Initial Thoughts on a Grandpa’s Feeder

The video below is our initial thoughts on a Grandpa’s Feeder, from New Zealand, that just moved here using a moving company for this.

Anyone who has ever seen a rat get into their poultry feeder knows that feeling that something must be done. I’m a firm believer in prevention is better than cure, and to that end we invested in galvanised treadle feeders a few years ago. The best thing we ever did (along with galvanised auto drinkers and plastic coops). However, the two feeders made in Britain were great, and still are, but the one we suspect is an import (thinner metal, rusting already and never quite sat straight) has started to allow the chickens to scrape all the pellets from inside. The lid that covers the eating area until the chicken stands on the treadle has always been a bit temperamental, getting jammed every so often for no reason I can see! I suspect the device is so wonky that it slips down its axle gradually and sticks to one side.

Our new Grandpa's Feeder

It will never look this good again

Fed up of this, we decided to invest in a new British-made treadle feeder but alas, the only one we could find has now had a plastic lid and plastic tread plate fitted! Plastic does not last as long as metal – fact. No matter what they do to it, it will always become brittle with exposure to UV light. Also, plastic is simply not rat proof – I can vouch for that personally – and a rat will gnaw through anything it can to get to a stash of food it can smell.

So we ended up buying a large Grandpa’s Feeder, available from www.grandpasfeeders.co.uk. I’d heard of them, and thought “crikey – they’re expensive!”, but with no reasonable option around, and following my other mantra “buy good, buy once”, or something along those lines, I (we – though Suz had no idea it was happening) bought one.

This video is the first impressions video – I’ll add another post and video after a few weeks, when it’s a bit more lived in and our Marsh Daisies have had their wicked way with it.

Merrybower Heritage Orchard fruit can now be bought at our local Melbourne Deli!

What a week! With the fruit in the orchard ripening well in the current weather, Melbourne Deli have decided to stock our apples and pears – wow! It’s fantastic to see seven years of hard work of planting, pruning and feeding, finally coming to fruition (pun well and truly intended).

Melbourne Deli's amazing stock of hand-made and locally grown produce

It’s also extremely gratifying that there are like-minded people who not only want to buy locally grown fruit, but relish the idea of trying some of our country’s older varieties. After all, we planted everything we have in order to be as local as possible, and there are flavours here in Merrybower Heritage Orchard you will never find in a supermarket, or even an old-fashioned outdoor market! We have everything from the apple variety bred purely to make the best apple puree to accompany a Sunday roast pork, to an old 1600’s French variety for making authentic French-style Tart Tatin.

Merrybower Heritage Orchard fruit display - beautiful!

Each piece of fruit is hand-picked on the morning we deliver, checked for bruising and insect damage, washed, dried and lovingly packed into towel-lined wooden boxes or reusable plastic trays. Even the boxes are made here from wood we’ve kept, then sealed with a food-safe hard wax oil.

Shown are some of our early varieties:

Elton Beauty – from 1952, one of our more modern dessert varieties (and one of my personal favourites) which failed commercially as it missed the August markets – its sweet and juicy characteristics only really coming to the fore in September. Having said that, all of our fruit seems to be a week or two early this year, which is lucky for August buyers at the Melbourne Deli!

Worcester Pearmain – a classic popular dessert apple, nothing really to dislike about it. From 1873, it has a slight hint of strawberry in a good year, and also makes a decent stewing apple.

Yellow Ingestrie – the oddball apple from the 1800s, a small yellow variety that develops a distinct pineapple backnote as it ripens. It has Orange and Golden Pippin as parents.

Queen – an extremely handsome culinary apple from 1858 – once a very popular garden apple, especially in its native Essex, but rare to find today. It cooks to a brilliant yellow puree with a sharp and powerful flavour, but is also decent enough for baking.

Hedgehog!

When we first landed at Merrybower, about ten years ago to the day, we were chuffed to bits with a hedgehog that sporadically showed itself – one night even appearing silhouetted against the garage doors by the car headlights, like a slightly less sinister parody of Nosferatu.

hedgehog

Mr Hedgehog makes use of the fallen grain.

But as the years passed, the hedgehog has been sadly lacking here, for whatever reason. The reality is that whilst we live in the countryside, we are surrounded by open fields, the distance between hedges growing ever longer as some are grubbed up to allow for larger machinery.

