Friday, March 10, 2017

Life in March

Photo of three chickens pecking a pile of grass clippings
Plucky, Tiny and Star, enjoying fresh grass clippings
We made it through the winter without losing a single chicken.  We ate Lavender the cockerel in November, clearly still in autumn.  We have a couple of old ladies in the flock, but they're still happy and interested, though Plucky at about 4.5 years old is noticeably slower than the rest.  However, she went through a big molt late last year and has a full set of soft new feathers, so we assume she'll be with us a bit longer.

Franklin had his seventh birthday this week.  He helped make his chocolate cake (we made our favorite brownie recipe, actually), and also picked out a cake from the shop to take to school.  I'm not prepared to organize another birthday party for him (once was enough for me!), but the three of us are going to Manchester Legoland Discovery Centre at the weekend for his special birthday treat.  Manchester is about a 60-90 minute drive from us, but it should be a fun day and luckily Partner's doing the driving.

I work in a school kitchen now instead of the hotel restaurant.  Most of the local schools are run by the same catering company, and over the course of the last year and a half I've worked at most of them!  But I got a permanent contract at a school a few villages away starting last September.  I've really enjoyed this little school and have got to know many of the children there at lunchtime.  However, the company has lost some staff recently so there has been a reshuffle and I'm temporarily working at the local village school where Franklin attends.  I've been told it's until more staff are recruited, but I suspect I may be there for the rest of the school year (July).  It's nice to be able to walk to there, though it's a bit harder work seeing as they cater to more than twice as many kids as my old school.  Still, I'm enjoying it while it lasts, and it's nice to get a wave and a smile from Franklin during lunchtime.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Spring cleaning

Oh it's been a while!  It's not that nothing's going on, though:  just been living life.

I hibernated for a few months this winter, from November till about mid January.  I hardly went out into the garden, even.  I've been busily pursuing my indoor crafts, including hand quilting another quilt (log cabin--much simpler than my last applique quilt).  I really want to make another rag rug, but am saving it till my quilt is finished.  Maybe in spring.

I've re-listened to Marie Kondo's book, and am going to restart her method.  Last year I went through my clothes, books, and papers;  I'm ready to move onto the next category, miscellaneous.  It's the biggest category, and seemed very daunting before.  I actually tackled a few sub-categories of it (such as fabric and stationery), but for the most part it's just there, huge and seemingly unconquerable.  I'm ready to give it another shot, though.
Photo of a back garden, showing an untidy patio, lawn, trees at the back, and chicken coop in the far corner
View from my back door, Feb 2017
In the meantime, I'm doing some deep cleaning, assisted by Franklin, age 6.  Yesterday I scrubbed off about three years of his stickers from the freezer door--it's nice and white again!  But there's a lot more to go;  housework isn't my forte, after all.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The last days before school starts

Laundry basket of rutabaga, growing nicely
With only two weeks left of our school summer break, I'm doing my best to relax before going back to work. 

Franklin and I have a goal to build with every single one of his legos, even the tiny ones.  We started building a tower, but decided to tear it down and try something else.  Over Christmas break we built a beach town with shops, vehicles, and animals like whales and fish--but we didn't manage to use every piece.  We're on a mission!
Pond filter cleared the pond!  What pretty fish
Partner's had some time off too, and will have next week off with us.  Two weeks ago we all went to the beach, on a sunny day.  We even went swimming in the sea!  I really enjoyed paddling about;  I don't think I've swum since I moved here, more than 10 years ago.  I don't even have a swimsuit anymore.  I swam in a black tunic and regular underwear.  I say swim, but I didn't go past my waist, as I didn't want to get swept out.  Still, it was deep enough to duck down and get wet all the way to my neck, and float around.

I've been harvesting vegetables from my garden every day, and some of them are really producing well.  We have so much chard;  over the last two days I've picked 2 pounds of it!  And the runner beans are finally taking off, almost a month later than last year.  But I'm picking them every day, and salting some down for the winter, too.  We've had one zuccini and one cucumber so far.  The zuccini plant had slug damage early on and took a while to recover;  it's still a bit sad.  Cucumber likewise, but at least it's growing more fruits, unlike the poor zuccini.  Still, we might get another couple before the season's done.  And one of my friends from my knitting group gave me a sack of her zuccinis, so all is not lost.

Before going back to school we hope to have a barbecue, maybe go to the beach again, and definitely pick a load of blackberries from the park.  And I'd like to put my log cabin quilt together too:  the top is all finished and it just needs a backing and some wadding (I have both--just need to assemble them).

Sunday, July 10, 2016

How we spent our anniversary

Myself and Partner with Chickens;  photo by Franklin
It's our wedding anniversary today.  Erm...which one?  More than 10, less than 15--it's been so long it's hard to remember!  What did we do to celebrate? 
Pond filter
Well, Partner spent a few hours redoing the pond filter--we obtained a second one from his mother--and I assisted him for about an hour.  He emptied the old one, cleaned it out, and we moved and refilled it.  I divided and replanted a pond sedge.  Partner did the same with a pond iris.

