Friday 14 May 2010

Had our new chicken house delivered today and spent a couple of hours putting it together with the help of the chickens. Actually, the chickens were not much help. It is an Omlet Cube and will replace the Omlet Eglu we have had for the past 5 years. The new one was flat packed and came in many pieces, as you can see. Actually, it was easy to put together and fits into the existing chicken area perfectly well. The hens were unsure at first about going in there, and the plastic ladder has caused a few slippages, but they were encouraged to go in there for the evening and all five (even the two new girls) settled down for the evening inside. Also a note about the weather - 4 frosts this week! Having to fleece lots of early plants, like courgettes and beans, will be pleased when these arctic winds pass us by!

Saturday 01 May 2010

I picked up two new chickens from Perfect Poultry this week and brought them home. They will be in quarantine away from the other chickens for a while whilst everyone gets used to each other.  Then we will mix them together in a few weeks... and watch them sort out the new pecking order. Buffy is a Wellsummer and Faith is a Bluebell mixed with something else. Buffy is already laying too.

Thursday 22 April 2010

Well, after so many weeks of rain, it hasn't rained for it seems about three weeks now. The pigs are settled in nicely though. The whole area (they have about 5 metres by 20 metres) is turned over already. If it rains, they will be able to get even deeper. Dean seems to be a bit more nervous than Sam (Dean is in the first picture here) maybe because he is smaller, but he is eating lots and putting on weight, so hopefully he will bulk up nicely despite his size when he got here. Sammy is monster, very friendly and has got over his 'bitey' stage; now loves to have a scratch. With all this sun I have tried to give them a nice wet and muddy patch to wallow in, but it's a bit cold still, so they ignore that and lie in the sun. I might have to get the factor 30 out for them. Their favourite food so far seems to be last years celery from the garden.
Meanwhile, the rest of the garden is exploding into green. I always forget how thick and colourful the garden gets in the summer, when I am stuck in the dark barren days of winter. Most of our seedlings are doing ok in the greenhouse and will be ready to plant out soon, but we are still getting frosts down here, so have to time it right before I commit to letting the seedlings risk the chance of a late frost. The chickens are fine, although we sadly lost Trinny about a month ago to Peritonitis, which is a condition chickens can have which stops them being able to lay eggs and can make them unwell. She roosts in peace. We will probably get a couple more soon to increase the flock, more news on that as it happens!

Saturday 03 April 2010

Big news today; me and MrH finished the fencing around the new pig area and we got the pig ark moved from last years pig area, fitted some double gates so it's easier to move the pig ark each year. We also made some repairs to the fencing on the old area. The rain was not helping, but we ploughed on (sometimes it seemed literally).
So I went to get a couple of pigs from S&R's farm and we put them in the new area. They are a mix of Old White and Tamworth; although a lot of Tamworth there it seems.

It's Easter and therefore time to unwrap the air dried ham that's been hung outside the barn since last October. I have been waiting a LONG time to see whether the whole exercise has been a success. When I unwrapped it, I must admit that it was pretty mouldy, but the instructions I had followed from Hugh F-W's book had warned me that it would be like that, and that I needed to just scrub it with a nail brush and vinegar.
So I did that, and it came up really well. The proof is always in the eating though, so we tried some and it was fantastic; I was so pleased that it was good and not salty like I expected.

Monday 22 March 2010

Decided to start a new blog dedicated to my beekeeping... check it out at http://beekeeperuk.blogspot.com/ . I will still cover the pigs and chickens and the rest of the garden here though.

Saturday 20 February 2010

Such a long time since posting an entry on the blog... but we have been busy. First of all, the rats were getting into the chicken area again (this time under the walls), so the week after Christmas, I dug 6 inches of earth (mud!) out of the whole area, fixed chicken wire from wall to wall at ground level and brought the earth back in to cover the wire. The rats continued to try to dig under for a while, but soon learned they could no longer get through the new wire. I also got tired of the water sitting on the roof of the chicken area and slowly draining in... this was just making the whole area a mud bath for the poor girls; so I took the roof off, built the front and sides up and refixed the roof at an angle, as shown above. Now the water runs clear of the area at the back and the girls stay much dryer. Should have done that when I built it really, but you live and learn. The snow caused the chickens the usual grumpiness, but it was the bees that I was most concerned about, as they were in their first year with me and I didn't want to loose my first colony! However, they seemed ok when I checked them two weeks ago on a rare sunny warm day. Quite a relief. The other big job has been to replace the old barn that had big holes in the roof. The old one really was on it's last legs and was not what I needed either, so I tore down the old one (see inset picture) and invested in having Al building a new one with my help. I just need to take down the old shed now too and the whole area will look much better. Photo of the new barn to follow!

