Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Doggy day

The 2 male dogs have been to the vets today for castration. They’re currently sleeping off the anaesthetic, laid next to Annie and Nettle. What a combination we have going on here. Annie is 5 months now and we can’t risk them catching her! We planned it for when I was on holiday, along with the sheep lambing and lots of other little jobs.

After I dropped them off at the vets I came home and got on with the horses, giving this little one some time out in the yard area where he found the wheelbarrow contents more interesting than the fresh air!

Rodney had some cuddles to settle him when he got home, talk about spoilt!

Annie and Nettle are wondering what all the fuss is about with these boys.

Rodney and Nettle are getting on pretty well too!

Tomorrow is a sowing morning again. Sweetcorn and courgette as a minimum. I’m really enjoying the time off. I don’t get to relax like people sometimes do when they’re on holiday, but I do find what I do relaxing. Perfect.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Easter Monday!

Easter Monday! I hope everyone managed to do what they planned to do. Ours has been a busy old day. We started off by seeing if this one had any more joining it.

I came back in to find Grace had dressed Nettle in one of her teddy’s tops! I must admit it looks cute! She didn’t leave it on though in case it was too warm or restrictive.

On Saturday, I nipped to Aldi and saw they have in their usual soft fruit collection and despite trying to avoid them, I picked up 3 new raspberries which all looked very healthy. I’ve now got to find somewhere to plant them as my soft fruit bed is full! 

On the evening Nettle had found her place in the home and was accepted as one of the pack. Always a relief when you know everyone is relaxed with each other.

Back to today and we went to my friends farm which is a 10 minute drive away. She was hosting an Easter egg hunt for the kids (and adults!). The rain was persistent and didn’t let up at all. However no one let that dampen their spirits and we all went off in search of the hidden eggs! The kids all found something and had a blast! We then warmed up round her fire.

We stayed a couple of hours before heading home to feed the lambs. They’re still being bottle fed as mama ewe isn’t producing enough milk for them. We can see where Nettle gets her smile from, look:

Ste and I decided to put a heat lamp up as it is freezing or below overnight still and the little lad seemed to be shivering on and off.

I managed to get loads of seeds sown yesterday and today. I must have 15 different varieties of tomatoes. I used Victoriana nurseries and read seeds for the most part. They both sell heritage seeds which I love. Also the seed can be saved from any of the seeds I’ve bought from them. So once the fruits are ready, I’ll see how well I can save each type.

I also sowed cucumbers, peppers, chillis, sunflowers, peas in drainpipes (can’t have to many peas!), lettuce (chickens will have these and sunflowers) and the squash below. I’ll see what germinates. They’re all in the greenhouse heated where needed.  Fingers crossed we’ve seen the last of the frosts, but I don’t feel we’re in the clear until May really.

The kids then unpacked their Easter goodies from grandparents. How lovely are these mug and bowl set?

We’ve had lots of people ask to come and see the lambs, isn’t it nice how things can bring us all together.

Ste is back to work for the next 4 days and I’ve got lots of smallholding tasks on the go. The kids are spending most of the week here with some days planned with grandparents. Everything will work around when the lambs come though. We’re also re fitting a bathroom (we being Ste) and planning where to start outside once the rain stops! Lots going on and I’ll share all of it with you. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

The year is beginning

It feels like this year has taken forever to get going. It’s already the last day in March and I don’t feel like we’ve got anywhere just yet. That’s ok though as we will soon catch up. It’s still so wet here, we’re due snow tomorrow but come next week I think we will have made it. The weather looks glorious for the second week of the school hols, so I intend on making the most of it.

For now..... I finished work on Thursday for 2 weeks and we’ve got soooo much to pack into that. I had a crazy few weeks before I finished so I was so pleased to see our ewes waited until Good Friday to start lambing!! Look at these beauties.

She’s smiling isn’t she?

Our first ever smallholding lambs!!! Can you believe it was triplets!! We’re ridiculously excited. To be honest, we didn’t do much, they were just there when I opened up on Friday morning. I heard them before I opened the barn door. They were cold and hungry as mam’s milk hadn’t come through. My lovely neighbour brought me some colostrum and we dried them up and bottle fed them the colostrum. Then I headed over to the country store for lamlac milk powder and our own colostrum plus a set of bottles. It’s not cheap!! Anyway, we have all we need now. They’re doing fabulously. Mam’s milk is through but there doesn’t seem to be enough to sustain them. 

We’ve brought the 3rd one into the house as mam rejected her. I didn’t realise quite how mean they could be. Nettle, the now named house lamb, is doing well in the house of couse!!

