25 December 2012

Last-minute white Christmas

It wasn't snowy when we went to bed last night, but we woke to a light blanket of snow this morning. Talk about cutting it fine. Happy Christmas!

21 December 2012

Yule harvest

As forecast, the weather has turned wintry today, with heavy overnight rain turning into snow this morning. I decided I'd better harvest my last remaining outdoor lettuces, parsnips and some of the spinach. It made a good haul, with nearly a pound of lettuce in all:

We'll still be getting carrots, parsley, sage, spinach and kale from the greenhouse during the rest of the winter, but I expect this will be the last harvest from the vegetable garden. Not that I can complain about picking lettuces on the shortest day of the year!

19 December 2012

Solstice surprises

After a week away from home I was pleased to discover that the young lettuce plants in the greenhouse were still going strong.

I think these must have sown themselves earlier in the year. I'm hoping that I'll be able to use them as a welcome bit of green in a Christmas salad, or perhaps just as a garnish. I covered them up with a spare bit of polythene yesterday to improve their chances of survival as the temperature finally looks likely to drop to more normal December levels after a fairly mild beginning to the month (and with no snow to speak of, so far).

In the barnyard, we've got some even more surprising survivals. There's still some lettuce bravely growing.

And the spinach is still hanging on outside, too.

These probably won't last a lot longer, but it's pleasant to still see some green outside when by now the world is usually a bit whiter than this!

02 December 2012

December pickings

After two days which felt like winter, today we're back in November, as far as the weather is concerned: it's mild, windy and very wet. Although this November wasn't at all like that, I will admit. Looking at the report from our nearest official weather station, they've recorded 16mm of rain/snow in November, compared to an average of over 80! Temperatures, on the other hand, have been close to the long-term average.

As it was so mild today, I went out into the garden to restock my supply of vegetables. I collected beets, parsley, broccoli, and carrots from the greenhouse and a Savoy cabbage, some sunchokes and Brussels tops from the barnyard.

This week we also 'harvested' the male chickens we reared this year: this was our first foray into deliberate meat production after having to get to grips with the process of butchering the chickens which had been killed by a weasel last winter (and once you've tasted slow-reared free-range heritage chicken, you realise what you've been missing out on all your life!). We killed ten of the eleven new roosters (keeping the remaining one as an heir to our other rooster).

Heritage breeds like our Buff Orpingtons take a long time to grow, compared to the Cornish Cross chickens which is what you always buy at the supermarket. So where the Cornish X is a non-stop eating machine which is ready to be processed at six or seven weeks (any longer and its legs can't bear the weight of its ballooning breast), the Orpingtons are not fully grown until they are about 20 weeks old. There's a telling photograph on this blog showing the comparative size of the two breeds at five weeks. 'Chickenzilla' is the word that sprang into my mind at the sight of the Cornish X.

The meat is completely different, too. I found an interesting article [PDF] by Gina Bisco yesterday on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy site about the need for cooking chicken differently when you're using meat from a heritage bird: because they spend longer running around, the leg meat needs longer cooking than the breast and has more texture to it than the meat from a Cornish X (there's also more of it). The leg meat is noticeably darker than the breast meat and responds well to long, slow, relatively low-temperature cooking.

I used two legs and a good selection of garden vegetables to make this chicken noodle and dumpling stew for lunch today. The broth made by the meat and bones of these more mature birds has to be tasted to be believed.