What goes on underneath ?

What goes on underneath ?

It is a fact that sometimes I stretch the definitions of words, almost to their breaking points, to try and take part in the Daily Prompt. It’s a fact that sometimes I look at the prompt and think “How on earth can I wheedle that word into a sentence ? What does it even mean ?”. However, it is also a fact that today I had no such difficulty. Over the last week I have been working hard simply because of the fact that good foundations make good sheds.

Because kidding and lambing are soon to start (my neighbours have had their first lambs already) I have been getting ready. This year we will need more bays for the goats and this had meant we have to move half of the barn’s content into a nice new shed. Now I have a lot of experience in knocking up sheds and know that this can be a lot of fun. But there is a first fundamental step which is no pleasure at all – building the base. It is an easy step to omit or to bodge, but when I have I have always regretted it. The shed is never really robust, and always ends up rotting, when I skimp on this step. So, in lieu of a new year’s resolution, this year I was going to do it properly. This means about  weeks preparatory work for a small shed.

The first step is digging. It is necessary to DSC_2783.JPGdig out a level area about a yard wider and longer than the shed you intend to erect. In our land this is no fun as we have a very clay rich soil – indeed we have thought about abandoning growing vegetables and try pottery instead. With a mild damp winter the soil has been very wet which made digging a real chore. It is best to start from the lowest, easiest corner then dig back into the deepest area. All the time you do this use you spirit level and a large plank to try and create as level an area as possible. I found for a 12×8 foot shed this took me two days.

Next is a good idea to insert pegs, madeDSC_2787.JPG from scraps of wood from an old pallet, at approximately a yard apart. Use the spirit level to tap these in so that the tops are all level one with another. This is also a good time to check that you can create straight edges to work with. I use long lengths of 4×3. Once you have these in situ check that the corners are at right angles with a square edge. Another check, at this point, is to measure the two diagonals – these should be exactly the same if your corners are true.

The next stage is to spread aggregateDSC_2790 (half inch to dust as it is called) to a depth of about 3 inches. I needed just over a ton to cover the base of this shed. Spread the aggregate and level it with a rake. Then walk all over the area to tramp it all down. At the end it should be level with the tops of the pegs and the sides of the planks.  I found that this was  a fairly slow job as my aggregate could only be delivered to an area about 300 yards away. So it was innumerable trips with a wheelbarrow and this stage took about a further two days.

DSC_0004 3The next stage was laying concrete slabs. I have found that using 600mm square slabs are easier to use than the smaller versions. It is much easier to keep things level when using a larger slab. I use large dollops of cement under each slab to hold it in place. As you site each slab check that it is level in both directions and level with its neighbours.

DSC_2839Work along one of your straight edges first to get  good straight row to start to follow. I use a gap of about 1cm between each slab. I have found a mortar mix of 1 part cement to 5 parts sharp (not building) sand gives a good result. Be careful not to over water your mix; you want it slightly on the dry side to keep its shape as you manouevere your slabs. Again I found I needed two days for this step. After a full day to let the mortar dry I used the same mix to fill in the gaps between the slabs.

The next stage is optional but worth DSC_2874considering if you are in wet area. If you omit this step then consider creating a gutter around the base to stop any chance of the water pooling and encouraging he base of the shed to rot. I put 5 old railway sleepers evenly spaced across the slabs. These are treated with creosote and, although I treat them as sacrificial, will last for longer then the shed. We had the same fun shifting these as the aggregate as, again, we could not have them delivered that close to where we were building. Another day of heaving and swearing – be prepared these are heavy.

 

By the end of the week we had our base ready. It took about 3 hours to assemble our shed on top of it. In three hours I had hidden all of my work. The shed feels rigid and dry and I think nothing will shift it.  But, no matter how good the shed looks, the fact is I am happiest about the base, that was the important part of the job and that’s a fact.

