Stocking the larder/ self-sufficiency

My sheep are hanging over me again – metaphorically speaking. Firstly they are getting pretty short of grass, though I’m glad to say that most of them seem to be prepared to eat the hay I made with the sweat of my brow last summer, as well as the sheep nuts which I am giving at a reduced rate because of the hay. Secondly, they have all got to be injected – at least the seven ewes have – but I’m putting that off, today, as it was a stormy night and they will all be wet today and unpleasant to hold still while X jabs them. The chicken are also hanging over me at the moment as they have practically given up laying, and I need a lesson in what to do next.

 

We are so cosy and warm in our log cabin, second winter. We built a larder/storage room this autumn, so now we have four rooms – very grand! I did a lot of canning again this year, stocking the shelves up with plums, pears, apples, apple sauce and jams and jellies for the winter. I have to say, I am getting quite a professional when it comes to canning!

Because of a lot of delays this summer, we never did get our house started. Next year for sure. I am quite content with our log cabin, at least for one year more.

 

After their initial flightiness and standoffishness my new chicks seem to be settling down. We are up to about four eggs a day from 6 so that’s not bad, and I have started selling them again.

Our neighbour’s wife and the two younger kids were away. His dogs took off after a pig and he came back to leave the older boy with us and get a dagger before chasing after them. By the time he got back supper was ready so we invited him in too.

 

The kitchen is my favourite, all logs and wooden shelves and workbench, and filled jars and rose hips strung out to dry for tea. Our garden came out well, and in fact we’re still eating carrots and cabbage and beetroot from it, and I planted some pretty flowers in front of the cabin. This summer we also acquired one cat  (to keep the mice away), two white ducks called George and Martha and five chickens, which actually are too young to lay eggs until the early spring.

 

Last week I heard a couple of shots and thought next door was killing off a sheep, but he phoned to warn us the butcher had come to butcher his cow, and the first shot sent it straight off and over a 4 ft fence to land dead at the top of our drive. As their Landrover was in the garage for a couple of days the remains of the poor beast had to remain outside our gate, loose head and all the innards until he could take them away. The rural postie hesitates as to whether to get out of the car to put our letters in the box, pools of blood etc. everywhere.

 

I got on reasonably well, in a slightly ill-disciplined way while they were up north. I never managed to make my bed until the day they were coming home, and most days forgot even to pull it together after breakfast – but I did several washes, and managed to cook a lamb casserole which lasted two days, and sausages which X left for another two. One day I bought a ‘boil in a bag’ meal from Woolworth’s, which wasn’t bad though I imagine one would quickly get tired of them, apart from the expense, and another day I fried some lamb cutlets. On Friday, expecting the others back in the evening, I was extremely domesticated, and very busy! Made my bed! Hoovered the house from one end to the other, and dusted everywhere, even the tops of the pictures and the mantelpiece which involved taking down all the Christmas cards and putting them back again. Cleaned the windows, put a coat of paint which has waited a long time on bits of the outside room, and cooked another large casserole and a fruit salad in preparation for them: I was exhausted. My performance amazed me!

The couple down the road came over Sunday week ago and collected the three black wether lambs which I had promised to let them have, and on Saturday when I had the car back for the trailer I went and collected three, a year older but white, from X to keep the summer grass down and prepare themselves for the freezer a bit later on. As the first couple were prepared to pay what I had to pay for the replacements that means we get about half our meat supplies for about 6 or 8 months more or less for nothing (well, not quite if you allow for feeding the mother ewes in the winter, and inoculating them etc., plus interest on the capital tied up in the fields).

Each day X has been away there’s been no water after breakfast. The first day the jolly new filter thing had come adrift; that was easy, I took out the filter and put the two bits together, deciding I’d rather have brown water than no water. The next day they were adrift again but ominously no water was coming out of the pipe, which means the holding tank is empty. I struggled up to the jolly tank – it was very frosty and very wet, but the tank and pipes were all in place. Only the thought of no hot bath kept me going after that. The neighbour had told me his rams were well behaved but I kept a wary eye out for them and took a big stick, so on to the bucket. I found a piece of rope tied across the creek and I presumed it was for holding whilst investigating the bucket, so I hoped for the best and did that, and found under the chicken wire and many leaves a branch had got in and blocked up the opening out, so I felt very triumphant about that but realise that I’m not so sure I like Heath Robinson contraptions as I thought I did! This morning the filter was disconnected again so I joined it up once more, but tonight something very odd is happening, it was full but didn’t appear to be moving so I rashly unscrewed one end and the full blast of water shot over me. X is due home tomorrow so I think I’ll leave any further efforts to him; I just hope I get a hot bath tonight.

