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A novice's guide to producing his own food


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Fowl play in the chicken coop

All gone to the coop in the sky

All gone to the coop in the sky

The hens were the big upset of last year. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t stop them falling sick and dying.

I bought eight hens in 2013, and lost three that year. Then at the start of the following spring I was given another two by a fellow allotment holder, bring the numbers up to seven.

But the new year didn’t stop them going beak-up at almost regular intervals. I tried everything I could think of: cleaning the run more often, changing the water more frequently, spraying for red mite regularly, but to no avail. Perhaps, I began to fear, I was just rubbish at looking after them.

But worse was to come: whereas previous chicken deaths were protracted affairs with sickly looking beasts acting under the weather for several days before dying, by the summer I was going into the coop to find them suddenly dead. No warning.

With only three left, I decided I had to get to the bottom of this for once and for all. I took the corpse of the most recently departed to the vets to find the cause. They directed me to a department of Scotland’s Rural College in Perth where they perform animal autopsies.

After a week, I got a phone call. “Your chickens have been dying from Marek’s Disease,” said the vet. I’d heard of this, but knew next to nothing about it. “It’s related to the herpes virus, and hens catch it when they are a few weeks old. It has a slow incubation period, and they start to die after two years.” A few weeks old! To be honest, I was completely relieved at this sudden turn. None of this was my fault after all. The infection occurred before I got them. There is a vaccination against Marek’s, but many smaller breeders don’t use it, because it can only be purchased in batches of 100 doses.

Basically, it meant I bought hens that were already infected with a killer disease. I got them “second-hand” from a guy who was as much of a novice as me, and I suspect he wasn’t aware they hadn’t been vaccinated either.

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Tripping the Glut Fantastic!

Peas and runner beans

Peas and runner beans

You are going to have to forgive me if I sound a bit pleased with myself. That’s because I am. I’m in the midst of what is by far my biggest glut – and it isn’t over yet.

Behind me in a box, as I type this, are jars of strawberry jam, raspberry jam, rhubarb and ginger jam and honey.

In the kitchen are a box of eggs, a bowl of tomatoes, a bowl of onions, three cabbages, a spindly lettuce and a food-grade plastic bucket with what I hope will eventually be sauerkraut.

The freezer in the shed has two drawers with courgettes, raspberries, spring onions, cubes of pureed basil, broad beans, runner beans, peas, and vegetable soup,

Beside the freezer are two sacks, each of which contain 28lbs of potatoes (first and second earlies), with the main crop still to come.

And, finally, next to the shed is the greenhouse, where are four racks of onions drying in the heat before I string them up.

This substantial store of food means two things — we will almost certainly be eating food I have produced daily until at least until Christmas, and I reckon this is the first time since I started the allotment, that the money I have saved has exceeded money spent. That’s not, of course, the reason why I do this, but, still, it’s a wee bonus.

 

 


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video update no. 3 2013

This post will be accompanied by few words. I seem to have most covered of what I wanted to say in the video update.

There is one further thing I want to add, though. Since filming the footage above, events have moved on regarding the quails. As I said I would, I reunited the injured bird with her siblings. However, almost immediately she started to get picked on. I watched anxiously hoping it would settle down, but within a few minutes the corner of her eye was starting to bleed. The other quails were being vicious little toe-rags. One, in particular, was not only nipping the back of her neck, but was also getting a piggy-back ride as the injured bird ran around trying to escape. I had no choice but to put her back in the pet carrier.

But things got even worse. Soon after I notice ANOTHER quail was getting viciously picked on as well! Can’t figure out what’s up with them.

I took the two bullied quail back indoors and put them in the cage that formerly housed our rats.  Soon the greenhouse will be empty of tomatoes, and I intend to put the two cages with all the quails in there over the winter while I work out what to do next.

Don’t let the quails’ cutesy size and their Tribble-like cooing fool you. They’re mean little buggers.


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Video Update No. 1 2013

Good golly, is it video update time already? Yes, that’s right, I about to administer some digital propofol by warbling about my beloved allotment.

If you watch it all, you’ll notice I keep banging on about how a great year it has been (so far). I’m getting better at growing veg, the weather has been particularly good (although some folk still aren’t happy), and I’m actually getting fitter. A couple of years ago, three hours down the allotment would have had me taking to bed for the next couple of days. Not any more. I’m regularly putting in up to eight hours on Saturday, followed by a similar amount on Sunday (I then struggle to stay awake at work on Monday).

