Monday, 25 June 2018

Summer vibes

This week saw the summer solstice and with it has brought a week or more of lovely weather.  I don't know about you, but I can't quite believe we're heading into July at a rapid pace.  We have one weekend left before our summer party!  We have loads of people coming, think in the hundred numbers instead of tens!  I have booked the kids bouncy castle and have borrowed the tables from friends to use for all the food.  I've got a list and a plan, but that's about it for now!  We will manage, we always do.


The veg plot and friends
With the weather being so warm and dry, I'm having to water everything daily in! the greenhouse, polytunnel and outside plots.  That in itself is a time consuming task so I've started roping the kids in the do their bit.  Inevitably they get bored and start a water fight instead! Great fun though.
Each year on our little smallholding, we are aiming to improve the veg plot and make it work better for us.  This year, we've decided to make a permanent fruit cage around the soft fruits.  The birds are welcome to the wild fruits here, but not the raspberries, currants or gooseberries!  We've acquired a huge green, heavy net which we have attached to the frame of some metal fencing that we have.  It's work in progress as we're making it so that it won't go anywhere, meaning it's taking time to get right.  I think it is looking great so far and will give me a fighting chance to get the fruits harvested.
Speaking of harvests, we've had a good harvest of strawberries and gooseberries which are now in the fridge to keep for a day or 2.  I'm going to make strawberry jam as that is simply what has to be done with the first strawberries of the year!  The potatoes are flowering nicely too.
I've managed to get some more seeds sown, only lettuce and purple kale.  It's a bit late for the kale but it should be fine in the polytunnel and hopefully give us a late crop.
In the orchard there hardly any plums coming through this year, though the damsons seems to be doing well.  The apples and pears are coming through fabulously and we also have 6 almonds! 








On the Smallholding


Well as expected, the fox has been back and had more poultry.  We have had some of the local game keepers round to give us some advice, so hopefully we can sort the problem.  It's simply not sustainable as we will have nothing left by the end of the week at this rate.  Down to 12 from 60 plus now. 
The horses are still enjoying living out in the field whilst we have the good weather, though the grass is very low now.  We are definitely going to rest half of the field, however it seems a bit pointless until we get some rain.  We also managed to speak to our other friend, the farmer over the field, about spraying it as it's riddled with creeping buttercup and sadly, organic methods aren't going to work in this instance.  He's happy to help us out when the time comes to spray. 
We take the horse muck out of the field daily to try our best to look after the land we have.  The more we look after it, the more rewards we will reap eventually.  Look at the view I have when I walk out to do it on a morning....I will never tire of this.
The lambs are putting weight on by the minute and are only 12 weeks old but almost as big as their mothers.  We are giving them the healthiest and happiest lives we can, which is what we are all about in time for the winter to come when we will start to reduce numbers.  They are so pleased to have their wool off now this hot weather is here.


In the kitchen


I bottled the Elderflower cordial and oh my, it's good this year.  The colour is perfect.  It no longer looks like an animal sample! 
We've been having freezer surprise a lot for tea.  It genuinely has been a surprise as a lot of the labels have frozen and dropped off!  I'm trying to make space in the freezer to allow this years harvests to re fill it.
I made Shakshuka (no idea what the right spelling is) for Supper on Sunday and I did flatbread as a side to have it with.  I've never made them before and they turned out very well.




In the house
I've had so many things I wanted to update for this part of the blog.  So we as a family are working on a new routine.  I used to hate that word, thinking it was so restrictive.  How wrong I was!  It makes somewhere like this work.  We can't run a smallholding without routine and standards, especially when we are working full time too.
My new idea came from a discussion I was having with Ste.  We're aiming to move to a less technology dependant lifestyle Monday to Thursday. When I get home around 4pm, it's technology off and we all pile outside, getting on with one of the many jobs that we have to do.  I work on my laptop on a night so once we come back in, I will catch up on emails, pictures and social media whilst I am getting set up and logging in.  There's no technology for the kids at all Mon to Thurs.  This is what happened when we agreed this....







