Monday, 20 August 2018

Summer holidays and exciting news!

We are in the midst of our summer break here. I've taken 2 weeks off work to catch up on the smallholding and start to prep for winter 2018.  I also have some exciting news to share with you.

The veg plot and friends:
Taking the 2 weeks off work, before the August bank holiday every year, is proving to be a really good time to have off from a smallholding point of view.  There's so many things to harvest and preserve.  I spent the first few days weeding.  After the prolonged dry weather, then the burst of rain, the weeds have been forcing their way through and bringing their friends.  I managed to weed the potato bed, the squash bed, peas and beans, outdoor tomatoes and the roots beds.  My daughter also helped put some hay (it was too dusty for the horses, perfect for the veg patch so didn't go to waste) under the squash to protect them from the wet soil.  

This year the plum are non existent but last year was a super year and the branches were snapping from the trees, so we aren't surprised but it's a shame.  The damsons are doing ok though and are almost ready.  I've spotted a few wild plums along the lane so we will pick them this week and use them.

Apples on the other hand are doing AMAZINGLY well this year!  This variety is Discovery, which we got from Kev over on An English Homestead and they are the nicest eaters ever, I was pleasantly surprised.  Look at the size of them!
More apples on the back trellace as cordons from Kev, doing very well too but later varieties.
 Outdoor tomatoes are loving the long, hot summer weather so far, though the muggy weather we have now is ripe for blight, so we are on blight watch daily.  I can't recommend this variety highly enough, it's called "Outdoor Girl".
This is the second harvest we have had from these and there's another couple of the same again to come.
 Every year we grow a pumpkin or large squash of some variety and this isn't huge yet, but we're pleased with it.  There's a local county show we go to, for some fun competition where we will show this.  We won first place last year!
 This variety is called Sibley squash and I got the seeds from real seed.  They are supposed to keep very well through winter, becoming noticeably sweeter after New Year apparently.  The plants have been prolific this year.
 The indoor tomatoes are doing beautifully.  After a rubbish crop last year, where I didn't even get to bottle any, I'm pleased they are coming along nicely.  I've never seen so many tomatoes on one vine as this variety.  The variety if Ildi.
Next year we must do more against the cabbage white butterfly.  This year seems to have been horrendous for them!  To be double sure, I intend to grow the young plants undercover and then when I plant out, put them straight under enviromesh.  It's not cheap but apparently is worth it.
Two of my favourite summer veg, broad beans and courgettes.  Just as well as there's loads!  Only 1 variety of courgette this year, I prefer the yellow and will stick with that each year now.   
 The kids have been brilliant during our time off and very helpful.  I'll explain more in a moment, but here they are in my potting (or plotting as Jack calls it) shed enjoying some treats after a morning of hard graft.
 The damsons I mentioned.
 Old apple trees in the orchard, doing well this year.
On the smallholding:

We're getting the outside jobs done.  Some nice and some not so nice.  There's not only weeding to be done in the veg plot, but there's plenty around the smallholding too.  Nettles are everywhere and boy are they stingers.  The car park looks more like a field, so we've hand weeded part of it, with the rest to be done.  We have trees to fell to give us Winter 2019 heat as they will need to season for a year or so.  We're picking up 20 Ross Cobb day old chicks from our supplier tomorrow.  They will be slow raised to a decent weight when they will go in the freezer for 2019 chicken.  They are to be housed for the first few weeks in the poultry shed which is (hopefully) fox proof as we still have a fox issue.  
Additionally we're picking up some Rhode Island Red day old chicks too, which will start off 2019 laying hens.  Cockerels will go to the freezer too, bar 1.
With all this in mind, we needed a processing area for when the time comes.  Ste has built this small shelter at the back of the smallholding for that purpose.  It's great isn't it and will last for years at a small cost to us financially.
Ryan, our female goose as some of you may remember, has decided she wants to sit on her eggs again.  The previous lot that were sat on this year didn't hatch, so I don't know if Neville, our gander, is performing or not.  

 Below is the small paddock.  The fenced, nettled area is where we ran the pigs on in 2017.  There is a small wooded area at the back and the rest of the paddock is currently laid to grass.  At the moment we need the grass for the sheep as the horses have the big field, but we just can't decide what to do for the best with this area in the long run.  The pig area will be brilliant for growing in once it is clear, given the muck they produced.


