Not Lazarus; just me, back again…

It’s been a while. I offer no excuses, since there’s no earthly reason why I *must* scribble my random ideas down regularly – nor for anyone to read them, come to that…

Despite the title, I haven’t been dead or even mildly indisposed, merely getting on with life. There was a family holiday in Argyll, during which I ticked seeing the Corryvreckan whirlpool off my bucket list and my sister and brother-in-law decided to chuck living in the south-east and move to Mull instead. It’ll be interesting to watch them adapt to living on a pretty small rural island after decades in Essex and working in the City, but they’ll probably cope, they’re both intelligent and adaptable adults with plenty of life-experience.

Following my bunny population explosion in April, Ebony went on to rear 5 kits, Trudy and Ivory all of theirs and Jezebel 7 of her original 10 kits. Jezebel also suddenly gave me the first case of mastitis I’ve seen in a rabbit in 40 years of being around bunnies, so once the kits were old enough to wean I culled her – rabbits are fiendishly difficult to cure of mastitis and while I did get antibiotics and anti-inflammatories for her from the vet to keep her going until the kits were old enough, it was obvious the infection wasn’t clearing up so I put her down rather than extend her suffering.

Jezebel’s kits did fine and are now variously in the freezer, the dogs and the ferrets. I’ve sold a few of the rex kits and the others are growing nicely and will be heading freezer-wards in September, except for one harlequin doe kit I’m keeping back from Ivory’s litter as future breeding stock.

Silver’s had three chances to prove himself a fertile stud buck and struck out every time, so he’ll shortly be going into the freezer, too. I picked up a couple of unrelated buck kits from a breeder down south on Tuesday so I’m not relying only on Jet as a stud buck, anyway.

Ebony, who made such an incredible mess of her first litter, has had another litter and pulled herself together very nicely. She has 10 kits in the nest – two black, three ermines and 5 harlies, though one’s a runt. Harlies seem to be the ones that sell so that’s excellent. Ivory’s refusing to mate again and I will probably cull her out and keep one of Ebony’s doe kits to replace her.

Delilah (the sole remaining NZW doe) had a litter of 6, which is pathetic by NZW standards, then lost one but the remaining 5 are now just about old enough to wean and very well grown, so they’ll be separated from her in the next week or so. They should be ready to kill in about 6 more weeks.

Apart from that, the garden is flourishing, the country’s still heading gently to the dogs and I’ve sold both my air-rifles. The air-rifle licensing bill is merely waiting for Royal Assent and then everyone in Scotland with an air-rifle will be expected to produce fire-arm cabinet, proof of “need” to own, insurance, and a cheque-book before they can pick up a tin of pellets….

What kind of government doesn’t even trust its citizens to own an air-rifle safely?  Surely not the one that shouted so loudly about trusting Scots to run their own country…..?

What Do You Do When The Taps Don’t Work?

This post is inspired by some reports from the States, not anything amiss in the state of our supplies here – yet, anyway!

I came across an article on the current problems in water supply in Baltimore and Detroit that sparked a bit of thinking on my part. Unlike California, the problem isn’t lack of water, per se. Both Baltimore and Detroit have plenty of water available. The problem here is that maintaining the infrastructure to collect, purify and supply water to a city is an expensive job – maintenance costs, wages, etc – that needs to be paid for, and both Detroit and Baltimore choose to pay for this process via billing customers for their water (Don’t get excited about “free” water in the UK – it’s not free, we just pay for our supply via our taxes). If you can’t pay your water bill, the water supply gets shut off.

It’s in the nature of cities in economically depressed areas to have a fair proportion of long-term unemployed, jobless and generally poor people who can’t afford to pay for much. In the case of both Baltimore and Detroit, they’re seriously economically depressed (part of America’s “rustbucket” belt where the death of heavy industry and off-shoring to the Far East has stripped jobs away from the area) and as a result, a certain number of people default on their water bills. There are, by the looks of things, some schemes for assisting those in financial difficulties, but at the end of the day those water pipes still cost money to keep in one piece with clean water flowing through them, so the water companies have to find the money somewhere to keep operating. If people aren’t paying the bills, where does the money come from to pay the workers to fix leaks or operate the treatment plants?

