Sunday, 24 December 2017

Can we go OFF GRID? | How GREEN are we NOW?

Today I look at whether we can go off-grid and whether that is a practical option for us, given our slightly cronky bodies and limited time. I also take a look at what we have on site that is helping us to lead a cleaner and greener life.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

5 Homestead Goals For 2018 Challenge!

Today Mr J and I discuss our hopes and plans for the smallholding (homestead) for the next twelve months.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Securing The Chicken Run

Since the summer months I've been working gently towards making a covered run for Big White's flock should (when) another Avian Influence threat mean that we have to keep the birds under cover. Today I completed the next stage. 

The whole run is designed so that we can dismantle it very easily when we decide that we want to use that space for something else.

If you can't view the video on your device, you can watch it on youtube here.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Review Of Year 2 On Our Smallholding

As we are coming up to the anniversary of the move to our smallholding, it seems a good time to stand back a little and have a good look at what has been achieved in the last 12 months, the lessons learnt and to celebrate the passing of another four seasons.

During our first year here, I laid out the basic areas of the smallholding, a duck enclosure, annual vegetable garden, food forest, chicken fields and the wilderness area beside the piggeries.
Top, view as at November 2015. Below, view as at November 2016
Thus it went from fairly open and empty paddock to a working food production area. Our second year here has seen some drastic changes, most for the good, some just necessary. 

In early December DEFRA announced that all poultry were required to be kept under cover with immediate effect, so I spent a couple of days completing the conversion of the stables into the chicken condo and converting the open fronted outbuilding that I had planned to be my garden room, into the chicken palace. We bought and erected a large walk-in chicken run that we sited in the duck enclosure for their use while they had to be under cover and subsequently have used it for ducklings. We built covered walkways outside the two chicken buildings and over the year have made those walkways more permanent (in light of the likelihood of a repeat of the 'lockdown' during this winter's migratory movements of wild birds.

After the lockdown had ended, we built a pond in the duck enclosure and also acquired an old trampoline which is used to cover an area (in readiness for the predicted lockdown this year). The number of ducks has fluctuated throughout the year as ducklings have been raised and we also bought eight mature ducks, one drake and seven females which have proved successful breeders. As I type we have 9 adult ducks (7 of the eight, Mrs Warne and one young adult from our first hatch of ducklings from the eight) and there are also eleven ducklings that are a couple of months old which will provide us with food throughout the next few months.

The food forest has been expanded, I've planted 14 fruit trees, moved an apple tree from behind the greenhouse and planted several medium large fruit bushes that were given to us by new friends, just prior to their move from Newport in South Wales to Eday in the Orkney islands.
The Annual Vegetable Garden

The biggest change visually has been the creation of fencing around the annual vegetable garden. The few pallets that were around the front of it at the end of year one have been extended and this productive area is now fully enclosed except for two access points at the front and on the side next to the food forest. Compost bays and storage areas have been created along left hand side of the vegetable garden fence and at the front (the side nearest to the house) I have built a raised perennial border having failed miserably at keeping on top of the pernicious weeds in the bed that was created in the first year. I have resigned myself to accepting that this old perennial border needs a total overhaul, which I plan to do during the winter months. 

After I had created the fence around the vegetable garden, we were offered some longer pallets, these are eight feet long by three feet high and look more like fencing than the shorter pallets, so, bit by bit, I have started to replace the shorter pallets, as and when I have the energy to haul the long pallets into place. The older pallets will not go to waste, I am using them to create free standing compost bins and what are too old or damaged to use are being cut down and used as kindling for the wood burners.

This year I've grown several crops that I hadn't tried before, potatoes under a cover, sweetcorn, Greek gigantes beans - all of which have been a success to a greater or lesser degree. I plan to grow potatoes under cover again in 2018, but to make a cover from wood chippings and straw rather than a plastic sheet. I will grow sweetcorn again, but instead of growing it for its colourful appearance (as I did this year) I have selected seed of varieties that are reputed to have excellent flavour. The gigantes beans taste superb and next year I plan to grow a full bed of them rather than half a bed.

Our runner beans grew very well this year and I harvest well over 100lbs of beans, many of them were frozen for eating throughout the winter and spring and others were swapped with local residents for crops that I was unsuccessful with (courgettes) or just don't have enough in the garden yet (apples).

