Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Eggs is eggs - January round up

We had a good egg month considering it's January.  Our girls have supplied us with slightly over 400 eggs through January which is amazing considering it's one of the quieter months normally.  I don't have the exact number as I started recording on 7th January. 
Of course, they're all stuck inside so not free ranging due to the avian flu restrictions so this may be affecting the numbers in the sense of them producing more than normal.  They have nothing else to do except lay eggs and eat the greens we put in to supplement their food.  Bitter sweet!
We sold pretty much all of these eggs this month.  The money from these sales goes straight to their feed along with the money from the horse muck.  We stocked up on corn from the farmer and bought 4 bags of layers pellets on 22nd January.  We started using them both the same day as we were out of corn and only had half a barrel of layers left.
The geese are laying more now, so we're taking her eggs away and using them.  I'll see if there's an interest in people buying them, though folk sometimes have strange ideas and think a goose egg isn't a real egg you can eat 😎.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Polytunnel success

This weekend we were very busy with family joining us on Saturday evening and friends on Sunday.  We had to fit in all of the usual jobs plus put the polytunnel up too.  So Saturday we set to work.  I did the usual horses and house jobs then joined Ste with the polytunnel.  He started putting the frame together in the barn.  The weather wasn't very kind on Saturday but he soldiered on.  I was asked to hold this, lift that and straighten the other.  In no time at all we had the frame up.



 
 
Buddy helped out where he could making sure he checked the bucket's didn't have anything worth eating in them and having the odd drink or 2.

Ryan supervised the whole situation.


Day 2 saw the cover go on.  This is where it started to get tricky.  It was very tight and I can see the zips ripping in no time.  We managed it though and as it has a 12 month guarantee I'll be sure to keep that in case I need to get a new one.


Then being amazing, Ste knocked up a couple of raised beds and attached them to the frame that's there (this is how we put the PT up, this is not what's in the manual).  The weight of that wood will not let that frame go anywhere.  We also dug a trench around the polytunnel and buried the cover in it. 


He then laid the slabs we had stored and they dictated the width of the path.  Lots of rotted muck went in and it was finished. 
All in all I am really pleased.  I think it looks great and it's ready to provide us some food in the coming year.


In between holding and lifting, I sowed some seeds, clipped off some of the strawberries that I'd taken from runners and forgotten about and gave some of the veg plot a tidy up, giving the chickens their treats too.




I also finally got my potatoes chitting. 

Friday, 27 January 2017

Egg production down

We have finally started to see a decline in egg production. We've gone from a corker of a day last week with a record 23 down to today's low of 8.
The middle hens have eaten one of their own as I saw them at it when I went in. Therefore we've no idea how many there could have been.
This cold snap we have had will be affecting them too. The weather has a lot to do with the amount they produce.
It's not got above freezing all day.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Polytunnel layout

Exciting news, the polytunnel has been dispatched.  It's winging its way to our house as we speak and will hopefully arrive no later than tomorrow.  It is 6m by 3m wide (2m high).  I have never grown in one before and will more than likely get a lot wrong however I have decided to try a bit of everything in there.  We're going to put long beds along each side and I need to fit a couple of trees in there (tiny things) too.
So the most obvious solution is to divide the beds into 1 metre lengths.  They will be filled with muck and turned in to the ground that's already there.  They will be 1 scaffolding board high from the ground (this also means we can use some of our muck which is always on the list of things to do).  The carrot bed won't have any in.
So I plan on growing in there the following - the list is subject to change!


Bed 1 Cauliflower and cabbage
Bed 2 Calabrese and PSB
Bed 3 Peas and beans
Bed 4 Courgettes and salad leaves
Bed 5 Early strawberries
Bed 6 Mangetout and other peas/beans (I have lots)
Bed 7 Tomatoes and cucumbers (not sure if this is "allowed")
Bed 8 Early potatoes and pots of mint
Bed 9 Squash and corn
Bed 10 Carrots and radish (no manure in this part of the bed)


The remaining 2 spaces will be for the trees and herbs.
I'm hoping the above growings will be ready a bit before the outside space, to extend the growing season.  Once the first earlies are done in the polytunnel then something else will go back in their spot.  I'll make sure that the space is filled and keep records for next year. 
We've also got the greenhouse which I will be growing tomatoes, chillis, sweet peppers and cucumbers in as well as using that to bring the seeds on ready to go into the cold frame and planting out.  We had loads of tomatoes last year but even that wasn't enough so I'll be trying some outside in the south facing garden too.
Are you growing anything different?  I feel like I am growing a typical veg garden which I love the thought of, but all ideas welcome.
Oh and in other news, the 3 main geese have started hanging around with Ryan now.  Maybe they will accept her (we named her Ryan before we knew she is a she!)?  I

