Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The hens have moved indoors

The weather has been very unpleasant recently with high rainfall and strong winds.
We decided to move the hens into the stable for the winter from their moveable coop in the paddock. It is warm, dry and well lit. We may choose to use the lights to extend daylight hours and simulate egg production. 
We brought in some strong branches and a pallet for them to roost on at night and left a double laying box in the corner to lay in, but of course they have chosen another corner :-)
I don't mind as long as the eggs are clean and not at risk from breakage or savaging crows or magpies.

Hubby sealed the top of the half door with mesh to stop them escaping yet allowing in plenty of light and air.

So far it is working great! They are very warm and the stress/pecking order fights have settled down due to the extra space. 
We are getting 5-6 eggs a day at the moment although I discovered yesterday that what I had assumed to be a chicken is in fact a rooster. So another one to join the bachelor group that are free ranging out of doors.

We eat a large amount of eggs here every day. Mainly due to the fact that I don't like the children to eat breakfast cereals. I cook porridge, oat pancakes or eggs with smoked salmon every morning for our breakfast.
We are buying in eggs once or twice a week at the moment and are therefore considering buying in another six young pullets to booster production.

The range is lit in the morning now and I haven't had to use our electric oven in two weeks now. The kettle is always on the boil and a heavy casserole pot is always gently slow cooking something for later.
Life is slowing down now for winter and my favourite time is spent sitting next to the range reading a book with a hot cup of tea. 
Obviously for me to do this, I need to ignore the chaos, the mess and the frantic children who won't stop fighting that surround me. 
Headphones are a blessing ;-) and a good hubby!

Monday, 28 October 2013

A walk in the woods

I thought I would share some photos of one of our walks in the woods.
Such a beautiful still place, lost in time.

We stood for a long time watching the water. Salmon were jumping every 20-30 seconds, catching hovering insects. 

The children had great fun playing in the hobbit hole. This wood is great for empowering their imagination for all things magical, and hopefully leaving them with greater respect for untouched places.

A once secret passage of long ago!

The stairway into the cave and the view from beneath the entrance. 
It has that feeling of erie cold and the sound of dripping damp. The air is so still   yet fresh. It was a dangerous yet beautiful   decline down the steep slippery stone cut stairs.

I turned 30 last week. It was a time for quiet reflection. 
And later followed by good food shared with interesting people. I am assured that I am still young, but it is an age that frightens me!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Onion Marmalade

I have been meaning to make onion marmalade since harvesting the onions a couple of months ago. 
I love onion marmalade and I think it goes so well with a good cheese and salad especially when served toasted on ciabatta bread. Yummy!

We harvested a few hundred onions and as the weather turns damp and cold, I fear many of our stored onions will start to rot. We have stored as much as possible indoors and the remaining are stored in the shed. But it is time to start using those in the shed and what better way than onion marmalade. I only finished the last jar of last years marmalade recently. It stored very well and tasted amazing even after a year.

So I got out my favourite recipe books and read through them and then decided not to follow them at all!
I sweated the onions with butter on the range for nearly an hour.
Once it was very soft and starting to brown, I added brown sugar and red wine vinegar to taste. I let it gently simmer for another hour, stirring occasionally until it had reduced down nicely.
While hot, I put it into clean jars and sealed the lid. If the vacuum is good then the seal should pop down, then I'll know it will keep well. Otherwise I will need to put them into a water bath to heat/sterilise the jars again. 
This is the first of many batches to be started this week.
 I can only manage to do small batches at a time. Home grown onions are much stronger and they make me cry and cry! Although it does clear the children from the kitchen and give me a break for a while ;-)

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Jerusalem Artichokes

These knobbly root tubers are a perennial  plant. They are very easy to grow and are high yielding. 
Once you plant them, they will emerge each year and can spread like a weed if you are not careful. It can be difficult to remove them from your garden unless you are careful to remove each and every tuber. 
They are similar to potatoes in their uses in the kitchen but are supposed to be healthier, but I can't remember why!

They are related to the sunflower. They provide beautiful tall plants during the summer that die back after hard frost. They can grow to ten plus feet. 
They are very hardy and do not suffer much from pests and disease, they need little to no maintenance. You can harvest them as you need them after the first frost, the remainder will overwinter happily in the soil until they are required.

