Friday, 3 April 2015

Adding Strings to your Bow

Yesterday my Mum and I went to a flower arranging workshop, it was a reasonable £25 including tea coffee cake and a welcome glass of fizzy stuff. The theme was of course easter but the skills we learned were transferable, Sandra was a really good teacher despite this being a relatively new venture for her she was most patient especially as we were so slow. We had a fantastic time and both made something far better than we expected. 

I have done a little flower arranging over the years but not had any training as such, the impetus for doing so now was the purchase of some very expensive Sarah Raven cut flower seeds. The plan was to creates some simple bouquets for selling on our gardening group's monthly Farmers market stall, currently we sell plants but no cut flowers. Hopefully the seeds will grow well, we are going to grow them in a raised bed in the veg plot and treat them as a crop rather than part of the garden, that way I won't feel guilty about cutting them.  We do have a large cottage style garden so hopefully we can  use that to help supplement the annual flowers with enough plant material over the summer months.  

This project is one of many we are hoping to add to our money making repertoire , I am also planning to make a range of toiletries ( handmade soaps , hand creams and salves etc) aimed at gardeners . Again I have made soap before but only for home use, if the sums add up this could be a profitable venture but I have yet to investigate the legal aspect too closely. 

My husband is about to become a first time beekeeper, this has been an expensive start up so adding value to the products he produces is key.  As well as selling honey he hopes to make candles and i should be able to use honey and beeswax in my products too. The big push to earn a small income is that he will be retiring (early ) at the beginning of next year and we will have a little less income than we do at present. we are quite frugal already but the slight shortfall has made us a little nervous so we are exploring other avenues whilst we can still afford to experiment.

So what did I make at the flower arranging class? A lovely table centrepiece containing freesias, ranunculus, chrysanthemums and several types of eucalyptus foliage. I hope you will agree it's very pretty , the quails eggs are of course from my birds and the chocolate ones provided at the workshop are of course long gone . What things do you do to create a little extra cash?

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Thinking of keeping Quail?

There are several types of quail such as Mearns, Rain, Harlequin, Californian, Button and Bobwhite but these are primarily aviary birds. The best breed for meat and eggs are Japanese or Coturnix Quail rather confusingly sometimes known colloquially as Italian or Texan quail. Confused? Don’t be quail are easy to keep, take up little room, eat little and lay lots of eggs which fetch a premium price!  The expected lifespan of a quail is 2-10 years given their quick reproductive cycle and the speed at which they mature it is unfortunate that they have historically been keenly sought after by the animal testing companies.

Quail are not hardy birds n or are they completely domesticated so require housing where they are kept contained and can shelter from the wind, an indoor and outdoor set up is ideal. this can be anything from a rabbit hutch  to (as in my case ) a purposely adapted dog kennel and run  whatever you used allow a square foot of space per bird and have available a hospital cage.

Quail are very cheap to feed; I feed mine on a 50:50 mix of finch seed and chick crumb. Commercial pellets are available but not locally and cost a lot more, quail need a higher protein ration than hens so i supplement this feed with a few mealworms a day too. Grit is needed as with hens but buy the small ‘bird’ or pigeon grit, quail also love greens and their sharp beaks make short work of them.  A sack of each feed costs about £35 and last my 25 birds a couple of months.

Eggs come thick and fast , onset of lay is at 5-6 weeks as long as they get 14  hours of light a day (this can be a mix of daylight and artificial ) and are laid at the rate of 8 a week! Usually in the evening and not in the same place or in a nest box they are just dropped and left, eggs weigh about 10g and are about a fifth of the size of a hens egg. There are no specific selling rules for eggs, but  they do count toward poultry head count for DEFRA registration.  I find it best to label as per hens eggs with name and address etc and include a 2 week use by date. I charge £2 per dozen and order special sized egg boxes come from EBay. 

Domesticated birds seem to have lost the ability to brood their eggs , none of mine have shown any inclination to become mothers and I incubate artificially.

I use a Brinsea mini incubator with a special insert for 12 quail eggs , the temperature needed  is slightly higher than for  hens at 37.5 degrees centigrade Eggs pip at day 15 and it’s all over by day 18 , quail chicks are tiny compared to hens chicks. 

