Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Hey! Who Are You!?

About a month ago, possibly more, we started hearing a plaintive meowing around the house late at night. We assumed it was one of our boys. Then we began seeing a flash of white and tabby scooting around at the edges of our vision. Then, one evening I called the cat boys in for dinner and round the corner came one (Monty), two (Rocco) and... three?! All in a little row. Their new friend was reluctant to come to close but stood and cried in the yard for a while.

After a couple of return visits I felt sorry for it and gave it a handful of the boys cat biscuits, it ate them gingerly and wandered away. We didn't see it again for a few days - yes the biscuit impressed it that much.

About a week ago I was casually watching TV one evening when through the door marched the new friend, parked his butt in the middle of the floor, said "Meow", fell over, rolled about and started purring! He then took a good long look around the whole house, like he owned the place - meowing the WHOLE time I might add. He went back out.

He know appears every-so-often and goes through the same routine. We are not sure whose he is, there are three possibilities, a neighbours', lost or dumped. We are currently siding with the latter two. We are keeping our eyes and ears open for people missing a cat in the area. We aren't sure if he plans to stay or not, he can go several days without appearing and I figure he has moved on but then back he comes!

So if anyone recognises this cat, he is a full male and has A LOT to say from himself, as you can see from the photo!.... LOL

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Making Jam - The Easy Way!

So, I decided that jam was the way to go with the first kilo of raspberries (they have already given me nearly another kilo since I made this lot of jam!)  As I haven't done a how to in a long while I thought that I might do one with this, and hopefully show those who don't already know exactly how easy jam is to make!  I'll have people jamming everything!

For this jam I used
1.1 kg of raspberries (as this is what I had)
1.1kg of sugar
juice of half a lemon

The basic ruling is equal quantity of sugar to fruit.  Use around half a lemon for each kilo of fruit you use.

Step one

Heat the fruit in a large pan.  The bigger the better, even if you are thinking that it looks daft, trust me jam is a messy business.
Heat until the juices start flowing from the fruit.  This takes around 5 minutes for raspberries.
You don't want the mixture to boil so keep the heat medium.

Step Two

Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Step Three

Stir in the sugar and place the pot back onto the heat.  Make sure it is low.  Stir the mixture gently but continuously until the sugar has completely dissolved.

Step Four

Turn up the heat and bring the mixture to the boil.  Cook at boiling for 4 minutes.  If foam appears either add a knob of butter to disperse it or scoop it out - I am a scooper!

After the four minutes check for setting.  If you have a jam thermometre this makes life easier if you don't then follow my guide below for the saucer test.

Step Five

Using sterilized bottles or jars fill to the top and put the lid on while the jam is still hot.  Allow to cool.

Label your jam.  This jam should keep for around 9 months if unopened.

Enjoy your jam!

*The saucer test: place a saucer into the freezer for about 5 minutes. When ready for the test, remove from the freezer. Drop a spoonful of the jam onto the saucer. Leave for about 5 minutes. Run your finger through the mixture, if it wrinkles then the jam is ready.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Today's Harvest

Off down the veggie garden today and it proved to be a fruitful visit.  The strawberries have been mainly one here, one there, one in the mouth so I resisted the urge to go down to the patch for two days to let them ripen and it has paid off!   The little wonders produced 500g (about 1lb) of tasty fruit.  One of which immediately went to Farm Baby!  This happens for two reasons: firstly, she loves strawberries and woe betide you if you don't just make with the strawberry once it is in her sights.  And secondly, because seeing her clasping a strawberry as big as her hand, with juice running down her chin and a big beamy smile on her face is just too cute to miss!

The raspberries also have produced a bumper crop today, also 500g.  The raspberries have now produced over a kilo (2 lbs ish) and, apart from the ones that ended up as Raspberry Curd (see below), they have been being saved to make jam.  I think I should have enough.  I am looking forward to using the jam set that I was bought as a Christmas present by my parents.  It was a everything-you-need-and-more set from wooden spoon to big ol' pan to jars and fabric for lids!  Up until now I have been making jam in tiny batches in my unsuitable saucepan and then taking the next two days to scrape solid lumps of jam off the hob and wondering why every time I cook anything it smells like burning fruit!

