Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Clocking up the miles

My beloved car, an N registered Vauxhall Astra estate car, has just this week notched up her 100,000th mile! I've had her for a long time - about 12 years or more now, and she is still going strong. She never lets me down, and hauls no end of stuff around. Long may she continue...

The weather continues to be hot and bothersome. I am not someone who enjoys this heat, as I would prefer to turn the thermostat on the county down a notch or two to a more comfortable level. I am probably one of those people who prefer colder weather as I do find it easier to get warm than to cool down! At this time of night, I have a cake in the oven as it would have been unbearable to have had the oven on during the day and been busy in the kitchen at the same time. I am making this chocolate brownie recipe, as recommended by Sue at The Quince Tree.

Today I have spent at gym, as the school where we train has been hosting a sports festival for all the Y6 children who will be moving up in September. We did four sessions of gymnastics, all at quite a basic level, but we identified a few potential gymnasts, and also welcomed some children we knew who have stopped coming to the club for one reason or another but who were part of the Y6 group moving up this year.

The YFG is off to her new secondary school for the day tomorrow and she is rather excited! She has packed her bag and prepared her lunch, and gone to bed early. I am hoping she gets on OK and will be desperate to hear all about it when she gets off the bus at 4pm.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

I've been away

but only from the computer, unfortunately! The weather has been so glorious these past few days that I have not wanted to be at the desk.

The big news here is that the latest hatching has happened now - 15 chicks are in a box under a lamp and growing fast. There are 8 Brown Sussex - so Lancelot is probably doing his stuff after all. Five of the eggs didn't hatch, but 62% is an improvement so I am not complaining about that. Five are Barred Plymouth Rock - they are from the 12 eggs I bought, and blogged about my anger at receiving such old eggs. As I suspected, the older eggs were the ones which didn't hatch. One of the chicks is a little blonde one who is also a Brown Sussex, but from a set of six eggs I bought in to develop another strain of BS for my breeding programme. One out of six isn't good. And the last chick is a Silver Laced Wyandotte from my own pair. Overall, I am pleased with what I have hatched, but a lot of the eggs haven't hatched - there is an incubator on which I am giving up today from which the SLW hatched - it was the only egg to hatch from 14.

So, what do I think is going wrong? The difficult thing is that I just don't know! The 8 BS were hatched in one of my very basic polystyrene box incubators which cost £25 from eBay - that incubator has a good track record. The other less successful incubator which hatched the SLW was more successful with its last hatch, so what has changed since then is a mystery. The BPR and second strain of BS hatched in the new, automatic incubator - but 6 out of 18 eggs is hardly a rip-roaring success. I do think that the age of the eggs was against some of them, but I had higher hopes for the BS in there.

There are more due later in the week in a third poly box, so we'll have to watch and wait. Very frustrating overall!

Other news is that the YFG will be going off on the bus to her new secondary school for a transition day on Thursday - she is excited and nervous at the same time. So am I, on her behalf, but her big sister is doing well there and so I am reassured that I can trust the school to do a good job. It is not an "outstanding" school in OFSTED terms, but it is a good, solid school which is not afraid to admit that it has some problems and explains how it is dealing with them, rather than refusing to admit that they are there. The EFG has done exceptionally well there, and will be starting her GCSE work in September so we have good expectations for both of them.

The garden is producing well - we are eating the lettuces, the first courgette has been picked, lots of strawberries have been enjoyed and the beans are racing up the poles!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Highs and lows in the maternity ward

The good news tonight is that there are two Brown Sussex chicks hatched, and more in the process. The bad news is that the Silver Laced Wyandotte (SLW) we set on eggs last night has lost the plot. She doesn't seem to grasp that she has to sit ON the eggs in order to hatch them. When I checked on her this morning, the eggs were in one area of the cage and she was in a nest, further back, looking at them.....I removed them. The other broody, Leah, is an old hand, having done it all before, so she knows the score and is sitting well already, fiercely protective of her eggs.

I cheated this morning and called in at Delfland Nurseries, where they raise organic plug plants for the trade, but also have a small retail outlet for locals, and I bought 15 butterhead lettuce plugs at 10p each. I just never got round to sowing the next batch of seed in time, and we are eating the lettuces quite quickly so this is a way of keeping up with demand until I get in gear with the seeds. Gardening is definitely on the agenda for Sunday!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

More ladies in waiting

Tonight we have put eggs under two more broodies - one is a Dutch bantam called Leah, who is now sitting on 5 GPO eggs, and the other is the Silver Laced Wyandotte hen, who has been given 6 eggs of assorted origin. They are tucked up on their nests tonight, and we will be hoping for more success in three weeks' time. The current broody Light Sussex has only days to wait before she pops but she has already rejected two of the eggs, so there will be a maximum of 6 left to hatch. 'Tis her first time, and I don't think she is sitting on the eggs very well as you can occasionally see odd eggs peeking out from under her feathers.