In between bottle feeding lambs, I’ve finally been able to get some seeds in. Tomatoes, lettuce and squash. 

I’ve also got some peas in drainpipes that are doing well, my broad bean test that so far shows aquadulce and bunyard exhibition doing as well as each other, cauliflowers that I didn’t water enough but hoping will pick up, sweet peas, onion and leek seeds.

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday and we’re planning on spending it with family depending on what happens with the lambs. My mam has a big spread planned which will be lovely.

Monday we’re at a friends Easter egg hunt then at tea time (5pm is out ‘tea’) we have people coming to see the lambs with their children as everyone loves newborn lambs of course. I’m looking forward to that.

Ste is working next week, so I hope to get plenty done. If the weather is as poor as predicted then we’ll do indoor jobs such as batch cooking.

In the mean time, we’re going to check on the ewes overnight as one of them is massive and seems ready to pop. I’m a bit worried it’s one ginormous lamb!!

Happy Easter everyone, here’s Nettle enjoying her teddy!

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Not to state the obvious but snow, in March? 

I have taken a bit of a blogging break without meaning to. We’re not taking a break from the smallholding life though, I’ve just not been reporting as much.

We’re so over this snow now! I hope everyone is safe and warm? Our living room fire has been on every night, earning its keep. Winter is when we work through the stores we’ve made at other times in the year.  The logs are doing us proud and although we’re getting low on coal, there’s enough. We have however, gone through the oil a lot quicker than expected.  The order for the next lot has been postponed by the oil company due to the snow, so we’ve knocked heating the water off and are using the emersion (electric) for now. The heating is off too but we have the AGA and wood burners that are toasty in their respective rooms and getting plenty of appreciation!  Also the emergency oil filled radiators are helping keeping the kids room's warm whilst we wait for the delivery.

Due to the weather and the fact it’s winter, we’ve been working our way through the food stores we have. There’s still a bunch of meat to get through in the freezer but the pantry is starting to look a little sparse. I’m going to do a big shop of items we’ll need to see us through to the growing season’s harvest and will get that delivered this coming week. The egg production is on the increase but we’ve lost a total of 15 chickens recently, mostly to the fox, so we won’t see the increase we expected to.

I started some tomato and pepper seeds off a few weeks ago, but as expected they haven’t all made it through this cold spell. As soon as it starts to warm up, I’ll get more sown and just hope it’s not too late to get a long crop.

The peas, cauliflowers, winter hardy lettuce and leeks are coming on well as are the broad beans and sweet peas.

The preserving jam sugar from last year was starting to go hard and I knew I had 1.5kg of blackcurrants in the freezer so I started some jam off this morn using PattyPans recipes for seedless jam.
I did 10 small jars, 2 500ml jars and some left over to use now.  The small ones are for the Christmas hampers to go with the Seville orange marmalade.

Our internet connection is dreadful here lately, so I can't post the final picture but trust me, they look fab!  I hope it doesn't set too hard as I was concerned there's too much preserving sugar as the fruit didn't yield loads of liquid.  We'll see.  If not - I can figure out another use for it.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Rhubarb, a birthday, bathroom and Annie :)

I am really noticing the change in daylight hours this last week. Que the panic moment where Spring is upon us and I don’t feel ready. In anticipation of this, we’re getting a nice, early starting with the seed sowing again this year. Inevitably there will be some losses but it has served me well for the last 2 years since we started on this journey.

We have now sown most varieties of tomatoes, peppers and chillis, aubergine, leeks, peas, lettuce and cucumbers.  The peas went into guttering and have been placed in the greenhouse, for when they are ready to plant out, maybe April time.  They will just slide straight into a trench from the guttering, suffering little disturbance and making life easier for me.

I've sown SO many tomatoes this year.  A few reasons, one as my harvest was poor last year, also to find out which varieties suit our weather here in the North East from which I will save seed and use next year.  I plan on making and preserving enough tomato sauces (be it pasta, ketchup, bottled etc) to last a family until the next tomato season and I also will sell some, be it plants to grow on, or tomatoes to eat.

Some of the tomatoes from last weekend are flying up - for those which are leggy, I will replant up to their leaves as tomatoes are happy to do this.

Below the broad bean expermiment is underway.  The Aquadulce are coming through ahead of the Bunyard's exhibition.

Finally sweet peas are doing well (ignore the label, it's not what is sown).  I'm really looking forward to a great display of sweet peas this year, they are lovely plants and the bees love them too.

