New Duck House!

2015 new duck house

“Ooh – roomy!”

With Dotty and Lilly firmly entrenched, their new duck house finally arrived from Green Frog Designs. We’ve used one for the geese for a few years now, and know it’s a cracking bit of kit, so we’ve bought another. The expense of plastic will work out over the years through lack of maintenance needed and longevity of the material. It will probably outlast us!

Here’s Dotty checking it out for approval, before we’d even added the ramp! They’re both mixing with the boys quite well now, but we’re still going to keep them seperate during the night as the boys will become quite nasty next spring, and it won’t be fair on the girls. They’re managing two eggs a day, which is wonderful – apparently Khaki Campbells will lay around 300 eggs a year each, which is fantastic! To that end we’ve started them on layers pellets – the same we give the hens, as we know it doesn’t contain Coccidiostats – something water fowl can’t cope with. They also get some mixed corn in a bowl overnight, along with sand to help them digest their food. They also get a small bowl of mixed grit and shells, although the layers pellets should, in theory, have enough calcium in it for their egg shell production. It just feels good to give them something more natural to do with their time, foraging for stones and shells rather than giving it in pellet form.

The plan is to move them, once settled, into the veggie patch so they can get to work on those pesky pearl slugs! Yay!

2015 larry carried

Carry me, slave.

And just for the sake of it – here’s another photo of Larry relaxing!

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!

2015 apple jam

Sugar-free Apple Jam

A sugar-free apple jam recipe – something not too sweet to spread on your toast or, my favourite, stir into your breakfast porridge 🙂

2 lb eating apples (net weight once cored)
2 tablespoons hot water
8 sweetener tablets (e.g. Canderel)
1/2 oz powdered vegetarian gelatine
Powdered cinnamon if required.

Prepare/sterilise the jars – put lids / seals into a saucepan of boiling water for a while. Wash jars with soapy water, drip dry and place in a warm oven for half an hour.

1. Simmer fruit with hot water until soft (there will still be sizeable lumps of apple in it it doesn’t need to be smooth).
2. Crush the sweeteners and stir into the hot apples (not boiling)
3. Add the vegetarian gelatine dissolved in a little hot water.
4. More water can be added to the mixture if you feel the texture needs it (add cinnamon at this stage if required)
5. Stir for several minutes.
6. Spoon into the jars.
7. We have kept ours in the fridge as the shelf life is unknown at the moment.

Very healthy and delicious on puddings / cereal / hot oat cereal. Delicious on sugar-free eierkoeken.

Unwanted Callers at the Back Door

2015 larry silhouetted

Balancing on one leg is no mean feat (oops – I did it again!) for a tubby call duck!

See what I did there? Callers…call ducks?

I never said the jokes would be good! Still – what a lovely thing to wake to – three call ducks bobbling around your feet as you drink your tea on the back door step. This is what comes of allowing them to mingle with the new pretty lady ducks. The lady ducks have snubbed them – probably too short for them, heightest! Mind you, Larry, Curly and Moe were more interested in the ladies’ big trough full of water, and end up sat in it all day, bobbing around like crazy kitsch fishing floats. Mingling the two sets means opening up the gate between the paddocks at the back of the house, which also means that the paddock with weld mesh fencing that keeps the mini minions in place is no longer serving its purpose, as the mini minions are in the sheep netted paddock which leads on to the garden. Sheep netting is no obstacle for a call duck, and they head straight for the back door. I suspect they’re really looking for Suz, who tends to have pockets laden with various  goodies that would disappoint you as a child, but please you as a bird – meal worms and corn being the main choices! Our children tend to pass on the travel sweets when handed around…

Khaki Campbell Ducks – Two New Merrybowerites!

Larissa, a friend of ours, whose tribe of guineapigs like our hay, sent one of those emails. It was a link to an advert, asking for a home for two Khaki Campbell ducks – Doris and Lilly. I made the mistake of sending the email on to Suz, who decided we could give them a home. I happened to be in the area on the Sunday, so in I popped with Jay, to meet them.

Their mum, Claire, introduced us to two of the most adorable ducks I’ve seen – so tame, and happy to be picked up, stroked, and plopped back down again – their beaks a perpetual smile! We were plied with tea and home-made cakes (which we forgot to pick up from the kitchen!!) and after a farewell to the ducks from their family, we brought them back to Merrybower.

2015 Doris & LillyWe’re not entirely sure where their permanent  home will be – apparently they live quite happily with chickens, but I know the mess they can make of drinking water, so we’ll have a think, but we’ll find a place for them to call their own 🙂

2015 Doris & Lilly

If you look really carefully at the photograph you can see three Call Duck boys in the background, their heads kept popping up at the sight of their pretty new neighbours – I see trouble ahead!

Apparently Khaki Campbell ducks can lay around 300 eggs a year, although I imagine this would be down to the particular strain. Having said that, we were given two presents this morning in the shape of eggs, so we must have been accepted!

