Do you remember the story of the Little Red Hen? Apparently it's a Russian morality tale, but I'm only acquainted with the illustrated Golden Book version from my childhood. You know the story: hen finds a grain of wheat and asks the other animals in the farmyard if they would like to help her plant and tend the wheat, harvest the grains and bake them into bread. The other animals, all being workshy, decline until it comes to eating the bread. The hen tells them they didn't help so no bread for them.
Even as a child I found the hen a bit sanctimonious. As an adult with my own seeds to tend, I find out that I'm both hen and lazy farm animals. Now that it's harvest time, I'm reaping the rewards where I put in the work, and suffering deficiencies where I put in hours in front of the TV.
We've started harvesting our game. Our first partridge shoot was last Thursday and we put 219 birds in the game dealer's larder. None of the dogs are fit enough to work a whole day in Indian summer temperatures. Dulcie, who was sidelined last year with a ligament repair, is back on good form. Determined to prove her worth, she overheated and had to be revived with a sugary treat but I'm glad to report no other injuries.
More roe deer need to find their way into my freezer - or 'Ice Camp' as Kate calls it, a term we've taken to our hearts. Feeding the horses on dark one night, I saw two bucks in the orchard. They were in range and standing side on, in front of a perfect backstop. Had I brought the rifle we wouldn't be having this conversation, and the shoot staff wouldn't be having carrot and coriander soup for lunch Monday instead of venison casserole.
I am harvesting a bumper crop of carrots. And beans. I've pickled both. They make nearly healthy accompaniments on nights when I'm too lazy to cook extra vegetable side dishes. In England, 'Meat and Two Veg' is the national meal. Sometimes in our house it's just meat, leftover fried potato, and pickled vegetables.
I was overjoyed with my onions, and I spent yesterday engrossed in my favorite harvest activity: plaiting the storage onions. Space is limited so they're going to be stored in the same place they dried: the spare bedroom. It isn't really a bedroom. as there's no bed in it, and in spring I use the room for incubating and hatching chickens. Onions are hygienic by comparison. But heavy. I hung the plaits on the curtain pole, eyeing up the ever-increasing bend, wondering if the pole would hold up.
It didn't. The pole pulled out of the wall sometime around 2a.m. but it's come to rest on top of the bookshelf, so my onions are still hanging in there. The whole balancing act can stay that way until we've eaten enough to lighten the load, then I'll screw it back in the wall.
A lot of the onions have already found their way into some batches of apple chutney. Apples are a big part of the harvest right now. I can't take credit for the bounty, I just try and make good use of it. We go through chutney like drinking water and however much I make it's never enough.
Pickled beans and six jars of chutney
It's the same with jam, although I had some trouble with mould in last year's supply. Instead of re-using jars, as is tradition in England, I ordered some Ball jars with the sealable lids to see if that would solve the problem. I just put up two jars of blackberry-apple-elderberry jelly, and heard the satisfying plink of the vacuum seal. I hope to reap the rewards of good canning practice.
I feel somewhat less rewarded that the sum total of my morning's work picking blackberries resulted in two meagre jars' worth of jelly. Even after I bulked it out with apples. I can't resist the lure of free, ripe, (did I mention free?) berries in the hedgerows - I collected buckets of elderberries, a basket of sloes, Tupperware tubs full of blackberries. My fingers are permanently stained during the month of September. Also a good time not to lend me any books unless you want them returned with purple fingerprints on the pages (My sincere apologies, Colette - only page 210, I promise).
Quincy came with me for her first blackberry picking outing. It's strange to think that she's only been on this earth for ten months. She's learned so much in that short space of time. Having paid the price for training shortcuts with other dogs, I am putting the hours into her. The commands I plant now, I will harvest when Quincy starts her first season in the shooting field.
Quincy doesn't worry about personal space
Oh! I just heard the second jar go plink. If it sets midway between liquid ooze and ballistic gel, it's a winner.
Since my lamentable start to the lambing season, I have been checking the ewes regularly enough to be a nuisance to them. I make up for it by picking a few apples which are out of their reach, and tossing them each a treat.
Sharing the fruits of the harvest
Like they need to be fatter, I know. Looking at their bellies, I have a terrible feeling that there are going to be more singles than twins this year. Had I made sure their nutrition was right before I put them to the ram, I would be cropping twins. I will add that to my ever-growing list of lessons learned. A big single lamb can mean a difficult birth, so now I have to be extra-vigilant.
It's not a huge harvest but I have enough to keep all of us, including our little red hens, fed through the winter.