Franklin and I moved the chickens to a new patch of lawn.  Partner dusted the hen house with DE (to kill chicken mites).

We all went to the garden center and looked around, and bought three big bags of potting compost;  I planted up an old slightly broken plastic laundry basket, and sowed some seeds in a few trays and planters. 
Laundry basket planter:  classy!
We had beef stew for dinner with a big handful of garden chard (yum).  I picked enough chard to freeze a third of it.  I put yesterday's batch of frozen cherries into a freezer bag. 

I hung out the laundry on the line, and Partner and I both dashed out to save it from the rain (it stopped a minute later).  Franklin and Partner played games on the Wii.  I picked lots of of berberis berries for the chickens;  I staked a tall snapdragon next to the patio.  We ate some of the strawberry rhubarb jam I made, spread on rye crackers.

It was a good day, especially since we spent it together as a family.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Making, remaking, mending

I enjoy making things, particularly out of textiles.  I do all sorts of textile crafts, including knitting, crochet, sewing, quilting, embroidery, and rug making.
T shirt rug
For a year or two I've collected Partner's old worn out t shirts, and this spring I finally took the plunge and made a rag rug from them.  I've made one other rag rug before, by braiding long strips of rags and sewing them together.  That took ages, and was really hard on my fingers.  This new rug was braided/woven in as I went along, with each new round braided into the previous round.  I'm not sure what the technique is called, but it went very quickly;  I think I finished the rug in about a week, from cutting strips to finishing.  This technique only needs short strips of rags, making it a great way to use up scraps.  My rug took 8 men's L and XL shirts, and measures about 4'x3'.  I would definitely make another one;  it was a quick, satisfying project.
Franklin's pullover
I actually knit the above pullover for Franklin last year.  It took me more than a month to complete, and I was so sick of it by the end!  Though I'm very pleased with how it turned out, it was a very tedious knit:  narrow yarn in dark colors.  I won't be making any more dark colored knits like this any time soon. 
Baby v-neck pullover
My mother in law gifted me some of her yarn stash and patterns, and I knit the above and below baby things using them.  I made these without a recipient in mind, but enjoyed making something small and quick.  I think they took me about a week apiece to finish.  I still have quite a bit of leftover yarn;  no doubt more baby things are in the future, if only to use it up.
Baby v-neck cardigan
I generally have a knitting project on the go--at the moment I'm using up more of my MIL's stash to make another pullover for Franklin.  He's getting bigger (six years old now) so it takes longer to finish.  I prefer to finish my current project before beginning something new, but I sometimes have two different crafts at once:  right now my second is a patchwork quilt.  I enjoyed making my last applique quilt so much that I'm even contemplating hand quilting this one too...but I might just tie it instead and be done with it.

Not only do I make textile crafts, I also mend them.  Today I mended two torn seams on my favorite skirt, and patched a hole in an old pair of pajama bottoms.  My pj top could do with some mending too, but maybe I'll save that for another day.  I've got a pair of woolly leggings I sewed last year which I keep darning:  they must have about 50 darns now!  But I love them so much, it's worth my time to keep them going;  and luckily I have matching wool so the darns don't really show.  My other pair of leggings are full of holes, but I'm not sure it's worth it to repair them;  they are storebought, made from nylon and to be honest, don't fit as well or feel as nice as the woollies.  Still, I'm so cheap I might just darn them anyway rather than buy another pair.  Maybe using wool thread so they feel nicer!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Chick update, mid spring in the garden, and rats

Our new chicks are getting bigger and three of them are nearly completely feathered.  We are down to five now (one of the bantam chicks died, and though we don't know for sure, we think it might have been a freak accident involving a boisterous large chick who is prone to step/jump on the small ones).  I'm beginning to suspect that four of them are boys.  I'm certain about two of them, and am tending towards it with two more.  Of the last I'm unsure at this point;  it's the smallest and weakest chick, however, and is only now (at seven weeks) growing some feathers.  I hope it's a girl;  we don't want to have to eat everybody! 

The three big chicks are all still very friendly and curious;  one of them really enjoys sitting on our hands and getting comfy.  Another--the boisterous chick--always comes barging over when we come by, and when we offer treats the strong tiny chick is the first to rush up and grab some;  it can run right underneath the big chicks.  The little weak chick runs away crying if we open their box, or even look at it.

And now on to gardening.  Last year I sowed sorrel seeds and we enjoyed a moderate harvest in the summer.  A perennial, they began shooting up again last month, and I'm amazed at the growth on them.  They are a bit too sour when cooked plainly, but chopped and added to a tomato sauce, make a great veg addition.  It's so nice to have a vegetable from the garden at this time of year!  We've had sorrel a couple times a week for a few weeks now.  Franklin likes to pick and eat them fresh. 

