White Rabbits :)

September 1st already, where has the year gone? The nights are drawing in again, the early morning and evening temperatures are dropping and we are grateful to see any Sun at this time of year.

It’s been a funny year for growing here on the farm, I know others have struggled too. Most things were very slow to start and some never even got off the ground, literally, cucumbers most noticibly, failed to thrive here this growing season, the runner beans were slow but have now picked up and with the September sun that is forecast I am expecting a ‘flush’ of them. Peas were a non event entirely and now that the picking season is here for fruit I am finding that most fruits have maggot or in the case of nuts, have rotted in the shell. All in all a disappointing year and one I will be glad to see the back of as far as gardening is concerned.
Having said that I have been picking and processing a fair amount for the months ahead, I have already made the mincemeat for Christmas, I used the damson plums that a friend bought round and some of the better cooking apples, the smell was as always, divine, and I can’t wait to start making pies with it in December. The Rumtopf is steeping various types of fruit in Brandy and sugar, this should make a lovely fruit brandy by the middle of winter, just the thing for coughs and colds and, well a tipple or two for no reason at all!
I have been drying various crops in a dehydrator, lots of herbs to use in soups and stews, I dried onions because they will not store for winter after bolting in the spring, the risk of rotting was high and so drying chopped onions was a way of saving them. I also tried drying mushrooms, shop bought as I am not expert enough to forage my own, once dried I ground them down into a powder form, very successful. You may wonder why bother but Hubby cannot digest mushrooms and I do miss the flavour they provide, this way we can have the best of both worlds, flavour without a trip to the hospital ;)

I had a boiled egg for my breakfast this morning, it’s news worthy because we don’t often eat eggs, not because we don’t like them but because they are in such demand that there are never enough left, occasionally we have a glut but not very often. The hens have had a splendid summer out in the front paddocks, long lazy summer days wandering around, jumping to catch flying bugs, dust bathing in the dry dirt and now that we have had a splash of rain they are happily pulling worms up from the softer ground. We have doubled the laying flock to nearly 100 birds and still can’t keep up with demand. At this time of year I need to start to prepare them for the cold months ahead, I start by oiling their scratch feed and adding crushed garlic to help with their immune systems, then I will start to add cider vinegar to their water to help with the bacteria balance in the gut, they will also have a good dusting with powder to make sure that external parasites do not get the chance to build up and of course they will also be wormed over the course of a week. All this preparation will hopefully enable them to lay a sufficient amount of eggs throughout the Winter. In the Spring we had a successful hatch of bantams and they are now beginning to lay although the eggs are tiny and you need quite a few to get a meal of scrambled egg!

The ducks that I bought in as day olds are now reaching maturity although not laying yet, and I have a few too many boys in the mix, some of them will have to go in the freezer, when the time comes it will be a first for us having never done ducks before, I will let you know how that goes. The geese that were tiny when they arrived are now out in their own paddock, in previous years I have made the mistake of continuing to feed the geese but with this lot I turned them out and let them get on with eating grass only, they seem to be thriving and they do not come running and calling at the gate every time they see me like the last lot used to. What I want from these geese is their eggs, to sell at the gate although this won’t be until next spring and hopefully they will rear a few of their own offspring to increase the numbers.

Activity on and around the farm has been high in various forms over the last few weeks, the swallows have reared their young and are now beginning to collect together in readiness for their long migration back, they are most definitely the biggest indicators of summer arriving and leaving around here. The farmers have been very busy harvesting and hay making, one of the last fields to be cut was right next to us and they did that yesterday afternoon, there was a rising cloud of dust for a couple of hours while the combine was there and then quiet and still again. We have also had some unwelcome activity of the human kind, late one evening we went out with torches because one of the horses was clearly upset and charging around the paddock, we looked all around but could not see anything, we went off to bed and in the morning the geese were out of their hut and the other horses were in a different paddock with the slip rails down.
We thought no more of it except weird until my neighbour phoned and asked if there had been any funny business here the night before she found there had been some goings on with her horses as well and so at that point I decided to phone the police and let them know, no crime as such had been committed except perhaps trespass but if there is activity in the area it’s better that they are aware of it, ‘keep em peeled’ is the motto at this time of year.

