Tuesday 31 July 2012

First Egg

Although I've kept plenty of chickens in the past it's always great when you get your first egg off your new chickens, and we did on sunday.

Chicken Entertainment Centre
One of our daughters silkie bantams laid the little white egg and although I dont think they will ever earn their keep, at least they're trying!
First egg, a little small though...
Mind you the bantams are worth their weight in gold when they keep our little girl entertained, even if it's for just long enough for my wife to peg out the washing. We call it our Chicken Entertainment Centre and I might try and patent it! Only use if you want your child to turn into a bumpkin though!

Friday 27 July 2012

Making Sea Salt

It was our wedding anniversary this week so I decided to surprise my wife by arranging to have the day off and take her and our daughter to the seaside for the day.
Dip your toe in!
We had a cracking day at Barry Island (with plenty of Gavin and Stacy quotes and sight seeing) but you always have to take something from the beach home with you. I did, in the form of 7 litres of sea water!
Not what everyone brings back from the beach!
This meant I had to walk all the way to the sea and fill loads of bottles with sea water, I happened to choose low tide when I decided to do this with a big pink bag but don't worry, I'm used to funny looks!
Not a dirty protest but sea water strained through muslin
when we got back I strained it through 4 layers of muslin to remove any sand, before putting five litres in a large pot and boiling it.
5 litres of sea water
 When it got close to boiling dry I turned off the hob and left it to cool. Then today we left it in the sun to evaporate more (free energy) before finishing it off in the oven to drive out the last bit of moisture.
Quite a bit collected
I was quite impressed with the amount of salt it produced, but on purely economical terms this little experiment isn't viable, as the electric hob probably used more electric than the salt is worth. But if you had a wood stove heating the house all day then this would be a way to get free salt and another step towards self sufficiency (but only if you live near the sea - which we don't)!
Looking at this post I still not sure why my wife puts up with me!

Sunday 22 July 2012

Bay Trees

There's not many things I miss about living at our old house but I do miss my herbs. When we moved not all of our herbs survived or the ones that did are still recovering from being dug up and having 4 months of rain chucked at them! There were also a few which were a little too big to move as well.
The garden at our old house. The bay tree was the large green tree on the left
Our old house used to have a huge bush of rosemary and a massive bay tree. This was until the harsh winter we had in 2010/2011 where temperature dropped to -20 degrees and killed them both. It was a shame as I'd never really seen a bay tree get so big in this country, many people keep them in pots and take them in when the winter weather comes, but the protected south facing garden was perfect. We used to use bay all the time, and lately we've been missing the flavour it adds to our meals. So when I was at my first car boot sale in what seems like ages and I saw these two 4ft trees I knew I had to have them. At £28 for the pair they were good(ish) value and will look good in some big pots outside the front door.
Two "new" Bay trees, I've got to change the pots!
We've rabbit for tea one night this week so I'm sure that will be the first use of this aromatic herb in a slow cooked stew.
I'm really keen to build a herb garden at the front of our house (as it faces south) with big bushes of strongly scented rosemary and lavender, with other herbs dotted around, I just need to find some plants the right size and the right money.
We've things like fennel, sweet Cicily, angelica, sage, thyme, lemon balm, mint, etc at the moment, any herbs away from the norm that anyone recommends?

Friday 20 July 2012

Homemade Turkish Delight

Putting a roof on a porch last week I was surrounded by roses and the smell kept making me think of Turkish delight! And so the craving began! But I couldn't just buy some, that would be too easy. Looking on the Internet I could see that the flavouring was from rose water, with none in the cupboard and as these roses smelt so good I decided to make some myself.
Rose petals
I gathered a large bag of roses, picked off all the petals and put them in a large pan with a little water. In the centre of this pan I placed an empty Pyrex jug, then placed the lid on the pan upside down. Make sure the jug is spaced off the bottom of the pan with some mesh otherwise it might crack! 
Making Rose water
The infused distilled water from the rose petals rises up, hits the lid, runs to the lowest point and drips into the jug. Not a very quick process but it workedand was easy, I didn't have much, in fact probably just enough to make about a pound of something very sweet!
My rose water - very unimpressive amount!
The Turkish delight was easy to make, although I used the cheats method and used gelatin. The ingredients are:
1lb sugar
Some gelatine
1/2 pint of water
2 table spoons of rose water
 Icing sugar

I could have used food colouring as well to make it pink but we haven't got any and why bother when it wont alter the taste just add E numbers?
Quite a bit of sugar needed
Basically the water and gelatin go in first until it's dissolved, then the sugar is added. It's all boiled for about 15 mins, then taken off the heat, the rose water is then added and stirred in before being poured into a silicone mould (which has been lightly oiled to stop it sticking, it's very sticky).

Letting it set
 I let it set over night in the fridge before putting it on a chopping board coated with a light mixture of sugar and cornflower.
Dust with icing sugar mixed with a little corn flower
 I cut it up into small squares and rolled eat one round in the sugar mix so they wouldn't stick to each other. Words can't desribe how sticky this stuff is until you do that!
Finished! Tastes good!
It tastes just like proper Turkish delight and the roses come through just right.
I've never made anything with roses before, but as I haven't got much other produce to use at the moment I thought this was a fun way to spend a few rainy evenings! Anyone else made anything with roses?

