Even a gentle day requires some basic tasks to be done, the chicken houses need cleaning out (a task that I do daily with a deep clean weekly), plants in and around the greenhouse need watering and weeds need lifting as and when we see them and (yuk!) the continuing treatment of the new rooster's legs needed attending to. They already look much improved and the poor little chap can't help that his legs are in a grim state.
The girls continue to be less than impressed with him and I have noticed that even Jack (who is usually super-keen for the attention of a gentleman bird) is declining his advances. One of our neighbour's chickens however is eager to meet him and Friday afternoon, she wandered into our yard and made a bee-line for the field. Blocked from reaching him by the large fence and gate leading into the chicken's field, she mournfully wandered around our back garden until the neighbour and Mr J gently guided her home again.
I've also continued to move compost from the oldest heap in the chicken's field to the raised beds in the kitchen garden, just doing a little at a time so that I didn't overdo it. I'm finding it very difficult to pace myself slowly to conserve my energy because I am so excited about creating our kitchen garden, about developing the perennial bed and giving the whole place our own stamp.
The postman has delivered some citric acid, which I had ordered online after a failure to find it locally. Neither the village chemist or the two in the local town stocked it, one told Mr J that they had stopped stocking it after it had been discovered that someone was 'abusing' it. This caused much merriment in our home, what on earth was someone doing to it, calling it names, hitting it? Obviously, it is actually a serious thing if someone was using it for illegal purposes, but the 'someone was abusing it' statement tickled us.
Anyway, the reason I wanted the citric acid was simple, I wanted to make some Elderflower Cordial and while I have found lots of different recipes that include and don't include citric acid, I decided to include it. So, Saturday while the sun was warming the elderflowers on the tree, I picked the open flower heads and took them inside to prepare them. The cordial smells lovely and tastes even nicer. I have filled a couple of bottles with the cordial to keep in the fridge. The remainder of the cordial has been put into ice cube trays in the freezer and then when we want a drink, it will just be a matter of popping one cordial cube into a glass and topping up the glass with water.
I watched several 'how to' videos about making elderflower cordial and all of them baffled me in one way or another. Mostly because they all talked about keeping out of the mixture anything that may make it taste bitter and then they promptly included the very things they said to avoid! So this recipe is the one I've used taking elements of several other recipes that I've read and seen.
25 to 30 heads of elderflowers, collected on a warm or hot day when the flowers are fully open (beware - the pollen may get all over your clothes!)
1kg unrefined sugar (caster or granulated)
1ltr water just off the boil
1/2 ltr cold water
50g citric acid
One unwaxed lemon
Prepare the flowers by shaking them gently to remove any insects, check them over and remove any brown bits and unopened flower buds. Remove the flowers from the stems using a fork, pick out as many of the flower stalks as possible, leaving just the tiny, fragrant flowers.
Put the sugar into a large glass or earthenware bowl and add the hot water, stir using a wooden spoon to help dissolve the sugar, then add the cold water to help cool the mixture.
Add the citric acid and finely grated zest of one lemon and stir in gently.
Remove all the pith and cut the ends from the lemon and discard. Then slice the fruit and add it to the mixture.
Add the elderflowers and stir gently again ensuring all the flowers are moistened. Cover and leave to 'steep' or 'mash' for 24 hours.
The next day, strain the mixture through a fine muslin cloth to remove all the flowers and lemon from the cordial and bottle and keep in the fridge or freeze.
- - -So, Friday evening Mr J and I went to Hay Festival in Hay on Wye to see David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd fame) and Polly Samson (his wife and an author) talk about their song writing partnership and the process that they use to write songs. This outing was my birthday gift to Mr J and I wasn't really expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, so that was just a bonus! Hay Festival offers a wide variety of events and although I haven't been very often, I've really enjoyed it when I have. It runs this year until 5th June.
On our journey to and from Hay on Wye, Mr J and I talked about our options for chicken rearing. We have ordered some hatching eggs of White Jersey Giants (like 'Little White') and some Australorp hens, which are black feathered, fast growing dual purpose birds and will be ideal as meat birds. I'd had a long talk with Merv, the gentleman who had supplied us with the Cream Legbar chickens, the cockerel (that passed away) and a second hand brooder for the chicks. Merv suggested a couple of different breeds that we might want to consider as meat birds and most importantly, which ones in his opinion, were less good. I value his opinion, he has a wealth of knowledge about chickens and I am keen to learn as much as I can from someone with experience. This, I hope, will help us avoid making too many mistakes.
