Life on the farm – back to it …

Beetroot ready for pickling.

The last time I posted about life on the farm, it was August and it hadn’t stopped raining for a long time. We’d not been able to do much, and we hadn’t even managed to get out a lot either. When it finally stopped raining, things finally changed.

First of all we had 4 peachicks hatch. Three were lost, but one has survived and is getting quite big. We called him/her Parker because we called the mother Lady Penelope.

About 3 weeks after those chicks hatched, another 3 peachicks arrived with one of the other peahens – we don’t know if it was Tenille or Claire – and we called those Huey, Dewey and Louie … and so far they’ve all survived too.

Many of the sheep have gone to market now, but the farmer bought a new ram and this morning they’ve been selecting the “girls” to take to him on Bonfire Night, apparently. We still have 2 of the 3 cades (orphans) we had, plus 2 more have been added. They’re all still in with the new ram.

Two families of ducks have been very successful, with each hatching around 10 ducklings. And 6 of the 8 goslings have also survived. There are now 2 gangs of geese strutting around the farmyard.

Over the summer, 2 of our chickens got very broody. Baldy kept it to the chicken coop, but Pauline disappeared, for days on end at times. Both felt much better after around 3 weeks.

What’s known as a “lash egg” appeared in one of the nest boxes in the summer. We thought it was just an egg without a shell, but it’s actually quite serious and, while it can be impossible to tell which chicken has laid it, death usually follows within about 3 days.

ALL of our original 6 chickens are still with us, but one of the farm chickens died of an apparent heart attack in my arms one night. She was in our garden very late at night and quite a long time after dark, which is very, very unusual. Chickens usually take themselves to bed around an hour before darkness.

To protect her from the fox, I took her up to join our chickens in the coop, but she died before we got her there. At first we thought she’d died of fright, and she may have done. But she’s the only chicken to die after the lash egg was laid …

That left just one more chicken on the farm, their Madge, who liked to roost up in the rafters of the small barn. Towards the end of the summer, she started to hang around with our chickens at the end of the day and she gradually insinuated herself into the coop over a period of around 5 days.

At first she’d perch up on the pole that the seed hopper was suspended from, right up in the apex of the chicken house. Now she just makes sure she’s the first in the house at night and she hogs the “best” nest box. I did tell our chickens to be polite to their new house guest, and they did pick on her a bit at first. Now, however, they just let her get on with it … and we have 7 chickens.

Once the rain had stopped we went back to our old lane to pick blackberries, and we came back with over 11lb. There then followed a frenzy of making jam, making blackberry crumbles, freezing portions of blackberries for future use.

Not long afterwards, our plums were ready, and something similar followed. Then, in September, it was our apples’ turn. With all of them I stewed and froze several portions for future use but I froze the blackberries and plums intact. The plums turned out to be a bit “green”-tasting, so while I wouldn’t normally stew those with sugar, when they come out of the freezer I think that’s what I’ll be doing before using them.

We ended up with 9 jars of blackberry jam, 9 jars of plum jam and 4 jars of apple jelly. Yesterday, the last of the outside tomatoes were harvested and 2 large jars of green tomato chutney were made, using the very last cooking apple.

The garden has been producing plenty of food for us. We’ve pickled beetroot and cucumber, we had fresh potatoes throughout the last 2 months of the summer, we’ve had peas, cauliflower, carrots and broccoli, and we’ve had cherry and regular tomatoes and very fat cucumbers.

Hardly anything was discarded with even the chickens eating things like the beetroot tops.

There have been a few failures. We weren’t very successful with onions, swedes, turnips, Brussels sprouts, peppers or lettuce. But now the garden has been put to bed for the winter the planning fun starts for next year. For a man who claims to hate gardening, the poet has done pretty well for himself – AND he enjoyed it. Apparently.

For a few weeks at the end of the summer/start of the autumn, the chickens weren’t laying very much. But they’ve started again and we’ve already had 2 jars of pickled eggs. I’ve started to bake again, and over the past 2 weeks I’ve been using up store cupboard ingredients close to their use-by date.

Aside from fruit crumbles, I made my first Eve’s pudding last week, along with a dozen cherry buns, and this week I started to make cookies again, using the chocolate drops that are close to their use-by date, and I made another dozen cherry buns – to get rid of the cherries that were on date.

I’ve not even started on Christmas cakes yet, but those are yet to come, once I’ve exhausted the supplies in the baking cupboard.

