Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Wednesday 1st December 2010 - Weather: 8 inches of snow!

This was Tuesday morning. We have had another 4 inches since then.

We awoke on Tuesday to the promised snow. Can you believe the weather men actually got it right? Monday, number one daughter and I had gone into town (a non pupil/teacher training day) and although it was chilly, the roads were dry and clear. Twelve hours later, the white stuff was falling and Essex ground to a halt. It took my brother-in-law 9, yes you did read that correctly, NINE hours to get home from work last night, a journey which is usually little more than an hour and a half. Of course, with the snow, the schools have closed, and our little cul-de-sac is like a skid pan, so we have been house bound. Or do I mean home bound? We have ventured out into the street and enjoyed huge snowball fights with the neighbourhood kids, and we have ventured down the garden to tend to the livestock.

The guinea piggies aren't keen on the cold as their water bottles keep freezing solid. Hubby has now lagged their cage, which I hasten to add is a thick plastic/fibre glass jobee so actually, completely draft proof, so their bottles now remain fluid. I cleaned them out so they weren't standing on damp shavings and gave them an entire bag of sawdust to nestle down in and a complete bag of straw to snuggle up in. They have a big bowl of food, so hopefully they will be cosy until this nasty weather passes.
The quailly birds hate the cold even more. I did have a warm air heater in the greenhouse with them, but to be honest, all it did was create a cool draft, so that has gone. The greenhouse is double lagged with bubble wrap, and they are also now nestling down on an entire bag on sawdust and an entire sack of straw. Their big pots are loosely packed with the straw, and bless them, they huddle in pairs within the nests. No eggs now for over 2 weeks...well, that is a fib, every once in a while, one is laid, no idea who from, but I imagine with this rotten cold, they will stop altogether now. Hopefully they will survive this cold snap. Tomorrow, as gardening is now out of the question, I will have the day off, again, so will trundle down to the pet shop in the village and get another sack of straw to give them a top dressing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday 13th November 2010 - weather: wet, cold, windy, grim!

Seriously now, getting really fed up with this autumn/winter weather. I have so much to do, but so few decent daylight hours to do it. The allotment could do with some TLC, although I did manage to weed and tidy it through a few weeks ago. I really want to try and tackle putting some weed membrane down under the apple trees this winter as they get so thick with brambles and nettles, it looks rotten.

I have managed a couple of flying visits, and the last visit, last week, I was able to pick a lovely bundle of brocolli heads which were devine, sweet and tender. Nothing like freshly picked brassicas for me. Glad to report, there will be a good bounty of tight sprouts for Christmas, and the chard and kale as growing so fast. The caulis all got heads, but they were grey and slimey. I think I really should stop trying as I just can't master those white curds. Looks like I should get some purple sprouting over the winter also as the plants are HUGE! The onions and garlic are all growing and I have a lovely large rectangle of broad beans, which I am very excited about, as I have never grown overwintering broadies before.

All in all, the allotment looks great - well, it did a week ago. Of course, since then we have had gale force winds and gallons of rain, but hey ho, that's Mother Nature for you.

The quaily birds are still gorgeous, and driving me to distraction. We now have 19 lovely plump birdies, but I fear at least 9 of them are chaps, so a cull will be taking place anytime soon. Because we recently introduced the last batch of new hatchlings, we have had a heat lamp on in the greenhouse, so they have all started laying like mad again, and taking part in carnal pleasures, and cock-a-doodle-doing. Yesterday we had 10 eggs, which is a joy, but I would like them to stop laying and fatten up and relax for the winter, so the lights have all gone out. Regardless, they laid another 8 eggs today. I'm sure by this time next week, the laying will have stopped and everyone will have settled down. On the upside, I am planning to hold back on using some of the eggs so we can enjoy the last dozen or 2 laid for breakfast on Christmas morning.

