Another Prepping Diversion: Icelandic Volcanoes

Not that there’s anything particularly unexpected about Iceland’s volcanoes doing volcanic things! Iceland’s a paradise for volcano-holics (I’m a mild, amateur case) and since the place is often upwind of the UK, we often get some of the fall-out from eruptions. Anyone who can think as far back as 2010 should remember the chaos.

After the fun of learning to pronounce Eyjafjallajokull, at least Grimsvotn the following year wasn’t hard and this time it’s Iceland’s biggest volcano, Bardarbunga (the ‘d’ isn’t actually a ‘d’, it’s a letter that English gave up using a thousand years ago called an ‘eth’ and pronounced like the ‘th’ in ‘either’, apparently. I could probably go find the proper font to write it properly but I’m packing to leave for Orkney in the morning so it’s not a major priority. Apologies to any Icelanders who object to people taking liberties with their spelling.)

At present nobody seems to have a real idea of what the volcano is planning on doing. There’s some fairly significant earthquakes taking place around the rim of the volcano’s crater, which may be because of magma moving around within the plumbing system under the crater. If the crater decides to fall in, it could be quite spectacular given the half-kilometer of glacier perched on top of it (Vatnajokull) which might give us a fairly exciting ice-lands-on-molten-rock explosion. There’s also a dyke, an underground channel of magma, which is working its way roughly north-east and causing more earthquakes as it breaks and cracks its way through the cold rocks it meets. That’s currently about 40km long and a couple of kilometers underground, so we have a little time before it can reach the surface as an eruption, if that’s the end result.

Let’s be honest, this is a volcano. It doesn’t read books, predictions or other human-created stuff and it’ll do what it’s going to do regardless of anything we think or plan. It’ll do it when it’s ready, not when we want. Geological time is a great deal slower than human time – this might just be the precursor for a main event years in the future, or it might be a major eruption working up for next month some time. Or it might fizzle out as nothing but data for the next round of PhD students to work on.

So, how do you prep for a maybe-eruption of unknown size at an unknown date yet to come?

We know Icelandic eruptions can throw dust and ash our way, so it’s reasonable to consider taking a few precautions against volcanic ashfall. Dustmasks and eye-protection leap to mind, since volcanic ash has a nasty trick of turning into cement when it mixes with the fluids in your lungs, if inhaled, and is scratchy and painful in the eyes. The water-butts in the garden are already covered, so we shouldn’t get ash falling into the water. It might still land on the roofs and then get washed into the butts when it rains, of course. Volcanic ash varies in size down to about 1 micron, so our water-filters will handle that if necessary.

If it’s a big eruption, we know that volcanic gases (mainly sulfur dioxide) can cool the climate for a few years. That takes us into ‘bad winter’ preps and living in Northern Scotland, that’s hardly unexpected weather anyway – in fact the past few years we’ve been over-prepped for winter weather that just never showed up. It’s possible that we might see knock-on effects giving us poor summers in the next few years after a big eruption, in which case food prices will rise, so our stored food will come into play.

It’s unlikely to be worse than a few delayed flights and we’re taking the ferry to and from Orkney so that doesn’t really impinge on our lifestyle.

The longer the warm-up goes on, the worse the eruption could be – so my fingers are crossed that we get an eruption soon, even if I miss watching it live on the webcams because I’m off sight-seeing in Orkney! I have, however, reminded my daughter, who’s staying home, where the dust-masks are stored and packed some, just in case….


Rabbits: Quick Update

Today my rabbit colony is down to just 30 individuals – Trudy’s first litter have been despatched.

They were a tad small, liveweights ranging from just over 3.5lbs to just about 4lbs, but I’ve still managed to put 2.8kg of meat in the freezer for us, plus about 12 days’ ferret food, a couple of days’ treats to liven up the dogs’ meat and 6 nice young skins in the freezer (they keep better that way until I have time to scrape them properly and tan them).

Jezebel’s 9 will be the next bunch to reach slaughter weight but not for a month or 6 weeks at least – they should be bigger than Trudy’s Rex-cross-NZW litter so I’ll be watching with interest to see how they do.

Delilah’s 9 are nearly opening their eyes now and Trudy’s 7 won’t be long either, so we might have them all peeking by the time we go away but they’ll only just be out of the nests when we get back! I’m eager to see what Trudy’s litter are like for eye colour – if the 4 pale ones are red-eyed, then I’ll know Tigger’s carrying an albino gene. I’m pretty sure they will be but the light’s too dim in the nest to be absolutely certain the kits are white and not very pale fawn.

