Sunday, 22 January 2017

A winter week on the smallholding

A fairly typical winter week on the smallholding.

Sunday 8th January 2017 - Poultry, Pruning and Pickling
The chickens have settled into the stable now

With the poultry inside and the sheep short of grass at this time of year, everyday feeding and watering takes quite a while. The geese and ducks empty their water buckets as soon as they are filled up, spilling it all over the stable floor, and I can't believe how much the geese eat. They don't usually get fed, having to survive on grass and a few roots thrown to them in the winter.
It is however, a good chance to worm them properly as I know exactly what they are eating. So today all the poultry (apart from those which will shortly go for the table) went onto medicated pellets. I used to buy the worming powder and mix it in with their usual food, but I have discovered you can pay someone else to do this for you! It works out about the same price and is so much more convenient.
The sheep are getting supplementary hay at the moment but their food of choice is sugar beet, which I buy in dried pellet form and leave to soak before feeding to them. They are getting a mangel wurzel a day too, which goes down very well indeed.

It was a lovely day today and blackcurrants were on the menu. Not the harvesting menu, but the jobs menu. They needed pruning and I planned on taking some cuttings too.
Sue and the dogs worked alongside me outside today, which was lovely. I got Sue sowing my mangetout seeds to go in the polytunnel before showing her how to prepare the blackcurrant cuttings.

- Freshly pruned and mulched
With those jobs done, it was back to the chickens, for some of the meat birds would be meeting their maker today. I get the hangman's job, not a nice one but a necessary part of self-sufficiency. I have said so many times before that nothing annoys me more than people who will only touch unidentifiable meat in frozen cubes.
The dispatch is quick and humane. As these chickens were to be jointed, we dunked them in hot water before plucking. 40 seconds at 160 Fahrenheit. This makes plucking ten times easier than doing them dry, but you don't get quite such a neat finished product.

Darkness comes all too early at this time of year so I retired for the evening. A nice cold beer and a warming bowl of Curried Pumpkin Soup did just the job.

With eggs back on the menu after a two month strike by the chickens, Sue tried her hand at pickled eggs. They will be ready for tasting in three weeks time.

Monday 9th January 2017 - Transplanting cuttings

By necessity I stayed on the farm all day, waiting for the parcel redelivery I had booked. It never came. Nice one Post Office!
It was another beautiful start to the day, though it wasn't long before the showers started and by the end of the day I was battling against sticky mud.

I started by taking flowering currant cuttings, though there wasn't much young growth to use. So I cut one bush right back. It should produce plenty of new material from which to take cuttings next winter.
Next on the jobs list was to move some willow cuttings which I set down last winter. They had done well, very well. In fact, they had done so well that I couldn't get the roots out! I had to remove all the cuttings around them so I could get at them with a spade. And so it was that I ended up transplanting all my buddleia, dogwood and privet cuttings from last year before I could tackle the willow.

As the sun set, I quickly cut a few handfuls of oregano, which I steeped in oil to make, surprise, surprise, Oil of Oregano. I shall be using this in a spray this year to try to avert the dreaded leaf curl which afflicts my nectarines and my mirabelles every year.
Unlike copper based mixes, it will not poison the soil and can be used even when the plants are in leaf. Whether or not it works we shall see.

Tuesday 10th January 2017 - Survived the dentist!
Another beautiful start to the day, only spoiled by the root canal treatment I was due for at midday. My dentist looks after me but it still doesn't make for a fun day.

I decided to drop in at my bulk potato stockist on the way home - I buy a few sacks for members of the Fenland Smallholders Club - but the gates were closed and there were no cars. On further investigation online when I got home, it seems their parent company may have closed the cash and carry side of the business. It is a shame when small local companies get incorporated into larger companies and then, several years later, quietly disappear.

My new year's resolution is to do a lot more baking and cooking using our produce. The visit to the dentist left me feeling a bit beaten up, but I didn't want a bad start to my resolution.
Anyway, I managed to bake a loaf and cook up a huge dish of Parsnip and Chickpea Curry. Later in the week I will knock up a cream of chicken soup, using the old hen we dispatched at the weekend, and a potato, leek and hock soup from the offcuts of a Serrano ham I purchased for Christmas.

Wednesday 11th January - Snow in the forecast
With snow forecast for later in the week, I took the chance to take down the brassica netting. The chickens and geese are in so, hopefully, there's not much to threaten the greens. Pigeons tend to avoid our garden.

Thursday 12th January - An Uneggspected find
Look what Sue found inside the old chicken when she was cleaning it out. These are eggs slowly forming in a queue.
The rest of the country got snow today. Somehow we escaped it.

Friday 13th January - A Recipe Refound
The day passed without incident, not that I am superstitious.
I did, however, find a recipe sheet which I thought lost. It was from my days as a vegan, over 20 years ago, and included my favourite recipe for home-made mincemeat, as well as a couple of other favourites of mine. I was well chuffed.

Saturday 14th January - A rat, more pruning and a new stretch of hedge
A rat has moved into the polytunnel. It is, I'm afraid, not welcome and now that I have moved the ducks out I have put poison in. Today the poison had gone down, so hopefully it won't be long before the rat is no more.

There was more pruning to be done today, redcurrants, whitecurrants and gooseberries. I do these on a different day to the blackcurrants as they are pruned to different principles, fruiting best on two year old wood and older. If I did them on the same day I would get confused!
Gooseberries are treated in exactly the same way as the currants, except they are considerably more prickly and time-consuming. I got ten of them done, but that's not even half of them since I took cuttings and drastically increased the number of bushes I have.

I took delivery of 25 bare-root Bird Cheery whips today and planted them in a double row. They should take well and will hopefully be providing shelter and food for birds in a couple of years time.

And lastly... I finally got round to boiling up the old chicken for soup. I boiled it a good long time, in case it was tough. The meat just fell off the bone and the juice I turned into stock.

So that was that. A typical busy winter week.

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