I think I have chosen which boys are heading for the freezer. I know it seems mean, but that was the idea of keeping the birds, they aren't pets, they are livestock. I love them all, and it does pain me to think of them being killed, but I am also looking forward to eating them, and I know what they have been fed on, I know they have had a great life with access to the outside world, good food, room to fly, mealy worms and greens so are happy birdies, and the meat is all the more tender for it.

The only bad news to repot, my Rumtopf went dodgy. I opened it to give it a stir and there was a fine layer of white mould. All I can think is that some of the fruit we above alcohol level and went mouldy. A shame as that we destined for Chrissy, but you win some you loose some. I will start again next spring as the fruits start.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Thursday 14th October 2010 - weather: wet and windy

After a brief coffee with chums in the village, I headed to the allotment. The weather was 'orrid! There was a fine misty rain blowing in my face all morning. You know the type, you don't realise how wet you are getting as it is such fine rain, but when you break for a coffee, you realise you are wet through and shivering.

However, regardless of the rubbish weather, I had work to do. The main challenge of the day was to completely weed the winter root bed and finish de-dandelioning the strawb bed.

The roots are all looking great. I have more beetroot than I have ever successfully grown...the same with turnips. The parsnips were so late germinating, I think I will sell them to the family as chic baby veg. I also have a late row of carrots and some baby spring onions. I don't know if the fine builders netting I have around the bed helped not only keep the muntjac off, but also reduced the number of flea beetles, but the turnip foliage is wonderful.

I checked out plot number 2 and my oriental greens and radish have germianted.....somewhat sporadically. Not ideal, but something is better than nothing over the winter. The garlic and broadbeans however are up already and growing away fast. The onions have some green shoots, but at the moment, they aren't very action packed.

I cleared away this summers sweetpea plants now as they were ready for the compost heap, but I did gather a handful of seed, but low and behold, it had started 'chitting' in the pods. Not wanting to waste such keen to grow seeds, I quickly put up a wigwam of canes and planted a thick ring of the seeds. I have more at home in packets to sow, but I wasn't going to waste these babies.
As the rain drove on, I began to loose the will to live, so after weeding through, I picked the borlottis that were ready, some runner beans and a courgette, then called it a day.

As I headed for the gate, I took a last glance at my white alpine strawberry plants and noticed they are covered in young fruits. I picked a few, which were heavenly, so now I am hoping for a few sunny days to ripen some more. They really are luxurious.
Friday 8th October 2010

Quail Diary

After a stupid accident, which I am not prepared to talk about, we lost 2 of the teenagers so are down to 4 - the pied white, the range brown and 2 goldens. They are gorgeous and perfect and have now been sent to coventry....well, down to the greenhouse where they are currently residing in the lap of luxury under a lamp and inside the old guinea pig run. They have full adult plumage now, and to be honest, are almost as big as the original family, so I think it will be safe to let them out and take away the lamp. There is plenty of straw in the greenhouse, and I have nearly finished lagging it for the winter. When the weather gets really nasty, we have a small fan heater which we plan to put up on bricks and put an old freezer basket over it. This has a frost free setting which should just keep the kids cosy during the winter. There are also 8 large flower pots stuffed with straw in which they can huddle down, plus their lovely wooden home that Mark constructed, but only 1 seems willing to use. Maybe they will see sense as the winter weather sets in.

Group 2 hatched successfully....well, 5 babies made the hatch easily. Number 6 struggled and struggled for 36 hours, so we did the unthinkable and we gave it a helping hand. Of course, we should have let nature takes its course because when it did finally break free, it was bent double and couldn't hold itself upright. We gave the poor little chick 24 hours in the incubator alone to see if it improved, but it didn't and Mark quickly and kindly put it out of it's misery. Egg number 7 sat in the incubator for another 24 hours, but as there was no sign of action, I cracked it, and it wasn't fertile. The incubator has now been cleaned up and packed away until the spring. So, we have 5 little urchins leaping around, adult feathers already showing through, 2 pied whites and 3 goldens. This gang are much more skittish, but just as cute.