Not One,

However, this year our hedgehog, the one above, has become a nightly visitor, almost like clockwork. Of course, the hedgehog’s clock isn’t based on time, but the sun, and our prickly fellow pops into the garden to nibble on fallen grain from the bird feeder, having wobbled its way from the patch. We’ve been careful to leave gaps under the various gates, to allow such passage, and delighted to find our little friend is making use of his own personal highway.

Not Two,

It doesn’t stop there though! A few weeks ago I was on my way down to the patch to close the coop pop holes when I noticed a prickly bottom poking from a clump of grass near the rhubarb patch. At first, in the light from my head torch, I thought it *was* a clump of grass, but the noise gave it away. It had its head firmly planted in the grass, and wasn’t shifting, so I carried on. Several minutes later, coming up the path in the opposite direction I met the hedgehog once more, heading back to the patch having extracted itself from the clump. Rather sweetly he just bent his head to one side, to avoid being blinded by the beacon on my bonce. I muttered an apology to “Mr Hedgehog” and scurried past him, watching him continue on his merry way as I’d passed. Fifteen feet further I glanced at the clump I’d seen him in and, to my delight, there was a prickly bottom still wedged tight! Wait til I tell Suz, I thought – two hedgehogs!

But Three!

My last chore was to head to the front of the house and bring the eggs in from the front and to empty the honesty box. Now either one of our two previous friends was extremely quick on their legs and had sprinted around the house or, as I strongly suspect – mainly due to the fact this one was so much larger – I was confronted with a third hedgehog coming in under the main gate! Wow – three hedgehogs at Merrybower – incredible!

That night further affirms the good that our way of growing does for not only ourselves, but the animals we share the land with – we’ve gone from an empty acre of monoculture crop to a feast of wildlife, all making it their home. And that feels good.

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Ciders No.3 & No.4 – “Half Cock” & “Cock On”

It’s a bit of a random post, as it was so hectic here grouting tiles and working on the kitchen extension before Christmas hit us, that I totally forgot to write up the last two ciders, or even take any photographs of the pressing day!

In a nutshell, our third cider was meant to be the trusty “Sydney Camm’s Marvel Machine” – a mix of Dabinett, Rosemary Russet and Newton Wonder. When I came to pick the apples from the three trees, the Dabinett was bare! Scratching my head, I can only surmise that in all of the chaos life had thrown at us, that I had seen some on the floor and decided to plop them all into the Tally Ho! cider! Shock! As it was, the resulting third cider was a mix of Rosemary Russet, Newton Wonder, and as many dessert apples as I could scrump from our neighbours (again).

Again, I thought this was the cider I was going to attempt to carbonate naturally, measuring the sugar levels until we’d reached 1.005 and then bottling it, allowing the resulting CO2 given off by the yeast to stay within the cider. But, business again meant the 30 litre tub, sat behind me as I worked, fermented to dryness. No fear – I bottled half of it as a dry still cider – calling it “Half Cock” in tribute to the fact it wasn’t quite what I’d wanted to do. The other half I innoculated with 5g of sugar melted into water as a solution as I bottled it. After a two weeks in the kitchen where the remaining yeast could get going on the sugar, I moved it to the cooler garage. This one is a corker! It’s got a lovely ‘mousse’ as they call it – a fizz with gentler, smaller bubbles than you’d get in can of Coke or Pepsi, and cold it’s really refreshing! I just now wish I’d made all of it this way!

Cock On, Tally Ho!, Half Cock and Pickled GooseThis is the final line up of this year’s ciders – next year we’ll hopefully not have Half Cock or Cock On again, but the Sydney Camm’s will hopefully be fizzy at last!

Globe Artichoke Hearts in Oil

Now in their third year, we can safely say that globe artichokes do well at Merrybower! The first year we had a handful, and last year we steamed some, then the rest went to flower as the kitchen extension meant we had no preparation space to cook! This year we finally have a kitchen where more than one person can stand and prepare food – something invaluable when you grow and prepare an awful lot of your own food, so we attempted to preserve the globe artichoke hearts in oil.

