Eggs, eggs…ohhhh and cabbages

Happy Monday evening blogging peeps.
I’ve been mulling over….I think those of us that grow our own (and in many walks in life really) can sometimes be a little hard on ourselves, always looking for improvement or thinking about our “failures”.  One thing I’ve learnt is that every year there will be something that doesn’t go right, which is why it is all the more important to concentrate on those things that go right.  
For example I am loving that I have a years worth of cabbages right now!  I just wasn’t prepared for them haha.
We have some exciting news here on the smallholding, my Mother’s day hens have started laying!  We think we have 6 females and 1 male which is great luck.  My lovely little family bought them for me bac in March as they lay blue/green eggs and I have always wanted hens that lay those colour eggs.  Soon enough, breakfast will be 2 dippy (soft boiled) eggs with soldiers a few times a week, if not daily 😉 Right now the eggs are still small until they are used to laying.  The hens are probably still wondering what’s happened to them at the moment.
I have to tell you, we have a huge influx of eggs right now as it seems many of those who bought from us during the lockdown period have stopped buying.  That’s ok though as we have decided to reduce our brown laying hens for over wintering, so are selling those on.  We will still be able to supply our regulars who were pre lockdown and still have plenty for ourselves which I must admit, is a bit of a novelty for me as we never had any eggs for the house at one point.  Make hay whilst the sun shines.
We have duck, quail (above) and chicken eggs coming in thick and fast.  I actually have more than I expected or knew what to do with (given they were supposed to be sold).  So this week is egg and cabbage week as I have both in abundance.  The lovely Tricia from Tarragon and Thyme has sent me some preserving information on cabbages which I am looking forward to reading either tonight or tomorrow night.  
Grace found this nest of eggs when we were doing tea time chores earlier, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry!  You can see one or 2 have been eaten or stood on.
Did you know you can freeze eggs?  I am going to get that done tonight which will see a dozen processed.   I’ve also made up a few freezer bags of a quiche custard base (4 large eggs, 1 cup whole milk or half and half cream and milk and 1 cup of grated cheese) which I can then just defrost and pop in to a pastry lined quiche dish with some left over ham and tomatoes etc.  Nice and easy, so I hope it works.
Now I have to put this photo in to show you the mammoth task I have with these cabbages!  I have 30 or so of these which is fantastic but also a task in itself.  I’m undecided as to whether having them all come at once is a good thing to get it out of the way or a bad thing in that it’ll take half a day to get them done.
I’ve a couple of different varieties, all of which we managed to mature before the cabbage white butterfly struck.  Very grateful for that as I’ve seen people losing whole crops to them.  If you grow a lot it can be too costly to buy netting to cover everything properly, which should help prevent attacks.
My kale have been amazing and I hope they don’t die off too quickly, these have just been struck by the cabbage white and subsequent caterpillars which is inevitable.  Every year I am amazed at how many caterpillars there are on any given plant.

Again, celebrating the successes here’s a basket of veg that I am getting on a weekend right now.  I am so thrilled and once I get my head in to gear we should be “shopping” from our own garden all year round.  Maybe next year is the year we rely solely on ourselves for veg? Who knows.

It’s going to be a strange week here, Jack (age 10) is back to school and I am back on to work, but still working from home.  Grace goes back next week and they both have set times for drop off and collection, which of course are right over working hours so I sense a bit of a juggling act for a few days until we settle in to things.  I hope you are all well and enjoying life to whatever degree you can.  I’ll be back in a few days with another update.  Take care, Tracy.

