The veg plot in November – jobs, sowing and harvests.

Early in November, where I live in the UK, you can still expect to see average temperatures up to 11°C. However from mid November the tables start to turn and you will see the temperatures on the lower side more consistently. For many, the fruit and vegetable garden are slowly going to sleep for the Winter. We may have seen our first frost of the year, Old Man Winter is nipping at our heels if he isn’t already here.

Did you know that in the UK grass will stop growing when the air and soil temperature are consistently below 5°C? Cold weather along can stall grass growth, so you can put the lawnmower away.

November used to be a month where we would see more rain fall, though I do feel that we are seeing changes in the weather patterns. The day light is less due to the clocks going back an hour on the last Sunday in October. Cosy, dark nights by the fire with a bowl of warming stew becomes the order of the day.

We don’t like our garden to go to bed in its entirety. During November, we continue to sow and grow in the vegetable garden. If you don’t try you will never know, so if you are curious, I would give it a go anyway.

Leeks, kale, swede, swiss chard, sprouts, cabbages (red and white), spinach, parsnips (which are actually at their best after a first frost if you have a variety that harvests well at that time), winter salads, radish and some cauliflowers are all plants that you can plan on harvesting through November with a little care and attention.

As well as vegetables, we still get some Autumn fruiting raspberries before it’s time to cut them back.

There are still so many seeds you can sow in Autumn. The weather can obviously fluctuate a fair bit here in the UK, so all my seeds are started undercover in some form. Be it the polytunnel, greenhouse or indoors on a windowsill.

It also stops mice stealing your seeds, leaving you scratching your head as to why they haven’t germinated.

This year I have just sown the following in the first few days of November. Don’t be limited to what I have sown, there are many options which I have not yet tried.

  • Black radish
  • Winter lettuce mix
  • Lettuce cos Vaila
  • Giant winter spinach
  • Spinach rubino
  • Radix mix
  • Broccoli Stromboli F1
  • Sweet peas (Mammoth)
  • Broad Beans Aquadulce Claudia
  • Meteor Peas

Everything germinated on or before 10 days. The sweet peas went in a little earlier and took a while longer but that’s ok too.

As well as sowing seeds you can plant a few things too, before the ground becomes less workable.

  • Garlic
  • Onion sets
  • Bare rooted fruit trees
  • Consider splitting rhubarb now it is dormant

As well as continued sowing, planting and harvesting, there are always jobs to do here, some of which are best done whilst you still have some warmth in the sun.

Clear your beds that are empty, mulch with rotted manure or leaf mould etc and cover. If nothing else, the cover will help the ground to warm up earlier next year, however it also supresses weed growth if you have that problem (we do!) and to stop the rain from leaching the nutrients from your soil.

Crops that will succumb to frost that you may still have outside can be covered with protection, Chinese cabbage, oriental leaves etc.

Weed any remaining areas that need it, clearing around the bottom of your fruit trees too. You can now prune dormant fruit trees except cherry and plum.

Did you know stoned fruit trees such as cherry and plum should not be pruned in winter as it makes them susceptible to disease? They should be lightly pruned in Spring or regularly pruned in early summer.

The debris from your plot can go in to your compost bin unless too big an bulky. We have bins for horse muck which we use when rotted as mulch plus a kitchen waste bin that we add leaves, cardboard, garden waste and other compostable materials too.

You can make leaf mould by collecting leaves, which my lovely friend Louise does.

Catch up with any other outstanding jobs, fixing leaky taps, covering the hole in the shed to stop the mice getting in, fixing broken gates, putting out solar pathway lights so you can see in the dark, prepare your bird feed areas for when the ground freezes. There’s plenty 😉

Check over any plants you have out, removing yellowing leaves and look for signs of disease and net if bird’s start to munch on them as their food source becomes harder to find. Make sure you offer them am alternative though!

Most importantly, plan next year’s vegetable plot. What will you need, what one thing would you like to be self sufficient in? What have you never grown before that you are going to try? Please let me know in the comments below, I love to hear other people’s ideas.

Potato varieties and tips for 2021

Yet again, I am so excited! That seems to be my favourite phrase these days. Don’t laugh when I tell you why though! I’ve chosen the potato varieties that will give us a year’s worth of potatoes from 2021 until the 2022 growing season!! I can’t even imagine what that will physically look like.

I hear you asking, how do you even decide how many you will need? I can only hazard a guess and go from there.

