Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Smallholding : Starting Now!

People are very welcome to visit us here and do so regularly. They ask us questions about our lifestyle and seek advice on changes in theirs.
I always find one common thread in their responses as we chat. And that is excuses!

Excuses for the many reasons that they do not live like us, and yet they admire and long for it.
We have been given every excuse you could think of. 
Anything from :
Our kids aren't grown yet
We'll do it when we retire
You have more time than us
You have more space than us
Your better at it than us
If I had a home in the country then I could home brew like you..
Etc etc

If I am to be brutally honest, these excuses annoy me. 
We have more and younger children than any we have met yet.
The have a smaller house than any we have met.
We have less acreage than any we have met. 
Hubby works full time and has a long commute. 
Things are not that 'easy' for us, but we choose to do it. Simple!
Yes, it is more work. We do not have time for watching tv. We barely sit down. But we are happy ( and busy ) together. 

Our house is small and easily gets cluttered, especially if there are demi johns of brew everywhere or stacks of laundry to be done. But it does get done.

Every one has the choice to move in this direction if they wish. It is a choice and it is ok to not want to, but be honest about that choice.
Don't make excuses.  We do so much here on just one acre. It is our choice and when our family is reared we do not plan to live like this. We currently have responsibility to our young family so why not to the smallholding. But when they are reared, we do not wish to be so committed. We wish to be freer to travel and be spontaneous with our lives.  

In the mean while, we have making memories for our children as they grow.

When people ask us for advice, we give the following.

Start where you are.
Whether that is in an apartment or a large farm. Everyone has space for a demi-john or a few herbs on the widow-still. It is about widening your skills base. From attending a few craft courses or learning how to make your own jam or bread.

Improve your social skills. 
You would be amazed at people's generosity of time and skills when someone shows interest. I feel that this is the most valuable skill. It is a learnt skill so can always be improved on.

Don't wait till you retire.
There is never a good time to do anything in life. You need to make the time. It is a physical lifestyle that's suits youth better. The biggest factor is having to change old habits and mind sets. It is easier done young.

Just do it, as Nike says.
Learn to control your fear of change and be brave. By doing something new, you will learn more than any number of books could tell you. If it doesn't work out, that's okay too. At least you tried and gained experience, leaving no regrets.

Pace yourself.
Try not to take on too much too soon. I am guilty of this one! You will be overwhelmed and more likely to fail. I am in the habit of growing too much veg and not cook/ bottle/ store them. I get overwhelmed and feed them to the pigs. I would be better to grow less and get the benefit of them.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Baked Eggs

I have started baking eggs five to six times a week lately. They are so quick, easy, cheap and healthy. 
They are perfect for breakfast or as a side with salad for lunch or even a late evening snack.

And my favourite version is adding a few small pieces of cheese. The nicest being Brie ..yum yum !

It is so easy to make. Just crack two eggs to a ramekin, add a knob of butter ( and cheese ) and seasoning. Heat in the oven for 15 mins.

Eggs are natures fast and nutritional food. As we have so many of our own, we cook with eggs every day, whether it is to make fresh egg pasta or an omelette. 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The bees are swarming

I am kept busy with the bees this week. Every hive, even the nuc boxes have multiple occupied queen cells. 

So I am checking them a few times a week as I have made splits, started new nucs and have a apidea box also. I am destroying queen cells in queen right hives so as to prevent a swarm. The swarming instinct should cease by next month as they start to prepare for winter.

I currently have seven colonies and I am all out of hive parts now! I will need to order more.
I am loving the new bee stand. It has made the moving, lifting and setting up of hives so easy. I can work through the inspection comfortably with everything I need at hand.

I have assembled a large quantity of frames this week. Mainly supers to catch the honey flow from the two strong hives that I had triple brood boxed and then spilt.

 This year so far has been a great year. All due to the hot weather, but a honey harvest next month without losing any swarms would make it perfect.
Fingers crossed!!!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Gooseberries & Black currants

It is that time of year again! I picked the gooseberries last week, it was easy as there was not many of them!

But the black currants, I have yet to pick and it is a job that I dread. We have 5-6 large bushes to do this week. It should have been done last week but I kept putting it off.
We should fill two large buckets with currants, perfect for jam!

I have also harvested more rhubarb which I stewed and put in the freezer. I really feel that I have too much rhubarb now, although that might change as we move into winter.

I managed to make a basket for collecting veg in. You might think it looks okay but the shape and design I had in my head while starting this basket was very different to the end result.
But it does its job and it is ideal for bringing out to the veg garden. I think I should invest in a basket making course over the winter. 

