Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Reclaiming the egg.

It's been a good year for eggs so far. It's not yet the end of March and we're getting about 15 chicken eggs a day. That's over 60% production, if you want to see it in those terms.

Now there is a huge difference between the eggs that properly free range hens produce and anything you can buy in a supermarket, even so called 'free range'.
Firstly, commercial chickens are bred specifically for maximum egg production. Presumably there is a size, shape and colour which it has been calculated that the public prefers. But the prime consideration, I'm sure, is egg production, even if that is at the expense of variety, quality or, most importantly, the chickens themselves.
I'm not saying that the producers have to be overly sentimental. I don't really expect them to keep all their old broilers into old age, but some degree of balance would be nice. But then eggs would cost more, wouldn't they, and not many people care to look past the headline price.

But what I really don't get is that the public are not actually getting proper eggs. They don't even know what an egg is supposed to look like or taste like. I get the price thing, these are hard times for many. But at what expense?

Nobody would buy an insipid, pale, runny, tasteless orange. So when did we come to think that this is how an egg should be.

So this post is just to reclaim the egg! And not just the chicken egg. No more words are necessary.

Here's one that went a bit wrong!
I posted this on Facebook as
"giant steals blue egg".

A duck egg omelette and a giant fried goose egg. All our eggs are this colour, or even oranger.

One day's chicken eggs.
The beautiful feather is a guinea fowl's.
Their eggs come later and are delicious.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Early Spuds, Broad Beans and Companions

Strong chits on my Red Duke of Yorks
The potatoes have been sitting in egg boxes to chit since early February. The cool entrance porchway seems to have been a good place to do this, as the earlies have developed good, strong chits.
But the big question is, when to plant them out? Some say Easter Friday, but this is clearly ridiculous as that's not even a fixed date. When potatoes first came over to Britain they were, apparently, not well thought of. Devil's food, in fact. Hence the belief that they should be planted on Good Friday. Needless to say, I don't believe in that.
Others say to plant out on St Patrick's Day. For me that's a tad early. I don't want to be spending cold evenings earthing up potatoes to try to stop the frost nipping their leaves, nor do I want to be running in and out with fleece, trying to keep it weighed down and avoid churning it up in the mower.

Almond blossom signals time to plant the Early spuds

For this reason, I go early on the Earlies, but the Mains can wait till Good Friday! (Well, actually about the second week of April.) March 17th is still a bit too early, even for the Earlies. I tend to wait a week or so. To compensate, I have six plants already poking their leaves above the soil in the polytunnel. I've grown these in the soil this year, as previous attempts to grow them in the polytunnel in bags have not gone well, mainly due to difficulties in regulating their water.

Maybe a better sign for me to start preparing the way for the Earlies to go outside might be the blossoming of the almond tree. That's more likely to take into account the vagaries of the weather in any particular year.

It has to be said, another factor in my decision has to be when the school holidays fall. For two weeks holiday gives me a great chance to catch up if I've already started falling behind.
And it doesn't take much for that to happen. My long weekend in Latvia, for example, coincided with a weekend of perfect weather and perfect soil conditions. By the time I'd returned and made up all the work days I needed to, the soil was too dry to rotavate.
But heavy overnight rain was forecast for late last week. This is the very best type of rain for a couple of days later and the soil was just begging to be worked one final time before being planted up.

Now, I had intended just to rotavate a few of the bean beds and a couple of the potato beds. The broad beans were a little overdue to be sown. Having said that, we've still got some in the freezer from last year so there's no rush to produce the first beans.
As it was, I ended up rotavating for nearly 8 hours yesterday. I can't tell you how much my body knew about it last night! The soil was in such good condition that I just kept doing one more bed. I decided to stop when the tank of petrol ran out. An incredible 18 beds later and that finally happened, just as I was finishing anyway.
Mr Rotavator the Motivator had done me proud. As a reward, I have booked him in for a service.

The leeks had to make way for the rotavator,
so I've healed them in until I need them.

I'd worked so hard on this, though, that I never did get the broad beans sown or the Early spuds planted. With rain forecast for midday today, I was up nice and early. My muscles had had a chance to recuperate and I was out into the garden. The broad beans took no time to sow. I used seed saved from last year, Broad Bean Bunyard's Exhibition. Having tried Sutton and Aquadulce, this is the variety that seems to serve me best.

