We didn’t get much time for updating this site in May and June which are (predictably) pretty busy months on a smallholding – but especially so for us novices being new to keeping animals, growing veg and having still loads to do on the house and land to get it into proper shape. Anyway, enough excuses – here is what we’ve been up to.
The main job that was achieved in May and June was knocking down a structural wall dividing the kitchen and sitting room and opening up the fireplace to make it big enough to fit a wood-fired range cooker. It was a big job and the flue still needs to be lined before the cooker can go in. The building and plumbing works will continue over the next two or three months. Hopefully we can get the central heating up and running before autumn…
This is a photo of our first haul of veg. The kitchen garden has been producing lots of lovely stuff for us to eat. We had to dig up all of our early potatoes as a result of a bout of early blight sadly – but the silver lining is that we have a sack of new potatoes that we are slowly munching our way through. Particular highlights are funny curly carrots where they must have hit a stone and grown round them, delicious yellow baby courgettes on the barbie, our own rocket which tasted better than any shop bought salad we’ve had and super sweet peas and tender mange touts. Now we just want the tomatoes to hurry up and ripen (which we tell them every day).
We took advantage of all the redcurrants and blackcurrants (that weren’t eaten by the birds) and elderflower collected from the road-side to make jam, cordial and bottled fruit – yummy! We also have some gooseberries that we found in our hedge, which we’ve frozen for the future. As we can’t grow lemons and oranges, we’re always likely to have to buy in a small amount of fruit for adding to cordials, but we found a great recipe which means absolutely nothing goes to waste; it’s called Compost Heap Jelly. You basically use all the rinds and leftovers to make a marmalade, which we liked so much it is almost all gone.
June is haymaking time so, as we don’t have any ruminants yet and we have an abundance of grass, one of our local dairy farmers took some bales of haylage (i.e. in between hay and silage). These days, making hay is not the communal activity that you read about in John Seymour’s books. It is all about a contractor with heavy machinery and it’s done at an incredible speed. The huge round bales wrapped in plastic weighing over a ton look out of place on a smallholding like Penybanc, but we’re glad it isn’t going to waste this year and not to have grass around our waists anymore. Hopefully next year we will be able to make some small bales ourselves for our own use. In order to get the big machinery into our field, a JCB was needed to uproot the stump in front of the house, so all in all there were seven enormous (and expensive) bits of kit that trundled onto our land in a space of three days, being: JCB, mower, hay raker, baler, bale wrapper, bale mover and loader wagon.
On the animal front, our chicks are now little chickens that have just started to roost instead of sleeping in a big pile. We had to seal up the nest boxes as they insisted on trying to all sleep in one of the nest boxes even though they didn’t really fit and would come out in the morning with crumpled feathers sticking out all over the place. Incredibly, we only have one cockerel (who has just started trying to crow) and five hens. Apparently they don’t lay eggs until about 18-20 weeks old, which means we have to wait until the end of September before we have any eggs, but then we are likely to be overrun with them.
The pigs have been storming through their food and have reached about 40kg each. The hot weather meant that we had to carry lots of water to fill their wallow for them to be able to cool off. Watching them is brilliant fun, but we discovered that standing close by means you will get spattered with mud when they inevitably get out and shake themselves off. They have been healthy except for a little wheezy cough they developed as a result of worms, but that has now been treated and should be totally cleared up soon. Measuring the Boys to calculate their weight and then trying to make sure they took only their food ration with the medicine in the rain would have been a real slapstick treat for any observer. The pigs are a lot of fun and we’re now fully addicted to them, so we’re already trying to source our next set of weaners to bring on.
Since 1st July we have had about another 10,000 animals at Penybanc as the bees arrived – hurrah! They had a pretty traumatic few hot hours in the car, stuck in traffic when they were collected so they were pretty angry when they first came out. But, contrary to popular belief, they’re pretty docile and none of them were in the mood for stinging us even though the smoker stopped working. They seemed to have settled in well and the ladies can be seen arriving back at the hive with sacks of pollen and last night we witnessed them all sleeping huddled together. Bring on the honey!!
Now we’re in the process of getting everything we need in order so that we can buy a jersey calf to hand rear, so we’re ordering fencing materials and have been patching up existing fencing in places…. but that’s a story for another time.
Otherwise, we have just been enjoying the long days of June. The wildlife is great at the moment, with lots of butterflies, wildflowers, birds and bats around. We have swallows nesting in our barn and happened to be clearing out the barn when the five little ones first fledged the nest. Our neighbours have got a puppy of their own, who Dusk loves playing with (although he is now poorly and we hope he gets better soon).
I think that’s pretty much all I can think of for now. Phew! In need of a tea break – thanks CT: