Wednesday, November 30, 2005

More of a learning curve with seed saving!

I am as warm as toast and my hands are glowing - well tingling back to life actually having spent over an hour and a half in minus a lot of degrees in thick frost.

So you think I am mad do you? Or just plain eccentric!

Waking up early is getting to be a bit of a habit even with black out curtains! Funny how when I was at work it was always a pain to wake up and drag myself out of bed. Now I could lie in until mid day and it wouldn't matter, I wake up before dawn and am up before the dawn chorus!

I thought we had snow - the frost was so thick on the ground, when I took the warm breakfast out to the girls. Actually I think that it was a bit too warm as they were gingerly pecking at it as the steam was rising off it in the cold air. Nice milky porridge with shredded carrots, brussels, and potatoes.

Their water was frozen solid so it took a bit of chipping and hacking and boiling water to get it out. I should have emptied it last night, but as they were still up when I went out there, I thought I best leave it in case they wanted a nightcap - I won't make that mistake again.

A big mistake with seeds

Talking of mistakes, I dicovered this morning that I have made a BIG one. I was out in the garage, having a sort out, as you do just after 7am on a bitterly cold frosty morning, and my heart sank when I saw that all the beans that I had saved and stored in mesh ex freezer baskets had gone mouldy. I used the same method the year before - put them in the baskets to dry out and they were fine. But I did not store them in the garage, but in the shed. All I can assume is that because of all the rain we have had, the garage must get damp. I am gutted. All those hours spent carefully picking them and laying them in neat layers. I was so proud at my seed saving and planned to give lots away to friends as I did last year. I shall have to get on the internet and order more now! I was going to take some photos, but it was really too disgusting to post - as I know some of you have a look whilst you are eating your lunch. More for the compost bins.

The pumpkins in the garage haven't gone mouldy, but they did last year - so I am a tad bit baffled. I am going to ask Father Christmas for a deyhydrator, but to tell him not to get it until next year.

Does anyone know if you can dry the seeds in a hydrator and use them to grow the next year? I will have to find a forum and ask that question - unless one of you reading this can help me.

Off to have my breakfast - husband just got up!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Inspecting the new bathing quarters and new pot of a different flavoured mint

Discussing the mint and new bathing quarters

Tasting a new flavoured mint bush

NAFAS Flower Club Christmas Demonstration Evening Photos

Enlargement of an arrangement on the stands by the doors.

Sparkley Pink

Door Hanging on a willow ring

Phormium leaves sprayed blue and gold - a modern arrangement for Christmas

Christmas Pudding

Christmas Cake

Skip this if you don't want to look at flower arrangements. Blogs further down

Good idea for a Christmas parcel arrangement

My friend won an arrangement from the stand by the door

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Real country food - not for vegetarians or the squeamish!

One of my friends phoned last night, whom I am going to give one of my Jostaberry plants that I have grown from cuttings. They are a cross between gooseberries and black currants and produce lovely big berries. I do not know how long it will be before they fruit, but as they are now getting quite tall and starting to bush out, we may get a few next year. I was only thinking about her up the lottie the previous day and decided to phone her to see if she wanted it now or in Spring, she must have been telepathic - she beat me to it.

During the conversation she asked if I wanted any rabbits, as she had had half a dozen already last week which were now in her freezer; wild rabbits that is, we get a bit overrun with them in these parts, to say the least.

A friend of hers had another 10 so she phoned to see if I wanted them. Pat was eavesdropping on the conversation whilst pretending to watch some soap on the T.V. but I did not take any notice.

I asked how many rabbits I could have, she said as many as I liked, so I said could I have 6 or 10 if she didn’t want them. Pat’s head swivelled round to me and with a face like thunder he said, ‘No, you’re not having any rabbits' – (that is the edited version). I was flabbergasted as he likes rabbit stew as much as I do! My friend had heard his remark on the other end of the phone and sounded shocked as well.

It dawned on me then that after getting my way with the chickens, and having been pulling his leg about getting a couple of rabbits next, he must have thought that I was going to fill the garden with 6 or 10 live rabbits!

It did make me laugh! - And my friend too!

So today I will be skinning rabbits and freezing them, and we will be living like kings through the winter, with free range chickens already in the freezer, and free range pet chickens supplying us with eggs, all my organic veggies in the freezer and up the lottie.

Hmmm I wonder if she can get any pheasants, I haven’t had any yet this year.

I'll be back this evening with any more news.

Well the rabbits arrived just after 10.30am, and by 12.30pm I had gutted and skinned them, and Pat rinsed them and they were bagged up in the freezer, and one in the pot for rabbit stew. I did have all ten, and later in the winter I should be able to get some game birds too, which will be nice.