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Found a spare minute!

I have managed to find a spare minute to blog! It’s been pretty hectic on the farm for various reasons over the last couple of weeks, firstly I turned into my half century year, oh my goodness, where have 50 years gone :) We celebrated in style with a party in the paddock, rock band, ice cream van and fish and chip van as well as a pimms tent and cake, thank you to my lovely daughters for arranging the surprise. I then spent my actual birthday beside the sea, it was lovely to paddle me tootsies in the salty water, take a stroll along the pier and have lunch on the seafront albeit a bit blustery it was a glorious day.

The veg garden has kept us busy too, plenty of picking now and with that comes the processing and freezing, the runner beans finally got going although I have yet to pick a cucumber. We are also picking tomatoes, peppers, beetroot, carrots, courgettes, red cabbage, raspberries and blueberries on a regular basis. The plums in the orchard have begun to ripen and for the first time ever I have beaten the wasps and birds to the greengages, they are beautifully sweet if a little scabby, the damsons have also been picked and I am just waiting for a time to be able to make jam with those. The cooking apples are coming off the tree as windfalls on a daily basis so we have been making use of those and I need to spend a good day prepping some for the freezer. The thing I have noticed though is that all the fruit tree fruits are maggoty, I have tried the sticky wraps around the trunk and will have to try codling moth traps in the spring to see if we can sort the problem. All the fruit trees are getting on for forty years old and the plum trees are showing signs of their age, I have tried rejuvenating them but to no avail, so I made a decision to invest in some new ones and plant a new mini orchard. This will be an exciting project, the trees will arrive in September and we have decided to use the lower part of one of the front paddocks. The old trees will remain where they are for the time being until the new have become firmly established.

I have started to dispatch some of the meat birds although they have not got as much on them as I would have liked this year, I think that’s because we have given them more space to move around, it’s kinder to them but reduces the weight by quite a bit. I have now sold out of point of lay birds, the remainder are being kept back to increase the laying flock, it’s just as well really as we sold 45 dozen eggs last week! For a while we had a backlog of eggs then all of a sudden we had a rush on and now we are back to waiting for them to lay before we can put anymore out. The young ducks are showing signs of maturing, lots of head bobbing going on, this is a sign to imminent mating, and therefore egg laying should commence soon as well. I do have a few too many males though and so some will have to be dispatched for the freezer, this will be the first time I have ever done ducks and I don’t expect it will be as easy as chickens so I will let you know how it goes.

Hubby is in the middle of two weeks off and getting lots of DIY done, we have been given a share in a few lorry loads of wood, off cuts from a workshop, the pile is building up nicely and each time a load arrives we have to sort it, bag it and put it neatly away in the wood area. It should keep us nice and toasty this winter. A few rails in the paddock need mending and the fences in general need straightening up, the wind and the wet ground has taken it’s toll on them over the past couple of years and they are decidedly wonky so that’s another job for him to do. There are a couple of areas that need concreting, and another pile of logs to saw up, should keep him busy until he has to go back to work ;)

I am having the weekend off this week and leaving him in charge totally :s I am off to the Green Man Festival, hubby bought me the ticket for my birthday. I am very much looking forward to it and it’s a tick off my bucket list, camping, bacon sarnies and a mug of hot tea on the campfire, music, probably rain, great atmosphere, brilliant. I will try and get a few photos to post next time. Hopefully once hubby goes back to work I will get back into the routine of blogging weekly again, doing it sporadically means I probably forget half of what we have been doing!

We have a full moon at the minute and a supermoon at that, this coincides with the perseid meteor shower, so a great spectacle in the night sky at the minute for anyone who wants to get outside and watch :)

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Good morning from a short, fat courgette ;)

Facebook is a many sided media sending out messages of doom and gloom, weirdness, hilarity, social connection and education.