The YFG has had her sports day at school this morning and came home delighted to report that althgough she didn't win any races, she did manage several second and third places, so a big round of applause for her. The weather has been much more comfortable here today with some breezes and even the odd cloud.

After school, we nipped quickly to town to pick up the EFG and then went to the other town to the supermarket as I needed some Quark to make a cheesecake. The recipe hasn't arrived yet from my sister, so I am not sure what I am going to do with the Quark, but hopefully I'll find out in the morning. I did ask her for the recipe two weeks ago, and had hoped to do a dummy run at it before I have to make it for "company" so think of me tomorrow making this! I have to provide a strawberry dessert for the church Strawberry tea on Saturday and tomorrow will be my only opportunity to make it!

Breakfast in the chick run

The chicks enjoying their breakfast in the early morning sunshine

They seem to be enjoying the great outdoors!

The two groups of birds have integrated well although they did gather together in their original groups to sleep last night. One group went into the house we provided, the other group preferred to sleep under the stars.

They have got plenty of space to move around now, lots of scratching opportunities too!

This unusual dish is being used for their water at the moment - they like to perch on it too.

Having a chat at the watering hole - two Brown Sussex birds.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Strawberry surprise

I said a while back that the strawberry bed was full of grass and weeds - it is also chock-full of beautiful berries hiding in the undergrowth!! I pulled two and three quarter pounds of succulent berries tonight - I got stung in the process, but they are gorgeous, and the YFG has already asked for some for her snack tomorrow and the FH has pilfered some too!

Today has been hot, hot, hot! I spent an hour watching tv during the hottest part of the day, and pottered around inside as well as it was just too hot to be working outside. Unfortunately, I lost my Sutherland kale seedlings to the heat yesterday, so I need to sow some more - I was really disappointed about that when I discovered them this morning. I was up early to get the hose pipe out in the greenhouse, but I think that I need to be earlier tomorrow. The cucumbers will be hitting the greenhouse roof within days if they continue at their current rate of growth and there are lots of tiny cucumbers growing on their stems.

The 6 GPO chicks and 7 Brown Sussex chicks are now in a run on the lawn in the back garden. It seems very early to be putting them out, at nearly three weeks old, but they have been off the heat for over a week now, and all seem fit and strong. The one with the bad foot has totally integrated into the mini flock now, thank goodness, so I am really pleased about that.

The YFG has Sports Day in the morning so we will be getting her organised with plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat for that. There is little shade on the school field, so this year it has been organised to take place first thing in the morning, so I hope that it will all be over before the temperatures peak.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Budget blues

Was I moaning about the weather the other day? Rain, wind and chills? Now we have gone completely in the other direction and we are perspiring sitting still! The YFG went to an athletics day for an intervillage festival today and came home as red as a beetroot and far too hot and bothered to contemplate going to gym, so I went alone whilst she had a cool swish in the bath, watched tv and then cleaned the lounge. I owe her one!

Today the YFG helped me with two other gymnasts at her school to present Assembly all about gym. I broke the ice at the beginning by telling them all that "gymnastics" comes from a Greek word, gymnos, which means "naked" because originally it was done in the nude! They all had a chuckle at that!! It was fun and the three of them were good helpers - and the teacher in charge of the assembly gave them two merit points each, which pleased them.

This afternoon, I watched George Osborne present the new Budget to Parliament. I took notes, and I think that the only measures which will affect us in a big way will be the hike in VAT in January, and the freeze on Child Benefit. I don't earn enough to benefit from the increased personal allowance, and the FH might only possibly be affected because of his age anyway. I think that the other changes will affect us all in some way or another, but in a less obvious way - we'll have to wait until it all trickles through to daily life and then assess the impact it has on us. I don't see any change to our moneysaving way of life! As far as VAT goes, if we plan to make any big purchases, we will think about making them this side of 4/1/11.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Shopping here and dashing there

The FH was pleasantly surprised this morning with his stash of Father's Day gifts - shaving foam and after-shave balm, Maltesers and a Rum truffle log bought from a hand-made chocolate stall at the show on Friday. I think he had forgotten all about Father's Day, so when we presented him with a goody bag just before church, he was pleased! He used the balm immediately, hoping to wow the ladies at church... I rang my dad this evening, and he is fine.

