Saturday, 17 June 2017

And Then There Were None!

Farm life is full of ups and downs. We try to be philosophical about it all. Miss Black Speckle was not successful in her attempt to become a mother. One egg semi-hatched but the chick was dead. The rest did nothing. No peeps, no cracking, nothing.

We are beyond sad. Although we maintained that we were not counting our chicks, I guess we were after all. On top of that Bippity somehow managed to roll both her eggs out of the broody coop, cracking them. She appeared not to notice and continued to sit on an empty nest until we turfed her off and closed it up. So there will be no chicks for the foreseeable.

Deductions made from the look, feel and weight of the non hatching eggs, are that Mac (the cockerel) is doing a fair job - we had questions about his virility - but that other factors contributed to the deaths.  We did not crack open the non hatching eggs, that's just a little gruesome for us.  My best guess is that it is simply too hot at the moment and/or the hens are too inexperienced. 

It's good to know that Mac is not infertile. Although we think he is a bit of a softy and allows the hens to get away from him more often than not. This, although a downside, is precisely the qualities we looked for in a rooster. After hearing and reading about aggressive cockerels we deliberately opted for a more timid one, that was Raul, Mac's father.  Mac will do fine especially as he fulfills all the other important tasks like breaking up fights among the other hens, standing guard duty, warning of danger and helping find food.

The thing we wonder about now is that we have probably genetically weakened the flock already and given the incest going on (which we were told didn't matter with hens so much) we have perhaps not given potential new chicks the best start in life.

As Steve pointed out the easiest way to introduce new blood would be to replace Mac. But I am reluctant to do that because he is so calm and non threatening to us or the cats and the dog. An aggressive cockerel is no laughing matter.

I think a little bit more research is required on the breeding of hens is in order. There is always stuff to learn where animals are concerned.

Monday, 12 June 2017

And Then There Were Three

Remember my chicken worries, Boppity the slightly addled broody hen that fixated on the nest rather than the eggs? Well, we didn't eat her, I couldn't be bothered with the idea of killing and plucking (especially plucking) it's alot of work. So I continued to collect eggs armed with a ladle with which to fend off the hen and then... Another hen went broody so now I had TWO annoyed chickens cluttering up the nest box all day!

We moved Black Speckle into the 'maternity' wing and gave her six eggs to sit on. And sit she did! The eggs are due to hatch on Thursday this week. Not counting my chicks beforehand but any that turn up are destined for the pot.

But that's only two I hear you say. Yes, well, yesterday, Bippity (sister to aforementioned Boppity) went broody too. Thankfully she settled into the Broody coop! Hurrah! We put two hopefully fertile eggs underneath her and have left her be. 21 days incubation period for hens, though I'm never sure whether day 1 is really day 1 - I mean what if she starts sitting on the eggs at 6pm? Does that day still count as day 1?

Why would we let them breed when we have more than enough hens for our needs? Several reasons. Once they go broody they don't always return to full egg production anyway and so we should be looking to replace the barren hens. We try to give them as natural a life as possible so this means allowing nature to take its course. We are sentimental and chicks fill us with joy. The addition to the freezer is welcome. Home grown chicken has a wonderful flavour quite unlike the chickens from the supermarket.

So. Black speckle is about to become a mum and is in the most appropriate place for it. Boppity continues to be happy to sit on an empty nest. Bippity is in the Broody coop which is currently in the main run. Before chicks arrive she will need to be segregated from the others, however we can't put her in the maternity wing as the presence of Black Speckles  new chicks may cause her to abandon her own eggs and try and steal them! It's the universe in miniature, keeping hens.

They squabble and fight with no inhibitions, they have distinct characters, likes and dislikes. The way the cockerel finds titbits for them and calls them over to eat and then stands guard, watching for predators. The way he chases them when he is of an amorous inclination and oh how they run! We do laugh alot.  Yes keeping hens is great!

And now I must go clean the hen house as one of them has dropped a soft egg which has burst and the nest is full of ants! Never a dull moment at Finca La Reina!

Friday, 9 June 2017

My Week in Pictures

I awoke early this morning to the sound of a strimmer droning away in the next door finca, it was barely light and then when I finally dragged myself out of bed I discovered we have a hung parliament.  But. On to more important stuff (to me) - my life this week.

You may think that it's all this...  Followed by this...

And it is true, there has been a certain amount of this, but also...

120 onions planted in a quest to 1. Grow what traditionally grows well here and 2. A small attempt at approaching self sufficiency (the girl at the garden centre said they would keep, we don't really have anywhere cool to store them but I'm going to try hanging them on the verandah). 12 globe artichokes planted, fiddly vegetable but delicious. 20 Padron peppers planted - eaten green by the Spanish when one in ten is spicy but if you leave them all to turn red they are all spicy!

There has been harvesting.

And the squash and courgettes are turning into triphyds and trying to get out of the old hen enclosure. The soil in there is amazing! Well done hens!

