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Friday, 8 November 2013

Growing, chicks, garden and house

Once the plot had been ploughed, Dave set to work trying to dig over a patch ready for planting onions, garlic and lettuce. Not that we eat a lot of lettuce, but it is the accepted thing to do. I already have a few in the border, which would be enough for us but............We don’t see many slugs here, but the snails are huge, as is the earthworm Dave chopped in half (accidentally) and brought in to show me. I thought it was a snake when I first saw it, I have seen plenty of worms in my time but this one was enormous! Even the chooks didn’t want to take it on.
So in went 150 onion sets and 120 garlic. The onions are for summer use, the ones to keep over winter next year will be planted in spring. After the builders went that same night Venka called Dave over to show she had a bowl full of garlic and string for straight lines all ready for us, so Dave had to explain that we had already put our’s in. She looked so crestfallen bless her, but we have to be independent and not rely on others. We found out later that she had done the same with our English neighbours and they had already put 150 in as well. I feel so guilty!
However, we carry on and Dave went off to the market while I waited for the builders and put in another 45 garlic, just to be on the safe side! Dave came back with three little bunches of lettuce and a carrier bag of strawberry plants, costing less than two quid. I can see why people don’t bother to do their own, not worth the seeds. At least we know we have the right varieties to grow here through winter, a cos type and a webs type. We have some cloches and might cover a few to see the difference. I am not sure if they are for winter or spring use.

Elsewhere in the garden the chard, carrots and beetroot are growing well now, possibly due to the heavy dew and sunny days, certainly not from tlc! The purple sprouting broccoli which is supposed to be ready in January has started to sprout. I am really happy about that as it is my favourite veg and I could eat it every day. We have no idea if such ‘fancy’ veg will survive the winter here, and Venka is all for pulling it up! We do have a small plastic greenhouse we could put over some if we think it might be worth it, we’ll see.

We still have loads of cabbages though, and we have tried to get Venka to take the huge ones for the pigs and thought she had agreed, but they are still there, waiting. I have frozen some, which goes against the grain, and the freezer has taken on an awful smell of cabbagey leek. I have also done a bucket full of sauerkraut as it is traditional here, but it has made half a bucket and that is plenty, we don’t want to make barrels full. The idea is that it is good for digestion and also a veg for the lean times over winter. I have lots frozen so won’t need it and hope that there will still be some brassicas worth eating straight from the garden.

The neighbousr behind us, an old couple, have insisted that we have their apple windfalls. They are lovely apples, they look like gala and are huge....and very bruised. Still they make a lovely pie. He also keeps going on about using the quince, so Dave has picked a load to keep him happy. There is not much we can do at the moment with having builders knocking down kitchen and bedroom walls. If the gate is left open this nice man who hobbles with a stick is through like a shot to see what is going on. 

The chickens are doing really well. We have been so lucky that the weather has been so good this autumn. We are not getting many eggs, the two Shumen hens are laying a few and poor Silver is still laying rather delicate ones but the others have stopped all together. They are all moulting, with Cagney having a rough time and having big bald patches. I was told that hens in their first year don’t do a proper moult, but no-one told Cagney and Lacey, and even Venus has funny shaped ‘pantaloons’ where the feathers are loosening.
Teenage cockerel is growing up! He is trying hard to crow and his face is starting to redden as is the way for the Shumen. He has also started to grow fine, glossy feathers on his shoulders like Sevi. He is not picking on the littles as much as he was and things have quietened a lot.

They still keep more or less to their sibling groups most of the time, but sometimes the teenages mix with the older hens and the littles mix with the teenagers. One of the Shumen hens is hanging around the chicks a lot, not sure if she wants to play mum or she fancies a toy boy. Whichever it is Sevi is vigilant and puts the boy in his place regularly.
All the chicks roost at night, though in this pic Solo had just fallen off as the camera warmed up, bless her. But she generally manages OK with her twisted toes.

Dave has started to line the other half of the main hen house against pest and predators, ready for the Shumen to move in to. As we are trying to live a frugally as we can he is using the old corrugated iron from the overhang the builders took off to line the roof, the door from the cellar will also be used, with a panel of something holey to ventilate without letting in vermin. The floor will be rendered along with the brick walls and any gaps stuffed with old wire mesh and filled with mortar. A bit of fencing and then I can have my girls back! He does love a project!

We are still having amazing weather and have not yet started using the fires (except very occasionally) which we rushed to have put in over a month ago. Dave is still calling in at the river for a dip if he is passing, but I have to say it is not exactly warm indoors if you are sitting still. I just hope this doesn’t mean that the winter will be too awful. But if it does, we will cope.

We have a pair of owls hanging around at the moment. They are very nocturnal though and as we can’t get a proper look we have no idea what they are. Not being experts on hoots doesn’t help. Dave has managed some nice silhouette photos though. He is going to take his strong torch out and see if he can get a good look. Neither of us know much about owls, we just know they are not the resident little owls.

We are starting to find spiders in the house which we haven’t seen before, presumably looking for somewhere warm to spend the winter. This one looked quite a bruiser...till you see it next to a pen!

I don’t mind spiders if they keep to the walls, but the ones who live here permanently are weird. They have tiny bodies and long legs, but can screw up their legs so that they don’t look like spiders, just a bit of dirt, but when they try to walk they look unco-ordinated, rather like a drunk. Creepy. And they tend to leave huge amounts of web everywhere. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t mind spiders but webs freak me out!

The building work is coming along. The main bit is built, doorway to the bedroom is knocked out and a new door is being made to fit the space. The window has been moved to the new wall and because there is not a big overhang there is a lot more light coming in. Tomorrow the concrete floor is being laid and hopefully some gaps filled so that we will not get any visitors coming from the loft space over the kitchen! Dave has to go round stopping up all the holes after the builders leave every night.

 The new door which replaces the window.

In the kitchen I have made a discovery. Cheese and Walnut sausages are delicious! I have been missing the convenience of having veggie sausage in the freezer so thought I would experiment. It was a technical experiment consisting of throwing a couple of handsful of breadcrumbs, strong cheese and finely chopped walnuts in a bowl, adding an onion and couple of garlic cloves whizzed up in a couple of eggs and a handful of fresh herbs (chervil, parsley and sage), leaving the mix to sit then forming them into sausages. Very good and very cheap to make. They freeze well and  hold their shape when cooking so will go in toad in the hole. Lovely.

We also treated the builders to pizza for lunch one day. I made the dough early and left it in the fridge till it was time to put them together and it worked really well. I used home made sauce from our stash in the cellar, a frozen roast pepper, some local salami and cheese with a few black olives on one, and strong garlic butter-oil and spinach and cheese on the other. They wolfed the lot in minutes! Along with some apple, pear and plum chutney. Again, cheap to make but very much appreciated. Then gave them beetroot and chocolate cake for afters.  I would have loved to have seen the lads’ faces when Darren explained it was beetroot cake if Venka’s or Darren’s was anything to go by.

And this was a take on Paul Hollywood's giant sticky bun (half of it anyway) Very nice, even without butter.

And finally, can anyone guess what Bella wants? If this doesn't say 'PLAY WITH ME' I don't know what does!

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