Wednesday, 28 May 2014
If you follow this blog you'll know that we only have one pig at the moment, Daisy, our breeding sow who has become too close to being a pet since we decided to stop breeding her.
The Cambridgeshire Self Sufficiency Group are holding a sausage making and barbecue evening in the near future and the subject of our art is to be Daisy! This seems like a fitting end for the old girl.
We have ordered half a dozen different packs of sausage flavouring and are researching the chemistry of bacon curing.
But Daisy has other ideas!!
We started trailer training her over a week ago. For Daisy cannot be manhandled. Daisy goes where Daisy wants to go.
I had two major concerns. Getting her in the trailer and getting her out the other end. I figured that I needed to get her used to eating and sleeping in the trailer and coming back out in the morning. If we could get to this stage then I would move the trailer onto drier ground and repeat the process there, leading her up from her pen every evening. The next stage would be to take her for a little drive so that she got used to coming out of the trailer after a journey.
Now all this sounds like a good plan and Trailer Training Stage 1 went reasonably smoothly, although it took 3 days to get her into the trailer the first time. I had to move it so the ramp didn't slope quite so much. But we eventually got to the point where she went straight in every evening for three nights.
Then I had to use the trailer to fetch the lambs. I decided this would be a good time to park it on higher ground. Well, that was four days ago. It took FOUR hours of coaxing to get Daisy up into the trailer on the first evening - it was gone midnight before I got back into the farmhouse. Part of the problem is that Daisy is so long that I need her to go right into the trailer before I can shut the gate on her. I lost count of how many times she backed out just as the last couple of inches of bum were still sticking out!
For some reason, Daisy wasn't happy when I closed the gate that time and she has steadfastly refused to go in the trailer for the last three nights. She takes the titbits I throw to try to tempt her, but most unusually for a pig her stubbornness is overcoming her hunger.
To be quite honest, I have been getting very frustrated by the whole situation. However, something always happens to lighten a situation and this time it has been a family of wrens which provided the entertainment. For they have nested in the top corner of the garage porch, in an old swallow nest. While I have been waiting for Daisy to go into the trailer, there have been constant high-pitched begging calls coming from the nest. Then, on the third day, four young wrens appeared on the scene.
One of them found a very novel perch!
Despite this, there was no budging by Daisy on the trailer issue. So yesterday I took the decision to move the trailer back down to her pig pen. This is now a major worry as we have had constant rain for two days and I really am not confident that I will be able to pull it back out again... if Daisy goes in that is. I have decided that she will only be fed right inside the trailer. She could do with losing a little bit of fat before she goes off anyway.
Monday, 26 May 2014
Now just outside the polytunnel sits this old bath, full of stinking comfrey juice.
It is just rainwater with a bag of comfrey leaves immersed, but this makes the water go really quite disgusting. It has a rather unappealing aroma too, though you get used to it. But it's worth it for the black gold it produces, free plant food which my tomatoes love. For more on growing and using comfrey, you can visit this post.
So you're probably wondering what these two subjects have to do with one another. Well my tomatoes are just forming their first fruits now so I decided yesterday to start feeding them but, as I approached the bath of black liquid, I could see what appeared to be hundred of slugs swimming around in it, slugs with tails! The last thing I would want to do is pour slugs, or anything similar, all over my crops.
So a quick internet search for "water larva spiky tail" brought me instantly to the answer at uksafari.com.
The aquatic larvae of droneflies are known as Rat-tailed maggots. They develop in stagnant water, animal faeces and rotting carcasses. The more putrid and foul-smelling it is, the more the larvae seem to like it.
Each larva is equipped with an extendible tail called a 'siphon'. This tail, which can extend to about 5cm (2 inches), is used as a snorkel to breath air from the surface of the liquid while the larva feeds below.
Special features: Drone flies look similar to honeybees (hence the 'drone' name), but they lack the narrow waist between the thorax and abdomen. They also have just two wings, where the honey bee has four.
The body is brown to black in color, quite hairy, with varying amounts of orange/yellow markings on the side of the second and third abdominal segments.
The males have large eyes which meet in the centre, while the females have smaller eyes with a gap in between.
When they are fully grown, the larvae leave the water to pupate. The pupae are a reddish-brown colour. At the front are some horn-like projections, and the tail often curves up and over the back of the body.
Sunday, 25 May 2014
Excitement has been building all week. For Friday was the appointed date for collecting the lambs from the Rare Breeds Centre.
All I had to do was to bring the livestock trailer up from the pig enclosure, where Daisy has been using it to sleep. (Don't ask why!) But then a prediction of rain on Wednesday night made me a little worried that the ground would become too slippery to tow the trailer out. And it certainly did rain overnight, which would have been a good thing had it not been for the trailer.
