Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Moving the Alpacas


DSCF0290 tinyI wasn’t planning on moving the alpacas until I’d built the new field shelters but they have totally run out of grass in the old fields and while we’ve have had some rain over the last couple of days it’s been nowhere near enough to get the grass growing. 

The interim solution is to let the boys use the trailer as a shelter in their new field and to let the girls have access to the shelter in their old field from the new one.  Al and I moved them in this afternoon and they have been beside themselves eating the new grass.

Moving them entailed a fight with one of the castrated males, Dartagnan.  He can be a total pain and at one time thought he was in charge of me.  He was put in his place by Colin the shearer and I’ve been doing my best not to let him gain the upper hand again.

Dartagnan decided that first he’d stop the others boys from moving down to their new field.  Once we’d moved them round so the other 3 started on their way to the new field, Dartagnan decided he wasn’t going to follow and went to the far side of the old field and patrolled the fence where the girls were.  He wasn’t going to move and there was no way I could shoo him to the gate’ so I got the leading rein. 

He let me put it on him with only a little fuss but there was no way he was going to walk.  He’s my biggest alpaca and to be truthful I’m a little scared of him.  He’s also the most likely to spit, his nickname is ‘spitty boy’, well at least the only one I can write here is.  We then performed something like a dance along the edge of the field, and by positioning myself in just the right place,  when he moved it resulted in a step towards the gate.  It was taking time but we were moving in the right direction and then… he let me lead him!  He wasn’t particularly happy about it but he let me walk him round to where the other boys were at which point I took the rein off and all was fine.  And even better I only was subjected to a tiny bit of spit – more a case of some he had in his mouth rather than aimed at me.  A very definite success, well for today at least.

I’m still working on the field shelters; the uprights have all been cut to length – some the wrong length but that's life! Smile 

DSCF0292 tinyIn this picture I’m in the process of planing the bottom of the uprights to fit the metaposts – one third of them are done and I’m hoping to finish the rest tomorrow and paint them with the wood treatment.

After that there’s just the matter of another couple of cross members and another 30 or so, 4 meter long, roofing planks to paint and we’ll be ready to start the construction.

It’s Quince Jelly Time Again


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While my quinces didn’t do well this year other people’s did so thank you's are due to Ann and Tricia for the above which have all been converted to that culinary delight that is quince jelly.

Monday, 19 September 2011

True Friends


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I am blessed with some really wonderful friends and words just seem so inadequate to express my gratitude to them last week.

In the background of the picture of the beautiful morning glories above you can just make out the two alpaca fields that are fenced.  There were two more where the posts were in but were still waiting to be fenced.  It’s been a while since the posts were put in and for various reasons the fields were never finished but I’d decided that they were going to be done this year. 

However when I went round the field to clear the growth from the fence line it quickly became obvious that the 60+ post along the boundary with my neighbour were going to have to be redone as they were falling into the ditch between us.  I think this is the result of clearing the ditch and the severe drought we had at the beginning of the year.  There was a deep crack in the soil running along the line of the posts, a bit like join the dots; some of the post were already falling into the ditch and the bank was crumbling in other places.

All my enthusiasm crumbled too, the though of resetting them all  50cm further into the field, digging into a clay soil that had set like concrete, was truly daunting.  I tried to buoy myself up by thinking how much harder it would be if the fencing had already been attached but even my positive attitude has a limit. 

Then I was told of a petrol post hole digger for hire so decided to ask if anyone would be able to give me and my son Al a hand with the posts. Ann H, Alex B, Chris A, Chris O, Eric S, Graham D, Jos O, Sandra A, Terry D, and Tricia S all said they would come for the day.

An early start for me (I’m not a morning person at all) meant I picked up the post holer and the bread first thing and everyone turned up for 10 am.  The post hole machine started without much of a problem but it couldn't dig more than a couple of inches into the ground.  The clay was hard and the auger was almost compressing it and forming a polished surface.  The digging team had a think and came up with a plan.  Between us we had not only the powered digger but also 2 chisel type posthole diggers and a hand auger.  Small holes were cut by Al using the hand auger, these were then filled with water and left to soak for a while after which the petrol auger could do its job.