Sunday 27 September 2009

Last Monday, we sent the boys, Bert and Ernie, off to the abattoir. They boarded the trailer perfectly happily, having wandered down the garden after me without being at all boisterous or over excited. We got the meat back yesterday and I've spent most of the weekend butchering the various cuts into what we want. There was over 160kg of meat between them; that's a lot of meat and more than we expected or were prepared for, but we managed to sort it all out and get in the fridges and freezers. We have made some sausages too and today had a small joint for lunch; I am pleased to report that it was delicious and neither of us had any problem with eating it. Putting them on the trailer to go to the abattoir is one thing, but when it comes back, it all just looks like meat and seems pretty separate from the friendly pigs we have looked after for the last 22 weeks. Now, we can't wait to get another two in March.

Monday 24 August 2009

This entry is just an excuse to share with you this video of Bert and Ernie...

...Ernie likes a scratch, and the water trough does provide a vehicle for scratching, umm, certain parts, at just the right height. Bert, the ginger Tamworth, wants a drink, but once he finally managed to get to the water, it doesn't seem to quite taste as he hoped...

Saturday 15 August 2009

What a rubbish summer... I thought they were telling us we would have a really sunny and warm summer this year? I would prefer the Met Office just told us it would be another wet summer and then if it was sunny, it would be a nice surprise. Anyway, enough moaning... here is an update on how things are going, as it's been a while since I updated the blog. The Chickens are doing well, they are are eating well, as you can see! Although Trinny wanted to make sure I had her good side for this picture. The Bees are doing ok, not warm enough for them really to be growing in numbers like I really wanted... hopefully they will swell in numbers enough so that they survive through the winter. I plan to start feeding them soon so they can get their food supplies up. The Pigs are REALLY getting big now... it's hard to see the difference on the photographs, but they are really doing well and nearly 'ready' to go... I reckon there is another 4 or 5 weeks to go at most... then we will be filling the freezer. Still not sure how we will feel about eating them, as we have loved having them and spending time with them, but we won't know unless we try. They have had a wonderful time to date, eating really well and have lots of room to run around and play (they do play too!). Currently the apples trees and the hazel nut trees are giving them lots of tasty food to supplement their usual pigs nuts... and they love the hog weed too, which we seem to have lots of. We are eating well ourselves, with the garden at full tilt, providing lots of different food for us. The Squashes this year have been a big success, especially the onion squashes which I grew from seeds I got from one I bought from Waitrose and cooked in the winter... I kept the seeds and they came through really well. Here is a photo of some of the other stuff we have been reaping this year. The tomatoes this year have been prolific, so I have been making lots of Roasted Tomato Passata and freezing or putting it in jars. The sweetcorn has been great too, hoping to grow more next year in the area the pigs have been manuring this year.

Monday 29 June 2009

After some very hot days the garden is looking very green and lush. Glad I have those big rain water butts. Also managed to finish the 'Insect-abode' this month, with various spare bricks, tiles, logs, turf and straw, so provide a veritable hotel for bugs and insects to make home in. I made one at our last house from an old bookcase, but this one is much bigger and heavier; the first couple of layers are made from old pallets which are a great platform to build the rest on. The pigs are doing well, enjoying the early windfall from the apple trees and the sunshine, although Ernie is still getting a bit sunburnt. They do insist, even in this heat, on lying next to each other too, as you can see. The bees are doing well, and are growing in numbers too. Here is a shot I got of three of them hitting one of our many poppies, which have been prolific this year. They also seem to love the courgette flowers and now the sunflowers are starting to open up, those will likely be popular too. The Hens are happy too, but we are on Fox alert at the moment as S noticed one in the garden last week; no-where near the chooks, but still too close for comfort. Hopefully the proximity of the chooks to the house and us will put it off. They are always locked in at night, but during the day we let them out if we are at home... we would be very upset if the fox got any of them.

