Sunday, 17 July 2016

Frozen Frog Spawn

12th July
Elvis did not come out with her ducklings this morning. As I suspected, she is stepping back and letting them get on with growing up... which they are dong very fast indeed. They are a pretty bunch and it will be a shame to eat them later in the year.


Today's main job was a dangerous one, summer pruning and harvesting gooseberries. We've not got a bumper harvest this year, but I'm not complaining. Every year is different. The red gooseberries all needed picking. They are small but very sweet. The standard green Invicta gooseberries were well swollen. Some were ripe enough to eat raw, the rest I left on the bushes.

The whitecurrants were easier to deal with. Their summer prune just involves cutting back the sideshoots. In previous years the ducks had enjoyed more of the currants than us, but this year they showed no interest. To look at the bushes from outside you would think there was hardly any fruit to be had, but the currants hang on short stems hidden by the leaves.Delve a little deeper and there they are.

In fact I managed to harvest about 3kg of whitecurrants. I just need to decide what to do with them now.
Picking the whitecurrants took an age as I patiently worked along each branch. But there was still time to prune the redcurrants. These are just starting to colour up and there are absolutely mountains of them hanging on the bushes. It won't be long before a redcurrant bonanza. I might try using the steam juicer to make a cordial this year.
The birds find redcurrants easier to spot than their white cousins and last year we lost them all just about the night before I was intending to pick them. So today they were netted, using the net which has just come off one of the cherry trees which Sue picked.

23 eggs have been in the incubator for 18 days now at a temperature of precisely 37.5 degrees Celsius. We tried to keep the humidity at 45% but with the ambient air at over 60% most of the time this proved impossible. (Hence 23 eggs. We started with 24 but one was replaced with a sock full of rice in an attempt to reduce the humidity. It worked a little, for a while!) Humidity is important since it dictates how much liquid evaporates through the shell of the egg and therefore how big the air sac is for the chick to breath when it comes to hatching time.
So today was Day 19. Time for the eggs to come off the roller and to increase the humidity further.
If all goes well they will start hatching in a couple of days.

13th July
I open froze the currants and berries in trays. Today I scraped them off the trays to go into freezer bags. The whitecurrants, to my evil eye at least, look like frozen frog spawn. There could be a marketing idea here for a healthy Halloween treat. I also discovered by accident that it may be an awful lot easier to remove the stems when the currants are frozen. I'll bear this in mind next time.


A surprising proportion of the rest of the day was spent picking blackcurrants and raspberries, especially given that I was supposed to be at work for the afternoon.
But for the second week in a row my car refused to start. After replacing the starter motor last week, it looks as if it was the battery after all. I won't ever be going back to Whizzywheels in Wisbech again. It's the second time they've taken the proverbial in the last few weeks.
On the bright side, it did spur me into finding a more local mechanic.

So engrossing myself in the fiddly task of picking and de-stemming blackcurrants was a welcome distraction from my thoughts. The raspberries have enjoyed the wet weather too and are starting to produce a bumper crop. I've finally worked out that I've pretty much got all summer-fruiting canes and that all the healthy canes which came up and didn't fruit last year were in fact what would bear this year's fruit. I hadn't expected them to come up so early and so made the mistake of thinking they were autumn-fruiting canes which failed to crop. Doh!  I know now.

14th July
Car fixed. New battery installed.
While the mechanic was here, this arrived. Care to guess what it is?

It's a chicken plucker. You scold the chicken, attach this contraption to a drill and the spinning rubber fingers take (most of) the feathers off the bird. I imagine these end up literally everywhere. Anyway, if it works even half as well as I hope then it will save a lot of time when it comes to processing a dozen chickens at a time.

I did actually make it to work today, though I owe them quite a bit of time now and will try to make most of it up next week before the summer holidays start.
After work I hitched up the trailer and drove to a field in the middle of nowhere where a smallholder acquaintance (who just happens to be one and the same mechanic as fixed my car this morning) was baling his hay field. What a lovely activity on a fine day under the endless fenland skies.




I slalomed between the bales on the field before pulling up and loading fifteen bales into my trailer. Back to the farm to unload, then back again for another fifteen.

This winter was so mild that the Shetland sheep got by without any hay whatsoever. Buying thirty bales now is probably a good way to guarantee another mild winter.

As I was stacking the hay in the turkey stable I discovered yet another secret hoard of eggs furtively tucked away. I'm reorganising the stables in a couple of days, but I'll try to move the nest so that hopefully the hen keeps laying in it. That way I know where they are when I want to steal the eggs. I'll mark a couple which I'll leave so she keeps coming back.
One final job for the day.
I abandoned the coriander crop in the polytunnel - it just hasn't grown leafy enough this year - and sowed another few rows of carrots which so far have been doing very well under cover. Hopefully the carrot flies won't discover that the polytunnel has doors.

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