Thursday, 11 August 2016

Full of beans

What an exciting time of year this is! We are now gathering food from the garden every day, some to eat and some to store for later. Most of our meals start with a selection of vegetables and I then decide what to cook once I've seen what we have available. 
This meal included homegrown onion, rainbow chard, garlic, peas, borlotti beans, kale, spinach, beetroot and tomatoes.

And became a tasty chicken stir-fry with a wine, lemon and ginger sauce, served with jasmine rice and a garnish of fresh cream. It wouldn't have won any prizes for beauty or presentation, but it's taste was superb.

Until recently I had been concerned that the bean crop was going to be miserably small, but to my delight the runner beans have come thick and fast and I can now freeze plenty for us to have during the winter months. I've grown both White Lady and Flavourstar varieties, but next year I will grow just the White Lady and perhaps an orange flowered variety. The Flavourstar have been okay, but I am picking about three times as many (or maybe more) of the White Lady variety. I will also allow some beans to mature fully and then dry them and save them as seeds for next year. Mr J and I thought that next year it would be nice to make a bean tunnel along the length of the kitchen garden as they are so decorative. I read somewhere once that runner beans were originally grown as an ornamental climber, but I am jolly pleased that someone tried the beans and that they have become a part of our diet. I am not very keen on the kidney beans on their own, I prefer them as a sliced green bean, but I know that they make a useful additional to meals like chilli and even in cassoulet. So, if we have enough frozen sliced beans and enough saved to use for next year's seeds, I will then use some to dry the kidney beans for rehydrating and eating.

I have already harvested a couple of kilos of broad beans and frozen them and have bought some seeds for autumn sown broad beans (Aquadulce Claudia) which should mature earlier than spring sown ones so that next year we have two crops of broad beans.

I hadn't grown (or eaten) borlotti beans before and although they look pretty in their pods I was sceptical about how they would taste. Well, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that they taste delicious and have a rich creamy consistency and next year, I will be planting many more borlotti beans. There are both dwarf and tall varieties, so I will give both some space in the garden and compare how they taste.

The most important tool in my garden is not actually in the garden at all, it's in the kitchen! I keep a garden diary, this is so that I can keep all my notes and observations in one place, this way I don't have to try to remember what was planted when and how it grew and whether I like the taste enough to grow them again next year. I'm using one page per crop, so that I can keep adding to it as time goes on. A more organised person might use their computer for this, but I find it easier to have a pen or pencil lying around on the kitchen table and jot down notes as I need to. It also means that I can take the book out to the garden if I want to wander around writing down my observations as I go.

I also keep a poultry manual along the same lines, dates of birds arriving, where I got them from, any that have hatched or been dispatched and most importantly of any medicines that they have had and how long we need to exclude their eggs or meat from our diet. As a smallholder, this is an essential requirement.

I've been wiped out for a couple of days this week and apart from ensuring that the birds had sufficient food and water, I have done very little else on those days, leaving Mr J to put the animals to bed and secure them for the night against preditors. It's becoming increasingly frustrating to have days where I am unable to do much, I am so excited and enthused by life here that to be stuck indoors struggling to stand up and move around is irritating to say the least. But the good news for me is that I am starting to feeling myself again and as long as I have sufficient rest (I slept for three hours today) I can crack on with the tasks that I want to achieve.

The birds seem to be growing rapidly at the moment. Big Red and Little White are now fourteen weeks old and are huge! Big Red is likely to continue growing for at least another six weeks, he is already much taller than Diesel and Jack (who is his mother) and a couple of inches taller (to the shoulders) than Little White, who will when fully grown be much larger than him because of the breed that she is. I took this photo of Big Red about two weeks ago and he is considerably larger now. I love his colouring and markings, the offspring of a Crested Cream Legbar cockerel and Warren hen (Jack) he has a her colouring mixed with the Legbar's flecking and not a full crest but a small Mohican style tuftiness arrangement on his head.

The four chicks (that I have collectively nicknamed The Four Horsemen) are now six weeks old and growing well. They are very timid and particularly nervous of Diesel who is at the top of the pecking order and for much of the time is quite bullying in her behaviour to all the other chickens. This little chap is the Jersey Giant cockerel, or at least I am pretty sure it's a cockerel, who will eventually be the size of turkey and will live in a separate area with Little White and the other female Jersey Giant. Presently he just looks a bit sorry for himself and scruffy, but I have not doubt that he will become a graceful bruiser of a bird over the next few months. Jersey Giants are slow to reach full maturity so it will be interesting to watch them as they develop into the large birds that they promise to be.

The youngest chicks are two weeks old now and most of them have about three quarters of their wing feathers formed. This little one has been nicknamed The Colonel and using lots of old wives' tales to try to work out its gender, I think it is a male. We will keep a couple of males to decide which will be the best for breeding and the other males will be meat birds.

I was talking to Mr J this evening about how best to describe my feelings about caring for animals that will become food for us and decided that the best way is that I care for them without caring too much about the birds. Those that I have come to care about will be very difficult to dispatch when the time comes. I've found that it is easier to care for the birds without getting attached to them when there are larger numbers of them. It was inevitable that we would become attached to Big Red and Little White as they were the first birds that we hatched ourselves. There were also only two of them, the Four Horsemen are nice enough but I haven't got to know their personalities or quirks and the latest brood are almost too many to be able to spot the differences between some of them. Of course I can see one is champagne colour and another is white, there are eight that look similar to The Colonel with varying degrees of white and grey patches and they will join the Australorp (one of The Four Horsemen) in their own area of the paddock when they are large enough.

We have finished hatching chickens for the year, we have about 10 meat birds which won't keep us fed throughout the winter, but will provide us with some food. I can make a chicken provide four to five meals for the two of us, so they will go a long way to filling the freezer.

The ducklings continue to be ridiculously cute and somehow I can't imagine that we will want to part with them, but the reality is that we can't have more than one drake on the smallholding, there simply isn't enough space to run several flocks of ducks and it would be an indulgence rather than a practical decision to keep the drakes. As we have no way of telling as yet, what gender the ducklings are, we will carry on enjoying their funny behaviour for some time to come. 

One day last week one of them was very poorly, it was twisting its head to the side and racing around in circles backwards. I scoured the internet for causes and more importantly, for a cure and we went to the local farm supplies and bought vitamin boosting drops. This seems to have done the trick, within twenty-four hours it was significantly improved and it is now bright and happy again with no sign of having been unwell. It has become a great swimmer, dipping time and time again under the water of it's washing up bowl pond. (If you can't play the video on the link, you can see it here on YouTube)

The week is running away from me again, there is so much to do and, it seems, so little time. Today (Thursday) I will be processing the fruit and vegetables that I gathered this morning, but first as always, it's time to make a cuppa.