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 !

A mild mushroom free May

Its getting busy around here! Just time for a quick update on May before it’s too late and we head into July.

First things first the weather, which despite a slow start, proved to come into it’s own in the latter half of the month and we only lit the boiler once for the heating. I topped up the water on occasion but as a whole the house stays warm and the sun is heating our water, all good. The bees seemed to be absent for the pollination of the fruit trees, but I happy to report then we seem to have an abundance of them now.

The crops went in the ground without any frost trauma from the dreaded Ice Saints. The beans were treated to an extra two wheels and the support structure must look odd to passers-by, that’s if we had any. We scaled back the potato patch as despite our best efforts to eat , feed to the animals and give away, we still have a mountain to go at. And with the extra space we popped in about two hundred pumpkin plants, with the hope of pressing our own oil later this year. We have also sown oats as all creatures great and small seem to like them and we still had our own seed from two years ago. Now that I think about both the potatoes and oats were planted in April, how time flies.

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Another month or so and you wont see the wheels, wires or the posts as they disappear under the Borlotti climbers

Work moved on in the house and the partition walls and ceiling received the plaster board finish with the exception on the hall which I am finishing in reed mat. We even managed to get the first of the shower trays in place, all of the pipes are set for the radiators and I even lime rendered the first room, well the first coat at least. Lets hope we can keep the momentum going!

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A bathroom almost ready for flooring and tiling.

Goats, pigs and chickens all seem to be doing fine and provide endless entertainment for Malina who has mastered the art of chicken catching and goat feeding and pig herding, even if the resulting mess keeps the washing machine busy and results in quite a few pulled faces as the bottom of her boots soil your t-shirt as you provide her transport on your shoulders!

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Note the animals taking cover in the background, Malina is here!

And finally, the composting toilet, it’s a while since I have mentioned it, but it has by no means been neglected. The pile that we closed up in September 2013 was opened up and provided us with compost for the veg garden and the pumpkins, probably close to 1000 litres of top quality humus. Evidence of our wedding remained in the pile as baby wipes had made it into the composting toilet on the day and they don’t compost! Mind you the two hares that ended up in there along with a rat that the dogs killed had all returned to nature, only the occasional bone remained.

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An old photo and now an empty pit, well it was, I have already started to fill it up with animal manure for composting.

For the record we are now emptying four buckets every twelve days, that’s two adults, occasional visitors and a child who I’m sure produces more than anyone else, an unforeseen advantage of reusable nappies is all the extra unadulterated poo for the pile.

Oh, and no mushrooms. I have picked mushrooms every year for three years in May, but this year zilch! The local wisdom is that it’s simply too dry following a mild winter with little snow melt, looks like I’ll have to wait before I have something to accompany my scrambles eggs 🙂

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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We are not vegetarians

But we do care for animals, so when we arrived at the farm to view the świnia złotnicka that we had found via an advert on tablica.pl we were a little shocked at the conditions that the animals were kept in.

I guess we were a little naive to expect anything else, but after talking to the farmer a couple of times on the phone to check various details we had expected something a little different.

The search for a traditional Polish breed had taken a while and we had expected to have to travel over 200Km to find some that fit the standard, but then eagle eyed Gosia spotted a photo of the desired spotted pigs on the website and we made the call to discuss purchase. We were assured that they were in fact świnia złotnicka and that they were kept on grass. This turned out to mean that the sow was a świnia złotnicka and that they cut grass and included it in their diet fed in a wheel barrow. Buyer beware!

Still we were here and the thought of a 400Km round trip didn’t appeal, plus we had the opportunity to liberate a couple of piglets and so grabbing them by the hind legs I popped a couple into the back of the van.

That was three weeks ago, time which has not been without incident. Initially you think that the electric fence that you put together is sufficient to hold the timid little souls, well it is until they get a bit of confidence and realise that the shock is only a temporary thing and if you are moving fast enough you hardly even notice it! Still no harm done and there is the outer perimeter fence that I put up for the goats to keep them in, the electric fence was simply there to divide the paddock. Um well lets just say that the standing joke now is that I have spent two days putting in fencing that it has taken two days for the pigs to work out away around, or should that be through! Thankfully they respond to my voice and the promise of food, so despite having free range pigs as well as hens I can get them all back in there respective areas with a shout and a rattle of a bucket, the latter more effective.

I know the standard advice is not to name anything you intend on eating,  and my bucket call remains ‘c’mon pigs’, but as our lunchtime viewing is often Postman Pat, Masha and the Bear or Peppa Pig it was inevitable that we had to bring Pinky and Perky up to date, and so Peppa and George it is.

Peppa took a turn for the worse on Wednesday, fading fast into Thursday with a high temperature, no interest in food and buried in the straw of the arc (ark?). Friday morning and she was still no better and all the reading I had done indicated something that would end in death unless caught in time and treated with antibiotics, so we called the vet.