In case you were wondering how the rabbits were killed - I asked that question myself and was asked on a forum too. They were caught in cages, and dispatched humanely (not shot) and when I skinned them they did not have any marks or broken bones.

In the past when I lived in another county and bought game from a butcher there were always warning signs about the shot they might contain!

A quick trip up the lottie this afternoon to dig up the Jostaberry - it was already looking dark at 3pm when we went up there, so we didn't linger long, I dumped the compost and Pat dug up the bush - my back was aching from the rabbits, but it was worth it.

Mike, my new lottie neighbour had staked out his boundary with lovely treated wooden posts and string, it is beginning to take shape already.

I have got a surprise for him, a few strawberry plants that I will save until I next see him. They were talking about having fruit like me. I shall see if I have any raspberry cuttings that I can take, and I have some currant cuttings coming along nicely too.

I have been thinking that maybe I should start ordering my seeds for next year, I have prepared a list, but it is too long, and deciding what not to grow is rather difficult. It is the varieties of vegetable not the actual vegetable if you know what I mean. There are so many nice Heritage ones to choose from.... decisions, decisions. How nice to have lovely ones like that to make.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Frozen in frost and ice - my garden early this morning

I took these at 7.30 this morning. Not a soul was up or about, not a bird stirred, silence......

A perfect start to a Sunday. I had hoped to go up the lottie to do a bit of weed digging but unless the sun shines......

This reminded me of a Catherine Wheel - use your imagination for goodness sake!

Not a grape to be had, the birds finally finished them a couple of days ago

A little bit of colour amongst the grey frost

The ducks don't mind

What a difference a few days make - now frozen solid and will blacken when the sun shines

Frozen in Thyme

Frozen Thai Chickens

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Chicken news on Saturday.

The egg is smooth and very pale
It has no head, it has no tail
It has no ears, that one can see
It has no wit, no repartee

But it don't half taste nice

Eggs - Total to date:19 - Day 11

KoKKo 7 (76grms)
Adelaide 6 (71grms)
Ginger 6 (72grms)

I am doing a separate chicken page so that anyone who is just interested in allotment stuff need not read the chicken things and vice versa.

Well if you ploughed through my allotment pages yesterday you will know how busy I was and I finished by saying that I was taking home some string fencing with a view to letting the girls free range a bit around the garden until we get our fence panel fixed.

I am beginning to think that it, not getting done, or getting anyone in to do it, was a ploy by Pat to delay or prevent me getting chickens – but maybe I am just being cynical!

The girls were really happy to see me, and dived on the cabbage leaf with slugs as if they had never been fed before! Pat wasn’t home from golf, so I was able to put up all the fencing. Now this fencing is agricultural, and has posts already fixed into it, which you just push into the ground. I think that it is the type that they run electric fencing wire through, but not sure as we inherited it with the plot amongst a pile of stinging nettles. I use it up the lottie to protect my climbing beans and peas from pheasants etc and it does the trick there.

So I spent ages unravelling it; it is a real pain as it always gets caught up no matter how carefully you roll it up. I then used one roll to go right up to the wooden fence where a conifer had died and been removed, and the chickens would be able to get through the gap in the hedge and go along the fence that way – so I had got them sussed on that score. I then fenced off all the rest of that hedge right up to the gazebo in the corner – about 30 feet. Now this sounds easy, but in reality it was a real pain as there were shrubs, flower beds etc to negotiate and the string kept catching various plants. I also had to anchor it down with extra posts. The second roll of fencing I put in front of the first (having seen ‘The Birdman from Alcatraz’ many years ago!) I thought it best to double up precautions.

So I now had two layers of defence. The second one went in front of the first and then right along another hedge at right angles to the corner if you know what I mean. So it was with great confidence that I let out my girls for the first time to survey the garden.

They quite confidently stepped out of their pen, and scratched around in the fallen vine leaves on the flower beds under the pergola.

Then KoKKo took the lead and off she trotted with Adelaide in tow to check out the rest of the garden.

They walked alongside the raised flower beds stretching up to their full height to try and see over the top. I felt slightly anxious at this point, because if they flew up on top of the raised beds they might be able to fly onto the top of the conifer hedge. With its lovely soft fluffy bits of conifer on top, it is a favourite resting place with the birds!

I needn’t have worried though as they did a tour of the fish pond (glad that I have got a netted frame over it) looked through the patio door and were not very impressed with our d├ęcor, pecked at the conservatory door – haven’t a clue why as I wasn’t in was I?

