Archive for August, 2011

Blueberry Vodka

We’ve had a terrific number of blueberries on our 4 bushes this year, best ever.  So I have made blueberry muffins, and we’ve eaten them raw with raspberries and meringue and cream – yummy.  But then I started looking around for a blueberry liquer recipe and found one for Blueberry Vodka.

First you pick the blueberries and wash and dry them.  You need between 450 to 500g for this recipe.

Beautiful blueberries

Then you tip them into a demi john or large jar.

Blueberries in the demi john

Next you add 210 grams of white sugar. I used granulated sugar.

Add the sugar

Then add 500ml of vodka. For a larger bottle of vodka, increase the quantities of sugar and blueberries in proportion.

Adding the vodka

Then give it a good shake and cover and keep in a cool place for at least 2 months, shaking daily.  After at least 2 months, strain off the berries and pour into a suitable bottle.  The blueberry vodka, or blueberry liquer should be ready for drinking.


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Out with the old, in with the new!! – Hens

Our old brown warrens and brown lohman hens have not been laying much now for quite a while and we were wondering what to do about it.  We got the 4 new point of lay brown warrens 2 weeks ago and that had taken us up to capacity in the hen house, so we didn’t have room for any more new ones whilst we still had the old ones.

Then Neil had an idea.  We could offer the old ones up as pets on “Freecycle”.  Freecycle for those who don’t know is a bit like ebay but where no money is exchanged.  You offer something that you want to get rid of and someone replies they’d like it and then they come and pick it up.

Anyway we got several replies and we studied them to ensure that where our old hens went was going to be suitable accomodation with lots of space to run around in, and we chose a place in Barrington, which is quite near here.  The couple came over on Wednesday and picked them up.  They were a really nice couple, stayed for an hour, had a cup of tea with us, and we were assured they were going to a good home, but I did feel a bit guilty about letting them go, just because they weren’t laying much.

We trawled the internet and found a poultry farmer near Wellington who had for sale point of lay pullets that were different breeds.  And on Friday afternoon we made our way through the rain and the country roads to Fenton Farm, in Pouton Regis,which was the middle of nowhere.  We were shown to 2 barns full of hens and then the farm hand had to catch them for us.  He used a landing net because they are quick and they don’t like being captured!!  We had taken a large cardboard box with us to put them in, but as soon as we got one in and then went to put the next one in, the first one would jump out again, so it was quite amusing trying to catch 8 new ones.

We have purchased 2 cream legbar hens, that have lovely markings, gold on top with grey underneath. They will lay blue eggs.

a cream legbar hen

Also 3 Speckledys, which are grey speckled and will lay speckled eggs.

A Speckledy hen

And 3 Light Sussex which will lay brown eggs.

A Light Sussex hen

At first our 4 Brown Warrens were pecking the new girls and intimidating them, so much so that the new girls wouldn’t come out of the hen house. However they are just bird brains, here they are pecking at the label on the young pear tree.

The Brown Warren hens

Today, which is only 2 days since their arrival the new hens ventured out into the paddock and had a peck around, so that was pleasing to see.  I’m sure it won’t take long for them to settle in and find the pecking order.

The new girls in the paddock

Now all we need is for them to start laying eggs.  The actual age of the birds when they start laying can be between 22 and 24 weeks, so we may have to wait a few weeks before we get regular eggs.  I might even have to go and buy some, which I’ve not done for over a year.  Anyway they had better start laying soon, as I’ve promised our B&B guests fresh eggs from our own hens!!

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Spreading the woodchips

Last week we had a huge pile of woodchips delivered and dumped round the back by the paddock by a local woodman.

Neil and Martin at the woodchip pile

Our friends from back in Langley, Martin and Wendy came to stay last week for a couple of days, and very kindly offered to help spread the woodchip over the black suppressant sheets that we had put down as paths between all the vegetable beds.

So Martin and Neil shovelled the woodchip into wheelbarrows and trundled it up the black sheets to where Wendy and I were standing with rakes to flatten it all out.

Wendy and Martin with the woodchipsWendy, rake in hand

We used the whole pile of woodchips to cover all the paths.  We didn’t have enough to do round the plants inside the fruit cage, so will have to have some more delivered.

Wendy with the rake

Anyway, now we have really nice paths to walk on around the raised vegetable beds.

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Buckland St Mary Flower Show 21st August 2011

One of the highlights of the village calender is the annual Flower Show which took place in the village hall today.  It is very competitive, with entries from an 8 mile radius of Buckland St Mary. No exhibitor shall have more than one entry in each class, and all exhibits to be grown or made by the exhibitor. There were 115 classes in various categories: Category A = flowers and floral art, Category B = Vegetables, Category C = Homecraft such as eggs, honey, jam cakes etc. Category D = photography and E,F, G were childrens’ classes.  We entered in 21 classes out of the 115.

The Flower Show was very well attended with lots of exhibits.

Vegetable and fruit exhibitsMore exhibits at the Flower Show

Well out of the 21 classes we entered we got a win in 10 of them. We were well chuffed with ourselves.  Neil got a first place for his potatoes and his elderflower cordial.

Neil's winning potatoes

I got a 2nd place for my blueberries and my marrow under 12 inches long, 1 photo, my eggs plus my courgettes and cooking apples.

2nd place cooking apples

I got third place for 2 photos but there were lots of entries.