Red Onion Soup

2015 red onion soup 1As you could see from the post about our bumper onion harvest, we have an awfully large pile of onions to plough our way through. Here’s a simple onion soup recipe that’s perfect to ward off any chill after working outside on a typical English autumnal day in September. Add some crusty Red Leicester bread and it’s pure heaven, in a soup bowl.


Butter or olive oil
1 kg red onions – thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves – chopped
2 tbsp flour
200 ml red wine
1 litre vegetable stock (boiling)
Handful of fresh garden herbs.
grated cheese – a handful for each bowl

Enough for 4 people.


2015 red onion soup 2Melt the butter in a pan, or heat the olive oil.
Add the onions and fry – keep stirring until caramelised.
Add the garlic, cook for a couple of minutes.
Sprinkle on the flour, stir.
Increased the heat – add the wine, hot stock, fresh herbs.
Cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes.

Into bowls, add a handful of cheese on the top.

Simple White Currant Cordial – Sugar & Sugar Free

This is such a simple recipe for white currant cordial, and one we had a go at last year for a sugar-free version which used red currants instead (essentially the same berry, with more pigmentation).

Every year we struggle to think of things to do with our white currants. I know there are many things we *can* do, but in reality, there’s only so much jelly you can eat, and we don’t eat enough meat to cook a portion up to accompany it when the berries are ripe. So as I stood by the two bushes we have, taking a break from turning some weeds over, I thought I’d look for a useful recipe that would keep, that didn’t involved freezing the blighters, which can be summed up as a ‘putting the (nice) problem off’ solution.

Cordial was the answer. Everyone likes a drink, albeit sugar-laden, so at the end of this post I’ve also added a sugar-free version. It won’t keep for long, but as it’s sugar-free you won’t feel guilty gulping it down!

Step 1 – Pick the currants! Bit obvious, but important, as it’s the step where you make sure you pick as many of the decent currants as possible, and none of the mouldy or dried currants. Just place a bag or similar under the currants and snip them off with a pair of scissors – easiest method. Jay cut ours on the promise that this drink, unlike many recent ones, was suitable for younger people!

Step 2 – Wash the currants thoroughly – stalks and all. Discard any currants that look dodgy, get rid of stray leaves.

2015 white currant cordia 1Step 3 – Place the currants in a pan – we use the invaluable, and much abused, jam pan. We started out with 3kg of white currants – stalks and all – don’t go to the trouble of removing them! We used to for some recipes, and it’s a needless pain if you’re going to seive the liquid anyway. Add 600ml of water for every kg.

2015 white currant cordia 2Step 4 – Cook them gently until they’re soft and the skins have broken down. In reality I forgot ours and left them on their initial high heat for a while. Suz saved them, turned them down again, and there were no noticeable adverse effects.

2015 white currant cordia 3Step 5 – Strain the juice. Finally, after several years of laying a cloth in a colander, we have invested in a strainer! Posh eh?! It’s one of those things you’d wished you’d done earlier, as we use the technique for so many things. They’ll drain pretty much instantly – I left them overnight and only gained an extra quarter cup of juice – not worth it really.

2015 white currant cordia 4Step 6 – Add 700g of sugar to every litre of juice, in a pan, and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. I used demerara sugar, which doesn’t give the most pleasing final colour (dirty dishwater      brown!), but does taste delicious. For the sugar-free version I just added 15 sweeteners (Canderel tablets)  to a half litre of juice.

2015 white currant cordia 5Step 7 – Bottle the cordial in sterilised bottles.

The final cordial should keep for several months, but the sugar free version I don’t think will last anywhere near that. In fact I popped mine in the fridge and give it a week maximum, to be safe. To see the effect sugar has on the 2015 white currant cordia 6colour – the photograph to the right shows the sugar-free version in the foreground, with the two litres of juice with demerara sugar added behind.

I used sterlising powder for the bottles, which you can buy at any homebrew shop, and the bottles are some I purchased in a sale at IKEA ages ago – they seem quite sturdy (better than the new Kilner bottles if I’m honest – more metal in the clips).

Plum Wine Stage 3

Five days on and we’re at this stage of the process:

9. After five days transfer the liquid to the demijohns using the plastic tubing and funnel. Make sure all the equipment has been sterilised.

10. Avoiding disturbing any sediment, place the fermentation barrel at a higher level than a demijohn (e.g. put the barrel on a table and a demijohn on the floor), put one end of the plastic tubing in the barrel, and having placed the funnel in the neck of a demijohn give the other end of the tubing a strong suck to pull some of the wine in the tube up and over the edge of the barrel. Quickly remove your mouth and put the tube end into the funnel. The wine should start to drain.
11. Stop removing liquid when you get close to the bottom so you transfer as little of the sediment as possible. Once all the liquid is in a demijohn top up with water to bring to a gallon if you need to – but don’t try and make a gallon from 3/4 of a gallon of plum juice! Seal with a bung and airlock. Some people add something like Milton to the airlock, but I tend not to incase there’s a reverse pull on the liquid and it taints the wine. I prefer to replace the airlock regularly with a sterlised one.
2015 plum wine 412. You can now store the wine for months somewhere cool and frost free. At first the fermentation may start up again and you’ll see bubbles going through the airlock. Gradually the wine will clear.