Sunday 14 June 2009

I am pleased to report that the bees seem to have taken up full residence in the hive. I have checked them now a couple of times and they seem to be filling the frames not just with honey, but also with eggs. I must admit, I have not spotted the queen yet, I they would not have eggs in there if she wasn't in there too. The photo here shows one of the frames from in the 'super' box, where the bees are covering the frame with comb and filling it with honey. With any luck there will be some in the next month or so that we can have from them, but want to make sure they have enough first (and need to get an extractor too - they are not cheap). Meanwhile, the pigs are still working on getting bigger. And sleeping, as you can see here in their favourite spot under the sun shade I built them, as Ernie does get a spot of sunburn on his ears if he is in the sun too much. They are great company and love having us near them, preferably in their pen so that we can be on hand to give them a scratch when they want one - which is about 99% of the time. There has also been a significant boost in the veg garden in the last month with the warm weather. Some of the plants are struggling with the heat, but most are ok as long as they have enough water. Good job the water butts are nice and full.

Thursday 28 May 2009

Did I mention that I went on a Bee Keeping course? Just for a day, in Bournemouth, very good it was too, and gave me the confidence that it was something I could do and would enjoy. So I bought a suit. Then I bought a hive. I set the hive up and got myself on the local swarm list, which means that the local area swarm officer lets you know where a swarm is when it is reported, and you get to go and bring it home (!). Sounds scary - it is a bit. However, a friend called me to tell me one of his mates had a swarm in a box on his allotment - would I like it? So on Tuesday I collected it, drove it home in the car (in my suit!), and put the bees in the hive, hoping that they would take to it and stay there. So far, so good; I checked on them for the first time today since putting them in the hive on Tuesday and they seem relaxed and are beavering away in the hive. Here is a picture of the hive, resting on the stand I made for it from old pieces of timber; the piece at the front on the bottom is a landing pad that the bees can use to settle and make their way into the hive in their own time. You can see some coming out/going in at the long hole in the bottom of the hive, just above the landing pad. I am lucky to get a swarm this early, it will give them time to get the hive up and running, build their numbers and stores for the winter and so are more likely to make it through the cold months. Not likely to get much honey from them this year, though, but next year we should do! Watch this space...

Thursday 14 May 2009

As you can see, the pigs are settled and a lot more confident with us. They have got much bigger already, its amazing how quick they grow; I was concerned originally that they might not get big enough in 6 months, but no fear. Ernie, shown right here, is very friendly and likes a good scratch on his belly. Bert, the Tamworth, is a bit more aggressive and likes to have a scratch too, but also likes to chew clothes and shoes (whilst you are wearing them). Meanwhile, the chickens are doing well and now the weather is warmer, we are getting a regular three eggs a day. Got a great shot of Suzannah here from inside their chicken food feeder. The chickens are so entertaining, all four of them are great company in the garden. The veg garden is doing well, there is a lot coming through hard now in both the greenhouse and the veg plot. Looking forward to better success with some of last years failures, such as the chillies and the brassiccas. Some things are so lush, like the lettuce shown here; I took this in the rain today, it looked so fresh and colourful. Also trying to clear another area across the garden to make a semi formal herb garden, with box hedging and stuff. It will be good to get all my favourite herbs, like Rosemary, Tarragon, Parsley, Mint (I have 10 types!), Basil, Fennel, Sage and Thyme, all in one place and in an area where they can grow properly, rather than in the scattered pots they reside in right now. I shall take some pictures when it is done...

Wednesday 06 May 2009

Had an interesting and unexpected crop recently; Morel mushrooms have been turning up in my borders. I spotted the first one due to its size, otherwise they are pretty well camouflaged in the bark that lies on the weed suppressant fabric. The one shown here was about 15cm high! That's a pound coin next to it. I looked them up in a couple of mushroom books I have, the best I think is the River Cottage one, which said they are fairly rare in the New Forest although they are finding that the trend for using weed suppressant fabric covered with bark mulch has caused a lot to turn up as their spores (which are airborne) land on a promising looking bit of bark, then find there is no way to get to the nutrients in the soil, so they panic and try to fruit immediately, thereby producing big Morels. We have about 8 patches of ones and twos around the border at the moment. The first lot I picked and cooked in a pie with some local venison. Very nice. So try fabric covered with bark in your garden and see if you are lucky enough to get some mushrooms showing up - thats the Morel of the story!

