Sunday 30 December 2018

Carrots, carrots, carrots, carrots, carrots...

Read on for details

Growing carrots is surprisingly tricky. They are really hard to get going.

So many times they just don't appear. I should rephrase that. So many times the slugs get to them before you even see them.
Starting them in modules inside where they are more protected is not really an option either.

I have found a way round this problem though. The polytunnel has proved to be a perfect place to grow carrots directly in the ground and I have had a bumper crop from quite a small space.

As for the outdoor carrots, it is the first sowings of the year which are the most unreliable. In fact now that I have the polytunnel option, which also brings the harvest even further forwards, I probably won't bother with the first outdoor sowing dates.

Another problem with outdoor carrots is carrot flies which can smell a carrot from miles away. They lay their eggs and the larvae burrow into the carrots and munch away. The polytunnel keeps the carrots safe provided the doors are shut. Outside I have found the only sure-fire successful deterrent to be covering the crop with mesh.

And so to this year's crop. With the early outdoor sowings largely failing and the crop covered with mesh, I confess I just kept walking past and not checking what was happening. There were plenty enough carrots for our needs being produced in the polytunnel.

Two days ago it was time to sort out the bed where the carrots were sown, to clear it and prepare it for next year's crop which will be potatoes.

To my surprise there was a bumper crop of carrots! Some had grown overly large. Some had slug holes, though not too many. Some had just grown into very inconvenient shapes as I had failed to thin out the seedlings earlier in the year.
I'm not setting a good example here, am I?

I pulled, scrubbed and cleaned up a whole sink full of carrots and more, then went onto the internet in search of inspiring carrot recipes.
I like to cook like this, picking a crop and then having a day preparing all sorts of dishes.

On the menu were soups (fantastic for using up bulk amounts of vegetables), a couple of dip-type concoctions and some frittery type treats.

I worked on three dishes at a time. Most of my effort went into peeling, chopping and grating which left a bowl full of treats for the chickens and geese (as any food which has been near inside a kitchen is not permissible to feed to livestock, I obviously performed the vegetable prep outside).

By the end of the day I had a kitchen full of carroty treats.

Left to right: Falafels with carrots hidden inside; sausage, carrot and cumin hash; roast carrot soup; Thai carrot and lemongrass soup; carrot, cumin and sunflower seed dip; carrot, sweet potato and feta fritters; carrot pate with lime and coriander seed. Spot the theme?
Ran out of time to make carrot and walnut cake. Tomorrow.
All recipes can be found on the internet.
My next day like this will be leeks (if the pumpkins in the hallway don't start going soft).

Monday 24 December 2018

Talking Turkey. Or... Capital punishment - what could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday 18th December
I don't do Christmas, but I do do Christmas holidays!
It is a time to plan ahead for a new year, to clear the ground and prepare the beds.
In fact when I think about it the winter solstice is what it's all about really.

Anyway on a sort of Christmas theme, while I was pottering about in the veg plot today I could hear the turkeys making more of their strange bubbling calls than usual. This usually indicates that something is wrong. There's a predator or one of them has got out or something else exciting is happening. It doesn't usually require my immediate attention.
But after half an hour or so of endless bubbling I went to investigate.

One of the grey stags was endlessly pursuing the only black stag. It had hold of the strange dangly bits under its chin and was not about to let go. Even when I stepped in it would not let go.
So I made an instant decision. One week to go till Christmas day. hmmmm…

I caught the offender by the leg and carried him unceremoniously out of the turkey pen and out of sight of all the other poultry.
Five minutes later I was plucking our Christmas turkey!

Don't worry. This is not cruel.
He is already dead. 

Wednesday 19th December
I made a great job of plucking the turkey yesterday. It is now hanging in the stables. With the weather not too warm it can hang there a few days.
While I was planting some more willows in my new willow holt today, right next to the turkeys, the bubbling started up again. This time the black stag was the offender!
Was I too hasty yesterday? Did I get the wrong guy?

Sunday 23rd December update
Sue prepared the turkey today. It weighed in at an impressive 7.3 kg or 16lb (this is the weight once gutted and trimmed, as you would buy in the shops).
We don't necessarily aim for big birds and certainly wouldn't entertain the thought of keeping a double-breasted bird. But this was a good weight. The diet of fermented grains, seeds and pulses has obviously been a success.

Sunday 23 December 2018

wwww.Winter Weaving with Willow and Wool

Long, dark evenings
This time of year offers little time for outside work and I am often forced inside by darkness, if not by the weather. I get twitchy on the long winter evenings. I am no stranger to the odd soap opera or two, but I find it hard to sit doing nothing. So winter is a time for planning new outdoor projects and a time for evening crafts and hobbies.
This year I am aiming to teach myself basket weaving. Over the years I have been on a few basket-making courses. Each time I have come back with quite a decent basket and each time I have felt that I could never make another without considerable help from a tutor. But now I have taken the plunge and started to make baskets all on my own. I have only made a couple so far, one from a book and one from a YouTube video. I am still at the stage of trying to blindly follow instructions and mistakes happen. But here are my two efforts.

Not perfect, but still useable.