I’m not that interested in the whys and wherefores or the philosophy of paying directly for water or having it tucked into the tax bills. What exercised my mind was scenario planning. Take this a little further (as I suspect will happen to all major cities at some point in the future) and play the mind-games: suppose this happened where I live? Suppose there wasn’t the money to pay for clean water to fall out of taps in endless quantities? As a survivalist, what would I do if the water supply failed, long-term?

Short term, say a few days or weeks, is no challenge at all. We have a big water-butt in the garden and the climate here is soggy enough it stays full, or near-full, all the time, even through we’re using it for gardening and for the bunnies and chooks. We could easily fill up a bucket and pour it into the Berky filter in the kitchen and we’d have pure, clean, safe water for ourselves. If we lived in a city and had some warning (like knowing we’d just had a shut-off notice!) we could fill up containers and store water to tide us over a short break in supply.

But if the supply’s out for months? Or forever? What then?

The usual recommendations are that a human needs 2 litres of water to drink per say, plus washing and cooking water, say about 4 litres a day, per person. 4kg of water. In a week, that’s 28L of water per person. 126L per month. 1,512L per year. Multiply by however many are in your household and then think about the weight-bearing capability of your floors. You really can’t store that much water upstairs!

What if you live in a flat?

And then there’s that perennial problem, the neighbours. If the water’s out for a couple of hours, you can bet someone will pop round to ask if you could let them fill the kettle, because they didn’t have any water stored! All very well when you know they’ll fix the problem in a couple of hours, but what do you do when you’re the only one in the area with a water butt and a filter and the neighbours haven’t had any water for a few days? You can’t go without water for very long – even in a fairly damp, cool climate like the UK, people get thirsty after a few hours and dehydrated after a few more. Bottled water and soft drinks will only last so long and then the local shops will be stripped bare.

After a day or two your neighbours will be losing the plot. Dehydration affects brain function and irrationality will set in. If it’s a choice between drink untreated water or die of thirst, people will drink the dirty water, and since there won’t be water spare for washing, it’ll encourage the outbreak of the diseases of poor hygiene – cholera, typhoid, typhus, E coli and salmonella.

I’ll admit to a big advantage here (and it’s not accidental!); I live in a smallish village in a rural area, not in the middle of a city. We have natural water sources available by way of a small river, various springs and some old wells. I’m not planning on sharing my filter with the village but I can teach people how to build their own, using sand, gravel, charcoal and a bucket, so if (when) our taps run dry in the aftermath of civilisation, hopefully I can reduce the risk of being mobbed by neighbours desperate for a drink.

But what do you do if you live in a flat in a city? How do you supply your water needs without the infrastructure and utilities we all take for granted?

In other news: the bunnies all seem fine and the kits are opening their eyes and beginning to stagger around their cages, beginning the process of driving their mothers slightly demented. I had to pick Jezebel up to get her back in her cage this morning, she wasn’t going back in with those ‘orrible little monsters willingly! In the garden we’re pricking out brassicas and netting them at the moment – both butterflies and birds liking brassica leaves! – and the peas and beans are sprouting nicely. The parsnips haven’t put their shoots up yet but parsnips are often slow so we’re not worrying about it. They’ll turn up in their own good time! We’ve also ordered this year’s tomatoes – last year we were disappointed in our crop from plants bought locally, so we’ve gone back to the mail-order company which supplied our plants the year before, when we had bumper harvests from grafted plants. They should arrive mid-June and we’re looking forward to more big, delicious harvests!