What a fantastic start for Neil and I in the flower show to get 10 wins.  We are very happy today.

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Invasion in the paddock

We’ve had an invasion in the paddock.  An invasion of Himalyan Balsam plant, which grows tall, over 6 feet tall, and has a pretty pink flower.  The bees love it as they are drawn to the sweet nectar. So we let them have their fill of it.

The pink flowers of Himalyan Balsam

However, it is a weed, not just a weed but a viscous thug of a weed. It spreads and will take over a patch of land. When the flowers go to seed, the seed pods burst and spread the seeds up to 7 metres or 21 feet, so the following year encroaching on more land.

Himalyan Balsam is said to be as much of a nuisance as Japanese Knotweed and needs to be destroyed.  So one afternoon this week, Neil and I went down to the bottom of the paddock and pulled up all the Himalyan Balsam (it is quite shallow rooted) and put on a bonfire.  The next day Neil set light to it all.

Neil with his bonfire August 2011

The bonfire smouldered and smoked for over a day, but eventually that was the end of the Himalyan Balsam for another summer.

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Bullies in the hen run!

As our existing hens are getting on in hen years, 6 being 2 years old and 6 being 2 and a half years old,  and not laying so many eggs these days, we decided it was time to get some new hens called “point of lay pullets”.  This means the new hens are only 18 weeks old and at the time in their life when they start to lay eggs.

So 4 new Brown Warrens duly arrived on Friday evening.  We put pink leg rings on them so we could tell them apart from the others, but in fact they are much darker brown so quite easy to differentiate anyway.

The new gels - the pink legs!

But our existing hens were none too happy about the new arrivals.  As soon as the new gels ventured out into the hen run,  the older ones would jump at them and peck them, until they ran back into the hen house.  This is the third day now we have had the new gels, and still they are cowering in the hen house run.

The new gels taking cover in the hen house run.

We’ve been told that if you put them all in together at night, then they get used to each other and the bullying should stop.  But at night the new gels don’t want to go into the hen house, and each night, Neil has had to don his leather gloves and pick them up one by one and pop them in the hen house with the others.

Hopefully over time, once the pecking order is well and truly established, the bullying should stop and the new gels will be free to roam the hen run without fear.

We should start to get some lovely brown eggs now for our B&B guests from the new hens.

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BBQ at Bethany

Today was the BBQ at Bethany in Bishopswood.  Bethany is the home of the new pastor Stuart and his wife Amy.  The BBQ was to welcome them to the parish as they have just moved in, taking over from Brian and Kath who have retired to France.  It was a “Bring your own chair” do, so people arrived encumbered by various chairs.

Arriving with chairs

Neil was co-opted in being a chef for the day, and gladly donned a striped apron, tongs in hand.

Neil and Colin deftly cooking the beefburgers

I made a lovely strawberry flan to add to the numerous and varied desserts which us ladies of the village had produced.

The table groaning with desserts

We had some rain earlier on this morning but by afternoon it had dried up. The weather held up for the duration and many people turned out.  So all in all a good afternoon was had by everyone who attended.

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Neil and I are proud to present the launch of our new website, which went live today.

Please have a look at :

and let us know what  you think.

We await our first enquiries with great anticipation.

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Ah Sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done;”

so starts the poem by William Blake about sunflowers. 

Last year we grew some sunflowers from seed.  They were quite successful and produced big heads.  When they died down I took the seeds and fed them to the chickens.  Unbeknown to us, the chooks didn’t eat them all but left some on the ground.  When we moved the chicken run, these seeds were left to germinate all on their own, and this year they have produced lovely flowers amongst all the other wildflowers (weeds!) that have grown up in the paddock where the chickens used to be.

sunflowers in the paddock August 2011

What is ironic is that the sunflowers I have grown from seed this year are a pathetic 2 feet tall and nowhere near flowering.

sunflower in the paddock August 2011

So you know what I am going to do later on this year when these flowers have died back – I am going to sprinkle the seeds all round the wild part of the paddock, and with any luck next year I will have a field of sunflowers!!

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Bee Inspection

Today Neil was visited by the Defra Bee Inspector who came to have a look through Neil’s hives to check for disease and advise on any issues Neil had.  Neil and he spent 2 hours going through the hives, taking them apart and checking the brood chambers to ensure they were healthy.  Hives no 1 and no 2 have some verrora in them. This is a blood sucking mite that attacks the bees.  After Neil has taken the honey off he will then treat these hives with Apiguard to rid them of the verrora. 

Hive no 3 is a very healthy and busy hive, which is storing away quite a bit of honey, which we will take off soon.  The bee inspector advised Neil to split this hive, as there is a viable queen cell on one of the frames, which means the bees are making a new queen.  If Neil removes this frame and puts it into a new hive along with some of the bees, when the new queen emerges, hopefully she will form a new colony.

Neil was also advised to put a small colony into a smaller hive to over winter it, thus ensuring they stay warm during the winter and hopefully will survive the cold weather. He also advised feeding it to build up stores for the winter.

It’s always useful to have another pair of eyes to look through the hives and have someone more experienced to answer any questions.  With beekeeping you are learning all the time.

The Bee Inspector relaxes with a cup of tea 2nd Aug 2011

Here is Simon the Bee Inspector enjoying a well earned cup of tea and piece of honey cake after spending 2 hours looking through the hives in the sunshine today.

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