Friday, 31 August 2012

Keets reunited.

Friday 31st August 2012
Chickens lay chocolate eggs
Today something really amazing happened. We have had family staying for a while and the children have been collecting the chicken eggs for us. Well, today the chickens only went and laid a couple of Kinder Eggs for them! In all our time keeping chickens they have never laid even one of these for us!

Keets reunited
The seven keets already outside with their parents have flourished. It has been fascinating to watch how their mother and father look after them. Every evening Lady Guinea disappears into a deep tussock of grass and G'nea G'nea goes off on his own to roost with the chickens. In the morning they call to each other and he rushes out to join his family, foraging through the grass in the orchard and soft fruit patch. The little ones have learned to keep up with the parents, all staying together by constantly calling to each other. They are finding plenty of food for themselves, even leaping up into the air to catch insects disturbed from the grass. It is also notable that Lady Guinea has started to bring her family back in with the chickens, though she only trusts the older chcikens, with whom she grew up. In fact, Cocky often stands over the keets to protect them.
Fortunately the weather has been a bit fresher of late, so the grass has been a lot drier, particularly in the early morning.

So, having said that we'd decided not to place all our baby guineafowl in the one basket, today we decided that was exactly what we would do! Rearing the chicks inside pretty much guarantees their survival, but it is another job and they need plenty of cleaning out as they sure do produce a lot of odorous waste for such little fluffballs.

Today we carried the eight keets from inside down to the chicken pen and placed them on the ground. Lady Guinea quickly responded to their little calls so Sue released a couple of the keets into the midst of the others. This was the moment of truth. Would they be accepted or rejected and possibly even attacked?
Lady Guinea went straight over to the calling keets.
Well, it was as if they'd never been away. They mixed straight in and were welcomed back into the family. Pleased by this outcome, we reunited the rest of the keets and it was a true delight to watch all fifteen feeding under the feet of their parents, then slowly head off back into the orchard.

All fifteen keets. Confident little critters now.

Legbar chicks cast outside
That wasn't all the fowl action for the day though. We decided that the two Cream Legbar henlets could also go out, but into the protected environment of an enclosed run. We put them in with the Polands, who have been proving slightly shy of the other much larger chickens since I accidently let them out a few days ago.
I reckon they get picked on because of their ridiculous hairstyles. Apologies to any readers with similar hairstyles!

Way Hey! A new home.
Sue releases the Cream Legbar chicks.

The two Cream Legbar chicks in their new home with the Polands.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Just when you thought it was safe to venture into the courgette patch!

Thursday 30th August 2012
The wind went northerly and the showers blasted through.

A week ago the march of the courgettes seemed to be slowing. I should have realised this was just down to a spell of dry weather. As soon as the soil was dampened again, off they went again! And, with the help of those wonderful plants, I may soon actually be turning water into wine, as I have found a recipe for courgette wine!
It's available here... along with a pretty good selection of other courgette ideas. Though I'm reckoning there will still be enough to keep the chickens happy and maybe even some left over for the pigs.

We took another harvest from the bean plants today too.  The purple teepee do, of course, quickly turn green on cooking. The yellow varieties, I find, are hard to beat for their sweetness and crisp texture.

And I've left the haricots and black-eyes to plump up for their beans. If the tomatoes ever get going I may prepare a few batches of alternative baked beans.
All these beans from a £1 seed packet from the cheap shops! They've earned their place in next year's plan.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

That's Shallot (and other Alliums)

Alliums ready for drying and processing.
Red Onions, Shallots and Garlic.

Wednesday 29th August 2012

A bit late for this really, but I've been clinging on to the hope that my onions, shallots and garlic might just somehow manage to plump up a little more. This goes against all the laws of nature, as the leaves have faded long ago.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I unearthed a few of my alliums and presented them to Sue to do something with. She consulted her books of potions and turned a dirty, straggly basket of onions and shallots into this...
Last year, Sue conjured up a most wonderful Red Onion Marmalade which went down very well with all who tried it. The lingering aroma of slowly cooked onions has just about left the house in time for this year's harvest to be preserved.

I also had a good first go at plaiting onions and garlic. Unfortunatley a repeat is unlikely this year as the stems are gone.
Anyway, though not a classic year, there's more to pick and process when the weather turns dry again and there'll be enough to keep us going till the next harvest.
Won't be long now until I need to start thinking about autumn planting some garlic. The shallots traditionally go in on the first day of the year, though I suspect this is not too critical if that New Year's Day hangover is too heavy.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Salad Days

Tuesday 28th August 2012
If I had any sense of pride I'd not be making this post. I'd be quietly not writing about salad crops this year.
As it is, I have had to wait till almost September to actually harvest a cucumber (though a very fine specimen it is) and my first two tomatoes, and there's not exactly a glut on the way. Like all failed gardeners, I do indeed intend to blame the weather.

The first cucumber of the year.