Last August I put some eggs into waterglass as an experiment: my grandmother used to preserve eggs this way during WWII and I’m always interested in food storage methods that don’t rely on a constant supply of electricity so I put 4 dozen away to see how it works. I fished them out a couple of days ago to see the results of the experiment and I’m very pleased: they all looked like eggs, smelled like good eggs, and although when broken the white is very runny and the yolk breaks rather easily (it’d be difficult to get good fried eggs out of them), they taste normal and delicious.

All very good – but then I had 4 dozen eggs to use up! An orgy of cooking and baking ensued and we now have over 9lbs of cakes and another 9lbs of quiche in the freezer.

Finally, some rabbits….

After the disappointment of Trudy’s empty nest last month, I finally have baby rabbits! In fact, almost too many….

Trudy and Jezebel produced litters on Thursday, six and (at least) eight respectively. This morning Ebony had randomly scattered offspring all over her floor and was hiding in her litter tray, terminally confused (first-time parents are often clueless). I revived three she’d left to chill on the floor and added them to the one she’s managed to drop in the nest, but one didn’t come back despite being gently warmed in a water bath, toasted lightly under the grill and even offered CPR by whippet (I take it new rabbit kit must smell like new puppy, since they unexpectedly licked the dead one rather than grabbing and swallowing, which was what I’d expected. It went to the ferrets instead – ferrets are very clear on what a rabbit is. It’s food.)

I’m left wondering if Ebony will remember, or realise, that she’s supposed to feed the offspring from time to time. At the moment I’m not pinning much hope on her pulling herself together, but I do have the option of gently dropping a kit or two into the other two nestboxes – they’re only a few days older so there shouldn’t be too much size/age difference and both Trudy and Jezebel are experienced mothers and should be able to feed an extra mouth or two, provided they don’t notice the cuckoos in their nests.

Ivory, my other first-timer, is very close to her due date – at least going by her figure, which could best be described as “stout”. I hope she does better than her sister but, judging by the attempts at nesting she’s made so far, I may be thinking wishfully!

Rabbits usually get the hang of things second time round, if they make a total fluster-cluck of the first experiment. Whatever happens, the ferrets will eat the dead so nothing’s a total waste of time….

In the garden I’m delighted that we have a hedgehog making nightly rounds! Considering how many slugs we’re already noticing around the place (that mild winter!) every set of slug-gnashing teeth are more than welcome to visit.

The tadpoles have hatched in our little pond and we have a small adult frog hanging about, so that’s another set of insect-eating guests we’re happy to have.

No sign of our toad, though. Maybe we did put too much compost on top of the critter….. I hope not. Toads can be remarkably stealthy beasts so I’m not giving up on her yet!

The Empty Nest

Well, Trudy’s let me down. An empty nest, and this morning when I put her on the floor with Silver, her behaviour can only be described as unco-operative! She ran around the floor, she growled at him, she even head-butted him in the ribs. At the point where she started trying to jump up the walls rather than share the floor with him, I retrieved her from a novel position, clinging limpet-like to Delilah’s cage door some 3 feet off the ground and put her back in the cage.

I’ll see how she feels in a day or two. Doe rabbits do have a 14-days-yes-please and 2-days-no-thanks cycle so maybe that’s what the problem is. Either that or suddenly she’s racist about grey rabbits!

Some Rabbit Ruminations.

I killed four of the young NZWs today. They’re just 9 weeks, barely big enough, but all the same, those 4 bunnies put nearly 8kg of meat in the freezer, plus 4 ferret meals and some tasty tidbits to add to the dogs’ dinner.

It takes me, on average, about an hour a day all told to look after the rabbits – now at a population of 20, but earlier today 24. So, working backwards, that would mean it takes about an hour of my time every 24 days per bunny, so at 9 weeks, which is 63 days, each rabbit has cost me less than 3 hours of my time, and about £6 in food.

