Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Lou 1 - Sod's Law 0

Good day today, so far: Good weather, hot and blustery with rain all last night, (night rain is sooo convenient,) watering in my 300 or so strawberry plants.

Discovery that parent's evening is not tonight, is also wonderful news - must amend diary.

Also discovery that an evening social was postponed from this Wednesday, (OMG totally forgot that it WAS this Wednesday!!) to the Wednesday after half term, is wonderful news.

6yo's meltdown about getting 7 x 2 wrong in test may be unfounded according to teacher. Phew!

Daughter's school coat found - thank god for labels. BTW, super service from these guys http://www.nameitlabels.co.uk/

My Blackberry and Plum jam complimented (and several pots requested) by school mum.

8yo's Birthday pressie arrived by courier, (for Thursday,) henceforth she shall be named the 9yo! Yikes!

Lovely thank you from a friend.

Tesco arrived at 9:05 in a 9am - 11am slot.... wow! Shopping put away by 9:45am, wow-wee.

All the above was completed before 10am. Seriously, you may not be interested in my achievement today but I HAD TO WRITE IT ALL DOWN FOR POSTERITY, [indoor voice please] I'm sure it's unlikely to happen again!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

How to conduct oneself at a Poultry Auction....

Pre-Auction (Selling) Things to do...
  1. Identify birds for sale
  2. Segregate the blighters
  3. Find suitable box(es) for transportation
  4. Pack food and water for them....gin for you
  5. Wear nothing you care about
At Auction (Selling) Things to do...
  1. Get there stupidly early to bagsy an early lot/cage
  2. Beg everyone for help
  3. Take birds out of the box(es) and place into the selling cages without losing them...sheesh!
  4. Listen and act on all free advice offered, (if the veterans sense you are a virgin seller they will offer tons of advice) NB If the person looks like a complete numpty, consider the advice carefully...
  5. When your birds sell, don't cry, interview the new prospective parents or ask if you can visit.

This morning just after 6:30am I packed up the Bantam roosters and three of the girls, decided against the gin, and drove off into the sunrise towards Hereford.

It was a beautiful morning, cool not cold with not a whisper of a breeze, and I could hardly hear the pitiful cries of the chickens over the audio book, (Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass - brilliantly read by the author and actors.)

By the time I pulled into the livestock market, some twenty-five miles away from home, the sun was up and it was more like a summer morning than an autumn one. The market looked like a huge unfinished metal shed, unfinished because one side is open to the elements displaying the containment rails to keep cattle, pigs or sheep from escaping. It looks like an empty DIY or Wall-Mart superstore.

I wore old jeans, wellingtons and a baggy jumper together with my usual smile, the smile is invaluable for seeking out new friends in unfamiliar situations. While I unpacked my chickens, the transit van next to me in the car park was disgorging its colourful characters and their birds, (just for clarity by birds I mean birds, not street slang birds, though I strongly suspect these chaps were intimately acquainted with quite a few birds, if you know what I mean, nudge-nudge!)

By their voices I knew these chaps were Welsh and I would have described them as farmers, except that their earrings made me think they were more traders than farmers. As I got out of the car they toned down their banter, which had sounded very, very bawdy till they clocked me, and we all exchanged pleasantries about the weather, the fact that they'd driven from mid-Wales to come to the sale and the forthcoming rugby game on Saturday. (Cumoooonnnnn Wales!)

Their chief and ringleader was a stocky chap about my age, (... young, OK?!) He was twinkly-eyed and bar-room confident, a lovable rogue, - you know the type.

After the auction-porter and I had loaded my lots into three sales cages; 2 pairs comprising a cock and hen and a trio made of two cocks and one hen. The chief Welsh trader from the transit sidled up beside me to enquire about my chooks. Soon I had my very own personal advisor and he stood very close, whispering poultry secrets.

'You makin' a mistake there luv, you needs to make a trio, rather than leave that hen with the two cocks.' He said in his lovely Welsh accent. I, being blonde and tired, looked blank.

'I've made a trio,' I said, wondering if trio meant something different in Welsh and wishing I didn't have to discuss trios or cocks with a man I hardly knew.

'No luv, a trio's two hens and a cock, not two cocks and a hen!'


'I'll grab the cocks out and you can put the hen in with the pair if you like? You'll not make any money see, as the cocks'll cancel out the worth of the hen.'

Dear Lord why is everything so sodding complicated!

Anyhoo cocks grabbed (dear Lord!) and girls moved, all was happy in camp Archer. Bearing in mind that the sale didn't start for another 2 hours I decided not to stay chatting to my new best friend, as our vocab was worrying me, so instead I zoomed off to Asda, (big shop wow-wee) to get provisions for the mountain.

