Cube Run Halved

Destroying the Eglu Cubes!

I lied. Well…kind of. We’d be stupid to do anything drastic to the Eglu Cubes, but things needed to change.

Way back, when we had chickens surrounded by a sheep-netting fence, we thought that the Eglu Cub’s fox-proof run would be a great way to keep our hens safe if we weren’t around at dusk putting away time. We extended the runs to six square metres, enough for six hens, and if we were going out at any time of day we popped some corn in the run, shut the doors after the last hen in so they would be safe and could go to bed at their leisure.

We could still, just about, move the Eglu Cubes on to fresh grass when needed, but it was awkward.

But then the horrible thing happened – we had a fox attack during the day, and lost our wonderful Light Sussex cock, Ethelred the Unready (or just ‘Red’ for simplicity). It was decided then to electrify the entire orchard, a job which began with poultry netting, and this winter progressed to new chestnut stake fencing with electrified strands over chicken wire, to make it goose-suitable.

Eglu Cubes Run Halved

Eglu Cubes Run Halved

This has meant that the long runs are a bit redundant – we can leave the chickens out in the day and the electrified perimeter fence keeps them safe, and the runs are just a double whammy safety feature that gets used when dusk is due. Therefore, the six square metres isn’t needed, and we’re dragging around long runs for no real reason – a task made all the more difficult by the fact that the orchard trees are so much larger and more difficult to navigate between.

The solution? We’ve removed two metre sections from all three Eglu Cubes, and we’re going to make two three metre long fox-proof runs. These we can use for new chicks that are fully feathered, rabbits or guineapigs, knowing that they’ll be safe from Mr Fox.

Winter Squash Knife

Yellow Lemon Squash PieCasually chatting to Andy next door about the virtues of Winter Squash, specifically the Tonda Padana we so love here at Merrybower, we happened upon the issue of cutting the tough blighters open – I was yet to find the perfect winter squash knife.

To date I have broken two knives attempting to slice open the green and yellow peril you can see to the left in the background (that’s Suz’s scrummy Lemon Yellow Squash Pie by the way – recipe here). One steel kitchen knife, and another a ceramic knife bought by little sister – gutted! (Me – the squash remained intact).

On hearing the news of the sad demise of two knives, Andy piped up:

“I’ll make you a knife.”

Me: “Eh? A knife for slicing Winter Squash?”

Andy: “Yep. What kind of things does it need to have?”

Me:  “Well – hefty, these things are tough on the outside. But there’s not much give in them, so a narrow blade too.”

Andy: “So a tall blade then? Right-oh.”

Winter Squash KnifeA few weeks later, this beast of a winter squash knife was passed over the garden fence – reclaimed British steel and an oak handle made from a small oak I felled a year ago. What a sight! Well-balanced for someone of my height, a keen edge and perfect grip size – made to measure! All we need now is to grow some Tonda Padana as this year was sparse in the patch due to having no kitchen at the start of the year, and try it out. Can’t wait!

Little Grey Fergie

2016 little grey fergie

“Dunk, there’s an auction over in Newark – they’re selling off loads of old tractors.” Suz taunted me with. We really probably don’t have quite enough land to warrant a tractor, something like a sit-on mower that could two would be more appropriate.

“Aye, I’ve seen it, but they’re all reasonably new – and they’re not a  little grey Fergie – something with a bit of character and as simple as a mule.” I responded.

Twenty minutes passed, I sat at the PC above the garage and an email landed in my inbox, from Suz who was sat at her desk pulling a late one in the house. It was an advert for a little grey Fergie, a TE D20 to be precise – the D denoting not diesel as one would imagine, but a petrol/evaporating oil combo engine. The price was good, and it was local. Suz was taunting me, but I wasn’t going to bite.

I locked up and entered the house. “So, do we own a tractor then?” queried Suz. “Eh?” I exclaimed. “I thought you were just joshing!”