The potatoes didn't take too long either. I don't bother digging almighty trenches. As long as the soil is well worked, I just place my seed potatoes and sink each one as deep as I can get it with a trowel before all the soil falls back into the hole. I then simply go along each row drawing up the earth. I mark everything with a string. It's surprising how, once you've buried the spuds, how quickly you begin to forget exactly along what line they were planted.

The Earlies ready to go in.
I leave as much space as I can between rows and run the rows
so that the prevailing wind can blow down them.
Hopefully blight won't be a problem with the earlies,
but last year it struck as early as June.
As a new precaution this year, I hauled some old chicken wire over the bed until the soil settles down. Otherwise the few chickens who can scale the fence into the veg garden plus the resident trio of ducks and the guinea fowl all do their best to make the earth flat again!

Oh, I should have said. I have settled on Red Duke of York and Arran Pilot for my earlies. The Red Duke of York are my favourite, for they are floury and make excellent chips - there's not many early spuds you can say that about. Arran Pilot are a good, solid early variety and they seem to keep pretty well in the ground in case you've not eaten them all come the summer.

One last word. I used to grow pot marigolds in the trenches between my rows of potatoes. They are a good companion plant. However, I have decided that I'd rather leave nice airy corridors instead. Also, growing the marigolds made it virtually impossible to weed between the potatoes. I know they crowd out most weeds, but our fertile fenland soil ensures that the occasional stinging nettle, and boy ours certainly do sting, can give you a nasty surprise and really spoil your day when you're harvesting.
The marigolds will still find a place in the garden. I'm growing them between the asparagus plants this year in an effort to control the asparagus beetles. I grew tomatoes there last year (another good companion for asparagus) but don't want to keep growing toms in the same spot.

I have also tried planting a horse radish plant in each potato bed in the past, but I find that they do not really get established before the potatoes get dug up. Maybe I should be more organised and plant them two years ahead! I don't think that's likely to happen. Besides, they'd probably get mangled by the rotavator as they disappear below ground for the winter and are only now just starting to poke their crinkled leaves above the surface.

Well, that rain has come and the wind's picked up, which is why I've retreated indoors for a while. But I'm back out in a moment. The poached egg plants have self-seeded from last year and I want to move them, for they are there as companions to the broad beans. It may just be luck, or the exposed site, but I've never had blackfly on my broad beans (you know what will happen now!) as long as I've grown them with poached egg plants underneath. Besides, they look pretty and the bees like them too.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Wild Swans

As I put the chickens away two nights ago, a line of gleaming white swans flew low over the horizon, under a deep orange setting sun. I suspected that these were wild swans beginning their journey northwards to their summering grounds in Iceland. Most years there are a couple of evenings when I see this spectacle. In the past some of these flocks have flown right over the house.

These are not the Mute Swans with which most people are familiar, but Whooper Swans (and possibly Bewick's Swans) which visit us only for the winter. They seem whiter than our resident swans and sleeker. With close enough views, their bills are different, with patches of yellow instead of orange, and lacking the bulbous base of a mute swan.

Anyway, as I returned home from the Smallholders meeting late yesterday afternoon, I caught sight of a group of swans settled in the field right next to our farm. I shot upstairs to view them from the bedroom window and yes, they were indeed Whoopers.
There is a flock of Mute Swans which spends most of the winter in the fields round here, usually over toward South Holland Main Drain, but only in the coldest winter do any of these wild swans join them.
A very distant record shot, but good enough to show the bills.

The departure of the wild swans is a sure sign that winter is over (cue frost, snow and ice!).
It won't be long before the swallows are back nesting n the stables.

Monday, 23 March 2015

The first (and only) chicks of the year

The Crested Cream Legbar cockerel went to cockerel heaven a few weeks back now. This means that we are no longer able to produce pure Cream Legbar chicks, which is a shame as they are a lovely looking bird and lay the most wonderful blue eggs.
However, the young cockerels are just too 'rampant' at a very early age and do their very best to maraud about the chicken pen upsetting all the other inhabitants. Typical loutish teenagers really.
Not only that, but they don't make a particularly meaty meal at the end of it. Here the comparison with teenagers has to stop.

Our Cream Legbar cockerel has, however left us with the legacy of several blue egg laying hens (blue eggs, not blue hens), which together with the other eggs makes for an attractive half dozen eggs.