 

X thinks her dahlias are smaller this year than last and that the answer is sheep manure. There were two possibilities – to try and rake it up from the fields, or to dig it out from underneath the neighbour’s woolshed. We chose the latter, but it was a pretty unsavoury job. Little headroom, long whiskers of cobwebs plus, hanging from the slatted floor above, and a good deal of it well trodden down where the sheep had been put in to keep them dry if it threatened rain before shearing. We contracted with the manager to pay him $10 for a trailer full – but called it a day a $5 worth! It looks a most miserable little heap now we have it sitting in the field waiting to be distributed. Never mind, next year I hope to have a nice pile of chick manure mixed with sawdust

 

We have built a new chicken coop and run. Our hens are laying six eggs a day, and very soon we’re getting a whole bunch of baby chicks, which may start laying in the autumn, or next spring for sure. This is the first year we have made it with our chickens, the ones we had the last two years never did anything much. Nothing is nicer than getting eggs out of the nesting box – especially when you see how incredibly expensive they are in the stores!

Nuisances of life 3

I think I told you about the huge rat that walked across our skylight when I had an elevenses party. Well, we didn’t catch that but a while ago I saw another smaller one and managed to get X to see it before it scurried off. We set a trap in the skylight and caught two the same size but now they seem to have taken the hint.

exploring rat

The second week of the holiday was somewhat marred by having a wisdom tooth out. It wasn’t too bad but my face swelled more than expected so I looked like an advanced stage of mumps on one side for a while. It’s almost down again now – I can still feel where he pulled my jaw about though.

Whilst I remember, did you ever – Maddening – I can’t remember – something caught my attention and can’t finish that fascinating question!!!

Only four lambs – 50% lambing rate is most shaming! Next year if I still have them I’ll have to find another ram I think. [But later] We now have adorable twin black lambs from a ewe we didn’t think was going to lamb, plus a white one, and one twin that survived, and another is imminent. They make their bed in the oddest way by pawing the ground and when nice and muddy or clear of grass sit in it.

I found my dahlias were at last showing few shoots, so spent a whole afternoon sorting them out into 3 boxes, one that looked too shrivelled to come to life again, another that might, given time, and the third that all had shoots and were ready to plant. I’d promised X some of them and intended sharing the third box, but left the job in the middle and didn’t come back to it for 2 days when I was taking the typewriter to her as she had asked to borrow it, so picked up the box outside the back door and went – yes, you’ve guessed, it was the one with all the good ones in it. I was ridiculously miserable for two days – I’ve enjoyed them so much the last two seasons, I hope she does this season!

I fear I haven’t done very much of the jigsaw, there seem so many things mounting up in the garden and bridge and just living takes a long time!

I’ve been feeling very sorry for myself as the 2nd double tooth broke in half last week, the first one was on the bottom jaw so didn’t show but this one was on the top beside a previous gap. The dentist was away but saw me promptly the day he came back, and said he couldn’t do anything about it as it was too soft, so I’d have to have it out soon. I asked, ‘Like now?’ and he said if he gave me a local whilst he saw the next person just slowly coming up the drive, he’d do it when she left.

My bank statement came and I took ages trying to balance it – finished $100 up on the bank – must be wrong! I think it was last time X did them for me and after 2 days still couldn’t balance it that he said he thought I should die before him. I said I didn’t want to be hurried up I had lots of things I wanted to do!

Outings

X and I had a lovely visit to a woodland garden near here yesterday as there was a sale of plants there. X very knowledgeably discussed the merits of something she fancied with an old gent selling it, and we came home with two of them! She is very good at reeling out names of things, whereas I refer to everything as ‘that blue thing’, which is very lazy on my part. Also I find my eyes don’t really encourage me to try to read the labels as I have to get down to it a bit too much and get in everybody else’s way by sticking my bottom out and my head down. But it was a lovely morning and the garden itself was in gorgeous autumn colour, despite very wet grass under foot, so we thoroughly enjoyed our little excursion.

X brought Y over for afternoon tea the other day. She’s amazing for 86 – I gather they were worn out by the time she left!

I’m going to some good lectures – given by an art historian – Renaissance & Impressionists – very yummy and I so enjoy them as they are nothing to do with anything – if you know what I mean! [Er – not really!]

