Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Maximising our outside space

When we were looking for a smallholding, I wanted as much land as possible.  When we moved here, initially we were pleased that we hadn't got as much land as we'd originally set out to get.  Now, 18 months later and feeling like we have lived here forever, we're hoping to get more land at some point.  That's another story, but my point is, when we were looking for a place, we attended River Cottage Summer Fair where we met Tim Maddams.  A lovely chap who we got on talking to about our hopes and dreams.  He couldn't believe the price differences in what we could buy in North East England, compared to "down South".   We too were shocked.
We also stayed at a working farm for 2 nights, whilst we visited River Cottage and met a lovely family who we also got on talking to.  It was calving season and as we stood watching a mother give birth to twins (which I didn't even know cows could do) the farmer was telling us that it's a lot harder to manage 4 acres than it is 40 acres.
We looked shocked and he said, 'land management - it is all in the land management'.  We need to make sure we rotate, rest, harrow etc etc as and when we can.  It's easier said than done, as we don't have the tools that farmers do, so we make do and mend.  (I rolled my field using the tyres on my fiesta for example!).
So part of what we have is the area knows as Chickenville.  Not surprisingly, this has housed our chickens since we moved in.  They've done a great jobs of killing the weeds and the floor is now just mud.  So these chickens have now been given part of the little paddock.


Chickenville was a dense and dark area when we bought this place.
 
Little by little we have chopped the trees down and turned them into fire size pieces ready to keep us warm in the following year's winter.

 
This is double depth to the wall and one of Ste's favourite places!
So back to my original point, of using your land wisely.
This is how Chickenville looks today.  What a cracking space.  Now the chickens are out using the little paddock, we're wondering what we could use this space for.  Time will tell, we're not in a rush to make any mistakes.


 

Monday, 29 May 2017

Monday night preserving - dehydrating fruit

A quick preserving post tonight with it being Bank Holiday. We've had a lovely family day and are back to work tomorrow.
We recently bought a Andrew James dehydrator and have been using it to preserve different things but it's all just trial and error for now. 

Now most of the slicing and dicing requires a thinner cut than I can achieve with a knife. Safely at least! So we decided to trial a food slicer. It was £28 from Argos and we hope it'll be a good addition to the preserving tools we're building up. Of course there were really expensive models of the dehydrator and food slicer but we decided to go for budget on both and see how much use we get of them. Then it'll help us decide in the future if we ever have to replace them.
So today we've used it to slice fresh pineapple which it could do to a thickness of 5mm and I was very impressed with it.

We dried it out for the recommended time and it came out a treat and it's absolutely delicious. The dehydrator takes 4 pineapples so we know this for next time they're on offer.

We will use it for snacking on instead of biscuits and also if I need to add it to any recipes. Healthier too!
It's not seasonal, which is what I intended to use the Monday night preserving slot for, but it's on offer and I feel the two things go hand in hand as pineapple isn't something I've managed to grow yet!! Not to mention that there are no additive or preservatives in this, which there are in the shop bought ones.
Next week i will be posting more about rhubarb. We're fast approaching June and the season will be over shortly after that as I'll let the plants rest and restore themselves for 2018 season! Incidentally, we're moving the rhubarb when it is dormant later in the year, as we've had an idea to use some space at the front of the house.

Spring bank holiday

What beautiful weather we've been having, perfect growing conditions with long sunny days and dare I say it, a long wet day on Sunday! The rest of the week is looking fine so I'm hoping to see some growth on my brassicas. They've been shredded to skeletal remains by something! The first batch do seem to be recovering but their growth is definitely stunted and therefore I don't think brassicas are doing as well as last year. June will be the the deciding month. I think it's been colder this year earlier on too.

I've spent some great hours in the veg plot, greenhouse and polytunnel, though there's many more hours needed in them. The weather I spoke of is great for the weeds too!
The tomatoes and peas are looking good though again, I don't think we've as many peas as last year. Still time to sow some more of course and I have discovered just the spot for those.
Bush Tomatoes
Polytunnel peas
A while back I sowed some Purple Top Milan turnips in the polytunnel and they all went to seed, so I am guessing it's too warm for them.  The pigs had them for their supper last night.
 In order to net off the fruit bushes growing alongside the rhubarb, we needed to harvest some more rhubarb which was fine as it's had a rest since the last harvest.  Here's Grace stood with some of the harvest and the leaves which were almost as big as her.
 I tried to thin the carrots out a bit more and when I pulled this one out I nearly died of shock.  I've never been able to grow carrots before! 
On Sunday we all went for a lovely, long, family walk out.
 The dogs could smell something but we couldn't see anything.  Maybe a rabbit was just here.
We also netted the strawberries as they have shot up out of nowhere.
 As have the currants and gooseberries