I invested in some capiliary matting to hopefully help with the watering of all the seedlings as that is a very time consuming job once we're underway.  Anything to make life easier!

The rhubarb that I put the black bin on is not showing at all, but this little plant here took off last year and it is looking like it will this year too!  Look at it, no forcing and it's away already.  The growing season is here!
In doing all of the seeds, I am spending a lot of time in the potting shed and Annie has been joining me now she is allowed out.  She is turning into such a lovely dog.

Unfortunately, the fox has paid us another visit.  The 3rd now.  We have Vorwerk chickens that free range completely, meaning they sleep where they want to.  Inevitably that meant they were easy pickings and 4 of the 6 went last night.  The 2 hens that remain are now in with the other chickens and locked away on a night.

One of the reasons I am not managing to post so much is the amount we have going on at the moment.  Here's one of our current projects.  The family bathroom.  It is one of the more dated rooms in the house so we have decided to get on with it rather than wait until the Autumn, which was the first plan.  Unfortunately, the walls and ceiling all need replacing, but at least it should be a job that we only do once.

I'm lucky Ste just gets on with it - this is how we take old baths out in this house.

I'm sure it'll be worth it!
It's Grace's birthday on Wednesday, she will be 11.  This is her 3rd birthday in the house and for each one we have thrown her a little tea party.  She had a friend over, family came and we enjoyed a nice few hours together.  Look at the cake my Mam made for her - simply delicious!  Grace is a lucky girl.
I really am trying to make sure we all slow down a bit here as January has gone by in the blink of an eye and it's a bit worrying!  We get up at 5 and don't stop until we go to bed around 10.  Being busy is great, but not at the expense of time going by too quickly.  I'm going to see what we can do to slow the days down a bit! 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Another year in - 2 years on.

January 2017

Weather wise January only had a few cold days but a couple of those were bitter indeed.  It was wet despite not that much rain fall so we kept the horses stabled to give the field a breather and try to prevent further damage to the grass.  We're doing the same this year.

I started cooking from recipe books which was one of my New Year ideas for myself.  I have so many books and all of them underused.

The geese started laying eggs both Jan 2017 and Jan 2018 so I think we know that's on the cards for each New Year hopefully!  The weren't laying until March in 2016 so this is a nice surprise.
We laughed at my inability to grow carrots!  Something I've barely redeemed myself.

I took time out to add up the previous year's bills for oil, coal, water and electricity so we could compare them to 2017's use, just like we've done this year. 

I started records for everything, something I'd not done enough of in 2016.

Egg sales started in a more serious manner, starting as we meant to go on.  The income covered the poultry feed which was good considering they were all housed due to the Avian flu lockdown.

We invested in a few trees (fig, pear, almond and apricot).

The greenhouse frame went up to house some of the poultry during the lockdown.

I planned and planned the coming year's harvest before finally getting some seeds in after waiting what felt like an age! 

Steven made his first handmade item of the year, the bottle and glass rack that he put up on the kitchen wall.

We've had many celebrations and get togethers with family and friends.
January 2017, Ste made 3 raised beds on the new veg area.

Started before Christmas
Finished this one in January 2017

We made our first lot of money from muck!  £25 to be precise :)

 The polytunnel was purchased and Ste built it so it was never going anywhere!

February saw more goose eggs, one was found in the bushes outside which I suspect was Ryan's first ever egg.  We'd confirmed Ryan as a female by now!
Chomping at the bit, as soon as it was dry enough, we began tidying up the main veg plot, starting with the fruit bed on the first sunny day with blue sky of the year.
Grace enjoyed her 2nd birthday party in the house (and I hope many, many more to come).
We made the gate along side the barn to the orchard, which was the start of where poultry would end up being housed in 2017 (the gate separated animals that didn't get on).
I started sowing seeds in earnest and loved every minute of it.

February saw the shift in weather.  The days were getting noticeably longer, so more time could be spent outside sowing seeds, doing the animals and riding out for me.
The seeds sown in January were ready to be potted on and although some were leggy as expected, they were potted deeply and grew on strongly.
The peas in the drainpipe had 100% germination which was fantastic.  I'm doing that again in 2018.
The first dandelion of the year was found, so that meant the weeds were starting!  I knew I needed to do a better job of these than I did the previous year but inevitably they still take over!
I made Lou's quick and easy marmalade recipe and it was delicious!!!   We were turning into a proper smallholding and it made me feel happy.
We opened the damson vodka to sample it....
 then drank it...all (it's nice).
I bought comfrey roots which I didn't hold much hope for, but then they started to sprout and came on very well and in the end took over!  They could do with a place all of their own in 2018.
I got the heater in the greenhouse up and running and Ste sorted the heat bench, so we were away.  The house was full of seeds sown but the greenhouse soon caught up and I found myself making space for more and more trays of seeds.
Even though the days were getting lighter, there was still the Winter feel about the month so we found the time to watch films as a family (and the River Cottage series!) before the craziness of the summer months was upon us.

