Spring 2016

So, winter has officially ended and so spring has started to take hold on the countryside around us.  What I realise as we head in to our third spring here at Axe Head Farm, is that Cornwall most definitely has it’s own seasons and weather fronts.  It’s almost irrelevant to work to the seasonal norms. Weather apps are okay to get a general idea of what the week ‘might’ look like, but should never be considered actual or factual.  You can make all the plans you want for the work you want to do in the week/month/season ahead, but quite honestly, it almost never works out how you’ve planned it!

A little over 5 weeks ago the hammerhead of our farm track dried out for the first time in about 4-5 months.  This meant that I could finally repair the damage to the track from having Western Power on site to install our electricity supply. Deep holes had been created by the heavy vehicles wheel spinning trying to get on and off the sodden land.  Although Western Power had done their best to repair the field and the track after the work was done, the repairs were largely cosmetic. Since the supply was installed in mid November 2015 we have been unable to get on and off the land with any type of vehicle for fear of getting stuck!  As is becoming the norm, this has put us dramatically behind where we planned to be by now when we were working it all out theoretically back in 2013!  In many ways, this break in the weather has enabled certain aspects of the project get back on track, quite literally, with plans a foot to get the farm track sorted, including the apron.  This will require the use of one of my favourite of recently acquired skills, operating a mini digger!!

20160516_140745_resizedBack in February of this year, we also welcomed the first hens to Axe Head Farm, and they have been a complete revelation to me.  I truly never saw my complete love and adoration of chickens coming.  They are fantastic animals, with right proper characters, and they just love to have fun and interact with you.  It’s crazy fab.

However, behind all of the joy, comes the dark side of livestock and animal welfare.  Sadly, and taken for the novices we are, we got conned on three hens and our rooster, Ronald.  Instead of being sold 4 month old hens and a 5 month old cockerel, we were sold a 3 year old cockerel with very ill health, and 3 hens each of about 2 years of age.  2 out of 3 of the hens had respiratory illness, one of which was despatched out of kindness, the other given an injection.  Ronald also had to go for the overall health and well-being of the flock.  It was a very sad day for us all.  On a positive note, the whole Rooster-gate thingy has caused me to progress work on the chicken run generally, and we are now in the position, that after the egg quarantine is over in the middle of June and all the girls are fit and well again, we will be able to bring in some new birds to the flock fairly easily, so we will be able to rebuild and move forward quite swiftly.  Hip hip hooray to that. And a BIG boo hiss to the seller of the cockerel and 3 hens.

20160514_152305_resizedVery excitedly, we have started to get some wee little baby eggs from our Black Copper Marans.  They are super little birds.  Very inquisitive, and whenever a new device, toy or food type is added to daily life, you can almost guarantee that leading the way will be one of the newly hen-shaped, quickly growing up, pullets. There eggs are lovely chocolate brown colours, and, whilst they are like mini eggs, they are almost entirely all yolk.  YUM  Plans for breeding are still very much the way forward, but our replacement cockerel will perhaps be Black Copper Maran, as opposed to another Light Sussex lad.  We’ll see.  Might even end up with a few different cockerels.  I’ll let you know mid to late June!

We’ve started work on the fencing for the pig pasture and market garden area.  Right at this very minute, the doors to our poly tunnel are being made on the floor of our neighbours workshop.  By the end of the bank holiday weekend we hope to have the frames up, doors hung and the skirt put on for the covers!!  Last summer was a disaster for me injury wise and surgery wise, and it feels like the winter we’ve just had is one of the wettest/windiest in decades.  I’ve definitely felt it colder in temperature, even in the last couple of years down here in Cornwall, but the near constant wind and rain over winter have been a proper drag.  To be working outside without the need for a coat in the last couple of weeks is almost heavenly.

20160526_115907_resized_1Some of you may well have heard me refer to my baby Cornish Marmalade Orange Trees (C-MOT’s for short!), or even previously seen pictures of them in peat pots living in a tiny propagator on my windowsill, or more recently, on the floor of the shower in the caravan! Well, they have finally moved out of the shower room and in to their very own cold frame outside.  This is in preparation for them moving in to the poly tunnel inside the poly tunnel in the fullness of time.  Very exciting.  I can’t wait to be eating marmalade that has been home-grown from the pips of Seville Oranges. right here at Axe Head Farm.

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Next year sees us able to take the first real fruits from our orchard.  This year will doubtlessly see some recipe experimentation with apples.  We also have plans for baking with the apples, using up some of our misshapen eggs, and also, to try out 3 or 4 pickled egg recipes, including one using apple cider vinegar.  Adrian is the real foody.  I’ve worked in catering previously, so understand much of the industry, when it comes to taste though, Adrian is a magician.  One of my jobs on at the moment, is to build the farm-gate sales cart.  Once the poly tunnel is up, we will be able to get on with so much more produce production and get yet more products to the local market, we move one step closer to getting this baby up and running productively.  I wonder how many more times I can use product/produce/production or productively, productively in this paragraph??

