Jonathan: We first started keeping chickens in 2005, long before we got the croft, but here in the Big Garden we were struggling to work out how best to house and contain them. In Spring 2007 we realized that as the ‘hummocky’ area in the SE corner of the garden was too rocky for growing fruit and veg and even hardy shrubs didn’t seem to thrive, we should fence it off and build a good sized walk-in (well, stoop-in!) hen house. Our own design proved to be very successful and robust, except that the Onduline roof sheets are not very durable, and the space under the building proved a haven for rats. Last year, having rebuilt all the other outbuildings, we decided that we’d rebuild the house to the same internal design, but of blockwork on a concrete base, and – to harmonize with our other outbuildings – clad with timber boarding and a galvanized corrugated steel roof, and this time complete with fully paved inner courtyard, drainage etc. In short, keeping all the best features and improving on the could-have-been betters. That rebuilding was finished this Spring. With insulated floor, white-painted walls, well ventilated but free from draughts, and good light (except of course in nesting boxes), and outside plenty of greens brought to them, dust bath and access a scratching area it’s henny heaven!
Denise: Jonathan’s been picking gooseberries most evenings of late, topping-and-tailing them and putting them in the freezer before bed time. The desert varieties (mostly Leveller) are pretty much all picked, but now it’s mostly the desert gooseberries, which here are seen varying from first-ripe (green with blushes of bronze) to medium ripe (entirely burnished with gold) to fully ripe (purple). These are so sweet and more-ish! In another week or two they will almost all be the dark purple colour: by then they are good for eating fresh or perhaps minimal stewing in the microwave (and served cold or warm with cream), but are no longer any good for jams or wines. It’s been an absolutely dreadful year for weather – and everything that depends on it, especially home-grown food, but some things have done surprisingly well, and certainly that’s gooseberries, which are late but plentiful and very good quality. (But alas not plentiful enough to sell any!) Jonathan comes into the house with his hands and arms bloodied from the picking, but he says the gain is worth the pain!
Jonathan: After Las Portugesas, another couple called in for eggs and ‘do you have lamb for sale this year? Aha – a customer from last year: I explained that as I was away for most of 2010 there was no tupping that year and so no lambs to ‘go to Lochmaddy’ in winter 2011-2012 and so no lamb to sell in 2012. A pity – it was the best lamb we’ve ever tasted. Perhaps, after al, we are doing something well, something worthwhile?