Sunday, 9 April 2017

A Springtime Catch-Up

No blog posts for a while. I won't apologise. It's not through laziness but through business.
It really is all go on the smallholding at this time of year. Dawn till dusk working the soil, sowing seeds, mowing lawns. Then there are baby animals imminent and chicks galore waiting to hatch. Plus all the routine work.
So instead of my usual day by day post, here's a catch up across the smallholding.

Firstly, the weather. April has been warm and sunny, a perfect start to the growing season. We could do with one night of rain now though!

The 'Family'


Gerry has caught his first rabbit of the year and is now catching at least one daily. He sometimes brings one back for the dogs, particularly Arthur our young jackadackadoodle. It was just such a gift that caused the first ever brief fight between him and Boris who has finally realised that fresh rabbit is actually quite a tasty treat. They quickly made up.

I'm sorry if anybody reading this is feeling sorry for the cute little bunny-wunnies, but I find it hard to feel sympathy for an animal which takes great delight in digging up my freshly planted garden shrubs and flowers. Besides, it saves on the animal feed bills.

Boris and Arthur have been enjoying the life of Riley lately. I discovered a supplier of knuckle bones who sell a whole sack full for under a tenner. These should keep the dogs busy for quite some time.

Most delightfully, a year and a half into his life, Arthur has finally realised how much fun it is playing with a ball. He bounces around with sheer joy at his new discovery.

Poultry
The farm fowl are all back outside now, albeit with a few restrictions in place. The geese make regular trips back into the stables to lay. They are sharing two nests this year.
We collected the first 60 eggs or so as they are Sue's favourite egg for eating and we managed to sell quite a few of them, which will have gone a long way to offsetting the costs of feeding the geese while they were imprisoned inside.

Caught in the act by The Silver Stag

The turkeys are laying too. Again we collected the first couple of dozen eggs, but the hens quickly started sitting for long periods. Currently two nests are set up next to each other and two birds seem to have settled on them. I will be very happy if they hatch any young. We would like to keep about six for meat, but any more than that should be fairly easy to sell as chicks to fellow smallholders wanting to rear them.
In the same pen, the Muscovy Ducks are creating a sizeable clutch of eggs too. Last year, letting the duck hatch out her own eggs proved unsuccessful whereas Elvis, our broody hen, managed to rear all of her ten successfully. So that is the plan again this year. I would like to get two batches hatched out over the year as the Muscovy Ducks are the tastiest of birds, as well as being rather charming inhabitants of the poultry pen.
Last but not least we have started the cycle of hatching out chicks. These are collected from our trio of Ixworths and will be raised for the table. The first hatching only delivered eight healthy chicks, which was a bit disappointing. We have started collecting the eggs for the second batch in the incubator. Hopefully this lot will do better.












The chickens were absolutely delighted to go back outside. I herded them down the land to their pen and they instantly set about dust bathing and scratching around. Their egg production has gone right up again too and it is lovely to have them attending to my every move as I dig in the veg garden.




















Last years ram lambs tucking into a nice piece of willow
Just going by their tummies,
it's looking like a 3-2-1-0 again this year.









Sheep
We have brought the four Shetland ewes down to the stables in readiness for lambing, which was due anytime from Friday onwards. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long.
Rambo has settled in with the three wethers (last year's male lambs, no longer 'intact') but he likes to show them who is boss occasionally. There are enough of them to share the hassle and they have enough space to escape it.


Yesterday we went to a sheep day run by Mick at CSSG. We had a fantastic day and it was great to finally be properly shown some of the techniques which we have so far just been using common sense to achieve. We haven't been doing anything dreadfully wrong, but I know I will be more confident from now onwards.


























Bees
Sue's department. She is very happy with how the two colonies are faring at the moment. They have come through the winter strongly and the queens are laying well. One hive already has a super over the brood box where the bees can make honey for us. The second hive should have enough brood in to extend upwards this week.
All around us the rape is in flower. There seems to be more this year than ever. Probably something to do with subsidies and not a lot to do with need. This means that the bees will be well fed but their honey will need taking off and processing quickly before it sets like concrete.
At least we now have the tools to cream the honey which stops it setting solid.


Fruit and Veg
Fruit
Pruning is finished, moved, new bushes and canes are planted and mulched, blackberries are tied in to new supports and the raspberry beds have had an overhaul. Mr Rotavator has done a brilliant job tidying up the strawberry beds. Leaves are unfurling and buds are bursting. We should get bumper crops of everything this year.
The fruit trees are coming into blossom and the weather has been good for pollination.
We have already harvested mountains of rhubarb and we managed to sell a fair amount which made a small contribution to the coffers. We don't charge much, but I would rather people enjoyed it than it went to waste every year. Rhubarb plants are dead easy to grow, even easier to propagate and they shade out all weeds. The perfect crop!

We have had both mowers out and they are both still working. The veg patch starts to reveal its plan once the top is taken off the winter grass growth and the beds are cleared and worked.













Veg plot
The soil is warming up and drying rapidly. Working it is a delight at the moment and I have been working hard to get all the weeds out and prepare the beds for planting. Broad beans, early potatoes, parsnip seeds, garlic and onion sets are in the ground already. In the next week there'll be a lot more crops being sown.
The garlic is doing well.
I have now sown parsnips down the rows.
These two crops always do very well together and
the garlic is out before the parsnips take over the space
If we don't get any rain very soon I'll have to consider watering just so that the young seedlings don't wither and die before they can get their roots deep enough.

Polytunnel
The early potatoes in the polytunnel will be ready soon and the mangetout are rapidly growing. I am anticipating the first flowers and pods very soon. My second sowing of carrots has germinated well, unlike the first and my turnip rows are already shading out the weeds.
The polytunnel is full of seed trays at this time of year, young plants being raised either to go in the tunnel beds or to go outside later.
Today I start making my rosemary oil which I am hoping will be my chief weapon of destruction when it comes to spider mites this year.

Birdlife on the farm
Our winter visitors have all but moved on now and we are still awaiting the arrival of most of our summer visitors. Every evening I anticipate the chattering of swallows in the skies above the veg patch but as yet they are still not back.
Our resident birds are taking full advantage of the early start that braving the English winter gives them. The Little Owls are back in the hollow Ash tree again and the Pied Wagtails are back under the pallets. Crows, Woodpigeons, Blue and Great Tits are all nesting in the Ash trees while Blackbirds, Stock Doves, Song Thrushes and Robins hide away in the ivy which clambers up the trees.
A pair of Linnets has appeared and I am very pleased to see Greenfinches occasionally visiting the feeders, though the Tree Sparrows are not around so far this year.
It's been a good spring for Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers which continue to frequent the feeders, both near the house and the feeding station I have set up down in the young woodland.

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