Brooding is done using a simple plastic box with fireglow bulb, the box has a lid as the birds can fly within a week and escape the box, ask me how I know!  In the first few days gravel is needed in the water to prevent drowning, a layer of kitchen roll is also laid over the shavings to provide extra grip  just for the first few days to prevent leg splaying .  

Sexing is really tricky, some colours can be sexed at 3 weeks but with the others usually its best to wait their behaviour gives them away.  The birds can be weaned off heat after the first full week and join existing birds at about four , a spell in a cage in the run with older birds whilst they get to know each other is advised to keep fighting to a minimum.  Unfortunately they do fight a lot, during the breeding season I keep the males in individual pens and allow the females the run of the coop. Mating is quite traumatic (and frequent) for the females and can result in injury, if you want fertile eggs best to put the male and the females you want to breed from in a smaller pen/cage as this way the hen is less likely to injure herself.There are many colours of Japanese quail , some  normal brown ones are pictured below. The gold gene is dominant but be aware a double dose is lethal and causes a failure to hatch  .  All in all quail are lovely to keep and if you’re interested in further research I can highly recommend the book by Katie Thear.

female on the left , male on the right . 

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Been a while ................

Apologies for the lack of posts , I lost my blogging mojo a bit but I think its back now so an update.

Currently we have 13 hens and a cockerel, 2 hens are sitting on eggs one of which we have no idea for how long we found her in a box of wood shavings in the barn. She was sat on 22 eggs which is far  too many,  so a quick candling to test for fertile ones and a speedy rehoming in a broody coop were necessary. Both broodies are sitting tight so fingers crossed that in a fortnight we will be overrun with chicks, the second hen is sat on some bought in eggs from a friend these are an autosexing type so should be able to figure out the cockerels from day one . Last years cockerels are all in the freezer I hate this job I always think its not worth the effort involved but needs must. 

We have about 25 quail hens and a couple of cocks, I gave a talk in january about quail keeping which generated some interest in bird sales unfortunately my first hatch of the season was an epic fail , I am blaming the borrowed incubator but it could have been the eggs . I always buy eggs online and before now never had a problem. Never mind only 18 days to hatch so will pop some more in my own little incubator next week. this is a day old quail from a previous hatch. 

We got of to a tricky start with ducks as the first ones we had were stolen one night, by people rather than a fox as I don't think mr fox knows how to open a field gate ! They left us the drake which the fox eventually took but we started again and now have 7 ducks.5 abacot rangers and 2 indian runners we average 4-5 eggs a day but we eat these my egg customers seem very suspicious of duck eggs , probably due to the fact they had a reputation years ago for tasting fishy due to the fish meal in their food but modern feeds don't have it so no fishiness but no customers lucky for us as they make the best scrambled eggs and cake. 

We acquired 4 orphan lambs 3 weeks ago they are growing fast but I am shattered , it's like having a baby again! We chose to raise lamb this way as we struggled to buy weaned lambs at a good price last year and ended up raising someone else's lambs as a trial run instead. They are commercially bred mules but so cute, destined for the freezer in November, probably the hardest challenge yet. 

Piglets are on order and due here at the end of april, we spent a bit of time upgrading their accommodation as it got wet in their last year so a concrete pad has been laid under their ark. We have chosen gloucester old spots this year and strangely we tracked down a breeder on our doorstep, they are 2 weeks old here we are only taking 2  which is more than enough of a feed bill. Am  hoping the breeder will share here contacts for bulk buying root veg which will help somewhat. 

The veg plot is all but asleep but this week has seen a flurry of seed sowing activity, chillies and peppers were sown in january and are growing well in the house I find these need a bit more of a head start.  

So whilst we have been quiet we have been busy and will try and keep you up to date more often in the future x

Friday, 8 August 2014

Proper Smallholders Yet?

Sorry for neglecting this Blog, real life gets in the way far too often and we spend so much time "doing" we never seem to have time to re-examine. It has been almost two years to the day since we moved here and I still don't feel like a proper smallholder, or at least I didn't until the beginning of July, this was when these chaps arrived

Meet Beano, Dandy and Dennis, they are staying with us for the summer, eating our grass and making me smile on a daily basis.  They belong to a friend who has too many sheep and not enough grass our payment in lieu of rent and care will be half a carcass of prime Lincolnshire lamb. I have despaired at the fact they won't be sheared before they go to the butcher in November, as they all have lovely fleece however I am hoping to have the skins to turn into rugs. I gather there is some special paperwork at the abattoir (when isn't there?) as skin is classed as hazardous waste but it is possible. 

