Friday, 6 May 2016

RIP Terry The Turkey :-(

I've decided to try a slightly different format for my blog posts from now on. At this time of year I'm incredibly busy with sowing, mowing and growing... and that's not to mention looking after all the animals. At the end of the day I'm often just too whacked to keep up with the blog. So I've decided to go over to a diary style blog with occasional longer posts devoted to one subject. That way I get to keep a record of everything I do on the smallholding (and you get a true sense of everything that is involved). Hopefully I'll catch up with myself within a week or two.
22nd April
The broad beans are finally up. I used seed collected from last year and it's always an interminably long wait for them to poke their heads up. I don't plant in the autumn like many do as I don't see the point in such an early start. Besides, if the cold and wet didn't get them, the chickens sure would!
One of our Muscovy girls has started sitting already. I did read that they were very prolific, but she can only just have had time to lay enough eggs before plonking herself down on them.
She's in the corner of the big chicken house.
Two nights ago I got fantastic views of a Short-eared Owl hunting down in the young woodland I have planted. This is an infrequent visitor to the farm and must be on its way back to its breeding grounds. Anyway, tonight it was back again, swooping into the grass hunting voles. Unfortunately I've not seen the barn owls for a while now, not since the farmer who bought the field grubbed up all the scrub in the corner where the barn owl box is. As he did this during the breeding season, it's odds on the owls will have abandoned their nest. Let's hope they return.


23rd April
I'm trying Mangetout outside again this year, but I've bought a variety called Golden Sweet which has yellow pods. Hopefully they'll be easier to spot when harvest time comes around. I constructed a frame for them to grow up made of bamboo sticks interwoven with semi-dry willow which I harvested from around the farm during the winter and I planted them out this morning. I raised them in pots in the polytunnel and have been hardening them off for a couple of days. I prefer not to plant straight out as I've lost them all in the past, either to voles, slugs or pigeons. I've planted them close to a large water butt too so I can prevent them becoming too dry.
I also sowed some Salsify and Scorzonera today. Closely related, these plants have very different roots. The scorzonera has been sown in some of my new 'mini-permaculture' beds as this plant is a perennial and if the roots don't develop enough in the first year they can be harvested at the end of next year instead. If they were sown in with the root crops, that space would be needed by potatoes next year.
Next to them I sowed some Sokol Breadseed Poppies. These should give a harvest of white poppy seeds, as well as a fine display of flowers. The seed heads don't have holes around the edge so the seeds are easily collected.

24th April
Time to sow the sweetcorn. This year I have 100 sweetcorn seeds. I am growing a supersweet variety again. The past two years my sweetcorn harvest has been disappointing after rats moved out of the fields before the corn was ripe enough to harvest. So this year I'll be growing some in the polytunnel and some further from the field edge in my main vegetable plot. I'm planning to undersow it with my prize mangel wurzels!
I'm also giving Minipop another go. This is harvested for miniature cobs before the tassels develop and hence before pollination. Therefore it shouldn't cross pollenate with the maincrop, which would risk spoiling it.
25th April
I have started some cucumbers off earlier than normal this year and this evening I took the plunge and planted three seedlings into the polytunnel beds. I grow Burpless Tasty Green - it's the bulk standard variety but serves me very well indeed when grown in the tunnel. I have tried others but found the yield inferior and the skin tougher. I will grow my cucumbers in two or three batches to extend the harvest period.
26th April
Mangel Wurzels and Finch Seed Mix.
Today I got a very big sowing job done. I have a 'spare veg patch' away from the main one, where I grow tougher crops which require more space. The soil is heavy clay here and pretty compacted, having been arable in the past. One quarter of this area is reserved for fodder crops. They only make a small donation to the animal food bill, but are a top up treat in the winter. I grow mostly Mangel Brigadier, but have sown some Yellow Eckendorff too. In all I sowed 1400 seeds, two every 15 inches or so!
Another quarter is, for the first time this year, reserved for the wild birds. I have sown a finch and bunting seed mix which should help out some of our disappearing farmland birds during the winter and early spring. Luckily this mix was simply broadcast and lightly turned in with the rotavator.
27th April
Hail and snow today and some pretty tasty thunderstorms. So I spent much of the evening in the polytunnel. I potted up all my tomato plants. These are the ones to go outside, always a bit of a gamble in our climate but I'm determined to manage them properly this year, taking off lower leaves and nipping sideshoots to give them the best chance of ripening and avoiding blight.
While I was potting up, I pricked out the celeriac seedlings too. Some of these won't be ready till late next winter so I don't want to hold up their growth even one little bit.
The storms obviously grounded a few migrant birds as my first Whitethroat for the year was calling scratchily from the dyke and a Chiffchaff was calling from the ash trees.

28th April
What a terrible start to the day. Sue was up at a ridiculously early hour and came back in to tell me that she thought Terry The Turkey had been killed. Terry is, or was, our turkey stag, a gentle giant who followed me everywhere. Only yesterday he had been stomping around in the kitchen with me. Up to now he had led a charmed life, firstly surviving Christmas and now settled with a wife and poults on the way. I went outside to investigate, but it was clear from the trail of feathers that something awful had happened. We had given up putting the pair of turkeys in housing at nights since they started roosting in random places. I often got a face full of flapping wing when I tried to move them. We've only ever lost one goose and a couple of guinea fowl to the fox, so this was a bit of a shock. He may even have died trying to protect his hen, who has been sat on her nest in the planter at the front of the house and only has 2 days to go until the chicks hopefully hatch out.

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