By ten, the metal shed was pretty full of cock-a-doodle-doos and lots of breeds of people. I wandered about, briefly on my own, observing the characters - a great place for the writing.

Soon I was joined by my buddy who chatted about chickens and horses and sheep until he enquired whether I had much land and livestock. I'm not sure it was a proposal of marriage, he sussing whether he and I could join poultry forces, but I found myself constantly mentioning my husband and the sprogs but not where we actually lived.

'Have you got raaabbits on the land?' He enquired kindly. I was glad we were moving away from the in-depth analysis of me and of the double entendre language he seemed to enjoy.

'God yes, loads. I can see them from my bedroom window every morning.' [Screech! Why did I mention the bedroom!!!]

'I'll do you a bit of ferretting up your way if you like, pop over like, [from mid-Wales!!!] bring me ferrets and the dogs for a bit of a session?' He said eyes a-twinkling.

I came over all Margo from The Good Life [clip below] after that...

'No thank you!' I said indignantly. 'My neighbour does all my ferreting!'  ... Oh! sob! He just grinned.

All in all it was an education. The money was appalling; the trio and pair fetched £11.50... I may have just covered the petrol... and the two cocks fetched a whopping .10p... purchased by my new best friend, a pity-purchase I fear but he did promise faithfully not to murder them.

Hey ho!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Death to bugs.... by the Human Buffet..

I cleaned the chicken coop today and made it all gorgeous for the girls. I do it weekly (not weakly) so as to ensure they have a nice comfy place to plop the eggs. To be honest I don't know why I bloody bother; the Bantams have completely slipped from my radar screen, preferring to hide their tinsey-winsey white eggs somewhere within the grounds. Drives me bonkers. They have been warned and the market looms.

As if the fact that chickens seem to do all of their poo in the coop at night wasn't unpleasant enough, today I had to deal with yet more revoltingness. Leaning into the little coop to scoop up the sawdust, I noticed a little mass of squirmy red stuff near the perches.

Intrigued, I leaned in even closer, resting my head on the wooden boards above the back door and YUCK upon yuck!.. I could see that there was a mass of tiny red mites on the wooden slats, presumably having a bacchanalian party to make yet more mites..

The hot, humid weather has obviously been perfect for them. I have used mite powder before, dusting all the chickens just in case, but to see the little parasitic blighters was horrid.

I pulled back my head and started examining every crevice. That's when I realised that I had rested my head on another village of blood suckers, there were squillions of them but the moving mass was no bigger than a penny piece.

Since then I have mega cleaned the coop, I have dusted chickens, I have showered and scrubbed my hair and yet I seem still, some 10 hours later, to be being used as a human buffet by creatures that look like walking grains of ground black pepper, (or red pepper if they've feasted. Shudder.) They are in my hair, down my back, in the arms of my sweater and as I sit here trying to concentrate I feel sure they are about to penetrate my sturdy smalls. I cannot tell you how defiled I feel.

All my dreams of being a vaguely competent farmer in years to come are being dashed by something that is like red sand with teeth. [scratch, scratch, itch itch, SQUASH! SQUASH!  ... oh look a blood streak! smile..]

If this is how it feels to be a chicken in a coop with mites then I really hope reincarnation is a myth.

Tomorrow I'm buying this stuff; it's a bomb for the coop.... at this rate I'll be sat in there when it goes off... naked....

....Oh my goodness I can't take anymore biting, I'm off to throw my clothes on the bonfire and then I'm washing again and again and again...

Bet you can't wait for the blogs posts when we get sheep..... have you heard of dagging or crutching?????

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Spiced Apple Jelly...

I feel a certain amount of guilt at this time of year. Although I've made tons of jam, tray-frozen fruits and peas and made winter soups from our vegetables, I find myself averting my eyes from the damson tree outside the front door, as it's still laden with fruit, even after we relieved it of kilos of its tubby blue offerings. I try to convince myself that the chickens will benefit from the glut, but still the guilt of wasting precious food from our land niggles me.

The apple trees similarly chastise me with their pointy fingered branches.

Thanks in part to the rugby, Hubby has peeled me bags and bags of massive cooking apples and these are now stashed in the freezer for winter crumbles or apple sauce. However there's only so many apple pies I can make, so I looked about for a new recipe to utilise some of the apples.

I found a recipe that really took my fancy in The DK Preserving Book by Lynda Brown, possibly the best preserving book ever! I've borrowed and borrowed this book from the library, moving it from my ticket then to the 8yo's then onto the 6yo's.... I'd be very grateful if DK would kindly donate me my own copy after this shameless plug!! (One can hope!!) I would buy my own copy normally but I've just taken out a mortgage to buy the 8yo new school shoes. Who'da thought plain black shoes could be so chronically expensive?.... All to do with moving into size 2.5 or some such nonsense.... Anyhoo, I digress.. Breathe.