We have pulled and dried the shallots. They are now hanging over the fire place. We need to do the same with the garlic and onions. I am harvesting broccoli and cauliflower at the moment. I planted a few dozen heads of each. I wash, cut and put them into the freezer as they come ready. The freezer is starting to fill up nicely.

We live in an area with many lakes and it is famous for its wild trout fishing.
Therefore fishing and water sports are very popular. We also live about 40mins form the ocean where surfing is very popular.
So with the hot weather recently we have spent our days out on the loughs, kayaking and swimming. The boys even caught a fish yesterday and are learning how to snorkel.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The new bee stand

The bees moved into their new place last week. Hubby still has to hang a gate but otherwise it is finished.

It will take up to eight hives, and this is more than we would ever want or need. It is located in the orchard and well away from where the children play.
It has been built at a very comfortable height for me and there is plenty of work space for when I open the hives and remove boxes or frames.

With the concrete base, it will be very easy to cut the grass around the base and hopefully we will have less problems with slugs in the future. 
I have not moved in all the hives yet as I was worried that the foraging bees  would 'get lost' but they will just move into the nearest hive and therefore level out populations between the hives.

If I get the chance I might move the rest this week.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Caterpillar invasion

Caterpillar are everywhere in the veg garden!
I can tolerate many things but caterpillar freak me out! Even the thought of them give me goosebumps.
We have green ones, dark one and hairy ones. Aarrgghhh!!

I enlisted hubby's help yesterday evening to remove five wheelbarrow loads of caterpillar infested veg. The pigs were delighted, extra protein for them. 

I have been going around the garden every evening with a scissor, and cutting them from the emerging cauliflower and broccoli. 
They have made an appearance in the polytunnel . First at the peas, which again hubby pulled, as they were as good as finished producing and the pumpkins and tomatoes could do with the extra space. 

When I was watering the tunnel this morning, I found more caterpillars amongst the courgette flowers.

I don't say this lightly, but it might be time to consider a spray to kill them.

Otherwise the veg garden is doing well. We are picking new potatoes must days now and they taste lovely.
I picked our first tomato the other day. We have so many courgettes, cucumbers and marrows that we are giving them away to neighbours, not to mention the peas.
I pulled the shallots yesterday and we will pull the onions shortly as they have started to fall over. They will be dried out in the polytunnel and then plaited for use later in the year.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Soaking willow rods

I had planned since the start of the year to make some willow baskets, but I never got around to it!
I wanted to make a wide shopping basket to have when going out to the veg garden to pick produce for the evening meal.
I also had hoped to make a large turf basket to replace our current one that sits by the solid fuel range.

I received a bundle of rods from friends last week. 
They need to be soaked for a week in water before they are soft enough to work with. 
The longest rods are easily ten foot, so as you can imagine I was having difficulty  finding somewhere large enough to soak them.

But then it dawned on me, there is a pond in the field behind our cottage.

After wadding into the middle of the muddy pond barefoot, I dropped the bundle of rods into the water.

They should be ready tomorrow, although I should have weighted them down with a large stone so that they would be fully submerged.

Tomorrow will tell, I guess!!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

New bee nucs

I spent Sunday evening painting hive parts and making frames in preparation for the new bee nucs.
It was a long hot day and we had spent the morning attending the local agricultural show, but as the morning reached midday it got too hot for the children so we headed home.

I didn't realise I had so many hive parts, but once gathered I could see I had collected quite a few.
So I spent the next few hours painting and repainting brood boxes, supers and nuc boxes and then set about making up new brood frames for the coming nucs.

I was told that they were strong five frame nucs that would need to be moved  into full hives as soon as possible.

I got a call shortly before 2am on Sunday night/Monday morning. It was the bee breeder informing me that he was about to arrive in my village. 
He had brought his bees to forage on the rape flowers in county Tipperary, some 3-4 hrs away.
He had made up many nucs as the bees did well on the rape flower and was bringing his bees and nucs home.

I left my warm bed and went to meet him in the village. He was waiting for me and had already unloaded two nucs out of the back of his van. We both did not have any bee suits or gloves with us. 
A few bees had escaped and were flying around the back of his van. These will find themselves quite lost when delivery is done and the van drives off.

I took two nucs, one which had a marked queen and another that did not. They felt like a good weight and he assured me that I should find them quieter than my other bees.

Laziness took over as I approached home and I briefly considered leaving them in the rear of the car until the morning. I would not be putting them into    the full hives until the morning and with the nucs sealed up, I just needed somewhere to leave them for the night. So why not the car, I told myself.
Common sense prevailed and I decided to put on gloves and move them into a stable for the night.

In the morning while doing the morning jobs of feeding the animals and collecting eggs, I could see a large amount of bees flying in and out over the stable door!
But I did not release them form the nuc. They had done that themselves it seemed.

