Thursday, 27 February 2014

Batteries low and being head-butted....

We've almost made it to spring....
I feel as if I'm crawling toward spring, I'm tired and feel sure my wellingtons have rubber fatigue too. It has been a funny week, warm temperatures, low wind, a definite promise of better, more consistent weather. However, last night we had more monsoon rain, yay! and this morning the fields that were beginning to dry out were sodden again.

Stuff is appearing in the greenhouse, on windowsills and, more gratifyingly, in the beds and borders planted over the past four years. Herbaceous perennials like astrantia, lupins and hydrangea are now able to compete with the grass thanks to hubby and I battling. We should have some wonderful flowers this year. I constantly check in with The Flower Farmer at Common Farm for hints and tips on growing British flowers, she is a goddess, check her out if you can.

Hope you're not eating while reading this: One of our alpaca mums has an enormous pus-filled spot on her face that I'm cleaning daily. [Did I mention I'm from St John's Wood!!] According to the vet who came out on Saturday, it's likely she was spiked by a blackthorn in the hedge which then turned nasty. The 11yo, who has expressed an interest in being a veterinarian, (I'm light-headed with the thought of the cost-savings,) was an excellent nurse and handed swabs, as the vet disgorged a tablespoon or more of goo from a held, but nonetheless compliant, alpaca. The 9yo meanwhile, was no-where near this carnage.

Yesterday I was head-butted by a giddy baby alpaca. All fun here at The Larches. I've been gently stroking the younger members of the pack in order to get them used to us. Next month I plan to start halter training..... should be hilarious... anyhoo, Fudge, Caramel and Shadow think the 'touching game' is great fun and delight in kicking their legs, tossing heads and running about each time I manage even the slightest caress. I was just reaching for Fudge yesterday when she anticipated my move and with one great giddy bounce, she managed to butt my nose with the top of her head. Lordy did my eyes stream. Hope I don't get black eyes, I'm supposed to be at a black tie do this weekend, though I guess the colour would be in keeping!

I've made pork cassoulet for tea with pinto beans and smoked bacon, plus home-made crusty bread. I very roughly followed this Hairy Biker's recipe. Fancy popping over?... xx

Thursday, 13 February 2014

My family of animals...

Yesterday's weather was ridiculous, (I'm talking to YOU God!) Driving to collect the 9yo from school, (a 28 mile round-trip!) was like being a part of a disaster movie: Trees down, power lines dangerously low over the road, school without power. 'Nuff said! We move on, thankful that we live up a mountain and desperately sorry for those who are living in Waterworld.

This morning we have been treated to a chef's tasting menu of weather. The journey back to school this morning wasn't quite so treacherous, though the power lines near school were still a'dangling. Fortunately the wind had decreased from its 100mph racing and I dropped boy off (girl was already boarding) wishing him luck with speech and drama, guitar, singing, drums and the dreaded/eagerly anticipated Valentine Disco.

I would say more about the Valentine Disco but fear that this may have family repercussions.... I'll write something in my secret book and store for a later time. #briberyandblackmail.

Home again and the chickens looked well this morning as I put out their layers pellets. They are producing eggs daily now, happily using hubby's extension to the main coop as the nest box of choice. We call this space the bungalow, not sure why really. As this is the popular spot for laying, the girls queue outside the entrance on the conifer stump steps. They wait in an almost orderly, if slightly chatty/naggy, line, berating the current sitter for slowness. It's hilarious. At least I can find the eggs this week!

Next I went to feed the sheep. Oreo, her of black head, is a nightmare. She thinks she's a dog and bounds towards you, jumping up with the filthiest of feet.

Ewe nuts and a nutty ewe (well, yearling)
As if the jumping up wasn't bad enough, her hooves really hurt! This is the issue with raising cade lambs; they are sweet and loving as babies and you can carry them about. As they grow they still see you as Mummy. There's no way I could lift any of them nowadays!
I could only see 6 sheep until I heard a sad baaaa-ing. Cocoa was stuck in the hedge, bramble briers locked around her stomach. This is a really good reason why you should check animals daily. Fortunately I was wearing gloves and after a few minutes of pulling and tugging, with this yearling looking at me gratefully, I was able to pull her free to join the gang.

As you can see from the picture above, there was belting sunshine while I dealt with the sheep but two minutes later, with the alpaca, there was a mini snow-storm!
Here's Connie, the most intelligent and greedy of our girls!

Then there's Darcy, beautifully bred but also greedy!

We've come to an understanding, Connie, Darcy and I;
these girls are fed within hurdles to allow everyone else the opportunity
to chew their food more thoroughly, more peacefully!