During the summer and early autumn I selected a seven week period and undertook to record everything that I had harvested and in just 50 days, harvested and stored over 800lbs of food. Next year I will continue to record the harvest, but perhaps won't put the pressure of having to harvest and process X amount of food each day.

We raised some meat birds this year, it was an experiment to see whether we preferred the fast grown meat of Ross or Cobb birds to the slower maturing more traditional meat birds. I think the jury is still out over the result of that experiment. Certainly we both prefer the taste of Welsummer, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Australorp and Jersey Giant birds, but there is an appeal to '8 weeks until table ready' birds. There is little difference in terms of cost as the Ross/Cobb birds eat such vast quantities of food in their short lives, but which route we go down next year is still undecided.

During spring we had four very successful hatches of chicks and in the space of four months had raised almost 80 chicks, partly to increase our flock size and partly to provide us with plenty of meat birds. I figured that we would need at least one bird per week throughout the year (whether chicken or duck), that we'd want a few extras and some to give to friends or exchange for different food.

We have ended the year with eleven Jersey Giants, five Brahmas and four miscellaneous birds in Big White's field and around forty-three birds in the chicken condo area (Elvis' flock). I intend to reduce numbers still further over the coming months until we have around thirty birds in total to provide us with eggs for eating, selling and for hatching chicks next year.

One of the lessons learnt this year is that the birds that hatched in January came into lay, but then went into moult in autumn and have stopped laying, whereas the birds that hatched in February haven't moulted but did come into lay and have continued to lay as the daylight hours have reduced. Perhaps that is just coincidence, but it's certainly something to be aware of for next year.
View of the field November 2017

You can see (almost) daily updates of life on our smallholding on my YouTube channel here.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Winter Sunshine On The Homestead

A gentle reflection, in the early morning, of how fortunate we are. As always, if you cannot view the video on your device, you can watch it on YouTube here.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Harvesting 800 pounds of food in 50 days

What an amazing experience this project has been! 50 days ago I set myself a target of harvesting, processing and storing at least 5lbs of food a day. Whether it was something grown in our garden, meat birds or something foraged. 

My target was to store 250lbs of food in 50 days, but by the end of the first week it became obvious that I would achieve that volume of harvest fairly easily and quickly, so I increased the target to 500lbs.

And, shortly after the midway point I realised that I could increase my target once again. Not in my wildest dreams had I imagined that this plot could yield so much food in such a short space of time.

I have, in fact, harvested more than the list below, because for the purpose of my 50 Days of Harvest project, I didn't include any food that we harvested to consume that day and it didn't include anything harvested prior to the start date. I will, in due course, calculate the total amount that has been harvested from our smallholding this year, but for today, I am celebrating that I have been able to harvest such a fabulous amount in seven weeks and a day.

Here's today's vlog, or if you can't view it on your device, you can watch it on YouTube here

The harvest included

317 lbs apples (cooking apples and eating apples)
85 lbs winter squashes
22 lbs beetroot
30 lbs dwarf beans
44 lbs courgettes
57 lbs tomatoes
3 lbs cucumber
9 lbs plums
48 lbs runner beans
8 lbs savoy cabbage
31 lbs borlotti beans (net weight)
9 lbs blackberries
75 lbs chicken and duck
16 lbs raspberries 
19 lbs sweetcorn
3 lbs Greek gigantes beans
23 lbs pears
1 lb parsnips.

Our cupboards are filled with jars of apple sauce, plum sauce, green tomato chutney and raspberry jam. Demi-Johns are filled with country wines nicely fermenting away, the freezers are filled to bursting with produce and our hearts are filled with joy.

The whole project can be found on YouTube here

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

500 SUBSCRIBER GIVEAWAY! | 50 Days of Harvest, Day 42

Today I celebrate reaching a small milestone, there are now over 500 people subscribed to my YouTube channel and to mark the occasion I am offering a small token of my thanks to one lucky subscriber. Watch the video to find out how to be in with a chance of receiving my token of thanks.

If you cannot view the video on your device, you can watch it on YouTube here.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Onions and An Old Friend | 50 Days of Harvest, Day 34

Today's vlog is about long term friendships and planting onions for an early crop next year.