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Pheasants and Brambles

The last days of autumn are with us and the snow on the hilltops suggest winter is not far away. The work on the smallholding has changed accordingly. It is this gently changing rhythm that makes life so pleasant. I recall my days working; when each day was similar to the last, the same challenges faced day after day, the same routines whether it was winter or summer, Monday or Friday.

However, one task I coulDSC_0006.jpgd happily avoid is the freeing of sheep from the briar patches. At this time of year one of the few sources of greenery for the sheep is the bramble. They love bramble leaves, almost as much as ivy leaves, but unfortunately as it is the end of the year they are also wearing their thick coats. While the sheep pushes itself into the briar patch its fleece acts as armour to protect it from thorns. However, this spurs them on to go deeper into the thicket when they them get stuck as the tendrils of the brambles get caught up in their wool. They get stuck sound, unable to move, and at risk of dying from thirst and starvation.

At this time of year we need to do four checks a day and to be armed with secateurs and thick gloves every time. We will try and clear these patches and the goats are great allies in this. They too like eating brambles but are more agile than sheep and don’t carry the thick fleece which causes them to be trapped. By the end of the month, after everyone’s work, we should be out of the woods as far as this problem is concerned.

Diet also changes with the season.DSC_0007.jpg Not just in the concerning seasonal fruits and vegetables but also our meats.  It is always this time of year that we have a flurry of pheasant meals. Usually shot by ourselves but today courtesy of someone who enjoys the shoot but not the product. I can understand why some people are not keen on pheasant. The first few times we ate it I was decidedly unimpressed. I think the problem is that roast pheasant can often be a dry meat and sometimes quite bitter as well.

However, having tasted pheasant and other fowl in casseroles I have been converted and now it is something I start to look forward to in October, knowing in November and December there will be a surfeit of game fowl. The best recipe is probably the simplest and uses root vegetables and cider as described below :-

 

  • Skin the pheasants and take the breast and leg meat. Don’t bother trying to pluck them as this is unnecessary work and adds little to the final meal.
  • Brown the meat in a casserole dish.
  • Add whatever vegetables you have to hand. We usually use celery, turnip, parsnip, celeriac, leek and onion. Fry these with the meat to soften the leeks and onions. If you have any cooking apples add a couple.
  • Season with salt, pepper, thyme, parsley, and marjoram.
  • Add a can of cheap cooking cider and water to cover the whole things
  • Slow cook in a low oven until everything is ready.
  • Serve with creamy potato mash and cabbage

 

A perfect autumn or winter meal, warming after an afternoon in the cold pulling sheep out of the briars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chantrelles

Chantrelles

I think that Autumn is my favourite season; the hard work of summer is over, the fruits of the spring are ready to be collected and the harshness of winter is still a while away. This is particularly so this year, after what has been a disappointing summer. Mostly warm and wet, it has caused us problems with the sheep and meant we have been unable to take hay. Twice we have had sheep who have had fly strike. Though they have survived, by dint of debridement and Stockholm tar, this was a terrible experience for both them and us. And, barring a miraculous Indian summer (or Haf bach Mihangel  as we say around here) in October we will have to buy hay this winter. So, I am keen to see October arrive and know that the damned flies, and risk of fly strike, will soon be gone.

However, perhaps the main reason for enjoying this season is because it is the time you can enjoy the fruits of your labours and sometimes fruits without any labour at all.  This time of the year we usually get a good crop of chantrelle mushrooms in the wood and this year has been no exception. They provided us with a few meals which required nothing more than what we can make on our own plot of land. My favourite was the chantrelle soup the recipe for which is below. This is a luxurious soup, warm, smooth and filling and better than any mass produced soup you may buy. Wonderful when its cost is measured in pennies !


Chantrelle Soup

  • Large bag of chantrelle mushrooms_20170925_143707
  • 2 Onions
  • 3 Cloves of garlic
  • Pint Chicken stock
  • Pint Keffir
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • Flour

Soften the onions and garlic by frying gently for 5 minutes in the butter. Add the mushrooms and continue to fry gently for a further 8  minutes. Add the flour and mix to  a smooth consistency. Add the milk and stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.