Now, if there are any egg colour genetic experts out there, your input would be most welcome. For the question is, will the mixed offspring of the Cream Legbar hens, whether first or second generation, still lay blue eggs? Or will the cockerel's genes dominate? Or will the eggs come out a different colour altogether?

We don't need any more chickens at the moment, since we are getting up to 16 eggs a day already (plus duck, goose and guinea fowl eggs) and it's still only March.
But some friends of ours wanted some hens to lay blue eggs, so a month ago Sue placed 12 blue eggs in the incubator. The day before I headed to Latvia, they started hatching and we ended up with 6 healthy chicks.
The picture above shows them all packed up in a little box ready to head off in the car to their new home. It would appear that 5 of them come from our barred cockerel and 1 from the white cockerel. Let's hope that most of them turn into hens and that some of them eventually lay blue eggs.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Sachertorte eclipses the eclipse and the aurora borealis.

Well, I couldn't let the solar eclipse go by without comment.

Unfortunately I was at work, where the class I was working with were receiving a visit from a very friendly police sniffer dog - no, the school's not that rough, it was a demonstration visit only!

Anyway, while everyone was preoccupied with this, I sneaked outside at 9:30 am to see what was happening with the sun The light was already dimming and the temperature had dropped. Unfortunately we had just struck out on the weather and there was a cloudy sky. However, this did me a favour really, as I was expecting only to be able to glance at a crescent of bright sun (I know, I know. I shouldn't do that.) As it was, there was a smiling face peering through the clouds in the sky and it was quite easy to look at. The clouds also meant that my phone didn't get too freaked out by staring straight at the sun and surprised me by managing to capture the moment.

I've opted for the long view as I'm bored of everybody's close-ups
which all seem to be rather the same.

This was quite some improvement on what happened with the northern lights two days previously, when a low blanket of fog enveloped the fens just enough to make sure that again we saw nothing of it. It was so frustrating, as looking straight up we could see all the stars in the sky. The only part of the sky we could not see was the horizon, where all the action was happening. We even drove out along the dark, murky lanes toward The Wash and away from all habitation, but the fog just stubbornly refused to budge.

Anyway, one celestial phenomenon in a week is enough to keep me happy, but last night this was surely outshone by the Blokes Baking Group's most ambitious project so far.

We decided to tackle Sachertorte. Invented by Franz Sacher in Vienna in 1832, this chocolate cake or torte has recently acquired fame with appearances on The Great British Bake-Off. We decided to risk following Mary Berry's recipe, available here, despite being let down by her in the past!
New techniques were required - bain-maries for melting chocolate, folding ingredients, whipping up egg whites, a ganache, using an icing gun. It was all new territory, much more fiddly than our preferred techniques of chucking everything in a bowl, bashing it around a bit, cooking it and eating it.

Conversation and beer flowed and at the end of the evening we had produced three of these:

Mine was the only one which said Sacher Tart on it though! And before you wonder, this was done on purpose as a retort to the others trying their utmost to confuse me over the spelling. With hindsight, I should have included a smiling sun on it to mark the occasion. Maybe next time.

If you need an excuse to make a Sachertorte cake, 5 Decemeber is, apparently, National Sachertorte Day - though I think that may only be in Austria.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

A Long Weekend in Latvia and Estonia

Birdy bits are in blue. Smallholding bits are in purple. That way you can just read the bits you are interested in, or you can read the whole lot. Hopefully this post will gradually fill with photos, as I manage to persuade the photographers to forward them to me.

Steller's Eiders - a bit distant, but you get the idea.
A few years back, Sue and I spent a week birdwatching in Poland, which turned into two weeks due to a volcanic ash cloud. The main target birds were woodpeckers and owls. In the end we were successful with 9 species of woodpecker (we only have 3 in Britain and one of those is becoming very rare). However, it took us the full two weeks and an awful lot of trekking to catch up with the ninth, White-backed Woodpecker. As for the owls, we were treated to brilliant experiences with diminutive but very territorial pygmy owls but it took days of searching to finally catch up with it's larger cousin, the Ural Owl. As for Tengmalm's Owl, this highly nocturnal species proved most frustrating . We got as close as the tree that the bird was in, but just couldn't see the bird. I did see a shadow fly across a gap.
So when a friend asked if I wanted to go to Estonia and Latvia to see a similar range of birds, I was very keen. I just needed to negotiate being away for Sue's birthday! Sue is an angel about this sort of thing so I was quickly booked onto a flight.
As it turned out, the long weekend was not just a birding experience but a lesson in smallholding and self-sufficiency too. More on this later.
A very early morning flight to Riga on Thursday and by the afternoon we had driven North into Estonia, boarded a ferry and were on our way across the island of Saaremaa. The weather was still and crisp and it was great to watch large numbers of winter wildfowl on the sea. A first stop in a cemetery turned up White-backed Woodpecker (yes, the one that took me 2 weeks to catch up with in Poland!) although only Will got a view of this individual. There was Middle-spotted Woodpecker and Great Spotted too, along with Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Bullfinches and Willow Tits.
Another stop to break the journey and I had my first lifer, but it was not a bird. Instead stood along a track and SO not bothered by our presence was this