The chickens are doing well.  We did have a random two egg day but it is all back to normal now averaging four a day.  I am going to try putting up some "curtains" across the nest boxes, or at least one or two as I feel that the hens are finding them quite exposed.  They won't use one if another hen is already in another - perhaps this is normal behaviour?  But with 11 hens using essentially one nest box because of their politeness there is some queueing at peak hours!  I decided I would try it, see if they preferred it, hated it or it made no difference.

The 7 remaining bean plants are doing their best to make up for lost time but seem to be doing so by forgoing the growth of leaves and going for height.  I am assuming they no what they are doing and am leaving them to it.  The peas have some huge, but flat, pods on them so I am looking forward to that.  And as you can see I managed around 8 Broad Bean pods, but future stocks look healthy.

There may have been a miraculous return by the carrots.  There are currently about 7 decent carrot plants in a bed which I'll admit is turning into a nursery for dock leaves.  However, today I spotted some little grass like growth in vague lines appearing through to weeds so some emergency weeding was done - carefully - and we will have to see what comes of it.

The cabbages have been attacked but what I assume to be cabbage white caterpillars.  However, there is good news there too.  The cabbages were one of the plants that succumbed to the mysterious death in the patch this year.  A new sowing was required.  So beyond around 4 (now munched) big ones the rest are way behind.  This has been a slight blessing as this means that they were of no interest to mummy butterfly and she has avoided them, hopefully by the time they get bigger the caterpillar season will have passed.  Just hope they don't take too long.  Same goes for the Brussels.

Garlic is nearing completion and onions and beetroot are looking plump.  No one in the house eats beetroot, it is being grown for two reasons.  I had about three packs of seeds and also I have red that Red Velvet Cake is traditionally made with beetroot to give it that colour and I would love to try it.  I also want to try making a cake with mashed potato which apparently makes them very moist.  I should be able to make a load of cakes from the veggies in the patch which would be great fun!

And breathe.  So I think I have got you all up to speed.  The weather here is awful, rain again, but it does mean - no need to water! Hurray!

Raspberry Curd

  • 1 cup pureed raspberry juice, seeds strained out (from 12 oz raspberries, either frozen or fresh).  To get the last little bit of juice from the seeds and pulp, I heat the seeds in a bowl in the microwave for 30-60 seconds.  When they are warm they release a little more of the juice.
  • 3/4 cup sugar 
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
Add all of the ingredients except for the butter to a large saucepan or double boiler (I just used a large saucepan).

Whisk ingredients constantly over low to medium low heat- you don’t want it to boil!

When mixture has thickened somewhat (after 6-8 minutes), add butter 1 Tblsp at a time, whisking constantly.

1 stick (8 Tblsp) unsalted butter, cut into 8 slices

After butter has all been added, continue whisking for another 2-3 minutes.

The whisk should leave marks on the surface of the curd when it is done.

Remove from heat and pour through a strainer and into a bowl.  Let cool for about 15 minutes then cover with a layer of plastic wrap right on the curd so a skin does not form.  Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours to allow the curd to finish setting up.

Monday, 11 July 2011

This first harvests from the garden are always the best.  The tell of things to come.  The reason why I have put so much effort (and this year tears) into growing-my-own!  We so far have managed about 700g of raspberries, across three pickings.  The first batch went to make Raspberry Curd, the second went into Raspberry Muffins and the third I am starting my saving to get enough to make jam, they are freezing as we speak!  

