Thursday 29 November 2018

Preparing the ground for growing more willows

Another spectacular sunset
Saturday 24th November / Sunday 25th November
I spent a couple of hours fighting with the electric fence!
I am giving over a small part of the sheep paddocks to growing basket willows and short rotation coppice (fast growing willow for firewood / chippings).
Rambo and his harem have done a great job of keeping the grass short so I can easily lay some fabric mulch ready for planting.

I have rearranged the fencing too so the chickens will have access straight into the willow copse. They should do a great job cultivating underneath the willow stools.

Meanwhile Sue has been busy. She finished an experimental circular rug using our own wool which she had dyed, then she turned her hand to Medlar and Rosemary Jelly and Green Tomato and Sultana Chutney.

Sue with Boris, Arthur and Gerry all helping her to make  a circular rug.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Medlars saved from the geese!

Thursday 22nd November 2018
A leggy young Moorhen ran nervously ahead of me down the central path leading to the poultry pens and paddocks today. This is only the third time I have seen one of these on the farm. Hopefully this mini run of notable birds will continue.

I saved the medlars from the geese today. Just a week ago the tree was looking amazing in its best autumn finery. The fruits were still hard and not yet ready for picking.
What a contrast today. The tree was bare of all leaves and the geese had plundered any low-hanging fruit. The fruits had softened nicely, presumably helped by a couple of decent frosts.

This process is known as bletting. Medlars are an old-fashioned fruit, not well-known, but they make for a wonderful addition to the orchard and are well-worth growing with a delicious flavour when made into medlar jelly or medlar cheese.

harvested medlars 
(I make no excuses for displaying them
in my first ever independently made basket)

Sunday 25 November 2018

Woodcock Moon

Wednesday 21st November 2018
The dogs flushed a Woodcock from the path today. We only see these magnificent birds about once a year here on the farm. Is it a coincidence that the forthcoming full moon is known as the Woodcock Moon? (I much prefer this to the Beaver Moon, a name which is not exactly based in British tradition). This individual was two days early though.
Woodcocks do breed in this country, but many more Scandinavian birds winter here. It is a disgrace that shooting them is still legal.

I was thrilled to see a Barn Owl alight in the old Ash tree at dusk too - the first I've seen on the farm for quite a while now. And the influx of notable birds was supplemented by a calling Yellowhammer at the back of the turkey pen earlier in the afternoon, again the first of the winter.

Friday 23 November 2018

The Very Best of Fenland Smallholders Club

My weekend was devoted to Fenland Smallholders Club.

Saturday 17th November 2018
Our first Beginners Grow Your Own Group
Once a month for the next ten months I am leading a Beginners' Grow Your Own Group. Today was our first meeting.
Before we got started on my tour of the veg plot, the orchard, the soft-fruit area and the nuttery, I had a plan to get our caravan moved. We had parked it up on the gravel driveway and Sue and I just couldn't get it moved on our own. Many hands made light work.
We hope to use this caravan to house volunteers if we can attract them to spend time here on the smallholding with us.

I am initially running the BGYO group as a ten session course and hope to give people all the skills they need to become pretty much self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables (unless they fancy the odd banana and orange!)
There are a range of participants, all smallholders, ranging from complete novices who are about to embark on setting up for growing food to others who have been doing it for years but want to extend their activities.

For this first session I tried to focus on the big picture such as choosing a site, deciding how to arrange beds and where to place perennial and annual beds. We looked at issues such as water supply, placing sheds, climate and microclimate and options for indoor growing.

Time flew past. I fed everybody with a couple of soups I had knocked up using one of my many pumpkins and bade farewell.

I still had some of the afternoon and evening to embark on my first ever basket-making without a tutor to guide me. I started with a basic basket which I had made before on courses. I made a couple of beginner mistakes, but overall the techniques came back to me. In fact, without a tutor to rely on I learned a lot more when I had to figure things out for myself.

It's all coming back to me now

I would dearly love to have another go straight away, but unfortunately the willow needs soaking for several days.

Sunday 18th November 2018
Preserving Day

Sunday was the main Smallholders Club meeting, for which Sue had done most of the organisation. We set off early and managed to get into the village hall in good time to set everything up. The day started with a talk by Sue on using a dehydrator. Her notes for the talk were on the equivalent of an old-fashioned fag packet, much to the amusement of others. Sometimes our teaching skills come in very useful.