If you are unable to see the video on your device, you can watch it on YouTube here.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The Corn Is Bleeding! | 50 Days of Harvest, Day 28

I harvested some beautiful coloured sweetcorn today and then had a big surprise!

If you can't view the video on your device, you can watch it on YouTube here.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Planting The Raspberry Bed | 50 Days of Harvest, Day 23

Day 23 of my 50 Days of Harvest and the total harvested, prepared and stored is growing nicely. I started out hoping to harvest 250lbs in 50 days and after a week I increased it to 500lbs in 50 days. The total is now edging towards the 500lbs and I'm not quite halfway through the 50 days, so over the next week I will decide whether to increase the target again or not.

I made the first of our homegrown raspberry jam today, so we had scones and cream to go with the jam. It's a little taste of what we have to come in future years - and I'm really looking forward to it!

If you can't view my vlog on your device, you can watch it on YouTube here.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

50 Days of Harvest - Day One - An invitation to join a celebration!

Today I start a new project and I invite you to join me in a celebration of an abundant harvest.

If you can not view the video on your device, you can watch it on YouTube here.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

No Dig Potatoes - The Final Result

After months of waiting I have finally lifted the entire crop of potatoes so that I can judge whether using weed suppressing membrane and a no dig method is a good idea in our annual vegetable garden.

If the video won't play on your device, you can watch it on YouTube here.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Moving ducklings

In today's vlog we move the ducklings from their brooder nursery pen to their new home outside.

If you are unable to view the video on your device, you can watch it on YouTube here.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

July Homestead Tour Part 1

As it's the first day of August, it's time to look at the progress made by the crops and animals during July. To stop this being a very long vlog, I have split it into two, so the second part will be published tomorrow.

If you can't see the video on your device, you can watch it on YouTube here.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Ready, steady, harvest! Abundance in our garden.

It seems that this has been a very good year for growing food in our garden. Hopefully this is a result of us improving the soil in the raised beds and an indication of things to come, that year by year the yield will increase as we enrich and enhance the soil.
 I've been picking blackberries, not only from the hedgerows of the fields surrounding us, but from the brambles that are quietly but steadily invading our garden.The area immediately outside our boundary is not being cut back by the farmer using the fields, this is a nuisance on one level because the weeds are growing very well and are now about four feet high and their seeds are blowing and dropping into our garden and chicken field, on the otherhand, it is supplying us with an amazing crop of blackberries. Now if I could just find a way to eat thistles, we'd be completely sorted!
 The elderberry tree is now starting to look purple, the birds are gorging themselves on ripening berries and I have started to pick as many berries as I can reach. I'm putting them straight into the freezer and, when I have enough, I will make some more elderberry wine. I'm also going to make elderberry syrup as I hear it is soothing for sore throats and the other symptoms of winter colds.
 The mirabelle plums are almost ready, one or two show the deep rich yellow of ripeness and I'm watching daily as the others turn from green to pale yellow to a darker, softer, buttery yellow.These too will be going into the freezer until I am ready to use them. Last year's crop were used to make some mirabelle plum and red grape wine which turned out to be a great success (unlike the elderflower wine that I made last year which is disgusting!).

Today's vlog continues the harvesting theme, if you can't view it on your device from this blog, you can watch it on YouTube here.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

No Dig Potatoes. Did the under cover potatoes grow?

Back in late March I planted my seed potatoes out, under cover. If you didn't see how I did that you can watch my vlog about it here.

The theory is that you don't need to earth them up because the covering excludes the light and the potatoes sit just below the covering, on top of the soil, so you don't need to dig down to find them.

And today I peeled back the covering for the first time to see how my no dig potatoes have grown (or not). 

If you cannot play the video on your device, you can watch it on YouTube here.

So I will definitely be doing this again next year, with the addition of woodchippings as you can see the difference it seemed to make.

All in all I would say that so far it's a success, the final reveal will be in two to four weeks when I harvest the crop for storage.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Food Forest Fruit year one

The Food Forest is starting to take shape and offering an abundance of fruit even in its first year. In this video I have a look at some of the fruit that is growing well at the moment.