LtoR: Baby Caramel, Shadow, Annabel and Bracken

 Gorgeous Fudge with her mummy, Darcy, behind.
An hour or so later, the snow departed and the sun came back. I popped out to the greenhouse and opened the door and windows, it was like a sauna in there! Roll on spring, I'm so confused.
If ever one needed proof of the ability of alpaca to guard chickens or sheep with young lambs, I had it today. Tabby, the chunkier of our two cats, came through the alpaca field on a mission to reach the front door and avoid the snow storm. The cats are usually wise to the alpaca, who seem to regard them, and any dogs, as foxes or wolves. They charge them, seeing them off swiftly.
Tabby was ill advised to take the short cut through the girls' field this morning. Good job he's a fast runner!
 [If you are reading this on an iPad or if you cannot see the photos, please click the title of the post to be magically transported to my blog where all may be revealed.
Also, if you have the time to comment on my blog, I'd love to hear from you. Lou x]

Monday, 10 February 2014

Mother Hen and chocolate cake....

We had a lovely weekend and friends came for Sunday lunch. The 9yo and I designed a couple of naughty cakes for dessert: The Kit-Kat Cake proved the most popular though I had at least 1 fan of my rhubarb, apple and blackberry oat-topped crumble, (all from the garden/fields.)

Also, to add to the weekend's fun, our new, (well, eBay-new,) incubator proved a good purchase; as we hatched 5 chicks from 12 eggs.

It's Monday morning now and I'm back inside after completing my outdoor jobs. I'm sitting in the warm kitchen, log burner glowing and the cats stretched across the sofa - fast asleep. Outside the snow is pouring onto our fields, (poor alpaca and sheep!) Here in the warmth, the peace is periodically pierced by the peeping of the chicks! They call out, then eat something, then go back to sleep. In exactly 21 days they turned from eggs to the cutest chicks. A miracle really. They are already eating and drinking; amazing.

We're confident that two are Salmon Faverolles, (the yellow ones,) though we still don't know yet if they are male or female. We should know in a couple of weeks due to their wing colour. The other three babies may be a combination of Salmon Faverolle rooster and Black Rock hen. Hope they're girls!

In a day or so they'll move to the larger brooder but for now they are toasty in their incubator.

All-in-all a jolly good weekend. Though after the Kit-Kat Cake, (not easy to say, cut or eat,) I may need a couple of days of fasting..... 
[If you are reading this on an iPad or you cannot see the photos, please click the title of the post to be magically transported to my blog where all may be revealed. Lou x]

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Garden of the future...

Tabby isn't interested in gardening..

Spring will come. Spring will come. SPRING WILL COME!!!!

Each year I lie to myself on 21st December (the herald of lengthening days,) telling myself that this date [not 1st of March] is the (slow) beginning of spring. This fat fib works till about mid January and the distraction of Christmas and my Birthday passes. I'm now just beginning to lose patience with the weather, though I know there is still approximately 8 more weeks of cold, stinky-stuff ahead. Sigh.

Salvia Seascape

In any case, I am sowing a new garden display on every available warm, bright spot indoors. I'm having to use indoor space because the greenhouse is already full of sweet-pea, lupin, spinach, nigella and cornflowers! My newer sowings are not as tough as the Autumn gang and therefore need that extra bit of love to get them going.

So, in the proper, posh propagator located on the windowsill of the utility room 50 tiny Thompson and Morgan Salvia Seascape are just emerging.

DIY Propagator - Sandwich Trays!
Also on the deep windowsill, but in makeshift propagator, (catering sandwich tray,) is a bed of Sutton's Statice Sinuata, next to that another of Sutton's BandQ Stock, Cinderella Mix and yet another of Thompson and Morgan's White Bride Snapdragons.

It seems without noticing I'm doing it, I've chosen to grow tall spires this year. This could be a subconscious effort to lift the flower garden above the height of the natural meadow grasses that invade. I've had to concede that I cannot pull every piece of couch grass so I'm going to garden on a higher plane from now on.

Stock, Cinderella Mix
Cinderella Stock

We are even growing chicks in an incubator.... though I suspect, after doing a bit of amateur candling with a torch the other night, that we are actually just warming and humidifying rotten eggs.... I'm quite nervous for the utility room as they are due to hatch or explode this weekend...

Tuesday, 4 February 2014


Very proud of the 9yo..... he was picked as one of the very first (school) Workers of the Week in January and will have tea with the Master later in the term as a reward: Chocolate ice-cream and lemonade, (as many cups as you like apparently...) Cor, jealous!

The Archers at The Larches

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Snowy and Moon

Snowy and Moon