Clovelly, Devon. (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

In September we had a week’s camping holiday in North Devon, so watch out for a blog about that in the coming days. Oh yes, and the poet has been building a new website for his photography. You can have a sneak preview here, but do be aware that he is still building it.

And I think that’s it, for now …

 

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It’s been a while …

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Picture: Ian Wordsworth

Yes, it’s been a while. The last time I posted was 22 August … the following day wasn’t a great one in our world. We’ve had a lot going on since then too, along with more shocks (more information can be found on Words Worth Writing, so I shan’t bore anyone over here with the details again), but hopefully, once again, perhaps things will finally settle for us now.

We’ve not really been out. We’ve not really done much in the kitchen. We’ve not really had chance to do anything substantial to the garden.

A few loaves of bread have been made, along with a few pots of jam. We have more foraging to do. Our garden is resplendent with apples, plums, rhubarb, but we want to go and get some blackberries, some sloe berries and some elderberries from our old lane. There are more jams to be made, and chutneys, and ketchups, and sauces … It is, after all, that time of year.

I’ve been very busy re-publishing books. (Again, more information can be found over on the writing blog.) I’ve picked up a couple of old writing courses to complete, on top of the fiction writing course I’m already studying. I have more books to write, along with a few short stories. And I have several client books to edit too.

So I am very, very busy. And if I disappear again, you’ll know why.

I was going to give Baggins Bottom a bit of a sabbatical, but I realised that as soon as I do that, I’ll suddenly have lots to write about again. Therefore, please forgive and excuse any randomness or unreliability meanwhile. Ta. 🙂

Free food

foraging
Blackberries and elderberries – free food. (Picture: Diane Wordsworth)

We had a very tiring weekend with 2 gigs on the trot, but we were determined to do something for us as well, and so on Saturday we went shopping for jam jars, chutney jars, sloe gin bottles, jelly bags, jelly bag frames and labels.

We also bought a trug, extra ingredients for tomato and apple chutney, some art supplies, and some pet and bird food.

When we got back, we had a rest – shopping is soooo tiring – then the poet grabbed the trug and I grabbed the dog, and off we went for a walk down our lane. One of the neighbours was just pulling in, so the poet very quickly swapped his very unmanly trug for the dog and said hello to normal neighbour in one of his very manly deepest voices!

We walked for a mile, up to Little Owl Stop (our nickname for it), and filled the trug with just over a kilogram of blackberries (apx 2lb) and about half a kilo (apx 1lb) of elderberries. When the trug started to get heavy, he took control of it again, being a proper manly gentleman and all that. (The little owl was out, unfortunately.)

It was too late to do anything with any of it when we got back as he had to get ready for gig #2. But on Sunday, after a well-earned lie-in, he asked me to help him make the jam. We ended up with 3 x 500g jars of blackberry jam and 1 x 500g jar of blackberry and elderberry jam – and it looks like proper jam too, and everything. 😀

After a quick break, he then helped me make the chutney. I don’t like chutney and I’ve never made it before, so I needed him to tell me if it looked right. He did most of the chopping while I did most of the cooking and stirring, and when that was ready we got 5 jars out of it. He said it tastes right, so I presume it is.

For those interested, the recipe we used for the jam is here, adjusted to suit the amount of berries we had – but made with ordinary granulated sugar and no pectin – and the one we used for the chutney is here – but we only used 1.5kg of tomatoes and 2 of the chillies. For the blackberry and elderberry jam we just used the amount of blackberries that were left and the same again of elderberries. That jam caught a bit before the end, and almost ruined the pan (Mr Muscle to the rescue …), but it tastes all right.

We’re very proud of our produce this weekend, but still have lots of cooking apples left. I wanted to make a crumble and some pies, but we ran out of time and energy. So I’ll do those this week. We’re going to try adding some of the elderberries to the crumble.

The hedgerows were bursting with sloes and I wanted to pick those too, but the poet had heard that you’re supposed to either leave them until after the first frost, or pick them and freeze them. As we don’t have any experience with sloes just yet, we decided to leave them. But a friend assured us they’d be fine (waves towards Brum) if we picked them now and froze them, so we may go and get those this coming weekend.

jam and chutney
Five jars of tomato and apple chutney, 3 jars of blackberry jam, 1 jar of blackberry and elderberry jam. (Picture: Diane Wordsworth)

Today the poet is working in the midlands, so he’s dropping in to see my parents on his way back.

I’m awaiting a bird food delivery, I have a particularly heavy edit to carry on with and another one to start ASAP. So I’ll be off for now.

Enjoy the pictures. 🙂