It you can't play the video below, you can see it on YouTube here.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Behaving Badly, thoughts on the human condition

Here's a slightly off topic post, but all the same one that I feel very strongly about. The gist of this is 'please be nice to one another'.

It's not so much to ask really, but increasingly I see less and less evidence of folks being nice to each other. It seems to me that in the last year or so things have changed, the mood has changed (and not for the better) there is a level of acceptance that people can be horrid, rude, bullying and downright aggressive towards other people and that it is no longer acceptable to have differing opinions. Nowhere can this be found more, I feel, than online. 
If this video will not play on your phone, tablet etc. you can watch it on YouTube here.

So here's the thing and it is, of course, just my opinion - in a time when even the leaders of nations seem incapable of conducting themselves with dignity, self-control or compassion, I think it is even more important that we keep ourselves in check and behave towards others in a, well, humane way.

As I said, it is just my opinion and if you don't agree with me, well that's okay by me.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Structure and Form on the Homestead

As the wind continues to batter our home, I have managed to do a few tasks, but it's certainly slowing down the growth in the garden.

If you can't see the video below, you can see it on YouTube here


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Orange Sponge Cake with Dark Chocolate Icing

 After I had posted a photograph of this cake on social media I was asked for the recipe, so here it is.


4 ozs lightly salted butter
4 ozs sugar (we use unrefined granulated sugar)
2 eggs (medium to large)
4 ozs gluten free self-raising flour (standard flour works just as well if you don't have a gluten intolerence)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 pinch sea salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons orange extract (if you don't have this, use the finely grated zest of one large orange)

For icing
1 oz lightly salted butter
icing sugar
cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 375F, 190C, Gas mark 5 and grease and flour two 7 inch cake tins

Cream the butter and sugar together
Add the eggs and stir well until combined
Add the vanilla extract, salt and orange extract
Add the self-raisng flour and fold in carefully.
Divide between two cake tins.

Bake in the centre of the oven until golden.
Turn out onto a cooling rack and leave until cool.

For the icing.
In a bowl combine the butter with some icing sugar and cocoa powder at a ratio of approximately 50:50, this should give you a dryish mixture. Add vanilla extract and a very little cold water. Mix to a smooth paste, adding drop by drop of water if your icing needs to be smoother or less dry.

Cover one layer of cake with icing, put the second layer on cake on top and carefully cover with icing.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Did MY channel on YouTube get HIJACKED?

Our new friends Jonah and Trish agreed to an idea I put forward (not my idea, I can't take the credit for it) and today we have taken over each other's YouTube channels, so today you can see the video that Willow Creek Homestead would have put on their channel and to see my June Homestead Tour, you will need to head over to their channel.

Don't worry, there are a couple of easy to click links on this video that will take you to my June Homestead Tour. If you enjoy their video, please subscribe to their channel, they have some super animals and a fabulously positive outlook on life and I have spent hours quietly watching their vlogs and immersing myself in the 'hard on the body, good for the soul' life that they lead.

If you can't see the video (sometimes it doesn't show on a mobile device), you can see today's video here.

I hope you enjoy getting to know Willow Creek Homestead.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Our 10 Reasons for Homesteading

There's a really lovely, thriving and supportive network of folks who are smallholders and homesteaders (the American name for smallholding) that I've bumped into via social media. While I've known this about Twitter and Facebook for a while, I didn't know until recently that a similar network existed via YouTube.

Anyway, one of this network had a fabulous idea for a collaborative challenge whereby vloggers are invited to make a video about a particular subject. This one is about our reasons for choosing to be smallholders.

As usual, if you can't play the video on screen, you can watch it on YouTube here.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

I have depression, so what! | Dealing with depression and hypothyroidism

If you can't see the video (which happens sometimes on a mobile phone) you can watch it on YouTube here.

Please share this vlog far and wide to help raise awareness of some of these issues and to give a small voice to those unable to speak up for themselves at the moment.


Monday, 22 May 2017

A Day Out at Royal Welsh Spring Festival

We had a fabulous day at the Royal Welsh Show Spring Festival. If you can't see the video on this blog (because sometimes it won't show if viewing on a mobile phone), you can watch it on YouTube here.


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Fan Club is STALKING me!

