Keeping quails was one of our new projects for 2014. We hatched 2 sets of eggs in January and February. By April our first eggs had been laid. The speed at which the birds matured caught us by surprise. It wasn't until July that we finished building the quail house.
We now have 13 birds (2 cocks and 11 hens). We gave away the other cocks that hatched. On the to-do list for this coming February is buying more eggs and hatching them.
Word had got around in the local villages that we are beekeepers. This resulted in dozens of calls from residents in the late spring about bee colonies in their gardens. 2014, in my experience, saw a welcome increase in the number of bumble bee colonies following years of decline.
We did however get some calls from people who had honey bee swarms in their gardens. One of the ones we collected was this almost perfectly round swarm on a lawn. I collected it by wearing gloves, scooping the bees in my hands and putting them in my swarm box.
Meanwhile we won first prize at the first ever honey competition at the Slaley Agricultural Show in August.
We already had two goats (Geraldine and Georgina) but neither are milking goats. In August we bought Pinkie, a Golden Guernsey milking goat and I gave myself a crash course in goat-milking. In October she was producing over 3 litres a day, though this has now fallen significantly as we make our way through winter.
On Boxing Day we took Pinkie to Northumberland so she could be mated. We think the mating was successful and since then we have had Geraldine mated. We are looking for a pygmy billy for Georgina who is due to come back into heat in mid February. If all goes well, we will have kids born in late May and June. You can see the video of Pinkie's trip to Northumberland on this link.
I often encourage people to swap their surplus produce. Our eggs, jam, honey and milk are often exchanged for fruit and vegetables grown by other allotment holders, fish from anglers and game from hunters. Last year I joined a group call Food on the Tyne and helped run a couple of events where people could bring their surplus produce to swap. The photo above was taken at Whitley Bay at the event in August.
As a result of all the swapping, we now have an embarrassingly large amount of food that will continue to keep us going through the winter.
Chicks and ducklings
In 2014 we decided to expand our numbers of chickens and ducks. Though we bought a small number of new hens, all the other birds were hatched in our incubators. We particularly wanted to raise some traditional or rare breeds. We therefore bought some barnvelder and exchequer legborn eggs from Durham Hens.
We have lots of plans for 2015. We are aiming to expand further the number of beehives we have (currently 9). We have an additional area of land to bring into cultivation. June should see the birth of our first goat kids. And we are combining our self-sufficiency activities with historical research, running a wartime allotment, trying out recipes from the Second World War and setting up wartime style chicken, rabbit and pig clubs.