Monday, 29 April 2013

Sprouting, Bees & Chicks

I started sprouting some chickpeas and kidneys beans a few days ago. I was not expecting them to sprout but was delighted when I noticed them sprouting this morning. I took pity on the beans and planted them in the poly-tunnel, lets see if they grow. The chickpeas will be used in salads this week.

The garden is coming along well and we have our first peas. What a delight! We are harvesting spring onions, herbs and spinach everyday. The brood beans are all in flower and the seedlings are growing strong and will be planted out shortly. The only problem at this time of year is the weeding!                                           We opened up the hive on Saturday and while it is strong and doing well, it is very delayed. They haven't used the super that was added three weeks ago. We had expected that to be laid up already. I have a feeling it is going to be a slow year!                                                                                                                         Our chicks are doing great and are under a heat lamp during the night.  We have eight now and another batch of eggs in the incubator that are due on the 12th of May.                                                                            

I will be making more homemade soap and some peppermint lip balm during the week. So I will follow that up wth a blog post.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Cream cheese

While I was making the yogurt I put on a batch of soft cheese. It takes a little longer as I had to hang it overnight to strain the whey. It has a mild flavour that is improved by the addition of fresh herbs from the garden and a good quality salt. It doesn't last very long, maybe 3-4 days in the fridge so it's best to make it in small quantities or freeze batches of it.

I filtered and heated up the fresh milk in a saucepan. Once it was up to 30-35 degrees I added the rennet and kept stirring the surface to prevent the cream rising. When it started to thicken I left it for an hour.
I got a knife then and cut the curds into cubes. This releases more whey.

I then filtered it through a cheese cloth lined strainer. I covered it and left it overnight.
n the morning a put it into a cheese mold and placed it under a cheese press for a few hours. This released more whey. I then flavored and seasoned it with sea salt, parsley and spring onions from our garden.
We used a lot of it on a fresh loaf and give the rest to fellow neighbours.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Homemade yogurt

After cleaning out the fridge today I decided it was time to use up some of these cultures that had been waiting there for a few months. I usually make yogurt by using fresh culture that was bought in the store. So this was a first for me using freeze dried powdered culture.

 Their are four cultures in the photo. Two yogurt cultures, a kefir and a cheese starter culture.  They are enough to make one litre. The method is the same for each culture so tonight I'm making yogurt.   

After milking this evening  l brought in the milk and filtered it using the cheese cloth. I poured the milk  into a saucepan and sterilized the milk by heating it up to just before boiling point and then pouring it into a clean kilner jar.

Once the jar had cooled down to below blood temperature ( 25-35 degrees ) I then added the sachet of yogurt culture and closed the lid. I gave it a good shake to redistribute the cream evenly.

l have placed it over the warm plate on the range overnight and will place it in the fridge tomorrow.
Tomorrow eve I will be enjoying it with honey!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Crochet, this and that...

Our little girl loves dressing up in my shoes, sunglasses and bags. I had some left over colourful yarn and I decided to crochet her own little bag. It only took me one evening to make it. She loves the flower on the front. She uses it for carrying around her bottle and any keys she can find!
I knitted a scarf for myself last week. It takes so much longer to knit than crochet that I have decided to do a few more crochet project instead of knitting ones. Also it is more creative as you can crochet lovely patterns like flowers.

It was a lovely warm day today and the bees were very busy flying and bringing in pollen to the hive. The polytunnel has come alive this week and I was so excited to see courgette, butternut and pumpkin seeds have sprouted. We are counting down the days/weeks till we are eating fresh peas from the pod. I planted peas outdoors also today.
We are bringing the kids to the zoo tomorrow but Sunday has been booked to get the outdoor veg beds sorted. The chickens undid much of the work we had done in February. We planted out 300 onion sets back in Feb and they are doing great.

While collecting eggs the last few mornings, I was finding no eggs only a mess of broken eggs in the nest box. It could only mean one thing! Magpies or crows, or worse both! Sure enough on close inspection of the chicken coop, there was damage done to the timber of the nest house which must have occurred during the storm last week. A couple of nails and a hammer later the problem was solved. So this morning I was delighted to collect one egg after milking about eight thirty and a further three by eleven.