Maple

Over winter we have planted something close to 1,800 willow whips to create natural windbreaks, and to add to the aesthetics of the farm as a whole.  These have been strategically placed to also create sun traps for fruits etc… that require plenty of shelter to keep hold of their beautiful blossoms.  As the windbreaks grow and develop along with the farm, we also intend for them to be able to shelter some bee hives to aid with pollination and make honey to help people with hay-fever in the local area, us included!  Plans are afoot for much as we launch in to summer, but as I learned only to quickly going in to last summer, the best made plans n’all… I’m just not prepared to go much beyond what I’ve already said and risk jinxing myself for this summer… how about a simple, watch this space!

We find ourselves in an awkward predicament for this mid-spring time of year, everything has started to grow with a mad growth spurt, just as all of our cutting devices decide now is the time to get temperamental.  Our strimmer has a fuel issue, our push-mower handles have all but completely sheared and are only staying on with the help of duct tape and sticks, and our tractor mower is in desperate need of a service and the local service centre is going to get to it dereckly!!  Aka Man-yana, Man-yana!!  By the time we are able to cut the grass again it’ll be as deep as our bellies!!

Right, well I think that’s pretty much us up to date on all the news.  We plan on pushing ever more forward over the coming months, so a great deal is likely to be happening.  As soon as I wrote the page about my CRPS it almost instantly gave me a massive twinge to just remind me that it’s only ever a step away, but I’m pleased to say, somewhat ironically, that the recently acquired tennis elbow is giving me more trouble than my actual long term condition! I just have to try and force myself to rest every now and then and do a blog instead! Whatever you are doing with your summer this year, I hope it stays nice for you (and for us!), and if you are heading our way, we are looking forward to seeing you here and showing you round our dream!  It seems we are up for a good few visits over summer.  Brilliant!

Imminent over the next week or so whilst I have an extra pair of hands available in the form of our youngest, Zak, we will be mostly putting the poultry net up over the rest of the 6 foot run, get the farm gate sales cart completed, and potentially, time and weather permitting, building another cold frame out of yet more donated offcuts, to get even more seeds on whilst we get the poly tunnel finished off.  We have also had the loan of 3 awesomely large heated propagators, thank you Lorraine Field, to be filled and plants up and growing.  I do love this time of year.

Ooh!  And before I dash off and forget, I’m fairly sure that Ade and I saw the female cuckoo again last weekend, and I’m fairly certain I heard the cuckoo’s classic call the other day, so fingers crossed we get another good sighting and a photo!  No recent sightings of the barn owl to be reported either.

Beef Stroganoff recipe

Di had a hankering for Beef Stroganoff, this happens often and I usually cheat and use a ready mixed sauce (no cooker = you need every cheat there is!). Anyway, today I had both an oven, and I was going shopping, so when I picked up the ready mix packet, I looked at the ingredients and got the main ones… you know, the ones that didn’t look like they belonged in a chemistry set.

I also googled ‘stroganaoff recipe’ and found almost every recipe was different, so I gave up the idea of following a recipe and just went with my instincts.

Quite by chance, considering the ‘knocked up’ nature of the meal, it was delicious, really delicious, so worth recording here, mainly so I don’t forget.

I didn’t have any beef steak to slice up, so just used beef mince, but sliced beef steak would be better and chicken would be fine too. This sauce is delicious and also very flexible, judging by the google search. So, while I did this, if you don’t have double cream, or red wine vinegar, don’t worry, just go ahead anyway.

I had a 700g packet of beef mince and used the following for the sauce

2 Onions, chopped and about 2 heaped teaspoons of smoked paprika (change this according to your taste) Fry these together in a bit of oil and add:

250g of chestnut mushrooms – I just took off the stalks and cut them into quarters. More mushrooms would be fine. Add them to the frying onions. After a minute or two I added about

5 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. I think this is the maximum you could do, 3 would be ideal. I also squirted in a

Couple of tablespoons of tomato puree.

Then some beef stock… I had none so I used Bisto Onion gravy granules and about 200ml of boiling water. An oxo cube would be fine too.

Then I added the beef and put some rice on to cook.

After the beef was cooked through, and the rice was ready, I turned the heat down and added

4 tablespoons of double cream and a small pot of sour cream. It doesn’t need to be boiled after you add these, in case they separate. Also add a good

Splash of brandy… if you cook on gas you could light this for effect.

I taste tested and for flavour added more paprika and some salt and pepper and a good pinch of parsley.

Sorry, I wish I’d had some photo’s, but really, I was just knocking something up, I didn’t expect it to be as nice as it was.

 

 

 

 

 

Nectarine Salsa recipe (no onions).

The Nectarine Salsa went down well last night, so here’s the recipe I used.

I made far too much, so perhaps halve it… or not, it’ll keep a day or two in the fridge and probably improve… and that makes me think, it’d do no harm to make it in the morning to use in the evening – gets a job out of the busy hour or so before a barbeque begins.

3 Nectarines – chopped small – how small depends on how chunky you like your salsa.

8 tomatoes – scoop out the seeds and juice or the salsa gets too runny.

Chillies – chopped small – number and type to your taste, but I used 2 quite mild ones.

The best part of a bunch of fresh coriander leaves, chopped quite small.

Fresh Black pepper.

Juice of half a lime.

Tomato Ketchup – a very good squeeze – as much as you think matches your salsa.

There is plenty of room to fancy this up a bit, and using the best ingredients will be rewarding – vine tomatoes, a fancier ketchup, like Reggae Reggae sauce, or a sun dried tomato sauce.