It's not the first vegetable of the year though.  I have harvested a couple leeks, which were sown last spring too;  I still have around a dozen left, but it's about time to get them out of the bed to make room for my beans.  I also have some leftover chard, cabbage (greens, not heads), and of course the rhubarb, all of which have been sampled this spring.
Patio gardening
In the midst of the spring gardening rush, I now have most of my seeds sown, and lots of seedlings planted out.  I have plenty of peas on the go--2/3 of them are planted out now, with the last 1/3 ready for planting;  the oldest batch is about 9 to 12 inches tall.  I'm using my wooden raised bed on my patio as a seed bed temporarily, with vegetables and herbs coming up like crazy.  It's just a mass of greenery at the moment.  I've been moving them out (and eating some of them straight, like the arugula).  In a week or two, I'll plant it with squash and cucumber, I think. 

My onion sets are coming along beautifully, and I have carrot seedlings popping up in my two big planters.  My beet seedlings in the ground seem to be still alive (they were badly mauled last year by slugs).  I bought extra seeds as a precaution. 
Onions growing nicely
I also have new strawberry and asparagus plants out, both from seed.  I still have a few older strawberry plants (two years old maybe?) but my original asparagus died a lingering death several years ago.  I probably got about 20 spears in total from ten plants--over about five years.  Hope these new seedlings are more successful...

And of course, I've got flowers coming up everywhere.  I've planted out about 10 different kinds of flowers grown from seed (marigolds, cosmos, nicotiania, clary, etc), and have plenty of familiar faces blooming now:  tulips, iris, bluebells, honesty.  My two cherry trees are covered in blossom, as is the berberis (an amazing orange), my new Asian pear, the two apples, and the red and black currants.  My plum tree flowered for the first time and is forming tiny fruits;  I'm very excited about it and about the little almond tree.  Last year we got our first almond harvest (25 nuts) and the tree looks much more full and leafy this year.  And there are two little figs forming on my tiny fig tree! 
Main veg garden with white cherry blossom and red tulips
One unwelcome addition to my garden, however, is a family of rats.  We had seen them helping themselves to chicken food, so have taken some measures to discourage them:  chickens no longer have free access to food, but get three supervised meals a day (and all the grass, weeds, and bugs they can find).  Kitchen scraps go into a covered compost bin and not an open pile.  We have raised the hen house slightly, so a curious cat can fit under it:  an eyewitness (that's me) saw a neighboring cat catch a rat next to the house.  This cat has been a regular visitor, and it has made at least one other suspected--though unverified--catch.  Hopefully without an easy source of food and with the help of that thoroughly excellent feline, the rats will move on.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

We're doing it again: chicks

It's that time of year:  we bought chicks from a local breeder just over two weeks ago.  We had a rocky start, with a couple fatalities, but now have six chicks in our kitchen.  Like last year, we will be keeping the hens and eating the cockerels, but unlike last year, we don't know which is which just yet. 

We have three big chicks and three little bantams, and the big ones are growing quickly and getting some good feathers now, at nearly 3 weeks old.  The bantams are much smaller, but all have grown a little since we got them.  Our biggest chick is about four times bigger than the smallest!  And has lovely feathers and markings, and I suspect may turn out to be a boy...But everyone is presumed female until proven otherwise, so we refer to them all as "she" and have given them girls' names.  I just hope at least two are hens!  Actually, Partner thinks he might know someone who wants a cockerel for breeding, so we shall see if one gets a reprieve after all.  We simply can't keep cockerels because of our neighbors. 
three day old chicks
Though we don't know the reason for our early fatalities, we believe the first one got chilled (it died the first night).  For the others, I suspect the chick feed--it may have been too big for such small beaks, as further observation showed the little ones having real trouble picking the pieces up and swallowing.  But it may have been something else entirely (Partner's not convinced it was the feed);  we changed to a different feed (smaller pieces), gave them grit, and have been monitering their brooder temperature closely.  We haven't had any more deaths since (knock on wood);  it was certainly very distressing to lose them so early, and not even know the reason.

By getting new chicks I want to ensure a regular supply of eggs--produced most reliably by young hens.  I hope to make a yearly addition to our flock with new chicks, to keep our egg supply constant.  Of course, there will come a time when we are at capacity;  when this happens we plan on eating the oldest hens, to make space for new layers.  This will also give us a source of healthy, naturally raised meat.  I anticipate this happening in another three or four years.  I also anticipate it will be difficult, even more difficult than killing our young cockerels.  But that's life:  everything dies someday, and everything becomes food for something else. 

I would like to note: all our adopted rescue hens will be allowed to live out their natural lifespan and will not be eaten.  Though not explicitly stated, this is implicit in our agreement to adopt them from the hen charity.  We currently have 7 rescue hens;  they typically live around 1-3 years.  

But back to our new chicks!  They're all very cute, very curious, and all different colors and markings;  it's easy to tell them apart.  We don't know what breeds any of them are, other than big and small.  They don't like being picked up, but all willingly jump onto our hands if we offer them food;  I was hand feeding them earlier today, and a small one jumped onto my hand and promptly fell asleep!