Back to basics

Well!  Who knew we would be in this situation for my next blog post?  Not us that’s for sure.
I hope everyone is coping with their various situations right now.  Personally, I am home with the kids and we are almost at the end of week 2 of isolation.  I chose to pull them out of school a week before they closed and have home schooled and worked from home since then.  We are adapting, coping, winning – all of those things.  Overall this is actually a very positive experience for us all, obviously not what is going on in the outside world though.  
Ste is still going in to work with being in food production, keeping the shelves full in the farm shop for the great British public.  Over the last couple of weeks, he has been going to the supermarket as and when needed, however late this week we made the decision to stop that too.  We got the last few bits and pieces (given that’s all you can get in the supermarkets now, not a bit of toilet roll to be seen!) and we now have what we need to see us through a good few weeks and anything we don’t have we will do without assuming we cannot get a delivery slot.
With that said, I think it’s time people started thinking about getting back to basics, in my view.  Here on the smallholding, we are already quite good with that, we cook everything from scratch, grow a lot, try to reduce waste and use leftover etc.  One thing that seems to be on the up is forging; it has seen a huge spike in interest since this outbreak.  Again, it is something we already do but with a light touch I would say.  That brings me to the pictures below.  I believe this plant to be called Jack by the hedge.  It grows here in the UK from March through to September according to my research.  When the stem is crushed it has a mild smell of garlic, which is great!  We love garlic.  The whole plant is edible and can be used raw or cooked.  I would like to make some pesto but I don’t have the ingredients needed so I think it’ll be fresh pasta.  I have a recipe for nettle pasta so maybe I’ll add some of this or replace it with this completely?  A job for the weekend?  I really enjoy making pasta and at the moment, it looks like the only way we will have any once we use what we have in.

Other plants that are ready to use and have been all year round if I’m honest, are some herbs.  Here we have a bay tree in the middle, two sage plants on the left and a common mint on the right.  If you grow mint, it makes sense to grow it in a pot as it is (supposed to be) very invasive.  I haven’t seen this myself as I managed to kill some once!  Oh and at the back are 2 blueberry bushes that I am keeping in the greenhouse as I think it will mean they will come on earlier than if they were outside.  We always run the risk of frost killing them off outside, we lost one that way last year.

Another job for this weekend, or even today actually, is taking some cuttings from the Elderberry trees we have here as I would like to get a couple growing on the river bank, along with other wild food.  We use a lot of elder flowers for drinks, adding to food and for Spring/Summer kitchen vase decoration.  We then use berries for making syrup to drink as a tonic to get through the winter.  Recently too, we learnt that chickens eat them which is a big thing for us.  We are wanting to grow as much of out own animal feed as we can.  That’s something else we are learning from this whole situation right now, animal feed is harder to come by (even just from not being allowed to go out to buy it) but it is also going up in cost and we are trying to reduce costs.  We would like to be much more self reliant for animal feed.
I saw the below book on a group on Facebook the other week and checked ebay to find it available for £2 odd delivered, so I grabbed that bargain there and then.  I’m looking forward to having some down time and looking though it over the weekend.

Sticking with the war time thoughts, which is pretty much how I am feeling right now, here’s a pretty picture that always fills me happiness is the sight we see opening the egg box area of the chicken coop.

One more thing I have started doing again thanks to the situation that is ongoing, is dehydrating things.  I started with apples as we had some that were past their nice point for eating fresh.  The other option would be to freeze them as stewed apple.

Finally I can’t leave without giving you an updated picture of Rodney doing what he does when I am in the greenhouse sowing seeds and potting on.

Outside space in February, including seeds, chickens and eggs

Look what we found growing in the muck pile, perfectly polished mushrooms.  They are still there, I don’t trust myself to identify mushrooms, but I do appreciate them and one day, who knows, Ste may try them 😉

 Where there is muck there is money?  We we gifted a gesture of cash for some muck we bagged up for the allotments recently, isn’t that great?  Maybe we can make an income from it as we look to set up our own little farm business in the coming months.

 The muck has been getting used in the veg plot to feed or mulch the beds before we covered them.  It’s hard work, but very worth it.  Hopefully this will keep the weeds down as well as prep the beds for when we are ready to fill them.  It’ll be end May, early June here for most things as last year we learnt the hard way when we had a frost on May 27th and we lost a load of plants.

One thing we want to get sorted pretty soon, maybe on a March goal is the rain water collection and how to then use it.  We think we will get a motorised pump to help distribute the water from the tanks to wherever it needs to be.  At the bottom of the veg plot, on the other side of the fence is the compost heap we are trying to put together.  It’s coming along really well with green and brown items.  According to Charles Dowding, it should be ready in 8 months or so once full.  I have no idea how long it’ll take to fill, it’s a big size container!
It is the furthest bed here that we are using it for.  The other beds look like this mess as the storms that are passing through keep ripping the fronts off them.  I’m going to turn one in to a hot bed and sow some carrots and parsnips in them this weekend – how controversial using muck for roots 😉
Wandering away from the muck heaps takes you around to the greenhouse where I’ve been sowing seeds since Valentine’s Day.  The leeks took a while to show but they are there!  I’ve a couple of varieties to try.  This was my workstation at the time!