We haven't had any eggs now since the end of September, and although we toyed with the idea of giving them artifical light to encourage eggs, we have decided not to and to let them preserve their energy for the winter. The scruffy brown girl who was being constantly ravaged by the lads has grown all of her plumage back now the boys have lost interest in procreation, so fingers crossed, by the time spring is in the air and making babies is on their minds, the ratio of boys to girls will be better and she will be left alone a bit more.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Friday 8th October 2010 - weather: unseasonably mild

Quail Diary update

Day 18 for the first family, and they are practically fully grown. I will have photos to update you tomorrow, but we have 4 stripy golden, 1 range and 1 pied white.

You may of course recall, that as soon as the family left the incubator, I filled it again, and yesterday afternoon we spotted the first signs of hatching. Reader, as I type this we have 5 chicks and 2 yet to hatch. They do look mighty uncomfortable all squeezed into the incubator, but this time tomorrow they will be in their nursery with room to roam. Four of those eggs had been freshly laid that day, the other 3 were from a supply in the fridge! I did wonder if refridgerated eggs could hatch, and the answer is, yes, they do.

I will take photos of the new batch tomorrow as we move them.

The main family have now stopped laying, so there will be no more incubator action until early spring when I am hoping to purchase 6 fertilised eggs from another source to mix up the gene pool.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Sunday 26th September 2010 - weather: rain rain rain, a brief break in the clouds, then rain.

Inbetween the rain, we had a family outing to the allotment for an autumn clear.

The apple trees had a mass of apples, but all at the top beyond my vertically challenged height.
Also, with all of the rain, I feared for the well being of my gourd collection, so they needed to be picked.

Such a bounty.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thursday 30th September 2010 - weather: clear blue sky, but a chill in the air.

Another flying visit today after work, during which time I mananged to plant 100 Japanese onion sets, 55 garlic cloves and 25 broadbean seeds. I still have another 100 onion sets to plant out, but I need to clear the runner beans first, and I am hanging on as they are still so productive. Plot number 2 is now completely planted for winter use - oriental greens, aliums and leafy greens.

Picked another handful of runners, an armful of apples, and the other big pumpkin as the secret pumpkin muncher has now emptied the third pumpkin and I don't want it to move on to the next one on the vine.

Pulled a few more weeds, and then headed for home. One of these days I will take a camera!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Monday 27th September 2010 - weather: Dry

At last, hoorah, my blog can remain the Allotment News, as, for a brief two hours today, I got to the allotment.

I adore the changes in our seasons, it is one of the joys of living in the UK, and the signs of autumn covered the allotment site. The trees have started colouring up, the rosehips are glowing rusty orange (I really should pick some and make some rosehip syrup), the tomato plants were all blighty and finished and the leaves on the squash plants have started to frazzle away revealing a plethora of cucurbita fruits.

My beans are still going great guns - see, the slugs did me a favour munching off my first sowing of runners. If the weather remains mild, I could be picking runners for another month as there is a huge flush or crimson flowers. The Borlotti beans have finished flowering and the plants are weighed down with pods. I have been picking them as they dry, podding them and freezing them. I have never had any success drying the beans out and storing them for the winter, the just go mouldy. I have an abundance of beetroot and a large patch of carrots and turnips which I plan to leave in the ground to use over the winter. The parsnips were very, very late in germinating, and although they are growing very rapidly now, I don't thing we will be winning any 'biggest parsnip' awards at the Hort. Soc. AGM. However, they will be perfect for Christmas and the new year when harvestable crops are lean.