If the video doesn't show on your screen (which it doesn't on some mobile phones), you can see it on YouTube here


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Not Swallows and Amazons (Swifts and Masons)

If the video doesn't show on your screen (which it doesn't on some mobile phones - including mine!), you can watch it on YouTube here

Friday, 12 May 2017

Pals and Pallets | Recycling on the homestead

I've had a lovely day today because I had an unplanned visit from my dear friend Clare and together we went to collect some super-sized pallets for using in the annual vegetable garden. At last I will be able to finish the fence around the plot to keep the young (and old) plants safe from the nibbling ducks. 

If you can't see the video (because you are reading this on a mobile phone for example), you can watch today's vlog on YouTube here.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Why there are fewer blog posts

I love blogging, but I've realised that I prefer moving images a little bit more. so for now I will still blog but on a less regular basis. I will share my thoughts and ideas and day to day life on our smallholding via videos.

I plan to write additional information, more in depth thoughts and expand upon subjects that I've raised in my vlogs, that way I can share what is going on with you on two levels, the lighter on my vlogs and the more informative on my blogs.

Yesterday I started to feel a little ropey and so spent a quiet day inside, I suspect I have inhaled too much dust from the woodshavings when I mucked out the chicken shed. But I did spend a little time watching the chickens and ducks enjoying the very welcome sunshine.

Here's the video of my time with the birds.

Now of course, a time may come when I am unable to vlog on a regular basis and, should that happen, I will continue sharing life on our homestead on my blog. Please feel free to let me know if you prefer the written word or videos, I'm interested to know which you prefer.

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I also post vlogs daily (almost). You can find my YouTube channel here.
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If you'd like to receive my blog posts direct to your inbox just enter your email address in the box below and follow the instructions. You'll probably need to confirm by clicking a link in your email inbox and then you will receive my blog each time a new entry is published. You can, of course, cancel your subscription at any time.
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Friday, 5 May 2017

Deep Litter Bedding FAIL! | Why do we have a smelly coop?

In today's vlog I look at why the chicken shed is smelling quite so unpleasant and what I can do to rectify the problem.

Monday, 17 April 2017

The power of suggestion

I've been very quiet on the blogging front for the last couple of weeks because so much has been going on here and I've been somewhat reactive rather than proactive. Last month I went to my GP for a standard blood test as required every few weeks or months to check that my thyroid medication is at the correct level.

The GP said that she was concerned that my need for an increase in medication combined with a couple of other symptoms that we had discussed, may actually be masking something more sinister. She then went on to tell me that she wanted to test for uterine and ovarian cancer, heart disease, kidney malfunction and lung cancer. 

Well, talk about pulling the rug out from under somebody's feet, I was horrified and terrified at the same time. I'm sure she said lots of 'don't panic' type phrases, but if she did, I didn't hear them. All I could think about was that my father had suffered and eventually died from heart disease and my mother of liver, spleen and lung cancer. Having nursed my mother through those last few weeks, the memories of the, quite frankly, hideous death that she had came flooding back. All the images that I had locked away were now swimming around my brain.

So I went for an ultrasound scan, a chest x-ray, a raft of blood and urine tests, an ECG and more blood tests. I was called back in for additional blood tests, twice! For almost a month I was walking around wondering whether my body's automimmune disease had finally turned on other parts of my insides. 

Until the GP raised all these potential issues I had felt fine, absolutely marvellous actually and now I was wondering if my shortness of breath wasn't just due to being overweight, but was it a symptom of one of the conditions that the GP was looking for? Every niggle became a nag and a worry.

Now I know that it is pointless in worrying before the event, but our minds play tricks on us and I was losing sleep, losing a lot of sleep, worrying that I was harbouring a silent killer. Yes I know it all sounds ridiculously dramatic, but when you are staring at the ceiling at three in the morning yet again, everything becomes somewhat out of perspective.

Life on the smallholding continued as much as possible as normal, I kept as calm as I could on the surface and cracked on with the jobs that needed doing and making plans for the garden, the poultry and the house. Mr J had to rearrange a couple of work days so that he could take me to appointments, but otherwise things seemed normal. The chicks were growing well, the chickens were happy, we took delivery of some new chickens, life carried on as it should.

