Wine ripening on the vine

Keeping an eye on our prosective wine crops

As we continue to work through our wine collection from last year’s fruit, it never hurts to keep an eye on the makings for this year’s batch!

Our grape vines are doing very well and we hope for a similar size crop to the one we had last year, and the blackcurrants are just coming up to the point where we will have to watch them very closely.

We didn’t manage to harvest many blackcurrants last year so the blackcurrant wine was missing unfortunately, but the grapes more than made up for it. We believe that last year’s red grape wine is the finest we have ever made.

Another calving

Our third calf here on the croft but still a delight

Near the end of June, and about a week before expected, our new dexter calf put in an appearance. Her name is Olive.

We were on our daily feeding round, and found that Pippa had calved in private as usual. A small bundle could be seen in the grass, and Pippa didn’t seem too keen to come over and feed.

We approached to a safe distance (cows with calves can be very protective), left Pippa’s feed, and retreated to watch. From their behaviour it seemed that Olive hadn’t been born long before.

Although Olive is our third calf here at the croft, we were still surprised and delighted when we saw her! She is a delight.

Bottling it

It was time to bottle the wine

The time had come to bottle last year’s crop of red grape wine, which has been sitting in a cold room in demijohns for about 6-8 months.

In truth, the wine should have been syphoned into fresh demijohns a couple of times to remove the silt, but these ones have been pretty much left to their own devices since they were started – plenty of warmth for a couple of weeks, then left in the cool to finish.

Once we had cleaned out and sterilised several bottles, the bottling began. Obviously each demijohn had to be ‘sampled’ to check that it was actually worth bottling the contents, and thankfully all 5 passed the taste test!

We now have over 20 litres of delicious red wine, made from the juice of grapes grown here at the croft! If we can just give them time to settle…

Pigs away

We get out of pigs

After much deliberation, and prompted by a hospital appointment, we finally decided to dispose of our last couple of pigs.

The sow was bred by us 18 months ago and was originally to be our breeding sow, and the boar was bought in for the purpose. Unfortunately, by the time we had decided not to breed them we weren’t in a position to take them to the abattoir, and have been rather coy about the decision since!

We did manage to sell the boar, but had the sow converted to bacon and mince (in the most part) which should see us through for quite a while. We haven’t gone off pigs completely, so no doubt we will have weaners at some point in future.

Spun

A lesson in spinning leads to a bobbin of yarn

For some time now, we have been intending to make use of a spinning wheel that we bought a year or so ago. We dusted it off and tried it out, but without any idea how to use it properly, we didn’t have much luck.

Then, we attended a local craft open day to see what craft classes were available, and as luck would have it, had the opportunity to try a wheel for a few minutes under instruction.

There is no substitute for practical experience, and with just that short practice, we are now able to use our own wheel, albeit not perfectly. After a while, we had a full bobbin (pictured) of spun wool from the fleeces of our own sheep! Not exactly a jumper’s worth, but you have to start somewhere!

The white stuff

The snow makes life difficult for us but the dogs are thrilled

Did it snow? Did it ever!

Whilst we have seen worse over the last couple of years, it did come as a bit of a surprise. Mind you, the dogs absolutely LOVED it!

With nothing but a light breeze, bright sunshine, several layers of snow over the field, they chased around as though they were floating on air. The canine equivalent of ‘snow angels’ could clearly be seen around the perimeter of the field (their usual route).

In addition to the fun though, there is also a more challenging aspect to the weather. The animals not only need to be fed at the usual times, but also have to have plenty of dry bedding, and it all has to be carried to their pens through the snow. At first, is quite easy, but after a while, we found it quite exhausting!

Thankfully the snow has now passed, and has been replaced by drizzle. The mud is deeper, but we’re used to it, and it’s no less than we expect in Feb. In a couple of months, it will subside as the ground dries up. Hopefully!

Going for goats

We adopt a pair of goats and then have to review our fences

What a start to the new year!

Both of us were suffering with quite severe winter colds, which slowed us down a little, however, as soon as we recovered, we were lucky enough to acquire some new goats from a friend of ours. They are Toggenburg goats, one 4 years old, and the other 8 months, and we hope to get plenty of milk later this year for goats cheese!

It will mean a slight change to the feeding regime (new animals always do), but not a major one. In the most part, they will eat what the sheep do, so no additional feed and feed containers are required at the moment.

Whilst we do a bit more fence work, they are currently living in our shed, with a small outdoor area constructed from 6′ high fence panels (another recent acquisition from another generous friend). That should keep them going for a week or so. Whilst the weather is as wild as it is, we don’t think they will want to be going too far!

Bye bye Billy

Our first homegrown steaks

Finally, after 2 years, it was time to send our bullock Billy to the abattoir. Despite this always being our intention, it is never easy.

After some thorough planning, the whole process went very smoothly and with the minimum of stress for all concerned. Most importantly, for Billy.

The trailer was prepared the day before, the tractor was fuelled, and for a couple of days in advance, Billy had been trained to walk into a pen to make it easier to catch him without having to chase him around.

Despite some appallingly wet weather just a day or so before, Billy did indeed walk calmly into his pen and the trailer was backed over the soft ground without getting stuck. When the gates were all opened, he went straight in.

A week or so later, we collected the meat from our local butcher, and with a toast to Billy, we enjoyed our first homegrown steak with chips! Delicious.

Not so hot houses

Increasing our growing potential

In an effort to boost our vegetable growing area (the polytunnel, whilst huge, seems to fill up really quickly!), we purchased some used greenhouses from a friend of ours.

Borrowing a trailer, we collected them one at a time from a rather steep hillside, and tied them on with baling twine. The glass, most of it intact, we loaded into the car.

Positioning them in the yard, for the time being, we set about clearing some space to set them up. This is the hard bit, and we still have a bit of work to do. Hopefully, they will be ready in time for the next growing season!