Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The chickens are sick

Or at least one of them is.

We noticed a couple of weeks ago that one of the chooks had stopped laying.  Either that, or the two Light Sussexes had decided to lay alternate days.  Then we noticed that Ramen was looking a bit sad and sorry for herself.  Then she stopped eating. Then more or less she stopped moving around.  We massaged her crop and fed her olive oil (she enjoyed the massage and emphatically did not enjoy the olive oil :-D ). Nothing seemed to work and we resigned ourselves to her dying.

But she hasn't died.  We haven't noticed her eating, although we put mash and tonic and chickeny good things near her.  We haven't noticed her drinking, although we put water near her.  And she must at least be drinking or she would be dead of dehydration by now.

But she can't walk very easily. There seems to be a problem with her feet.

I looked it up on the chicken forums.

I have a very uneasy feeling that it might be Marek's Disease.  If it is, then we (or more precisely, the chooks) are buggered.  It appears to be highly infectious and largely untreatable.  Although Ramen still isn't dead (or she wasn't when I left home this morning).  But Udon is now not laying. She still seems perfectly fit - but that's how it started with Ramen.  I don't think that that was what took out Katsu (although it might have been). She just seemed to fade away for no obvious reason, and we didn't notice a problem with her feet.

I fear greatly that it is Marek's Disease - which will be a real shame because this crop of hens are quite friendly and entertaining and the little legbars are beginning to show character and interest, and seem to be entirely happy pottering about with their ducky companions. I did notice that Dimsim was sleeping in the hen coop last night. Gyoza was still in with the ducks.  I have increased the chicken tonic we put in their food and will get some B vitamin compound (some of the forums think this sometimes helps). But generally there seems to be no treatment.

I might go to Pets at Home in Chesterfield at the weekend and see if the vet there knows anything about poultry.  We're not going to replace the chooks if any incoming chooks are going to be struck down as well. I believe that ducks are not susceptible - we may need to move from chickens to ducks.  Sigh ;-(

Of course, it might not be Marek's Disease. Maybe they'll spontaneously get better.  But it is not my experience of poultry that they do get better once they take poorly. A bit like guinea pigs, generally they just decide to die.

On to happier matters.  The gardens and allotment have been enjoying the unusually summery weather.  We had three or four weeks of warm, even hot, dry weather, and have now moved to a more standard summer weather pattern of warm sunshine, interspersed with heavy or thundery showers, along with some cooler, wet days. This is more or less what English summer should be. We haven't had one for three or four years before this one!!!  We have a bumper, bumper crop of fruit, the runner beans are coming along in force; we have a freezer full of peas and broad beans; the button zucchini are beginning to produce prolifically; the onions and potatoes need harvesting; the chard is growing nicely.  The tomatoes aren't yet showing signs of ripening but the plants are looking nice and healthy.  So far, we are looking good for various different types of preserved fruit and vegetables (jams, brandies, jellies, syrups and, of course, frozen produce) for the autumn and winter.

We had a Japanese vegetable curry for dinner last night, with onions, runner beans, broad beans, peas, baby potatoes and button zucchini from the garden and allotment.  And on Sunday I made a summer fruit crumble for dessert with red currant syrup, black currants, gooseberries, jostaberries and raspberries.

Eating well, we are

Summer fruit, ready for a Sunday crumble

It's a mouse in the sky (well it is if you look with imagination!)

Clouds over the garden on Sunday evening

Looking down towards the patio

Chooks and ducks - not dead yet

Still plenty of raspberries to come

Our garden

We appear to be being surveyed by a phalanx of tufted eared owls :-D

Pretty hanging basket out the front

The view from our gate

Oh dear. Everything is sick ;(

Well. Not quite everything.  But the chickens are sick (see here for an account).  The Builder has been having fasting blood tests for borderline high blood sugar levels (which obstinately stay at border line and won't either drop or move to a situation where they can sensibly be treated). And then there was the car.

It's been making funny noises for some time.  And it's been handling oddly. We knew the hand brake cable needed replacing, but that couldn't possibly have been causing the grinding and rattling and other odd noises.

It got worse.

Then the brakes began to squeal.

I began to worry that a wheel might fall off while we were driving along.

Eventually, we decided it had got so bad that the poor Vixen needed to see a consultant.  So we consulted Nick the local Mechanic.  The Vixen was carted off to hospital and put into intensive care. Her paws were all broken ;-(

This meant that she wasn't available to come to the station and pick me up on Friday after work.  So my colleague Julia drove me from the station towards her gym, where she was going to indulge in extreme exercise, and I walked home from there.  It was about 5 km to our place from where Julia dropped me off, and it's rather a nice walk.  You go through the town of Chesterfield itself, then out into the more rural outskirts.  You walk along a bit of countryside, a bit of housing, a bit of countryside, a bit more housing, past a small woodland and then into Tupton.  I have walked it before, two or three times. But on all the previous occasions it's been because there has been so much snow lying about that the buses weren't running and it would have been too difficult for the Builder to get the car to the station.  On those occasions I have had my gum boots with me, or my walking boots.  On this occasion I was wearing a pair of sandals that I wouldn't normally walk any huge distance in.  Even so, it was considerably easier that trying to stomp through several centimetres of snow, even if not quite so much of an adventure!

