Monday, 3 February 2020

Slowing time down!

Well my weekly updates have turned in to a bit more monthly!  Had a few issues with uploads of photos and the fact that January has gone by in the blink of an eye!  Hence the title!
Another week, another month is upon us and another plan is forming. We’re trying to fit as much in to each day as we can as they just fly by! I’ve not been very well for the last few weeks, now I’m not telling you this for sympathy at all, but to highlight how vulnerable we are to our reliance on sooo many things. If we don’t have our health, our homes, our heat sources, supermarkets, electronics and so on, where does that leave us. I must admit it has propelled my thoughts around speeding up the process of being reliant on ourselves as much as possible.
With that in mind, these last few weekends have seen lots of work outdoors.  Sowing seeds of plants that we use regularly and that can be sown at this time of year. Kale (purple and green), tomatoes, leeks, lettuce and radish. I’ve also potted on some lavender that looks like it’s seen better days. Not sure it'll make it.  If it does, it can be used for handmade gifts and smellies. We've worked on the raised beds, more on that shortly and generally started cracking on in earnest.
Above is the area in the greenhouse we are (since the photo) using as a seed bed. After this photo was taken, we filled the rest of it with home made compost (feeling quite smug about that). The wires you can see here are heated wires to give a bit of base heat to the seeds.  I like getting an early start with seeds.  That reminds me, I need to order the Alderman peas, we love those and I'd like to have a few different areas with them this year.
It’s been a bit hit and miss weather wise, we've not really had a winter yet but it's been very wet, which has meant we’ve been able to get a lot of work done in the house. The little bedroom which we hadn’t touched since moving in 4 years ago is now done and I am so pleased with it! We managed to come under budget and all in all it cost us around £200! That’s for doing the walls and replacing the carpet with a beautiful wooden floor. It’s used as a dressing room for Grace and I to dry our hair in, so hard floor is easier to manage with people with long hair rather than breaking the hoover again (sorry Ste :) )

We have now started the main bedroom which is a combination of the bedroom and bathroom (en suite).  As with all old houses, as soon as we started it, we knew it was going to be a big task.  We took out the fitted wardrobes as we want to make use of our own furniture that we love and have had for many years.  It's old, classic items, we aren't in to replacing things frequently and especially when not needed!







Once the wardrobes were removed, it pretty quickly showed the issue with the ceiling!  You may or may not be able to tell from the photos, but there is a big bevel in it!  Turns out it needed a bit of TLC and re-patching to get it level (ish) and safe again.  Ste and my Dad got to work on it really quickly and in no time at all, the repair was done and we are ready to move on.  Now for the mammoth task of stripping the wallpaper from the ceiling which is a killer on your arms.  Not looking forward to that one.
Back outside once the weather allowed and dear me, another case of where do you start initially.  With a plan, that's where.  We are done with January's goal of the veg plot planning of what's going where but in order to be able to grow these things, we need a nice soil structure to work with and ease of access to the beds.
So we've cut a hole in the fence to make a new gate for access to another part of the veg plot.  This is 'before' on the top left and Ste working on it and getting the copious amounts of barrowed muck down on the top right.  We're going for as much no dig as we can from now on, we simply don't have the time and life is FAR TOO SHORT to keep weeding and losing every year.


 

It looked great when it was finished and a membrane finish below, to keep those pesky weeds reaching for the light.


I also wanted to share with you some life and doggy updates as I feel it's been a while.  We have some big changes coming at the end of Feb, start of March which I will share with you then.  For now, our 3 lovely dogs are still enjoying life on the smallholding.  Annie will be having a litter of puppies all being well, later this year.  Here she is giving Buster a cuddle.
 

 And watching me do anything and everything!


Rodney spotted something in the rafters in the barn, which frustrated the life out of him!  He had to just sit and watch instead.  Before going to stand on the picnic table and feel king of his castle.
 

 The kids have loved being able to get out more. 
 
 
 
 

We're so lucky to have all of this literally on our own land and from our own doorstep.
 

 
Above is the view from the kitchen window on one of the light frosty mornings we have had.  I will never ever tire of this view.
Another thing I have taken great pride in lately is how well Grace is coming on with her cooking and household skills.  Jack will follow suit but as he's 3 years younger, he is at a different skillset right now.  Still, they both are involved in the household discussions, budget reviews (boring but essential), cooking and meal planning etc.  Grace helped me make croutons for the freezer when the breadbuns were too stale.
 


I also made, well, tried to make a jelly from gooseberries and cherries.  It didn't set, so we now have a kind of cordial, come syrup!  It won't get wasted, but we will need to be inventive I think!