... an elk!
We found a hotel for the night (60 odd euros for the night... for 4) and were up early Friday morning to seek out our main target species on the island, Steller's Eider. A real Northern species this one. I was lucky to see a female in Scotland in 2000, but for the others it was a completely new bird. We located the bay where a flock of about 300 birds were known to spend the winter and it wasn't long before the flock was located. Rather more spectacular than the lone, drab female I had seen all those years ago. One drake in particular was separate from the rest of the flock, very close to the shore.

 It did, however, have a little trouble balancing on a rock.

On our return we had a staggering 14 White-tailed Eagles in the air at once. We headed back across the ferry, back into Latvia and headed toward the North-East of the country to the forest house of our guide for the next two days, Gaidis. There was another woodland stop on the way, as we had a GPS location for Grey-headed Woodpecker. We parked up and headed into an area of tall trees which shot up towards the sky. A White-backed Woodpecker was quickly located. We found its favourite drumming tree and enjoyed extended views. The Grey-headed Woodpecker duly turned up too and at one point we had both species in the very same tree.
In retaliation for him throwing sticks at me, I then managed to pour soil down Dans back. Impressively, it made it's way all the way down into his wellies!

Watching White-backed
and Grey-headed Woodpeckers
We continued further into Latvia and arrived at our meeting point in the pitch black. Gaidis then drove along a rough forest track and we tried to keep up. We were clearly in a very special place and I looked forward to the morning with great anticipation. Gaidis's wife prepared a lovely late night dinner for us, a real feast of Latvian specialities. Very tasty it was too, washed down with a Latvian beer or two and a rather pungent liqueur. Gaidis and Maia (may have spelt that wrong) were incredibly generous people and made us feel tremendously welcome for the whole time we were there.

The lodge was completely off grid. Water pumped from a well, heat and hot water fuelled by a limitless supply of wood. The walls were of planks which sandwiched insulating layers of sphagnum moss.

The meal itself was a lesson in self-sufficiency, including such treats as home made cheese, smoked ham, duck soup and beef sausages.

I retired to bed and slept like a log, waking to a lightening sky and out to explore this magical place. The morning was crisp. Woodpeckers were drumming and calling, but Gaidis's keen ears picked up a distant calling pygmy owl. I was just as interested in looking around the smallholding.

The breakfast spread was a real smallholder's banquet, with ham, cheese, eggs, honey and apple juice. In fact, this was all quite familiar, but Gaidis and Mya (If I didn't spell it wrong last time, then I have this time) live in a country of smallholders and come from a generation reared much closer to the land than we are in Britain. What Sue and I do is quite unusual, in Britain but here in Latvia it felt like the skills Sue and I have been learning these past few years are still, for some, passed on through the generations.

The morning's birding was a forest affair. The Pygmy Owl came in and sat right above us. The photographers papped it to their hearts' content.

Woodpeckers were fairly quiet though, but we still saw the giant Black Woodpecker, Grey-headed and Great Spotted.
We looked for Three-toed Woodpeckers, which should have been in an area of damp alder forest but were silent today. We did, however, see plenty of moose poo and plenty of trees chopped down by beavers. The forest was a magical place.

In the afternoon we headed off south towards the site where a Hawk Owl had been present for a while. It had not been looked for in two weeks though, during which time the snows had melted and spring had come. Disappointingly, but unsurprisingly, the Hawk Owl had moved on.

There was another target species for me to hope for today though. In Poland I spent two weeks not seeing hazel grouse. I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Gaidis describes Hazel Grouse as ghost birds. They are relatively common in the right areas, but disappear long before you clap eyes on them.