It was before 9 am and the temperatures already was hot. I dreaded the thoughts of putting on a bee suit in this heat but as the day would lengthen, the heat was only going to build!
With my bee suit on, I put my equipment into a wheelbarrow and put the two nucs into it and wheeled it into the orchard were I had previously set up the hives.

It took some effort to take off the wire mesh that was stapled into the top of the nucs. I quickly took out the five frames and placed them in sequence into the hive. 
It was refreshingly easy to find the queen who was marked with a large red spot.

I also did my weekly check on the original hive. They were aggressive last week when I did my inspection and had lots of drone brood. I knew they were thinking of swarming.
When I checked them today, they had two frames less brood,from ten to eight frames, so the queen is slowing down her lay as she begins to slim down for flight.
They were equally as aggressive. I found many new queen cells, maybe ten extra but I checked everyone to see if she had laid in them yet. She had not!

Queen cells are larger and resemble a peanut shell and they always point downwards, unlike regular brood cells.

Next week I expect that they will be laid in but not sealed. It takes nine days from egg to sealed queen cell. About the time the cells are sealed, the queen leaves with the foraging bees to a new home.
The remaining bees are house/nurse bees with several queen cells that will hatch. The first queen to hatch kills any other queen cells and then takes her mating flight. If all goes well, she should be in full lay within three weeks of hatching.

I intend to spilt the hive when I see occupied queen cells. I will not let them swarm naturally.

When I was in the garden today, I was watching the bee activity at the freshly painted hives. Scout bees were out looking for a potential home. You can see them in the above photo, flying in front of the middle hive.

There was up to twenty bees flying in and out at any one time. If I didn't know better, I would have guessed the hive was already occupied. They choose this hive because it has several old frames still inside which would have attracted them by the pheromones.

Little do they realise that I had already chosen that hive, although it will be moved into the orchard by then.

Monday, 8 July 2013

The new pig sty

Late Saturday evening hubby was officially finished the pig sty.
We are both delighted with it as it will take less effort and time to tend to the pigs.
They have a fixed water trough which is fed from the pig house roof down-pipe. With our rainfall it will function as an automatic free water supply!
And it is fixed, so no more chasing around for their overturned water trough.

There is also a long feed trough along side the water trough. It has made feeding very easy with less fighting over food, as all we do is pour the feed bucket contents over the wall into the trough and pour it out evenly.

So that covered feed and water. Our next problem was sewage!
You can see the gap at ground level in the above photo.
That is the sewage exist! The pigs are already using as a toilet the area directly in front of this gap and all we have to do it sweep it through a few times a week.
It only takes a few minutes and on the other side of the wall is a drop into the muck heap. 

We will be using the above principals for the cow yard.

The pigs have settled in well and have put their finishing touches to the place. 
The sty runs along side our veg garden. So all and any waste veg material gets thrown over for them to eat or make a bed with. 
They are enjoying the current hot weather as they spend all day sunbathing!

Next on hubby's 'to do list' is the bee stand in the orchard!

I'm looking for salami recipes from my readers :-) or links to a good blog that has tried it...
I am always looking for feedback!
Such as:
Suggestions for future blog posts.
Suggestions for this blog.

So please leave a comment. 
Where are you on your journey to food production?
Have you noticed the rise in food prices? How has it effected you and your family?

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Chicken progress

The chickens were out yesterday and enjoying a good dust bath in the paddock.

A crow had managed to gain access to their coop yesterday to steal eggs. The ladies did not take kindly to this! As the photo details!
Old time saying of 'pecking order ' comes to mind!

After the two batches of hatching eggs in our incubator, we have succeeded in doubling our stock of hens/pullets from five to ten. 
But we also have four (maybe five) young roosters that are surplus to our needs. We plan to separate these from the pullets to fatten and dispatch for the table.

The pig sty is coming along nicely. We hope it will be finished today and expect the pigs to move into their new accommodation tomorrow. I am starting to get excited about their move as they currently live in a spare stable.

While the sunflowers are starting to bloom, the veg garden is suffering from neglect inflicted over the last two weeks. 
It requires a good weeding and removing of crops that have started to go to seed or past their best to make way for autumn planting. 

I picked my first cucumber of the season yesterday and cleared out a bed of peas that were sown last October in the polytunnel.
The sweet corn is looking promising, I have tried to help the pollination by giving it a good shake when passing.
It is usually pollinated by the help of the wind, which a polytunnel lacks.