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Just Buddy

My name's Buddy and I've just got back from the vets with my Mum.  I have to go every 6 months to have a check up.  This time it was a new practice at a vets near our new house.  I hate going to the vet.  Mum knows this and puts a muzzle on me to stop me nipping anyone if I get too annoyed or anxious.  She makes sure she spends as little time as possible in there with me as she knows I worry.
Tonight was a new vet, he was really kind.  He called me handsome and gave me a cuddle.  I didn't growl at him, so I think Mum was pleased.
He told her I was borrowing time off someone.  I haven't borrowed anything so I don't know what he's talking about.  They started talking so I got bored and just waited by the door. 
He did say that I was looking a bit stiff.  I'm pleased he said this as he's told Mum to increase my tablets.  I hate taking them, but they do make me feel better.  She started tonight as soon as we walked through the door.  She doesn't have much patience when something like that has to be done, she likes to get started straight away.
The 2 puppies are pestering me at the minute as I have a little cut on my back which they are trying to lick better.  So Mum's made them stay away whilst it heals, to stop any infection getting in.  I hope it clears up soon, the vet wasn't worried though, so I am not.  I have my family around me who love me loads, so that's enough to make anything feel better,
I'm going to try and find out who's time I am borrowing as the vet didn't tell me.  Mum seemed to know though.
Thanks for reading.
Love, Buddy xx





Where there's muck there's money...


This is our rotted muck all bagged up.  Generally people come to us to collect it for their veg plots and allotments.  We've had trailers, pick ups cars and some questionable vehicles coming through ours gates for it.  However, I thought I'd try my luck at selling it for £1 a bag.  We have access to a van, so I offered delivery included for the £1 a bag to the local allotments.  I'm pleased to say we sold 15 bags at the weekend meaning we are off the starting blocks for "where there's muck there's money".....literally.
Of course, the fact that the muck helps to grow many of our crops is money in itself, just a different type. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Spring is around the corner

Over the weekend we managed to fill a 3rd bed with rotted muck thanks to the horses.  That’s 3 large beds ready for top soil at the end Feb.
I am super excited to tell you about my hot bed.  It’s not an outdoor Victorian one, it’s an internal greenhouse one.  A hot bench I think is the correct terminology.  I knew there was something there last year but we didn’t know what it was and didn’t use it, we just used the space for something else.  This year however, I’ve found out how to use it and am in the middle of preparing it for seeds.  This is what it looks like now, I’ll share it with you again when it’s ready for use.
 It’s  amains powered thermostat that heats up wires in the sand and we think we’ve finally found where the mains power runs to, only it’s not attached to anything.  We’re going to get that sorted so I can get sowing in there.  It won’t be long now.
Having said that, I’ve started the sowing season already.  Too early some will say and I know and am prepared to take the risk.
I have got a couple of each of the following in: 
Heat loving germinating seeds:  Tomatoes (different types), aubergine, peppers (hot and sweet),
Cooler germinating seeds:  cauliflower, cabbage, PSB, leeks and red onions.

I was disappointed to find out that my new propagator wouldn’t fit in the airing cupboard!  This is where I planned for the heat loving ones to go, so I need to find them a new home.  When things are ready they will be moving into the part of the greenhouse heated by the paraffin heater.
My corn salad is up, it only took a few days to germinate however the first aubergines aren’t (they went in on 14th so I won’t give up yet).  It’ll be interesting to see how the salad copes.  It’s in
a propagator in the kitchen next to the window.
I’ve also decided not to get the polytunnel that I was going to get this year.  Instead, as a compromise, I’m getting a smaller, green one.  Now a lot of people don’t like these and say we’re throwing money away as they don’t last etc.  However for us, it’s the right decision.  If and when it breaks, the framework will be used elsewhere.  If it doesn’t break, great.  As long as it sees me through this year and some of next, I’m happy.
I’ll be putting the first early potatoes into bags and also a bed in the polytunnel and then outside when the weather allows.  They aren't chitting yet, a job for tonight maybe.  Again it’ll be interesting to see how it extends the season for us.
Spring is definitely on it's way.  Just temperamental February to get through yet.  I have still not managed to get my hands on to any Seville oranges, despite going to the shops much more than I care to!  What’s everyone else up to in January?

Friday, 20 January 2017

Getting the growing plans in order and on paper


Something I want to do shortly is measure what we have land wise.  I want an accurate overhead, bird’s eye view of our home.  This will allow us to step back and look at the space for the future instead of standing amongst it all and seeing it with today’s intended use.  It’s hard to stand in Chickenville and see it as potential veg plot for example, or to know if the wooded area would be big enough to turn into a pig area if we fenced it off or where the best place to put an outdoor sand arena/horse walker would be.  I’d like to get that done in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, I’m putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard again to update the 2017 growing plan.  I have started sowing some seeds at the risk of losing them.  I’ve only put aubergine and corn salad in.  This weekend I have tomatoes, cauliflower, leeks, red onions, onions, peppers and chillis to put in.  Everything that needs a high heat to germinate will go in the airing cupboard as it’s right next to the Aga chimney.  The things that need 20C and below will go in the kitchen.  Hopefully things will come up together meaning they can be moved together to the south facing windowsill before going to the heated greenhouse at some point, as they will all be in one propagator.
We now have 3 new raised beds and there are 2 more large ones and 4 smaller in the pipeline too.  We’re busy filling them with muck and I’ll be getting a top soil delivery at the end February or early March to top them up.
The plan therefore currently looks like this (I've no idea if the photos will work but you get the idea)





We have 18 beds of different sizes (I know some people prefer uniform, but this works for us) and I'm still deciding what will go in some.  Bed 11 (large) and 15/16 (small) aren't spoken for.  I am growing more potatoes than some would bother with.
I can't decide whether to put anything permanent in my new beds.  Fruit bushes or such like.  This year they will be new soil so I may use it as a tester year. 
The older strawberry patch is taking over and I have no idea how old it is.  It performed well last year, but maybe this year I will dig it out once I've taken the runners as I'm going to line some beds with strawberries.
Also I am super excited to be saying I will be visiting lots of your blogs to search for your tried and tested recipes.  I know there are plenty of you who have them and I’d like them ready to use when harvest comes round.  It’s such a busy time of year that all planning ahead that can be done should, then I can just concentrate on the goodies and recipes.  Also I would like to time table in when to start making the food and drink for Christmas gifts.  I don't want to miss a thing this year!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Trying new things

Part of the journey we're on is learning to cook more things from scratch.  Now I already make things from scratch but when I sat and thought about it properly (usually when I am in the shower!) I realised there is a lot more to do.  I already knew this, I just hadn't actively thought about it.
Not only is it making things from scratch but finding new, hopefully cheaper ways of doing things.
So last night saw me trial out homemade garlic bread.  It turned out very nice, even it meant we were later than normal eating supper.
Grace thought it best to get a photo for the blog


I also put a couple of potatoes in the slow cooker, wrapped in foil, ready for Ste's packed lunch today.  he said they tasted fine but looked awful as their skin had taken on a discoloured, dark tinge.  As long as they taste ok in my book, that's fine :)



On writing this, I realise I've not tagged anything as slow cooker before.  Now that's something I need to rectify as the slow cooker (or indeed simmering over) should be my friend given that I work full time and run this place...


Monday, 16 January 2017

Food cost of raising chicks and hens.


2017 is going to be our start in trying to get things to pay for themselves and see what income, if any, we can generate from the smallholding.  We've lots of thoughts as many people who have done this, will have had over the years.  Ultimately the main goal is to feed and sustain ourselves from the smallholding.  Part of that may also be financial but it isn't the main focus.  Self sufficiency is the focus with a side order of thoughts on making an income.  Clear as mud?
So to do this we need ideas and records.  Lots of records!  I don't mean LP's, I mean the kind I should have kept last year but didn't manage to 100%.  So we're off with a flying start when I report in with this.
We started a little experiment when out chicks hatched in December.  It took 14 chicks 39 days to get through a 20kg bag of chuck crumb.  The bag was £7.50.  That means the cost per day was 0.19p so it was slightly over 1p to feed each chick per day.  We will weigh one tonight to see what weight it got up to over the same period.
I’ll run the exercise again in the summer to compare a summer hatch to a winter hatch and then we know if it’s worth it or not.
Here they are trying to make an escape:
The cockerels will either sell or go in the freezer.  There's 7 cockerels and 7 hens.
In addition our remaining 46 poultry (including 4 geese and 4 ducks in that total), got through a 25kg bag of layers pellets plus almost 2 20kg bags of corn in 6/7 days.  This is around £20 worth of food in a week!  The corn was fairly expensive this time round, however as we will get it from the farmer most of the time, it’ll be a lot cheaper then.
Eggs sales have made us £25 in 10 days, so I’d say at the moment, they are just covering themselves!  Of course it is winter and we’re lucky to be getting eggs at all, however we got 15 eggs yesterday, and the previous days haven’t been too shabby so as long as we can keep up the egg sales and they feed themselves then that’s ok.  However we need to be mindful of these figures going forward.  I haven’t taken into account bedding  or time and effort. 
They will potentially bring some pennies in if we sell a trio of the chicks, and some geese and ducklings when they hatch some out, plus there’s always our rare breeds.  So watch this space. 
Of course the eggs are feeding us too, so that isn't a bill I need to pay the grocery shop for.  Little things...