Ginger followed along at a safe distance copying everything they did which was very funny. I was so fascinated that I did not take many photos unfortunately!

They looked right, as if crossing a road, and ignored the path to the garage, but went down a couple of steps which lead back to the area of the garden where their home is.

They are so funny then way they walk. They were striding out on the gravel path heads held high, like something out of a chicken cartoon! The path leads alongside another raised bed, and the same tip toe walk to see over the top, then they hung a right along the path that leads past my shed to the other back gate, kicking up leaves as they went. I expected a lot more scratching the soil and searching for insects, but no, this was an expedition.

All three disappeared behind the shed (worrying as it would have been difficult to chase them behind there), they then walked round the far side between that and the neighbour’s garage before coming back out to the front again.

At that point I thought they might head back to their pen or scratch about on the lawn.

Adelaide and Ginger did a bit of rummaging in the Sensory Garden alongside my shed, and were camouflaged amongst the leaves which they were putting their heads under and so covering themselves. KoKKo had disappeared! Thank goodness I never had triplets as children!!

With chickens the same colour and a garden full of autumn leaves it was difficult to find her. I was on hands and knees in the wet grass and spotted her walking at the back of the conifer hedge next to my neighbour at the side of us.

Phew, no worries there, as that side is secure and at the end I have the string fence in front of the gazebo and the side KoKKo was on, had trellis on it anyway ! WRONG!!!!

She suddenly had a ‘mad ‘ moment, ran hell for leather towards the gazebo, wriggled through the netting, squashed herself through one of the squares of the trellis work and was heading for the garden at the bottom (a road away).

I tried to coax her, but she wasn’t having any of it. She walked down the gazebo steps and was now two Alcatraz fences away from me and just about to go through the gap. At this point I tried to step over the fence and got my walking boot caught up in the string, so took a dive to grab her, falling flat on my face in the process.

Adelaide came to see what all the fuss was about and took a running dive through the netting and got caught up in it so was making a right noise – I was hanging onto Kokko for dear life, but flat on my face wondering how I was going to get up holding a struggling chicken with both hands; when Ginger turned up and decided to have a go.

With a firm voice and one of those withering looks that makes little children freeze with fear, I said, ‘You just dare Ginger and I’ll wring your neck!

I really do not have a clue why I said it as they probably don’t understand a word I say, and if any of my neighbours were about they would now have the evidence they needed to confirm my questionable sanity, or eccentricity.

She just stood still and looked at me with a cocked head. I had KoKKo under one arm struggling and somehow managed to extricate Adelaide before she headed out through the gap.

Needless to say I lived to tell the tale (with a few scratches and bruises). Adelaide and KoKKo were put over the chicken wire fence (5ft 6”) of their pen, and had their first flying lesson – sorry but needs must, and it was not a Freddie Flintoff winning England throw, more a gentle drop. Ginger took one look at me, and decided that she would keep her dignity and walked around the side of the pen and went in unaided.

Once safely back in the pen, I sat and had a chuckle to myself just as Pat arrived back from golf.

‘You look a bit flushed,’ he said, ‘Really cold isn’t it, my face must be a bit red too’

And to add insult to injury they didn’t even lay one single egg yesterday – but I did get three the day before so half expected as much.

I had read on the Omlet Forum that one should use Vaseline on the chickens combs and wattles in cold weather to prevent them getting frost bite – yes I know you doubting Thomases but this is true. So Pat duly bought me a jar, and I decided to tackle the task last night when they had gone to roost.

Not easy on our own, in pitch darkness with just a little torch to see by. I opened the side door and they protested loudly at the burst of cold air, but I picked one up – too dark to see which one – got a liberal helping of Vaseline on my thumb and first finger, and began to massage. She was not having any of that, and I got more on me than her, but when I did her wattles she quietened down and loved that. The same went for the others. Tonight I might try wattles first!

This morning I had intended to go up the lottie, but decided to have a less strenuous day.

It started at 7.30am when I took the girls a bowl of warm water and hot oats with freshly cooked apple skins, linseeds, and a couple of Weetabix. I was tempted to eat some myself it smelt so nice. (Joke)

KoKKo, by way of apology had laid me a big warm egg, 76grms to equal her record. A little later when I went to clean out the Eglu, Adelaide had done the same, 66grms, a big one for her. Ginger had obviously concluded that she had nothing to apologise for so declined.

After cutting up an organic chicken for lunch I took a trip up the village shed library which is open for a few hours on Saturday to get a book on small scale poultry keeping to read out of curiosity, then back home to untangle the netting fencing, and boot.