And the bad news! The cow showed signs of heat yesterday. 
She has been inseminated three times now. The vet will scan her next week to check her reproductive system. If he finds nothing, we will use hormone injections to raise her fertility and bring her on at a particular time so that the Insemination is timed perfect.
If this fails, unfortunately she will be going to the factory. 
We only have space for one cow, and she must pay her way!
Bummer :-(

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Checking for queen cells

I am working on a 7 day schedule with the bees. I check them every 7 days during swarm season.
Swarming is probable in Ireland from late May to Early August. So at the moment we are in the midst of it.

Once a queen has laid in a queen cell, it takes 9 days for the workers to seal it. By the time it is sealed, the swarm with the original queen and the foraging workers have left. This, as a beekeeper I wish to prevent. 
I would loose my honey crop and be left with a weaker hive that needs to build up again for winter.

So I check the hive every 7 days to be extra careful. I lost a swarm last year and I don't want to make that mistake again.
When I inspect the hive, I am looking for signs of preparing to swarm. 

Today I noted that the hive has built up to 10 frames of brood. Looking at my notes, on 11/6/13 just three weeks ago, the hive had only 4 frames.
So things are going very well for them. I also noticed a large increase in drone brood. So they are thinking about it!

They have had since spring, 3 empty queen cells, one of which can be seen on the photo above.
I check these every week to see if they have been laid in, but if they were to swarm I would expect them to build another 10-15 queen cells.
So when I would inspect the hive it would be very clear their intent!

We will receive a further two nucs next week. I also intend to spilt our current hive, hence the reason I put three brood boxes on it.
I will need to order more hive parts. We hope to have 4-5 full hives going into winter. 
We have decided against overwintering nucs in the future, so we will have to build them up for the winter in full hive bodies.

I got my first bee stings of the season today. Three in total!
They were very upset today, can be a sign of swarming, and crawled up my trouser at a gap around my ankles and stung my ankle and thighs.

The stings don't better me so much now, I recover much quicker than before. 
But I looked like a walking swarm, at one point I considered hosing them off. 

It took a good forty minutes of walking around a field and shaking them off before I could enter the house. And at that I found more in my clothes as I got undressed. 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Elderflower Champagne

I had collected more than I realised of elderflowers yesterday. I had enough to put on a batch in the fermenting bucket but i did not have a spare bucket.

Alas I have so much on that I am running out of demi-johns, bottles and buckets. My kitchen sounds like a witches coven with so many brews bubbling away!

So last night I took my foraging harvest of elderflowers and cut of the stalks and put the flower heads, lemons and enough water to cover in a large pot on the stove.

Before going to bed, I took it off the heat and added a sprinkle of champagne yeast, yeast nutrient and cream of tartar once it had cooled to warm. I covered it with a tea towel for the night.

When I stirred it this morning, it was fizzing away. The yeast had took up residence!
I had three available demi-johns to use, so I rinsed these out and set them up.

I strained the mixture through some cheese cloth and equally divided the liquid between the three demi-johns.
I rinsed the flower heads several times to extract as much juice as possible. 

I then added 700g of sugar to a gallon and filled them up with warm water. I put on the air lock and they started to bubble  immediately.

Ingredient summary per gallon

Elderflower heads
700g sugar 
Tsp yeast nutrient
Tsp cream of tartar
Champagne yeast 

I have finally faced into bottling 27 litres of rhubarb wine. I am just ten litres in at the moment!
I love the colour and I had a wee taste. A dry rhubarb taste that has already began to soften. It doesn't taste too potent thankfully (alcohol%). I primed it with honey.
I hope the bottles don't explode!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Elderflower, Broadbeans & Onions

It is elderflower season!
Although a little behind schedule due to the cold spring. I got busy this morning at my sister's farm picking the fragrant flowers. Armed with wellies, heavy clothing and gloves to do battle with the nettles and blackberry bushes. I collected a large canvas bag of flowers that should make two gallons of wine that I will start this evening. Later in the week I will collect more flowers in my local area for a second batch.

I got a bit ruthless yesterday and pulled all the broad beans out of the polytunnel that were causing me problems. 
They were taking up a lot of room and had gotten very tall. They shaded out many of the surrounding plants and was causing air to stagnant in the tunnel which would have caused rot.I felt guilty at the time but now I am so pleased with the amount of space that it has freed up. 
I wheeled in a few loads of manure/compost and worked that into the soil. I then planted out a few pumpkin plants that had been long overdue to get their roots into the good soil. The air circulation and light is much improved this morning.

The onions are doing great! We sowed 300 sets earlier in the year. The flavour is strong and moist compared to shop bought onions. Many of them are setting seeds which I will save. Next month they will start to fall over, and then they are ready for harvesting. 
We will move them into the polytunnel to dry out and later plait them for use in the kitchen.