Friday 31 October 2008

Poor Scarlett

My poor little baby isn't very well. She has an impacted crop.

This happens when they eat something which gets stuck in their crop and causes a blockage. As more food is eaten, it just adds to the blockage, and the poor chicken can't actually get food from the crop to her gizzard. This results in a very hard ball on her chest.

I noticed it around lunchtime on Wednesday, but she'd probably had it for a couple of days by then. I started the recommended treatment of feeding her live white maggots (which, in theory, should then eat the blockage), and some liquid paraffin. A few cc's of this, then massage the crop to try and break up the lump.

Today it looks a bit smaller, but it still isn't right. As it's Friday today, I don't want to risk leaving it over the weekend, so I'll try phoning the Vet to see if I can get an appointment today.

Update: the only appointment available was late this evening, so I've booked that. During the day I've had Scarlett in twice for drops and massage. One of my chicken books recommends warm water, so I switched to that.

It's looking less bad now, but I think I'll still take her to the Vet this evening, just in case.

Tuesday 28 October 2008

Solar water heating, step 2

At last, the new water cylinder for the solar water heating has been installed. Our friendly plumber spent yesterday and today,withDHas his lackey,removing the old tank and fitting the new one.

Out back bedroom now has a bit more room in, but the airing cupboard sadly does not. The new tank is much taller than the old one. Although it's not as deep, it does have a few extra pipes coming out of the front, and a couple of extra bits for safety (in case the sun is too hot for too long) so we're struggling to find space to put replacement shelves.

I use - well, I used to - one not very deep shelf to prove my dough. Hopefully we'll be able to squeeze a narrow shelf in for that, even if it means that we don't have anywhere to air towels. Or bed linen.

I'm sure it'll be worth it in the end.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Feather frenzy

Delilah is moulting.

She stopped laying about 10 days ago. First couple of days, I thought she was having a rest. Then I wondered if she was egg bound. Then I found her bluey grey feathers everywhere. All in the poo trays, across the run floor, and - best of all - stuck to Scarlett's beak.

I had a good look at her just now, and she's very naked underneath. She's a good layer, so hopefully that will mean she'll moult and refeather quickly. A bit of extra protein is called for I think, so I'll give the girls some cat food later.

It's a gorgeous Autumn day outside, so I've given the Girls the run of the garden; they are, of course, all up at the house end where the sun is. I've got the kitchen door open, and I'm sitting at my 'puter right by the door. It's a bit chilly willy, but M. Reynard will be very hungry and more likely to take risks at this time of year.

Saturday 18 October 2008

My Girls

Let the girls out to wander the whole garden this morning. DH not amused.

The Girls are very happy though.

Friday 17 October 2008


I haven't made shortcrust pastry since I was a kid. Even then, my mum made it and I just rolled it out.

After much thought, I decided to buy a new food processor. I needed one which manages small quantities (like one egg yolk for foaming hollandaise sauce, ultimate luxury with my poached eggs) as well as large quantities. Anyway. the cashback site I used told me that a department store had increased their cashback, said department store was having a sale, my processor was in the sale.... you can see where this is going, can't you?

First thing I decided to make was "Caramelised Apple Tart". I used the processor to make the pastry, and I couldn't believe it. Shortcrust pastry in a few seconds! I also used it to process the apples. The result: what a tart!

Yesterday was a busy cooking day. I was making Pumpkin Marmalade (using Butternut Squashes), and the processor grated my huge pumpkin in seconds. And sliced the oranges and lemons. And grated the ginger. While the marmalde was cooking, I started on dinner.

More pastry, home made pasties this time. Then it chopped the onions, grated the carrot and potato and mushroom (yes, I know that isn't traditional, I don't care.) It was fantastic.

I'm really happy that I've discovered pastry. Shame it's so fattening really.

And I feel a bit sheepish for getting so excited over a piece of kitchen equipment. Now that we make so much of our food ourselves though, it's really great to find things that make a difference.

Free for all

Although they have free access to a whole area of garden, lately the Girls have preferred to stay in their covered Hen Pen. I don't blame them really, it's a bit damp at the far end at the moment. I'm having to limit where they can go because the grass is getting destroyed beyond recovery, so I move the fencing every day or two to give them fresh grass.

