Friday, 1 April 2016

A great day out

As forecast, we had eleven hours of sunshine yesterday, a first for this year and Mr J and I made the most of it. The animals also seems to enjoy the chance to spend time in the sunshine.

I turned the new compost pile which comprises a large amount of grass cuttings, straw, wood shavings, kitchen vegetable peelings and poultry manure. I've also mixed in one bucketful of garden soil, one of well rotted horse manure and a small bag of coffee grinds.

The local Waitrose store has a metal bin outside it with used coffee grinds that customers can take (free of charge) for use in their gardens. I asked Coffee #1 who also have a coffee shop close-by and they too will give you used coffee grinds if you ask a member of staff. I would guess that most cafes and coffee shops would happily give us used coffee grinds and tea bags if we asked for them and took a suitable container to take them home in.

As the compost pile isn't very big, it was quite easy to lift the metal hoop (made from pig netting wire) that I am using to hold the compost in one area and put it next the pile and then fork the pile back into the hoop. I mixed the contents well as I turned it and I am really pleased with how quickly it is becoming something less like a pile of grass cuttings and more like something you'd put on the garden.

I let the cockerel out into the paddock with the girls for his first day outside in his new environment. He quickly made himself at home in the compost pile made from mucking out the stable and together with the other birds, he enjoyed some quiet time sunbathing.

On Tuesday the ducks had managed to find a small hole in the netting around their enclosure and she was out of it in a blink. The drake was too big to squeeze through the gap so after I had put her back into the enclosure a few times, Mr J and I mended the hole using cable ties. Yesterday morning, the duck spent a sad ten minutes trying to find a way to escape the enclosure and because I was going to be in the paddock for much of the day, I gave in to her pleading squeaks and noises and let them both out into the paddock to snuffle about for the day. They certainly earned their keep yesterday as both of them spent hours clearing slugs and snails from under the pathway weed suppressing membrane, from around the edges of borders and from around the base of the mature fruit trees at the back of the paddock. I spent a while just sitting and watching them, I'm still fascinated by the way they wash their eyes in buckets of clean water, its obvious how much pleasure they get from splashing around in the water.

Somehow (and I'm still not entirely sure how) the drake found a way through the netting into the other side of the paddock where the chickens live. I thought it probably didn't matter as we'd thought that eventually we'd move the duck house to that side of the paddock anyway. Unfortunately the drake took a fancy to poor Diesel and tried to have an amorous moment with her. Luckily we were close by and prevented Diesel from being hurt by him, we shooed him back into his side of the paddock and closed up the gap in the netting that we think he used to get through (it was the only one I could find, so I hope that's it now).

I continued to fill the raised bed with soil from a mound in the paddock, its a slow process because there are so many pebbles and stones in the soil and an awful lot of glass from the old commercial glasshouses that used to be on this site. The glass goes into a bucket to go into containers to be taken to the local recycle centre and the pebbles and stones get taken to the hedge around the outside of the paddock where I am creating a pebble stream (without any water) which will help hold down the weed suppressing membrane through which the hedge is planted. Mr J continued to remove screws and nails from the recycled wood we bought a couple of months ago. These long lengths of 2 by 4 wood are what we using to make the raised beds. With two beds completed, I can start to think about planting out the garlic and onions.
Mum and I in February 2012

Mid-afternoon my sister arrived and we both headed off to the village where my parents lived for 30+ years and where they are now buried in the local churchyard. Yesterday would have been my mother's birthday and so my sister and I visited her grave to say happy birthday, pay our respects and put some cheerful daffodils on their grave. When we got back, we had a cuppa and I gave her some duck and hen eggs to take home.

I was very tired last night and was ready for bed well before 9pm. Mr J stayed downstairs to make a cuppa and hotwater bottle and by the time the kettle boiled I had already fallen asleep. I slept through until almost seven this morning with just one short spell awake during the night. So not only did I have a great day, but I very good night too.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Fabric of life and vintage material

As our lives take on a new rhythm, it is probably time for me to let go of some of my old 'stuff' and sell it to raise funds to do the things I want to do now. For years I have collected fabric which I have carefully stored for use at a later date, but the reality is that I have more material than I could ever use in our house, so it is time for some of it to go.