We had lunch and a walk-game. We went for a walk and left a trail of arrows to say which way we’d gone, and they tried to follow. I say tried, because they missed the first arrow and ended up miles away!

not THAT arrow!

I can’t remember if we had been to X on a shopping spree when I last wrote. I bought a cardigan in a revolting khaki which did nothing for my complexion, and a skirt that makes me look like the back side of a bus – otherwise we had a very good day. After agonising over my purchases for days I told Y about them and she said to send them back, it was my money! So I did, and felt much better.

We feel much the same about meals out – they flow off the plate. X is wonderful: if I settle for a ‘do it ourselves’ he buys all the most extravagant things plus wines etc. and there’s no comparison which we enjoy most – and there’s usually exotic things over for days – all at the price of going out.

X is up to her eyes in lists and writing to people to see if they can go and see them – wish I didn’t feel so sure it won’t come off – she’ll be so disappointed. I keep reminding her that from experience, when you’ve worked out costs, double them.

Hope you like the photo of your godson! He and his girlfriend (she’s Greek believe it or not) went to a ‘P’ party – he was a peasant and she a panther. No, it isn’t his own hair, it’s a wig from kindy.

They were here for dinner the other day and X said, ‘We’re driving to Y on Friday if anyone wants to come’ – so I’m going! It’s for their daughter’s 21st. I gather you got an invite! I think everyone except me did – so I’m gatecrashing it! Should be neat fun.

You commented on me tolerating X going to McDonald’s. He hardly ever goes normally so there’s not much point in getting my knickers in a knot over a few holiday visits! What’s the bad press? We haven’t heard it here.

That night it started pouring with rain and still was when we left at 7 a.m. for our pre-booked trip out to the reef. We went in a yacht with 13 passengers and 5 crew. It would have been a lot more lovely in fine weather, but as it was we had to go under motor (nasty diesel smell) and the wind was squalling up to 40 knots, so I fear I was dreadfully seasick for most of the way out and felt ghastly for at least an hour after getting there. Still, eventually I felt well enough to have a go at snorkelling and the crew were really kind and helpful and someone came with me and brought up interesting creatures from below like sea cucumbers and a creature that spits out its intestines like spaghetti to shock intruders! The coral was lovely and the fish amazing, so I’m pleased we went despite the weather.

Nature

The whole place was looking quite magical yesterday and I took the car up to the forest and walked to find some berries and grasses for my big jug and it looks rather nice. Also saw an extraordinary fungi – bright orange just like some orange-peel stuck to a bit of wood.

I still feel pangs of envy when I get letters from friends who have decided to stay in England, as it is coming on autumn. Autumn and spring were my favourite seasons, partly because they were so colourful and partly because things happen so quickly in them. There is little sudden change in seasons here – things happen gradually so that one season merges into another almost imperceptibly.

I can swim out to the reef to snorkel (or ‘goggle’ as they very aptly call it here.) We are right on the beach and recently I have been watching for hatching turtles. Came across some early this morning who were being attacked by ants. (That’s a problem in our butterfly rearing too.)

I am sorry I am so bad about hygiene. Fleas and ticks are, alas, part of our way of life, but they vary with the time of year, and I’m afraid you hit a bad patch. The only ones that really upset me are cockroaches and spiders.

I saw a green thing walk past as if it owned the place. It was quite large (about 30 cm) lizard, with a pointy nose and tail. … If it’s a feral lizard, I might have to try to trap it and have it removed. It’s sleek and healthy looking – a fine specimen of lizardhood. I would prefer it to be native, as then it could continue to keep the slug and snail population down for me.

the green visitor

We plough the fields and scatter

“My vegetables are OK but the rest of the garden is a disaster. It’s a sort of vicious circle – I don’t put enough effort into it to make it look nice, so it’s unsatisfying, so I don’t put enough effort in! My latest effort is a rain forest crèche on the dining room window sill. I’ve potted up vast numbers of ‘Greenpeace’ native seeds I was given last Christmas. I have put them in a very expensive potting mix and watered them daily for weeks. They’ve not so much as stirred – ungrateful things!”

“Spring has arrived early and it is a delight to admire the pink flowers of the camellia tree and the yellow ones of the mimosa in the back garden.”

“I fear my first beans will fail despite covers as I had to put them out as the roots were too huge for their starting pots. Dear X upset a box of very expensive Alpine Strawberry seeds, but fortunately they have started to come up in parts, so I am still hopeful. Parsley in the airing cupboard – the first lot caught me out and shot up unexpectedly but I am on the watch for this. Far easier to buy but not so much fun.”