Today I was doing my weekly rake-and-disinfect of the Palace, so I decided to give the Girls free access to the entire garden while I was working. I also took out the Eglu, which we've been using as a sin bin, as we haven't used it for a couple of weeks and I wanted to pressure wash it and put it away.

The pressure washer isn't working. It's not the fuse, it's not the extension. Never mind, I'll leave the Eglu on the terrace for now.

The Girls were having a grand time exploring the whole garden. I had to fence off the veggie patch, but they did manage to get to some lettuces on the paved area by the side of the house. I got the camera out as I've been trying to get a photo of all four of them together to use on my egg boxes, but they don't tend to range as a group yet. Never mind, I have several hundred digital snaps to sort through, I'm sure there will be some good ones amongst them.

Thursday 16 October 2008


Our Butternut Squash harvest has been poor this year. We've had a couple of teenies, and a couple of good sized ones.

Our friend had a bumper harvest, "a wheelbarrow full", only to discover that he doesn't like them! He kindly gave us a load, and I'm about to turn some into Pumpkin Marmalade.

Except it's a gorgeous day outside. And the Eglu needs washing and putting away, the Cube could do with a proper clean, and the leaves need raking. But I need the marmalade to take with me as we're going to friends for dinner, and K is always asking for Pumpkin Marmalade. (I made some ages ago, and he really liked it; i've never been able to make it the same since, despite following the same recipe!).

Weatherforecast for today AND tomorrow is "Sunny", so I'll be good and do the marmalade today and then I'll do my chicken cleaning tomorrow.

Sunday 12 October 2008

Chicken for dinner

My Girls have a lovely life, and I started to wonder whether I could have a couple of chickens for meat. Obviously I would go for a meat breed, and they would be kept separately from my Girls but still have a lovely free range life. Having the Eglu vacant makes this more of a possibility now.

But I'm a wuss. Would I be able to do the deed, and deal with the chicken afterwards?

Well, Alison from Hook Farm (who supplied Milly and Jasmine) was running a course on how to kill and prepare chickens, so DH and I signed up.

It was an interesting few hours. Both DH and I killed a chicken each, which I did find difficult but I'm really pleased that I now know how to do it humanely (having discovered recently that so called "humane dispatchers" are anything but!).

Then we had to pluck. DH and I shared a chicken to pluck. He did 2/3rds or so, I found it harder to do than I anticipated.

Then we put those birds away for later in the week and Alison produced some she had killed and plucked earlier for us to deal with. This is because you need to leave your dead chicken in tact for a few days before attempting to gut.

I would have been happy to take gut the bird and take it home for roasting. Or maybe to quarter it. However, the plan was to completely debone it. DH did this, I couldn't do it. I could have quartered it and deboned the quarters, but I couldn't cope with this deboning. It was, however, a really good learning exercise. The deboned chicken looked a bit like a babygro.

So, we took the "Blue Peter" chicken home and stuffed and rolled it for dinner. The chicken that I had killed we took home, left it out of the bag to cool down and dry out, then put it back in the bag in the fridge to mature. Unfortunately rigormortis set in, and we'd left the legs elongated, so we ended up putting it in our large salad box.

It was a very educational day. I haven't decided yet whether I could raise my own meat birds, I'll think about that some more after we've gutted this one later in the week.

Saturday 11 October 2008

Apples Identified

We've lived here for 11 years, and today we finally got round to taking some of our apples to be identified.

First up, our "left hand tree", turns out to be a cooking apple. That explains the many pulled faces trying to ascertain whether it was ripe! These "Snow White" apples are apparently "Crawley Beauty".

Next, our "middle tree", which we already knew was a dual purpose: "Golden Noble"; books tell us that this is one of the best tasting cookers, and I'm really pleased. Shame I've missed them all - but there's always next year.

Finally, our "right hand tree", which is a russet. I mistakenly thought it to be an Egremont Russet, but yesterday was put right on this, as Egremeonts are russetty all over whereas ours is russetty in patches. Anyway, the Expert today (who said it was delicious, by the wat) says it's a "Duke of Devonshire". Being a late apple, and being a russett, they are good keepers so, as there are still plenty on the tree, we might try packing some away.