It is strange to think that in the last two years we have raised hens for eggs and meat, quail and ducks and kept three pigs but it was someone else's stock that made us feel like "proper" smallholders, I think perhaps it was to do with being seen as trustworthy enough to care for what is essentially valuable assets . The arrangements suit us perfectly as when there owner comes to do any healthcare jobs we get to help and learn, which will help when we get sheep of our own. We will definitely keep sheep of our own next year, probably orphan lambs as we don't really have enough land to keep ewes and lambs. the joy of this experience is that it has cost us nothing but we have gained confidence and skills which will help us be better shepherds. 

Its not a complete disaster on the fleece front either as the owners of the sheep have fleeces from the parents and older sisters of the boys that I can take my pick of. I have quite a collection of fleece now and need to start the long process of washing it all before the lovely weather we have been used to disappears. My spinning has improved loads but there aren't enough hours in the day at the moment, come winter when outdoor jobs are less pressing I will be happily pedalling away hopefully sitting on a new sheepskin rug. 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

June Bouquet

Following on from the garden post I was inspired to start a new feature, each month I will pick a bouquet of flowers for the house and share them with you too. Here is June's bouquet, a mixture of roses, poppies, centaurea, ferns, black elder, geranium and foxgloves, oh and a bit of feverfew. I have always like playing with flowers , I did a short flower arranging was about 30 years ago but still remember the basics I think it is really pretty and the scent is amazing. Can't wait til July :)

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Back Garden

We have done a lot of work in recent weeks renovating the back garden, This garden is north facing but gets the sun from noon until sunset . We began by replacing the old fence above with the new one below, this fence borders our neighbours 'wild' field after what seemed like months of pulling weed seedlings out of the garden last year we decided we needed a more solid barrier. As well as keeping the weeds back it will also create the perfect backdrop to show off the plants. 

The garden itself consists of a central bed surrounded by a path which is again surrounded by borders, the planting is cottage garden in style and the central bed has a few large shrubs . The gardens original owner planted plants for their sensory qualities and we have added where possible to keep this theme. 

Last year we built a deck in this little corner its just big enough for two armchairs and a little table , perfect for watching the sun go down.  I can often be found here hving a cuppa and surveying all the hard work we have done, the kids never think to look here for me either which is a bonus. I have a few pots to go in this area I must get them in position, they are filled with fuchsias and Dianthus.

The wall on the right is the back of our neighbours outbuildings (a milking parlour and dairy for cheese making) and is covered in scented climbers. The winter Honeysuckle is scent-sational as is the Viburnum Burkwoodii planted by the gate. 

This is one of the views from the deck, dense planting so as to crowd out any weeds, well at least that's the theory. 

This is the view into the central bed , not so much work been done here , pretty much left it as we found it , there's a large bamboo which makes me nervous as its close to the house (and our Victorian septic tank). Bamboos can be incredibly invasive causing damage to buildings and foundations but I am assured this is not one of the thugs. 

This is the opposite side of the garden adjoining the field, most of the plants here were rescued from a local country house which dug up its borders after a decision to close to the public and reduce it's staffing.  

They are filling out nicely and it was great having access to big clumps of healthy plants, certainly save us a few quid , but its a shame to see the gardeners life's work dug up. So that is your tour of the garden , It will be a while before you get to see the front one as it is undergoing some major changes, including yet another sitting and relaxing spot in the form of a summerhouse, I promise we do work hard not just spend the days sitting around !

Monday, 9 June 2014

Permaculture MOT Part One

What is Permaculture?

I first became aware of the term 'Permaculture' a few years ago but have yet to find a definition of the principles that doesn't leave people confused,  a friend forwarded me this recently and I have to say this is  the easiest explanation I have ever read. Its been just over a year since we moved and started our smallholding, I thought now would be a good idea to see how well we have stuck to our 'permaculture principles'. 