But I was to be luckier in Latvia. Toward the evening we headed off to another area to try to see Ural Owl. Gaidis works extensively on owl surveys, so knew where the territories were. This did not mean that we were guaranteed sightings though. We still needed a bird to respond to recordings and to fly into the open. Gaidis told us that this was also a good place for hazel grouse and to look along the sides of the road. It wasn't long before BINGO! A bird flew across the road in front of us, quickly followed by another. We managed to see where they landed in the forest and spent the next 20 minutes or so catching tantalising glimpses of them on the forest floor and up in the branches of spruce trees. Excellent.
But the day wasn't done yet. As darkness enveloped the sky we managed to lure in a Ural Owl. At first it called in response to a recording. It is always amazing when suddenly you realise that last call wasn't from the machine. Fortunately the bird flew into the clearfell area to investigate and the others, sharper eyed than me, glimpsed it in the dark. It didn't take long for us to be obtaining excellent views by torchlight. It put on a real show. I was especially impressed with its graceful flight.

Bouyed by our success, we moved on to an area where Tengmalm's Owls had previously nested. They maybe wouldn't even be back on territory anyway, but we whacked on the tape more in hope than expectation. Tengmalm's Owl are very nocturnal and secretive. They occasionally respond to recordings, but generally don't fly towards the tape. After not much more than a minute, a female called from extremely close. This really did come as a surprise. The torches went on and after a while Dan picked up eye shine high up in a tree. But the bird was perhaps spooked by the torch as it flew almost immediately. I saw nothing of it. A period of intense searching ensued, but to no avail. The bird even had the audacity to call once more while we were searching for it, but we just couldn't find it. After a while we decided to leave the area and return a bit later. But this time the bird was nowhere to be seen or heard. The next night it was the same story. Again, so close but so far.

Dan tests the ice on Sunday morning.
Unsurprisingly it doesn't support his weight.
We returned to the lodge, highly satisfied with our day's birding, even if there had been a couple of slight disappointments. That's birding for you.
It may have been approaching midnight, but Mya still provided us with a feast, including Latvian blood sausage which was amazing and pickled pumpkins which were a revelation (project for when I get home). They actually weren't dissimilar to tinned peaches!

Our final day was spent exploring new areas as well as going over old. It started with a successful return to the alder woodland around the lodge. This morning the air was absolutely still and the woodpeckers were clearly enjoying it. Unlike yesterday, the Three-toed Woodpeckers were drumming almost constantly and it didn't take too long for us to locate two or three of them. They are a favourite of mine. Later in the day we found a most obliging Middle Spotted Woodpecker in this line of trees.

A drive along the Russian border gave me my best ever views of Capercaillie and then another forest drive had me shouting STOP! STOP! STOP! STOP! STOP! STOP! STOP! I did actually say it seven times in very quick succession, only stopping when the car did, for a Hazel Grouse had just run up the bank and just into the forest edge right next to the car. We managed to get it up in a tree and then heard the male singing (sounds like a dog whistle). It wasn't long before we were watching a pair of hazel grouse. They stayed mostly on the spruce branches, but as far as hazel grouse views go these were excellent.

There was to be one more treat for the day. After dark Gaidis's dog was barking and something was barking back at it from the top of a tree... a pine marten. I have only ever seen this mammal twice before, both times as I was hurtling through the night in deepest Scotland. Nothing like this though.

A beer and a shared jug of Birch Sap (something else I really must learn to do - apparently you can easily get 20 litres in a day from one tree) and it was to bed. All that remained of this great break away was an early morning drive back to the airport and the delights of a Ryanair flight back to Stanstead.

At 2:30 in the afternoon on Monday I pulled up in the driveway of my farm. I'd had a brilliant break away but it was great to be back too. And I have lots and lots of new ideas to try. Look out for my posts on collecting birch sap and pickling pumpkins.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

RIP GR87420

Last year was a good one for barn owls and their numbers bounced back after a disastrous previous two years. Again we started seeing them hunting over the farm, their ghostly shape patrolling the dykes and areas of rough grassland.
Our land is absolutely full of voles. The long grass areas are ideal for them, with a thick layer of thatch allowing them to burrow underneath. In turn, this makes excellent hunting for owls and also for the weasels which I regularly see.