Sunday, 15 January 2017

A time to celebrate - Happy Anniversary to us.

We moved into our smallholding 1 year ago today. 


We had moved out of our family home on November 27th and into my Uncle's house which was mostly unoccupied by him for the next 7 weeks.  It sounds nothing now, but when you are waiting for something, time drags.  Here I am now in disbelief that a year has gone by.
As most of you will know, we couldn't be happier living where we do.  The failed sales, drop outs, useless solicitors and estate agents and the long scary journey to pick the keys up was all worth it. 
On moving day, Steven had gone with my Dad, brother in law and a friend to the lock up where our worldly belongings were, Mum was on childcare duty before and after school.  I had to drive 45 minutes to get the keys, that would be fine it the roads hadn't flooded, the sat nav hadn't failed and my phone gave up en route!  Literally!  I'd managed to get there ok but it took twice as long to get back and with no phone I couldn't let people know I was safe.  It was worth it though, walking in to the new house, setting the alarm off and not knowing the code - everything fell straight in to place.
I haven't missed our old house like I thought we would.  We have a lot of memories in that house, but they came with us and the house is now being lived in by another family.
We were meant to live here - I am sure of it.
So we moved into our little smallholding at the end of a lane, set in 4 acres of the beautiful English countryside, that sits alongside a river, standing proudly against the beautiful backdrop.  We have a barn, greenhouse and veg plot plus 2 small open barns that we utilise.
Here's a few memories from our journey, please celebrate with us before we go feet first into 2017's journey.
The Aga:
We would not be without one now. Simple as that.  It sounds cliché, but it is the heart of our home.  I've written about it many times.  You simply can't beat Aga food.  I'm building up my Aga kitchen wear over the years.  It's great stuff. 
We keep our bums warm on it, it dries our clothes, heats our hats and gloves, makes the dogs feel cosy, bakes amazing cakes, taught my daughter the love of cooking and provides a comforting warmth for poorly children.








The Self Sufficient Journey.
Well this has been even better than I expected.  I couldn't wait to get going with sowing seeds.  I wanted to be producing our own food from day 1!  Then I realised there are no shortcuts and no quick returns as such.  I had planned a lot though, and I am learning from it this year and so on.
The vision hasn't changed - on our smallholding, I want to produce as much of the food my family consumes.  How possible that is will change year by year, hopefully increasing. 
Last year we started with chickens for meat and eggs.  We put a stake in the ground and tried 2 of our Cream Legbar cockerels.  This was the first time we'd slaughtered our own birds and we weren't overly impressed with the first one but the 2nd one was nice.  We then made friends, read blogs, researched more and discovered a new breed (to us) that we are going to use this year, Ross Cobbs.    Over the year we put 7 more cockerels in the freezer, and had countless eggs from the hens.  We sold a lot which covered the cost of the feed through Summer and Autumn. 
Our layers that we brought with us - the oldies
I didn't keep records for these, but I am this year.  Our first egg from the hens we brought with us was a double yoker, a sign of the bountiful things to come.
Almost immediately we bought some hatching eggs and put them in the new incubator that Steven had got for Christmas.
The hatched into lovely little chicks, the first of many! 
The geese came a couple of weeks after moving in.  We'd had this planned for so long, we just needed to source some.  We found some advertised locally and made our first new smallholding friend.  A small family renting a farm in a town not farm from us.  We soon went back for ducks when we decided to get them too.  It's good to have the right contacts.

The geese hatched their eggs with no help from us.  It was such a heart warming sight.  Mamma goose didn't like us being there so we snapped a photo and left.
 The asparagus shot through, literally a few inches a day.  We were astounded. 
 Another goose hatched but Mamma goose didn't want to know.....so we took him under our wing and that's where Ryan's story started.