It's so nice to see.  The kids playing together (yes, the started fighting in the end but hey ho), Jack wanted to help cook and Grace was enjoying life.  Technology is a habit in a lot of instances I think.  It has a place in our lives, of course it does, but it isn't welcome to take over like it has been for me.
We've also agreed to do something on a Monday together.  Jack decided he wanted to bake and Grace said a bike ride.  Tonight Jack baked cheese scones, something he has asked to do regularly since we visited Beamish recently.  I love it there!  In the old farmhouse kitchen, they'd made scones, cut them up and were dishing them out.  He loved them!  Grace brought down a toy she'd got for her birthday in February and enjoyed 30 minutes putting it together.


Budgets

This year we've seen a ridiculous increase in the council tax.  I have no say in that sadly.  Our oil consumption is down over the summer, thankfully.  We do have a small say in that, making sure we bulk buy and be sensible with use.  The one thing we should see a reduction soon is the groceries.  We have a small budget each month, certainly compared to many people we know.  I'm menu planning again, which I enjoy and working out where we can make savings.  The money saved is planned for use elsewhere.  There's a balance to be had between enjoying life and saving and each family is different.  To achieve what we want to with the smallholding, we do need to rein in spending and luxuries more than some may do.  I'll be giving this more priority and will update as we go.
For now, it's another working week for us and this one is a crazyt, busy one. 




Sunday, 17 June 2018

 A little bit of everything 

Veg plot update
Our onions that were planted in the Autumn have done marvellously in the last couple of weeks and I would say will be ready for lifting mid July to August time at the latest.  The plan is to plait and store these as it worked brilliantly last time.  Those that weren't plaited properly didn't last, so it's worth taking the time to do.

We have Spring planted onions in too, in the same bed as the leeks.

The Victorian Colossal climbing peas are doing brilliantly at growing - I just hope the actual peas are as good as the plant growth so far.


We have hundreds of tomato plants!  I kid you not.  When we were sowing the seeds, we thought we would have the new commercial size polytunnel and sowed enough seeds to fill 2 rows.  As that was postponed, we now have too many plants and not enough space (ready to plant in at least).  I'm giving some of the spares to a couple of schools for their gardening clubs.


The cauliflowers have lots of leaf growth and now waiting for the heads to form.  It's a key watering time I think, and given how dry it is now, that's not an easy task.

The broad beans I grew were Bunyard's competition and Aquadulce - so far they both seem to be on par though a lot of the pods are formed and don't seem to have any beans in them, or very small ones.  Maybe I'm not waiting long enough.

The courgettes are fabulous as always, I've only grown yellow ones this year and we had the first ones last week.  Delicious they are too.


The soft fruits are forming, with a handful of strawberries ready each day.


The asparagus is almost over now, so that will be left to grow into ferns.  It was lovely whilst it lasted.  We'll maybe have one of 2 more meals from it before leaving it alone towards the end of June.

On the Smallholding
When we moved here, our poutry flock was 60 or so chickens, 15/20 ducks and 8 geese at our peak and has now depleted.  As I mentioned in my last post, we're down to 14 chickens now.  We've decided not to replace them and just to have enough eggs for our family.  I was selling the eggs, but the fox won't stay away now, so we need to make a run for them to keep try to keep it out.
We are shortly getting more Ross Cobb birds which will stock our freezer back up come 3 months time. Hopefully we'll have 20 and will keep them outside this time - always our preference.
Those of you who have been with me a while will remember last year's terrible efforts at hand shearing my sheep!  Well this year, we went straight to our friends who came on Friday and sheared the 3 ewes for us.  Not the lambs though, they don't get done their first year.  We all had a lovely catch up over a couple of beers and some slow cooker pulled pork and sausage buns.


In the kitchen

We've harvested a boat load of rhubarb and we've frozen a lot of forced rhubarb.  We didn't blanch it, just cleaned, chopped and froze.  Today's harvest kicked off the wine making season.  3kg of rhubarb was added to 2.6kg sugar and is now being left for a week in a food grade bucket.  This was my favourite wine last year, added to lemonade.  Rocket fuel!


