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Thursday, 27 February 2014

All change in the chicken house

Now that the Scrawnies have settled in, the chickens have been split into two groups. The layers (or misfits) and the breeding Shumens. The Shumens have gone into the new pen so that we don't see much of them, especially as there is still a barrier up so that the two groups can't see each other. I rather miss them but someone had to go there. The split didn't go down well with Sevi. He has lost his best girl, one of the misfits, and she was calling to him too. I felt so mean! Every so often Sevi tries to call all his girls to come to him, but it is getting less frequent.

The misfits, comprising of the scrawnies, Darcy Shumen who dances everywhere so she doesn't lose her balance on her twisted feet. Pearl Shumen who is very pale and pretty, but not correct. Chubba, Sevi's favourite with one twisted foot. Cagney and Lacey the brown bonnetted hens, not pretty but they lay nice eggs. These are all my (potential) layers and with me being a veggie I am not happy eating fertilised eggs, not that there is anything wrong with them and I am happy to cook with them, just don't fancy a soft boiled one. I have been hankering after a soft boiled egg for so long now, but I still feel mean splitting them up.


Today has been a big day for the scrawnies. Two have laid their first eggs for us this morning. One was found in the run so we don't know who laid it, the other was from the lightest hen, Milly, who needed company so tunnelled under poor Lacey, who is having an off day and wanted a lie in, and laid her egg in there. Come to think of it, Molly did her usual trick of getting herself trapped in a small space in the feed shed so it might be worth a look in there.......will have to take the barrier down later anyway.

 Milly pushing her way under Lacey
 Egg found in the pen
 Milly's egg
I know, they're just ordinary looking brown eggs, but they are special to us!

And the reason for all the shuffling is that we need the nursery for the next batches of chicks. We have a dozen marams due in a few days (maybe ten are viable) and a dozen Polands have gone in too, as well as five Shumen. We have a new incubator coming today as we had another go at running the brand new one we brought out with us which gave up the ghost before the first hatch was complete, so we lost all the eggs. It is no good, we can't trust it. The one we are using is OK, but it is old and we don't want to be in the same position where we have nowhere to put eggs if it breaks. We also have some 'Easter Egger' eggs coming, so named as they are all different colours. Easter eggers are a type rather than a pure breed. All go!

We have had a set back in the weather, waking up to a sprinkling of snow one morning, followed by a sharp frost. Just a reminder that it is still only February. We have had to extend the seed area by the window to protect the delicates. The new extension is proving very useful as boot and coat room, incubator room and nursery. It still hasn't been finished though, it's just too nice outside.

 Not quite sure what happened to all my extra work space.....................
 A little spring violet, not bothered about snow.

 The snow effectively watered the garden, which made mud, which was brought into the house on doggy paws (the trouble with having the door open!) There was more inside than on the yard. Bless them, butter wouldn't melt....

In the kitchen I have been reduced to making peanut butter for Dave as it is difficult to get nice stuff here, usually it is only available on offer. It is so easy and even I like it. I just used a bag of roasted peanuts with some of the salt rubbed off, a dash or two of oil and a couple of teaspoons of honey. Dave is a happy boy.

Also had another try at fruit buns, and this time I didn't burn them! Yummy.

And finally, for the bug lovers amongst you....or do spiders not count? Whatever you think, this is very unusual!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Spring really is on the way, the birds say so.

Although the temperatures have dipped a bit there are still signs of spring being imminent. It seems the huge number of corn buntings are one of these signs, and yesterday we saw large flocks of goldfinches, something we have not seen for ages. Dave is painting the outside of the house and says he heard a bee eater call, then added it may have been a starling, they are amazing mimics. However, while I was picking broccoli I definitely heard a stork clacking it's beak. There have been several reports from ex-pats around the country that the storks have made an early return this year, I will send Dave and camera out to investigate. But we still need rain!


All the neighbours have been busy on their plots. We can see that the one behind us has marked out his beds with different methods.All are surrounded by little raised hills to stop any precious water escaping. The large one has trenches within, possibly the tomatoes will be going there again. The precision has to be seen to be believed and there is no way these newbies can replicate them so we will just stick to our version. Venka has been down to our English neighbours' garden and planted more onions and garlic and I'm not sure if we should put some more garlic in for eating fresh.

When Dave went to move the car out yesterday he found the neighbours looking through the wall bricks and chattering loudly about something. On inviting them in it seems they were excited about the new cold frame and were wondering what it ws for! They then did a bit of a tour around what is already on the go with lots of ooohs and aaahs and bravos. Dave had to try to explain rhubarb, and alien species to Bulgarians, so he showed them a picture in a gardening book, whereupon they asked if it was edible! So we will be having a rhubarb tasting with the neighbours in the summer and my mind is already whirling around jams, chutneys, crumbles and fools, roasted with the delicious local yogurt, stewed with custard....the list is growing! The overwintered chervil also caused interest. Jordan was going to pull it out thinking it was a weed, but was persuaded to try a taste instead. The onion/garlic bed was admired and they wanted to know where everything was going to be planted. It is so nice that rather than tell us how the Bulgarians would do it, they were interested in how we do it. I only hope we get good crops! Finally Jordan told Dave what to do with the vines, something very new to us and we value his advice.