Lean....did I say lean....? Not on my plot. This year, thanks to, well, luck rather than judgement, I planted a large selection of brassicas through weed supressing membrane. This was so successful last year, that I doubled the area this year, and as a result, I have brussel sprouts - purple and green, purple sprouting, brocolli, 3 varieties of kale, 3 varietes of cabbage, kohl rabi, and cauliflowers, not that caulis are ever succesful on our site, but I try every year, just in case. I also have 2 rows of spinach and a lovely large patch of swiss chard. That, the leeks, the roots, and the new oriental greens that have just started germinating, should keep us in veggies well into next spring when the young salads and baby roots take over. GLEE!

I spent my 2 hours as productively as possible, cleared all the old tom plants, and filled a trug to overflowing with the red and green fruits - the red will be frozen, the green will be turned into my black mango chutney. I also picked a bundle of beans, pulled a couple of beetroots and picked the large pumpkin as I noticed a mouse/deer/slug has attacked one of the smaller ones, and I didn't want him to get bored and start on the whopper. Over the next few visits, I will bring all of the squashes home. After picking and dealing with the blighty tomato plants, I weeded around the young beetroots seeing what was there. Plenty of tennis ball sized roots, and a lot of smaller ones which will be used for leaves, or left to see if they develop as the larger ones are cleared.

That was it...two hours comes and goes in a blur. Saw Caroline, she has had a huge success with one butternut squash plant, producing over 10 fruits. Her plot is one of the neatest, but she leaves nearby and is retired so has planty of time on her hands....lucky girl!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday 26th September 2010 - weather: rain, rain and more rain.
Quail Diary

I really must get to the allotment and post some pics of life there...otherwise I am going to have to retitle my blog...something along the lines of 'Quail life and ocassional veggie news'.

Cleaned out the big family today and found 3 eggs. They were well hidden, so probably laid during the last 48 hours or so. Lots of straw has gone down to continue wrapping them up for winter. Open window that provide well needed ventilation during the summer monthes have now been blocked up and draft proofed, so next job is bubble wrap insulation. Mark is on the case. I also have 2 old duvets - one to got over their wooden house and one to go over the staging to try and help draft proof things for the family. I also have a fan heater (have I told you all of this before? I sometimes forget if I have told you, or my mother) and it has a frost free setting, so that will go under an old freezer basket to keep the gals cosy during the winter monthes.

The babes are now a week old, and they are looking like spotty, scrawny teenagers. Proper wing feathers have arrived in the last 24 hours, as has the attitude. How come other people wax lyrical about their friendly little birds, being able to hold them and hand feed them? Mind, scatty, hairbrained - or should that be feather brained? - flighty and generally terrified of me. I shower them with love, affection and mealworms, at great expense, and what do I get in return....well eggs I suppose. Is a little friendliness too much to ask??

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday 25th September 2010 - weather: Frosty morn, clear blue sky, FRESH!
A pictorial update. The brood are visably growing by the minute and already, only 6 days old, we can see their true feathers coming through, in pin as I believe Chris Packham would say. These pics don't show you as they were taken on Tuesday 21st. I will take some close ups later.

The white baby I am more and more certain is a lad, he is definately the leader, and the biggest. Eleanor, our lazy brown baby is still the smallest, but stands up for herself. They are eating, drinking, sleeping machines, just like any baby. The amazing thing is, at only 6 days old, they are all trying their wings constantly and leaping several inches in the air. They are adoreable, and I fear the family and I are hooked on these birds.

The big family in the garden are all becoming lazy now the days are cooler and the nights are longer and we are lucky if we get an egg or 2 a day. Husband has mentioned putting in some lights over the weekend which will come on using a timer at around 5am until around 7.30am when the sun finally bothers to show it's face. Hopefully this will encourage them to lay a few more for a while longer. An experiment as you can appreciate - we are new to this livestock husbandry lark.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sunday 19th September

Quail Diary
After nothing more than just some crackage during Saturday, we awoke early Sunday morning to find 4 chicks in the incubator, all excited, all cheeping and clambering on top of eachother, desperate to get out. They had to stay put for 24hours so they could gather their strength and their bodies could absorb the egg yolky stuff. You can tell I know all of the techy info re rearing quail chicks.

