Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Turkey Surprise

Another catch-up post which should bring us to mid July.
The drought continues... enough said about that. It is becoming a real problem.

Linseed field casts a blue shimmer as if reflecting the constant blue skies
The field next to us is almost always wheat. When it's not it's rape. The field behind us is almost always sugar beet. But this year we have something different, presumably because of the poor sowing conditions early in the year. Instead we have maize in the back field, as opposed to sweetcorn. This is a biofuel crop - astonishing that some of Britain's most fertile land is used to feed our energy consumption rather than our bellies. This change of land use did mean that we had two pairs of lapwings which I presume attempted to nest. I think the crows got them though.
And in the field next to us we have a delightful blue see of linseed. It is certainly attracting the cabbage whites at the moment.

In the veg plot, I have harvested the garlic and should really do the same with the shallots and onions. All these crops tried to bolt this year, unsurprisingly.

The broad beans are processed, mostly blanched and frozen and their place will be taken by Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants just as soon as it rains and I can dig even the tiniest holes in the soil. I almost missed the calabrese but caught it just before the buds opened. This freezes really well so I grow the crop to mature in two groups rather than over a long period.

Blanching Calabrese
Raspberries and Blackcurrants went mad this year. We are picking bags and bags of them. Every available space has now gone in the freezers.
When this happens Sue hunts through for last year's produce and digs it from the bottom of the freezers for wine and jam making.
She has just set a blackcurrant wine going and we were excited to be informed that raspberries make just about the best country wine going.

I always reserve one or two veg beds for bee crops as well as letting some parsnips go over to flower in their second year. These are a wonderful magnet for hoverflies.
This year I planted a cornfield mix with added barley and wheat. It hasn't quite turned out as I expected, for the whole patch filled with phacelia and borage. I am not sure whether this was residual seed in the soil or whether it was in the cornfield mix.
Anyhow the proper cornfield flowers are coming through underneath now and the whole is a blaze of colour and buzzing with bees.

The Pekin ducks we bought as 10 day olds are growing at stratospheric rates. Now big enough to be safe from crows, we let them out a couple of days back and herded them into the veg plot. The pond in there has dropped right down and is rather green, so I put the hose on to top it up. I didn't expect them all to just go diving right on in, but by the time I returned from the tap they were having a whale of a time. They were looking a bit green though!
We put some tyres and old planks in, for ducks are quite capable of getting waterlogged and drowning if there is no easy way out.
Amazingly having a proper bath and a thorough preen instantly changed the ducklings into ducks. There yellow down was superseded by creamy white and they suddenly look all grown up.

The meat chickens we had are now gone - don't ask if you don't want to know! They reached their weight in a much shorter time than we had anticipated. They only got a stay of execution as we did not have finishers ration in. This is the non-medicated pellets they are fed for the last week or two as the growers pellets need to be withdrawn.

Chickens just hanging around waiting to be plucked.
(they are not alive).
'Processing' the chickens was a big job, spread over two mornings. Let's just say that Friday 13th was an ominous date for the last seven. It is made much quicker by wet-plucking. We dip the carcass into a giant pot of water at 160F for 45 seconds. This loosens the feathers just enough without meaning that the skin rips easily. It reduces plucking time from over 20 minutes to under 5. You don't get a perfectly neat finish, but nearly all of our chicken is joined anyway so that it more easily fits in the small spaces in the freezer.
This time I boiled up the chicken feet and made a jelly stock which I divided up to go in the freezer. A good stock makes all the difference to so many recipes and I begrudge paying for those little foil packs.

The other chickens, the ragtag bunch of old ladies which we sentimentally let live on to old age, they are laying no more than two eggs a day between them. It is always a lean time and the drought isn't helping. Here are two of them and a Muscovy duck sat tight in the nest boxes. Between these three they were sitting on a grand total of one egg!

Last weekend we went along to our Country Winemaking group, again part of the Smallholders Club. Tonight we were doing blind wine tasiting. Sue's contribution was some elderflower champagne.
Fortunately we still had some left, for earlier in the week one of the bottles had exploded with such ferocity that it smashed a hole in the side of the plastic bin we were keeping it in.

We returned from Wine group to a big surprise. Four baby turkeys wandering around with the others. I didn't think they were due for another week yet. We had planned on removing the older poults before this happened, but all seemed to be getting along ok so we left them.
The next morning, quite by chance, I got a message from somebody in need of two newborn turkeys as her hen had accidentally destroyed all the eggs she had been sitting on. This was fine by me, for we are going to have excess turkeys this year and some need to be sold anyway.
Getting them out from under mum was a bit of a challenge but the mission was successfully achieved late evening so that the chicks could be put under their new mum in the dark. I have just received news that mum has accepted them and both are doing well.

So that brings us up to mid July. Just a week to go until schools break up for the summer. I'd like to think that will be the cue for endless downpours, but I somehow doubt it. This drought feels like it's in for the long haul.

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