This morning I watched a video intended to educate, one of the more positive sides of the application, the snippet was about a supermarket chain in France that was selling ‘inglorious’ fruit and veg, at a reduced rate in comparison to ‘perfect’ fruit and veg. Fabulous is my reaction, do you realise how many thousands of tons of fruit and veg are thrown away almost as soon as they are picked because they don’t conform!

The more I thought about the video the wider my thought net was cast, is it us as consumers or is it the supermarkets that are driving this need for perfect looking produce. Either way we should be ashamed of ourselves, firstly for wanting straight carrots or oval potatoes that get chopped up or mashed anyway and secondly if it is the supermarkets, for allowing them to lead us in that direction while we follow without thought.

During the war thousands of men and women died so that we had freedom, that includes the freedom to think for ourselves and act on it, thousands of families during that time would have given their eye teeth for a misshapen carrot or a deformed apple, what have we done with the gift that they gave us, demanded perfect fruit and veg? Are we that fickle?

Waste is something I don’t understand, people work hard for their pay packet yet at the end of each day they toss their hard earnings into a food waste bin and the industry as a whole is doing the same. The cost of living would come down if we utilised everything that was grown in this country, the need for importing would be much less, a bonus point for the whole global warming situation, at the very least, those wonky carrots and short fat courgettes should be going to make soup or stock, not rotting away on a food mountain.

I realise that when you look at a situation like this as an individual you can’t achieve much on your own, one lone voice in the giant world of supermarkets is not going to be heard, but if you agree with any of the above and see a petition or a movement in that direction, climb on board, if and I say if, the British supermarkets ever have enough bottle to follow in the footsteps of the French, take a deep breath and buy those ‘inglorious’ offerings, I guarantee the taste will be just as good, if not better because of the way you will feel about yourself for taking the leap, and as a bonus, you might even get a giggle at preparation time, from the distorted shapes you come across and let’s face it, we could all do with a good giggle now and again, couldn’t we?

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I have a plan!

This morning I am busy hatching a plan, now when Hubby says ‘I have a plan’ I usually groan and in return if I say I have a plan it’s usually ‘no’ because it involves keeping larger animals over winter. If I am honest Hubby is right, it’s easy to think how wonderful it would be while the sun is shinning but the reality in winter is harsh. Having said that, I am still hatching a plan! We usually buy in wearers and rear them on a combination of feed and produce, then they go off to slaughter when the time is right. This works well for us with the larger breed of pig because a) they get BIG, plenty of pork b) they go off to slaughter and job done. However this never gives us the chance to hone our husbandry techniques so my plan is to consider and discuss (note the diplomacy) a smaller breed of pig, Kune Kune, I have always disregarded them in the past because they are much smaller and I figured if you are going to rear pork, might as well fill up the freezer with it, but smaller has it’s advantages too. They are easier to handle and they do not root anywhere nearly as voraciously as bigger breeds, making them ideal to put into small areas that need clearing, granted it would still be quite hard work keeping them over winter but if we could breed from them once a year (PIGLETS :)))))) ) that would add money to the coffers and pork in the freezer. I have been doing a bit of research and ideally I would like to find someone who has some for sale and who is also willing to answer my questions and offer guidance if needs be. This is my plan, watch this space to see how well it is received and if it is a goer ;)

The rest of the farm is as ever ticking over gently, we have now sold nearly all of the point of lay hens that we bought in spring, I am hoping to hold on to about fifteen of them as new laying stock. The meat birds are getting to oven ready size and so it won’t be long before we start dispatching those. The ducks and geese are pretty much full size now, they are in the adolescent stage, I am waiting for Hubby to finish some DIY before he can build a new duck house, there is not enough room in the one we have for all the ducks, the younger ducks will then move in with the older ones and the geese can move to the paddock the young ducks are in at the moment. For now the geese at at the side of the house on what was a lawn lol, they are getting too big for the area so I hope Hubby hurries up.