The black ones are still very, very black – they’re going to be lovely mittens, in due course!

The Ferret Palace

Yesterday’s weather was unhelpful, to put it mildly, so today saw the finishing-off of the new ferret run. We’ve nicknamed it the Ferret Palace.

The Ferret Palace - all the way to the wall

The Ferret Palace – all the way to the wall

It certainly gives them a lot more space to scamper about in! Attractively roofed in a medley of old feed sacks and compost sacks to keep the weather off, there are in fact two padlocked hatches under the sacks, so I can get into any part of the run easily for cleaning out, toy-replacement or whatever.

Loony discovering that there is a floor...

Loony discovering that there is a floor…

The end nearest the back door of the house has a couple of inches of wood shavings down to cushion the wire floor, for the sake of small furry feet, and I’ve put some old clay drainpipe sections in there. The ferrets adore playing tag in, through, round, under and over these!

Fursty having a quick wash-and-brush-up

Fursty having a quick wash-and-brush-up

In the middle is their old hutch, which is a sturdy, weatherproof construction that’s good for years yet. To give some idea of scale, it’s nearly 3 feet long and 18 inches deep. Since this sits opposite the conservatory doors, we can now watch the ferrets playing from the comfort of the inside of the house without needing to crane our necks!

Central hutch

Central hutch

At the far end is another run filled to the brim with fresh straw, hugely popular for tunnelling, rustling, ambushing each other and probably for nesting in and impromptu napping, which is something ferrets are very good at.

The Straw Run

The Straw Run

So, that was today’s job and I’m glad it’s done – I can go off to Orkney now with a clear conscience, knowing the ferrets have plenty of secure space to bounce around in!

Prepping for Orkney

Exactly a week today, we’re off to Orkney – at least, my morther and I are. My daughter’s staying home to look after the place. Orkney’s a lovely place – I’ve visited a couple of times, have friends up there and I’m looking forward to another trip. It’ll be my mother’s first time in Orkney and it’s a place she’s long wanted to visit to see various crafts and crafters there. To add to the fun, my sister and brother-in-law will be joining us, so they’re looking forward to their first trip there too!

So, we’re now well into the final stages of prepping for the trip. The cottage we’ll be staying in was booked last month, ferry tickets were booked last week, the dogs are due into kennels on Sunday (so, of course, Wicket has decided to come into season…. she must be related to Murphy) and now it’s a case of ensuring that we have sufficient food on hand for Michelle and the various animals, that all cages are clean and ready, and that Michelle knows what she’s doing with the beasts.

Yesterday I overhauled the big rabbit-cage ready for Jezebel’s litter to go into – they’re due to wean tomorrow, so the chicken-wire on the door and one end of the cage needed replacing with weldmesh, because baby rabbits can squeeze through chicken-wire. Having replaced the wire, I then cut a slot into the door’s mesh and fixed a feed-hopper on, located a nice big water bottle and hung that on, and looked out a cardboard box for the babies to snuggle in and play on. They won’t have their mum to cuddle up to anymore so providing a draught-proof snuggle-place for them to stack themselves in is important.

Today was ferret cage building; the ferrets have until now had a multi-storey cage that consisted of a commercially-bought hutch on top of a home-built two-level playpen, but we haven’t been entirely happy with it so I’ve built them a new, low-level complex. They’ll have a run either side of their hutch, tucked in the shelter of a low breezeblock wall in the garden and facing the conservatory doors, so we’ll still get to enjoy watching their mad antics and they’ll get somewhat more space for toys, tunnels, and other ferret delights as well as being better sheltered from the elements. I’ve got most of it done but need another roll of wire tomorrow to finish the front, then I’ll put plywood top surface and hatches on top, waterproof and put the ferrets in it. At the moment they’re having a holiday in an old rat cage (multilevel indoor cage) in one of the sheds….. not the one the rabbits are in!

Thursday will be rabbit-execution day, most likely, with Trudy’s first litter now big enough to put in the freezer, though if other jobs get in the way it’ll be Friday. Saturday we double-check all the feed supplies, then Sunday the dogs go to kennels and we pack the car.

Monday, it’s all points north and by this time Monday night we should be in Orkney, enjoying sea views and (hopefully) not so much of this wretched rain!

As with all plans, it’s subject to revision on the fly as reality gets in the way….

The Humane Stunner

I did say I was going to get detailed about this new gadget a few days ago.