After church, I had plans. They included weeding, hanging washing, reading, snoozing a little, ironing...that sort of thing. Instead, we nipped off to Peterborough (twice in one week!!) to get the shoes for the YFG to wear with her dress and tiara on the float at the festival next month. We had directions to a particular shop, Kempston's, near Asda on Viersen Platz, so we went there. Unfortunately, the sandals that the YFG wanted were not wide enough for her feet, but we did get a lovely pair of sparkly silver slip-ons, for only £12.99, so I was relieved at that price.

You may wonder how that squares with starting her challenge - these were a prior intended purchase and necessary, so allowed. There will be no further book, DVD, shoe, clothing, trinket, gift, etc purchased, though - it will be making do until the 40 days are up. I am looking forward to it.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Midsummer approaches

It may soon be the longest day but the weather is far from summery. The FH even contemplated lighting the fire this evening, but has settled instead for a thick jumper and a hot cup of tea. Sure enough, I have just been out to shut up the hens and it is quite light enough to see without a torch, and we have a couple more days before the light starts to fade again. It feels like those glorious days we had in April and May must have been the summer, and this today feels more autumnal with grey clouds scudding across the sky in the wind, and the sun hidden behind them. I am hoping that there may be a few more sunny days - but I fear we may have to wait until September for them!!

It is too cold to put the chicks out under the verandah at the moment, although I had wanted to do so today. Fingers crossed for later in the week.

Tomorrow sees the start of the 40 day/£100 challenge initiated by the YFG this time, so I will be going through the freezers to plan the meals as far ahead as I can. I am going to make a point of making more vegetarian meals this time! Watch this space...

Friday, 18 June 2010

Day out at the show

The EFG wasn't too well last night, so she couldn't go to school today (they have rules about this sort of thing!) but she was actually fine this morning, so I took her to the East of England Show today. Today is cheap day - £6 for adults and kids go free. At the weekend, a family ticket would be £28, so I deliberately chose today. The Fh wouldn't have managed to walk around as he has sore ankles and feet, and the YFG was at school, practising for her play.

We had a good mooch around - we got there at about 10.45am, and we stayed until approx 1.45pm so we weren't there that long, but that was the time I had available, so we made the most of it.

The EFG took some lovely photos which I will have to wait for her to download and send to me, but I can tell you about some of wasn't as good as some years, as there seemed to be a lot of green grass on show where in years gone by, there would have been stalls. There were a lot of animals - which was good, and very interesting. We looked around and looked some more - we did make some small purchases, though. There is a company called Elegance Skincare, and they make a gorgeous Gardener's Honey Handcream, which does wonders for the YFG's eczema, so I bought two little tubs of that, as it is cheaper at shows than through mailorder. I bought the YFG a necklace, as a sort of consolation because she didn't get to come, and then I got a walnut cake, which is her favourite - but although she said it was good, she said it wasn't as good as mine - she knows how to butter me up!!

Possibly the best bit was meeting up, quite accidentally, with some old friends who had moved away from our area to live in Peterborough and we had lost touch with them. Their eldest son was in the EFG's class at school, but now he is so tall, I couldn't believe it! He is a lovely young man, and their daughter has grown up from the five or six year old I remember, into an almost-teenager! Their younger boy is about 7 or 8 now, and a really cheeky little chap. They were all playing in one of the orchestras which were taking it in turns to play to the people relaxing in deckchairs. Mum was on the trumpet, elder boy on the tuba, younger boy on the trombone, and doing really well, and dad was on the French horn. We couldn't see the daughter, but she was playing too. It was amazing to see them and catch up on their news.

Tonight we have been to gymnastics, and are quite tired after our day. I have been so impressed to see the YFG do a Hecht into a dive roll - she soared through the air and even the HC said he had never seen her do it as well as that before; I didn't know she had done it before! The EFG is beginning to come with us to learn how to do some coaching. I think she enjoyed it tonight as she was asking plenty of questions!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Out of the mouth of babes.......

comes such wisdom at times that it floors me.

I had taken a neighbour shopping this morning, and thought that I would get my own shopping done as well so that I didn't have to trudge around the supermarket on Saturday afternoon, which is when I went last week. Last week, I was doing some restocking from the special offers, and I spent just over £100. Today I went with a list, and only deviated from it slightly, and the bill still came to nearly £75!!