The Raspberry Curd is not bad.  I am going to admit it isn't the kind of thing that has you clamouring at the fridge door for just another taste but it is nice.  It is sweet and very raspberry-y.  It was also another use for the eggs we have been slowly gathering.  As you can see today we broke the 100 barrier for this year - WooHoo!  We are getting around 4 or 5 a day now and just two days ago the three new Maran chickens, well one of them at least, started laying too.  We also sold our first eggs, 5 half dozens are now being enjoyed throughout the area.  I will admit that I had a pretty big smile on my face when we sold our first box!

We have also managed four potatoes, very nice they were too, if a little small.  I am not sure we are going to be getting many potatoes this year, not compared to last year anyway.  As I hadn't been covering them with earth as often as I should so they are not very far underground.  But having said that we aught to get a decent amount.

As you can see my computer is now up and running again, but we had to wipe everything so it will take me a while to get fully operational again.  I did manage to save most stuff before we wiped the drive so its just a case of finding time to sort through and re install.  As soon as that happens you will get a lovely chicken meets chicken video, as promised in the last post!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Chicken Meet... Chicken

No pictures or anything exciting today.  Having MAJOR computer problems so this comes from my laptop!  Computer suddenly started running slow, then stopped altogether.  We replaced a part and it look fine for about 2 days then everything went wrong again.  Farm Guy is a computer dude so is trying to fix it, our dining room is full of various parts of computers, but we are awaiting the arrival of replacement parts so until then it is laptop all the way!

We decided to introduce the chickens with our new quartet.  They were only separated with a fence of stock wire and there had been no signs of any major aggression, even when they were all pecking around the fence at feeding times.  McNugget was also getting a little irritated that 'his' new ladies kept wandering off and he couldn't keep track of them.  So we took the plunge and opened the proverbial gate.  We stood back, not quite sure what to expecting but hoping it wouldn't have been a huge mistake and Chicken War wouldn't break out!

It was quite sad in a way, releasing the two into one.  Not for them, I am very glad they were getting out of their enclosure and getting to experience a proper free range life but for a while, having two runs took me back to my animal keeping life.  Working at the safari park we had over 120 odd animals in our little team's care.  Different feeds for all and a lot of fence climbing.  Two little pens of chickens, two pots of feed, climbing over the fence in mud covered wellies - gave me a sudden sense of deja vu - it was a nice and a sad moment, I really enjoyed that job.  I have to buy more animals!  It'd be therapeutic!

Anyway, back to the chickens.  There was no firework displays and beyond a couple of 'get out of my face' pecks no real aggression.  McNugget couldn't care less, he just marched around looking very pleased with himself.  Since the introduction some of our ladies have taken him under their wing and have been showing him around the farm.  For the others, the novelty of a cockerel seems to have now worn off a few of the girls and they no longer hang to close around him, but he doesn't seem to mind at all, he just sticks with the few who do love him!  

We have had a few doodling moments from him but nothing that will drive any neighbours mad, and we are in a farming area anyway, and often hear the doodling of a nearby cockerel wafting in on the breeze.  We can now just return fire!

Our girls are still laying well, 4 a day, but no sign of the new three laying.  However, after the near two weeks it took the browns to start laying I am not in any hurry for these girls, they can lay when they lay.

Just a short update today.  Hopefully normal service will be resumed in a few days and I can post Realising the Dream's second ever video - the Chicken's Meet!!

Friday, 1 July 2011

You Can Never Have Too Many!

Well, perhaps you can but I refuse to believe it. As you know we have chickens (I may have mentioned them!) What I may not have mentioned was that we also wanted a cockeral. Our primary reason is that we want to be able to perpetuate our flock and not have to buy chickens again. But a secondary reason, added on after my enjoyment of the auction is too explore the world of hen selling. Not in a big way, more in a 'if we have some spares' way. With this in mind we decided that sooner was better than later in getting a cockeral. The ladies would benefit from his protection and guidance and if you are going to dive into something you may as well go both feet first!!