After more suggestions from the Omlet Forum, I made a transparent run cover out of two cheap shower curtains, so they will get lots of the morning sunshine now. The run covers I had before were dark green, and did a good job of keeping the run dry but made it a bit dingy on a dull day.

That took me a couple of hours to do, and what with that and other chicken related things, it was 2pm before my stomach thought my head had been chopped off, and I came in out of the cold to a warm pot roasted chicken with vegetables (River Cottage suggestion for this time of year) but don’t tell KoKKo, Adelaide or Ginger will you.

Friday, November 18, 2005

A close up view of the middle parts of the lottie

Pig muck - in case you don't know what it looks like (joke) it ends up jet black when it is rotted. Good stuff

Horse and pig muck bins

Where the Cherokee climbing French beans were, and onion rows

Rows of parsnips

This is my next project - weed this manured bed and around the raspberries and currant bushes

Caterpiller Cafe

Leeks and parsnips

Covered area till I get around to spreading manure for potato bed, leeks, January King cabbages under fleece, parnips other side and more covered area.

Mowed the paths

Asparagus grown from seed this year - hope they survive the winter

Late sowing of perpetual spinach - good isn't it this late in the year?

Gooseberries, currant cuttings, asparagus seedlings

The whole 330 feet of lottie today - start at the bottom and scroll up!

Finally at the top by the pig farm

Nearly at the top - Fruit cage, and raised beds

Middle bit with caterpillar cafe

Half the lottie to the bottom by the field

Yummy horse manure with hemp - my fruit will love that!

Rhubarb, currant cuttings, gooseberries, and asparagus seedlings

Compost bin for lower beds next to rhubarb bed - lovely horse manure mmmmmmm

Strawberry bed

Broad Beans

Empty bed for bonfires over winter - we are cutting our hedge at home!

Propagating Bed

Iris cuttings bed

View at the bottom

View from the 'meadow'

What a lot of lottie - Phew

What a great day I have had today. It was even colder than yesterday and I wondered if I would ever get warm up the lottie.

I was breathing ‘smoke’ which reminded my of walks to school in the winter pretending to ‘smoke’ in the cold frosty air. I was never tempted to smoke when a ‘grown up’ though thankfully.

Just me up there as usual, (apart from the farm staff next door.)

The frost was thick on the ground at 10am and I got out my mower to cut the lawns, especially the ‘meadow’ at the bottom end which had got quite long. Unfortunately I could not get the old thing cranked up and started. It had more to do with my dodgy arm and shoulder I reckon, than the old machine itself!

Having warmed up a bit with all the pulling of the starting rope etc. I reckoned that I could tackle some of the dock weeds. With two pairs of gloves on I could just about get my hands through the handle of my ‘ladies’ spade. I dug up so many dock weeds complete with intact roots, it is amazing that so many can grow in one year on a small plot.

Geoff arrived near lunch time, and it was nice to stop for a chat. Good news from the village grapevine, the other two allotments have been let. I am so looking forward to next year with new keen allotmenteers – maybe we can start seed swopping or bulk buying – I hope it looks really good up there now, and the thought of all those weeds being tackled is pure joy.

Geoff noticed the mower out and asked if I was going to use it – and if I had got it going. He got it going for me, bless him. I used to be able to do it, no problem, but just did not have enough oomph today – but he did.

So abandoned the weed digging and headed off down to the bottom end, mowing part of the paths as I went.

I had to mow the meadow four times from the highest setting down to No.3. so it now looks a treat – and more lush than my lawn at home! I then got a bit carried away and did all the lawn paths even the latest sown one. My next job will be to do the edges now that it had thickened up.

I stopped when the petrol ran out, and didn’t refill it, as I doubt that I will do another mow this year, and you shouldn’t leave any petrol in the machines over winter. So the top end where we park our cars did not get mowed – it could do with being a bit longer to stop if from being worn.

I then stopped to take some photos so will post them tonight – you can see my allotment in all it’s entirety. It will not look as posh as some of yours with wonderful raised beds and barked paths – and even slab paths – but costs and size of the plot made it out of the question.

I then got out my little Mantis and rotorvated the area where I grew my pumpkins and all the well rotted pig muck was mixed in. It was a very satisfying job to do and it looks great now. I even managed to get out all the nettle roots too, so it should be mainly weed free next year.

Before long time overtook me and I had to set off home having spent almost four hours up there. But not before I took one last look and closed all the corrugated ‘gates’, and cleaning my tools. And then I took some bits of wood home to finish off a job for my chickens – but chicken news will be on another page.