When we were eating supper tonight, I jokingly said that we would have to stop eating as it was getting so expensive, so the YFG simply suggested that we do another £100 challenge - and the FH and EFG agreed! She said that we should do it for 40 days this time, drew up a contract with each of them declaring that they would not ask for things nor encourage me to spend money, and made us all sign it! Who could possibly ask for more support than that?!? We begin on Sunday.

On the other side of the coin, I have noticed, as have many people on the MSE forums, that the shops are putting the prices up quite dramatically! Prices are not rising by a penny here and there, but by 20p in places, and even more. It could be quite frightening - it has made me stop and think a while, certainly. I am keen to hear the new Budget on 22 June and find out what "lifestyle changes" this new Government has in store for us.

One piece of good news, anyway: we have a motorhome which we bought in 2003 and have had some great little holidays with it. It has been to Scotland, Norfolk and Suffolk, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire that I can remember. It was cosy when the children were small, and it has become more cramped as they have grown!! Unfortunately there was some hidden damp when we bought it, and it has got worse. The FH effected some repairs which were ample to allow us to continue to use it, and he and the girls had a few days in it at Norwich last summer when the EFG attended a summer school at the UEA, but we haven't been too far in it lately! Developments today - a man knocked at the door and asked if it was for sale - and we agreed to sell it to him. He seems to know how to repair it himself, and it is frankly a weight off our minds to know that it is going. He left a deposit today and is coming back for it tomorrow when he will pay the balance. We have got back much less than we paid, but we are satisfied with the happy memories and the good use we have made of it over the years.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Receiving things gracefully

People who know us personally will appreciate that I never refuse anything I am offered! My thinking behind this is that if I say, "No, thanks!" to someone too many times, they stop offering and find someone else to give their surplus to. I may not need or like what is on offer, but I always accept as I know that I can find someone else who needs or wants what is on offer, and as long as someone benefits in the long run, surely that is a good thing.

UJ frequently brings us asparagus when it is in season, and I hate the stuff! However, I know that the FH loves it, so I accept and just cook enough for him at the mealtime. I also have two neighbours who also love it, and think of it as a delicacy, so I am happy to pass a little of it on to their families. A offers me potatoes on a regular basis, and they are great potatoes, so I am pleased to accept them every time! He gave me some sprouting broccoli last week which he had let go to seed a little, and it was too strong to eat, so the chickens enjoyed it!!

Part of the cycle here is the giving - and making the person who is doing the giving feel appreciated! There is a lovely man at band practice who will often give me a little parcel of cooking apples, or a couple of tomato plants, or perhaps some lettuces in season. I accept and then the next week, I may take him some eggs or a jar of jam, which he always thanks me for.

If you offer someone something of which you have a surplus, and they consistently refuse, I think that it becomes harder to continue to offer them things, as you begin to wonder why they are refusing everything. Sometimes you have to realise that they are not interested in the same things that you are, and so they have no need of some of the things; in that case, find a more appropriate recipient. I have a friend who sometimes refuses spare plants for the vegetable garden, and I have realised that hers is a small plot and she is less ambitious with her planting than I am. However, if I offer outgrown clothes for her children, they are accepted!

There is, of course, a lot of truth in the saying that "what goes around comes around" and I believe that the more I give, the better I feel, and that when I am in need, people will offer the things of which I have need. Giving makes even the poorest person feel better because it helps us to realise that we should be grateful for our many blessings, and that we are well off in comparison with so many people in the world. "Pass it on" as much as you can, and the blessings will come back your way, eventually!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Baking Day

This morning, I did some baking - Harry Eastwood's All American Vanilla Cupcakes, and the carrot cake I gave the recipe for a day or three ago! I hadn't planned to make that, but the carrots I bought on Saturday had gone soft and horrible, so I washed them, peeled and grated them up and there was exactly enough for two carrot cakes. Unfortunately, I've no cream cheese in, so they will be getting the sprinkle of icing sugar over the top.

Other news - the FH and the EFG cleaned the slabs under the verandah this afternoon; they look sparkling clean now, and he and I ate out there tonight when I got home from gym. It is lovely out there at that time in the evening - so peaceful.

The weather is set fair for the week ahead, so I am looking forward to some more gardening time this week - lawns to be cut, still haven't sown more lettuce seeds, weeding to do, etc. The wonderful soil we bought in and have spread liberally around the garden has brought it's own plague of weeds along for the ride - haven't identified them yet, but I keep hoeing them when I have a chance.