They are ADORABLE!! But, the excitement grew as, during Sunday, around lunch time, another egg started to break, and after a struggle, out emerged chick number 5. So far we had an all golden chick and 4 stripy like little bumble bees - gold main with thin dark stripes. I guess these will be the traditional coturnix colours and the all gold may be a white laddie. As the afternoon wore on, yet more excitement befell the household as chick number 6 emerged....exhausted and a tad weak. We were concerned that it wouldn't make it through the night with the other 5 all pounding on it's little head. We hoped it would be okay as this one was nearly all brown with just pale stripes. It was christened by wicked step daughter as Eleanor, as it has lazy teenager attitude as it appeared to be the last of the brood. No signs of life from egg number 7.

After 24 hours, the little family were moved from incubator to brooding tank where their comic antics make us all coo and ahh. They are eating and drinking machines and are all now looking strong, even Eleanor. Of course, as soon as the family were moved into the brooder, 7 more eggs entered the incubator. Well, bringing new life into the world is a precious thing, and the babes are soooo precious!
We left the last egg in the incubator for another 36 hours, but nothing. I opened it, and sadly, there was a little brown chick in there. Natural selection...survival of the fittest...he who has the strongest beak tooth laughs last.....

Our egg count is now mid 600's, but we are down to just 2 or 3 eggs a day as the light levels are so low and days are so short.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Saturday 18th September 2010 - weather: overcast


After a very dry early summer, and then an incredibly wet late summer early autumn, the veggies on the allotment haven't know whether to grow, bolt or rot. However, there was enough growing well for me to have plenty of entries in the Danbury and Little Baddow Horticultural Society Show. Up bright and early and staged an array of fruit, veggies and cooking. The kids also took part and did flower displays and cooking. Did very well and all three of us won tropheys, mine and Jessica's were for most aggregate points over the year and James won his for being the Presidents Choice. A lovely time was had by all.

I have had a few visits to the allotment to just weed weed weed. Thanks to the lovely rain, the waterbuts are full and the weeds are 10 foot tall. I have thoroughly cleaned out the strawberry bed and planted all of the rooted runners in rows, oiking out the rest. I now have a lovely large strawberry bed, and I will definately construct some permanent netting over the winter to protect them from the deer and birds.

I have been picking tomatoes by the bucket load, even though blight is spreading across the site. I read somewhere that cherries and plums aren't so affected, which is great as that is mostly what I am growing. I have stewed down over 15 bags of toms which now rest comfortably in the freezer for winter use. I will continue to pick and stew down, but I think I might make some home made chilli and tom ketchup. I will hold off making chutters from the toms until I have a bucket of green ones and make my black mango chutney. mmmmmm.

Courgettes have been rubbish this year. I have picked about 6 in total, but the slugs munched my original plants, and when I did a rush resow, I sowed various squash, but no courgettes. Similar situation with the cucumbers, we have had about 4.

The runner beans are loving this cooler, wet weather, and have sent off masses more flowers and we are eating beans at every meal. I have also had a bumper harvest of bortlotti beans which I am leaving to almost dry out completely on the plants, then shucking them and freezing them for winter soups and stews.

I love my allotment, even with it's annoying challenges, and the surroundings do allow masses of wildlife on site. I know the muntjacs are a pain in the butt, but I love to see them, and last week on one day I went to lift my wheelbarrow on the compost heap, and there was lovely long slow worm under there, then the following day as I went to dump some rubbish, I disturbed an adder sunbathing. I know we have a lot of adders on the site - a dog was bitten by one on there last year - and they are so beautiful, but I did admire it from afar.

Hopefully I will get down more and more now autumn is here and gardens slow down. In the meantime, I have a huge glut of fruit and veg to use or process before it takes over the world!
p.s. Quail news......Saturday lunchtime, day 17, we notice definate cracks in some of the shells.... would there be babies by Sunday?