Still I thought that everything would be alright. The ground had been very dry and the grass would dry out during the day. After all, temperatures had been up into the 70s (I still think in Fahrenheit) all week.
But on Thursday, while I was stuck at work, the heavens opened as we were hit with several late afternoon downpours accompanied by clashes of thunder and some quite spectacular lightning. I rushed home from work and went straight down to the trailer. It was still raining so the quicker I could move it the better. I decided that the best way would be if I could pull it by hand, for I reckoned to have more grip than my car, which is not really designed for such tasks. I managed to heave the trailer some of the way until I was beaten by a slight incline, plus a rather muddy dip in the ground where the moles cross.
I reversed the car to the trailer, hitched it up and tentatively touched the accelerator. Slowly and gently we started moving. I kept a featherlight touch on the accelerator and crossed my fingers. A minute later we were on safe ground and all I needed to do was to clean out and disinfect the trailer ready to head out early in the morning.
The journey to the Rare Breeds Farm went according to plan and they were ready on my arrival. I chose the biggest stockiest lambs. They don't have the cute factor, but they will be better equipped to move outside and start chomping on my long grass. They should end up bigger too.
In no time I had six boys and three girls loaded up and ready to go. Six of them are commercial cross-breeds which the farm buy in so there are enough hand-reared lambs for the public to ogle over. One is a pure Norfolk Horn and one a pure White-faced Woodland.
And here they are.
|It was a cautious arrival at their new home.|
|This green stuff was new to them too.|
|Is this what we're supposed to eat?|
|Norfolk Horn. |
His wool will turn white with age, apart from the legs
And while I work outside the occasional bleating of lambs is a most welcome sound on the farm.
Saturday, 24 May 2014
|Number 10 and Number 18|
And this year we have...
Five and a half lambs presold ... but no lambs!
Our sheep plan goes something like this:
Buy sheep in spring. Preferably bottle fed so they are tame (saves on rugby tackles). Sheep eat grass, so saving me a major headache. Sheep get nice and big and juicy. Sheep go on a journey. Sheep go in our freezer, or people come and pick them up in boxes and give us money.
This plan avoids all the tricky bits of keeping sheep. No lambing. No overwintering. No shearing.
Almost everybody who bought half a lamb from us last year has asked for a whole one this year. Everything had fallen into place perfectly. Sheep sold before we even bought them.
But then our plan skidded to a grinding halt. For some reason, there just aren't any sheep available this year. We have looked everywhere, but everybody is asking for lambs and nobody wants to sell any. Several leads fell through and we were left with a couple of acres of rapidly growing grass and six expectant lamb customers. One small problem... no lambs!
I was even forced to consider changing the sheep plan. If it was to be this tricky to find lambs every year, maybe we should set up our own flock. But this is not the right time of year to think about that and we would not be producing lambs until next year.
Just as things were getting desperate and I was contemplating having to let down our customers virtually before our customer base was even established, not to mention what to do with the ever-growing grass, Sue made a phone call which solved everything.
Those lovely folks at the Rare Breeds Centre still had some bottle fed lambs left to sell. For most farmers, bottle feeding lambs is an expensive and time-consuming inconvenience. But it is the Rare Breeds Centre's meat and drink. This means that we don't even have to take them while they are still on the bottle. The idea of bottle feeding lambs may sound cute, but I've got enough to do without that.
And so it was that a couple of weeks ago we went to view our nine lambs.....
Wednesday, 21 May 2014
|You can almost see Goliath growing!|
Goliath is fast becoming a pet. Since the loss of his sibling he has become even more reliant on us and spends all day calling for us, only going silent when he knows we are there. Given the chance, he follows us around everywhere. He has been to the vegetable garden, the chicken pen, the back garden, the front garden, the kitchen... I had not realised how flat-footed a gosling could be, but when he crosses the kitchen floor his feet flop, flop, flop on the slate surface. This is quite useful really, as it means you don't forget he's there and accidentally step back onto him.
|Angel looks on with a weary eye|
|My usual view of Goliath|
Monday, 19 May 2014
The bottom of my land is a place of long, undisturbed grassland surrounded by the young trees I have planted, which are finally starting to look like they may one day actually become big, grown-up trees. At least one pair of skylarks seem to be nesting down there, constantly serenading me from somewhere up in the blue sky. A Meadow Pipit, too, made frequent visits, its mouth full of grubs for its young, and a female Reed Bunting broke cover a couple of times.
But best bird news of all is that I have had daily Barn Owl sightings for five consecutive days having virtually not seen one for well over a year. Hunting during the day is a sure sign that it has young to feed. After a population crash over the last couple of years, it will be brilliant for the barn owl to again be part of our fenland landscape.