I ordered some Davina fitness DVDs yesterday - we are feeling the need to drop some pounds and get a bit fitter! I need to lose a couple of stone if I am honest, and it would make my life easier, but my dietary restrictions make it difficult. Excuses! I am hoping that if I up the exercise, I may get away with eating the usual stuff that I am used to...The FH needs to lose considerably more - probably about 5 stone (aaargh!!!) but I don't see it happening - his bad ankles and feet put exercise beyond his reach, apparently, and he loves cheese too much!! I may go back to Slimming World in the long run but we'll see how the exercise goes for now - I need more energy!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Successful day at the gym

The two volunteers passed their assessment today - hooray! The EFG came along for the ride so the FH has had a quiet day but he has done the ironing, and generally pottered. UJ came over after his church service to have tea with us and brought bounty: strawberries, new potatoes, asparagus, lettuce and cabbage. I'll be giving him (palming off on him, more like!) a couple of the excess cucumber plants which I have just run out of room to plant!

Short post for today as I am tired - hope everyone is well!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Raising the roof

The major achievement today is that the boards are on the chicken shed. It is a long way from being finished, but progress is being made.

The weather has held up today and the afternoon turned out to be quite warm. The washing got on the line sometime after 4pm and most of it has managed to get dry - I'm just off to shut up the chicken houses, and then I can bring the washing in and fold it.

Tomorrow is the big day for two of the volunteers at gym; we are going to Peterborough so that they can take their exam for the Level 1 course. I am hoping that they both pass! The YFG and her friend P are going to be two of the four gymnasts which the volunteers will use to demonstrate their coaching abilities. I'm planning to watch from the gallery - I'll be on tenterhooks up there!!

More lolly sticks came in the post today - 500 of them. I was hugely impressed with the service from a cookshop in Monmouthshire - I ordered them yesterday and they arrived this morning. Do have a look around their website if you love to cook!!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Sussex sitting diary

Last night, we moved the broody Light Sussex hen to a separate coop and put 9 Brown Sussex eggs under her. This morning, she has moved the nest around from where I put the eggs in the house, but she is sitting on them, so fingers crossed for a successful hatch on or around the 1st July.

I also set another batch of eggs in the incubator that had failed to hatch the last set of eggs it had had in it. I checked the temperature, and hopefully this lot will have a more positive outcome. I included some GPO eggs, some Sebrights and a couple of the Silver Laced Wyandottes too, so it is a real mixed bunch this time.

They will also hatch around the 1st July, so we may be able to try to foster some of the incubated eggs to the broody if she doesn't have a good hatch herself. I've never tried that before, but there is a first time for everything!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Our new favourite carrot cake recipe

I made this a couple of weeks ago and it was demolished within a few days - everyone loved it! The recipe came from a relatively new magazine called "Good to know recipes" which is a monthly recipe magazine - from the publishers of the IPC magazine family. I like it because the editors seem to be on a mission to provide down to earth value for money food! They have a website here.

So, the recipe.

It needs a 2lb loaf tin, lined (I use a liner from Lakeland in my loaf tins). The oven temperature is 180C or GM4.

It's very simple - put 175g SR wholemeal flour, 1tsp baking powder, 1tsp ground mixed spice, and a pinch of salt into a big bowl. Add in 100g raisins and 175g soft light brown sugar; mix all those around in the bowl.

Separately, mix together 150ml sunflower oil with 3 eggs. Grate and peel some carrots so that you have 250g to add to the cake. Then put the carrot in with the dry ingredients and give it a quick mix through. I then added the eggs and oil and gave it a thorough mix until everything was well mixed and there was no flour lurking anywhere!

This whole lot was then put into the cake tin and baked for about an hour. It smells gorgeous! The recipe recommends making a topping from 200g cream cheese beaten with 4 tbsp icing sugar and a couple of drops of vanilla essence. We spread that over the cake when it was cool and then kept the cake in the fridge. On the second occasion, I didn't bother with the topping and just sieved a tiny bit of icing sugar over the top and then was able to keep it in the cupboard in a cake tin. It was still a hit! The first time I made it, I didn't have any wholemeal flour in the house, so it was just normal white SR flour, and it was fine. I did lash out and spend over £1.30 on some Allinson's wholemeal flour for the second version, which did seem to make it a little more filling.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Chicks growing up

These above here are the Brown Sussex chicks - there are six of them in the main brooder box and the one with the bad foot is in a separate box. I am relieved to be able to say that its foot is now flat, with the toes spread out properly. It does tend to stand on the other leg occasionally, as if to take the weight off the weaker foot, but it is much improved. We plan to integrate it with the main group soon.

