We are five living here. That's myself, my wife, 9 year old son and two younger daughters. We're on the outskirts of a village which has a store and a good school for 5-11 year olds . . . a little over 20 miles from Bristol, where I work. Our 5 acre homestead with stone cottage and barns cost us a little over $14,000 three years ago. Of course, places of this size are affected by 'weekend place in the country' prices. Larger farms in other areas can go for as little as $100 per acre.
Not far to the north of our homestead is the friendly neighbourhood nuclear power plant. It is actually an advantage . . . since no large concentration of population may be established within 5 miles of it. Ominous as this may sound—and I know there's a lot of fuss about such things in America—we've had trouble-free nuclear electricity for years now in England. These are a few random jottings from our experience so far:
We think that Khaki Campbell ducks are better for homestead egg production than chickens. They are more intelligent and friendly, less prone to disease and can give over 300 eggs per bird per year. They do not need swimming water—just plenty of good drinking water. They usually get into their housing by a little after sunset, and can then be shut in till around 10 a.m. when their laying has finished. Hunting all around the acreage for nests isn't a mandatory feature of duck egg production!
We feed our Khaki Campbells with mash and vegetable peelings cooked in a pressure cooker for ten minutes. A car tire sawn into two circular troughs with a wood saw (kept wet with oil or water) made us two feeders which handle over 30 ducks.
Khaki Campbells are no real value for eating—fully grown hens weigh only four pounds live—but they ARE excellent producers. And a duck egg on the breakfast plate will put a chicken's to shame. Two slight disadvantages though: Duck eggs stay 'fresh' for only 9 days to the chicken's 21 and K.C.'s will not hatch their own offspring . . . at least, not for us. We use a broody hen or an incubator for that.
Any bird will lay in the spring, but we need eggs when we can get a good price . . . in December and January. It stands to reason that a bird which lays at this time of year must be a good one. Likewise, it's a good drake that has the energy to mate when the temperature is below freezing. So we raise our clutch of replacements only from eggs fertilised and laid in December and January. It's a very simple selective breeding technique.
To change the subject to small fruits . . . In order to get the best crop of the finest quality, it's necessary to prune the bushes. For example, the finest blackberries and loganberries grow on the highest spurs of one year old wood. So, to keep the bushes at a size from which the fruit can be picked easily—and to get a crop of larger, more luscious, berries—we use a very simple procedure:
If a blackberry bush is cut back hard, new canes will grow from the roots. These give the best fruit the next year so, after cutting, we run three horizontal wires above the roots . . . the bottom wire one foot above the ground and the top one at 3-4 feet. We then train the new canes to grow into a fan shape on the wires. After the old canes have fruited, we cut them off and retrain the new growth nearer the ground . . . leaving a central gap in the fan for the next season's c anes.
Blackberries are easy to propagate and are very good for making what I call a "fedge" (a cross between afence and a hedge). Instead of cutting out an old cane, make a sloping upward cut half-way through it about six inches from the end, and put in a sliver of wood to keep the cut open. Bend the cane over, bury it a couple of inches deep in the soil and hold it down with wire or a stone weight. Next year, there will be a new plant ready to move to another location.
Black currants are a very good crop rich in Vitamin C . . . but they're messy to pick in any quantity. The answer is to prune and pick all at the same time. The currants grow on last year's wood, and new wood grows from the root. So cut off all the fruited woods—instead of picking—and stand them in water. In the evening you can sit on the porch and strip off the fruit with an old table fork.
We have a massive compost heap. Onto it goes just about everything—grass mowings, beading from the stock, weeds, prunings—anything organic which is not diseased. Even shredded paper rots down. I find that grass mowings should be mixed with coarser material if they are to break down easily. Our heap is about four feet wide, and is kept in shape with chicken wire. When it reaches the size of a four foot cube, I start adding to one end until the pile reaches a length of twenty feet. Then I "turn the corner" and make the stack "L" shaped. The top and sides of the front of the heap—as it is turned—go into making the back.
Nearly everything in our compost pile goes down to a sweet and crumbly humus, except bones. Fur and feathers completely disappear, however, and thick stalks need a good bash with a hammer or they'll take forever to decompose. We mow the weed patches for the heap too. Variety is the thing in composting.
Now something about cooking. Meat is tough when the tissues holding the muscle fibers together are tough. And the older the beast—the coarser the tissues. They can be broken down, however, in two ways: by vinegar, wine, beer and cider or by long, slow cooking. We cook elderly hens by leaving them for 12 hours or so in foil wrapping in a very low oven. To make stews and similar dishes, we use a 'haybox'—simply a box full of hay built to hold a stew pot and preserve it's stove heat. This gives the stew a long, thorough cooking—you don't have to watch it—and it saves on cooking fuel. We like wine, so we have a glass at each evening meal . . . and beer is always available to cure the thirst caused by honest toil.