Finally for today, we have a big birthday rapidly approaching on Friday - Grace will be 13!!! So there's a cake to make and good times to be had!  Which ties in nicely with my post title, how the hell do we slow time down!!  All thoughts welcome :) 

I hope your January was a happy one.  We had a great time and feel in a great place to be starting February.  If it wasn't, I wish you a happier February.  Take care bloggers.

Monday, 6 January 2020

What are we doing now?

I'm still figuring out what day of the week works best for blog updates.  I think Monday's are a good starting place as we can wrap up what we've done over the weekend and previous week.  Let's trial it and see.  At the moment I'm also finding our what structure I might have, so until then, it's a bit of everything :)

What are we up to right now?

Well, it is well and truly back to work and school this week, so all routine's are resumed (some in an improved fashion) and we can all go back to knowing what day of the week it is.  I remember many years ago when Steven and I were very happy to have no routine.  How things have changed!  In a good way that is.  The fact that living on a smallholding demands routine, and more so planning, is something that is all to obvious the longer you live on one.  I bet many other people and places can relate to that too, not just smallholdings.  Running a family, working full time, being a stay at home mum, caring for people, looking after animals - it's all so much easier if you have a routine and a plan. 

Sunday night saw me updating my files with the design of the main veg plot, and using RHS' 4 year veg crop rotation (legumes, brassicas, potatoes, onion/roots then back to start) to plan what can go in the beds this year.  Inevitably we have beds that it doesn't make sense to grow "that many" of something, so these will become the beds where the crops that don't need to follow rotation will go.  Squash, the prolific and much loved (a'hem hated) courgettes, cucumbers, French and runner beans, sweetcorn and salad).

Veg plot planning
We haven't bought any seed potatoes, spring planting onions or garlic yet.  We will probably look to do it at the end of January.  Ideally this year, we will have early, salad, main crops & lates so that we have as much coverage through the year as possible.  To be fair, our main crop from last year are still going well, despite the mice's best attempts.

Something that has become obvious over Christmas is that Jack too needs a plan.  We give our kids jobs to do around the smallholding.  Be it looking after animals (feed and water) or clearing the table to making your own packed lunch (as much as possible) and so on.  Annie, our bullmastiff, very much appreciates all we do for her and gives us lots of cuddles in return!



This weekend we decided to cut back the apple trees in what we call the orchard.  It's not a huge orchard, a handful of old, established fruit trees which we have rather cautiously taken one or two branches off in the winter before.  However, last year they took over but bore no fruit, so we promised ourselves we would be ruthless when it came to cutting them back for 2020 fruit.  Below is one of the cooking apple trees that has been prolific in previous years.  Fingers crossed it comes back well this year. The photo is before and I don't have an after shot, I daren't show you! ;)



The mice I mentioned before, the ones who ate the potatoes in the shed.  Well, Steven built that shed and we knew there wasn't a single crack or hole in it and we couldn't figure out how they were getting in!  Well I think the mice are rats, as we found the hole when giving the shed a clean out this weekend.  You'd think it had been done by machine looking at it, but you can see the teeth mark on it.  Bloody things.  Rat trap going down and the hole will get covered.  They get everywhere!


Speaking of shed's, this one we bought a while ago to house poultry.  I can't remember what it was at the time, however now it's for chickens.  It's getting too small though, as we had a shift around this weekend after processing 10 cockerels.  That left us 4 hens from that hatch that could go in with the other hens.  More room was needed so Steven ingeniously cut some nest box size holes out of the wall of the shed and moved the nest box from inside to outside, giving them extra space.  They roam during the day and just us this space for laying eggs and perching at night.  A great idea!  We're going to do the same on the other side too as there's a fair few in there now and no doubt they will all want to lay glorious eggs at the same time come spring!
 
Adding the nest box
From the inside, we will see if they need bigger holes
Some hens couldn't resist having a sneak preview
Happily perching on the night :)
Another job that got done was the cleaning out of the goose pond and IBC tank that feeds it.  Both in dire need.  Unfortunately, the pond water has since dropped, so there's a hole in the liner.  We will have to get another one as the water will be used by the geese and ducks when we set up our new area.  This is on the jobs list but not an immediate issue as the geese have alternative options and we don't have the ducks yet. 


A long pipe connected to the IBC tank, held on by yours truly, helps the water make its way to the pond
A fine specimen ;)
This post is turning in to "what has Ste done"  - I do more than just take photos honestly!  For Christmas, Ste got lots of tools that he's now having a play about with to see what he can use them for, making lots of little things like this in the process!