This is the same group - I thought this one was looking at me quite cheekily and so I couldn't resist taking this shot. They are now bedded down on shavings, having made the transition from anti-slip mats. They also have deeper water troughs now - no marbles either. Their new water pots are old tuna cans!

These gorgeous little guys (and gals, I hope) are the GPOs. Their partridge feathering is coming through already! No horrible red glow on this photo as the lamps are now turned off during the daytime.

Heads down and bottoms in the air as they tuck in to their tea time ration of chick crumbs.

This photo shows their wing feathers coming through well. There are also six GPOs in this box, so we have the baker's dozen at the moment. You've probably noticed that there isn't much difference in the plumage of the two groups at this stage - we've put rings on the GPOs today so that we know for sure which is which, in case they get mixed up at any time - and it is possible that when they go outside, they may all go in together, which will ease the transition of the solitary bird into the flock, as each group will think that he came along with the other group, I hope!

Disappointing news

There was a GPO hatch due today - not a single egg is showing any sign of hatching. I will leave them until Friday and then we'll have to look at them.

I'm not sure what to do about candling eggs - I bought a proper candler but most of the eggs we have incubated seem to have thick shells which the light does not penetrate; the only eggs I have successfully candled have been the Sebright bantam ones which are very thin.

It's still raining - enough said about that.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Rain, rain, go away

Enough is enough - and we have definitely had enough! The water butts are overflowing, the ground is sodden, and I need to get out there and do some more gardening...

Yesterday was a kitchen day - I cleaned out several cupboards and they now look fresh and sparkling. A lot of things I don't use very often have been stored in the garage, so there is a little more wiggle room in the cupboards - and I have found something I really, really want!! A nifty carousel to go in one of my awkward cupboards - there's a picture here and it would be so handy. I'll put it on the wish-list for later when I have some spare money (ha! when is money ever spare? but you know what I mean!).

Today I wasted most of the morning as I just didn't feel that well so I sat around in my pjs until lunchtime, watching daytime TV - if you have a ukelele in the loft, it just might fetch £400 at auction! Sad. I perked up a little after lunch, and then had to go to a meeting at school at 3pm, post some eggs off to GTM with a little prayer that they get there safely, and then head off to gym. I could have had more enthusiasm tonight, but I managed. I hope I feel better tomorrow.

The EFG has had some good results in her exams, and now that the results are filtering through, it really is a delight to see how hard she has worked. The YFG did her SATS but I have no idea how well she has done. She is off to a day at the secondary school next week, so she will get an idea of what life might be like there.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Soft, refreshing rain

The rain has come at last to the Fens and we are relishing the coolness that it offers. We just got finished in the garden late this afternoon before the first spots fell. There has been a steady rain ever since, and the garden is smelling fresh and looking very green.

We planted 48 tomato plants in various planters around the garden, moved lots more soil and raked it into the garden beds and weeded the other garden bed which also received the soil and compost as a top dressing so that the bed will be ready to receive some plants sometime soon.

The cooler weather meant that working in the garden was a much more pleasant experience for us all this afternoon.

This morning saw a triple baptism at church - a set of non-identical triplets who are about 8, I think. They wore beautiful cream dresses, gold sandals and lovely necklaces. Afterwards there was a larger than usual buffet and christening cake. We stayed much later than usual at church, and really enjoyed the celebrations.

I think that one of the Light Sussex hens has gone broody, so I'll watch her for a couple of days and then, if she seems tight, I am going to give her some eggs to sit on. Last night was reloading day for the incubators - the older ones are now holding Brown Sussex (13) and a mixture of Sebright/Silver Laced Wyandotte/GPO eggs (15) and the new automatic one has got the 11 Barred Plymouth Rock and the 6 bought-in Brown Sussex. Fingers crossed for a successful time.
There is a hatch due on Wednesday, though given recent experiences, they could start to hatch Tuesday - that should be a mixture of the Silver Laced Wyandotte and the GPO eggs.

The hatch from last week are all doing well and starting to get their wing feathers - they grow so quickly!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Hope you like it!

Realised that I will have been blogging for two years in August, so I thought it was time for a change or an update - a spring clean! It's all still here, but fresher.