Since I was a teenager I have been buying fabric to use in sewing projects, all sorts of projects from curtain making to patchwork quilts and cushions. When I got a weekend job as a 14 year old, I used to save some of my earnings every week (I think I earned about 62p an hour) and when I had enough I would get a bus into Bristol or Bath and buy a small piece or two of material. Most of the fabric was bought from Laura Ashley as I liked the way the colours blended well together and the small printed designs were useful for patchworking, but later on I bought a lot of toile de Jouy designs from a variety of manufacturers.

I don't think I can bring myself to sell the bags of scraps that I have saved for patchwork projects as who knows what the future may hold and I might want to start making hand-stitched quilts again. The longer lengths of fabric however, can be sold on eBay or Gumtree which I hope will give me some much needed money to spend on very different products.

I've decided that I want some topsoil to supplement the rather poor soil in the garden. In fact I have realised that the soil is no where near as good as I had first thought. So rather than dig and dig, and pick out stones, pebbles and large amounts of glass, we will buy some topsoil and I will add compost to that, leaving the poor soil below it to gradually improve over the years as worms and micro-organisms do their thing. So doing a quick calculation, it looks like we will need about 10 to 12 tons of topsoil for the raised beds and at £43 a ton, I need to find the best part of £500 to create the vegetable and fruit beds. As this is an added expense that we hadn't budgeted for and I want to find a way to fund this purchase, so the unused fabric (and my collection of patchwork quilts) can go.

Now I have the task of going through my boxes and bags of fabric and deciding which ones to sell. In theory this should be an easy task, but it will be time consuming and difficult because as I look through them, I travel down memory lane and get all sentimental about different lengths of material or quilts and the memories that they evoke.

Still, if I stay focussed on the reason for selling it, being ruthless about my selection will be easier. Being able to feed us on home grown fruit and vegetables for years to come is a priority, hanging on to pretty fabrics and bedding won't be very productive in the long run and as I will still keep some of them, I won't have lost them altogether. So I had better go and make a start!

Well, it's taken me the whole morning to list the first length of vintage fabric on eBay, listing the hundreds of pieces of fabric that I have may well be a long and slow process. Here's what I've listed.
7 metres of Gaston Y Daniela fabric in a music themed toile de Jouy design.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Chicken family planning

We now have a lovely young Cream Legbar cockerel who happily announced that the sun had come up this morning. Once he is settled in I am sure that he will enjoy free-ranging on our organic smallholding.

This young chap is about six months old and I think he is jolly splendid. It seems that I am not the only one. The older girls, Jack and Diesel are smitten, they keep going over to his pen and making little noises at him that I haven't heard them make before. Diesel is just about wiping herself along the mesh on his pen and if she had long eyelashes, I have no doubt that she would be fluttering them at him.  A video of Diesel and the new lad talking to each other can be seen on YouTube at
It's interesting to watch because as far as I know, these girls have never encountered a cockerel. It demonstrates just how strong that innate compulsion to reproduce is for these birds that live around us. All over the smallholding there are wild birds building nest, doing their mating rituals and starting to raise the next generation. It makes sense that the chickens would be doing the same.
There are two pairs of sparrows that are nesting in boxes just inside the stables and two more pairs in boxes on the barn next to the stable. I am delighted to have sparrows here, we didn't see very many when we lived in our last house and missed their cheery little faces and cheepy little song. I've spotted the usual suspects all over the place, bluetits, blackbirds and starlings for example, but I've also seen what I think are mistle thrushes in the paddock and I'm hoping that the barn owl we saw a couple of weeks ago is nesting not too far away.
Anyway, back to our new lad. He has a fine voice and isn't afraid to use it (video below). I've noticed this morning that the girls keep popping back into the chicken condo to see him before they head back out to scratch in the front garden or the paddock. I'm hoping that one of the girls will become broody before too long. Not only so that we can have a few young chicken, but also so that I can tuck a few duck eggs under a broody hen and let her sit on them. Our duck eggs are likely to be fertilised as the drake seems to be fairly efficient at his job, but the duck isn't showing any signs of being broody, so at the moment another bird would need to sit on her eggs. The young CLB chickens aren't laying eggs yet so are probably too young to become broody, but I'm looking forward to having CLB chicks at some point in the future. A very short video of the new lad crowing can be found on YouTube at
Perhaps it's just a quirk of mine, but now that I can hear a cockerel crowing I feel that our home is indeed a proper smallholding. We are choosing not to name the animals, but I'm interested to know what other folks do. Do you name your animals? Does it pose any problems when it's time to dispatch and eat them?