In the kitchen:
The rhubarb vodka is ready, so I have decanted it into bottles and oh my it is nice.


We decided to sell our kitchen table even though I love it, as I wanted a bigger one.  We were all set until we realised we already have the perfect size table in the dining room which we never use except at Christmas. 
 With a lovely farmhouse tablecloth over it, it really suits the kitchen and is the perfect size for us.
So now we're reevaluating what to do with the other table and the space we've created in the dining room (which was a snug).
The kids have been baking, but I forgot to take photos as I was playing negotiator.  Brownies, scones and millionaire shortbread!  No diets in this house for now!  The kids and Annie had plenty of cuddle time too!  
She simply is the kindest natured dog with them.  She is the perfect guard dog too, you won't get in the house without being barked at followed by a warm welcome if we tell her it's ok.  Can't wish for a better dog.
I also made a tomato soup which turned out to be very bland.  Unsure what to do, the next day I made "half the garden soup" from Hugh's River Cottage book and when it called for a kilo of toms and stock I decided to just use the tomato soup instead, plus a bit of my 'souper mix' from Pam Corbin's book and goodness me, it worked out well.  
I've also been making slow cooker stews, pulled ham, pork and roasting chickens.  A lot will be returned to the freezer once made ready to reheat as evening meals once we are back to work.

The next plan....
So now for the exciting part.  The next plan.  It's been forming for a year or so, but we've taken the time to formalise it whilst we have been off work.  Starting now and until end of May 2019, we are stockpiling a years worth of long life or non perishable goods. 
Come June 1st, we're embarking on living off one wage and saving the other.  This will allow us to have a years worth of savings in the bank, which leads on to phase 2 of the plan, for another day.
From June 1st we will have an annual grocery budget that equates to £25 a week.  This is only for the likes of milk, butter, flour, cheese, kids lunch items.  Everything else, literally, will come from our 'stores' as we refer to it, the years worth of supplies we have stockpiled prior to June.
That means we also need to find an additional £1300 cash to have to hand from June 01st, which is the annual budget.  Any income after June 01st is being saved.  As we're stockpiling, our outgoings are already going to increase so we need to have this cash as additional to what we have now.  Time to sell what we don't need and make money where we can.
It's all part of the lifestyle shift that we have bought in to and I can't wait to get started.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

A true British Summer

The last week or two were one of those mega busy ones that I've alluded to from time to time.  I had a full week of meetings, meaning I was at work later than normal, giving us less time on a night (if any!).  Grace is going to Senior school in September and had her induction day a week gone Wednesday.  I am pleased to say she settled right in after a scary morning of not knowing anyone.  She's had party's, performances, church services and lots of other things.  We've also thrown a party which saw 120 people pass through our gates.  It's was fantastic and we thoroughly enjoyed it, though I won't lie and say we're not pleased it's over.  It thankfully went without a hitch, however we had lots of left overs.  More on that soon.
 
The veg plot and friends
We have hit the busiest time of year!  I must admit we are struggling in the heat with the watering being so demanding.  Thankfully there is no hose pipe ban here.  We do try and save water in IBC tanks and we also make comfrey tea to save on using tomato feed, but there's no getting away from the fact we are heavily reliant on the tap water right now.  As usual, when we are confronted with a problem, it sets us off thinking how we can avoid having it again.  You watch, we will be fully loaded with rain water saved when next year comes round, and it'll be the wettest summer on record!
 
Our Autumn planted onions, shallots and garlic did us very proud this year.  We've just taken them all up and have hung them out on a make shift dryer.  I'm planning on keeping one of the best garlic cloves and sowing that again come the Autumn.  The shallots are Golden Gourmet and if they taste as good as they look, we will get those again this Autumn.  The onions are Shakespeare and Red Cross.  The garlic are Carcassone Wight and Provence Wight.
 
 
 
 The onion bed is now empty, dug over and ready for the next lot of veg.  We were lucky enough to be gifted 40 broad bean plug plants, so I've started putting them in.
 
Another full time job is harvesting all of the fruit and veg.  It's certainly not a hardship.  The first tomatoes are ready - a kilo of mixed ones.  These are going to be dried in the dehydrator as we love 'sun' dried toms, especially in a bread I make which is my daughter's favourite.
 
 
This is the second lot of peas, sweetcorn and second broad beans.  The first lot of peas and broad beans which are in another bed, are ready to be pulled up to make way for something else.
 