Another day in the garden

It has been swelteringly hot again today, but I am so pleased with the work we have done in the garden.

We finished late last night putting some topsoil and compost into the veg beds so that I could plant this morning, so I got stuck in and got the second variety of dwarf beans in - they are called Ferrari and were planted before the Tendercrop but are nowhere near as advanced so they are not living up to their name!! Hopefully they will crop well anyway.

I also got the climbing French beans, the heritage Cherokee Trail of Tears, planted in a trough so that they can go up the trellis too. The courgettes have been put in as well, and interplanted with lettuce, which will be ready before the courgettes spread out too far. And then I sowed some seeds straight into the ground - French flat-leaved parsley, spring onions, beetroot and radish.

After all that, it was late lunchtime, and shower time! I sat down for a while to cool off, and then headed off to the County gym meeting at Huntingdon. That was an eye-opener! I went with another coach from our club, and we met coaches from several other gyms in the county which was good, and it is brilliant to get to know other coaches for the future as we may be looking for help and advice in the years to come so they will be the people we are turning to!

Tonight, I came home and cooked a very simple supper - salmon, new potatoes and broccoli/peas - and sat down to watch the Final of Britain's Got Talent. The right people, Spelbound, won - yay! I will be looking out for Christopher Stone in the future, though, as he has got a great voice and really came out of himself in the last two shows.

The evening ritual of shutting up the henhouses has been expanded now to include watering the beds and the greenhouse, but rain is forecast tomorrow so I may get a night off soon. Can't complain - it's a peaceful job, wandering round the garden in the twilight.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Eggs and eBay

The Barred Plymouth Rock eggs turned up today. Although the seller marked them as "dispatched" on Wednesday, they weren't actually posted until yesterday - hence their arrival this lunchtime. On arrival, I was disappointed to find one broken. All of the eggs are dated with the date they were laid - I was not happy at all to find that two of them were dated 21/5 - two weeks ago!!

Rather than leave negative feedback for the seller straight away, I emailed to express my disappointment and dismay. He replied and said that he was advertising them for a friend who had only got two birds laying an egg each per day and lately several had been cracked which was what had delayed sending the eggs out to me. I don't buy that as most of the eggs pre-date the day I bought them so they already had these there - only four of them come from later days. He has promised that he will replace them if they are not fertile, so I am going to let them rest and settle overnight and then put them in the incubator tomorrow. I will candle them in a week's time and then let him know.

I won't be using this seller again as I was not happy with the packaging either. Ebay is a very hit and miss affair!!

On our own chick development front - the last Brown Sussex to hatch has got out of the shell - but the FH helped it this morning, and it has a bad foot in that the foot has not spread out properly and is a little twisted. We haven't put it in with the others for fear of bullying, but it is under the lamp in the incubator with the lid off. It is eating and drinking so we will assess its chances in a day or two, if it manages to survive. I won't kill it unless it looks like it is in pain.

All the others are fine and doing well - eating, drinking and pooing, so they will have to be cleaned out in the morning.

Fen photo fest

We have been out in the garden all day today - and I took some photos to celebrate what we have achieved! Above - six "Burpless" ridge cucumbers planted in pots near the new trellis so that they can climb and enjoy sunshine nearly all day.

One of the two new water butts to collect rainwater that we can use to water the plants - note the watering can handily stored at the side.

More cucumbers and lettuce planted in the greenhouse - three of these are the "Burpless" variety and the other three are "Telegraph".

These are some of the runner beans, planted this afternoon. The FH made these troughs quite wide so I thought I would make use of the extra space and put a few lettuce plants in there as well. The troughs are filled with a mixture of the topsoil we had delivered and some "soil enhancer" the girls and the FH fetched this afternoon from the household recycling centre - it's free so they brought a trailer load home. Some of it is in the troughs and some is going on the veg beds.

More runner beans - the other side of the trellis and slightly narrower troughs so just beans here.

I let the four Brown Sussex out of their little run this afternoon so that I could take more photos of them - they soon took advantage of the opportunity to have a good scratch around.

Here is Lancelot - he's a fine figure of a cockerel but I am beginning to wonder if he is all mouth and no trousers, if you get my drift, as none of us has caught him in action yet, and we have spent time watching them!

The hens look quite drab from a distance but up close there are some beautiful marks on their feathers and we think they are gorgeous!