All my time hasn’t been spent at allotment, though. At least one day each weekend is spent at home tending to the greenhouse, chickens and quails. And, of course, there are the bees.

Anyway, time to kick back and enjoy the clip.

See! Told you it was rubbish. Before I go, I must correct one mistake. Contrary to what I say in the video, I am not growing climbing beans. The legumes are: (in order) broad beans, early peas, FRENCH beans, RUNNER beans and late peas (I really should prepare better).


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What a weekend!

The quail -- well five of them -- safety at home in our garden

The quail — well five of them — safety at home in our garden

It’s Sunday evening, and I’m reflecting on a weekend that was a bit hectic, but nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable. The rewards are starting to reveal themselves after all the hard work I’ve put in over the last few months.

Saturday began with an 8am start. Janek and I were driving to the village of Dollar (almost 55 miles away) to collect six Japanese quail. My three boys had decided to get them for me as a Father’s Day gift. Janek had seen an allotment holder with quail, and reckoned I’d like some too. A nice thought.

The sun broke cover by the time we left Dundee, and most of the day was gloriously hot. The drive to Dollar was quick as Janek and I chatted quite a bit (I rarely see him). We found the farm easily enough, and collected the quail in a pet carrier. Lovely little birds, and they make a soothing cooing noise. Although they are ground-dwellers, you look after them in the same way as chickens.

Back home, I transferred my new wee pals into an ark I had bought for the chickens (but never used). After cowering in the shade for a bit, they soon ventured out.

In the afternoon, I visited the pet shop in Monifieth, and bought the quail two little houses (which are meant for small rabbits). They seemed to like them, as they provided more cover. I think I’m right in saying that quail traditionally live on forest floors, so they like being out of the sun.

On Sunday, Janek accompanied me again. This time to check the bees. It was his first-ever visit , and he was (naturally) quite wary. But he did OK, remained calm and didn’t get stung.

My main hive is absolutely chock-full of bees. I’ve never seen so many. And they’re bringing in more honey. The super is getting heavy for a second time — something that has never happened to me before. I’ll keep this honey for the bees, and let them use it over the winter.

The nucleus hive at the apiary (the other is at the allotment) is also doing well. Plenty of bees about to hatch. I’ll have to “upgrade” the nuc to a full brood box soon.

On our way home Janek and I decided to drop in on the allotment. All of a sudden everything seems to be becoming ready at the plot. The two of us spent the next two hours harvesting, and between us gathered the first potatoes (purple majesty), red and white onions, two types of garlic, courgettes, broad beans, two types of peas, a few raspberries, even fewer Tayberries, but a massive 5lbs of strawberries. Oh, and an absolutely huge bunch of sweet peas for Sue.

The strawberries have been stunning this year (they’re even good from the shops), and I think I have harvested about 7lbs so far. There will be more to come, but I suspect today was the peak.

Back at the house, I spread the onions out to dry, and gave Sue a hand as she shelled the beans and peas.

After tea (and an amazing snooze), I zipped back to the allotment to check on the nucleus hive there. It’s also doing great. Although it has not grown as strong as the other nuc, it does have sealed brood. That’s a sign that I can move it back to the apiary. Mission accomplished!

This evening has been spent preparing the strawberries to make jam, making potato and courgette soup, and using a couple of bulbs (yes, bulbs) of garlic to make guacamole.

That’s the end to a perfect weekend. Time to put my feet up and pour myself a whisky.


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Down to one hive

nuc floor final

Dead bees littering the floor of the nuc

Paid my first visit of the year to the apiary just to see how things were ticking over.   As expected, the nuc hive  (which consisted of three frames of bees) didn’t make it through the winter. The colony was completely dead.

I wasn’t too upset as I knew its chances of survival were very slim. That leaves me with just one colony. Thankfully, it is looking pretty strong. Five frames of bees all snuggled together.

It might still come a cropper as the time when most colonies starve is just at the start of spring when the weather gets warmer, the bees start to fly, but there is nothing to forage. I will have to remain vigilant, and make sure there is food for them.

In other news, I’m hoping to get chickens next week! A new venture for the new year. I’m blowing nearly all my Christmas cash on buying a second-hand coop and run along with eight one-year-old chooks. They will go in the garden, not the allotment, but exactly where has yet to be decided.

I’m majorly excited about this new aspect of my foodie experiment, and have already devoured a couple of copies of the magazine Practical Poultry. Potentially, I could be getting eight eggs a day. Quite a lot, but I’m sure they’ll get used somehow.

Only seven more sleeps to go!