That said, I questioned no more, and first thing in the morning called the number in the ad. A young lad answered, and later that morning I’d whizzed over to meet the little grey Fergi, sat at a Fergi specialist workshop. It had been rescued from a greenhouse where it had been sat for ten years, with another. The other had been broken for parts, but the young lad had convinced the owner of the workshop that this one would run, and sure enough so she does! A bit of bartering, and a flatbed trip to Merrybower thrown in, and the deal was done. So we’re now the proud owners of a 1951 little grey Fergi, sounds reasonably good, the PTO and hydraulics work, though someone has welded up the adjustable arm at the back. She needs a coat of paint at some stage, but we’ll start with cleaning and replacing engine bits before we even start to think along those lines. First and foremost she’ll be used to cart stuff to and from the orchard, manure from outside Merrybower, apples to the house, maybe even a spot of ploughing of the hay meadow, Can’t wait! I expect when you own something like this you’ll find uses for it! Needless to say though, I’m dead chuffed!

Electric Fencing

With us losing Ethelred our cock this spring to the fox, we’ve decided we can’t take any more chances, so we’ve moved to electric fencing to keep our various birds safe. In the little orchard the pen is pretty much the full extent of the quarter acre, so the impact on the chickens will be minimal. We’ve used the 110cm high poultry netting, which we’ve used as standard netting to contain the bantams for the last year, but we’ve added another 50m section to it, to produce a 25m x 25m area, powered by a 3.5 joules energiser and 75Ah leisure battery. It gives a reading of between 2,000 and 3,000kw, so it’ll do the job.

The geese, on the other hand, might not really need it, but we’ve done it to be safe. There are foxes around, and the easy pickings of dropped fruit will dry up over the next few months, so we feel it’s best they ‘learn’ our animals aren’t on the menu. Poultry netting is dangerous for geese as they tend to push their heads through fencing, and can easily get stuck in the smaller netting, dieing from electrocution 🙁 So for them we’ve erected a 5 strand fence powered by a 0.5J system, which gives a reading of around 4,000kW! We’ve also added a “hot-gate” system, so we can get in and out easily.

As we haven’t bought another cock in for the large hens, we’re going to run the two flocks together inside the chicken pen, and William the bantam can deal with them all! They’ll still have their own coops and, from experience, they’ll tend to stick to the coops they know.

Another job done ready for the winter!

Finished Hay Bales

2015 Hay Bale TractorAnd once the deed is done – 68 bales need carting to their storage shed. What you really need is a kind neigbour with a tractor and bucket – what a welcome site (and we all fought over who would sit in the air-conditioned cab ;)).

Root Crops are Go!

2015 Root Veg Sowing 5It’s time for hardy root crops to be sown directly into the soil. This is probably the first year, after five years of growing food in the patch, and seven years growing our own food, that I feel we’er finally getting the hang of it. Ironically it’s also the last year in our five-year crop rotation system, next year the various veg will be planted in the same place they were when we moved the veg to the patch from the house. So we’ve had four years of learning about the various bugs, pests and weather types that we can fall foul too – and hopefully know enough to keep on top of many of the more common problems life can throw at you! Of course, there’s no doubt a hidden spanner waiting to be thrown into the works when least expected! So far, with the warm weather, the shallots, onions and garlic are doing really well. One of my favourite groups of crops to grow, and not only for the fact that they really do seem to thrive on our soil – not one bad year really (touches head for luck).

2015 Root Veg Sowing 4And then there are our roots. We like the Hollow Crown parsnips we’ve grown since the start, the Flyaway carrots are now fly free, when grown under the enviromesh, and the three rows of Boltardy beetroot, that has never bolted on us, is nice and safe under the mesh nets, from sparrows, pigeons, rabbits etc. See – we really do feel we know what we’re doing at last! Isn’t ignorance bliss 😉

2015 Root Veg Sowing 1As you can see – another thing I like is straight lines – and this rake is one of my bestest tools. It was left behind in the old outside toilet in a house I used to live in in Birmingham. It looked old then, and it feels home-made, but quality home-made. The end is heavy, perfect for raking our light soil that’s littered with pebbles. The pebbles tend to rise to the surface as you rake, and can easily be collected to one side to pick up into a bucket and carted off to fill a pothole somewhere in Derbyshire.