We didn't walk into town on Saturday.  We took the bus. And went to the central market (given that we couldn't get to any of the farm shops that we usually go to). And we went to the Rutland Arms for lunch. a bit of an extravagance, given that we didn't know how much the car repairs would be, although we knew for certain that they would be expensive. But the Rutland isn't all that expensive and the food is good, home-cooked food and it didn't seem unreasonable to indulge in a hamburger for me and a piece of gammon for The Builder

Then we went home on the bus.

And just pottered about for the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday.

The Vixen was released from hospital on Sunday afternoon. It cost us upward of £600 to ransom her.  It is fortunate that we have been getting a good harvest from the garden.  If nothing else we have a freezer full of fruit and vegetables, a store shelf full of preserves in the larder and a cupboard full of sauces that I bought the last time I was in London or which we got at the BBC Good Food Show.  We are not going to starve.  But the Extreme Austerity that I was going to impose to augment the savings for the GWT II has been imposed upon us - by the car!!

I suppose that *might* help The Builder's blood sugar levels  :-D

Evening over Tupton:

Monday, July 22, 2013

More Food

It was the Bishops' House AGM on Thursday evening so The Builder and I met Tabitha and we all went to the Bishops' Cafe for an early tea before the meeting.  Usually Bishops' House meetings are on Fridays, and we have Caribbean food. On Thursdays, though, the Bishops' Cafe does burgers and chips - and very, very tasty they were too.

It was the Tramlines festival in Sheffield this weekend so lots of people were about for the many musical events which go on.  Simon's band was playing.  Freyja was in town for the event. Plus it was Simon's birthday on Friday. So we all headed to the Botanical Gardens for a celebratory picnic on Sunday. And, naturally, the weather, which has been bright and sunny and hot for two or three weeks, turned cool and cloudy and even a tiny bit damp.  Fortunately it wasn't damp in the gardens. And we had a mighty, mighty picnic indeed.  Nate came (but without Duncan who was in London for the weekend - we think it was the absence of Duncan which cause Cally to refuse to speak to Nate :-D ). Taff'a's mate Jamie came.  Simon and Freyja came, bringing with them two Scottish musos who were staying at Simon's place for the weekend. We had a positive mountain of food. It was all good.

We used to live very close to the Botanical Gardens and hardly ever went into them (unless we were walking through on our way to Broomhill).  We should have done much better! They are small but rather delightful.

I was baking over the weekend, as well as preparing party food.  Someone gave me a bag full of over ripe bananas. There are now two dozen banana cupcakes in the freezer.  We took a dozen to the picnic as well.  I also made a dozen soda bread rolls, which we also took to the picnic.  I think the oven was somewhat surprised to be quite so well used when the weather was as warm as it was on Saturday.

We are forecast hot, muggy and stormy weather this week.  A few thunderstorms will enliven things a bit!

Click on the picnic to see the photo album

Summer Harvest

The Under Gardener has been a-pick, pick, picking.

We have 16 kilos of gooseberries in the freezer, as well as a kilo waiting to be turned into jam.

We have red currant jelly, white currant jelly, red currant juice (in the freezer) and red currant ice cream (also in the freezer!)

We have several pots of raspberries in the freezer - although we have to pick the raspberries pretty much as soon as they ripen or the blackbirds eat them.

We are also picking cherries as fast as they ripen, also to beat the blackbirds.

We are beginning to eat broad beans and peas from the allotment. And the Under Gardener is pulling the first rows of pea and bean plants as we speak.

Last night we had our first picking of runner beans

And we are eating potatoes as fast as we can. We only planted first and second earlies this year, which don't store all that well. I think I'll do some up for the freezer and we'll eat the rest fresh.

I've also been buying huge quantities of brandy, ready for Christmas

So far, not too bad.

Monday, July 15, 2013

River Cottage

2012 had its ups and downs as far as River Cottage was concerned.  Their Saturday Summer Party had to be cancelled last July because of rain, flooding and deep, deep mud.  We weren't hugely inconvenienced by that, because we had decided not to go when the tickets were first released back in the February.  But the party was cancelled at very short notice so lots of people were affected.  And River Cottage most of all, of course.  Earlier in the year an even bigger catastrophe had befallen them.  Their 17th century events barn had burned to the ground one night.