We are awash with milk now and we love it. I brought in 5ltr this evening from milking, then filtered it. Before it managed to find its way to the fridge there was only 1.5ltr remaining!
We find that people can be surprised that we have a cow and wonder how is it possible to use all that milk. But when the quality of the milk is so good, everybody uses more and more of it and it is a lovely thing to be so generous with it. Generous with cream in cooking and baking, coffee and hot chocolate and yummy creamy porridge with our own honey. If we are rushing and don't have time for breakfast, we drink a quick pint of milk and it keeps us going for the day.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Udder Balm

I am still hand milking! We are waiting for a part for the vacuum pump to be delivered next week. Hubby has the machine up and running but the vacuum isn't strong enough.
I was so excited about the new milking machine that I almost cried with disappointment once I realised that I wouldn't be able to use it for another week.. The hand milking is going very well now. Mama Moo is letting down easily and averaging about 10 litres a day. Her teats have healed up great after I made her some easy homemade peppermint udder balm.

4 parts Olive oil
1 part beeswax
Peppermint leaves

Just heat up to melt together. It works great as winter hand balm, lip balm or even for polishing wood.

The young chicks are doing great and are growing feathers. They are still under the heat lamp but I will start to turn that off during the day when the weather warms a bit more.
We have our first salads of the year to harvest in the polytunnel. The peas and broad beans are flowering. It has been a very late spring.
The weather has been too poor for the bees to fly and forage but I'm delighted to see plenty of dandelions in flower surrounding us. This is a very important early food source for the bees.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Milking machines

I went into our butcher on Tuesday to collect the calf's offal, liver, heart and tongue. For now we will put them onto the freezer. Our butcher was disappointed with the calf. He was far too lean and as a result he won't be able to hang him long. Maybe ten days at best. We usually finish a jersey calf and they are wonderful. They fatten well and therefore can hang a month and make very tender eating. Yum!
We won't finish a friesian again. I forgot to ask for the hanging weight. I'll think of it when we collect him next week. Hopefully!

We decided to move from disposable nappies to washable nappies. We only got them yesterday so it's early days yet but so far so good. I'll keep you updated on that as it seems like a great economy to the household budget after the initial capital investment.

I got delivery of hive parts and frames today. I had ordered them before I realised we had lost the last hive. I might not need them this season after all.

I bottled off the rest of the ginger beer yesterday and started a batch of lager. We now have a selection of mature stouts, beers and ales. We bought about 60 swing top pint bottles a couple of months ago and they were a great investment. The head/gas on each pint is great. We are very pleased on how this is working out.

Mama moo the cow has being holding up milk all week. At the start of the week I was getting a cups worth at milking and this morning I milked 4 litres. I felt like i won the lottery. The calf had cut up her teats much worse than I can expected. We are using lots of udder balm while milking (ignore the socks ) and we are not using the milk for the house yet until everything heals up. The dogs and cat are delighted with this arrangement.

We are going to start using a milking machine. I do all the milking here and it leaves me tied down while if we had a milking machine hubby would be happy to milk, and friends and neighbours.
While we would like a milking machine we don't wish to pay for one! They really are very expensive for a portable single unit.
Our neighbours both have old delaval milking units, with the help of another good neighbour we are stripping both these systems to hopefully get one functioning unit up at our place. The men were busy last night testing the units and planning the process and on Saturday we will hopefully have a working milking machine that we expect will cost maybe €100 for replacement rubber and parts.
I'm so excited about this. I always wanted a milking machine!
My job for today is to clean up this milk bucket ( in the bath )and then bring it to our co-op for them to replace all rubbers and tubing. I'm so excited!!

Monday, 8 April 2013

Our calf is now gone!

Sometimes before we bring an animal to the butcher we have second thoughts, doubts or an internal ethical conflict of sorts. This time we were very happy to bring the calf to the butcher. On Friday i had to ring hubby to come home from work early as the calf had escaped and was chasing me around the garden while i was attempting to put laundry on the line. He gave me a good scare. He was charging and charging at me and anything else he could find. My car, a round bale and the chicken house. So we brought him Sunday evening to our butcher and what a relief to see him go.

Mama moo cow is very lonely now that her 7 mth old adopted calf is now gone. She has been bawling since yesterday evening. Hubby and I got up a little earlier this morning to milk her before the kids woke up. We were not expecting much just trying to settle her into a routine again. She came into the milking house very calmly and ate her breakfast while I milked her. She didn't even lift a hoof off the floor or switch a tail. Great old girl! I milked about a cups worth into an old bucket and cleaned her udder and put on lots of balm. The calf had her udder a bit cut up. We hope that in another day or two she will settle down and start letting down her milk again. We don't know how much she is currently producing but fingers crossed I will be able to milk her once a day when she settles.
I am to collect the liver from the calf tomorrow. He had a good life and was reared by a cow for his 7 months and out on grass when the weather allowed. I'll let ye know what weight he makes.
Did any of you slaughter an animal for the table? We would love to hear your stories.