So, here it is. It’s manufactured by BRNO Guns UK Ltd in Derbyshire and designed specifically for despatching poultry and rabbits. Under UK home slaughter regulations, it’s permissable to kill your own rabbits, on your own property, for your own household use (no trading, selling, bartering or giving away to friends!) by either breaking/dislocating the rabbit’s neck or by stunning them with a blow to the head, followed immediately by cutting an artery to bleed them out. The blow to the head can be by means of a blunt object applied to the head (a ‘priest’ or what my infant offspring once innocently referred to as ‘the rabbit whapper’, to a school teacher’s horrified incomprehension!) or by means of a humane stunner.

Stunner with biro for size comparison

Stunner with biro for size comparison

It’s not a large object, though fairly weighty in the hand due to being powered by what feels like a darn good spring! It certainly takes some positive force to cock it by pulling the knurled end out, which draws the captive bolt (the little spike on the left end) into the barrel, ready to be expelled with considerable velocity when the trigger’s depressed.

Stunner, cocked

Stunner, cocked

Once cocked, simply take the stunner in the hand, apply the blunt end gently to the bunny’s head and squeeze the trigger.

Stunner, how to use...

Stunner, how to use…

I’ve practiced on a couple of sturdy carboard boxes and they looked very satisfactorily stunned afterwards. I’d say it puts about a .22 sized hole into objects and I’m quite sure rabbits won’t find it alarming to see the thing in my hand and won’t know what hit them when it’s used, so it’ll be a very humane and clean kill indeed.

Exactly what I want.

Catching up…

After the initial day of ‘oh good, rain, the ground needed it’ we didn’t get dry weather again until yesterday! Talk about over-doing things….

Anyway, in that time the bunnies have produced their litters – Delilah seems to have 9 in the nest, having rejected my offered nestbox, and whenever I open the door of her cage she streaks off into the distance and has to be caught and carried back after I’ve cleaned out, refilled hayrack or whatever. The kits are fat and healthy so she must be looking after them, even if she apparently wants to put yards between herself and that nest!

Trudy has had 7, 4 pink and 3 black – Tigger, the rex buck who fathered Trudy’s litter, is a Harlequin so I’m waiting with great interest to see what colour the kits turn out in the end. Trudy, being an albino, carries a recessive gene that means she doesn’t show any colour – it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have the genes for colours and patterns, just that they don’t show. It’s possible Tigger carries one albino gene that doesn’t show up, in which case the pink kits may turn out white, but then again, he may not have an albino gene to hand on, in which case the pink kits might turn out pale-coloured, depending on what genes Trudy’s tossed into the mix. I can hardly wait to find out! The black ones are very glossy little black sausages so she may have a black gene lurking under her albino surface…. watch this space! Rabbit genetics are an interesting field of study but I’m still only dibbling my toes in the subject.

After all the rain and wind, we got to the allotment yesterday expecting havoc but found relatively little damage. The formerly upstanding artichokes have developed a lean to the south-east after 4 days of non-stop strong north-westerlies and some of the runner beans had blown down (but have now been stood up again). The courgettes had enjoyed our absence and produced nearly 1.5kg of courgettes to prove it, so there’s another 5 jars of that courgette pickle in the cupboard now. We had some with dinner last night and it’s very pleasant indeed – tangy, but not too much so.

We also pulled and ate the first of the carrots from the allotment yesterday – delicious and very satisfying, and lots more yet to come!

The last of the white onions have been brought home and are drying in the boiler shed, so in a few days we’ll weigh them all and see how we did.

We’ve pretty much reached the time of year when we start thinking of mulching the beds as we clear them, and since the tall peas seem to have reached the end of the line, we’ll be clearing the tops into the compost, digging the roots in and then piling 6 inches of rabbit-cage cleanings on top for the winter in the next few days. By spring the worms will have hauled most of it down and improved the soil enormously for us.

RIP Pet Bunnies

Having lost Biscuit back in July, our other old pet bun died today. She was a year older than Biscuit, both well into middle age at 7 and 8 years respectively, and I don’t think she had the heart to go on without her old pal. Tigger has been keeping her company for a couple of days but she’d lost her appetite and her zest for life, and I wasn’t surprised to find her dead in the cage this evening.

So, I now have a spare cage (and a good big one, too – 6 foot long, 3 foot tall and nearly 3 feet deep!) which has been cleaned and furbished up ready for the next litter of bunnies to take up residence. That will be Jezebel’s 9, now all sturdy-looking little tykes bouncing around the cage eating hay, pellets and grass, though I haven’t seen them raiding the water-bottle yet. They’re doing well, 3 weeks old tomorrow, so they still have a bit of time before I rescue Jezebel from their pestering! She has been studying the jump down to the floor and up onto the top of other cages whenever I open the cage door recently; I think the novelty value of babies wears off for does about the time the youngsters learn how to leave the nest and chase mum round the cage trying to steal another meal from her!