There has also been alot of this..

And some of this...

Dyeing with oakbark and iron in an attempt to get a nice brown. It turned out a light toffee-caramel colour but considering the amount of work involved, not dark enough. Another post another day perhaps.

The strawberries have finally diminished to a small handful about once a week. We are grateful, you can have too much of a good thing!

Work has started on knitting Steve a waistcoat. I'm pretty close to playing yarn chicken, as in there may not be quite enough to finish it, it's going to be a close run thing which is very annoying since the fibre came from the USA and will take a bit of time to arrive (it's from an Indie dyer and she dyes to order) and then there's the spinning, can I recreate the same yarn since I didn't take any notes?! 😤 Lesson learned!

A sample ball of local merino blended with a commercial emerald green bamboo fibre in the search for a soft drapey yarn. Swatch still to be knitted.

And another experiment with a small skein and some beetroot peelings. Solar dyeing takes time so this will sit out by the pool for the rest of the summer.

But mostly... The bags of dirty fleece diminish... (albeit slowly).

And the clean stuff awaiting picking/carding/combing/spinning grows... (the black body bag on the table will eventually be stuffed to full capacity with clean fibre awaiting prep).

A decision has been made to purchase a Picker. No not a person/slave/servant to do some picking (although a small child with a stick running around the finca chasing the Iberian magpies off the figs would be very useful!) No, a Picker is a hefty piece of kit designed to open out the fibres turning them into wispy light clouds of fluff while the trapped vegetation falls out. At the present time I am doing this by hand and it's laborious and time consuming. The new picker will be examined, put through its paces, purchased and then transported home from The Loch Ness Knitfest which I am attending in October. Whoo Hoo!!!! Guess who's travelling with a large suitcase and very few clothes?

And finally. Who's the lucky girl who was given a fabulous present for no other reason than he loves me?

I still adore my old wheel because she is a vintage classic and very romantic looking and I learned to spin on her....

but this new one, a Lendrum from Canada, is a Rolls Royce by comparison. She came with a laceweight flyer as well as a jumbo flyer for art yarns and a free standing lazy Kate. This may sound like double Dutch to you but it means greater control over the types of yarn that I can make and a much varied selection of yarns too. 

Seriously, life is GOOD!

Saturday, 3 June 2017

The House That Jack Built

 There has been quite a bit of building work going on in our neighbours fincas.  This neat little white casita went up slowly over the past year and even before it was finished the owner installed a dog to guard it.

Now, this is something I have strong views about and have shied away ​from mentioning it before because I felt I would end up with a long rant and perhaps give the totally wrong impression. But in a nutshell, a Mastine type  puppy was chained up outside with a makeshift kennel. It was fed and watered when the owner visited to work on the finca. This is fairly normal practice here in Spain. The owner would I am sure claim that the dog was well looked after.  We could see the dog from our bedroom window and from one spot on our drive. It barked and cried all night, every night.

Recently the dog has disappeared. I hope the owner took it home because it has become too hot but I fear the worst. Anyway, the chap who bought this finca has done so much work, apart from building the little house he has levelled ground, diverted a waterway so we actually get more water flowing through our finca and he also planted new fig trees.  We thought him mad when he diverted the water, yes it is alot of water in winter but in summer you really will wish you hadn't done that. Our solution (listen to us the experts) would be to slow the waters passing through the finca rather than divert it but ho hum. Thank-you for the extra water, we'll have it!

We thought that the locals possessed special knowledge about farming here and we have quizzed and watched carefully what all our neighbours do in order to ensure our own success. But it seems now that not all the locals know what they are doing when it comes to farming - this same neighbour took a rotovator to a field of couch grass! This is the stuff that grows from the tiniest bit of root left in the ground. Two weeks after rotovating the couch grass was back, thicker than before. A week after that he came and sprayed with weed killer. Two weeks on and I can't see that it had any affect. And... Not all his fig trees are thriving. We are comforted (you can tell can't you) in knowing that we are not so half witted at this stuff as we thought.

Our other neighbour has also started building a casita.

Apologies for the blurry photo but I couldn't hold the camera still for laughing. To be fair, he did it mostly all by himself with occasional help from another chap and a piece of string with a weight on the end! There are some odd angles on it. But I guess once it's rendered you won't notice and in 50 years it will probably still be fulfilling its function. Good for you Jack!!

Steve is also new to building work. DIY he does very well and has always maintained and repaired stuff in the house. Building from scratch is new to him.  Strictly speaking this isn't from scratch, it's an extension, but it involved brickwork so we class it as building. His brothers came over from the UK to help him (one of them has done alot of building work in the past) but then left him to finish it.

It's beginning to look like he's on the homeward straight now. Which is just as well since our first guests are arriving in two months time.

When finished this will be a small one bedroomed one bathroom house with galley kitchen. Next year it will get a covered verandah on the front.