But in my head it was a very different matter, I have been in a state of panic for a month and inevitably that takes it toll on the body and on one's mood and I am sure that I have been pretty difficult to live with over the last month. Thank goodness Mr J is so understanding!

Finally on Wednesday this week, a full month since the previous appointment that started this chain of events, I returned to the GP to hear the results of all the tests. It seems I am not harbouring anything unpleasant and there appears little to worry about. 

There is an anomaly on my ECG and given my father's health history, she is referring my results to a cardiologist to check whether any other action should be taken, but I'm not really worried about that. When I was having the ECG done I was half sitting, half lying on the most uncomfortable couch so I'm not surprised that it was showing as having a minor blip, I was in pain and not really relaxing as required. And, she is referring my ultrasound results to a gynacologist just to check that there are no issues there, but she couldn't see anything untoward.

I can only tell you that this has been a very difficult month. I have felt very alone and very frightened. I have also taken stock of my life and am really rather happy with how I'm living and what I'm doing. 

I decided that if I had either heart disease or cancer of some kind that I would enjoy each day, live life to the full, celebrate the new morning, be grateful and thankful for all my blessings. And, that if I didn't have a health issue then I would do the same, but also celebrate my good health each and every day.

It has taken a few days for my brain to readjust, to stop panicking and to start this celebratory routine. Last night, for the first time in quite a while I slept for seven hours non-stop and have woken up feeling refreshed and ready to start this next chapter.

So here's to good health, to a loving family, to a bright future!

- - - - -

I also post vlogs daily (almost). You can find my YouTube channel here.
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If you'd like to receive my blog posts direct to your inbox just enter your email address in the box below and follow the instructions. You'll probably need to confirm by clicking a link in your email inbox and then you will receive my blog each time a new entry is published. You can, of course, cancel your subscription at any time.
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Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Chicks away! We're off to a flying start.

Last month I advertised our surplus eggs for sale locally. These aren't the hatching eggs that folks can buy to put in an incubator, but eggs for eating. The response was amazing (read about it here).

Since then we have found a gentle rhythm of folks who are now coming regularly to collect eggs from us. Today I have spoken with a lady who'd like the rest of our surplus eggs, so it seems that we are now going to just about break even in terms of feed costs and the chickens will be paying for themselves. At least until autumn arrives and they reduce or stop laying.

I have registered as self-employed so that our egg sales are all above board and as they should be and I've also asked about what I need to do if I want to sell any of our surplus fruit and vegetables. The member of staff at the local council was incredibly helpful and has sent me all the information that I need to decide whether that is a route I want to go down and in the next few days I will make that decision. So now I am officially a smallholder and trying to eek out a living. Thank goodness for Mr J working outside the smallholding as I can't see the smallholding making a profit for a goodly while, if ever!

But making a profit is not why we live here or why we chose to raise and grow our own food and as long as we keep our reasons for our lifestyle in mind, I don't suppose we can go too far wrong.

Back to the chickens; the older girls in the flock (those that we rescued last year together with Jack and Diesel) are definitely slowing down their egg laying activities. So that we can ensure a good number of eggs in the future we need to have young birds maturing throughout the summer and hopefully some of them will lay during the colder months.

The seven oldest chicks are now almost ten weeks old and have grown rapidly in both size and confidence since they moved into the mixed flock field. It's lovely to watch them scampering up and down the length of the field looking like they are without a care in the world. Taking a photo of them is now very difficult as they rarely stay still for long!

The chicks from the next hatch are now almost six weeks old and are going through that scruffy stage where they have most of their feathers but still have chick fluff on their necks and rumps. They are also growing well. I divided the hatch of eighteen surviving chicks into two houses, one contains solely white Jersey Giants (JG) and the other has some JG crossed with Australorps, Silver Laced Wyandotte and a couple of JG that are destined not to be breeding stock.

I advertised some of the JG chicks for sale and within a couple of hours agreed the sale of three of them. Inevitably purchasers only want the girls so that they don't have to deal with noisy cockerels, but that suits us very well. The boys are broader in the chest and longer in the leg than the girls and as table birds, they are ideal.

I'm relieved that these chicks are leaving us while still fairly young. Once they have moved from the nursery houses into the chicken field with the adult birds, I start to get to know their personalities and parting with them is a little harder.