...and the first tomatoes, outside.
So here excuses!
Earlier in the year I had a very frustrating time with my tomato seedlings in particular, losing them to damping off. That put me at least a month back.
This was followed by months of dull, cool days so growth was sluggish (must try not to use that word, too many bad memories!) in the extreme. My little greenhouse became crammed with plants waiting to go outside, or into the polytunnel which sat in its packaging in the stables.
But I suspect there may be another reason for the staggering lack of progress made by my tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, peppers and chillis.
For my little polycarbonate greenhouse was dismantled and brought with us from London. Now, when I originally put it together I remember a thin plastic film on the polycarbonate sheets declaring THIS SIDE OUT. Apart from that film, now peeled off, I can see no discernible way of figuring out which way round the sheets go, so it may well be that half the panes are actually deflecting the light and the heat!
Not to worry though. Gardening is a slow process of learning and improvement year on year, every year with its own unique and unpredictable challenges. Next year there'll be a polytunnel bursting to the brim with salad crops as well as all manner of other experiments going on.
And there's a new greenhouse waiting to go up too.
As for my little old greenhouse, it will find a use. Maybe a potting shed.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Sheep... Friendly maybe but clever not.

This didn't take long to happen again.
This time I had the camera with me.

You can see how the sticky out ears act as a non return valve!

Fifteen Keets.

Monday 27th August 2012
My dyke (The Lambert Drain) joins this much larger one a couple of hundred yards further along. What brought me here this morning was a very rare sighting of a fox (not so welcome now that I keep poultry). A few minutes before a roe deer had been in the dyke, the second morning it has been around. With most of the fields harvested and harrowed, these animals are much more conspicuous now.

Soaking wet feet this morning as a heavy morning dew filled the grass. I quickly checked the guineas and their keets before heading back indoors to wait for the sun to dry things out a bit.

So it was with some surprise that, a couple of hours later, I was presented with this...!

Whilst showing Don the newest recruits to the smallholding, Sue had found seven of the keets huddled together in the long grass, clearly unable to keep up with the rest of the family and in a bad way. So the decision was taken to bring them inside and put them under a lamp.

Good news is, all but one made it and they are now healthy, and very noisy, little fluffballs. G'nea G'nea and Lady Guinea still have eight keets to keep their parental instincts satisfied. It should be easier for them to look after that many and the ones inside should be assured of making it to adulthood now.
If your maths is up to scratch, you'll have worked out that we now have eight keets outside, six brought inside this morning plus the one originally rescued, which has perked up and is happy to have plenty of company of its own kind. One passed away quietly, unable to warm up quickly enough, and one must have died somewhere in the long grass. But still we could end up with fifteen new guineafowl which would be a resounding success.

We have thought about whether or not to reintroduce the seven we have inside to their parents, but we have decided it is better not to have all our eggs in one basket!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

A couple of funny incidents

I really did work very hard yesterday, so today I took things a little easier. First thing I did, even before the 'sunrise' photo, was to go and see the guineafowl family. There was rain last night and the grass was wet, so I was very concerned for their survival.
Not to worry though. I found a very contented, healthy family pottering about around the base of an apple tree.

It took a while, but eventually I managed to count 16 healthy keets.
How many can you see in this picture?
Sunday 26th August 2012
Not the best weather for the the newborn keets.

The keets are very special, but the other animals on the farm have not been forgotten. The ducks have a new pool and have been let out with the rest of the poultry. They just waddle around in a gang making contented noises to themselves. The geese, all four of which are now peacefully cohabiting in the same field with the sheep, have the other half of the pool!

The ducks are growing fast.
They are very likeable creatures.
The sheep, affectionately known as Number Ten and Number Eighteen, have really surprised us. They are friendly, gentle and quite entertaining. Number Ten's feet seem much better now.

The first of today's funny incidents concerns Number Eighteen, who has discovered that there are all sorts of tasty nibbles just the other side of the stock fence. So it was today (no photos I'm afraid) that he got his head stuck through the top square of the fencing! He did not have the sense to reverse and, besides, his ears were stopping his head getting back through.
With my several days experience of sheep handling, I tried to help him out gently, without causing panic. However, whatever I did it seemed he was determined to go forwards and not backwards. In the end I had to be quite forceful - only problem was that when I tried to push his head backwards he interpreted it as a headbutting contest and put even more effort into going forwards!

Anyway, in the end he was extricated from his predicament. I'm sure he's learned not to do that again ... NOT!

Say "hello" to Gerald.
After this usually comes
a vigorous shake
and a liberal
spattering of mud!
The second funny incident concerns Gerald, the boar who was supposed to be going back home today. Funny how the farmer has lost his phone every time  Gerald has been due to go back after his boar duties!
Gerald really does scream like a girl when he wants to be fed. And he has learned to stand up on the fence too. He is actually a rather big boy now, though a gentle giant.

