30 June 2011


The tomato peppers are plumping up:

And so are the tomatoes, though none have ripened yet. I love the flattened shape of the Marmande variety:

Managed to get a photo of all three chicks at last. They don't sit still for very long, so it's hard to get a picture that isn't just a blur of fluffy movement.

When they're not under the hen, their second favourite place seems to be on her.

28 June 2011

Early-onset nostalgia

Child #1 is moving on to high school in September and it looks as though Child #2 will be going to a different one in the following year. Consequently, this week will be the last for them to be travelling home together on the same school bus. It's making me sad, this end of a stage in their lives.

Of course, if we'd stayed in England, this stage would have finished two years ago. Here, the elementary schools run to grade eight, rather than the more usual year six in English primary schools. So both children would have been in secondary education by now. I'm happier with the way it works here, although I didn't know about this particular difference until after we moved. By delaying high school to the age of 13 it feels like they get to be children for longer.

The transition from one school to another is celebrated in a graduation ceremony. This seemed odd to me, when I first heard about it. Graduation from high school seemed strange enough, but from elementary school? For all I know, this is something that is happening in the UK now, too, but neither of these transitions were marked by a school event when I went through them. I do remember being very excited about leaving both my primary and secondary schools, though. No nostalgia at all for me in those days. Must be something that comes on with age...

Last night was my daughter's graduation and although the school's gym was hot and crowded, the ceremony was enjoyable: it was great to see the young people being recognised for their achievements. I don't often blather on about my kids, so bear with me while I share the moment of happiness I felt as I watched my fledgling young woman dance with her dad.

After a long time of being the parents of two children, we're suddenly finding that we are sharing our lives with two young adults. I can't quite believe how quickly that has happened. It's wonderful to watch them growing up, but nostalgia for their almost-over childhood years can be hard to shake off at times of like this.

Now I'm going to listen to ABBA singing 'Slipping through my fingers' while I shed some tears onto my keyboard. With any luck I'll be back to normal by the time that yellow bus draws up outside again...

27 June 2011

Rare glimpse

The good thing about letting a broody hen do the job of caring for a new batch of chicks is that you don't need to worry about using heat lamps to keep the chicks warm - they just snuggle up underneath the hen's wings when they're cold. All that obsessive checking on them that happens when you have an artificial set-up (are they too hot, too cold?) just isn't necessary. The downside is that in the early days (when, let's face it, they're at their most cute) you don't actually get to see the chicks very often!

26 June 2011

Death and life

Yesterday we lost eight of the hens to (we think) a fox. We've lost one or two hens before, but this was the first time we've had a mass killing. The fox only ate one and a half of them - the rest were just killed for sport. We found them all around the orchard. Upsetting.

Mike had spent the afternoon building some more nest boxes for them. Seems like a waste, now. Were we tempting fate?

This morning we had a more pleasant surprise - we've had a broody hen sitting on five eggs for the last three weeks and today two of them hatched out.

Next time we let a broody incubate some eggs (next year), I'll put more eggs underneath her: apparently they can cope with up to 14 at a time.

25 June 2011

Naming names

I went up to the hayfield today, to see whether any Monarch caterpillars had hatched out on the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) plants which grow around the edges of the field.

The milkweeds are popular with many creatures and the first one I saw today was very strange: a sort of wasp/praying mantis hybrid.

It took a bit of digging around, but eventually I ID'd it as a Wasp Mantidfly, Climaciella brunnea (yes, it's obvious, once you know...).

There weren't any caterpillars to be seen. I noticed some attractive white flowers on my walk. These ones are (I think) field chickweed (Cerastium arvense):

And this small shrub is gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa). Later in the year, the flowers are replaced by pale green berries, popular with the birds. I'd noticed the berries before, but not the flowers.

There are two small swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) plants near the pond. As I passed them, on my walk back home, I noticed that there was a Monarch caterpillar on one of them. Actually, there were two - the camera picked up a second one (on the top right of this shot) which I didn't notice at the time.

I don't know why it's so important to me to know the names of all these things. They're just as attractive or interesting without a label, but there's something very satisfying in tracking down their identities...