Monday, 28 March 2016

Easter weekend round up UPDATED

It's been a typical Easter weekend, the rain and wind have treated us to their full force and between stormy weather, the sun has shone. So we haven't spent very much time outside but we have achieved a few tasks.

Saturday morning I took my daily walk around the garden to check that the stock fences are all intact, the animals are happy and healthy and that nothing has broken, been damaged or blown around overnight. A mole seems to be doing it's thing all over the back garden, I don't really have a problem with a mole in an area that we plan to have as a wildflower garden, but I do object to signs of mole activity around the edge of the paddock where I am creating the fruit and vegetable garden. I am finding it quite hard to find a balance between working with nature and trying to control the environment, I suspect that in the end, the local animal residents and I will find a way of working around each other (with me working around them!).

Anyway, on Friday evening I spotted an advert on eBay for a 1000 litre plastic tank that was being sold not to far away and the seller was happy to deliver, so on Saturday morning he arrived with the water tank.

A brief telephone conversation between us beforehand meant that I had also agreed to have a look at a second tank which didn't have the metal cage around it or pallet beneath it. We quickly agreed to have the second tank too as we can mount it on a pallet and use a couple of ratchet ties around it to give it added strength. My plan for these is to put one at the back of the stable and garden store room where, at the moment, there are a pair of standard size water butts and the other will either go at the back of the house or by the piggery. Using all our existing water butts and the new ones, we should be able to store around 3000 litres for use in the garden using the summer months. Our thinking behind this is not only an environmental one, but that because we are on a water meter, it should save us some money too. When we can work out a way of capturing and storing our grey water, we will store that too. This will take a bit of careful planning as our bathroom is on the ground floor so there is no drop for gravity to carry the grey water into a storage tank.

The fields around the house are now starting to fill up with the sight and sound of lambs. The sheep that arrived a couple of weeks ago started lambing within two days of arriving and now a lot of them are accompanied by one or two lively little lambs. I seem to spend a great deal of time saying 'Awww'.

Our ducks have now settled in nicely. They were very wary of us for the first few days, but now waddle over to greet us as we walk towards their enclosure, mostly to see if we have brought anything nice for them to eat, but I like to imagine that they are pleased to see us. The female duck makes very funny noises when we feed them something she really likes. Peas seem to send her into absolutely rapturous state and she makes these lovely noises while she's eating. We've sectioned off part of the paddock for them. It is a fairly flat area in which we've created a slope using the turf lift from the perennial border, that leads to the top of a rectangular container that is their pond (about 4 feet by 3 feet by one foot deep). The enclosure also has an old large elderberry tree in it. This tree is the one that has fallen over and the main trunk grows horizontally with all the branches reaching up and out. This provides the ducks with shelter from the rain and also from the sunshine if it ever gets too warm for them. They also have a shelter that looks like a small pig ark which they haven't started using yet and their duck house, which they only seem to go into at night.

The crested Cream Legbar (CLB) chickens are growing well. They are now sixteen weeks old and hopefully will start laying in the next month. Yet again, with all the space that they have to run around in, I found them hanging around together in their favourite cosy corner towards the back of the stable. They really don't like the windy weather, but as luck would have it, they have come to live on a windy smallholding and will just have to get used to it over time. We haven't given these ones names as they are here for a function, to provide eggs and eventually meat and we've decided to be careful not to get too attached to them or eating them at a later date may prove to be difficult. Jack and Diesel on the other hand, came to us as pets that happen to lay eggs, so they have the names that they arrived with (my daughter and grandson named them). Chickens we have in the future are unlikely to have names for the same 'don't eat friends' reason. We have been offered a young crested Cream Legbar cockerel that is unrelated to the CLB we have. I have yet to have the discussion with Mr J about having him, but hope that he will agree to having a cockerel for a few months before he becomes a table bird (the cockerel, not Mr J). It would be nice to see if the girls become broody and provide us with the next generation of birds for eggs and meat.

Inside the house, I have commandeered one end of the kitchen table for use as a potting shed for sowing seeds. I've been sowing a few seed trays every few days and once they have germinated on the kitchen windowsill or in the boot room, I move the tiny plants to the cold greenhouse.