If we buy a 2.5kg bag of potatoes from the supermarket, they will last us 7 to 10 days so that’s maximum of 130kg. Not that much really if you think it’s 6 farm size bags of spuds?

The plan…

In 2021 I will be planting potatoes (and plenty of other things) where the 2020 pigs were, as that land has been well manured and turned over.

Rodney with the young pigs.

The varieties I have chosen are as follows in order of harvest months. The number of tubers ordered are in (brackets).

Everything has been ordered from Thompson and Morgan. Ordering off their website was super easy as always and I love their track and trace system for impatient customers like me 😉

Early – Swift (10). This is fast maturing and heavy cropping which means we get to eat sooner and in abundance! These babies will be grown in bags, started in the greenhouse to protect from frosts for harvest in May. The Swift will probably be our first to eat 2021 potatoes! Happy dance!!

First Early – Arran Pilot (10). Closely followed for harvest in May and June, this is a traditional first early which we will eat from plot to plate. As for all first earlies, I’ll make sure we have plenty of salad items to have with these for the first of the year.

Second Early – Charlotte (12). Typical supermarket variety, nice tasting salad potato. In a year where reliability is everything, this is very important for us. We aim to harvest in July and August.

Early Maincrop – Maris Piper (34). This is a reliable all round potato which is purple flowered and has eelworm resistance (not sure if we have that problem, but glad we don’t need to worry now!). This will mostly be blanched and frozen as we will hopefully still be eating second earlies until the Sarpo Mira come through. This will be the main preserving potato. Harvesting for preserving (freezing) in one batch July, August or September and not for fresh eating. These will then hopefully fill in the gap between the last of the freshly stored potatoes and the following season’s first earlies.

“Did you know…. for a successful storing harvest you should not water for 2 weeks pre harvest (not likely in England!) wait for the foliage to die back, cut it down and wait another 10 days for the skins to dry before lifting, drying briefly in the sun and storing.”

Source – Tracy’s useless bits of info 🙂

Maincrop – Cara (22). This is a good baking potato which I’ve always worried about growing. There’s nothing worse than throwing a whole potato in the Aga, to cut in to it with your baked beans (very British?) and cheddar cheese and discover a hollow heart or similar! I’m going to take the plunge next year though, just call me a dare devil. Harvesting for fresh use in August and September.

Late maincrop – Sarpo Mira (20). Best blight and slug resistance. As we move to later in the season, I start to worry about blight, so a resistance to it is welcome. Combined with large yields and storing potential, this is one that will be eaten fresh and hopefully stored in burlap bags/hessian sacks rather than frozen or dehydrated. Harvesting for use in August and September hopefully once the second earlies run out to store for October.

Late maincrop – King Edward (24). Used for roast potatoes, who could resist the traditional King Edward? As we move in to the cooler months, this will hopefully stay in the ground and/or store until Christmas. We will plant this variety as late as possible in May, spreading the harvest through the year, hopefully September and October to store November and December onwards in burlap bags/hessian sacks.

First earlies take 10-12 weeks to mature

Second earlies – 14 to 16

Early Main – 15 weeks

Maincrop (and late) 22 weeks

Source – Tracy’s useless bits of info 🙂

A few points to note.

  • Our ground has been manured by pigs through 2020 and left to rest over the winter.
  • We will be planting our potatoes in 2 x 75 foot rows.
  • For us, the ideal ph for potatoes and to help deter disease is 4.8 to 5.5.
  • Chitting potatoes early in the year (to apx 3cm) is important to help bring them from their winter slumber and to encourage strong, quick growth.
  • Don’t bother chitting potatoes you get in April time, I recommend getting them straight in to the ground.
  • Your soil needs to be around 10c before planting and will hopefully coincide with 2 weeks before your last frost.
  • It’s best to plant with a helping hand of general purpose fertiliser.
  • Planting potatoes can be done in a variety of ways, however I will be using my tried and tested method of using a bulb planter to plant fairly deeply and then earth them up a few times as they come through.
  • Earthing potatoes helps prevent frost nipping the first shoots and gives the tubers, which grown near the surface, more space (more food!).
  • Earthing up also prevents light turning your much tended potatoes green. We can’t waste all of that time and effort.
  • Watering 2 weeks before flowering and during the tuber bulking stages will help with size and yield. I’ll post on knowing when this is next year, with pics.
  • Harvest as quoted above.
  • Stored potatoes should be in hessian sacks to exclude light and allow the potatoes to breath (they release moisture when in storage and plastic bags will make them rot). Light will turn the potatoes green which could give you a nasty stomach upset.
  • Stored spuds will be kept between 5 and 10c and away from anywhere that mice (or worse) could get to them.
  • At least monthly, stored potatoes should be checked for spoiling. If one crept in to your stores that had blight, it will spread very easily. Smell the potato if you are unsure, blight does not smell appealing, you will know!
  • Keep an eye out for flies being attracted to potatoes (or any veg) as they will know before you what is starting to turn.

