Friday 30 March 2012

Wildlife Pond Maintenance

So, what you don’t think about when you’re bright eyed and full of ecological possibilities, planning your grand dreams of a perfect wild life pond with flowers and reeds, is the fact that one day, in the fairly near future, that wild life pond will have to be maintained.
Given the nature of a wild life pond, this involves getting very wet, very dirty and very cold! Reeds must be pulled and excess weeds must be taken out. While everyone else finds it hilarious to watch a wetsuit clad girl floating around in a large pond for 2 hours in March, it’s not quite so fun for the person who can no longer feel their feet.

In all seriousness though, eutrophication can be a big problem for lakes and ponds, especially those on agricultural land. This is when nutrients from the ground, such as fertiliser, leaches into the pond creating a brilliant environment for plants and algae. Unfortunately when this algae decomposes, the bacteria take the oxygen out of the water, eventually killing much of the wildlife in the pond. For this reason, some plants and algae must be regularly removed from a pond like ours which focuses on filtration.

So, like it or not, I will be bobbing around in my wetsuit amongst the newts and frog spawn for months to come. I may not enjoy it, but I’m told the neighbours are building a viewing platform.

For more information on how to manage your wildlife pond, see the RSPB website.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Rescue Battery Chickens

The ban on battery chicken farming was enforced on January 1st 2012. The EU passed the ban in 1999, giving farmers 12 years to change technique and equipment before the legislation was enforced. Since then the Holsworthy farmer's market has been flooded with bald, scabby looking chickens with big hearts and even bigger egg laying abilities.

The staff at Cerenety may have happened upon some of these chickens last Thursday and couldn't resist their wilting crests and sad eyes. We have therefore ended up with 6 ex battery hens at Cerenety, and they're doing great! 

Letting them out into our big enclosure for the first time was amazing, they ran around in the sunshine, rolled around in the dried dirt and didn't back down from the aggressive stares of our existing (and much superior looking) chickens. These are small chickens with big characters and it feels great to have given them a home at Cerenety. We're hoping that within a couple of months their feathers will have grown and they'll be looking just like all the others. 

Bringing these hens home, was not however, merely an act of extreme altruism on the part of Cerenety. These fabulous little creatures frequently and consistently lay some of the largest and tastiest eggs out there and there's nothing like a fresh egg sandwich, eaten outside on a sunny afternoon.

Check out the British Hen Welfare Trust for more information and how you could help the plight of the unwanted chicken.

Friday 23 March 2012

Kelly kettle - quick review

So Jake kindly offered to root out her old Kelly Kettle for me to use. I'd only ever experienced one of these in passing, courtesy of nutty Nigel who has been known to show up at our midsummer solstice picnic with this mysterious alloy cylinder, shoves some grass and twigs in, lights them - then proceeds to pour a smug cuppa all on his lonesome while we philistines shiver in the advancing evening chill.

So what the hoots is a Kelly Kettle? Well, it looks like some kind of mini milk churn with two holes in the top and a hollow base.

One of the holes in the top (for filling/pouring) has a big cork in it, attached to a chain. I lose things all the time, so the chain is a very welcome feature. On closer inspection the bottle itself is kind of 'double-walled', the other hole at the top serving as a chimney/fuel port.  The alloy pan that you can see in the foregound (it's not rusty, just powdered from other rust in storage) is the ' fire base'.  Kelly Kettle's blurb states: Works with any fuel: sticks, dry grass, bark, pine cones, even dry animal dung! Awesome! I just happen to have more dry grass than I know what to do with...and some twigs. So without further ado - let's hopefully make some water boil without gas, electric or any sweat. First off I REMOVE THE CORK STOPPER as kindly warned. Boiling water in a sealed container will explode. Always remove the stopper BEFORE applying heat

Now I fill with water.  Then I load the fire base with dried grass. Packed in, not too tightly. We're going with a match, I'm sure those who are practiced with a fire stick would have no trouble setting it going. But I have a match - and (as yet) no fire stick, so onwards... :)

The grass blazes so I add some twigs, hoping that they will catch as I place the Kettle on top of the fire base.

Ok it's gone out.  Bah.  It now starts speckling with rain. Removing the kettle to try again - I'm feeling less confident.
Then I figured that I could drop a whole load more twigs into the chimney of the kettle once the tinder was alight. Hmmm...should've spotted that sooner. I think Jake actually told me about this, but hey ho...