Thursday 12 July 2012

Orchard Plans

Well it's raining again tonight and I've no plans to go and face it as I've been outside most of the day.
So instead I'll start planning what I'm going to do next. One of the first things I've done on the homestead was to start to plant our orchard. I wasn't going to bother this year, what with moving on the 23rd of December, having a baby daughter and keeping enough work coming in  we were quite busy, but I remembered that my plan was if I ever bought a smallholding then the first thing I'd do was to plant fruit trees!
They don't look much yet!
And plant them I did. I managed to get 22 in before the spring, I think I went a little bit mad. I brought quite few "common" ones from Aldi (as they were British grown and only £5 a tree) and then more unusual ones from Frank P Matthews (who are local to my parents and offer a huge range and top quality trees). I even bough some two year old trees to speed them along a bit. Many of these trees I planted in the rain at night, the neighbours must have thought I was burying a body!
I've tried to get a wide selection of fruit, apples are the most important to me as i eat so many (about 3 a day) and I've tried to get some with good keeping qualities as well as all my favorites.
The plan of the types of trees (excuse my writting!)
So far I've planted:
Apple - (2) Cox, (2) Braeburn, Bramley, (2) Scotch Bridget, Elstar, Worcester Pearman, (2) Brownlees Russet, Christmas Pippin, Discovery
Pear - Duce Du Comice, (2) Conference 
Plum - Victoria, Czar, Opal,
One Quince,
One Medlar,
One Green Gage
I've got enough room for another 8 trees easily in this area, maybe more, and I know I want to plant some damsons (damson jam is my favourite) but not sure what else. Maybe some cider apple trees, a few more plums and a crab apple but open to suggestions! I've still got to fence it off and add a gate so when I get some grazing stock they can be kept away from the leaves and fruit of the trees.
All the trees look really healthy (and I've not needed to water them!)
My other plan for the orchard is to look at getting some meat chickens (day olds) in the next couple of months as I'd like to start producing some free range chickens for us to eat. I'd have to build a movable coop and use mesh fencing so I can give them a large area of fresh grass but stop them from wondering off and give them some protection from predators. It should be a good use of the space as the trees establish.

Monday 9 July 2012

A (Part-Time) Stay At Home Dad?

My wife is unfortunately having to go back to work full time in September. They won't let her go back part time after her maternity leave, which is really disappointing.
So until circumstances change, in September I'll be having every Monday off to spend with my little girl.  We really hate the thought of her going to the child minder full time (and I know four days still isn't great) but I also worry that no one will keep a part time self employed carpenter on site, so this is us trying to find a balance in the short term (also my wife has long holidays which will help a lot).
Why do meal times always end up like this?
We had our first taste of Daddy-daughter day today (as Mum had to go into school to meet her new class). We loved it! Got loads of jobs done, did some shopping and even went to look at a wood auction, she enjoyed feeding the chickens the best (she gets hypnotised by them with a big grin on her face). I'm already planning my Mondays with her now; out in the veg garden, making preserves in the kitchen and we'll have to get some more animals for her to marvel at!

Friday 6 July 2012

3 Silkies From Work

What a bunch of bumpkins we are at the building site I'm currently working on. Every "bait" (breakfast and dinner time to normal people) the conversation normally ends up talking about chickens, shooting, fishing, wild food, pigeons, rabbits, etc. And yesterday the one lad told me he wanted to get rid of his slikie trio as they weren't very good layers.
The chickens brought in next to where I eat my "bait". Rustic lunch room eh?

Well I've never heard of anyone thinking they would be good layers!
But I said I'd take them off his hands and although my policy on the small holding is everything has to earn it's keep, becoming a father has turned me a bit of a soft touch. All I could think was what wonderful pets these will make for my 6 month old daughter, she already gets transfixed by the chickens so these tame little bantams should be ideal. Also I've read that slikies make great broody hens so I might be able to use them for hatching out a few chicks in the future.
Nice little trio of bantams
I've put them in my spare chicken arc for now (you guys in the states call them chicken tractor - thanks to the lazy farmer for that translation), and hopefully once they're settled in they should be allowed to have a wonder around the garden and just use the arc as base until I can build something bigger.
In their chicken arc in the rain
I built this arc for a broody hen with chicks about 5 years ago, we lived at our old house then and only had a garden which the hens slowly turned into a mud bath, digging a new hole everyday when I moved the pen! In the end it looked like an exploded mine field, still the chickens seemed happy!

Sunday 1 July 2012

New Chickens

Well our smallholding has now got some animals! I think it's tradional that you start with chickens.
We've brought ten to start with, five legbars and five Welsummers hens all for egg laying with a view to breeed from them next year.
They're a little bit younger than I would have liked (one lot 10 weeks and one lot around 13 weeks) and come from two different batches with a bit of a size difference. Hopefully the pen is big enough to reduce fighting and keep them entertained until they even up in size. Moving them all into the new pen on the same day should help as well, they seemed fine today with no fighting at all. We have got a bit of time before they start laying but they should come into lay at the end of the summer and then they're be more likely to lay strongly through the winter (thats the plan anyway).
They seem to like their new coop but I've got a few nights of catching them to lock them up until they get used to it, tonight they gave me a right run around - I hope no one was watching!
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