“…the spray for the various beetles didn’t quite do the trick so the result is some rather mucky looking raspberries but they puree all right with a little hard work removing bad bits and the ‘livestock’! They take a long time to pick but as there are so few nice ones the problem of going round giving them away does not arise so much.”

“Other things have come on too, so I have been able with great delight to pull up the last of the over-winter carrots and throw them away. It was getting quite a struggle to separate the eatable outside bit from their vast central rock-hard stem.”

coarse carrots

“I have planted some broad beans which the pigeons are rapidly demolishing I think, and some potatoes got thrown in very casually one day. It is all rather half-hearted and vague but I enjoy trying to keep it comparatively tidy to the last. I shall have two tubs and a grow-bag on a patio I hope!! Alternatively of course it might be a bit of flannel and a packet of cress on the windowsill.”

The birds, bees and flowers

“We opened the Tea Garden… We get tourist lunches, old folk from Britain once a week which is great fun and they love coming here – last time a snake obliged by nearly climbing onto the veranda from the bougainvillea! and the sun birds are a treat, not to mention the hoopoes nesting in the corner of the roof (instead of a tree!)”

“Now in South of India, tropical flowers, spices and rain. We are in Hill Station of Ooty and we have a fire.”

[The James Iredell House, North Carolina] “Wish you were here to see the wonderful gardens – magnolia plantation had 900 species of azaleas and a wealth of other flowers… We spent 3 days in Charleston.”

“This has been an interesting day-tour into the rain-forest. There have also been beautiful blue and red parrots and birds called whip birds because of their call. They made me think of you.” [I wonder why???!]

“First time I have seen this tree. It is a frassino tree and grows only in Sicily or Calabria. The manna is used in the trade as a laxative and also for other medical purposes???”

“Wow! I have just seen an enormous wasp type thing about 1.5 inches – HUGE. We got attacked by monkeys yesterday! I was holding a banana – I suddenly became surrounded by monkeys. They looked as if they would climb all over me – so I hid the banana down my top and they went away!” [Lucky the monkeys weren’t too determined…]

whiskery fish
whiskery fish

“The garden was all palms and wild orchids and lovely plants with green and pink leaves! And a demented cockerel and a bunch of scatty hens… We went snorkelling about 5 times. We saw amazing blue starfish – their fingers were all sausage-fat and bright blue. And angel-fish and other stripey ones and an amazing thing called a half-beak – almost transparent from the side except for its eye which is halfway along its 2-3 foot body. When you looked down on them they were coloured though. We didn’t see many shoals of fish, which made the one of about 300 we saw on the last day all the more surprising! They were white and whiskery with a yellow streak down the side.”

“X related how they’d had a real gorilla in her youth in S. Africa – its mother had been shot – and they looked after the baby and played with it – until one day her sister teased it and it bit her – it was huge by then, about 5 – and their father said it had to go to the zoo. When they left it, it had tears running down its cheeks – as they all had, including her father – sad.”

“The countryside is so beautiful and all the orange cacci [persimmon] on the trees everywhere. They look like primitive paintings.”

The attraction of camels

“Our camel safari was great – a long way down to fall. Felt very precarious. The worst was when the camel lurched to its feet – or knelt to go down. We had our camel man and a guide – they put up our tent and cooked us breakfast and dinner. Lunch was cold. We needed it after all morning in the saddle under the hot sun. Pushkar Fair and Hindu Festival was marvellous.”

[Morocco] “Surprise, we are here in N. Africa. Decided to come for two weeks of sunshine. All the grey was getting depressing! We are enjoying the different way of life – having to bargain for everything. Of course we have had a camel ride!”

“We are in Broome. It is quite a fascinating place. Our hotel is on the ‘waterfront’, where we can observe the 9 metre tides – quite astounding the difference between high and low. It is still a pearl producing centre and we have visited the town’s jewellers. X worked out that if she sold her house, car and the cat she would be able to afford two of the strands of pearls we saw… We have both bought pearl shell buttons… I am able to report that I have been on an hour’s camel ride, first along the beach at dusk, then into sand dunes under a starry sky. Magic. I think I could easily sit on a camel for several days on a trek, but I will have to win a lottery. The early days here were very rough and ready, I understand, and quite dangerous. There is a Japanese cemetery where 909 Japanese (mostly divers) were buried.”