 
So what have I been doing.  I managed to get a freezer inventory done of the big chest freezer and of course we had loads of things that I'd forgotten about and will shortly be making an appearance on the menu plan.  I've also draft menu planned a good few weeks ahead, easily once you get in to it as for example we had lasagne the other day and I won't be adding it to the plan for another 4-6 weeks ish, as we will have other pasta dishes on "pasta day" in between, plus with it being SO calorific, it's a once in a month or so treat.  We're both cutting back, as is everyone no doubt, after Christmas, so this kind of rule setting helps with that too.
I've decided on a framework for the menu plans, which helped dramatically.  For example Monday's is a curry night, Tuesday's will be fish or stir fry (Sunday left overs?), Wednesday's is pasta or rice based, Thursday's casserole/stew, Friday is a bit of a free for all such as gammon, chops, steak (yeh right), burgers etc.  Saturday is always a fry up at lunch then family teas on knees, easy meal & Sunday for the most part it is roast at noon and soup/farmhouse bread for tea.
Thanks to my dear friend Lou (visit here), I've got myself a household notebook together and am getting myself in order with writing everything down.  The freezer inventory, menu plans, shopping lists, outgoings and expenses, to do lists, jobs lists, daily routine lists, veg plot planning and so on.  Just talking these things through helps.  So although there isn't a lot to show outwardly, I'm busy busy.
This week, we have managed to save some extra pennies unexpectedly, only small amounts but every little helps, so they will be put to one side instead of being consumed in to the wider pot.  We have set ourselves a financial target of what we would like to save this year, starting from zero.  I won't be sharing figures in that respect as it's all relative.  %'s would be better I think.  So we are at, 0.01% :) 
I wanted to share with you the below picture which I stopped to take when I came in the other night, I'm so proud of the space we have created outside (Steven again!).  It looks cosy, is very practical and hopefully will add value to the smallholding if we ever move in to another chapter ;)



Friday, 3 January 2020

Reflections

**I couldn't get away with wordpress so came back to blogger (apparently a lot of people don't like blogger but better the devil you know for me).  I only did a few blogs on wordpress to be fair, which you can find here should you be interested.** 

Regardless, and despite its name, this post is about looking forward with learnings we have from the past, mulling things over, planning for 2020 and so on.

I don't know about you but January is a time for reflection and planning for me, in that order I think.  We are just starting a new decade, we have been on the smallholding for 4 years coming up and we are thrilled to be planning our biggest year yet!  I have said that before, and do you know what, it always has been.  For one reason or another we've done more, learnt more or overcome more each year.  The list goes on.  This post is going to be very wordy, so I am going to throw some random cute old pics in just to break it up :)

The pups when we got them in 2015

Buddy 
Back in December 2015 after selling our family home, we were in limbo, literally homeless. We were  generously offered to use my Uncle's house whilst he worked away which was a blessing.  During our time there, I gave some thought to what supermarkets to use once we moved to the smallholding as we had been an avid Aldi shopper for 5 years + by then.  Over the last 4 years we have been up and down with shopping, trialling Tesco, Aldi, home delivery, local grocers etc.  What's interesting is that the grocery budget in 2016 is exactly what we are setting for 2020 - £300 a month and for 2020 that is a MAX each month, starting with January's pay at the end of the month.  What I do know is that, for this year at least, with the lifestyle we are aiming for, shopping at Aldi once a week is the answer for us.
Our first hay delivery with a rather chuffed Steven
2020 for us is all about minimising our outgoings and maximising our income.  Now that doesn't necessarily just mean financially, it could be about reducing waste all round or using what we have more appropriately, both financially, within the household and even health wise (mentl health included).  It can be applied to a multitude of areas such as spending less, earning more, not wasting food, growing AND USING your own food, using less plastic, not wasting time on things that don't matter.... but let's not run before we can walk.  
Over the next few blog posts I will share some thoughts on what I mean by this and how we can apply it through 2020.
Birds eye view of the house, barn and veg plot
In many ways we are so much further on than when we started in January 2016.  Our knowledge on growing our own food and raising our own meat has come on leaps and bounds.  Saying that, no matter how much you know, there's always more to be learnt.  Steven has produced some magnificant woodwork items, been painter and decorator, handy man and maintenance man, learning things we would have only dreamt about previously.  I have taken on so many more skills in the veg plots, kitchen and research which against Steven's list looks minimal but there's a lot to be said for those skills.