There were lots of apples to try at Waterperry Garden's apple day. I bought a kilo of one really unusual variety, "Pitmaston Pineapple". The texture is wonderfully crisp, but the flavour isn't appley at all. I was racking my brains (and tastebuds) trying to work out what it tasted of. Then I realised. Then I laughed at my stupidity. I bet you know what it is, don't you?

Friday 10 October 2008

Still more apples

Very tired now.

We processed 75kG of apples today into 6.5 litres of apple juice, and 7 demijohns (4.5 litres each) of cider. One of our friends came over with apples from his tree to add to the crates of apples DH picked yesterday. It took about 5 hours or so - with the chaps disappearing to the pub for an hour ar lunchtime - plus a further half an hour cleaning up ready to put all the equipment away til next year. The juice has all been pasteurised, so it'll last for a couple of months or so.

And then we went on to make sausages. 1 kilo of Gloucester Old Spot belly pork, 1 kilo Gloucester Old Spot shoulder, breadcrumbs, herbs and spices and some water. Sausages for dinner tomorrow (they have to chill for 24 hours before using), and the rest are divided up into small packets for the freezer. And the fat off the belly pork is in the oven now making crackling!

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Bring me Sunshine

What a fabulous day!

I took advantage of the unexpected daytime warmth by opening the doors and windows and giving the house a really good airing.

I also raked leaves off the grass. I started by trying to clear the chicken's ranging area, but I just carried on. And on. And on.

As it was stil gorgeous, and I was nicely warmed up, I decided to do a complete empty of the Hen Pen. It's not quite 8 weeks and the flooring actually still looked reasonably OK... but I decided to make hay while the sun shines. The Girls were not too impressed though, as new Aubiose doesn't have any interesting bits of mixed corn or discarded vegetables in it.

After getting myself cleaned up I fed my Christmas cakes, and then did a bit more on DsD's wedding invitations. I'm really pleased with them.

Our borough council has launched a new green waste scheme, whereby residents can pay £29 a year to have a green wheelie bin, and to have it collected every 2 weeks. I've signed up for it. The collections start w/c 3 November, and the bin should be here by then. Hope it arrives soon, as I already have a couple of bags of garden debris in the trailer!

Friday 3 October 2008

An apple a day...

Our first two batches of cider (the ones we made on our course using Discovery apples) have now finished fermenting and have been racked off into clean demijohns. The first batch of cider made from our own apples is busy fermenting in the back bedroom, and DH has been busy picking apples to start the next batch. We have 5 crates full of apples so far!

My pasteuriser has arrived at last, so I'm keen to try making apple juice as well. Reading about it, I've learned that some apples have a delicate flavour, and these don't tend to make a good juice. I suspect that's what we'll find with ours. I also learned that you need to do your blending at the crushing stage; as I don't know what proportions will produce a good juice, it's a bit late. So, we've decided to produce 2 Litres of each of the three varieties. I can then experiment with blending, and then next time I'll know what proportions to try and use.

I really need to get to an apple day to get my varieties identified. I know that one is a dual purpose apple, one is a russet, and the other is just an eater; I know that all of them are fairly high acidity (we had to measure the pH when we were making them into cider). There aren't many apple days near us, but I might make the effort and go to one a bit further afield.

They look wonderful in their crates:

It continues

Last night, same old routine.

Went out to check on the Girls. The Littlees were huddled in the nestbox. As (has now become) usual, I gently posted them on to the roosting bars. There was a lot of grumbling from the Bigees, and Delilah got up. This time, I growled at her, and warned her that if I saw even ONE attempt, she'd be in the Eglu as fast as my arms could carry her.

She glared (yes, chickens can glare) at the Littlees, then she moved so that Scarlett was between her and the Littlees. Then Scarlet stood up and glared at the Littlees. I gave her the same warning.

All four girls settled down, although I wasn't sure it would last.

A couple of hours later I went out, and found that Jasmine had gone back into the nesting box. I gently popped her back on the roosting bars.

Just before (my) bedtime, I went out again, and all four were still on the bars. "Yay!"

I'll try the same thing again tonight...but the Eglu is staying put, just as a reminder.