So off to the chicken sale we went (yes there was already another one) and this one was packed with cockerels. Not many on their own, but as I said above, you can never have too many hens!!  We spotted a Rhode Island Red that we were quite keen on.  Our eight ladies are a hybrid of RIR so a pure male was definitely an idea, it would mean his size was about right for our girls, don't want any squashing!  We aren't after pure bred chicks, just chickens, so the breed of male didn't really matter.  We were going to get crosses anyway because Lohmann Brown Cockerels seem exceptionally elusive.  There was however a couple of other groups that interested us and they came up before the RIR group.  The first was a quartet of Buff Sussexs.  We were interested until we saw them.  Two of the females had been quite thoroughly plucked by the third.  It could just have been stress of the situation but when all you have to go on is the look of the hens we decided against it.  We watched them though to see what they went for, give us some idea of the price people were going to for groups.  

The next up on our interested was another quartet.  I had spotted them shortly after we arrived.  I wanted a 'proper' cockerel, as I call it, like the RIR's are.  A cockerel with plenty colour and a decent size without looking like a small turkey.  This was a Maran Quartet.  The cockerels are described as not exactly friendly but not aggressive, more aloof.  They are slightly smaller than RIR cockerels which we thought was almost a perfect size for us.  These guys were French Wheaten Marans.

The auctioneer built them up -
"Lovely group.  Rare breed.  Great example.  If you don't want the cockerel the owner will happily take him home again" 
Not us, we want the cockerel.  On and on he went about these birds before the auction began, so different than the usual "Here's some chickens who'll give me a fiver". 
"These are something special" I thought, "The ones in these big cages always are, the cockerel is a handsome boy though".  It was fun to dream.

We had already decided our top money, no going over, just like before.  We awaited the auctioneers start price.  He started the bidding.  Opening price was almost double our pre-decided top.  My heart sank until I saw that Farm Guy had bid! 
I looked at him. 
He looked back at me with a "What?" expression.
I mouthed the bid amount with a questioning look. 
Farm Guy looked shocked, he had misheard.  He quickly asked to retract his bid, saying he had thought the auctioneer had said something much lower (less than a quarter what he had in fact said).  It was the old "-teen" & "-ty" ending mix up.  Farm Guy heard -teen and it was -ty!  The auctioneer laughed and gave a "These birds?  For that low price?  You'd be lucky!" snort. 
The auction started again.  No one bid his high price.  He lowered it.  And lowered it.  And lowered it.  When he had lowered it to what Farm Guy thought he said in the first place, we bid.  A couple of people made a couple of half hearted bids against us and even though the auctioneer kept the auction going as long as he could (another "Drop The Damn Hammer!!!!" moment) no one was interested.  We had won!

With the final bid being less than half Mr Never-Get-Em-For-That-Auctioneer had originally tried to command, I couldn't help feeling a little bit smug as we gave over our number!

So, we are now the proud owners of three French Wheaten Maran hens and a rather attractive cockerel.  This does put out hen count up to eleven (gulp - so many eggs) but Maran hens don't lay anywhere near the number of eggs our girls do - less than half per year.  And we are not against the prospect of selling our excess eggs at the farm door.  When it comes to chicks we should be able to tell the breeding of the chicks based on the colour of the eggs.  Marans lay much more chocolatey coloured eggs than our Lohmann ladies.  A breed with differing coloured eggs was also on our list of wants for just this reason, and fun at the egg collecting! 

Introductions look to be a relatively smooth ride but time will tell.  We have sectioned the chicken run and provided a makeshift coop for the newcomers.  With only some stock wire between them Lohmanns and Marans are close enough to see the whites of the eyes!  Mr McNugget strutted his stuff as soon as he saw our girls, he seems perfectly happy to gain a few more lady friends.  All but one of our hens immediately rushed to the wire to get a good eyeball of the stud-muffin in the run.  The Maran hens act as all French ladies do, with elegant decorum.  Our seven now spend most of the time hanging around, even with wire between them he has control! LOL  The eighth Lohmann lady kind of rolled her eyes at his posturing and went looking for worms!

McNugget and his girls