The chickens have been laying nicely and today we pickled another dozen eggs and froze another dozen, just to keep the egg-boxes in the cupboard from overflowing.

It’s tipping down with rain outside at the moment – thank you, ex-hurricane Bertha – so tomorrow may be a day for finding indoor tasks to do; I now have my humane stunner so I’ll make sure one of those tasks is writing a post about it with pix.

Another thing I need to do is sit down with a calendar and a scratch pad and work out when I want to mate the does again. I think I’ll put Jezebel back to Samson when Delilah has her litter – that way I’ll have one litter in the nest, one growing on but weaned, and one unborn between the two does. The question is, do I want to add Trudy into that rotation and have each doe kindling once in 3 months, or do I keep Trudy separate (the rex youngsters need to grow on for longer anyway, since the skin and fur takes longer to reach prime slaughter age than meat kits do) and settle the NZWs into a 2-month rotation? I have also been offered another NZW doe by Samson’s breeder, though from a different bloodline, so perhaps 3 NZW does producing 1 litter each per 3 months, and the Rexes on their own separate timeline….

I have to mull this over and do some calculations of cage space and time, I think.

Courgette Relish

I’ve been wanting to try out a recipe a friend passed on to me on a self-sufficiency/self-reliance forum a while back and today we had enough courgettes and other ingredients to do it.

Put 500g courgettes, thinly sliced, and three small onions, also thinly sliced, in a bowl of cold water with 3 tablespoons of cooking salt (the non-iodised sort) as a brine mix. Leave for 1 hour.

While that’s sitting, put 500ml of cider vinegar in a pan with 140g caster sugar, 1 small tin sweetcorn (ours was with added peppers), 1 teaspoon of mustard powder, 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric and 3 thinly-sliced garlic cloves. Bring the mix gently to the boil and allow to simmer for 3 minutes, ensuring all the sugar and spices are dissolved, then set aside to cool.

After an hour, drain the courgettes and onions, pat dry gently with kitchen paper to avoid diluting the pickling liquid, then add to the pan and stir until everything’s thoroughly mixed and coated in the fluid. Bottle and leave to cool completely before putting in the fridge; it should keep at least 3 weeks.

Courgette Relish

Courgette Relish

Yesterday my vacuum packer/sealer finally arrived – a sordid saga of couriers losing parcels in transit – so to familiarise myself with the controls I vacuum packed some dog-biscuits, ready for when the whippets go into kennels in a few weeks (we’re away on holiday for a week, so the dogs get to go stay in a pet hotel and be adored by fresh humans).


The vacuum sealer.

The vacuum sealer.

It’s not the biggest and most sophisticated gadget in the world, but it does a very satisfactory job of turning a handful of dog kibble into this:-

Vacuum-packed dog biscuits.

Vacuum-packed dog biscuits.

Having tried it out with dog food, I then packed some hiking meals (dried eggs, dried mushrooms, dried onion, dried potato – just add water and stir for instant food on the trail!), some hot chocolate powder (one-portion servings for hiking drinks) and tried out the bag-seal-only function on the latest 500g of peas going into the freezer.

It all works.

The Perversity of Rabbits

Can you tell they’re being exasperating?

To be honest, not all that exasperating. It’s just that I spent a few hours building nest boxes for Trudy and Delilah, who are both due around the beginning of next week and who have both been nesting in their cages with whatever they can find (shavings, grass, hay). Measuring, sawing, screwing boxes together, filling them carefully with an inch of shavings at the bottom, then up to the top with hay, noting where they’ve nested, clearing a good solid base for the nestbox, putting the boxes in….

What do they do? Pull the hay out of the nestbox and build a new nest in a different corner of the cage! I feel scorned.

On the good side, my old pet bunny, Biggles, recently bereaved, seems to be settling into a reserved companionship with Tigger, the young Rex buck. So far, I haven’t let them actually meet properly, but she steals his hay through the wire side of his cage and they’ve touched noses a couple of times in the doorway without fireworks. She’s often snoozing on the floor near him when I go into the shed. If they keep being civil together for a few more weeks, I’ll try letting her into his cage (not the other way round, I’d prefer her not to kill him!) and see if they stay civil. Once a rabbit takes a dislike to another rabbit, it takes months (if not years) to re-educate them to being civil again and I really don’t want to have to go there.

Jezebel’s litter are now all bright-eyed and growing proper coats, and since they’re now ambulatory and bouncing round the nestbox instead of buried in the fur in a heap, I have finally got a definitive count. She has nine. Clever girl!