This is our first year to harvest them. We planted three tubers that we bought at a farmers market last year. They are difficult to find here and I haven't seen them since for sell.
Those three tubers have produced a large yield. We have harvested a large buckets worth of them so far. The rest we will leave for deeper winter. 
I set aside 20-30 small tubers that I have planted along a wall to provide shelter and privacy.
They seem like a wonderful veg that it surprises me that more people don't grow them. Do you?  

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

What's good in the veg garden?

I took a walk in the veg garden today to stock up the larder for dinner.
The veg garden is currently neglected and the polytunnel is still badly torn since the storm. As ugly as it currently is to my eye, it is still very productive. Hence why there are no photos of it ;-)
You can't beat good soil!

I made a root vegetable roast using artichokes, young beetroot, parsnips and carrots served along side slowed cooked veal. A hundred percent home produced meal. 

I will use the radishes, peas and beet tops for salad later. 
I am very pleased with the artichokes. This is the first time we have grown them. They are heavy yielding and so easy to grow.

The chickens have slowed down their egg production from six to three eggs roughly a day. I have two roosters that are running around free that I need to catch and despatch (put in the pot) one of these days. 

The new pigs have settled in and are becoming more friendly now. We still can not rub them but they now come out from hiding at feeding time. 

The bees are flying most days and the queens has started to slow down/stop laying in preparation for winter. 

The fire is lit everyday in the range now. The warmth is very comforting in the kitchen and I love having a kettle always on the boil available for brews and a hot plate available for cooking.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The important of food security and resilience

Food security refers to the availability of food and one's access to it. A household is considered food-secure when its occupants do not live in hungar or fear of starvation. 

Food prices on the global stage are rising. While there are speculations of this being due to factors such as population growth, energy costs and climate change, much of this is due to the markets trading commodity futures. Staple commodities such as corn, wheat, rice and cotton.
The ethics of gambling on future world food prices is questionable at best. 

In developing countries, large tracks of land are being bought up by large multi national companies from previous wild habit and subsistent farmers.
I find this trend very worrying, as it displaces more people from agriculture and into city slums. It enforces food proverty by removing the oppunitity of local food production by its people.
It produces helpless and deskilled people who have no control over such basics as water, food, heat and shelter.

I feel it is very important to encourage small farming families to remain on the land similar to how the Swiss government  do this and to provide oppunitities for people to excercise a right to produce some/all of their food, water and heating needs regardless of whether it is a developed or developing nation. 

In the future, he who controls the food and water supply will control the world. I'm sure seed companies like Monsanto figured this out decades ago. 

The value of heritage seeds can never be under estimated. The right to save your own seed varieties from season to season is still under pressure from hard lobbying from seed companies. 

The person that has a ( debt free ) small parcel of land and with that the means to provide the four basics for his family is truly free.

Monday, 14 October 2013

We collected our new piglets

We collected two new 12 week old weaners yesterday evening. 
They are a cross between a landrace and a Duroc pig, a little sow and boar. 

They were very shy today and I struggled to take a photo of them. They kept hiding in the house as soon as I came near.
I later tried using old apples to try and encourage them out for a quick photo.

They will settle down in a few weeks and hopefully begin to get friendly.
Hubby is so fond of them, that he has ideas for keeping the young sow to breed. They are a very nice type, much larger and longer than the previous saddlebacks.

This is the weaners mother. A very big docile sow. She has a large paddock and it was interesting to see how it was fenced with two strands of mains electric wire. Maybe something we will try next spring and summer. 

We hope to finish the adjoining over-wintering cow yard shortly, so we could open their gate and give them four times the space, when that area is unoccupied.

The cow we hope to purchase is a Kerry cow that will calf in February. We hope to  bring her home before/after Christmas so she is well settled in for calving to an Angus bull.
I am glad to have pigs back. Between having no cow and pigs, I felt the heart of the cottage was dimming. Every animal has a character and brings something to the everyday life of the cottage and the kitchen table. And we truly miss fresh milk everyday and the routine and discipline of milking twice daily.

