Sunday, 13 August 2017

A Marrow Victory

That's mine, front centre, next to that very long courgette!

Under the umbrella of the Fenland Smallholders Club I run a Grow Your Own group. We meet up most months, taking turns to visit each others' smallholdings and all taking food along to share.

Each year we have a growing competition too and this year it had been decided we would have a go at marrows. This is not a vegetable I usually grow, instead tending to let my courgettes grow into false marrows before feeding them to the chickens - the Ixworth chicks have taken to making tunnels out of them.
I perused the seed catalogues over winter and opted for Long Green Marrow. I treated my seeds as if they were courgettes, but lost a couple of the plants along the way. In the end just two marrow plants survived and along with the courgettes I pretty much forgot about them until a couple of weeks ago when I happened to notice a rather fine specimen poking its head out from beneath the leaves.

Loading the marrow onto the car roof 😉

I turned up at the group today armed with my marrow and a tub of raspberry sorbet as the theme of the day was soft fruits. We always enjoy a bit of banter when it comes to the growing competition and last year it has to be said that I wapped everybody with my giant pumpkin, so I had a reputation to uphold.

Surely a courgette!
Steve's 'marrow' was already on display and it was certainly well endowed lengthwise, though a little lacking in the girth department. It also bore a striking resemblance to an oversized courgette! CONTROVERSIAL!
It then became clear that we hadn't actually decided the criteria by which the marrows were to be judged. We eventually went for weight and the weigh in was stressful with the first two coming in at just over 5kg. Mine was up next and I was overjoyed to hear that it came in at over 6kg. The rest of the marrows were clearly smaller, though a couple were very good lookers.

The prize? Gloating rights for the rest of the year.




The raspberry sorbet went down well too and was particularly well paired with a chocolate cake which somebody else had brought along.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Elvis to the rescue

For one reason or another much of our egg hatching this year has not gone entirely according to plan.
We tried to time it so that nothing complicated would happen while we were away on the Outer Hebrides last week, but the poultry had other ideas!
First there was the turkey hen who abandoned her eggs at the last moment only to sit on a clutch in the other house. Result: hatching due last Thursday, while we were away.
However, the turkey hen is still sitting. I coaxed her off the eggs yesterday. She is only sitting on five eggs and I would be very surprised if they hatch now. It was very late for her to sit, so the eggs may not have been fertile anyway. I'll give her a few more days sitting and then investigate the eggs if and when they don't hatch.

Then there was Elvis and her daughter Priscilla both going broody very late on in the season. With three successive clutches of Muscovy duck eggs failing under three different ducks, I grabbed the opportunity to put some eggs under the two hens. Their due date was this Sunday just gone, our first day back from holiday.

And guess what I found on Sunday morning.

Ducklings!
By Sunday evening all twelve eggs had successfully hatched. Goodness knows how they can hatch under a chicken but not under a duck?
Anyway this is good news, as the only other option for hatching Muscovy ducks would have been the incubator and this is reportedly tricky. Not only that, but there is the hassle of raising the ducklings. With a good broody hen, all this is taken care of.


Then on Monday morning Priscilla was off her eggs in search of food and water. I noticed that one of the eggs was cracked and there was movement inside. Fortunately she went back on the eggs and as I write this I have just moved hen and four healthy ducklings down to a new home in the chicken pen. No pictures yet as they are still getting used to their new home.

Now, as cute as they undeniably are, you must remember that this is a smallholding blog. In about six months time these ducklings will hopefully be big juicy Muscovy ducks, known in the restaurant trade as Barbary duck. 😋

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The Uists and Barra - The Secret Is Out


I am no stranger to the Outer Hebrides, the chain of islands that guard north-west Scotland against the ravages of the Atlantic Ocean. For their geographical position makes them prime territory for emergency landfall by lost American migrant birds. This same geography makes for a stunningly beautiful chain of islands, their Atlantic western shoreline dotted with stunning beaches, their leeward east coast more mountainous, a patchwork of lochans, moorland and rocky inlets.

My visits to the Outer Hebrides have thus far been limited to mad dashes to see some very rare birds. A long overnight drive, usually to the small port of Uig on the Isle of Skye, but occasionally to Oban or Ullapool. A ferry across The Minch. A mad dash to see the bird.
The ferry timetable usually necessitates an overnight stay on these wonderful isles and then it's time for the return journey.

Even with such brief visits, any twitch to the Outer Hebrides is much looked forward to since they have become my favourite place to visit in Britain.

Sue and I used to travel abroad almost every holiday (one benefit of teaching as a career), but since our decision to start a smallholding opportunities for holidays together have been limited. Once in seven years to be exact and that was our honeymoon.
So when a friend offered to look after the farm for a few days we jumped at the chance to celebrate our third anniversary with a few days away and I decided to reveal the secret of the Outer Hebrides to Sue, who has only been once before when I dragged her away from a boxing day meal to go and see a Killdeer! The weather that day was awful and it wasn't the ideal introduction to the islands.

We booked up a B&B that accepted dogs. This would be a great experience for Boris and Arthur.

And so last week the day came. We packed everything into the car and embarked on an 18 hour journey to our temporary new home. The dogs coped admirably with by far their longest ever trip. A few breaks for walkies, a couple of power naps for me and 555 miles later we were at the ferry terminal. It was a gorgeous morning and the ferry crossing was like gliding across a mirror. We had the whole doggy area of the boat to ourselves and the Calmac full breakfast was as good as it always is. It is something of an institution.

And now for the pictures.  The scenery was stunning, the people friendly and the weather glorious. The dogs had an amazing time and were absolute stars everywhere we took them.
















We had an amazing week but it is nice to now be back on the smallholding, digging out two new ponds in the rain!
And I guess the secret of The Outer Hebrides is out now. Just don't tell anyone else or they'll all be going there.
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