Inspired, I then decided to have a wander round the veg plot taking snaps of how we're doing.
Rhubarb and currant area

Onions with catch crops in between

The start of direct sowings coming through with quick crops interspersed.  Chamomile is closest here, to make tea with.
 I started planting up the bean bed.  This bed had the trenches dug in it a few month ago, which were filled with veg peelings.  I need to do that at the end of this year so they rot down better next year, but they will still retain the moisture in the bed which is needed.  here we have runner beans with sweet peas in the middle, and nasturtiums at the front.  This bed isn't finished yet but only so many hours in the day.
 This is my pea and broad bean bed which I'm just not overly happy with.  I've put some borlotti's in the edge too to create an archway if they grow high enough, linked to the next bed.  I'm going to sow more peas, but this bed is the most disappointing this year so far.
 Here's the main crop potato bed which also has comfrey along the long side as I needed somewhere to put it.  Once it's in, it's in, so no going back now.
Comfrey
 This bed has the early potatoes at the top and the tomatoes I've just planted out in the bottom.  There's a lot of conflicting information about these 2 being planted together.  I've gone with the risky view as I've tonnes more tomatoes elsewhere, so if I lose them, I need to take it on the chin.  The early potatoes are due to come up any time now but they're a little behind due to the cold weather start again.
 Here we have my version of The Three Sisters which you can read about online.  It's a method for planting your squash, sweetcorn and beans/peas etc together.  I've got sunflowers in instead with my squash and sweetcorn.  We'll use the sunflowers for food for us and the chickens and also to sow as seeds again next year.
 A happy nasturtium flower which are also edible!  I've not tried one yet.



All in all we had a lovely family weekend together.  The kids are off for half term now and they are also off next week for 5 PD days as our school clumps them all together.  Ste and I have taken this week off too, so I hope to get lots sown, grown, harvested and made during this time off.


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Rip Big Bertha

We have had chickens pass away for one reason or another and I usually don't mention it each time as it is part of running the small holding. However today we lost Big Bertha seen on the left here.

We have had her for 7 years. We got her when Grace was 3 and I was expecting Jack. She will have been at least 8, most likely older. I thought she was around 10 but whatever the correct age is, she's had an amazing innings and I am really pleased that she made it to the small holding with us and spent her last days here. She died peacefully in the orchard today, basking in the sun and enjoying her girls around her.

We only have Jess left out of the original clan that we named. We've not named the latest lot, but these were the ones that opened up the love of keeping chickens to us.


Monday, 22 May 2017

Monday night preserves - Asparagus in oil 

On Monday nights I aim to preserve something that is in season throughout the growing season. This is to allow us to prolong the growing season and try our fruit and veg in a variety of ways.
Tonight I was going to do asparagus and also leathers. However the asparagus was such a faff on that I am keeping the leathers for another night.
We cut the asparagus that has flew up since we had the rain just a couple of days ago and I set about trimming them to fit the jar size stated in the recipe. 500ml. There was my first mistake, my jar is more short and fat than tall and slim (sounds familiar 😂) so I had to trim the asparagus a lot shorter than I would have liked. I kept the cut offs to make a soup or such.
I boiled vinegar and water then set aside and kept warm. The asparagus I charred in the frying pan as I don't have a griddle and plunged into the vinegar and water whilst I chopped 2 shallots. Placing the shallots and a tsp of peppercorns in the sterilised short, fat jar I set about fishing the asparagus out of the vinegar. This in itself was a task as I didn't want to pour it out. Then you're supposed to stand the asparagus up in the jar. This takes patience and I was losing mine.
Once it is stood up, in a fashion, I put 75ml of lemon juice in and topped up with olive oil and added some home grown herbs.
 
It looks nice and now needs to sit for 6 weeks before we could use it. It'll keep for 4 months in the pantry and then once open will last another 6 weeks. So in theory we could wait until winter to use these up, which will be a nice treat.
Although it was a faff on, it's done now and looking back, it wouldn't be as hard the second time. Incidentally, the oil it's preserved in wkill be used for cooking once the asparagus is used. It is however fairly expensive unless you have olive oil and cider vinegar in bulk.