We've also made a rhubarb gin which is currently infusing in the pantry.  After a couple of months, we will strain and bottle it.
This morning, whilst it was dry and the sun was out, we rounded up the troops and went for a wander along the bridlepath as the Elderflowers are ready now. 
They are late this year but everything seems to be a month behind here.  We picked a couple of carrier bags full (classy, I know).  I used what I needed to start the Elderflower cordial recipe and froze about 50 heads for other recipes.  We were sure to leave more behind to feed the birds and to ensure we have good pickings of elderberries later in the year.
In the house
Friday night saw us with a houseful of kids (whilst sheep shearing!) so I played taxi, negotiator and cook!  The kids had a late night and we've paid for it throughout the rest of the weekend as they really do need their routine and sleep, but it's nice for them to have a break from everything too.
Our bathroom is 99% done.  It's gone from this to this. 





I'm really pleased with it, it was becoming dangerous in that the sink was pulling away from the wall and overall was very dated.  Bathrooms are the only rooms that I want modern features.  The house was built around 1850 so we're bringing it in line with modern day without going over the top on modern features!  It's only taken 4 months or so! ;)
Now that we have our holidays out of the way, it's time to rein spending in and think about the next 6 months.  We are throwing a summer party in a few weeks, just to get people back together that we've not seen in ages.  Spending can easily get out of hand there, so planning will be key.  We would alsi like to get the polytunnel saved for, bought and put up before winter.  That needs some planning to see if it is doable.  Then it's going to be birthdays and the C word.  I love C more than anyone, but mentioning it now might get me shot!  Financially though, it needs to be saved for.  So this coming week will be considering all aspects of the budget for the next 6 months, including the grocery budget, household, smallholding and savings.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Finding a balance! Mum, wife, daughter, friend, smallholder, employee, nosy parker.....the list goes on

So as you may have noticed, the blog posts have been lacking!  For this I apologise, though bear with me as it's only half an apology!  Firstly, thank you to the lovely people who have been in touch to say they miss reading our blog, it's really helped me with the prioritising of things.
As the title suggests, this post is me finding a balance.  Me and my family.  We moved here on January 15, 2016 and we have loved every single day since, more and more as each day passes.  It's not easy, I'm not going to pretend it is, but it is SO worthwhile.  This is the life we have dreamt of for years and years.
For one reason or another, mostly to do with the hats I wear per the title, I've not been able to keep up with the blog posts as much as I'd like to.  However I love doing it and want a record for our memories, as much as to hear from other people, so I've decided to be realistic and aim for 1 post a week.  The date and time, format and contents I don't know yet, so again, please bear with me.
That's why this post is only half an apology, as my every part of my life is a priority at some points and I don't always get a say in that.  Family, friends, animals,  work - they are all there to make us smile and to test us!  Being flexible to that is hugely important.
We all get pulled in different directions and our journey isn't just about us learning to be smallholders and moving towards a more self sufficient lifestyle, it's about learning about ourselves along the way.  We're not naive enough to think we can know everything, not now and not ever.  Some years we will come on leaps and bounds, others we will manage to maintain. 
So now, we find ourselves coming out of a long, horrible winter and just getting going here, yet it's already June.  That's ok though, we play the cards we're dealt.
Today we are back from a much needed holiday.  We landed in Newcastle at 11:30 and were outside clearing the sheep muck off the land by 1pm. At 2pm, the Tesco delivery arrived that I had ordered when we were away.  By 3:30 we had a fox attack and by 4:30 were walking the dogs to follow the fox tracks.  So we can safely say we are fully back into the swing of things!  The fox has reduced our flock from 50 or 60 hens (including a cockerel) to 14.  I don't mean to start the blog post on a sensitive note, but part of our plans in the coming weeks will be to figure out how to get the last hens under cover but still free ranging. 
There is SO much to do outside.  I'll get a post together showing where we are with everything.  Things are growing well though, sweetcorn, sunflowers, courgettes, broad beans, tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, spuds, salad leaves etc. 
Right, I'm off to make the packed lunches and get ready for a week of work.  Thank you all for sticking with us, it's great to be back!!!