Blackcurrant bushes growing in rows North-South

Observe and interact

We observed our land for quite some time before we lifted a spade (or a post driver) we watched the way the sun travelled across the land, we observed how the land drained (or not) and we watched the wind patterns. After a couple of months we came up with a plan and on the whole we have stuck to itour veg beds are on the most southern part of our plot and run north to south in order to get maximum sunlight as the sun crosses the sky. The pond was dug in an area of the field which naturally held water,the spoil was used to create a bank around the pond and scattered with wild flowers to create a nectar bar for bees and insects. A woodland was planned and planted at the north end in an arc pattern to create a shelter belt from those cold north winds, and in line with Permaculture zoning this area which needs the least attention is furthest from the house.

The wild flower bank in its second summer

Catch and store energy

Now this is an interesting one because energy has lots of guises , but the best way I can think of explaining it is to conserve/store energy ...both animal, vegetable and mineral.  We have insulated our house as much as possible to minimise the use of fossil fuel (in our case oil) and harvested rainwater for use in the garden and for the animals. We have collected and chopped firewood all spring to use over winter and we have preserved and frozen lots of food energy too (animal and vegetable). we conserved personal energy by operating a no dig approach in the veg plot, using mulch /lasagne beds. We use the composting loo whenever possible to conserve precious tap water, whilst all these things were done with Eco-mindedness  there has been a knock on effect on our personal expenditure too, as household running costs have gone down  . I would really love a form of electric generation but funds prohibit this at this stage , and wind turbines are not welcomed in our district which is sad. 

Who can say these are ugly?

Obtain a yield

This one would seem simple but permaculture is not just about gardening, the principles can be applied to everyday life. A yield could be sharing a meal and offering comfort, skill sharing, giving time to help others in your community. Whilst we have had quite a good vegetable and fruit yield we have both made an effort to get involved in community/group activities. Hubby volunteers at a local woodland, planting tidying and coppicing local woodlands. I volunteer at a gardening eduction project and sit on a couple of local committees as well as this I  cook for some of the elderly members of my wider 'family'. We have both also learned many new skills both practical (bricklaying, woodturning, felting, carving and  green woodworking)  and some creative (reading and playing music, spinning and using a knitting machine).

Our first home grown bacon

Apply self-regulation and respond to feedback

To me this section is about looking to both the past and the future, recognising things that work and those that don'tThe woodland we planted is never going to mature in our lifetime this will be our legacy to future generations that live on the farm.  We have benefited from hedges planted by past generations, both in shelter terms as well as the fact they provide homes for wildlife for us to watch. They also provide us with wild produce which we have eaten and added value to to create a small income.  The field we grow our veg in is one which was once farmed organically on a commercial basis so has lots of fertility built in......evidenced by the presence of nettles and  thistles. By using this as a base and adding mulch beds we guarantee it's future fertility

Renewable Resources

Trees are the ultimate example of a renewable multi-purpose resource. From them, we get food building materials, and fuel. They also provide shade during summer for cooling our homes, blocking the wind, filtering the air, and releasing oxygen. Our fruit trees  will eventually yield crops for many years  and will mean that we can eventually  practice the ethic of fair share by sharing our crops with our friends, neighbours and wider community. Even when the trees have finished their productive life, we can use their wood  as fuel or building materials or chip them to create mulch or compost. We plan to add more trees and shrubs so that we end up with a diverse age range of plant material, this is key to biodiversity and longevity.

Produce no waste

This area is the one we need to improve on the most, whilst the garden itself produces no waste, and it provides an opportunity to recycle some of the household waste (peelings, paper, card as well as clothing made from natural fibres) the waste which leaves our home in collections could be improved. Part of the problem comes from sharing our home with someone who doesn't embrace our lifestyle choice fully, my eldest son is most definitely a consumer ..............of electronics, gadgets, and takeaway food. The majority of waste that leaves our house comes from him, he will be leaving home soon which will solve our bin problem but I worry it won't help the planet. We are lucky in that our council has a very wide ranging doorstep recycling scheme and at least everyone in the house sorts their rubbish for collection.

I will follow this post up outlining our achievements in other areas in the next few weeks , but want to ask how many of you reflect on your goals and achievements?