While Steve has been spending all his time building, parts of the finca have been neglected.

Well without volunteers we simply can't do everything! So we will once more be looking for helpers from autumn onwards. Thank goodness for that! Oh.. and well done Steve! 😀 It's going to be great!!

Friday, 26 May 2017

From Sheep to Shawl to wrist splints!

Whenever a new batch of fleece turns up I get really excited to see how it will knit up. My first ever exploits in preparing a raw fleece for spinning were quite disappointing and I blamed the fleece. Since then I have realised that it's me, not the fleece.

Washing, picking, carding or combing are all preparations that at first glance seem easy to do and pretty straightforward to boot. But there are opportunities to ruin a fleece at every stage and it has been, and still is, my goal to get the best out of the local wool.  This quest has added hours to the preparation process already and I foresee a few more time consuming changes to be made.

The local sheep are a merino cross, but mostly merino so in theory should produce a next to the skin soft yarn. I'm getting there, although this latest project still falls a bit short on the softness side. It certainly is wearable next to my skin but I know others who would disagree.

I also made tentative steps into the world of dying. Tea for the main colour and cochineal for the pink - which turned out much more towards mauve than I expected.

And then there was the knitting. I learned to knit as a child at my mother's knee, she was a beautiful knitter, and I never managed to achieve her standard of expertise. In fact, because of this I abandoned knitting for about 30 years and only since learning to spin have I once again taken up the challenge. And a challenge it was.

Nowadays they write the patterns differently including charts which are supposed to make it easier. I have great difficulties with following the charts. But in the sincere belief that you can teach an old dog new tricks I stuck at it and I'm pleased I did.

This was an easy chart. And even so I made some errors but the eye is kind and tends to perceive a pattern if it is mostly there, filling in the gaps so you don't notice the mistakes. I will do it again at some point.

So the upshot of all this endeavour is that I have an rsi injury - both wrists and I am now wearing wrist splints at night in the hope of preventing it progressing to anything that needs surgery. I'm talking carpal tunnel here. Frequent breaks and stretches particularly to the neck and shoulder areas has also helped alot.  And is probably a really good idea.

I am also trying to think of a name for my Etsy shop. It will be for selling one-off woolly creations like the felted bags or this shawlette and for taking commissions. I may sell skeins of wool too. So far the best name I came up with was Extremerino! What dya think? Any other ideas?

Monday, 22 May 2017


I have put a hyphen between Garden and Ing because to spell it as one word, gardening, would seem to imply that I know what I'm doing. Which, quite frankly, I don't. If I push a rake around the soil for a while, pull the odd weed while totally missing others until they sprout huge blousy blooms, pile earth into mini mountains around the base of plants for no other reason than I think they need the support, or simply just the act of being in the garden waving around some random garden implement, all this falls under the term garden-ing.

In spite of my incompetence with the veggie plot we are getting produce. I seem to be one of those people who learn by experience more than by reading of others experiences. I find books and the web excellent resources for putting you in the right direction but nothing beats hands on learning on the job!

For example I have recently come to realise that I have a very contrary approach to the garden in general. For example, when growing from seed all the advice is to pot on or plant out the strongest seedlings, discarding the weak. I have done this but rather than discard the weaklings I think, ah, what a shame, you deserve a chance and I find a place for the 'runts' of the vegetable world in the garden. And yes, you guessed they never come good.  I have been doing this without even realising it for years. I think it's the natural rooting for the underdog taken to extremes!  Well now I am aware I am going to guard against it.

Meanwhile the tomatoes are really quite advanced - just not turning red yet. The lettuce delicious. The potatoes.. mmmmmmmm.. just a tad too close to each other, we might not get much this year.

The onions have been pulled and are drying by the pool. I found three shallots in amongst them, I didn't plant shallots but they are welcome just the same.

The strawberries are still providing on almost a daily basis and as the season has progressed they are tasting better and better.

The kale went to seed very quickly, too much sunshine, and the spinach did likewise. We got one lunch out of the spinach and I picked the best of the kale, washed and blanched it and froze it in a bag.

Come January when it's cold and dark this will be great added to Scotch broth! And it will remind me of the sunshine in May. The courgettes are once again proving to be a magnet for the ants. I don't know the attraction but they end up swarming all over the plant and the fruits turn yellow and die. So I took drastic action and bought ant powder at the cooperative. To date we have not used any pesticides or non natural fertilisers but the ants have driven me to distraction and I gave in. We shall see how it turns out.

The flower garden is looking good this year too. It all takes time but we are getting there! And all with very little expertise or knowledge. Just bimbling about Garden -ing!

I have grand schemes in mind for the garden but will definitely need the assistance of some fit volunteers and for an update on the volunteer situation.. where I will reveal what Steve has been doing for weeks  and weeks and weeks... tune in next time!  Until then I hope your gardens are fulfilling their purpose, whether that be produce or simply joy!