So that’s my potato plan for 2021! If anyone knows if you can store your potatoes safely to use as seed potatoes the following year, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading and stay safe everyone, Tracy x

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A year’s worth of meat (pork this time) plus a few hints and tips.

Hi everyone – today I want to talk you through the thoroughly exciting experience we have had with the pigs and hope to share with you what we have learned along the way.  We’ve had lots of lovely questions on various social media platforms so wanted to address those.  You’ll see I’ve put links in this post where I have photos, videos or other posts relating to what I am referencing.  Remember though, we can’t get away from the fact these pigs are now meat for us and some parts of this process will upset some folk.  I am tactful in my writing and photos and the YouTube post that will be online a few days after this blog is published.

As our reader community will know, this isn’t the first time we have had pigs, it’s the second.  We had our first lot in 2017 where we bought 2 from our farmer friend who commercially raises pigs.  This was a fantastic experience for us with lots of learning.  Based on that experience, this time we decided we would buy outdoor, traditional breed pigs that are hardier than the commercially raised (indoor) pigs.  We are fortunate enough to have the outside space to give to the pigs and believe they prefer this freedom.  Although the commercial breed provided us with meat, they did no where near as well as the traditional breed (the previous average hung weight was 60kg, this time average 107kg – a huge and welcome increase).

Back in Spring, the area we chose was around 30 by 30 foot (maybe 40 by 30) and needed turning over and manuring, which you can guarantee pigs will do!  


A couple of weeks before they were due to go to the abattoir, we pulled up all of the potatoes in the adjoining piece of land and opened that up to the pigs too.  They loved it and cleared it brilliantly for us.  If you choose to keep outdoor pigs, you can reduce the amount of land you keep them on (or increase of course) but be aware it will turn to slop with a only small amount of rain and living in the deep mud is not nice or beneficial to them.  Our pigs also had a permanent, draught free shelter filled with cosy straw that we extended as they grew. 

Another consideration is how you will keep them confined to where they are meant to be.  The only method we have experience in is using stock fencing with round posts.  We have a ‘post and rail’ fence on one side that we covered in tin sheeting to a) stop them getting through and b) stop them eating the wooden fence!  The stock fencing is extremely good, I have to say that is more than like because Steven put it up ;), but it absolutely did the job.  You can barb wire along the floor to deter noses routing under if needs be, but we didn’t and it was ok.  They never tried to get out and fencing was never a problem for us.

We are often asked where we buy our weaners from and, to be honest, it just depends on who has what and when.  We like to avoid butchering in December as Steven is just too busy in his trade, so that means usually buying in March/April for October/November dispatch for us.  We buy weaners at 10/12 weeks old and raise them on the smallholding from that age to dispatch.  As of yet and for a few years to come, we have not bred our own for a number of reasons.  

Firstly, Steven and I work full time and the kids are in full time school.  That’s a lot of organising before we even bring running a smallholding in to the equation.  Secondly, the risk, cost and workload is less when buying weaners.  You don’t have to feed a sow and boar all year round, there’s no worry about healthy pregnancies and safe births, no removing the boar to give the sow peace and no consideration to having more pigs to keep the sow and boar company when they are separated.  Of course, having pigs all year round you also need to house and feed them, give them any veterinary considerations and so on.  So for us, we buy the weaners and take some of the cost and risk out of it.

These guys came to us on 4th April, just as the madness of the pandemic was taking hold, we were so grateful to still be able to get them. You can read more in my previous post.  

During the Spring and Summer of 2020, we fed them on pig nuts which we bought from the local warehouse where we buy our chicken food from, it costs around £10 a bag (25kg).  You must consider the cost to feed your pigs if you are considering raising them, these guys can consume a lot!  We also raised food in our vegetable garden for them which went directly from the ground to the pigs.  Some learning for me is, it turns out they don’t like kale!  In fact, none of the animals seem to!  If you watch the YouTube video when it’s up, you’ll see then don’t like my courgettes either, just terrible!

