am jolly pleased that we aren't having the same snow laden winter this year (as I am not much a fan of snow).

I remember taking this photo looking up through a lilac tree and thinking how striking it would be.
This photo was taken from my bathroom window, the snow was falling so heavily that the hill behind our house was invisible.
Here's another view of the lilac tree and the hedge beyond it. My car froze that winter and remained frozen solid for about three weeks. Brrr!

Anyway, yesterday an old friend (not old in age, but old in the length of time we've been friends) Clare came for a cuppa and a catch up. Clare is renovating a late Victorian mid-terrace house and came to talk about her choices of paint colours, not that she needed advice. We chatted about all sorts of things including pensions, vans (and how useful they are) and our families. We've been friends for almost thirty years and there's not much we  can't and don't chat about.

Today I have been back to my GP to review the results of the latest blood tests. It is nice to have a GP that I feel I can discuss my health issues with properly and that she is happy to work with me to look at all the options rather than just write a prescription and send me away. So armed with a printed copy of the results, I can spend a bit of time researching further how best to support my endocrine system to work as well as possible. I've read and use Izabella Wentz's book Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, Lifestyle Interventions for Finding The Root Cause and website thyroid pharmacist.

The weather looks like it's going to be pretty wet and windy this weekend, so probably not a great weekend for gardening. Excellent, that means that I can spend some time reading, researching and also watching the 6 Nations opening matches on the television.

Now that we have a second hen house we can have a few more hens, as we'll need to keep them separated from our bossy girls for a week or so while they get used to each other.
So tomorrow we are off to collect six little crested cream legbar chickens, like these ones and, once they are a little older they should start laying some lovely blue eggs. One way and another it's likely to be an exciting weekend.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

A walk around the garden

Half of yesterday was a wash out in our house.I felt very unwell during the afternoon and after a hour of trying to stay upright and continue with the day, I retired to bed and spent the remainder of the day and night there. Mr J brought me tea, cold drinks and food, and sat with me for a while until I dozed off. As Mr J was closing the blind in the bedroom, he took this photo of the dramatic dusk sky.

I had managed to do a bit outside before I flumped yesterday. I cleaned and rebuilt the second-hand hen house that we picked up at the weekend and the girls were in and inspecting it before I had started putting the roof onto it. Jack decided that she liked it so much that she promptly settled down and laid an egg while I was still screwing the roof into place!

This morning I woke at 4.30am and I was delighted to find I felt much improved, so after a cuppa I continued to make the new kitchen curtains before heading outside at first light to gently get on with some more tasks in the garden. Clearing the stables to create the chicken condo is an on-going project,  which I'm doing a little bit at a time. It means wearing a mask to ensure that I don't breathe in too many stinky spores from the old hay and sawdust, which I find makes me hot and unpleasantly sweaty quite quickly. The clearing out is coming along well, there are a few areas that are now cleared right down to the soil level and the heap in the garden continues to grow. Although, it's no longer as neat as it was because the chickens have discovered it and have had great fun rootling around the edges of it, scattering partially composted sawdust and hay in a circle around the heap.

I've added a couple more shrubs to the shrubbery from a collection of plants that are sitting in pots waiting to be planted in their permanent places. My friend Jane (who is brilliant at gardening) brought me some more plants last time she came to visit, so I planted a hydrangea and spiraea that came from her garden and relocated a pretty little variegated climber from the back yard to against the fence at the back of the shrubbery.
 After lunch Mr J and I took a wander around the garden and looked at how it's progressed so far, deciding what we can do next and what to leave until later. These old plum trees have been here for years and continue to thrive. They would probably benefit from having their crowns thinned a little, but that's a job for another day. There are several large patches of stinging nettles, some we will cover with a thick membrane or old carpet and leave to die off and others we will fence off and allow to grow to support the wildlife that find it so appealing. If we can do our bit to support butterflies like the Peacock butterfly, we want to do so.
Having laid out the pathways between the herb beds a fortnight ago, I have started to anchor them into the ground more by pushing the edges into the ground with a spade. On the left of the photo is the elderberry tree with its trunk that grows horizontally after being confined for years in a glass house.

I've also laid some wood out to give me an idea of the length that the raised beds for vegetables will be. We planned how best to create the raised beds, we will need to join lengths of 2 by 4 to reach the length of each bed which will end up about 12 feet long and four feet wide. They can be done once we have finished taking the nails and screws out of the reclaimed wood that we have.

The girls have been great entertainment, they really enjoy the sunshine and have been busy scratching around in the fallen leaves at the back of the piggeries, all the time making their funny little chicken noises to each other and to us.

It will be interesting to see how well they behave when we section off parts of the garden and limit their access from the entire plot to only a third of it. We will still give them access to the area around the piggeries but unsurprisingly, we don't really want them munching and scratching their way through the vegetable garden.

A few weeks ago when the rain was very heavy and coming into the stable, we put up a temporary rain screen to stop the worst of it drenching the chicken house (which we'd had to move from the garden into the stable after it got blown over by the wind). Today, with the sun shining on the twin-wall plastic panel that we'd put up, it became like a mirror. Mr J noticed it first and admired what looks like the chicken's new wide screen television!
 It's been a much better day today, the sunshine always helps make things seem nicer and even though it was cool outside today, after half a day in bed it was lovely to be out in the fresh air.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Making Monday

One morning last week I took this photo of the lovely sunrise, I've been saving it to share on a day when the weather is too horrid to be able to get outside. I think today counts as a bad weather day.