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Lost a hive

The bees were flying great yesterday. Bringing in plenty of pollen for their hungry brood. One hive had no activity at the entrance. This worried me! I have been feeding them since January so I felt they should be all ok.
I went in home and put on my bee suit and came out and opened up the weak hive. I felt such relief to see the fondant that I had added a fortnight ago had been half used with plenty remaining and a few workers feeding on this. I took off the brood board and my heart dropped.
The number of bees had decreased and all that remained with a cluster of a few hundred bees half dead with their heads stuck in the comb. Dead and dying of starvation.
This was a weaker hive last autumn but I had made sure to feed them up well. They had emptied their own stores some time ago and I always made sure they had plenty of fondant. I guess the weather was so cold that they couldn't break cluster to feed on fondant.
A disappointing loss but a good education. I'll know for again!

We have eight chicks in the brooder now doing well. They finally figured out how to eat and drink. We will leave the unhatched eggs in the incubator till tomorrow and consider them failed after that. They were due yesterday.When I went to check on them this morning, I thought they were all dead! The cat jumped up on top of the brooder, well it is warm after all, and knocked the heat lamp off to one side and it was below freezing last night. I lower the heat lamp so as to be warmer for a couple of hours. This seemed to revive them, all but one! I thought it was good considering, although the cat was called a few things under my breath.

I went to the co-op today to buy them chick crumb but they only had grower pellets in the small 5 kg bag. I bought it and crushed it in a bowl and it does the job great. I will only need to keep crushing it for a week or two. Then they will be big enough to eat it as it is hopefully.

The chickens are free ranging around but that will end this evening. In the last few weeks they have moved into the veg garden and are doing terrible damage. They will have to be penned till hubby fences off the orchard for them.
At last the yard will be cleaner and no more checking the soles of our shoes for chicken poo before entering the house! We might get more eggs also as the two dogs get most of them. It will be fun trying to catch them!
Four days till we are back to milking alley the cow. I love my milk and that cow. It's the best part of the day and soon the freezer will be full of veal. Yum!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Hatching Chickens

We put two dozen eggs  into the incubator exactly 21days ago. And last night there was a great deal of excitement amongst the children as the eggs started to chirp and later started to pip. We now have three out in the shed under a heat lamp and three more drying off in the incubator that will move out later this evening. There are many more that have pipped. We don't expect them all to hatch but we would be glad if we end up with ten viable chicks. They are white Sussex and black rocks which will be perfect us we would enjoy having some broody hens about with a clutch of chicks next year.

We attended a bee meeting last night. There was a very enjoyable talk about queen rearing.
The calf is has been booked in for his appointment with the butcher for next Monday. Can't wait to fill that freezer. The weeds are starting to come up in the polytunnel so that's on the to-do list.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Our Philosophy

It is not something that formed overnight, it evolved over years and continues to do so. It is in constant change as life changes and gives us new challenges and experiences.
We used to be asked often about our lifestyle choices. But that has greatly changed over the last few years as the economy worsens. What was once alternative is now moving mainstream. People congratulate us now and delight in an invitation of dinner and homebrew.

My hubby was in his late twenties when he was diagnosed with cancer. We had two children then ages 2years and a six month old. This experience changed everything for us. It made us question everything and every choice we had made. That was a very good thing. While we did the whole smallholding thing previous; I was from a farming family, hubby and I kept hens, veg garden, horses, milking goats and pigs prior and during his treatments, we were living a stressful life called the career race. We were busy people, kids, careers, big house and big cars, just as society produces.
We had purchased a few years earlier a cottage that was next door to my father's farm. It had not been lived in for a long time and the floor boards and roofing had rotten through. We had intended for it to be a holiday home but we then decided to renovate it with the intention of it being our family home. A brave decision. moving from 2000+ sq ft  to 900sq ft cottage. We were able to renovate it using savings and although we had a small mortgage for the site purchase, we kept our debts levels very low.

While our cottage is now finished, there are still plenty of jobs to be done outside. And they will be done as time and money allow.
Some people felt that we moved down in the world and indeed we did by societies standards. But using our values as a measure, our standard of living has sky rocketed.

We have so much freedom and choice now. We no longer need two incomes to live comfortably.  At the moment hubby is working full time and prior to baby girls arrival, we both worked part time. This is such a wonderful freedom and means work is enjoyable as it is choice and not a chore.

We can eat very well while spending very little. It is not our goal to be self sufficient or eat only what we produce at home but rather the freedom to eat better than what we could otherwise have afforded for the quality.

The health of our family has increased, no stress, very strong emotional bonds, great food and plenty of outdoor activities.
We have plenty of leisure time, to pursue hobbies, read books and cook good food. We have invested in what really matters to us and that is family!
Our house is our home, we are homemakers.