2015 Root Veg Sowing 3In fact, you can see a couple of trays of pebbles in one of the photographs, and that’s the fifth year of raking the ground over! It’s also useful to make the seed lines in the soil – heavy enough to tamp down a line, move on and extend the line, if held inverted. Some tools are just made for work 🙂

Finally, the whole family got stuck in to getting spuds in the ground. Again – this year was like well-oiled machinery – Suz and I dug holes, Jay and Smiler dropped the spuds in, we covered them over. It’s so much easier with all four doing it, and a lot more fun.

Hay Cutting!

Finally the day is here! The forecast is decent for the next five days – the grass seed looks a decent size on the stalks, and the cutterbar is ready. Let’s rock! cut!

Our New Cutterbar

You may remember the post I made about our little Fort Cri-Cri Super, trying to get the rotavator parted from the Power Take-Off  after it had obviously sat on it since the day it left the factory in 1998? Well, The Beast, as it is fondly known, had another surprise up its oily and rather grubby sleave. I’d always bemoaned the fact that as you rotavate, you need to walk through the lovely soil you’ve cultivated as the handles point backwards. Well, the arrival of the new cutter bar meant we had to rotate the handles somehow so that they pointed forwards, removing the very likely threat of neatly shearing the operator off at the calves by the cutter bars as the engine needed to be at the back with the cutterbar, as opposed to the front with the rotavator attachment.

Of course, I figured it was as easy as lifting the pin that kept the handles in place, un-hooking the clutch and accelerator cable, rotating the handles and snapping the pin back in place. How wrong could I have been. Common sense should have blinked into life – why would a PTO seize up after 16 years of neglect, yet a handle remain perfectly lubricated? Answer – it wouldn’t!

Fort Cri-Cri Super with CutterbarOf course, this time we knew what to do. First we must pull, really hard, on the handles, in a futile attempt to make them move. Then we must hit them a few times – hard enough to bruise the sides of our fists – followed by the swearing and cursing phase. That’s an important one – it helps a lot, with the pain. Finally, we must grab a large piece of wood, a lump hammer, and hit the proverbial out of the piece that won’t budge. Only once we’ve hammered through several pieces of 4″ x 4″ post, mangled our thumbs in the process, and removed much of the red paint from the metalwork, must we resort to the oxy-acetlylene torch that worked last time. Two minutes heating up the shaft with Clive, our tame ‘man-that-can-when-I-can’t’, and it was off. Obviously the preceding hours of me bashing it black and blue had loosened it enough to let the torch do its work.

A good papering with emery and some new grease and it’s back to new again. In the course of putting it all back together I discovered that the handlebars actually have several positions, offset from centre. The result is that next time I use it to rotavate (I have some headland to resow at some stage) I can stand to one side whilst doing so – ingenious!

So finally the cutterbar could go on, and we’re ready for the hay making!

The upside to owning this particular older 2-wheel tractor is that the manufacturer, Fort, is still going. Last year, once I had realised we’d bought a 2-wheel tractor rather than a one-trick-pony rotavator, I attempted to find a supplier of bits for it – accessories and so on. All to no avail – it’s an Italian manufacturer, and it was a struggle, really. This year, knowing it was a pain to find someone last year to cut our hay, I sat at the computer even longer, searching for someone who could help and lo and behold, since last summer a new UK dealer had cropped up! Even better still, they’re head office is not far from us – Rapid Tractors at Tutbury! It turns out our little Cri-Cri Super is the old version of the new Serie 280, and all the parts fit! Our motor might struggle with something like the baler, but at a few thousand pounds it can rest well, knowing it will never be asked to power one! Hence the new cutterbar – 122cm of pure evil teeth – can’t wait to get stuck in!



Finally, after a week of soaking in WD40 and a petrol/oil mix, then 30 minutes of heating with a blow torch borrowed from Gary’s father-in-law, Colin, Gary and I managed to free the stuck-on rotavator section from The Beast (a 1998 Fort 2-wheel tractor). It took a sledgehammer, several long pieces of sacrificial wood, sweat and blood, but it’s off, the PTO cowling and rotavator shaft cleaned up, oiled and greased, and reattached. Now just need to send the measurements of the PTO to Fort’s importer to see if we can still get bits for it!