Arriving an hour and a half later he immediately administered three injections and then by our request. although against our organic principles, a worming shot. He even left a shot for George as we couldn’t catch him at the time. 70 Pln, yes that’s about £12.50 or just shy of $18 for a call out and injections. A very small price to pay in the hope that she might pull through. His diagnosis was as vague as mine and he left saying that the next 24 hours would settle her fate.

Two hours later and she was running around like a mad thing, eating drinking, ploughing the field, smiles all round. I guessed one of the shots must have been steroids as later that evening she was back in the same state, although the panting had eased. Expecting the worse the next day we found them both happy in with the chickens (two fences away) and so again our hopes were raised that all was well, but then as the day wore on the same thing. Which brings us to today, and as we set off to serve breakfast to our long and short term guests we discussed the possibility of finding a dead porker.

I headed to the barn to get the various mixes ready for the guests with special dietary needs as I heard Gosia exclaim something that I won’t even type in Polish.

Needless to say that she had opened the back door of the stable to let the chickens out into the run only to discover that someone had come in with a rotavator over night, or should I say two happy brown snouted pigs greeted her with grunts of glee 🙂

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Talking of vegetarians, I stumbled upon Rabbit Food the other day whilst searching for goats! I think Corrie Louise may well fill the food blog gap that Food and Forage Hebrides left, well worth a look.

How do you fit eighteen into a double bed?

Of course I could go with the original title ‘chicken week’ but then it’s more than two weeks since we got our first batch of chickens and it may be another week before I publish this post and as it stands you may still be intrigued as to why I chose the title I did, despite the clue.

As our belt tightening increases as the excess fat we had falls away on showers, tiles, flooring, stairs and other such fancy things, we decided it was time to commit some time to generating some more of our own food. And with our appetite for eggs outstripping the mother in-laws supply, chickens seemed like the obvious choice. Low cost and low maintenance, once the setup is done, perfect if I am to finish the upstairs in the house this year!

We did experience some really good weather in the middle of March and this spurred me on to fencing an area off for the flock, eager to keep the cost down I used some of the willow I had recently felled for the posts. I’m secretly hoping that they may take root and not rot, fingers crossed of that one. All in all, using the barn as one of the enclosing walls, I managed to create an area of about 200 square meters for them to free range in. I may extend this in future but it seemed like a good area to start with and it used up a 50m roll of wire fence that we picked up cheep!

The old stable, our home for three summers, was the obvious choice for chicken house as we know that it is rat proof, fairly well insulated and provides plenty of space.

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A quick read through a couple of books, plus a scan on the interweb and I concocted a plan for the perch and nesting area. The perch is made up using the willow that seems to be strewn across the land at the moment and is attached to the wall with a handy hinge so that it can be lifted and secured when I do the muck out. Thank you http://www.raising-chickens.org the idea.

As for the nesting boxes, well that’s when the old head and foot board came into play and our double bed was cut up to create eight nesting boxes. By rights you need one box for every four chickens so that’s accommodation for thirty two sorted out, but as the title suggests we ended up with eighteen chucks.

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It could well have turned out differently as we met the man with the chicken van outside the local church to make our purchase, astute as he was, spotting my English accent, he began to pass startled chickens out of his aromatic van counting out the ten layers (ex battery hybrids) and five 3 month old pullets (mixed breed) that we requested. He then added four more layers and five more pullets, mumbling something that Gosia understood to be ‘these ones are on the house’ alas when it came to paying he expected payment for all! Imagine his surprise when Gosia announced that we didn’t have the money for the extras, and so he proceeded to taka back the extras that we couldn’t afford declaring that he didn’t believe that an Englishman didn’t have any money! Still we ended up with three extra at a reduced price and we are now the happy feeders and collectors of ten layers and eight pullets.

By sheer coincidence, as the deal was going down, a police car pulled up and parked within 20 meters of this shady avian exchange and as we set off back on the road we were hailed and waved to a stop. Perhaps there is a law against the trading of chickens within sight of a church? We had seen some curtains twitching when we first arrived and news travels faster the village than by satellite.

As it happens there was a wide load coming through the village (a temporary shop by all accounts) and the police were directing traffic to take an alternate route, so our slate remains clean in the eyes of the law and God, I think!

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Dorrota and Steve, our friends from across the valley,  have built up quite a flock themselves over the last year or two were kind enough to donate a cock and lots of out of date bread to supplement our chickens diet. The bread needs to be dried first and then soaked as required before adding to the grain mix that we have a plentiful supply of. Having under floor heating helps with the drying process!