The courgette seeds that I planted on 18th March have now started to germinate, I will wait until they have one pair of true leaves before I pot them on and move them to the cold greenhouse. Recently I've also sown butternut squash, red orach, spinach, pot marigolds, broad beans, curly kale and poached egg plants. The flowers are for companion planting and to encourage pollinating insects into the garden. Some of the vegetables, like the kale, I am planting are for the birds to eat during the autumn and winter months. I use a general purpose peat free compost which I find works well but plants that have been in it for around three months are now showing signs that they need more nutrients, so it's probably time I either started to feed them or to get them planted outside.

The first sowing of tomato seeds now have their first true leaves and I have potted them into individual pots to grow on for the next few weeks until they can be planted out. They are a cordon variety which I am going to grow some outside and some in the greenhouse and then will be able to compare how well they get on in each environment. I have three varieties to grow this year and I hope to have 6 or 8 plants of each variety, which may seem like a lot of tomatoes, but I make our own tomato sauce and chutneys and this year, I plan to make our own ketchup too. Having enjoyed Heinz ketchup for the last 50 years, I have recently started having an intolerance type reaction to it, so I think it's time to make my own using organic ingredients, in the hope that I am just reacting to an additive or a residue on one of the ingredients of the shop bought version.

I am probably growing more of each vegetable than I will need, but this will allow me to give some young plants to my sister and to my daughter and to have a few spare plants in case those in the garden fail at an early stage. We should (I hope) have many more vegetables than we can eat or process and save for use later, the surplus will then go to the local food cooperative where I hope to be able to swap them for locally raised organic meat, and cheese.

Earlier in the week I saw my doctor again to discuss the HRT that she had prescribed as a trial about six weeks ago. She agreed with me that it wasn't working for me as I had started once again to have many of the symptoms of thyroid failure that hit me last year. It seems that the HRT affected the balance of thyroid medication or it's absorption or something, but whatever it was, it wasn't doing me any good. I had already stopped taking the HRT a few days before I saw her, as I was rapidly becoming quite unwell and am pleased to have started feeling improvements again since stopping. She also agreed to increase the dosage of synthetic thyroid hormone that I am taking and hopefully this will start to have a positive impact over the next couple of weeks. I've also had an ultrasound scan of my kidneys to rule out any physical problems with my kidneys. They function well, but quite slowly and for me this is fine, I am not worried about them working slowly as long as they are working properly. So that's another question mark cleared away which is all good news. Anyway, I don't mean to moan, merely to share that my health is once again having an up and down period which effects the amount I can do in any given day.

I have used some of the time spent on the sofa this weekend to do a little online shopping. Last year when we were looking for our new home I promised Mr J that when we had a garden of our own, I would make some fruit, flower and vegetable wine. Years ago I started making my own wine and I haven't done this for some time. Although I don't drink alcohol any more, I am happy to make wine for Mr J and make myself some cordials at the same time. So I have ordered the essential equipment to be able to start making wine as soon as the elderflowers are out on the (several) elderberry trees we have in the garden and yard. And after that, I can make wine from other flowers, fruit and vegetables that we grow.

We have been saving glass containers and bottles for over a year, everything from wine bottles and cordial bottles to jam jars and chutney bottles. So we should have plenty of containers for homemade wine, cordials and the jams and chutneys that I plan to make this year. Our aim is to have enough home grown, home made food to reduce our shopping bills to a minimum and to have as much control as possible over the quality of what we eat and drink.

I'm looking forward to a productive year.


Mr J agreed that we could have the Cream Legbar cockerel and so off we went to the breeder, about half an hour away, to collect a second-hand brooder that he had for sale. My intention was to buy the brooder so that when the time came, we would have one and not have to rush out and buy a costly new one. Brooders are heat lamps or pads that are used to keep chicks warm if they are hatched from eggs in an incubator as opposed to being hatched by a mother hen (who do there own keeping chicks warm). We don't have an incubator and it will probably be some time before we even think about getting one. 

We also took a large box to bring home the young cockerel. Remember that phrase, young cockerel. I was expecting to see a bird about the size of our CLB girls, but no, this young fella is just over 6 months old and is, in comparison to any of our girls, a whopper. We were also told that he will grow some more before the year is out. He is however, a very handsome chap and is now settled into a small pen in the chicken condo for a few days before he joins the girls free ranging in the paddock during the day.