The veg garden is still slow and I have noticed that the sweet corn which usually grows to about six foot has got to only three foot and start growing cobs, this year is definitely a challenge. I won’t be defeated however and I have planted some brassicas In the poly tunnel along with another aubergine plant. I have also decided to seed more cucumbers and peas, nothing ventured, nothing gained so might as well try and see how they get on.

I found a snake this week, it was dead luckily for me, not so lucky for it! It had got caught in the netting that came off the strawberry plants, I identified it as a grass snake (phew) but it was only a baby and so Mum and Dad must be around somewhere, probably in the compost heap, I will be keeping my eyes peeled when I turn it. The fox has not been giving us any trouble lately, given up for the time being but no doubt it will be back at a later date. We had a real treat coming home one evening, driving down the lane, we had almost got to the drive and we saw the little owl sat on the fence post right next to the road, omg it is so cute a teeny tiny owl, I have heard it’s call for five years, and seen it at dusk on the wing but never seen it sat still and so close, fabulous.

We have had some extra help on the farm this week (besides my Mum, who is an absolute treasure on the veg garden) it will be a regular thing, it makes such a difference, jobs I normally walk past thinking, that needs doing, and never getting round to it, will hopefully finally get sorted. Payment is made by way of produce which is brilliant for both parties I reckon and a way of life I could definitely live with :)
Baby grass snake

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In the S**T

The week has been one of weather watching and waiting for some rain, which thankfully came so that I don’t have to spend each evening watering wilting plants, picking what produce is available and weeding. It has also been routine as far as the animals are concerned, feeding, watering cleaning out, making sure they are as happy as possible so that the hens lay eggs, which they are in abundance, and that everything else is enjoying life as it should be. We have taken in a drake, which was left behind at a local establishment after a function, he settled in very quickly with the older ducks so I guess he is staying. The pesky fox is still around every night but our birds are locked away securely so it is only the disturbance of the dog barking at it that is a pain, however it did strike next door and I think it won’t be long before it strikes in the day here so we are always on guard and the dog has got very good at going looking at the certain times of day and evening.

Now to the headline event! The muck heaps have become a bit of an issue building up to huge piles that need tidying and sorting out, we have three on the go at various places around the farm. The main one at the back has collapsed and as yet has not been tackled, the one to the side has begun to spread much further than it ought to and was the one we tackled first. Our youngest daughter got the tractor out and as mentioned before is pretty good at manoeuvring it, Hubby was busy tiling the kitchen and so we left her to get on with it. Job done in that area it was time to move on to the front pile, this is the oldest and it was decided to remove the boards and push it through to the orchard where the chickens will hopefully scatter it about eventually, she spent a happy afternoon moving most of the muck successfully with no problems at all. At the end of the day there was still a bit left to move but as we were nearly out of diesel we decided it would wait until the next day.
Cue Hubby’s turn to use the tractor in the muck heap! Bear in mind that doing this job the day before had been without incident and you will understand why I decided to include this in the blog.
A beautiful sunny Sunday morning, one of those mornings when it is a delight to get outside and do a bit of work, Hubby goes off to get some fuel and on his return fills up the tractor and sets to work moving the remaining muck so that it is cleared ready to start again. After only one hour, yes one hour, he has got the tractor firmly stuck, there is no traction on the tyres as they are covered in wet muck, the tractor is slipping and sliding to the side every time he tries to reverse it out of the hole he has now created. I very helpfully try to shovel some of it out of the way to see if that helps, it doesn’t, but he keeps trying to reverse anyway causing the ruts to get deeper and deeper. GO ROUND THE SIDE he shouts AND PUSH THE TRACTOR SIDEWAYS AS I TRY TO REVERSE IT, Oh that is sure as hell is going to work isn’t it, me in my half century year trying to push half a ton of tractor in a direction it doesn’t want to go but as the dutiful wife I am, I give it a go, if only to prove him wrong, which of course it does and I almost get a hernia. We turn the tractor off and have a coffee and decide what’s to be done next, if you move what’s in front of you, I suggest, you can go forwards into the orchard and turn around, I will try digging it out he says completely ignoring my comment, ok get on with it then I think to myself. After about an hour of him digging and trying to reverse he has not got very far and is in the shit proper, our youngest daughter has left by this time to go to a festival but our eldest daughter arrives, why don’t you get the rope and use the van to pull it out she says. I would have thought he would jump at this suggestion but no he thinks his digging will work better, while we go off to have croissants, he continues by various means to try and reverse the tractor out, failing miserably. We enjoy our breakfast and discuss his reluctance to do anything other than frantically try and dig the tractor out and keep trying to move the tractor but slipping and sliding and getting nowhere, it s been like this for thirty years I explain to my daughter, he doesn’t listen, the only person he makes it hard for is himself and I usually give up the ghost and go to find something more productive to do.
Croissants and coffee finished, I excuse myself and go to the toilet, this may seem irrelevant but when you think about how long it takes to pee you will see why I included it, by the time I come back outside I can see eldest daughter triumphantly holding the rope in her hands, a big smile on her face and the tractor is freed ready to carry on the days work. In my estimation it took less than two minutes, why, why, why would you spend over an hour trying unsatisfactory methods of extraction when it could have been as painless as that!!! MEN, when will they learn that we ARE always right ;)
I can report that the rest of the clearance went without incident and Hubby’s only remark was ‘alright alright’ you bet we are, I muttered under my breath.