I don’t actually know what the price of meat is in the shops at the moment, we haven’t bought any for months, but how long do you have to work in a job, allowing for your expenses and a whack heading to the tax man, to take home enough money to buy 2kg of fresh meat?

And it’s superb meat, too – we haven’t found anything we can’t do with it yet, whether roasting, stewing, stir-frying, casseroling, sweet-and-sours, pan-frying, mince, pies, jerky, pemmican….

The slow-cooker is bubbling away nicely with tonight’s dinner. No prizes for guessing what meat is involved.

In other news, we’re down to our last stored onion and we’ve just finished the garlic, so we need to grow twice as much to last the full year! It’s always worth knowing. This year’s garlic (about twice as much as last year….heheh) is looking good in the garden and we’ll be putting in the onions and shallots soon.

How Not to Build a Compost Heap

When I pulled all my stuff off the allotment, I brought home a big compost bin that I’d bought and put there. Today we finally got round to assembling it in the garden, alongside our existing heaps, and I have to say, we definitely hadn’t thought it out properly.

First off, there’s a distinct lack of space in that corner. We had 5 compost heaps in situ, at various stages of composting, and the only available space was between two lilac bushes. All very well, but we’d already tossed a fair old heap of rubbish in that spot already!

So, the first job was to assemble the rear half of the bin – it’s one of these sectional plastic affairs – and then put it behind the rubbish heap, then move the rest of the heap into position within the bin before we could assemble the front half. Ducking and weaving around the lilics, we got the three lower and three upper rear panels of the bin in place and started forking the muck into position.

I nearly stabbed a hibernating toad in the course of this, which was a very lucky escape for Toady! I’m pretty sure it’s the same toad we’d seen around that corner of the garden last summer – quite a large, brown toad. Anyway, she just missed being impaled and I picked her up and popped her (probably her, she’s a big toad and females are bigger) into the area of the new compost bin, then reburied her carefully to continue her winter snooze. Hopefully she’ll settle back down and when spring comes, she’ll be ready to come out and scoff insect pests in the garden again.

Having succesfully avoided amphibian assassination and moved the heap into position, we then built the front half of the bin and filled in around the edges (inside) with the cleanings of the hen run from yesterday. I’ll continue filling up with rabbit cleanings.

It would have been much simpler and quicker if we’d had clear ground to build on, though!

It’s been a quiet time otherwise – too much ice and frost to do much work on the land. The bunnies continue ticking along, although Silver has (again) managed to pull a muscle in his right hind leg, the prat, and has been moved to a different cage and confined to it until he’s healed up. The two young female rexes who were in that cage are now in his old cage and their brothers, in one of my huge cages, are just beginning to moult, so should be in the freezer in a couple of weeks, as soon as they’ve finished moulting. The ten NZW youngsters will be ready about then, too.

My FAC application is now submitted and today I drilled four big holes in the wall, to bolt the cabinet securely in place. I don’t know what the walls of this house are made of but it seemed inordinately hard! I had to stop several times for the drill and drill bit to cool down. I have a socket that fits the bolts, but not the connecting doofer to attach it to the drill, so on Monday I’ll be in our local DIY place finding something to do the job and then the cabinet will be ready for inspection by the police in due course.

Back to Prepping

A major part of food security is being able to store what you grow or buy for the future. It’s fine while you can pop down to the shops if you run short of something, but what if you can’t? It’s easy enough to disrupt the remarkable supply chain that ensures food is on the supermarket shelf when you walk in – floods or heavy snow blocking roads and preventing deliveries can happen any time, and more serious problems might ensue from crop failures, fuel crises, war, disease and other geopolitical and climatic events.

One of my criteria for “ideal” storage foods is that you shouldn’t have to do anything to preserve them – they shouldn’t need freezing or chilling. They should just sit in a dark cupboard or a box and not change. If I need to use them in an emergency, the less cooking they need, the better – I might not have the means to cook them, or might not want to advertise “get your grub here!!” with the smell of hot food, if others in the area are likely to be hungry. Tinned foods are one of the “traditional” prepper foods, either shop-bought or home-canned (bottled, in the UK, usually), but dried foods are also good.