Whisper it not where they can hear, but I have ordered a captive bolt stunning device, designed specifically for poultry and rabbits. I can (and frequently have) executed rabbits by both the “heavy blow to the head with blunt instrumen” and the “dislocate neck” methods (both legal and recognised humane means of slaughter for small animals in the UK) but my hands are ageing as fast as the rest of me, I’m getting a twinge of arthritis in the fingers and I decided to make life easy. From now on, my rabbits should be dispatched, humanely and legally, by means of a spring-powered contraption. Pix when I get my mitts on the device – it’s in the post at the moment.

And Back to Real Life…

We’re now into pea-picking with an abundance of fresh peas every few days – we’re bringing home about 1.5kg – 2.5kg every couple of days. Admittedly, there’s a fair bit of that weight that’s pods, not peas but, even allowing for that, we’ve put over 3kg of peas into the freezer in the past week.

Calabrese is just starting to head up nicely on the allotment, taking over from the summer purple sprouting broccoli as that goes over in the garden. The chickens and rabbits are loving the uprooted brassica plants! Cauliflower in the garden are also now over (and we’ve frozen a couple of kg): on the allotment they’re looking healthy but not yet forming heads.

The red onions are now all lifted and drying, the whites are starting to come home.

We’ve been eating our own courgettes this week and the plants are flowering well, so the supply should keep up for a while yet. Tomatoes are still coming in steadily from the plants in the conservatory, though the harvest this year isn’t a patch on the super crop last year. Last year we were growing grafted plants and next year we’ll go back to them – hopefully that’ll bring back our bumper harvests!

Beetroot are coming in nicely from the garden and looking good for later on the allotment, too. At the moment we’re just eating them as they come but hopefully we’ll start freezing and pickling soon.

We singled the swedes today and it looks very promising – we should have enough swedes to be self-sufficient for the year. The bunnies and chooks pounced on the thinnings, too!

The buckwheat has been a major disappointment; it never really got past the white clover and though some of it flowered, the rest just didn’t do anything. I’m clearing it all in sections for rabbit food, so it’s not wasted, and I’ll try again next year without the clover. Perhaps I need a less vigorous cover-crop! We’re also having trouble finding the main carrot, parsnip and root parsley sowings through their clover cover, though once ferreted out the plants look healthy, and we’re putting a heck of a lot of clover top-growth into the compost bins so the compost should be good! I will be on the lookout for a less thorough cover-crop for next year’s sowings, anyway.

I’m awaiting delivery of a vacuum packer/sealer that will assist in our long-term storage plans, and I’m also about to order a canning pressure cooker from the States (why do we have to import them from the States? Why aren’t they available here??) which will also widen our preservation horizons. Further updates as and when these tools arrive!

Our new freezer is installed in the shed and purring quietly away to itself, so we’re in the process of clearing the freezers in the house and defrosting them, then one will be put up for sale, one will stay in the kitchen for stuff we want kept handy indoors, and the third small one is now outside ready to be dedicated to dog-food and (once I start slaughtering young bunnies) ferret food.

The bunnies are doing well; Jezebel’s bunch have just opened their eyes so it won’t be long before their poor mum has to fight her way into the food dish at breakfast time! It does look as if she has nine, though the little devils are still being a bit elusive in the nest and lurking under the surface. Delilah is due next week and Trudy a few day after that, so this weekend will be nest-box-building time again!

My application to join the local gun club is ticking along through the process and I’m hoping that soon I’ll be learning new skills and, eventually, will have the ability and the opportunity to add some larger game to the menu; geese and deer spring to mind. That will be a good way down the road, though – I need about 6 months with the gun club as a member before I can apply for my FAC (Firearms Certificate) and then a while longer proving my safety and reliability (not to mention building accuracy and skill) at the gun club, punching holes in paper targets, before I can apply to have my licence ‘opened’ and be allowed to shoot anywhere but on the firing range.

I would like any politicians reading this to realise that it’s the proposed air-rifle licensing legislation that’s pushed me into applying for an FAC! If I have to spend the money getting a secure cabinet, doing the paperwork and jumping through the official hoops to get an air-rifle licence, I might as well expand my shooting interests from the (previously) cheap option of an air-rifle into the (hitherto) more expensive realms of rifle and shotgun ownership. If they hadn’t started mithering about the air-rifle requirements, I might never have got round to the paperwork for the FAC and SGC, though I have previously shot both rifle and shotgun (on private land, under instruction from the fully licensed owner!) and enjoyed them both.

So there, politicos!