We started to uncover and prepare the veg beds for planting.  We had no idea what anything was like, the soil, if anything was lurking underneath or how things would go.  We couldn't wait!

Before
After
I managed to start leeks and tomatoes off not long after moving in.


We got the hang of growing as the year went on and had some cracking harvests.















We've bought 2 chest freezers, second hand and working perfectly, to house the next year's meat and any fruit and veg that can't be used there and then. 


We have learnt to look forward, plan ahead but more importantly, be flexible.  The weather, animals, kids, work, farmers, everything has an impact on what we do and we have to be ready to adapt at that very moment.  Self reliance is a key aspect of the new lifestyle.


Home cooking.
One of my fondest things.  Good food on the table (good, not expensive), with a family all sat round together, gives you time to bond.  It also means I need to occasionally lose the plot trying to get my son to eat his veg, but I am human so let's move on.
I have loved putting food on the table in 2016.  I found the summer more difficult as I wanted to be outside all of the time, so I will be prepared for that in 2017.  Now we have a dining room, I'm taking over from my Mum who used to invite the family round for Sunday lunches.  I really enjoy seeing people enjoy the food I've made.  More importantly - it's made from good stuff.  Don't get me wrong, we're not there yet, bad food slips in sometimes, but again, I'm human and such is life.
I've been making my own bread, using the bread maker.  The bread is amazing, I know what's in it and I can work it around my time.  This works for me and as we know, we do what works for us.
I have tried all sorts of cakes, my first one being to repay the farmer for helping us when we moved in.  He lifted our stables from the artic lorry to our house (along the lane) and had met us only the day before. 






The stables going up
Lovely, lovely people who we've since made friends with and have enjoyed their company from time to time.  We stay in touch via text and look out for each other. 


Most weekends we have had family and friends over and most of the time they are fed and watered and go away happy.

Fences.
Oh Fence!  Soon after moving in we started on fences.  We paid a contractor to put a fence along the bottom of the field.  Cows had grazed it before and they didn't need confining as the field next to us was the farmers, who owned the cows.  Well my horses wouldn't respect any boundaries without fences and given the river was right at the end of the field down a ditch, I didn't fancy calling the fire brigade to rescue my horses at any point!  Steven was working full time, we had no fencing tools and it made sense for the first fence to get someone in.  It was done within a couple of days and we were very pleased.
As soon as that one was up, Steven took over the reins.  We bought an auger and the power tools needed to put the fences up.  It was just as well as it seems fencing on smallholdings is a never ending thing?!



Good boy for staying put Jake!
2016....what a year.

We've got used to being supplied by oil and ordering it in, having a painfully slow internet connection at times (I work from home 3 nights a week, it's not just a Facebook moan!), going out to lock up and check on animals at all hours, put others before ourselves and taking strength from each other when days seem a bit much.
We have learnt to embrace how we see life and not to feel ashamed by it.  Wanting to grow your own, raise and slaughter your own animals, enjoy looking at a field and shovelling sh*t, seeing beauty in things others just see dirt or moan that it smell and generally living the good life, looking up at the stars just because we can and not being afraid of the dark (it's very dark here!).

Our family has grown closer, we've walked, had picnics, laughed and cried.  Raised 2 healthy puppies and kept our old man Buddy going a lot longer than any of us expected.


Buddy has always loved his cuddles.


 Siblings have occasionally got on


We have some of the best views all around us.  I kid you not, there isn't a day goes by that I am not thankful for them or some aspect of what we have.





We have managed to make new friends who helped us when we needed it....even if it was to raid their wood pile!
We love seeing new things come from old items.  Paying cash is the last option, after all, we're trying to keep our outgoings down.


The kids have played outside, just like kids should.



We used our metal detector on our field and dug up some treasure.


 The Vorwerks watched whilst we worked.



The the second part of the self sufficient movement came along.  We bought 3 lambs and are raising them to have their own lambs in 2018, filling our freezers with lamb.



We've had a lot of firsts in the new house.  Halloween was fabulous and low key.



Ensure we did things as a family 



and as a couple


Saw the first snow 



Fixed things that broke, learning as we went.



 Found free wood wherever we could to keep up warm in the winter




Had a Christmas to remember 




Got on making new veg beds for the coming year 




Tried to see a silver lining when things were frustrating 



animals are usually the cause!


So all in all, we have lived, laughed and loved.  We have found out forever home - let's carry on enjoying every minute (and forgetting the ones we don't).