 The salad, kale, tomatoes etc are coming along well.  Some of these will be pricked out and moved on this weekend, which hopefully won’t shock them.
 Giant sunflowers!!
 Thrilled to see the wild garlic Ste bought me for my birthday (best present EVER)  taking hold.  We have NEVER had it before, so I hope it likes living there. 
I rescued some snowdrops from a near death experience at the muck heap too, not sure where they will go yet.
Taking a step outside the greenhouse is a view to stop and enjoy.  It’s not all been rain.
Then we have the latest additions!  I have such a soft spot for ducks and I can’t tell you how thrilled we are to get these 4, 3 girls and a boy of the Aylesbury.  We’ve already been getting lots of beautiful eggs from them which we have popped 19 in to the incubator in an effort to start breeding them as we would like to become a supplier in the area, which there isn’t many of.  Another income opportunity hopefully.  
We’ve been getting plenty of chicken eggs too and have lots of lovely people asking to buy them from us each week.

The geese on the other hand aren’t laying yet and they won’t even use the blinking pond we re did for them! I have no idea what’s going on there, they prefer to drink the stagnant water that gathers in the drain pipes and things laying around the place!
Staying on the poultry theme, the meat birds have just been processed and my god are they big.  I’m really pleased with this lot, which will see us through the next 10 weeks for sure.  We have a plan with meat birds, I’ll come back to that again in another blog post.
The other meat we produced in 2019 was the lamb, which I took the last lot out of the freezer the other night.  Hell’s bells I didn’t realise there was so much left.  So I am now frantically cooking this lot, to refreeze in cooked form and get it put back in the freezzer in an orderly fashion.  Again, it’ll be on the foody post in the coming days and weeks.
Here’s my kitchen window view keeping an eye on the weather.  We’ve had some spectacular colours!
Something else that has been going on is the tup arriving.  He joined us on the 16th Feb and will stay with us a few weeks.  Hoping to have lambs the first week or 2 in to July, but it could be 3 weeks after that, depending on if he catches them or not.  I think they are all pleased to be inside at the moment on dry straw with nice hay.  It’s certainly better than being on the wet muddy fields with the storms blowing a hooey around you.
 Here he is, we called him Arthur.  He’s very sweet and his black ears are forever twitching in opposite directions.  He’s not that tall compared to the last tup, but he’s chunkier.  Let’s see what happens 🙂

Finally, Annie is still underwhelmed by everything and is still sneaking a nap in places she really shouldn’t. 

 Have a lovely weekend all.  We have a very busy schedule Friday through to Sunday so we will catch up with another post next week.

Eggs is eggs – January round up

We had a good egg month considering it’s January.  Our girls have supplied us with slightly over 400 eggs through January which is amazing considering it’s one of the quieter months normally.  I don’t have the exact number as I started recording on 7th January. 
Of course, they’re all stuck inside so not free ranging due to the avian flu restrictions so this may be affecting the numbers in the sense of them producing more than normal.  They have nothing else to do except lay eggs and eat the greens we put in to supplement their food.  Bitter sweet!
We sold pretty much all of these eggs this month.  The money from these sales goes straight to their feed along with the money from the horse muck.  We stocked up on corn from the farmer and bought 4 bags of layers pellets on 22nd January.  We started using them both the same day as we were out of corn and only had half a barrel of layers left.
The geese are laying more now, so we’re taking her eggs away and using them.  I’ll see if there’s an interest in people buying them, though folk sometimes have strange ideas and think a goose egg isn’t a real egg you can eat 😎.

Egg production down

We have finally started to see a decline in egg production. We’ve gone from a corker of a day last week with a record 23 down to today’s low of 8.
The middle hens have eaten one of their own as I saw them at it when I went in. Therefore we’ve no idea how many there could have been.
This cold snap we have had will be affecting them too. The weather has a lot to do with the amount they produce.
It’s not got above freezing all day.