Friday, 19 May 2017

What to do with this

This is the back of an outbuilding that we have.  Inside this we store the lawnmower and process the poultry but we've another idea for what we want to put in there.  I'll post about that another time.
Today I am interested in the back of it.  What a waste of space.  It's not as simple as it looks to find a solution though.  The sheep live here, so they will eat anything we plant.

Not only would the sheep eat anything, looking at the ground here, I'm not convinced we're get a spade in it!
 Something, not sure what, is left over here.  There's a semi circle that you can't quite make out, but maybe something was planted in it years ago.  I'll see if the neighbours know.
 Speaking of neighbours, I can't put anything high in here as to the right we have the only part of our area that is overlooked by my lovely neighbours and I wouldn't want to block their view.
So I am just not sure what to do here, it seems wasted and unloved.

If you stand with your back to the barn, you face our field, but before you get to the main field there is a mass of trees.  They are very pretty but in the way.  They will have been planted as a wind break or noise break but as we're planting up the river bank with trees (which is directly behind these again), they aren't required here.
The conker tree in the far left is very pretty
Access to the field is past the sheep, round the corner of the trees.
 We're giving serious thought as what to do with these.  Some have come down an provided us with wood, others are being eaten by the sheep so will also come down.
Do we house animals in here, chickens, sheep, pigs, goats etc?  Do we pull them all down and turn it to grass to give us much needed extra grazing land?  The ideas go on.  It's worth nothing there us a slope from the edge of the grass down to the field in which the trees are growing.  I'll have a think over the weekend,  Have a good one everyone :)


Thursday, 18 May 2017

Cherry tree protection


With last year being our first year here, we were discovering what trees we have and it wasn't until too late that we realised we had a cherry tree in the orchard, nestled amongst the apple trees.  By too late I mean the birds got to them before us.
This cherry tree was really productive as were some others we have.  This tree however is smaller and easier to pick than the others, so we have claimed this one and we'll just have to see if the birds beat us to the other ones!
The tree before and after netting was put in place.  I hope we get a decent crop again this year, one we can actually harvest though!
 

 

 


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Monday night preserves - Rhubarb

I have decided to dedicate Monday nights to be preserve nights. I'll post about it each week, showing how I am preserving the 'in season' products or those which simply come my way that I can't make use of at that time. 

So for my first post I am using rhubarb as it's well underway now. We've been harvesting it for a while now as we have early and regular rhubarb. You may remember back at Easter I used some of the early rhubarb to make cordial? I alluded to it and said I'd do a write up on it at a later date. Well I made some more last night and tonight. It's a simple recipe and the previous batch was used quickly, but I hope to preseve some of this latest batch to see how well it keeps.

I gathered around 6kg of rhubarb and that wasn't taking anywhere near as much as I could have, so I'll get more when I have time but making sure I don't take too much that it harms the plant.

Firstly I chopped up a kilo and added it to the jam pan with 900g sugar and 100g crystallised ginger. I covered it to stop the flies getting to it and left it for 24 hours to steep. Apparently leaving it like this forms a syrup, which it did, and helps keeps the shape of the fruit chunks.

Then I sterilised my jars in the Aga and brought the jam to setting point. It only took 10 mins max. I poured the jam into 4 small and 1 medium jar with some left over to use as the tester. If the jam sets and tastes nice then I will keep some for Christmas hampers. I've some tiny jam jars to use too so I can do a selection for people meaning there's less waste if they're not keen. 

The rhubarb cordial I also started last night by roughly chopping 2kg rhubarb and adding 250ml water then stewing until tender. 

Once tender I left it to drip into a bowl through a sterlilised jelly bag for 24 hours.

Tonight I had 700ml of juice which I thought was disappointing from 2kg fruit so I topped it up with water to make 1 litre. Then I added 700g sugar and dissolved it making sure the syrup reached 88C on the thermometer. Once done I poured it into sterilised bottles and put the 2 full ones into a water bath. Note to self, get smaller bottles as even the tallest pan wasn't big enough.


If the water bath had worked then they would keep for up to 12 months according to my book so I'll do another batch using smaller bottles that are appropriate gift sizes too.

The remainder of the rhubarb is going to be open froze and bagged up in the freezer to use as I fancy it. 

Thanks again to Patty Pan (Tricia) for her kind gift showing me how to do this and for the wise words of Dawn, Louise and others last year helping me learn what I need to do to stay safe preserving.

Next Monday will be making fruit leathers from the left over rhubarb pulp which I've frozen for now and also preserving asparagus.