Something I definitely want to (need to) improve on now we have growing skills is ensuring we harvest everything timely and not only that, but using it!  I am terrible for letting the courgettes grow huge and then letting them go to waste.  Not only courgettes too.  Generally, growing your own goes from a snail's pace, impatiently waiting for the first shoot or fruit flower, to being over run with produce and not having enough tubs, jars,  freezer or shelf space to preserve it all!

Beautiful crocus flowers showing colour at the end of winter
I have mostly cooked from scratch over the 4 years, although we went through a spell of eating and drinking out far too much.  There was a bit of "we work full time so can enjoy it" conversations combined with the excitement of new neighbours who eat and drink out alot!  We've now all settled in to our little routines, seeing each other for events or in passing on a summer day at the pub, so that has worked out very well indeed.

Having said minimising outgoings could be other things, it obviously does gravitat around finances for this year.  Part of the reason we want to cut the spending is to try and get 6 (then 12 etc) month's wages saved in the bank.  As noones job is as safe as houses and given we still have a (large) mortgage to pay, we need a decent income and we don't want to be caught short if life throws a curveball.  

So throughout the year, when we feel a splurge coming on or the week leaves us feeling weak and can't be bothered to make the effort, I/we will remind ourselves of why we are doing this.  To protect our future as well as live a healthier, more fulfilling life.  It's all or nothing for these 12 months and after that, we will reassess where we are and how we want to continue, but for now, it's full steam ahead and lock down!  That does not mean no fun, no time out, and living on bread and beans.  Far from it.  I think this year will actually being more fruitful than ever in those areas.  We shall see.
Aww jack when he was 5
Anyway, you get the drift.  We are going at this all out and I can't wait.

  Outside is going to be the biggest income of all, fruit and veg, so we need to treat it kindly and look after it.  So where do we start:

What should we be doing outside in January to allow for the best crops?
According to RHS website:  January is the coldest month.  In January, your garden could need protecting from frosts, gale-force winds and heavy rain. Check stakes, ties, fleeces and other supports for damage and consider moving plants to sunnier positions to maximize light. Don't forget to keep feeding the birds, food is scarce for them over winter. You can also start planning next year's vegetable plot.

I did feed the birds some bacon fat at the weekend but this has reminded me that we need to look after them.  We have a beautiful little robin that visits the veg plot and I'd hate to think s/he went hungry!  It is on the jobs list for Saturday now.

Frosty, winter morning on the smallholding.
Since moving to the smallholding, we have added more raised veg beds, a "mini" orchard & started work on a paddock area which we are still undecided what to do with.  Last year it had pumpkins, corn and chard in.  There's one solitary chard plant left and the rest has been turned in by the sheep.  
One thing we have an issue with here is weeds.  We are going to get on top of them before they start this year.  Don't get me started on the nettles, they don't seem to have died off since Autumn 2019!  One method we have adopted previously is the lasagne method which is described in much better detail that I could do here.  We use horse muck which we have in abundance and we mulch during the year with grass and leaf clippings.  As long as the weeds are suppressed, we can work with the rest.  Luckily most of our raised beds are in great condition and we grew in them straight away, it's just the new areas or those we neglected originally (priorities & time constraints) which we struggle with soil condition and weeds on.  So minimising weeds to give us back some time is a big outside priority this year.  As Steven always says, 30 minutes a night will stay on top, we can't leave everything to the weekend.
Asparagus bed
The asparagus bed has pretty much died back ready to be cut and mulched for the really cold weather.  It would survive without mulching, however covering it to protect it from winter, looking after the soil and give nutrients back after such a good harvest is the least we can do.  Asparagus, along with rhubarb is one of earliest crops and comes any time from May and has been prolific every year.  I can't wait for it, not only because I was gifted an asparagus knife for my December birthday from Steven - it's the little things!  We popped a black dustbin over a rhubarb plant that hasn't been forced in the last 4 years to see how that works out.  Last year we forced an early variety and it was prolific.  Rhubarb is one of my favourite plants, not least because it tastes amazing in gin ;)

We can also start with repairs in the veg plot as we have recently sourced some free wood.  A few beds have dropped to bits through rot and others could do with raising a little, though we haven't talked that through yet, so it might not be an option.  Therefore this weekend, we don't have anywhere to be or anything to do (ie Christmas has seen us inside more than out) which can only mean one thing!  A day spent in the veg plot with a mug of hot soup to keep you warm and a full English to see you through.  Bliss! 

I shall be posting at least once a week through 2020 and I hope you continue to join us on our next chapter in this fantastic journey.  Please, if you get time, drop a comment so I know this is getting out there still.
Take care everyone and speak soon :)