Happy Christmas 2015

I know it’s been a while, in fact it has been far too long, but once again I’m using the time of year as an excuse to post on the blog after a six month break. I hope to write more again next year, at least once a month, but for know I’ll take this opportunity to wish any one who is still reading a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year!

As you can imagine lots has happened over the last six months, although it probably comes as no surprise that the house remains unfinished, oh well!

Malina as ever remains our main focus and her progress in walking, running, climbing, talking and jumping up and down in muddy puddles keeps at least one of us busy and both of us entertained. Any frustration and annoyance that she may cause us is melted away in a second with her smiles and loving hugs, and she knows how to work a crowd. The years ahead promise to be full, eventful!

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The house has moved on, just not as fast as we had hoped, but the rooms upstairs are taking shape and if the carpenter ever bothers to turn up after letting us down on several occasions (I hope he reads this) then we will be able to complete the corridor and have clear passage to the two rooms we have completed so far. Knowing that there is a bath upstairs has tempted us to make the trip on a few occasions, but I’m looking forward to the day we can slip out of it and into bed without a change of footwear.

The animals keep us honest and continue to reward us with the egg tally well over 2000 for the year so far, although our foray into keeping chickens for meat only filled the bellies of the local buzzard population which seems to have grown along with their girth. Our one time flock of 54 chickens is now reduced to 16 and I have had to bring them back into the fold and construct an elaborate system of fishing wire and old Microsoft software CD’s to keep chicken off the bird menu. So far Small Business Server 2003, SQL and Exchange are doing a good job, it’s certainly the best use I have had of Bill Gates legacy so far. Thankfully the pigs are providing us our selfish protein requirement and we have branched out into rabbits as an alternative and additional meat source. The goats continue to receive free board and lodgings, although there is a rumour that they will be meeting a young chap called Billy on the 30th of December, so we may be getting milk to help balance the books by the middle of next year.

The harvest was good on the whole, despite the near drought conditions over the summer and into the autumn, everything except the onions exceeded our expectations, although we only planted what had done well the year before in our heavy clay soil, relying on the in-laws to grow the things we didn’t and exchanging for spuds which we had in abundance once again. With close to two tonnes of oats and enough tomatoes to have our very own La Tomatina, both barn and pantry are well stocked and will keep us going until the next harvest.

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The future is where it’s at and we are looking forward to it. Hopefully I’ll be announcing that the house is complete and we are taking guests, along with news of more kids, although only if Sunday and Monday (the goats) are receptive! I’m also hopeful that I will be able to point you in the direction of Gosias website, where she intends to sell her handmade soaps, bath bombs and salts, crocheted items and….well who knows what else she will start to create in the meantime. I’m all for it, just as long as she can keep me in the lifestyle that I have become accustomed to!

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Bye for now, hope to see you next year, sooner rather than later. After all, I have to update you on the composting toilet!

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A bug free, cherry full, jam making June

What a great month we had, the weather was warm but not overly so despite a few days exceeding 30C, the orchard is providing fruit by the bucket and we didn’t see a single mosquito or horse fly. If you ever decide to holiday in Poland then June is the month to do it. Rooms available from Easter 2016!

With the good weather I happy to report that the house heating has now remained dormant since early May, although topping up the waters heat is still required on occasion. Of course the downside of the sunshine is the lack of rain, although despite a slowing of growth on the crops everything is managing to hold on without human intervention. The watering can came out for some late plantings, but I like to let things fend for themselves if possible.

Our first cherries of the year came around the 10th of June and we thanked the previous owner for their foresight in planting successional fruiting trees. As one tree finished the next came of tap and we are still picking cherries now, in the middle of July. I thought my tree climbing day were over!

The strawberries came and went, leaving many an empty flan dish and nine jars of jam, made from a mixture of cultivated and wild fruit. Contrary to Mrs Beeton’s recipe of 14lbs of sugar to 12lbs of fruit, we use half as much sugar to fruit and the result is a jam that tastes of the fruit used, 4Kg (9lbs) of fruit 2Kg (4.4lbs) sugar in our case.  Cost per 400g (1lb) jar works out at about 15p (for the sugar and heat) Mrs Beeton noted that it cost 7d per jar in 1904, I wonder how the two compare?