Last year we steamed them, served them on a plate with a knob of butter melted on top so it ran between the leaves. This was the only way I knew how to eat them, it was one of those messy delicacies I remembered from childhood years in Naples, a dish a child couldn’t resist – butter, mess and a gorgeously delicate flavour. We’d pull each leaf off individually by the spiky end, and draw the fleshy bit between clenched teeth, pulling off the tender flesh. Then came the best bit – the revealed globe artichoke hearts sat in a pile of butter!

To the matter in hand – this year we have a bumper crop of lovely artichoke globes and didn’t fancy wasting them, so I decided to make globe artichoke hearts in oil. I lopped off around twenty of them, even some that weren’t as tight as the rest, and sloped up to the house. I then cut off all of the stem, and the spikey leaves, and scooped out the fluffy internal fibres with the handle end of a teaspoon after halving the globe. Some globes were so large I had to quarter them. To test if I’d taken enough off, I’d chew the ocassional piece – I’d never done this before so was going purely on what you see in the jars of artichoke hearts you can buy in the shops.

Note of warning – just like walnuts, the cutting process leaves your hands a striking shade of nicotine brown! Gloves are your friend.

As I prepared each heart, I dropped it into a saucepan of cold water with lemon juice taken from about a third of the lemon – this helps to prevent the hearts going brown before you cook them.

Once all were cut, I rinsed the globe artichoke hearts under a cold tap and lay them out in the bottom of a deep frying pan, covering them with olive oil. I’m going to guess that any oil would do – but flavour is king!

Then I added the rest of the lemon, thinly sliced and sea salt and mixed Italian herbs to taste. You can use anything here in terms of herbs – possibly even nothing would be fine!

Next I covered the frying pan and heated the whole concoction for around 30 minutes on the lowest heat setting – testing them to see if they’re done is the best bit! Once the test pieces had passed muster, I poured the whole concoction into a screw top Mason Jar, any sterIlised jar will do, and allowed them to cool down slowly before plopping the jar into the fridge. I’ve been reliably informed they’ll keep fine in there for a month, unless opened, but I don’t think we’re going to find out!

For the simple recipe – go here!

The Perfect Sight

You know those times when everything just feels perfect – when the small things that niggle are put into perspective and for a moment everything is just as it should be. For me, and I know others here at Merrybower, it’s ‘down the patch’, where you step into another world – a world that belongs to the animals, the trees, nature – where you’ve guided things but never have complete control – nature’s not too kindly towards you taking complete control.

Today was one of those days, and this photograph sums it all up – a group of happy fat Light Sussex hens scratching beneath a fruit tree coming into blossom. A display of the life there is, and all the life yet to be.

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Dwt Meet Barty, Barty Meet Dwt

Dwt & Barty

Today was the day that Barty’s new girlfriend arrived in a big surprise box, complete with red heart drawn on the outside and her name. Having travelled all the way from Wales from the homestead of Deborah Kieboom, she turned up with all the grace only Dwt could have, as we later came to find out.

Deborah had two geese left, her question to us was “Would you like a leggy one, or a petite one?”

Dwt takes control of the red bucket.

We asked Barty, apparently he has a preference for petite ladies, so Dwt it was!

In case you’re wondering how to pronounce her Welsh name, it’s “Dŏot” – the ‘oo’ is as you would say wood in English. It means “small and sweet”, which really does sum her up. She epitomises all that you could wish for in a Pilgrim goose – light, inquisitive and ridiculously friendly – the sort of goose that gets excited to see you and will follow you around for tidbits.

Far friendlier than Barty, she’s also had a great influence on him – since he’s been with her he’s also started to take apple from the hand and you can get the occasional stroke in if you’re lucky. She’s also highly intelligent – within three days she understood the ‘bedtime’ suggestion (it’s never a command with geese – they don’t like commands – you have to let them think it’s their idea), and would take herself off to the goose house, Barty in tow.

 

Cider No.1 – “Pickled Goose”

We have a new cider – Pickled Goose! Cider No.1, as it has been fondly known since pressing it in early October, is a mix of Tremlett’s Bitter, Lord Derby, Ellison’s Orange and Forfar. It fermented reasonably quickly, over the course of four weeks, and is now bottled – ready to drink! I have to admit, I haven’t drunk it in anger yet, and feel the need to drink a bottle of it alongside cider No.2 (Tally Ho) is in order, to compare flavours. Again, as every other time, I’ve missed the chance to bottle it with some reserve sugar still unfermented, so it’s a flat dry cider. It didn’t help that I was away when it finished!