The most recent hatch of chicks are still in the nursery pen in the stable and still need heat to keep them warm while they grow enough feathers to survive outside. We lost one of them, the weakest chick, after a couple of days, so that leaves us with twenty chicks racing around the nursery pen. There are Cream Legbars, a couple of hybrids (Big Red and Diesel's babies), some Australorps and more white Jersey Giants. All of these chicks are from eggs laid on the smallholding and I'm delighted to have such a healthy looking group of chicks from our own birds.

On Sunday I was contacted by a woman who helps to organise a 'hatching chicks in school' programme to see whether I'd be interested in giving a home to some chicks. Of course I jumped at the chance to have some other layers in the flock, even if they won't be laying for several months! She also organises duckling hatches, so I've expressed an interest in having some ducklings too and I'll wait to hear whether we can have any ducklings in the coming weeks and months.

So tomorrow we will welcome sixteen chicks that are almost four weeks old and give them a home in one of the nursery houses. While there are some Cream Legbars in the group, the rest are breeds that we don't have yet, so I'm excited to see the little bundles of potential brown, blue and cream egg layers. Of course, if there are males as well we will make a decision about whether to breed from them, find them new homes or pop them into the freezer at a later date. 

Our next hatch of chicks is due in a couple of weeks, this may, might, perhaps (probably not!) be our last hatching of chicks for this year. We also have the first of our ducklings due to hatch around the same time. I'm very excited about the duck eggs in the incubator, there are a couple of eggs that I bought in and eleven fertile eggs from our own ducks. I;m keeping my fingers crossed that this will be a successful hatch of ducklings.

In other news, all though still chicken related, I was delighted to see that Country Smallholding magazine have printed an extended version of an online article that included some of my input. This month's edition of the magazine has photos of the covered walkway that Mr J and I built, the metal pen that we use for the ducks and of the medium and low tunnels I built that safely keeps the birds' drinking water out of the reach of all but the most determined (and low flying) wild birds. It's nice to know that I've got our biosecurity right!

I am still vlogging daily and now that I am used to walking around with my phone (for the camera) and a small microphone clipped onto my top, it has become less time consuming and invasive of my daily routine. I record and edit one day and upload it the next, so if you'd like to see the new arrivals shortly after they've arrived, you will need to visit my YouTube channel on Friday 7th April.

I need to go and prepare the nursery house for our new arrivals, but first, as always, I think it's time for a cuppa!
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Monday, 27 March 2017

How many baby chickens?

It was Mr J's birthday this weekend and I had set some eggs in the incubator with the hope that they would hatch on his birthday. Well, nature has a mind of its own and from late in the afternoon of day 19 in the incubator, we could clearly hear cheeping and peeping of little chicks.

On day 20 I got up to be greeted by two little chicks and throughout the day they seemed to arrive in a gentle but steady stream. As we went to bed there were eleven little fluffy chicks stumbling their way around the incubator.

As so often happens during hatching, I was unable to sleep very much as I get so excited about the new little lives that are presenting themselves in the incubator and so, at 3am or thereabouts, I was sitting in the kitchen blearily staring into the incubator and fifteen little pairs of eyes looked back at me!

On the day of Mr J's birthday, we moved eight of the chicks to the nursery run to snuggle under the brooder (the electric mummy) so that there was more space in the incubator for the more recently hatched birds. By the end of his birthday, there were twenty baby chickens. I had put twenty-seven eggs into the incubator, three were not fertile so were removed at day five, which left us with twenty-four fertile eggs. Twenty hatched chicks from twenty-four eggs is a very good hatch rate and I was delighted.

The day after Mr J's birthday yet another little chick hatched, giving us a total of twenty-one!
I think that we have two hybrids that are Big Red crossed with Diesel, they are very black with a smidgen of brown on their necks, seven Australorp, four Cream Legbars and eight Jersey Giants.

All these eggs were laid here on the smallholding, they are all the off-spring of birds we have here (or have had here as Squeaky and Big Red are no longer with us).

To make space for these little newly hatched chickens, the four week olds (all eighteen of them) have been moved into nursery houses in the chicken field, actually they are just outside the chicken field where I have easy access to them and can attend to them regularly throughout the day without disturbing the other chickens.