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So as March ended we reached a twelve day tally of thirty-nine eggs, just about enough to keep me eating the diet I have become accustomed to, although in April we had to ask Gosias mum for an egg injection to get us over the Easter period and the additional salads and cakes that are an expected part of the celebrations in Poland. Still we are averaging about four eggs a day, not bad considering the cold and snowy weather we are having at the moment, roll on this week as the temperatures are supposed to rise. The outside jobs are mounting up and we need more eggs to keep me going 🙂

Potatoes and eggs

It’s clearly blood from a fresh kill in the picture, which has nothing to do with this post, but a picture of Malina is bound to get more readers than a picture of a spud or an egg for that matter 🙂

When I first worked in Jersey, as an excavator of tubers of the royal kind, I was often billeted in humble accommodation, not that this bothered me as I was young and spent most of my time working or down the pub!

One particular farm that I worked on belonged to the Priaulx family and I worked alongside two sons who kept up a relentless pace which they had no doubt inherited from their father. Both of them strong and wily, they would toss around the potato sacks like stuffed toys, which was fine unless you were the person who had to catch the 50lb sacks!

One evening the lads came to visit our barn, the two newly arrived young lady potato pickers from Wales may have something to do with it, and we proceeded to chat about this that and the other, helped along by several cans of Mary Ann Special. Oddly the lads declined any alcohol, but not that strange that we worried about it too much.

The conversation came round to food, probably as we had something cooking and it was time to eat and as polite hosts we asked if the brothers would like to join us. It was probably a curry, spag bol, chilli or some other two ring special if I had anything to do with it!

Both declined explaining that they had already eaten, ‘what did you have?’ was the obvious question, to which came the reply ‘potatoes and eggs’

For whatever reason we must have pursued this further, looking for the the secret diet that had produced such fine specimens of men, only to be told that they only ever had potatoes and eggs! ‘Nothing else?’ ‘Yes, bread and jelly for lunch’.

Now the reason I’m mentioning this is not to ridicule the Priaulx boys, on the contrary, I’m writing this as a sign of solidarity, as my diet, for breakfast at least, is more often than not potatoes and eggs, and for lunch,egg and chips or maybe tortilla!

After a successful harvest of Raleighs finest discovery we were left with more than a tonne to fill the pivnica (root cellar) and given the supply of eggs from friends and family, it would be a shame not to take advantage of this bounty.

In fact the pivnica is serving us well, with sacks of onions, carrots, celeriac, parsnips and swede, not to mention the garlic, leeks, cabbage, sauerkraut, and mass of pumpkins. Every morning, as I take the dogs for a walk, I ask Gosia if she needs anything for the day and I invariably come back with my pockets full.

I always send Jackie first just in case we have any unwanted guests, but to be honest they would be long gone by the time I open the second door. Still Jackie enjoys the task of checking.

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Waiting for the second door to be opened.
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Checking for unwanted guests

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We do go through the easily accessible veg in store at least once a week and recently had to remove about a dozen pumpkins with the rot setting in to take out the seeds for drying. This is the point when I wished we had our pigs already as the pulp would have been great fodder for them. Still we had soup and recently discovered pumpkin fritters on the menu for a few days, not to mention over a kilo of dried seeds to snack on and add to various recipes. Extremely good for you by all accounts and with over thirty still left in storage it will be while before we run out.

Now all I have to do is come up with a breakfast menu which includes them 🙂

And for the vampire lovers out there:

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Burning down the house

No, nothing to do with the 80’s classic from the Talking Heads, nor the last desperate act of a father on the brink, it’s just that it’s rather cold and we ran out of wood!

But before you worry too much its not the house we are living in that we are torching, despite what you might think about a house of straw they don’t burn that well, rather it’s the old derelict house down by the barn.

Eighty or ninety years old, maybe more, it holds many memories for some of the local people. Only this Boxing day we met an elderly lady who remembers visiting the house as a young girl, visiting your neighbours was all the rage back then. The house itself was considered big for its time and its design is one that typifies the Polish countryside for me, with many examples still sanding, nestled between the modern freshly built houses of the last 20 years. If you ever visit Poland I would suggest a visit to one of the many open air museums, http://openairmuseum.pl/ they offer a unique glimpse of Poland’s past architecture and way of life.

Still we made a deal with my father in-law in the autumn, that if he demolished the house he could have half of the wood for his own winter fuel supply. No sooner was the deal struck then the family and quite a few friends descended, although it has to be said the bulk of the work was carried out by mother and father in-law.  We were left with heavy beams, cut to the length of the van for transport back to the family home, piled neatly under tarpaulins and whilst most made the journey quite a bit was set aside for us.

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In the end half of the house was left standing, the weather turned against us and it made sense to keep the shelter in place as there is still a couple of tonnes of clay in there! Which is handy as I want to build a straw bale cottage there in the years to come.

So here I am, cutting with chainsaw and chopping with axe, almost a hundred years of history to warm a new generation. Marvelling at the giant hand carved dove tail joints that held the old house together, it seems a shame to burn it somehow.

But burn it does and it burns wells, too well in fact as the old dry timbers are a honeycomb of wood worm burrows and rot that has set in over the years. I just hope that it lasts us the rest of the winter as I’m not sure what to burn next…um maybe this bit of old furniture in the basement!