The Little Owls, I presume, have young too. They are very active during the day flying between the old Ash trees and even perching out sometimes. They too seem to be faring well. I have seen four in this area within the last week. The pair of Yellow Wagtails continue to add a splash of colour to the pig enclosure and finally I have heard a cuckoo this year. In fact I saw two fly acoss the neighbouring field being chased by a blackbird.
Today my job is to plant 66m of bird-friendly, intruder unfriendly hedge. I wouldn't normally be planting bare root trees at this time of year since they would have long come out of their winter dormancy. However, those folks at Ashridge Nurseries have had them in cold storage and are selling them off half price.
The bird-friendly hedge consists of the following native species: Hawthorn, Wild Cherry Plum, Wild Privet, Hazel, Wild Damson, Guelder Rose, Blackthorn, Dog Rose and Field Maple. I've ordered extra hawthorn slips just to make sure it becomes impenetrable and I shall be using it to fill any gaps in our boundary with the road. Any left will be planted as a windbreak.
Who knows, one day Barny may well be spotted hunting along my new hedgerow.
Thursday, 15 May 2014
There is one plant in particular which seems to do remarkably well on our fenland soil. I seem to be particularly adept at growing it. Fortunately it's an excellent plant for bugs such as aphids, which attract more garden-friendly predators such as ladybirds and hoverflies.
However there's a sting in the tail. For the humble stinging nettle crops up everywhere and takes persistence to control. As well as forming impenetrable patches, it bites when it's least expected, as you are peacefully going about your daily garden pottering.
But there is a solution.
For nettles are indeed very tasty. They can be substituted into any recipe which uses spinach and have a pleasantly distinctive, almost nutty flavour.
Garlicky Nettle Pesto
Delicious as a light coating for pasta. If you make a double portion, you can freeze this in ice cube trays too.
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (I used walnuts, as that's what I had in)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or cheap substitute)
Add the nettles to a large pot of boiling salted water stirring continuously, for 2 minutes.(This denatures their sting.) Drain into a colander and squeeze out the water. You’ll have about a cup of cooked, squished nettles.
|Pasta tossed in garlicky nettle pesto.|
Finely chop the garlic, pine nuts (or walnuts), salt and pepper to taste. You can do this in a food processor. Add the nettles, breaking them up as you drop them in, and the lemon juice and whizz until finely chopped. Gradually add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and process until smooth. Add the cheese, pulse briefly, and season to taste with additional salt, pepper, or lemon juice.
Stinging Nettle Gnocchi
Something a little different. Go on, give it a try! For this recipe you do need to use a floury potato (I used King Edwards), to avoid using too much flour in the recipe. It is possible to freeze the uncooked Stinging Nettle gnocchi (after they have been shaped and lightly dusted in flour to stop them sticking) for a week or two and then cooking them from frozen.
600g potatoes, peeled and cut into even-sized pieces
150g well-washed nettle tops
2 egg yolks
Salt and pepper
120g plain flour
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
12 sage leaves, finely shredded
50g freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or substitute)
Few chopped nuts of your choice
|Nettle Gnocchi and Garlicky Nettle Pesto ready for the freezer|
Fragrant Nettle and Chive bread
Ingredients to make two small 1 lb loaves
100 g nettle leaves
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp unsalted butter
2 heaped tsp finely chopped
500 g strong white bread flour
2 tsp salt
7 g (1 sachet) fast-action dried yeast
270 ml water
salt & freshly ground black pepper
(60-90 mins). Turn the dough out on to a clean surface and knock it back. Divide into two equal portions, then shape it into loaves and place in two lightly oiled 1 lb loaf tins – or flowerpots. Cover and allow to prove again for 60—80 minutes. The loaves should come to just below the rims of the tins or have increased by two-thirds.
This is a soup with substance, a filling bowlful of hearty satisfaction. Pepped up with the warmth of some aromatic spices it is perfect for those evenings when the sun dips a little too fast leaving the seven o’clock air with a surprising, biting chill.
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
A baking potato, peeled and diced
Two onions, sliced
As much garlic as you wish
Spices: cumin, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, star anise – take your pick
Lots of fresh nettle tops
A tin of chickpeas
Vegetable stock, about 3 pints
Fry off your chosen spices in a little oil until they in turn start to release their oils. The smell will change, just take care not to burn them else you will add a bitter note to the soup. Crush them in a pestle and mortar then add the garlic.
Fry the onion until soft then add the potato (both sweet and regular). Give it a little colour then add the spices and garlic before covering with stock. Leave to simmer until the potatoes are cooked then blend and pass through a sieve to remove and rogue crunchy spices.
|Some of the Veg Group enjoying a nettle feast.|
Quote of the night "It looks worse than it tastes"!!!
Many were more positive though.