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Feast or Famine

That’s a term often heard in farming, well this year as far as the vegetables go it is definitely a famine year! In my last blog I was optimistically awaiting the arrival of plenty, that has fallen short, the cold spring followed immediately by the hot weather has meant that plants are struggling. Last year I was picking up to 40 cucumbers a day, this year I have grown two different batches of cucumber plants, planted them out and they have both failed in succession, I have two plants left that are looking sickly to say the least so we may not get any at all this year.

I garden naturally, and that is a term I chose to use as opposed to organically, a word that has been snapped up by the industry and you have to pay a hefty price to use. Because we use nature to nurture our produce success is always in the hands of the weather, we do not heat the greenhouse, we do not use automatic watering systems and we do not use artificial growth products, we get what we are given, and this year it’s not a lot. The cold spring has forced the plants to bolt, you may be surprised to learn that a vegetable plant is not growing to give you as much produce as you can eat, on the contrary it’s sole aim is to reproduce, it is only the methods we use that prolong the flowing and subsequent fruiting i.e. picking the produce daily that force it to flower again and again. Bolting is the plants way of getting its offspring to grow and set seed very fast, this is what has happened this year, the plants early on detected that they may not get much of a chance and so have bolted. The onions have done exactly this, trying to flower well before the bulb has swollen, we can cut the flower heads off and we do, but this means that the onions will not store as well as they usually do and may well start to rot around mid winter, the lettuces, parsnips and spinach are at it too. The other vegetables such as peas and beans are beginning to flower on short stems, rather than putting on tall green growth this means short stumpy plants with not much produce.

The fruit is not much better, what is there, and that is not much compared to previous years, is small, the black currants are practically non existent, the raspberries are trying but the fruits are small, only gooseberries and strawberries seemed to have been successful, they obviously enjoyed the earlier conditions.

The strawberry harvest is one that I keep for myself, they never go out for sale, that’s because I make jam from them, plenty of jars that will keep us going all year, sometimes they may be given as a present or in return for a favour but mostly they are kept in my cupboard for future use. I also use them for making ice cream, strawberry sauce, puddings etc, the best part of the year for me is using the strawberries even if it can take up a lot of time processing them.

The farmyard birds are all doing well, I had to make a note of their ages this week to make sure they are being fed correctly, the Norfolk Greys are now 16 weeks old, I ended up with four cockerels and three hens so will need to find homes for the cockerels in the near future. The hubbards are 10 weeks old and gaining weight rapidly it won’t be long before they are ready to process, they are enjoying the outdoor life at the minute in a grass pen, they took to it very readily and were quicker than all of the other birds put together when it came to learning about bedtime and going in, it only took one night of putting them inside and they cracked it. The laying flock are still being displaced from under the coop every night and encouraged up the ramp to bed and they have been here two years lol.