24 June 2011

On freshness of eggs

I've never had to worry about how fresh our eggs are, since the chickens started keeping us supplied. There's a system of sorts in operation, where the most recent dozen are at one end of a shelf and the oldest are at the other. But as there are rarely more than six dozen eggs on the shelf at a time, even the most elderly are never more than a week old.

Until this week, that is, when we discovered a stash of two dozen secretly-laid eggs in the orchard. Off to the internet to work out how to determine their freshness.

Putting the suspect egg in a bowl of water is the tried-and-tested method. If they sit flat on the bottom, they're fresh, if they don't, they're not. So I diligently baptised each egg. And they all sat firmly on the base of the bowl.

I found it hard to believe that they were all scrupulously fresh. I'm guessing, from the colour of the eggs, that there are only one or two hens involved. So that's at least three weeks' worth of eggs. They can't all be fresh!

The only way to find out was to actually use the eggs (don't worry, egg customers, if you're reading this - I won't be selling these ones to you!). The difference between a fresh egg and one that's past its best is mainly to do with the structure of the white and yolk. The white loses its plumpness and, if it's very old, the yolk's membrane dissolves and you end up with an unappetising mixture of yolk and white. The trick is to break each egg into a cup first, then decide, from its appearance, whether you want to use it or not. I threw away four of the eight eggs I used at lunchtime today. They didn't smell bad - just looked unappealing, as the yolk had disintegrated into the white. I suppose I could have used them to make scrambled egg, but once you're used to very fresh eggs, you're spoilt. The ones I tested today were the muddier ones of the batch, which probably means they'd been outside longer than the others. I hope the freshness ratio will improve with the remainder.

Now I've got to add 'patrolling the orchard' to my list of evening chores...

19 June 2011

Hooray, pesto!

I picked the first basil leaves this afternoon and turned them into pesto this evening. By some oversight, I didn't have any pine nuts in the house, so I replaced those with some slivered almonds. The basil, a couple of parsley sprigs, some Parmesan and almonds were blended with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. After putting the blended mixture in the jar I put a thin layer of olive oil on top, to stop it discolouring.

And that's it - very simple, and it tastes just as good with almonds as it does with pine nuts. It will keep in the fridge for about a week, although I don't think it's going to last that long!

12 June 2011


At this time of year there are stands of Ox-eye daisies in various places around the farm, particularly on the edges of the hayfield. This clump were in a shady corner of the ash woods.

They're not a native plant, but they always cheer me up when I see them. I even picked a few and normally I'm not into cut flowers. I would probably tell you that I prefer to see them growing in the ground if you were to ask me why. Which is partially true, although I suspect that lack of time to think about growing a cutting garden is probably more to do with it. I have a deep admiration for gardeners like Sarah Raven or fellow blogger Karen Hall who do amazing things with beautiful flowers grown for cutting. It's something I aspire to, but somehow know that I'm never going to achieve...

11 June 2011

Running to seed

Picking things at the appropriate moment isn't something I'm always good at. As a consequence, there are often plants in the greenhouse which get to the flowering stage when they should have been harvested long before. Sometimes, this can be useful - I've got carrots left over from last year, for example, which survived the winter in the greenhouse beds and are now sending up flowers.

The carrots on the right are either Little Finger or Chanteney Red Core. Not sure which.*

The ones on the left are purple carrots. The colour of the flowers makes that fairly clear!

I'm planning on collecting the seeds from these: something I've never done before. There are so many flowers that I don't think I'll ever have to buy carrot seed again...

Something similar happened with some salad onions that I failed to pull last year.

You can see the black seeds in the one below, almost ready to drop. I picked this and two other seedheads and put them in a bag to finish drying out.

All these flowers are doing a good job of attracting pollinating insects into the greenhouse, which is just what I need as the tomatoes are flowering now. There are even respectable-sized fruit on some of them.

The pepper plants are starting to flower, too. This grasshopper was almost perfectly camouflaged against one of the new leaves.

*Labelling of crops being another personal point of failure...

05 June 2011

Five-days' growth

Being away for a few days at this time of year means that there's always a startling amount of change in the garden when I get back. The seed potatoes have grown into small plants:

And suddenly there's a glut of sugar-snap peas:

And as for the weeds... well, perhaps it is best to draw a polite veil over that particular area of exuberance.