I've slightly adapted the original recipe, adding lemon zest to the chilli flakes, although a "friend" has suggested this looks like spiders trapped in jelly! Nice! You may or may not decide to add the spiders.... but remember it is Halloween soon! My attempt turned out to be opaque while also being a deep orange, the colour of autumn sunshine. FYI, the actual picture in the recipe book is a soft watery gold.

This jelly is delicious with cheese or meats so I'm making some for Christmas presents.... but don't tell anyone!!



You will need: A muslin or jelly bag for straining and 3 small sterilised jars.
Keeps for 9 months.
  • 675g (1.5lb) sour cooking apples with skin on, roughly chopped
  • Approx 454g (1lb) granulated sugar per pint of juice added at stage II of the process
  • Juice (and zest if using) of 1 lemon
  • 1-2 tsp of dried chilli flakes
  1. Put chopped apples, including cores and pips into a preserving pan. Add 1.7 litres (3 pints) of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30-40 mins till the apples are stewed down. Mash to a pulp.
  2. Spoon the pulp into a muslin bag. I use a muslin cloth and tie with string hanging it from a strong hook over a clean blow.
  3. Leave to drip overnight. DO NOT SQUEEZE IF YOU WANT A CLEAR JELLY.
  4. The next day measure the clear juice, adding 454g (1lb) of sugar for every 600ml (1 pint) of juice. You should have approximately 1.7l/3 pints of juice.
  5. Pour the juice into a large clean pan with the sugar and lemon juice (but not the zest.) Bring to the boil, stirring till the sugar dissolves, then bring to a rolling boil and remove any scum from the surface.
  6. Continue to boil for 20-30 minutes or till the jelly reaches a setting point. This is crucial as you really need a good strong jelly. Remove pan from heat while you test for a set.
  7. Leave to cool for 10 minutes then stir in chilli flakes and zest. Ladle into warm sterilized jars, cover with wax discs and seal. Label when cool.
Refrigerate after opening.


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Autumn Sowing....

Clematis Ville De Lyon

Several days ago I sat in the walled garden working on my novel, I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, it was 82° and leaves kept falling on my manuscript. Considering that I live half way up a mountain in Shropshire UK and it is October, I was mildly confused.

Today Mother Nature has turned the dial to Autumn, it's blustery, cool enough for socks and a sweater. Lovely.

I've taken stock of the garden. We've accomplished such a lot this year; removing huge conifers and an unwanted hedge from the centre of the plot. We planted a new hedge and incorporated our orchard into the garden space. We've softened the pond area, laying turf into the water to both to hide the liner and to allow creatures safer access. Around the pond we planted nectar drenched flowers to encourage more wildlife.

At the bottom of Home Field the allotment has generated enough potatoes to last until late Spring and is now planted with leeks, spring cabbages, broad beans, onions and celeriac.

The walled garden still feeds us daily with spinach, dwarf french beans, runner beans, lettuce, parsnips, cucumbers and yet more celeriac. Here the onion sets are already sprouting.

Not wanting to rest up over the winter, I've been planting madly to try to steal a march on spring. Some of my sowings are a bit of an experiment!!! I've planted next year's sweet pea now (super early I know, but I'm pinching out the growth to see if I can make strong, bushy plants before it gets too cold.) At the moment the seedlings are in the green house. As I don't plan to heat the greenhouse till early spring, I may well bring them into the utility room, which is bright and cool, when the temperatures drop dramatically. I've sown Miss Wilmott, a vintage pink from 1901. A big blue and two types of old fashioned mixed. My garden should look and smell gorgeous next year. 

Sweet Pea Miss Wilmott

I've also sown sweet rocket, a tall perennial that can be considered invasive.... I prefer to refer to it as offering free cover to a large space.....

There's a ton of other seedlings and sowings in the greenhouse but this morning I noticed the Tutti Fruiti Lupins had broken the surface of their compost. With their garish colours they are aptly named.

This year the orchard is providing tons of huge cooking apples, probably due to the hard pruning we've administered over the past two winters. I've started making Spiced Apple Jelly from the harvest. These jars of bottled sunshine are delicious and are flecked with chilli flakes and lemon rind and would be a great pressie for Christmas. They are however quite high-maintenance to make. See next blog post for recipe.

If anyone out there has any other suggestions for Autumn sowing (particularly perennials) I'd be really pleased if you'd leave a comment.


The Archers at The Larches

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Snowy and Moon

Snowy and Moon