But today he went one step too far and his front legs ended up the wrong side of the fence! So he just kind of flopped and lolloped over the fence!
Fortunately he was hungry and it didn't take too much effort to get him back through my newly built gate and into his enclosure. For a few moments he was definitely more perplexed than us though.

All in all an entertaining day. And this lot were still faring well by the evening.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Seventeen Keets!

Friday 24th August 2012
Saturday 25th August 2012


For a couple of days now G'nea G'nea's behaviour has been different. All the while that Lady Guinea has been dutifully sat on her seventeen eggs, he has pretty much got on with life as normal. Maybe a few times a day he might hop the fence and have a cautious peek, and without his spouse he has taken to roosting inside the huts with the other chickens, but apart from that he has been really rather subdued.

But this last couple of days he has been in close attendance to the nest, up to his old macho tricks whenever anyone approaches the nest, squawking and charging with raised wings.

For a moment Sue and I thought we may even be able to hear young birds cheeping under Lady Guinea, but when she went for one of her short excursions back to the chicken pen for food and drink, there were the seventeen eggs still.

But just look what met my eyes this morning.

Amazingly Lady Guinea has managed to hatch all SEVENTEEN eggs!!!
Her timing could not have been more perfect, as some sort of fence just had to be built today for the imminent departure of Gerald, and it needed to go virtually through her nest site. In fact, it was as I was wheeling the fencing equipment down that I clapped eyes on the chicks.
The male was in surprisingly close attendance and clearly intends to be the doting father. This is good as it will need the pair of them to be at their most alert and bravest if they are to successfully raise the chicks.
Before I continue, I should tell you that guineafowl chicks are known as keets. Guineafowl are not known as the best of parents and they certainly can't count to seventeen! With a cat, stoats, weasels and probably rats around, as well as the aerial threat from flying predators, we really have never expected more than a couple of the keets to make it to maturity. On top of that, conditions in blustery Lincolnshire do not quite match the more tropical conditions of native fowl. In fact, the primary killer of young keets is the wet, and Sod's Law says that our spell of fine weather is about to come to an end.

Read on to find out the fate of this lonesome straggler.
The two parents led their quite sizeable family of fluffballs through the grass and around the edge of the chicken pen as if they already had a plan. Unfortunately, one poor keet was unable to keep up and persistently got left behind. I tried not to intervene, but I did twice pick it up and place it back with it's family, but the same happened each time. In the end I decided to leave it be. That's the way nature works and the weakest would never survive anyway. Indeed it would be unwise for the parents to expend their efforts trying to save it. So, unfortunately, it's keep up or be left behind to fend for yourself...
That is, until the holy intervention of Sue, who some time later appeared with cute fluffball cupped in her hands!! We now have a second brood box set up in the hall.
All this meant that I had a day of great physical exertion driving in fenceposts and hanging gates. But of course I took plenty of breaks and guess which of our many animals got most of my attention! Though of course I did keep a respectable distance.
I daren't get my hopes up too much, but at the moment the future looks quite healthy for all sixteen keets. Lady Guinea seems to know what she is doing and both parents seem to be doing a good job. They have abandoned the nest site (a natural defence against predators) and set up camp in the orchard on the other side of the chicken pen.
The straggler now inside is still alive, but it is touch and go. It needs to get up and start eating and drinking soon.

Friday, 24 August 2012

HELP!!! Swamped by courgettes


If you ignore the missing bean plants, then I guess this is what the Three Sisters planting system is supposed to look like. The squashes, pumpkins and courgettes have slithered along the floor and crept in to every gap to completely cover the ground. And in between rise the clusters of sweetcorn.

The cucurbits growing in tyres are doing equally well, spilling over the sides and along the ground.And just look at the harvest we're getting. We are harvesting courgettes daily and poor Sue can't keep up with them. So far we've got a sea of Spicy Courgette Soup, we've got griddled courgettes, variously flavoured Courgette Fritters and grated courgettes. The freezer is positively bursting. The only thing we've not tried yet is courgette cake.
But PLEASE! PLEASE!! PLEASE!!! Does anyone out there have any inspired ideas how to use a mountain of courgettes, especially the ones which have miraculously reached gargantuan marrow proportions overnight, without necessitating another visit to the freezer shop?
I've scoured the interweb, which is full of similar tales and pleas, but I'm just looking for that one killer idea. Courgette beer?? Courgette cordial?? Courgette sorbet?? Even Courgette juice??
Meanwhile, here are some images.



Potimarron pumpkin.
There is a fascinating website devoted to
Tai Chi and Potimarrons!
The gurgling water is somewhat disconcerting.
I thought it was my fermenting cider
about to explode!

At least the squashes and pumpkins grow at a nice, steady rate and will store through the winter, a great asset. As for the courgettes, well here's what's happened to some of them.

Good news is that the chickens, geese and the pigs all like courgette, so nothing is going to waste.

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