The other day, we decided we had a backlog of eggs. There’s only the two of us in the house and despite it being winter, the chickens are still laying quietly away to themselves, although somewhat less determinedly than during the summer! All the same, 20 eggs a week does get a bit beyond us from time to time, so the other day I scrambled a dozen eggs in a very little butter, then put them in the dehydrator. The following day, I ground them to a coarse powder and vacuum-packed six portions of dried egg, which just need a dob of hot water and a stir to reconstitute as scrambled eggs again – or could be eaten as they are, or mixed with cold water. Sealed up as it is and stored in a cool, dry, dark place, it should have a shelf-life of 5 years or so.

Today I’ve started on a new batch of pemmican, which involved boning and mincing 1kg of rabbit meat (from our own bunnies, of course!) and putting that in the dehydrator. Once it’s dried thoroughly, probably tomorrow night, I’ll grind it to a powder and mix with an equal weight of melted beef dripping (doesn’t matter what sort of fat you use, but I like beef dripping) and then seal it up in 300g portions. Each 300g of pemmican will be within a whisker of 2,000 calories, shelf-stable in storage for years, doesn’t need refrigeration and contains everything a human needs to power a very active lifestyle. Pemmican’s not to everyone’s taste but it’s probably the oldest method of preserving meat known. It was the mainstay of the diet of the voyageurs, the canoe-paddling fur-traders of Canada, who burned through 5,000 calories a day (1.5lbs of pemmican) on their journeys. I don’t usually add anything to my pemmican but you can add dried fruit, chopped nuts or honey for variety, or marinade the meat before drying to change the flavour of that ingredient.

So, that’s two good sources of home-grown shelf-stable long-term stored foods for the future.

Ten White Rabbits….

…have just left their mum. They haven’t fallen off any walls, they’ve just moved across the shed to their own big, spacious cage under the window, with a litter tray at each end. They haven’t stopped running joyously around since I moved them!

Jezebel looks relieved, and did a few joyous prances of her own on the floor as I was cleaning out her hutch.

They’re a good size, a nice warm weight in the hand when picked up. If I had to guesstimate, I’d say they’re nearly a pound apiece already, so Jezebel’s been feeding them splendidly! They’re also nicely even, without any obviously bigger or smaller ones. All in all, a very nice litter, and Jezebel’s held her condition despite doing so well by them.

Silver’s bad leg is starting to take some weight again and we’ve reached the end of the meds, to our joint relief. Catching him twice a day and persuading him to swallow the end of a syringe while I squirt stuff down his throat wasn’t something either of us really enjoyed very much. He’s still limping, but he’s definitely improving today. He exited his cage this morning with the old flair, leered at Jezebel, sneered at Tigger, rubbed his chin on everything in reach, rolled in all his favourite spots and touched noses with all the babies, so he’s feeling back to his normal feisty self, anyway!

And after yesterday’s milder weather, today the wind is back and has brought some snow to play with it, too! It’s sticking, for the first time this winter, so we’ll have to see how things look tomorrow. My daughter’s due to catch the lunchtime train back to Glasgow, so fingers crossed (a) we can get there and (b) it’s running!

And that’s that for the year…

It’s officially not Christmas anymore. Phew. Back to ordinary living.

Well, not really. My daughter’s still here, my brother’s coming up at the weekend for a visit, there’s a heap of presents to work through – I love it when people give me novels I haven’t read yet! – and there’s a few activities still to unfold. I organised a clay pigeon shooting lesson for my daughter and I  – a mother/daughter activity session – so that’ll be a fun end to her holiday, just before she heads back to Glasgow and gets her nose back to the uni grindstone. I’m looking forward to it, too! There’s also the Amazon tokens to spend – and a contribution to the gun fund from my mother as a present, so that’s good too.