Sunday 12 April 2009

Got up early today, despite being an Easter Sunday, to get the chickens out and prepare for the new pigs. Walked over to J's as he is a neighbour who is well connected with local farmers, can help me choose which pigs to select and has transport too. We choose a couple of pigs out of about 35; a mix of Tamworths, Old Spots and Whites. As you can see, we picked out a Tamworth (the ginger one) and an Old Spot. We got them home after completing the paperwork required and into their new run. They were a bit jumpy for a while, but eventually were rooting about happily and even managed to get a couple of siestas in through the afternoon! S has decided to call them Bert and Ernie, despite all recommendations that we should not name them; they are for fattening over the next 6 months and will be slaughtered for meat, so we must try and not get too attached to them. As you can see, this might be tricky...

Thursday 26 March 2009

A scurry of activity recently has put us into a position of being ready to buy some pigs now. The fencing went up at the start of the month; I even remembered to leave a big enough gap to get the pig ark in. The pig ark arrived from the Traditional Pig Ark Company in mid March and got lifted and shifted into position eventually, then the fencing completed and gate fitted; ready for the hogs. Unfortunately, it's not that simple, as you have to get a holding number from the Rural Payments Agency and then have registration with the Animal Health Registration people too; but it's not hard and they are keen to help you with the process, I must admit that it was painless and everyone I spoke to was helpful and friendly, full of advice and not at all officious. There is a great guide that takes you through what you need to do on the DEFRA website.

Monday 02 February 2009

I have been shockingly slack in terms of updating the blog through the winter, so it is time for a well overdue update on the last few cold, wet months. We have had plenty going on, despite the weather and a seasonal bout of colds. For a start, two new chickens were picked up from Longdown to be slowly and carefully introduced to our existing two; Trinny and Suzannah were unimpressed by the new recruits, who were named Penelope (a Black Rock) and Henrietta (a Warren). Shown here with Trinny, who is the fat one on the left and is, for a change, not trying to peck them; the new girls are on the right and recognisable by their short combs and slightly concerned looks. We bought them the week before Christmas and they are pretty much settled in now, only the occasional peck from the other two to keep them in line. We hope they will start to lay in about two weeks.On the building front, I decided to bite the bullet and build a proper sized compost area on the area underneath our Maple, which was used by the previous owners to dump stuff on; old bits of machinery, tins and bottles, several burst footballs, discarded dog toys, large amounts of roofing felt and an impressive collection of used crisp packets circa. 1982. It was nice to finally get rid of all that junk and turn the carbuncle of the garden into a useful area. The second part of the exercise was to build the structure that would hold in and separate the four different compost areas, each about 1.5m square. I only got around to taking a picture of it today, so you get it in it's wonderful snow-covered state. Also managed to finally get the old Apple tree chopped up; it had falled well before we moved in and had just been left to rot. Now its a big heap of wood to burn next winter when we get our wood burners fitted in the house. The next big job is to use the fencing you can see resting in the compost area above and use it to fence in the new pig area.

Friday 31 October 2008

It's great in the forest around here at the moment as there are lots of pigs roaming around free, eating up all the crab apples and acorns on the forest floor. Even at 6 in the morning, or in the dark, we have seen them running about, I don't know how they don't freeze. We are still planning to get our own pigs next year, but before then I need to erect all the fencing they will need to keep them in. We are getting on with clearing up more of the garden, but also found time to build a platform in the chicken area for the chooks to get up onto. They seem to like getting up there, I think because they can see much more at that height - they are quite nosey and don't like to feel they are missing out on anything. I will try and get some video of them soon, everyone seemed to like the last one! Halloween tonight too, but we are using ours this year to eat, some roasted, but they make such great soup, that is my favourite way to use the flesh. The use of coconut milk is key, so make sure you get some, and use some double cream too.

Saturday 18 October 2008

Another dry and sunny day today, so spent some time in the garden tidying up a few areas and planting some more salad in the greenhouse. Due to the recent sun and lack of frost (at least down here in the South!) the peppers in the greenhouse are still growing and ripening. See these in the picture - and they taste great. Also the lettuce and spring onions in there already are doing very well. There is so much coming out of the garden still, the photo shows what we pulled out today; carrots, parnips, leeks, courgettes, peppers and the very last of the tomatoes. Also today I made some sausages with the new mincer I got recently. This was the first time I tried it and it worked really well. This is the one I have and it has a sausage attachment, so to speak. I made them with apple and sage in them (both apples and sage from the garden, of course) and once I had experimented a little, got the seasoning right - I used the River Cottage Cook Book for some information on what might need to be needed in the mix, it was useful to get some tips as I haven't done this before. We tried a couple and they were great. If you fancy trying it yourself - I'd recommend it!

Omlet Cartoon