Split between two nursery houses, the eighteen chicks are now in groups of nine Jersey Giants and a mixed group of Australorps, Silver Laced Wyandottes and a couple of Jersery Giants (that we know we won't be breeding from as they have the wrong colour legs to be true to the breed standard). They are all doing well, they are feathered and off heat and seem very pleased to have grass to run around on and eat. 

The seven chicks that were in one of the nursery houses have also moved. They have graduated to the shed with the mixed flock and after just two nights in with the older girls, they seem settled and are running around the field very happily. They have learnt that their food and water is inside under cover and also seem to have grown tremendously in confidence and agility,

There have been some other new additions to our flocks. We have a lovely White Sussex girl who has spent most of her time with the young seven, Mr J and I have decided to call her Auntie Mabel. She's a very friendly although somewhat timid, chicken who no doubt will find her feet and settle into the mixed flock very well.

Two new thirteen week old pullets (young female chickens who haven't started to lay), these are a cross between a deep brown egg layer and a very dark brown egg layer and they should (fingers crossed) give us deep to dark brown eggs when they start laying. There are also two more of this cross-breed chicken that are now six weeks old and they will remain in a nursery house for a couple more weeks.

Yesterday four laying girls arrived, three that will also lay dark-ish brown eggs and one that is a Leghorn cross and she lays white eggs. 

Between the new arrivals and our existing flock, we should be able to offer a nice selection of colour of eggs in our egg boxes.

All the newly hatched chicks, the four week olds, the six week olds, the eight week olds and the thirteen week olds cost a pretty penny to feed, so thankfully we are now selling the eggs of the layers to help pay for the feed costs.

I've also sold some of the Jersey Giant eggs for hatching and as long as we continue to see hatching eggs and eating eggs, the girls will pay for their own food. At least during the summer. When autumn returns and throughout the winter, feed costs go up as there is less grass to eat and fewer bugs in the garden and of course, if there is a lockdown again this year, the feed costs will soar as the birds are restricted to being inside.

Not all of the chicks will be laying birds, obviously some will be males and they will either be kept as breeding stock or will feed us throughout the latter part of the year. So today we have fifty chicks that over the next few months will start laying or be moved to a separate area. And that should keep us in eggs for a while!
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I also post vlogs daily (almost). You can find my YouTube channel here.
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Thursday, 23 March 2017

Gluten Free Naughty Salted Caramel Cake

Gluten Free Naughty Salted Caramel Cake


6 ozs Butter
4 ozs Caster Sugar
2 ozs Black Treacle
3 fresh Eggs
1 tspn Salted Caramel Flavouring
pinch of Sea Salt
7 ozs Gluten Free Self Raising Flour
up to 3 fl oz Milk


Preheat oven to 180 C, 350 F or gas mark 4 - 5. Grease and flour 2 x 7 inch cake tins.
Cream the butter and sugar.
Beat in the black treacle and eggs.
Add the sea salt and caramel flavouring.
Gently stir the flour into the mixture.
Add milk if required to make a thick but smooth cake batter.
Spoon cake batter into tins and bake in centre of oven until deep golden brown and a knife comes out of it clean.

When cooked, leave to stand for a couple of minutes to allow cake to shrink away from tin sides and then turn on to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

For filling and topping (see my video of making the topping here)

3 ozs Salted Butter
3 ozs Caster Sugar
2 tblspns Golden Syrup
1/2 tin of Sweetened Condensed Milk
Generous pinch of Sea Salt

Put butter, sugar, golden syrup and condensed milk into a heavy pan over a medium heat.
Stir continuously to prevent toffee/fudge from sticking to the pan.
When light golden brown and it coats the back of a spoon, remove from heat and sprinkle salt into topping.

To make up cake

Place one cake layer onto a plate, gently pour the toffee mixture over and allow to spread to the edges. 
Put top layer of cake on and pour toffee mixture over it.
Allow toffee mixture to cool before serving to prevent burns.
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I also post vlogs daily (almost). You can find my YouTube channel here.
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If you'd like to receive my blog posts direct to your inbox just enter your email address in the box below and follow the instructions. You'll probably need to confirm by clicking a link in your email inbox and then you will receive my blog each time a new entry is published. You can, of course, cancel your subscription at any time.
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