So we have three demijohns of plum wine (very young) sat in the kitchen. As it says to store somewhere cool and frost free, we’ll pop it in the garage which is perfect. I must remember to check the airlocks regularly as they’re quite feisty at the moment!

And there’s also the question of what to do with the old ferment (pomace) left over at the bottom of the fermentation 2015 plum wine 5barrel? Others add water and sugar to get the levels right for wine-making, and make a “second wine”. Some then take the second wine and distill it to a liqueur. As gardeners, we’re going to add it to the compost bins – the pomace being rich in nitrogen, potassium and calcium!

Red Mite cause Chicken Holiday

Whilst visiting friends, they asked for some advice on their flock. Their coop had contracted red mite in a very bad way – and the housing was covered, but despite all attempts, the little blighters kept coming back.

We had a quick look and promptly offered to give the chooks a holiday at Merrybower, on clean ground and in clean houses. Seeing nothing else to give us great alarm, we knew it was highly unlikely the red mites would be on the birds during daylight hours whilst outside, so we wouldn’t be transferring any to our gaff.

2015 holiday chooks 2

Seven Warrens (one is laying inside)

On arrival, we put six, including Colin the cock, in a spare Eglu Cube, and seven in a spare Green Frog Designs Livestock Ark, which we used for chicks last year. We started them on a seven day course of Flubenvet, which was given ready-mixed in Marriage’s Farmyard Layers Pellets with integrated Flubenvet. Whilst they were caged in their runs, this would ensure they got a good worming dose. Noticing a bird with runnyish poos, we also gave them a three day course of Tylan Soluble antibiotic – 0.5g for every litre of water, mixed fresh every 24 hours. Noticing some also had scaly leg mite, we also dropped a spot of Ivermectin on the back of the neck of all of them, and will repeat that in three weeks’ time.

We think the big difference was the food. It’s possible that they’d been put off eating the food in their old coop because of the mite association, but for whatever reason, they tucked into the Marriage’s pellets like there was no tomorrow! They’re also going through the moult, which is a tough time for any bird. To help them along with that they had our special mix of mashed potato, live yoghurt, cod liver oil and poultry spice. It stinks, but boy do they love it! And the difference a few days later is amazing – they’re more relaxed and look much perkier, despite still looking rather bedraggled with their old feathers still intact.

2015 holiday chooks 1

Colin, three Warrens and, we think, a Light Sussex hen and a Buff Orpington hen.

For any regulars reading this, Colin the cock is actually one of our boys bred last year, so he’s returned home! We haven’t mentioned this, but Red, his brother that we kept, was killed by a fox this spring. It was an upsetting thing for us all, made worse in that he was the last in the bloodline of our flock. But with Colin here we might be able to ‘borrow’ him for another brood next year, if all goes well. We still don’t know Colin as well as we knew Red, who was very gentle, but none of us have been pecked by Colin, even when handling him and his ladies for scaly leg mite, so it looks promising so far.

Plum Wine Stage 2

2015 Plum Wine 1

Plum juice after adding sugar, lemon juice and yeast

So here we are, four days after first adding our plums to the plastic barrel and adding water to what will become our plum wine. We’ve stirred them twice a day (well  stirred in the morning and given the barrel a good shake in the evening), and today it’s time for these steps:

6. Add the sugar and stir vigorously to dissolve.
7. Add lemon juice and the packet of wine yeast and put the lid on.
8. Store somewhere warm. After a few hours you’ll notice something starting to happen… there’ll be a froth on the surface as the yeast starts to ferment, turning the sugar into alcohol. Stir the contents twice a day.
Yeast close-up

Yeast close-up


Four kilos of demerara sugar went into this barrel, three teaspoons of lemon juice, and the sachet of wine yeast. Firstly I stirred the sugar in like crazy – demerara being a bit chunky. Then the lemon juice and yeast – it says don’t bother stirring these in, but as we have so many lumpy plums still floating on top, I decided to stir gently. The floating lumpy bits are the plums that were still slightly unripe I’m guessing – there weren’t many, but enough to coat the surface in a layer of plum.

Place somewhere warm

Place somewhere warm

Once the lid’s back on tight, the whole thing was lifted on to the work surface above the boiler (somewhere warm) to start its business. It’ll stay there, much to the chagrin of Suz, in the middle of the kitchen, for five days, until it’s ready to siphon off into demijohns.