While this was going on, other teams had been putting up the fencing on the posts that were OK on the other 2 sides of the field. By lunchtime nearly all of the posts had been re-set and we adjourned to the barn for lunch.

Suitably invigorated the teams set to and worked through to about 6pm putting up more fencing while I shuttled to and from the local farming supplies shop buying what ever we had run out of.

I was truly grateful for all the work they had put in and then they amazed me further.  All those that were available volunteered to return the next day to finish the rest of the fencing.

It’s at times like these when I realise just how lucky I am to have so many special people in my life.

All that remains now is to fit the gates and one extra strand of wire and/or some tape to discourage the alpacas from thinking of jumping over and to make the fence line visible which is a really easy job and to construct the field shelters, which is a bit longer.

DSCF0289 tinyAl and I spent most of last week buying the wood for the shelters.  Wood is heavy and even with my bigger trailer it’s taken a couple of trips to collect all that I need to make the two kits.

Collecting the bits is further complicated by trying to source everything which can be a bit of a nightmare.  When getting the extra bits for the fencing I bought out the local farming supplies place of the items I wanted.  They only held 2 rolls of sheep fencing, 2 rolls of the gauge of fencing wire I needed, 2 of the collars I use to secure the gates…  A big project need planning and a sustained effort to get everything.  Then add to that, finding it at a sensible price and your work is cut out.

I had been buying the metaposts over the year,  -whenever I got a 10% reduction voucher, - and had 14.  I need 18 so at the brico store where I was buying the first batch of wood I went to pick up 4 more posts.  The shop assistant I had just been talking to basically told me to put them back and then pointed to the price.  They were just under 25€ each.  He told me to go to the garden department next door where I paid 3€50 each for them!

All the wood needs to be painted with wood preserver – the picture shows some of the cross beams and some of the roofing planks.  I still need to cut the uprights to size and paint them and then we can head to the fields and attempt to get the metaposts in.  As if to help it’s finally rained which has stopped the painting but will hopefully soften the ground a bit.

Did I Mention I Have Tomatoes?


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There are only so many fresh tomatoes you can eat in a day and I managed to pick my roma tomatoes before the chickens got to them – the chickens adore ripe tomatoes.

DSCF0286 tinyThis lot made the first of my bottled plum tomatoes.  The tomatoes are first skinned by plunging in boiling water and then moved to cold water after which the skins slip off easily.

I packed the skinned tomatoes in bottling jars and covered with brine solution and processed using the cold fill method.

It’s sad that there are so many horror stories put out about home preserving of food; while some may be legitimate, some I feel are to force us by fear to buy commercially prepared foods.  After all they are supposedly regulated and therefore pose no threat to consumer health – BSE in beefburgers and e-coli in bean sprouts are probably just a figment of my imagination!!!  Ok off soap box now. 

In truth there are foods and ways that are perfectly safe and have been used for years and years, what’s missing today is the understanding of the process. In the past while the science wouldn't have been known, the safe way would have been passed down from generation to generation, today we can also look up the science.  I chose tomatoes as my first things to bottle because they are slightly acidic and that inhibits a lot of the nasty's and I use the cold fill method, bringing the tomatoes up to temperature very slowly to ensure everything heats through completely.  I check the water bath temperature and that the jars are fully sealed.  I also seal check, visually check, smell check and taste check before I use anything and so far so good – the only problems I've had was listeria-like symptoms from a bought supermarket salami a couple of years ago. Of course I’m now going to worry about tempting fate Open-mouthed smile.

DSCF0284 tinyAnd there is the other great ‘how to use up’ tomato standby, ratatouille which also helps out with the backlog of courgettes, squashes and aubergines.