Since then they have been working very hard to clear up the debris and to build a new barn.

Earlier this year they sent an email to say that they wouldn't be hosting the Summer Party this year but would be holding a grand Barn Reopening event instead. I decided that we would go and bought tickets and booked us into the Blue Waters B&B that we had stayed in the last time we went to a River Cottage event.  And like the last time we went, I spent weeks and weeks telling people that we were going to Dorset for a mid-week weekend.

In the event, just as last time, we didn't set foot, or even a wheel in Dorset.  We went to *DEVON* for the weekend.

And we had a fabulous time.  The weather was glorious. The food at the event was delightful - Moroccan sausages, onion bhajis, slow simmered lamb, pizza, roast pork, mackerel with gooseberries, fresh veg from the garden,strawberries. Lemon Balm and white rum mojitos that made your hair stand on end and your ears drop off. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall  declared the barn open. Everyone was very happy and warm and the event was filled with generosity and grace.  The Builder was even invited into the kitchen to admire the fire place and watch the bhaji man making his onion delights. We were so glad that we had gone.

When I booked us in to the B&B, I decided that we would stay down for a full day on the Friday, so as not to have to rush straight back the day after we had gone down.  So we partook of a HUGE breakfast and then went for a lovely stroll around the harbour and along the esplanade. We drove out to Axminster and had a (very light) lunch at the River Cottage Canteen. We drove along a tiny, tiny country lane to look at Branscombe, which has a sign up on the main road saying that it is a "picturesque" village. And indeed it is. The narrow country lane was quite picturesque too. We headed back to Seaton and had another stroll along the beachfront and then walked along the estuary to Axmouth to The Ship Inn for a lovely evening meal. My "Surf and Turf" came with locally source rump steak and scallops which had been fished out of Lyme Bay that very day.

And then we came home, via a huge farm shop which stocks from the farm, from the local area - and from France. Which I suppose isn't all that far away, now I come to think about it.

The glorious weather continues.  We spent Sunday searching for a paddling pool for the ducks, only to find that they had all been sold from B&Q and Toys r Us on Thursday and Friday.  We bought them a baby bath instead (which reduced the cost from £40 to £13!).  They were deeply suspicious when we opened up the door of their little run and left it open.  Gyoza and Dim Sim (the baby legbars) were the first to venture out.  The excited squeaking when they discovered unlimited fresh grass outside the confines of their house and run brought Hoi Sin and Teriyaki, eventually, out as well.  And so far, Curry, Udon and Ramen have been quite tolerant of the new arrivals.

So all in all a great weekend.  I would heartily recommend events at River Cottage.  And you could do a great deal worse than to stay at the Blue Waters B&B when loitering in Devon - even if your actual intention is to visit Dorset :-D  (Seaton isn't far over the county border)

Click on Hugh to reach the Devon photos

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sober in Summer update

The Sober in Summer challenge is emphatically not going well.

The Word of the Day a couple of weeks ago was "vinolent" (go on - look it up; you know you want to :-D ) This appears to describe The Builder and me extremely well.  We do not much care for being on the wagon!

So I was somewhat surprised to find that we have now broken, by one day, the total number of alcohol free days we had last year.  This surprised me only because I had thought of last year as being fairly abstemious from an alcohol point of view and had felt that we weren't being especially abstemious this year. It is true that the total for this year has been helped along enormously by the fact that we were alcohol free for the whole of Lent, but even if you take that into account we are still doing OK from an annual point of view.

The austerity drive, however, is in a parlous state. Considerably worse than last year :-S  If this goes on I shall be going to Melbourne in January on my own, heading straight there, not passing "Go", not collecting $200.

I am aiming now to beat the total number of alcohol free days that we reached in 2011 (when I first started keeping a total, out of idle curiosity).

And once we return from our exciting trip this weekend to Dorset and to River Cottage - a period of dire, dreadful January Jaunt Austerity will be implemented.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Let's talk about the weather

We can all be terribly, terribly English and talk at length about the weather :-D

I'll start, shall I?

The weather hereabouts has been absolutely, astonishingly amazing for the past week. The sun has shone. The temperature has been warm and sometimes even hot.  There has been none of the horrible humidity that usually accompanies warm weather in central England. It's been positively astonishing.  I've been wearing shorts and t-shirts and sandals. And a big straw sun hat. Even The Builder has been wearing a sun hat.

So we have been taking advantage of it. We have been sitting out on the newly resurrected patio in the evenings.  We have been using the barbecue (killing two birds here, because we've been using up a pile of old wood to cook on which we otherwise would have had to take to the tip or hang on to until November and have a huge big bonfire on Bonfire Night). Freyja says we have been having "wok-becues" because I've been using the wok over the fire. I've also been using my griddle. It's all been very exciting. And delicious, of course.