The weather has been so warm and dry that neighbouring farmers cut and wrapped round bales over the weekend, although the nights have become frosty. 

Friday, 11 October 2013


We had a busy night last night. We stayed up till 2 am making salami and still haven't finished yet as we ran out of casings.
We opted to purchase artificial casing instead of the difficult task of washing out the intestines. 

Yesterday morning I prepped the mixture. 

Ingredients per 10kgs:
10kgs lean pork 70% / back fat 30%
2 litres rhubarb wine
250g sea salt
Large bulb of garlic
Seasoning/ herbs/ spices

Butcher twine

I added all the ingredients and used my hands to work it in together to a smooth mixture. 
I covered the mixture and left it aside till later that night.

We then cleaned and set up the sausage machine and soaked the casings. Once soaked we fed the casing onto the machine nozzle and tied off one end. Once they where long enough we tied the other end off. We pricked them with a needle to release any air bubbles.

We made up forty something salami last night and more to do tonight. The finished salami are hanging up now drying and should be ready in 6-8 weeks. 

Fingers crossed!!! As this is our first attempt. It was a good excuse to drink our ginger beer ;-)

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Our pigs are back...from the butcher!

I collected our pork this morning from the butcher. I have spent all morning bagging it for the freezer and separating cuts as gifts for neighbours, friends and relatives.

There is a lot of it! This was the kitchen table at 10am this morning.
The pigs killed out at 55 & 60 kgs each. We are very happy with the return on meat and delighted that they are not too fatty.
We still have four legs/hams in the butcher shop curing, that will be perfect for Christmas. 

We have 12 kgs of mince also that we will make into salami later tonight. A post to follow about that ;-)

Our freezer is very full and we still have plenty of veal and another hogget to be added next month.
There is something very comforting about approaching winter with a full freezer of meat.
 I honestly don't think we could afford to buy this quality of meat ourselves had we not been able to rear it.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Feeding the bees for winter

I have been feeding the bees sugar syrup using ashford feeders that sat on top of the brood box. 

But as this photo shows, it was causing damp and mould. This is a photo of the underneath of the roof.

And another photo of the feeder it self. A worrying amount of mould and the damp in the hive can be dangerous for the bees during the winter.

I decided to make up a few kilos of fondant to replace the syrup. It is made by heating up water on the range and dissolving sugar, glucose and a small amount of icing sugar to form a firm paste.

I took off all the feeders and replaced them with crown boards. I spread plenty of fondant on the boards. The bees immediately started to feed on the fondant. I hope that this reduces the moisture level of the hives.

I then installed the last of the floors. I will add insulation into the roof cavity in the next few weeks; a pillow case filled with straw or sawdust. This should prevent heat loss and condensation building up.

It is still quiet warm here and the bees are flying every day. Temperature are about 16-18*c during the day. 
One of the hives will not make it through the winter as it failed to re-queen successfully. It has a laying worker with a large amount of drones. Due to the small amount of workers, there is no point in merging it with another hive. Earlier in August I had given it several brood frames to give it a chance to sort itself out but these also failed. I don't want to risk my good hives by trying to save this one.

Getting started with home dairy interview

I did an interview recently with Farmer Liz from Eight Acres Blog about 'Getting started with a home dairy'. Her blog and life is based around her farm in Australia. 

Anyone who shares my passion for dairy animals, and health and lifestyle benefits of raw milk, will really enjoy her blog. She has started a series to interview people all around the world who milk sheep, goats and/or cows. 
 It is very interesting to read about  different perspective and experiences with an underlying commonality. 

I am looking forward to your comments.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Basket Making Course Day 2

We completed our second and final day of a short basic making course.
I finished a round shopping basket and started the base of an oval shopping basket that I will complete at home, 
hopefully tomorrow if I get a chance.
While the knowledge and techniques are still fresh in my mind.
I imagine that it is a skill that could be easily forgotten if not practised occasionally. 

This is the round shopping basket in its early stages.

I have just finished the border and inserted pegs as markers for the handle.

I turned it upside down to build the base. I forget the names of the weaves!

And this is the final product, I just love it! I think it looks so traditional and I can think of so many uses for it.