These cabbages and caulis I am so thrilled with. Today I have pulled most of them up, so they are being washed and popped in the freezer to make use of another day as we aren't currently having meals that these veg would play a part in, it is just too hot.
 
 
I am very happy with the leeks, but not the spring planted onions, something keeps going in the bed and turning it over, rather annoying.
 
 
The currants are always very rewarding:
 
 
 
I am growing cucamelon this year, and they are doing really well in hanging baskets, so that is the way forward for me from now on (assuming we want to grow them again!).  It saves on space too.
 
I didn't think I had grown any cucumbers as all I seemed to have is gherkins, which are very bitter when they get too big.  Anyway, turns out I did put some cucumbers in and they are doing great.
 
 
The pepper plants are doing fantastic and some seeds that I got from Dawn 2 years ago are proving perfect again this year. 
 
Jack is using his no technology time to spend with me podding peas.  His concentration might not last long, but I hope it is memories in the making for him.
 
I have found the peas which we will stick to too, Victorian Collosal Climbing which I have mentioned before.  They are over 8ft tall and produce huge pods with the sweetest taste despite their size.  A winner!
On the smallholding:
 
So we had a very hard lesson learnt here on the smallholding.  One of our 6 lambs went down with fly strike.  It was awful, truly awful.  I will spare you the details, I couldn't even bring myself to get a photo and that in itself says a lot when I know what I have pictured in the last.  We did what we needed to do and paid the expensive lesson.  Thankfully we are talking financially and not the little lamb's life.  He made it through, though I had one very sleepless night thinking he wasn't going to make it.  This is him healing and in a very good place compare to where he was.  We know where we went wrong and it will not happen again.  He's totally back to normal now, just needs his wool to catch up.  Aloe Vera gel is amazing stuff by the way, for healing skin conditions.  Here I am trying to get a photo with him and failing.
 
 
Then they all decided to get themselves stuck in a gate which was fun!
 
 
We're desperate for rain, but I actually am so pleased hat we're seeing a proper season!  I love to see the seasons change and this is what I imagine a proper British summer to be like.  The fields are sparse so we are giving hay to the horses and sheep.  We don't have a lot of land so we need to make sure we use what we have well and buying in hay and hard feed is just a way of life here.
 
 
 
Fox update!  He's not had any more as we have moved them.  It's not a permanent solution but it's working for now.  Here they are in the shed we have moved them too:
 
 Quite happy in there.  Sadly they are now penned in but at least they are alive.
 
Another one just because:
 
 
In the kitchen:
Rosemary is being air dried in the heat of the kitchen, ready for lots of winter stews and other uses. 
 
Raspberry jam is my favourite and a pleasure to make.  Every year I am blown away by the taste.  Incidentally, my daughter is giving a jar to her teacher, with another item, as a leaving gift.
 Annie is my shadow, just watching over me.  She is growing into a beautiful natured, strong and loyal dog.  Her gentle nature is just perfect.  She's 8 months old now, so lots more growing and maturing time.
 
 
 
Grace and Jack are still making their own choice items.  Both chose gingerbread men, which were really nice.
 
I normally give an "In the house" update however we have had so much going on outside that there's very little happening in the house.  However our party had some fabulous photos to share with you.  We've had a lot of left over food, some of which is in the freezer and some we had in the following days.  We had enough breadbuns to sink a ship though.
 
Jack on the tree swing. 
 
 
My family getting quality time together. 
 
Love seeing people enjoying each others company at our place.  Everyone deserves that chill out time.
 
 
My Dad and Ste doing a grand job on the bbq.
 
 
My Mam and her friends, enjoying some food and sun.  We were so blessed with the weather.
 
 
My Nana and my aunty (her daughter in law)
 
 
Table tennis table for the kids and big kids :)
 
 
My uncle keeping the sun off his bonnet haha.
 
 
We ordered a bouncy castle obstacle course thing for the kids to enjoy.
 
 
We also have a nest of swallows (or swifts?), of which since this photo was taken, have all safely fledged.
 
 
 
 So life is fantastic. Learning every day!  Struggling to sleep on a night though, due to the weather, work is easing up slightly, the garden is producing, Grace is moving on to senior school, Ste is enjoying the veg garden more and more and Jack is getting used to no technology nights. 

Hope everyone is well xx