We’ve nearly finished clearing the allotment, with just some equipment to come home now; posts, wire, netting, hoops and so forth. I’ll see if I can pressgang my brother into helping with that – we sank the posts pretty well! Hopefully the ground won’t be too frozen – we’ve had a few sharp frosts but that’s all, to date. I was even out tonight with the dogs, just before midnight, without a coat – which shows how mild the weather is. It’s freezing, yes, but only just.

So, as one year draws to a close and another is poised to start, it’s time to review what we’ve learned, what grew well – and what flopped spectacularly, like the sprouts. We’ve harvested about three meals of sprouts, they just never grew for us this year. Last year they were the size of ping-pong balls and we scoffed them from November to March! Ah well, that’s gardening. This year the onions have been excellent, we’re still only half-way through the stored onions. The roots haven’t been bad, though I’d’ve liked them bigger. Courgettes – a show stopper. We still have jars of pickled courgettes in the cupboards, along with pickled beetroot and beet relish.

Next year we’ll be seeing how much we can grow in the garden – more deep beds to build and fill, though the bunnies are producing plenty of excellent compost material for that purpose! They, too, have been one of this year’s star projects, and hopefully next year they’ll continue to be as prolific.

I want to do more vertical gardening to maximise the available space – simple things like stacked tyres for potatoes, to get a bigger harvest in the space, and close-planting roots under the beans and peas, for example. If I get round to it, we have an old window with glass and I’d like to put together a hot bed to go under it, to lengthen the growing season.

The fruit cage needs to be assembled. It’s not doing any good lying in a stack waiting to be put together, and the blackbirds had too many of our raspberries this autumn!

It’s coming up on time to order next spring’s seeds, so I’d better go make a list.

Hope everyone had a peaceful, happy midwinter celebration!

 

A Quick Liver Check…

Not mine. Mine is unchecked, probably staggering along fine since I don’t smoke and rarely drink alcohol. No, it’s the bunnies and that hepatic coccidiosis.

Delilah’s bunch have been looking pretty big and furry in the past week and with my daughter coming back from uni tomorrow, then Christmas, then one of my brothers arriving for a visit on Boxing Day, I decided I’d kill them today (the rabbits, that is, not my relations!), otherwise it might well have been sometime in the New Year and that would be silly. The two rex boys had finished moulting, too, and started squabbling instead, so I reckoned they’d better go before they scratched each other to pieces.

My, what a difference a few months make! Much denser meat and lots more of it, plus oodles of scrummy fat wrapped lovingly around those tender internal organs…. the rexes were 5 months, while the rex crosses were only 10 weeks. Anyway, between them the 8 bunnies have turned into 8kg of meat in the freezer for us, 16 days’ ferret food, 4 days of delicious organ meat to add to the dogs’ dinners, and 8 good pelts. The rex pelts will be wonderfully warm and soft when I’ve cured them – at the moment all the pelts are in the freezer until I have time to do them justice, after the houseguests depart again. I’m thinking fur muff and fur hat at the moment.

Most importantly of all – 7 spotless, perfect, healthy livers, and one that was just a tiny bit spotty! The litter-training and daily cleaning is paying off, the coccidiosis is under control.

I’m pleased. I’d be ecstatic, but for that one slightly spotty one – the smallest of the crosses.

Trudy’s 7 are now enjoying the space of a big cage (with litter tray!) and Trudy’s enjoying having her own cage back and not being trampled underfoot at feeding time.

Jezebel’s are now eyes-open and staggering around – one rushed me as I was cleaning out and had to be retrieved. I re-inserted the critter into the middle of the nest to make sure it got back in the warm, but if they do fall out in the night now, they should be able to get back in again under their own steam.

So, the numbers in the rabbit shed are down to the low twenties and descending nicely, and since I know the new routines are working, I can build on those and aim for totally healthy livers in the next lot.