We went to Bishops' House on Saturday for our usual First Saturday of the Month volunteering session. It was, I think, the first time we've been there and I haven't felt cold!!  I didn't even have my cardigan on!

After we had finished at Bishops' House we trundled out to a village near Rotherham.  The Builder had ordered a new duck house from a bloke out there.  The ducks have grown and are now having to duck to get into the guinea pig hutch they've been living in.  We didn't really want ducking ducks :-D so we ordered one that was not only bigger but also taller.  We had already been out to collect the new duck house once but the bloke had had to go out, and we couldn't get it. So we thought, given that we were in Sheffield, we might potter out and have another go at collecting it.  I had always assumed that the area around Rotherham was a bit grim but it turns out that there are some quite nice little country areas out there.  We enjoyed our little jaunt out there. The roundabouts and median strips are covered in wild flowers.  The Builder is now painting the new duck house to make it weather proof.  Marlo appears to think it's for him!

When we got back from Rotherham, this is what our weather station had to say for itself:

It's usually fairly accurate, but I think it had got a bit over-excited on Saturday.  I would estimate that the actual temperature was probably around 28 or 29 d

And the sunshine continued into Sunday.  We picked up Tabitha and Cally and headed towards Derby to a steam rally at the Elvaston Castle grounds.  Cally didn't know she was going out and was quite excited to find that a car trip was on offer.  She was even more excited when we got to the steam fair. She didn't quite know where to look first - but I think the steam organs were her most favourite bit of the day.  Oh - and her ice cream

It's not surprising that she liked the steam organs - I have discovered, while checking to see what they are actually called, that one of their names is Calliope, which is also Cally's full name :-D

Then we went back to Taffa and Cally's place to find that Gaz (who had been working hard all day) had created a whole private beach, just for Cally

Click on Cally's beach to reach the rest of the photos of the weekend
There are photos of the garden, and one of the ducks on the Garden blog which you can link to at the top of this page

Summer in Tupton

Up on the allotment, things are coming along reasonably well:

The onions are doing really well

The garlic, not so well.  Not sure what happened to it but the plants didn't really grow well. We'll dig the bulbs up soon and just have to make do

We had so many little capsicum seedlings that we've planted some outside. So far they seem to be growing

The sweet corn is definitely growing. If the weather holds we might even get some corn this year

The pumpkins are enjoying their warm, sunny greenhouse. They were supposed to be getting some watermelon friends - but they've got capsicum friends instead

So the watermelon seedlings will come in with the tomatoes when they are a tiny bit bigger

We have an excellent crop of gooseberries coming along, both on the allotment and in the garden

Broad beans and peas

The young Bramley apple tree is doing OK and seems happy

All seems cheerful on the allotment

Meanwhile, back in the flower garden and vegetable plot, the Under Gardener has been busy:

He has dug up, weeded and re-laid the curvy path

and made a start on re-laying the patio

The mock orange is not only absolutely covered in flowers, but it smells absolutely beautigul

That's Udon and Curry behind the duck run, and Hoi Sin and Teriyaki inside the duck run. Gyoza and Dim Sim are also in the duck run - but behind the ducks (you can*just* see them)

Marlo is enjoying the warm, sunny weather

It probably wasn't really 30d in our garden - but it was getting very close

The Under Gardener has dug out all the blighted potatoes. We're keeping a close eye on the rest of the potatoes but so far they seem so good

The grape vine has formed a beautiful arch all by itself

Monday, July 01, 2013

Blighted potatoes

The potatoes, which have been looking green and cheerful and lovely have been struck by blight.  It's very early in the year for blight, but there is no mistaking it!  And I don't know what is wrong with the cherry trees but the leaves are turning brown and falling off and the cherries are turning black. This is not good!

They're looking nice and healthy here, but some of them are turning yellow and rotting.  Blight !!

We spent most of Saturday rescuing the patio.  There is still a lot of work to do on it, but it is at least now properly usable.  So we used it!

Before ...

... and after

We got the barbecue up, which we didn't use at all last year.  We also put up the gazebo, which we also didn't use last year.  The mice did though - they have chewed holes in it and used the ropes to make a nest!!

I think Marlo is a bit nonplussed by all of this activity - his hiding places and mousing places are all disappearing.  But he is enjoying the sunshine

The poultry are enjoying the sunshine too:

Curry pottering about in a grass heap

Udon and Ramen chasing the cherry leaves

Gyoza, Dim Sim, Teriyaki and Hoi Sin, still in their run

Hoi Sin and Teriyaki are growing noticeably.  The under Gardener has ordered a bigger duck house for them. We are going to collect it on Wednesday!