March is the month when you can begin things in earnest.  I found out in March I was given a promotion at work which I began in May and thankfully went on to enjoy every minute of it.  March saw so many seeds coming through, I'd really stayed on top of them in January and February given we had heat to bring them on in.
The comfrey finally came through which we used to make our own free plant feed saving a fortune in the long run.
We got 4.5 tonnes of top soil delivered which sounds like a lot, but it doesn't go far!
I plated my first and second early potatoes (seems early to get them in now, but they worked well)
In March we got the pigs, 2!  They stayed in the barn as they were not a hardy outdoor breed and the nights are still cold in March.
They were a great introduction to raising our own and looking back were no trouble at all.  They require daily attention but it's minimal and I don't think there will be a year where we don't have pigs now.  Old spots in 2018 I think.
We hatched out the first ducklings in March - incubating them in February and they did us very well. 
I remember in March thinking I felt unprepared as it went from being Winter to full on Spring - light before 6am until well after 6pm which helps so much with our outside life.
March also saw the first rhubarb harvest and lots of daffodils - you know Spring is here then.
In April we lost Buddy, 8th to be precise.  I couldn't be more grateful to have had him as long as we did - I am so pleased he made it to the smallholding and got to enjoy his last days here.  He loved it!
I made nettle soup....I won't be this year lol
By April, the tomatoes I'd sown in January were well away
however the overall tomato crop was poor.  I need to choose some varieties this year that have stood the test of time, with a couple that are new varieties.  After all, we're going to need a boat load to fill the plans I have made!
In May we covered the cherry tree at the back of the barn to protect it from the birds.  That failed, it didn't produce anything!  So this year, we'll just have to be the early bird that catches the worm ourselves.
We also opened Chickenville to move the hens onto grass:
They loved it and we eventually moved them all onto the orchard area.  We still haven't decided what to use the original Chickenville space for.  We had a cracking bonfire night party there though.
I also started making preserves every Monday night, or at least most Monday's which I thoroughly loved. 
June we made elderflower cordial and I'm going to double and triple the amounts this year - I love that!  It lends itself to so many different things, we even gave it away at Christmas in hampers as we water bathed some small jar.  Beautiful and a definite keeper!  Despite it being dark, it didn't make any difference overall - just one of those things.
We tried to shear our own sheep.  I shall leave that there.
By June the pigs had turned the land over and by gum did it rain.
Harvests were promising
The runner beans were A-MA-ZING
I missed drying Lavender in 2017, so I'll make sure I don't miss it this year.
We started the comfrey tea in July and I failed epically with redcurrant jelly.
I grew far too much cabbage!
The sunflowers didn't do well either, so this year I'll be fixing that too.
One courgette plant gave us the nicest courgettes you could imagine.  To think I thought we didn't like courgettes.  They went into everything!
We had a lovely summer, enjoy BBQ's, family time, time with friends and generally just taking it all in.  Life's so busy in the summer, animals and harvests and that's not to mention working full time.
With the chickens being in the orchard, any apples that fell they had!  This year I need to harvest them timely to avoid this.
We did get some for the must have crumble:
Onions were amazing
We managed to get a first prize at the September country fair with the pumpkin we grew.
As we moved into Autumn and Winter, we started to prepare for Christmas and the hampers we were making.  They went down well with the family and I've already got some ideas for 2018!
The fox came and took at least 1 of our geese in November, with a 2nd one simply disappearing in December.
The tup arrived in November, 5th to be precise. 
We decorated for our 2nd Christmas in the house - I love the kitchen every month of the year here.

We got more meat bird in November which worked out well but we won't do that again as I don't like keeping them inside.

Ste built me a new shed!

Christmas 2017 was lovely.
Some of us slept through it.

We picked Annie, our puppy Bullmastiff up on 27th December.

The horses enjoyed some outdoor time in the car park whilst the fields are closed.

So from Steve and I, we'd like to wish you all a prosperous New Year (again) as we enter our 3rd year here on the smallholding.  What on earth will this one bring?