                                          Dave with Jordan, Venka, their neighbour and Baba Danka
                                         Checking out the rhubarb

Well, I got my new camera. Dave went off on his own to get it after browsing the website and checking reviews. They didn't have any of the ones he went for, but they had a more powerful version of the one I love so much, so he got that. It has amazing zoom capabilities (I thought my old camera was good) and all sorts of extra functions, you can even link it to wi fi (?) whatever that means.I have mixed feelings, I love the camera, but it was expensive. He says I'm worth it, who am I to argue? So off we went to try it out and although it was still a bit foggy it was not as bad as it has been lately. Shame I was not quick enough to get a photo of the squirrel we saw, but a huge plaster on my right index finger hampered me (don't try to pick up smashed pyrex, it is incredibly sharp!) Can't wait for some decent mornings again.

                                         Slightly better pics of the cormorants

                                         This bird of prey thought it was hiding....but not from my new camera!
                                                   This reminded me of fish bones
                                          Corn bunting singing

We had two plates of party food brought over yesterday. The first from Venka was in remebrance of her parents. I have no idea how this works, need to research. The other was from Baba Danka, who explained very slowly what it was for, but of course I had no idea. She seemed happy with my response and I felt guilty for not understanding.
                                          Venka's rice pudding with walnuts, kiwi and satsuma and chocolate bars
                                          Baba Danka's rice pud with pancake, swiss roll,salami, sweets and bread roll.

The chickens are slowly coming in to lay and as well as Chubba's broken egg we got three yesterday, Yorkshire puds for lunch today! The Scrawnies are settling well. They mix fine with the others once they are evicted from their house, though they would rather entertain their visitors 'at home'. They have discovered the taste of grass and the pleasures of the dust bath. Sevi has paid a polite interest (they are girls after all!) but is not pushy, and all the others have had a peck of feather but there is no real animosity and everything is calm. We have a feeling Sevi might be firing blanks however, we put five eggs from his current favourite hen in the incubator two weeks ago and it seems they are infertile. We will be putting some shumen eggs in when the marans hatch and will see what happens there. If he is infertile (the bitter cold can do it apparently) he can reside with my layers as an amorous ornament, a very handsome one, as he keeps the bossier ladies in line. We will then have to decide whether we will get another cockerel, but we are not at that stage yet.

They really do make our other chickens look digustingly healthy.

Dave and Bella chicken watching, from Bella's favourite look-out post.

I would like to thank all those regular readers and commenters, whether on here or by email, for your continued support, and especially Ky for her valuable advice on chicken keeping.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Foiled by the weather

We have been very lucky that our first winter has so far been mild by Bulgarian standards. But one small niggle has been the fog. There has been a lot of it, and though it doesn't disrupt our lives as such, after all if we don't want to go out we don't have to, but we like to visit beautiful places, and we like to go early so that the animals we love to see are still about. We both love taking photos and have different priorities and cameras with different strengths. I absolutely love my Sony Cybershot point and shoot, it has great zoom, excellent low light abilities, great video and macro. Dave has a Sony Cybershot bridge camera with bigger zoom and a proper eye piece as well as screen, does all sorts of clever things, but is too big and clumsy for me, and although his zoom is even better than mine, his macro isn't. Unfortunately mine is suffering from use, has a cracked body and dirt in the lens or on the reflector or something, so is showing spots on white or blue backgrounds. I can't afford a new Cybershot so cheaper alternative is on the cards, then we will try taking this apart to clean it and have it as a second camera.

I digress. It was a nice morning this morning and we have been itching to get out with cameras, so dogs walked and chooks freed, off we went to our local lakes and rivers, about ten minutes drive away. By the time we hit the main road we were in thick fog! Never mind, carry on. The area around the lakes could be beautiful, but there is a lot of rubbish dumped there which spoils things and makes you worry about wildlife. It doesn't put people off going there to swim and make a fire for picnics though. However, today it was hard to see much. We saw a few Gypsies with their carts hanging about, they go through rubbish to see what they can sell we are told, like anything metal or clothes. The first wildlife we saw (vaguely) were a tree full of cormorants, eerie in the fog. Of course the white showed up the spots on my camera, but when Dave got out of the car they flew off. The bird song was great, but trying to see what the grey blobs were was difficult. Dave had a look in the mud by the river, finding poo (otter) and tracks of dog and something small, plus a half eaten fish.

 We wandered off the usual track and came across a rather macabre sight. It seems that there have been a lot of dead animals dumped here in the past, there were skulls and bones, big ones, in a heap and spread out. It must have stunk to high heaven, surely must have upset visitors to the river. We decided they must have been horses as they has upper teeth and the bones were large. Interesting if rather gruesome. Further on and the snowdrops are lovely, but not in huge clumps as in GB, more singly as in the garden. There were also lots of tiny acid green helebores, very cute.

Off up another track, still very murky, and there was a buzzard looking for worms. A bit further and there were flocks of corn buntings mixed with what Dave thinks are fieldfares, but difficult, again, when everything is grey. We gave up and turned around and the buzzard was still hunting. This time Dave was on the same side and got an amazing picure of the bird lifting it's tail and having a poo! What are the chances of that?

 Buzzard pooing!
By the time we had reached the first lake again and decided we might as well go home, the sun was trying to come out and Dave got a nice but moody reflection shot.

 Well, spring is definitely showing itself. In the garden the 'lawn' has turned into a mass of tulip leaves interspersed with daffodils and snowdrops, and the first of the daff buds are showing. The flower buds on the cornus by the gate are bursting open, though they were not open when we viewed the house in early March last year. It will be interesting to see what it looks like in full bloom. We are both covered in insect bites....this is February isn't it?

Dave had better luck with the weather when he went out yesterday and found katkins and bugs, including a pair of firebugs mating and a black cricket. He saw hares but they were too quick for him.

So now there is blazing sun outside, I can't cook as I have cut my finger badly, so I had better get outside and make the most of it. Temperatures are set to go down to around 15 and we have been promised a shower or two. We need it.

Till next time.