2016 cider 1e Pickled Goose

Pickled Goose cider

The name? Well, we have animals here as you know, but we’ve never used them on a label to date. These two chaps are Barty and Harold, our resident Pilgrim males – who are always acting up, deciding which bit of any unsuspecting human they should sample first. In fairness, Harold has a bit more about him and realises that the humans bring water and corn, so he tends to nip Barty on the back when Barty attempts an attack. During a chat with a friend from abroad, he misheard me and thought I’d mentioned ‘Pickled Goose’, and wrongly assumed it was some sort of thing the English did! Knowing how our two chaps behave, it seemed an appropriate name for a new cider, and there we have it! And before anyone mentions it, yes I know they’re ganders, but it’s just a matter of semantics 🙂

Cider No.2 – “Tally Ho”

Back on the 26th October we pressed our second cider, under the name “Tally Ho”, as this is the year’s random cider (you dive in and never sure whether you’ll come out the other side…).

For the record, we used Harvey, Sanspareil, Ashmeads Kernel, Barnack Orange, Ribston Pippin and Wyken Pippin. We also threw in some randoms donated by Mick at No.1, and a few off the good old Bountiful tree next to the house. Also, much to my chagrin once I’d realised what I’d done, we added a tree full of Dabinett. These were meant to be used in the third cider, mixed with our Newton Wonders and Egremont Russets, but alas this is not to be. I fear it was a bit too early for the Dabinetts, but hey ho, Cider No.2 worked.

2016 Tally Ho Cider

Tally Ho cider

I say worked, the specific gravity began at 1.046, and we had no bubbles whatsoever. So I moved it into the house, into a room which stays around the 16-17 celcius mark, and after a week still nothing. So I took a litre of cider No.1, which was happily bubbling away, and this seemed to get things going, albeit slower than a drunk slug. After a couple of days of slow bubbling, it all stopped again. I left it, thinking it might kick in after a week or so, and after two weeks finally tested the SG to see how bad things were. To my astonishment, it sat at 1.000, meaning the darned thing had fermented to dry without me noticing! I can only assume there’s a leak in the fermentation bin somewhere, but it’s bottled and ready. Again, it’s another 6% cider, and again, I missed the opportunity to bottle it before it had finished, meaning no chance of bubbles in the bottle. Ah well, next year!

Cider No.1 of 2016

2016 cider 1d

With the Ellisons Orange in the truck, it was time to pick the Tremlett’s Bitter

2016 cider 1c

The Forfar are in the foreground, with the Lord Derby in the far left of the truck

Around a week ago we picked the apples for the first cider, which would allow them to sweat for a week outside. This would give the starch time to convert to sugar prior to pressing, and a quick test with iodine tincture proved that they were indeed ready after one week. Typically I would wait for the apples to begin to drop, and I do remember a seasoned cider maker stating that he tended to use one third of the apples from the ground to two thirds from the tree. I think this was partially because he knew they were ripe in general, and also because those on the ground were busy picking up the necessary wild yeasts that would later help with fermentation. I’m not sure of the validity, but I do it anyway, in case!

 

2016 cider 1b

The 2016 Milling Station!

Today was the day we made our first cider – No.1 of 2016. The specific gravity was 1.046 at the start, 60 pints scratted and pressed into one large plastic fermentation bin. I loan the scratter from our local transtion group, and this time it came with no supports. Luckliy, two spare pallets hanging by, a few nails and a random piece of wood leant themselves to a scratter stand which also aided the back due to its bespoke height! Eat your heart out Heath Robinson!

2016 cider 1a

60 pints of fruit juice waiting to metamorphosize.

The cider was, as almost predicted, a mix of 33% Tremlett’s Bitter (cider), 33% Lord Derby (culinary), 20% Ellison’s Orange (Dessert) and 13% Forfar (Dessert/Culinary). Of course, to mess up the percentages there wasn’t quite enough to fill the fermentation bin, so I ended up adding 5 litres (mixing units now too I see!) of Bountiful, another culinary/dessert. The heaviness towards the culinary/desserts might help explain the relatively low SG, though it’s still within the bondaries of acceptable, for storage. It might just come out tart – we’ll soon see (hopefully)!