I did aim to make elderflower champagne this year but have missed the flowers, we have been busy doing the kitchen and there was not enough space for brewing paraphernalia as well so that will have to wait until next year now. I have picked and dried herbs ready for winter use though so that was an achievement and I have pulled the garlic and hung that to dry ready to string. I can’t believe we are already over halfway through the year and I am thinking about storing for winter where has the time gone.

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Here we go!

The season of plenty is upon us and the crops are beginning to come in, over the next few weeks it will be glut after glut, a lot I manage to sell at the farm gate and the rest is processed in one form or another for use later in the year.

As I write this I am waiting patiently for Rhubarb, Orange and Ginger marmalade to reduce down, the smell is wonderful and it’s a very easy recipe, 750g of rhubarb chopped, two oranges peeled and chopped, an inch of ginger finely chopped, some of the orange peel finely chopped, and bung it in a pan with 1.2kg sugar, bring to the boil then simmer for 1 to 2 hours, put into warmed sterilised jars! Simples

The strawberries are beginning to ripen and so I have made a strawberry torte for pudding tonight, gluten free of course as it lends itself nicely to that with ground almond as one of the main ingredients. This is also a very easy recipe, 175g of ground almond, self raising flour or gf, sugar and butter, 1 egg and 1 yolk, luckily I had a double yolker so I figured that was the same! Mix the ingredients up until combined, then put half into a loose bottomed tin that has been greased and lined, it is quite thick so needs spreading, then put 450g of strawberries on top and finish with the rest of the mix, does not matter if the strawberries poke through. Cook for about an hour at 180 degrees, when cool dust with icing sugar. It will become a favourite with the family I can assure you.

Tonight’s tea will be the first this year of entirely our own produce, a day which I am always glad to see, pork chops, new potatoes, broad beans, carrots and asparagus, followed by strawberry torte, delicious. Growing your own comes with this warning however, you will never be a size 10!

We are in the process of fitting a new kitchen which I am very excited about after spending 5 years using only one short piece of worktop!
I am considering getting a food hygiene certificate then I will be able to sell the home made produce along with the home grown, this would be very useful as there are only so many jars of home made preserves you can eat in one year :)

These next few weeks will be a mixture of hard work and contentment in that order, there are so many recipes I want to try, some of them will work, others probably won’t but it will be a fun process. The possibilities are endless, however Hubby’s palette is not, another reason to sell it on if possible :)

The rest of the farm is ticking along nicely, the geese are just beginning to honk, verbally, not smelling! The ducklings are very nearly full grown ducks although a couple more months away from laying yet, the chicks I hatched out are all doing well and I have some particular favourites in the lemon Pekins, they are just too cute for words. The laying flock are producing well as are the point of lay birds that are for sale, the chicks we bought in to rear for the table are putting on weight nicely, they have been moved to the stable so they can run around and flap their wings, I will be moving them to an outside run as soon as I have time.

The wildlife is abundant, we have Swallows nesting in the stables, a thrush that continually makes an appearance on the fence, I have tried to see where she goes but she is very good at losing anyone tailing her. Lots and lots of little birds nesting in the hedgerows, from yellow hammers to finches, blackbirds to robins. The Blue tits must have fledged in that awful wet period, I heard them when they hatched but didn’t see them go, I am just glad that the dogs didn’t get them. We have a bee nest in the side wall of the house, I am happy to let them carry on, there will be a queen and her eggs then a few workers, it won’t get huge and so we should all be able to get along nicely (famous last words) the biggest threat they have at the minute is the dog trying to bite them when they fly past.

The weather forecast is set to be fair, we just look out of the window each morning, far more reliable than watching TV, good growing weather then with a bit of luck, it has been quite cold up to now and the plants have struggled a bit but should pick up nicely from here on in.

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