Basket-weaving is a good hobby for me. I love working with natural materials and I love mathematical patterns. I also have umpteen uses for baskets.

A Holt of my own
So in my usual all or nothing style I have ordered 25 different varieties of willow to grow my own willows for basketry. I didn't know this before but such a willow plantation is known as a holt. At the moment my holt is merely a forest of little sticks lined up and poking out above a sea of landscape fabric. This is a necessary evil to keep competition from grasses and weeds down. I have gone for the thin fabric type rather than the thicker plastic type which shreds strand upon strand of plastic.
The whole is weighed down with old bricks, stones, planks and water-filled bottles. This stops the fabric flapping and tearing or lifting up and damaging the buds of the willow cuttings.

There are over 400 varieties of willow. Those suitable for basketry produce long, straight shoots if grown close together and coppiced every year. Some produce thin rods for fine basketwork, others thicker rods for more agricultural baskets. The range of colours is wonderful, browns, greens, reds, yellow, even blues and blacks.
They are supplied as cuttings, each about 25 to 30cm long. These are just poked into the ground and should pretty much all take root. It will be a couple of years before I am getting a decent harvest.

Until then I will have to purchase most of the willow rods for my developing basketmaking, though I have been cutting back some of my willows which I grow for living willow projects. The thinner sticks and some of the branches rods will be suitable for basket practice. Here they are sorted and ready for drying. Some of the rods will make excellent basket handles or frames for starting baskets.

Short Rotation Coppice
I have also planted an area of fast growing willows for Short Rotation Coppice (SRC). This is grown for biomass, either for burning or for chipping for mulch or to bulk up the compost heap. I should have started all these projects years ago, but I opted for ash trees instead as they are the common local species and are excellent for fire wood. However, the saplings were planted the year before the advent of Ash dieback and have not grown anywhere near as well as they should have, being severely knocked back every year. Unfortunately, tree planting is a long term project.

While I have been working with willow, Sue has been busy with wool. She is a member of the Woolly Crew, a subgroup of Fenland Smallholders Club. Each month they meet and share their crafts. Sue has been using the fleeces from our Shetland sheep for felting and for peg-looming.
There is a very practical side to this as she is busy making rugs for our tipi.

On the left you can see her efforts at incorporating Boris into a new rug design!

Sue has also been preparing a fleece for tanning. This is the fleece from the last sheep we sent off. Sue has been salting the skin for a few weeks and it is now ready to go to the tannery. We could attempt this ourselves but it uses some pretty nasty chemicals and it is difficult to achieve a good result. The tannery we are sending the fleece to is an organic tannery and hopefully the returned fleece will make it all worth it.

Meanwhile winter evenings are for snuggling up warm and cosy too.

Friday 21 December 2018

Santa makes an unwelcome appearance

Tuesday 4th December 2018
Far-reaching calls through the frosty air
The year marches on. In general it has been mild, but today saw quite a heavy frost which sat around all day.
Birds were on the move all day. Two flocks of Whooper Swans flew majestically over the farm calling to announce their return for the winter. There were buntings and pipits around the smallholding too, but most unusual was a flyover of 21 jackdaws. When even a single jackdaw flies across the open fenland landscape it can be heard way before it is visible. 21 had me looking around for a while before I clocked them heading over the fields.

Where the grass is greener.
Most of today's jobs were minor jobs related to looking after the sheep and poultry. I moved the sheep onto fresh grass. There is still just about enough grass for them as long as I keep moving them, but this cold spell may mean that I soon have to start feeding hay as a supplement.

Turkey escape plans thwarted
Every few days I have to mix up the poultry feed too. Using fermented straights (that means bags of neat grain rather than industrially prepared food pellets) is working well. There's not much difference cost-wise and I won't make any wild claims about glossier feathers or tastier eggs, but I do know that all the birds go mad for it. It also makes me feel more involved with my birds, rather than just chucking processed food pellets in their direction a couple of times a day.
I have also been growing wheat fodder for the turkeys, but it is slower to grow in the cold weather and the turkeys don't seem so bothered about eating it. I'll feed them what's left and then leave it till the spring.
Final job for the morning was to mend the turkey netting for the umpteenth time. There is now more baler twine than net! The trouble is that every time a turkey breaks through a hole in the netting, they walk around on top of it trying to work out how to rejoin the others. In so doing, they create many more holes than the original one.

Santa not welcome!
This afternoon saw an unusual visitor on the smallholding. For drunkenly wrapped around one of the electric fence stakes down with the sheep was Santa Claus! To be more precise, the remains of a foil Santa helium balloon. I do wish people wouldn't celebrate in such irresponsible ways.

A few minutes later another balloon came bouncing across the fields and landed in the dyke. This one was a birthday balloon, but it had a manufacturer's address on. I promptly sent of an appropriately angry and sarcastic email. I did actually receive a reply apologising for the inconvenience. But sometimes an apology just doesn't fix anything.

A palette of willows
Another afternoon arrival was more welcome. A batch of basketry willows. I put them into water ready for planting tomorrow.

More on my willow growing plans in a post coming soon.

Looking Back - Featured post


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

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...