This post, however, concerns sadder news for our barn owls. For at the back end of last year I found a dead barn owl in one of the cast iron baths in which we store water down near the pig pen and chicken enclosure. Remarkably, I found another in the same place just a few days later. I consulted the website of the Barn Owl Trust and found that females especially, after nesting, are prone to falling into water troughs and drowning. They advocate building a raft to float on the water, but it's far from straightforward and wouldn't last long anyway. It's a shame they haven't managed to come up with a simpler solution. I have now placed a wooden cover over the offending bath.

A sad end for an amazing bird
Anyway, the loss of two barn owls, sad as it seems, is probably not too disastrous for the local population which has bounced back well.  Shortly after this sad event I saw three birds together over the sheep paddock. This is most unusual. This spring there have been plenty of barn owl sightings on the farm. Indeed of late they have regularly been hunting during the day, a sign that they are probably feeding young.
Now I would have thought that the two dead birds from last year emanated from the owl box over by the river, not 300 yards from my land. One bird had a ring on its leg so I submitted the details to the BTO. Months went past and I heard nothing, until eventually I completely forgot about it. Seemingly not everything these days is instant.
But then, last week, I received an email informing me that GR87420 was in fact ringed as a nestling near Whittlesey on 9th June 2014. 96 days later I found it dead on 13th September 2014. So in it's short 3 month life it had travelled 16km from its birthplace. Not an amazing bird movement, but somewhat of a surprise nonetheless.

As a final aside, both owl corpses went into the compost bin. I like to think that the spirit of the fenland barn owl lives on in my soil.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Back to The Green Backyard for Straw Bale Building

A few weeks ago we spent a very enjoyable weekend at The Green Backyard in Peterborough, building a cob oven.
This proved to be quite a task which continued into a second weekend. Unfortunately Sue and I could only make the Saturday, so we missed the final day putting the finishing touches to the outside of the oven. This is done with a looser mix of cob, mixed with finely cut straw.

Anyway, I'll cut to the chase.
Here's the rather amazing finished oven.

When Sue and I learned that Alan Eley, who usually works at Hill Holt Wood, was coming back for a third weekend to help build a straw bale wall, we were keen to return. Again, we could only make one day of the weekend, but this time we missed the right day! For a hardworking band of volunteers and course participants spent Saturday laying the foundations. These were basic, just a treated wooden frame into which earth was compacted... and more earth... and more earth. It's surprising how much earth you can fit into a hole! Again, it was subsoil which was required. You don't really want to be building any sort of wall on top of seed-filled topsoil.

So when we arrived here's what we found.

We also found Alan mixing up a wheelbarrow of strange white powder and beseeching us to stay upwind of the dust which was flying everywhere. It has to be said he looked like a wizard!

This was hydrated lime, being mixed with water to form a putty. Later this would in turn be mixed 1:3 with soft sand to make the lime render. Using this is preferable to cement as it allows the walls to breathe. It's also not quite so energy inefficient to produce as is cement.

Membrane between foundations and bales

The hazel stakes which secure the bales in place

We then proceeded to carefully place straw bales onto these foundations, secured with hazel stakes. It's just like giant lego really.

However, if you've ever built a wall (even lego) you'll know that you need half bricks at the end. Fitting straw bales into an existing frame requires various fractions of straw bale, but it's not as simple as just cutting them. For as soon as you cut through the baling twine which binds them so tightly, they quickly expand out into the available space.

Alan demonstrates
splitting a bale

Therefore some technical skill is required. Alan explained how to thread a straw bale needle through to split the bale into two and secure it tightly. At first this seemed like a baffling art which only the initiated could succeed at.

However, the key was to actually have a go at it ourselves. With a bit of a lead and some common sense, it all came together.

Having mastered all the requisite skills, the wall was erected in no time.

Before it could be rendered,
a quick hair cut was in order.

The final bale goes into place

After sharing a communal pot of soup, we returned to begin the rendering. There were plenty of experts on hand, but it was really a case of just getting it to stick however you could.

Sue and I had to leave before the first coat was completely on. Altogether the wall will get three coats of render. We'll return to see the finished product when the cob oven gets fired up.

Meanwhile I am working on plans for a straw bale pig house, possible even with a living roof. I was impressed with the cob, but the straw bale walls blew me away. Maybe that's the wrong phrase for a house made of straw!

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