This morning I started making the curtains for the huge kitchen doors. The whole of one wall is glazed with fabulous sliding folding doors that open up the house to the garden (or it will when the weather is nice enough). Shortly after we had agreed to buy the house I spotted just the fabric for the task on ebay. It is a vintage Laura Ashley fabric, a design from the mid 1980s with small florettes on a sand colour background and fortunately the seller had a long length of it.

So I dug out the trusty old sewing machine, ironing board and iron, wiped the dust of all of them and found the rest of the curtain making kit and spent a productive morning making three of the eight curtains that are needed.

After lunch I put the curtain making on hold until tomorrow. I've slightly overdone it for the last week or so and have started getting tired very quickly again, so I've decided to make sure that I pace myself more sensibly this week. So I had a gentle afternoon doing a bit of research and watching a couple of television programmes that we'd recorded over the weekend.

While I was making a cuppa this evening I noticed that the willow cuttings I took a couple of weeks ago have done very well. They are sprouting roots along the full length of the stem that is sitting in water and green shoots are growing just above the water line and at the tip of the cuttings. I am delighted that they have done so well and once I have hardened them off, they will be added to the hedge that we planted last week.

It's been blustery and wet day outside as the next weather front sweeps its way across the country. I've heard the external wall lights rattling, the rain beating down and the wind howling, but inside we've been toasty warm and cosy. The house is well insulated and the wood burning stove throws out a lot of heat, added to this we have a quilted bed-throw on the sofa for us to snuggle under if it does become cooler. Most evenings it is so warm in the lounge that I only need a t-shirt, and the thermal vest and socks that have been my constant companions for the last few winters, sit idly in a drawer. Whilst I am not a fan of winter, I am enjoying the cosiness of being in our house during these wet and windy spells.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

A weekend at home and away

The last couple of days have been busy but most of all, they have been fun. On Friday we had a very gentle start because Mr J had been in London on Thursday and didn't get home until the small hours. With a friend, he went to watch the recording of radio 4's The News Quiz radio programme at Broadcasting House and had a fabulous time.

I pottered in the kitchen, trying to decide the best place for the kitchen island which we will create from the kitchen units we found via Gumtree. I also did a bit of baking because we were expecting visitors and, quite frankly, I don't need much excuse or reason to bake a cake. So I made my favourite gluten free lemon drizzle cake and some gluten free fairy cakes topped with caffeine free coffee icing.

Friday afternoon we had a visit from Helen of the Valerie Chicken blog and Jane from The Kennixton Flock. We drank tea, ate cake, laughed much and talked about hens, pigs and sheep. As requested, Helen brought some of her pork and I happily purchased some chops, a roasting joint and some sausages.
 The sausages were lovely, I am supposed to be eating gluten free but they looked and smelled just too nice not to have tried them!

I showed Helen and Jane around our little smallholding, waving my arms around saying 'and over there we'll have x, y or z' and 'this soggy mud patch will have all our raised beds in it'. It's difficult to explain it all, when in my mind I can see exactly how it will look and how it will be organised but sharing my ideas with them made me realise just how much work we have ahead of us!

On Saturday we did some chores in the local town and then headed off to Newport to visit a large DIY store. Poor Mr J was tasked with heaving huge bales of peat-free compost into the trolley and then the car while I carried a bag of seed trays and onion sets. Those bags of compost that looked so large in the car now look like little pimples sitting in the yard waiting to be used.

After a fairly busy week I was tired last night and was neither much of a conversationalist nor much company last night and I headed up to bed fairly early. I slept for a full forty minutes before I woke up again thinking it must be morning. Now I may be an early riser but even I know that ten past eleven at night is too early to get up for the day! So I read for a while and managed to get back to sleep again before too long.

Today we have been over the bridge once again to collect another Gumtree find. A neat little chicken house which will provide us (not us, the chickens) with some additional sleeping space when the next girls arrive.

This afternoon we have had a delicious roast pork meal with homemade apple sauce. I smiled to myself when I realised just how much of the meal was locally grown (the potatoes) or that I knew it's source (the pork from Helen) or was home made (apple sauce made last year using my daughter's windfall apples).  I'm looking forward to later in the year when most of our meals will come from the garden.

As I glanced out of the window I spotted what looked like some of the trees in the paddock had blossom on their bare branches. I'm a bit surprised as its still January, so after we'd eaten I headed out to investigate and they are indeed in bloom.
I looked around at neighbouring hedgerows and there are several trees very obviously covered in little flowers. I believe that our trees are plum trees and I'm hoping that the blossoms don't get destroyed in the storm that is currently brewing outside.

I also saw that the old elderberry tree is growing well too. The paddock used to be covered in commercial size glass houses and when the previous owners moved in, they discovered this old elderberry growing inside one. It is tipped over and the main trunk grows horizontally, parallel to the ground and the branches mostly grow straight upwards. This makes the flowers and berries easy to reach when it comes to making elderflower cordial and wine. I like the way that lichen has grown on the tree making it look gnarled.

6 Nations starts next weekend, so my domestic and social activities as well as the blog posts will have to happen around the matches, as I will be ensconced on the sofa watching each match. I haven't broken the news to Mr J yet, but luckily he doesn't mind that during major tournaments he becomes a rugby widower. It will be strange not being at any of the 6 Nations matches this year, in fact I haven't been able to get to any matches for the whole of this season. For the previous three seasons I had been at every Bristol Rugby home match (and a few away matches too) as my job was with them, but for now I have to follow the lads' efforts via Twitter, their website or the radio. I am looking forward to having enough stamina to go to a match again and I think it won't be too long before I can do that, and then next year I should be able to head to Cardiff to watch some of the 6 Nations matches.