Merv kindly offered us a young cockerel to replace the Cream Legbar (CLB) that died. We are keeping the CLB chickens to supply us with eggs as we both particularly like the blue shelled eggs that they lay. A cockerel would not only allow us to increase the CLB flock but to offer fertile eggs for others to hatch.
We could then also have a small flock of Australorp birds to supply us with meat. Once we have a few eggs hatched we can select the best of the cockerels to keep for breeding more meat birds and any other cockerels can go into the pot.
The white Jersey Giants will, we hope, form a small flock. I had located a second seller of hatching eggs of these birds so the bloodlines should be different enough to allow us to breed from them too.
We could then also have a further small flock of hybrid birds to supply us with more eggs and meat. So we think we have a plan. Three or four small flocks run in different areas of the chicken field and back garden. It will require us to fence off areas for each breed and supply each area with a suitable henhouse, but we can do this fairly easily.
The next thing to think about is how we will feed all these chickens as to make them economically viable, we can't feed them solely on organic layer's pellets. So the plan is to assign an area in each sectioned off part of the field and back garden to grow additional greens for the chickens to eat. We have plenty of seed and seedlings that we can plant now in preparation for the birds moving into their areas. Then as we feed the birds each day, we can use some of the greens that are growing in their area to supplement the layer's pellets. At the start of each season we can let the birds in to the small growing area to clear the soil of weeds and uneaten veg and section off a different part of their enclosure to grow in for the next year. The birds will have scratched over and fertilised the new area during the previous year making the ground rich and ready for planting. These are simple and basic permaculture principles, which we believe will work for us.
Saturday morning we went to the garden centre, pretty much as it opened to look for scrap wood (as they have a pile of wood that is free to take away) and for cardboard boxes. There was no wood that would be useful to us, but we struck gold on the cardboard box front. These larger boxes are not much use to people purchasing a few plants and the staff at the garden centre were very happy for us to take these away. I think that the early Saturday slot may have to become a regular feature for us while we are still laying out the kitchen garden.
Each raised bed and every pathway has a cardboard layer beneath it to help kill off the grass, The cardboard rots down over time, feeding the worms in the ground and then eventually feeding the soil. Creating the kitchen garden is being done on a very tight budget. Having purchased the wood lengths from a reclamation site, the cardboard, compost and path coverings need to be acquired free of charge. So, the cardboard is coming from the garden centre, my friends, neighbours and family and just about anywhere where we can find free cardboard boxes, the path coverings are chipped conifer trees from our garden and my sister's home, and the compost is being made in large amounts just as fast as I can gather the materials to make it. Having bought in one ton of top soil, I think we may need to buy in some more to complete filling the raised beds.
So, the compost making continues, I now have 5 compost bays to use, I'm using one to store chipped conifers until I've laid down the cardboard boxes for some of the pathways. One contains wood shavings, newspaper and chicken manure from my neighbour's chicken shed. One has the start of the next compost heap and one is empty at the moment. The other one has the last compost heap that I made on 16th May.
I added some more layers to it yesterday and then noticed that the bottom of the compost is starting to look brown, so perhaps I will have made three week compost again. It is now a relatively simple affair to put a three to four inch layer of straw in the base of a compost bay and add layers of green and brown materials. Each time Mr J cuts some grass I add it to a heap in layers, alternating with a layer of the wood shavings from those stored in one of the bays. This hot composting makes for fast compost, but I am slightly concerned by the lack of worms in most areas of the garden, a slow compost would give the worms a chance to breed. feed and multiply again.
Yesterday afternoon my daughter and her family came to visit bringing with them some cardboard boxes and three bin liners of grass cuttings. Some mothers like flowers or chocolate (and I like these too) and other mothers get excited about cardboard and grass clippings. Grandson number one helped me to pick more elderflower heads to prepare to make some elderflower wine while my daughter, her partner and grandson number two were settled on a blanket in the front garden. He and I talked about bugs, butterflies and stinging nettles and how to tell if a flower is open or still in bud. He also had a ride around on his tractor and his father took him around to inspect all his favourite birds. Jack (the hybrid chicken) was his when they lived at my daughter's house, so he is always keen to see how she is and he seems delighted that Big Red is Jack's offspring.
It's bank holiday Monday today and as seems to be a tradition, the weather is not as warm as it has been for the last few days. There is however, still plenty to be getting on with, so before I head out into the garden, I think it must be time for a cuppa.