Friday 3 July 2015

Hen and Two.

White foxgloves - seed from Anne and Simon.
I was only talking in the last post about work days and all the really good, decent people I had the pleasure of working alongside. So, sad sad news today to learn that one of them, a great friend and team member, Steve Flatt has passed away in a hospice in Kent after a short illness. RIP Steve, taken too soon. Thoughts and sympathies to his wife Jean and the family and to all his friends and anyone who knew him. He will be sadly missed. He and Jean were also the breeders of our eldest bitch, Deefer whose name titles this blog, so we have a nice living memory of the guy and a link back to those better times.

This whole mass of flowers from an original single cheapo
bulb bought from a Supermarket as a pack of three. All three
are now doing this well seperately in our raised bed .
If you have stayed abreast of this blog you will have heard of the exploits of "Hen with One Chick". Well, H+1 has now been trumped by the broody from under the elderberry bush, who now holds the name "Hen with Two". She is still sleeping under the elderberry but is out every day parading her two tiny chicks, one an orange colour that points to a possible Buff Orp pure-bred, one a paler chick which suggests a hybrid Sussex Ponte or Hubbard. Dad will still be a Buff as those are the only roosters currently operating on the holding.

New mum, "Hen and Two",
She seems to be doing a fine job of protecting them and showing them round, finding them food and even leading them into the melée of hens in the yard. I am sneaking out extra rations to them - I wait till they are seperated from the bulk of the flock and slip them a jam-jar lid loaded with finely chopped hard-boiled egg, chick crumb and a bit of hen-grub to keep mum interested. She straight away starts the low clucking which signals a food-find to the babies and they are all over it like a rash. If any other adult hens discover them at the feeding (even 'Hen with One') then mum starts a wide-wing display and drives them off till her little ones have filled their crops. If a rain shower threatens she quickly rounds them up under her skirts to keep them dry till the rain has done. We have hopes that she will be as good as H+1.

Parsnip seedlings.
Meanwhile, the geese have given up on the broodying game and gone back to grazing in the orchard. We are not sad that they hatched nothing this year. I had been stealing the eggs all spring so that they had nothing to go broody on - we even passed some on to Anne as she wanted to hatch a few and they have done OK. We hoped they would not go broody but eventually one did, so we let her have the benefit of the doubt with just 2 eggs. Her sisters subsequently added 4 more but for what ever reason nothing came of this.

Dublin Bay does well against our Kitchen Garden wall.
A third broody has now claimed a nest, this another Buff Orpington hen (it seems that Buffs are doing the broody thing this season all on their own, 3 out of the four so far - no contributions from Marans, Sussex Ponte, mini-Buffs or Hubbards). She has gone broody in the former rabbit 'Maternity Unit' which is actually in the hen house, so I have had to lock her in in the mornings to stop everyone else trying to lay eggs in that nest, She is such a gentle soul that she does not fight them off, but meekly hops down and wanders around clucking disconsolately till they have finished and let her back on. This way she gets a bit of peace (and a stable number of known-start eggs to sit on).

A good stand of Autumn Bliss raspberries. This type are cut
right back down to ground level in February, so all this is new
growth this year.
In the garden a good range of flowers are in full bloom and the veg, after a bit of a slow May, is starting to pick up the pace. The Summer fruiting raspberries did not enjoy the poor spring weather and are looking a bit frazzled and tired-of-leaf, but the flowers have had bees on them so we still might get a crop. More hopeful are the Autumn Fruiting canes which are getting nice and tall and starting to bud up at the top. We are also about to start cropping artichokes, though we seem to have lots of small chokes this year rather than fewer. bigger ones. We will have to make portions up out of a few - normally one choke suffices one person for their 'five a day'.

Lemons and elderflower heads for the brews.
It is finally the elderflower season. It seemed a long time coming on this very late season, where even the hawthorn did not start till 19th May. Liz has been out there cutting a million flower heads and shopping for cheap deals on sugar and lemons. She has had requests for the elderflower cordial, a great favourite of the teenage Silverwoods, but will also be making quite a lot of the elderflower "fizz" - the recipes call it 'champagne', but we make no such high-brow claims.

Elderflower cordial
It is light and very quaffable, and if you can get the 'fizz' just right, it is a bit like a Prosecco. You have to judge when the bucket ferment is almost over and then rack it off. We save the screw-top wine bottles through spring time. The wine is then stood with the tops screwed lightly shut but you need to check it on days 1, 2 and maybe 3, just by opening a few bottles very gently to listen for a gentle "pssst!". Too much and you daren't screw the tops down for good or you get at best bottles going off like fire extinguishers at the table and at worst, exploding. Too little and you have missed the boat and produced a rather thin, very young, flat wine. In the middle and you have a gently sparkling wine which does not fizz up any sediment from the bottom of the bottle and is a gorgeous refreshing drink chilled from the fridge. Sláinte!

Nice little light job for a hot evening. Just spread that
3 and a half tonne of gravel, could you?
Finally, we had our gravel delivered. We'd phoned a number supplied by our friend Mark at the garden centre and I thought the voice sounded familiar. It was only when I started to give the guy directions and said we were in TK Min's old house that he recognised my voice and said "..and didn't I come and shoot your foxes?" and I realised it was our handy man-with-gun driving the lorry. Small world.

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