Official jam taster Malina gives the nod f approval to the latest batch of jam.
Official jam taster Malina gives the nod f approval to the latest batch of jam.

The freezer is also starting to fill up with vegetables and our decision to hold on with the chest freezer purchase until we have the pigs to fill it may have to be brought forward. I noted the advice given on a blog about freezing fruit and making jam in the winter when the heat of the stove helps to heat the house, sound advice and something I think we will do next year, as long as the pigs leave some room!

Despite the increasing harvest and crop maintenance (weeding), Gosia and I managed to continue work in the house and a week with Gran as babysitter saw the upstairs plastered with the first coat of lime. Another step closer.

I’m reminded of Orwell’s Animal Farm every time I visit the stable, as the pigs seem to be slowly edging themselves towards a higher station, already they have taken up residence in the stable leaving behind the arc that I lovingly crafted for them! Thankfully the goats have other ideas and a butt to the butt is a comical site if there is a tasty morsel to be had and the hierarchy is to be maintained.

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Out my way!

Mind you I can see a pattern of weight throwing going on and it’s only a matter of time before King George will be crowned. The pneumonia that Peppa suffered from, costing more in vet bills that her purchase price, seems to have cleared up, however her weight gain is slow as is typical of the condition (so I read). Still it’s good to see her healthy and enjoying her food at last.

The chickens remain oblivious to the targets that I set, although at 275 eggs for the month they almost received their bonus. With the addition of an extra hen donated by a friend and the more of the pullets coming on line, a dozen a day is more and more common in July. 300, 400 eggs a month, where will it end? My ability to count them in on a evening is becoming more difficult and to put even further stress on my fingers and toes we invested in 10 broilers and 5 cockerels, food for the future and a test for my convictions.

Given all the food that has to be prepared for the 55 mouths that now reside in the stable, it would be good practice for running a restaurant. I’m just glad we are getting by with our own feed from last years harvest, I dread to think how much it would cost if we bought in the commercial offering. We are keeping a close eye on cost to plant and harvest this year so we have a good idea how much our food is costing. Of course it’s more important to us to know how the animals are treated and what they are fed, but if the cost is comparable to that of a supermarket then we are quid’s in.

One of the old battery hens showed signs of illness early in the month, refusing to leave the nesting box, I thought her days were over and expected to find her dead. After about a week of this behaviour it struck us that she may just be broody, so we put a clutch of 12 eggs underneath her. More mouths to feed, or more chickens to feed us? As an optimist I go with the latter.

Reading back over this post I’m reminded how quickly time goes and how much we still have to do to be up and running for next year, a target that sometimes seems unattainable. But then we have a day like yesterday (18th July) with the delivery of 60 cubic meters (about 70 tonnes) of crushed rock to spread over the dirt track that passes as our road. A big job for Gosia and I, but then the a Gran and Granddad, a brother and two nephews arrive with rakes, sledge hammers and shovels at the ready. I’m happy to report that despite the heat of the day we all enjoyed a BBQ and a beer by 3pm with the job completed. I even had time to pick a bucket of cherries, as nothing says thank you quite like a bucket of fresh cherries !

I need a bigger hat!

Egg production is on the up, yesterday was our first 10 egg day!

We have had 12 before now but that included Lillie’s secret stash of 4 in the goats hay rack. Lillie is the Lilliput hen than Kazek gave us a month or so ago.

Mays total was 181 and believe it or not we consumed them all along with an extra 20 that the mother-in-law shipped in with two brother in-laws who visited for a week to help out with work on the upstairs.

Despite the loss of one of the older hens the first batch of pullets are coming into lay and I expect that we will top 300 eggs this month.

And to make sure we have a steady supply through the winter we purchased 10 more pullets, about 10 weeks old, which should start laying in September and brings our flock up to a total of 30. ‘Enough’ I say as Gosia sets about making yet another cake! Although I do like cake.

With young pullets only costing a couple of quid each it’s a no brainer, 20 eggs each and they pay for themselves, based on the cost of inferior the low cost supermarket eggs. Our running tally of 360 eggs so far covers the cost of the first 18 that we purchased back in March. It will be interesting to see how quickly they pay for all the other sundry equipment that goes into their care.

Omelette anyone?

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