They really enjoyed getting under the bushes and having a good scratch around!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Chick tally and chick flick

The real thing first - there are now six GPO chicks in the brooder box, the latest just put in there tonight as it had been in the incubator all day. There are also six Brown Sussex in the second brooder box - the last one is still waving a leg around in the incubator and attempting to get out of the egg. Given that I want to breed strong and healthy birds, it is not getting any help. I hope it makes it.

The chick flick was "Hotel for Dogs" which I watched with the EFG as our after-lunch treat today. The FH and the YFG had gone out to Wicksteed Park in Kettering, and we had done plenty of chores around the place - washing and weeding mostly - so we sat and flopped out in front of the tv during the hottest part of the day.

After that, we had to go to town for several bits and bobs - an application for a Railcard for a journey later in the year, corn for a neighbour's chooks, to pick up the certified dead laptop, and to get some fruit and veggies.

The FH and YFG got home at about 7pm after a very hot and exciting day, by all accounts. The YFG took her friend T along for the day, and the FH took one of his older gentlemen along for the ride - the men sat and slept and then watched the world go by, I think, whilst the girls went on every ride in sight and had a wonderful time!! The YFG had applied plenty of sunscreen so she isn't burned but she does have some strap marks on her shoulders, so more is needed next time! She's completely flat out in bed now and I think she will sleep very well tonight.

The Brown Sussex eggs I ordered from eBay have arrived, but the Barred Plymouth Rock ones didn't turn up this morning, so I am hoping they come tomorrow and then I can get all of them into the incubator tomorrow at the same time. The next lot of GPO are due on Wednesday so we are still turning those eggs at the moment.

Surprise this morning

Totally surprised this morning to come down and find another GPO chick in the incubator. The last one had hatched Tuesday and we had decided to turn that incubator off last night, then thought we would give the remaining eggs just one more day - so pleased that we did!!

There are two of the Brown Sussex chicks in their incubator, completely out of the shells, and two more in the process - legs waving from the shells. More later...

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Prayers for the people of Cumbria

We watched the news in horror tonight as the terrible story of the day's events in Cumbria was told.

Twelve people dead and many more injured as a gunman roamed the area around Whitehaven and Egremont, shooting at people as he passed in his taxi. No one seems to have been safe.

Our prayers tonight are for the families and friends of those who have died, and those who are critically and seriously ill. We are praying that those injured will survive and that those bereaved will find comfort in the arms of their loved ones tonight.

Hatchery update

Three Brown Sussex chicks have got as far as the brooder box, there is another one out in the incubator, drying out, and two more in there with parts of their anatomy showing, mostly legs! A further one has made a hole in the egg. In the morning, I am hoping to have four more to move over to the brooder.

This and that

This lolly block maker arrived today. I ordered it from here and it arrived yesterday or today - I found it today in the hidey hole that the postman and I have agreed as a safe drop if I am not here! It is very sturdy and seems well worth the outlay. It is all her fault, as the lollies she suggests and makes look fabulous!!

The blocks stand in the stainless holder very well, and you fill them up with mixture and then pop a lolly stick through the hole and freeze - very simple!

I followed the recipe Sue uses in the post here for chocolate lollies and they should be ready for the heatwave tomorrow!!

Here they are, ready to go in the freezer. Must get more lolly sticks, though, as the 16 provided won't last long here!

Brown Sussex hatch happening

The Brown Sussex chicks have started to emerge - there are three out, two in the process and another egg looking positive, so all fingers crossed for about 6 or 7 chicks from this hatch. They are still in the incubator so it is hard to tell exactly what is going on in there, as we mustn't open it too often (shouldn't open it at all really!) but we'll take some photos tonight when we move the older ones to the brooder box under the light. These unfortunately look similar to the GPO chicks at this stage so they will have to be kept separate!!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

GPO pictures

Above is the EFG holding one of the chicks - lovely, fluffy and very cute!

This is the four that have hatched already - apologies for all the red but the box they are in is red plastic and the matting is red as well so there is rather a glow!

There is another chick beginning to emerge now.

Another chick hatched

Yes - four chicks have now been transferred to the brooder box under the lamp. Another one had come out of the shell overnight - but today is their due date so I am not giving up on the other eggs just yet.

There is a batch of Brown Sussex eggs on eBay - I am bidding on them as they very rarely come up for sale and as I have said before, I need another strain of Brown Sussex for my Brussbar plans, so I am hoping that I will win the auction and have a good result! I'll know if I have won them in about three quarters of an hour, so not long to wait on that...