After the talk there were about ten tables covering all aspects of preserving which club members kindly ran. There was onion stringing, eco-wraps, fermenting, jam and chutney, freezing, vinegars and cordials, bottling, sausage-making... everything you could want to know. We also had a jam-swap, which with hindsight I should have named the Jam-boree. This worked really well and will become an annual occurrence.

Lastly the pumpkin soup left from yesterday made a very popular appearance on the refreshments stand, alongside cakes, pizza and cheese scones which others had brought along. That one Crown Prince squash, with just a few onions and leeks and a small packet of sweet potato, had made three large pans of soup and provided about twenty five warming lunches. It had made a fair bit of money for the club too. 

One particular nice moment was to see Steve, a professional gardener, mentoring one of our younger members in the art of onion stringing. A bonus for Sue and I too as we got all our onions strung and all our garlic plaited. And that was that. 

A very busy weekend which hopefully lots of people learned a lot from and enjoyed.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Rambo's Big Day

Autumn medlars
Sunday 11th November 2018
One of last year's Shetland ewes went on her final journey today. Next time we see her she will be in a box and is going straight to a customer. We are however planning on getting her fleece back so we can salt it and send it off to a tannery. This is a new departure for us.

Moving the sheep around has meant that Rambo can be put in with the four breeding ewes. He got to work instantly! We should expect lambs early April next year.

While the trailer was still on we made a couple of straw trips to a nearby farm. Straw bales are remarkably cheap round this way, £1 each for conventional small bales which are so much easier for us to handle.

On the subject of sheep and wool, Sue has been experimenting with dying and has achieved some good results. She is using acid dyes as the rabbits made short work of the natural dye plants I was trying to grow. You simply soak the wool in vinegar and add the chosen dye. You then gradually bring up the heat and boil for 40 minutes with no agitation to avoid the wool felting. A gradual cooling and voila! Dyed wool.

The picture on the left shows Boris 'helping' Sue use her new dyed wool to weave a circular rug.

Sunday 18 November 2018

No more digging?

Life has been very complicated lately, but here's a little effort to start catching up.

Saturday 3rd November 2018
4 Muscovies and 2 Pekins gone!
The male Muscovy ducks which were born earlier in the year had reached a good size and were eating me out of house and home. Time for a little trip to the freezer! Bad news for two of the Pekin ducks, as I decided to keep five of them for breeding and eggs rather than seven.
I'll spare you any photos from today.

Sunday 4th November 2018
A fine autumn day outside in the veg plot, preparing some of the beds for next year. I am having a very big rethink, going back to smaller beds but without the network of grass paths which were impossible to keep on top of and gave too many edges for the slugs to hide under.

I don't think any of the no-dig systems I have come across are perfect or practical, so I plan to combine a number of methods, using cardboard, green manure, grass clippings, straw and compost to mulch and top up the soil structure every year.
Preparing the beds for the big change to no-dig has involved a surprising amount of digging! However, it should be a one off exercise.
There'll be much more on this new way of gardening in future posts.

I caught a rat in one of my snap traps today. I am trying to stop using poison bait so am really hoping that the idea of placing snap traps into a bait box (with normal wheat inside as an attractant) will work well enough to stop rats moving into the poultry pens.

Activites for winter nights.
Sue tries to make a carpet but Gerry 
has already decided to sit on it 
before it's even finished!
Tuesday 6th November 2018
I spent the morning fixing chicken houses. Goodness knows why they make the doors so close-fitting. A little bit of damp weather and the doors no longer close. Pulling them hard to open them in the morning inevitably loosens the screws which hold the bolts. So I have put handles onto the doors and shaved the tops so they don't catch. A little air circulation in the chicken house is a good thing.
Sue has been working hard on her peg-looming as she has the winter to produce enough carpets to line the floor of our tipi. Did I mention we have bought a tipi?!

With the nights drawing in there is a balance to be struck between outdoor pursuits and indoor evening pursuits. Winter gives me much more time for baking so today I made a gooseberry custard tart. Gooseberry recipes are hard to find beyond the predictable sponge, pie and fool. I made bread too, the first time using some nice Dove's Farm flour. I don't know whether it was the quality of the flour or the new dried yeast I am using, but the finished loaf was one of the nicest I have ever made.

Looking Back - Featured post


Ten years and a thousand blog posts! Enjoy. Pictures in no particular order.  

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