So I wait, about a minute - and, what's that? Wait...yes... we have a bijou blaze going on down in there! I load a few more twigs in the top and the rain is coming down now. The internal fire continues unabated for another few minutes, and water starts bubbling and then literally geyser-ing in great spurts out of the top. OK, so I overfilled it a tad, but now we have hot water. I remove the kettle carefully and rest it on the wet grass.

After fetching a mug it becomes clear that there is only one (swinging) handle on the kettle and I certainly do not wish to steady a scalding hot kettle with a bare hand - so the trick here (I found) is to just tip/push the kettle forward on it's own base, using one hand on the handle, taking care to first position the mug in an optimal position to receive the water.

Verdict? I love it. Over 1.5 litres of boiling water in 5 mins, from a few twigs and some dry grass.  I make instant hot chocolate, taking care to extend the little finger while supping.  Result? One steaming mug of hot chocolate. Hear that, nutty Nigel?  Next time I'm inviting friends and sharing the love.


Upton Beach

It being such an amazingly beautiful day yesterday, I felt the need to finish work early and head to our nearest beach. Upton beach is one of my favourite beaches in the world and is an 8 minute walk down a country lane from Cerenety (according to google maps, I didn't time myself... honest!)
Fairly secret from the masses, you rarely find anyone else there, even in the height of summer. You have to know how to find it, but as soon as you spot the small gap in the cliff,  which marks the path down, you'll love it! 

When the tide is out its a sandy haven with oodles of rock pools and interesting marine life. When the tide is in, its a rocky and dramatic cove where you could imagine anything from smugglers to pirates!
Obviously we took Flipper down for a swim in the sea, climbed a few rocks and had a hot toddy while the sun went down.
It really is a fabulous place and we thought we'd share it with our campers, in the hope that you'll find it when you visit (but keep it to yourselves!)

Living Willow Hedge

Today I took out the support stakes from our new Living Willow Hedge. We got some friends together and had a go at creating one last year. Although a little hit and miss, its actually starting to come together nicely. 
There are lots of reasons for building a living willow hedge, here are some of them:
  1. Living willow whips (or rods) or willow slips are relatively cheap (and found growing at Cerenety).
  2. Willow is easy to grow - care is more essential than skill.
  3. Willow grows fast and will outgrow most other forms of hedging.
  4. Living willow can be coppiced easily to thicken the hedge.
  5. It can also be laid to form an even thicker more traditional looking hedge.
  6. Better still, planting the living willow rods at an angle and weaving the whips in and out of each other workswell in a garden, producing an unusual but effective willow screen. This is known as a fedge - a cross between a (FE)nce and a he(DGE).
  7. There are no nasty thorns to contend with, making it:
    • Easier to trim.
    • Easier to clear away.
    • Safer for children and animals - no infected puncture wounds.
    • Lawn tractor friendly  - no punctures.
  8. The living willow hedge can be trimmed to form a low hedge or left to grow into a high hedge.
  9. You can use what you trim off the willow hedge for weaving, wood chips, planting stock or if left to grow a few seasons, wood fuel.
So if you want to learn from our mistakes and would like some advice on creating a living willow hedge, give us a call or come and visit!

First post of the year

So it seems over night, life at Cerenety changed dramatically for the better.
Short days of freezing hands, feet, noses and asses followed by long nights of boredom finally gave way to spring last week. And the whole of Cerenety celebrated. 
Goats started springing, ponies began to gallop and roll, sheep upped their trotting and alpacas decided it was time for some lovin'. Spring has definitely arrived.

The grass is starting to grow at Cerenety and with it the snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells. Provided that Daisy and Gerty (our very friendly goats) don't munch them, the flowers should be here for some time yet.
We're working hard now that the days are longer. We've put in a new shower in the field, built a huge new chicken area for our revered egg providers, created a shelter to give sanctuary from the British rain and made a small nursery of indigenous plants and trees.

 I'm also in the middle of completing some slightly more exciting (if not quite so useful) tasks at Cerenety. Yesterday I managed to teach my collie Flipper to jump almost every fence on the land... Torrie the pony can now shake hands for treats... and the alpacas have had an interesting (if unusual) haircut.
Well at least i'm not making towers out of orange pith like I was a month ago...

All hail spring!!!