Raising pigs has been pretty effortless for us and I thoroughly recommend it for people taking up the challenge of smallholding.  Then you come to the dispatch.  We are lucky in that Steven is a butcher and I am not squeamish, I guess you can’t be living here.  We choose to send our pigs to the abattoir for dispatch and gutting, then we pick them up and do the butchering ourselves.  This took us 6.5 hours of working flat out one Saturday.  If you have never done this before, we highly recommend either having someone do it for you and bringing it home ready for the freeze, or having a butcher come and show you at home so you know the best way.  Failing that, familiarise yourself as much as you can on YouTube (see our video soon) and give it a go.  

The reason we don’t do the dispatch at home is pigs are just too messy and getting rid of the left overs isn’t an option for us right now.  Removing the hair, skin etc etc is more than we have the time, or inclination at the moment, to do.  It’s all about prioritising what you have the time, knowledge and skills for.  It is SO rewarding to have your own, healthy and happily raised animals in your freezer, no air miles and knowing exactly what is going in your body!

Here is the breakdown of the cuts of meat that we decided as a family we would benefit from mostly.  If you raise your own, I recommend sitting down and working out what you will eat.  Having more mince goes further for us than more joints for example, whereas you may prefer more joints.  

Where the meat is in bags, we made them up to 500g which is a good amount for the 4 of us per meal.  The joints, where we have them, are larger for having family round (pandemic allowing!) etc etc.

Diced pork – 20 packs

Minced – 31 packs

Leg steaks – 8

Chops – 22 x 2 in  pack

Belly joints – 4

Ribs – 4

Fillet – 4

Shoulder joint – 6

Sausage meat – 14 packs

Sausages – 83 packs of 9 (6 flavours)

Burgers – 15 packs of 2, same flavours as sausage

Ham shanks – 3

Ham joints – 15

Back bacon – 2 full loins (guessing 40 packs of 8 slices)

Streak bacon – 3 bellies (guessing 40 packs of 8 too)

This is enough pork meat for our family of 4 for a year, easily.  We will have pork in some form at least twice a week.

I also have rendered down the fat (back fat and flare fat) to make lard for us.  I’m really pleased with the results.

This meat is now lovingly in our freezer and we are forever grateful to be able to live this way of life.  Next time we process pigs, we will do a detailed in depth session on how to butcher one if there is any interest.  For now, we wanted to get this process done quickly and efficiently, on our day off 🙂  

Take care everyone and stay safe.  Tracy and Steven x

Unwanted visitors – real life on a smallholding

I thought I would give you guys a smallholding reality post.  Life isn’t as always rosy as people assume.

There’s a pandemic on and no one told the local rats.   Yes, rats.  Horrible, dirty, nasty things.  The only animal I would not waste time being upset over its loss!  I do have my reasons for such strong opinions.  Over the 4 plus years we have lived here, they have caused us untold hassle.  We have lost both feed, eggs and animals to them.  The feed can be replaced but the animals not so easily.  The critters tend to pick on the smaller animals and this time it is the quail. 

 
We’ve recently lost 8 of the quail in an overnight attack.  The quail live in the greenhouse frame that is covered in mesh.  We have secured the frame to the ground and bricked around the edges to try and prevent anything digging under it.  

The rats took on the challenge and not only buried under the greenhouse but also the bricks.  They can dig as well as any mole!

For now we have moved the quail back in to the nursery which has the high rise, “rat proof” cages until we figure out how to get around this.  We don’t like them living in there, we prefer them outside.  This Sunday we will try and secure it a little better.  Maybe mesh the floor inside the frame to prevent them coming up if they dig underneath.

  

So yes, smallholding life isn’t always easy and unexpected loss of our animals happens when you least expect it.  I hope this helps some people who may be looking to move to a smallholding or raise animals, to understand there’s the good and the bad days.  By far, the good outweigh the bad, so don’t let this post do anything other than raise awareness 🙂

Take care everyone, Tracy.

Why do we raise pigs? It’s almost time…

 Let’s talk pigs!

When we got our first pigs in 2017 it started us along the path of dabbling in being self sufficient in meat.  We thoroughly enjoyed it and the pork lasted us over a year!  Since then we have raised lots of our own poultry and haven’t looked back.  This strange old year has seen us acquire our second lot of pigs, something we plan on doing every year now.  They really are lovely to have on the smallholding and (so far) have been no hassle at all.  

Since April 4th, we have raised 2 Gloucestershire Old Spots cross’ which were12 weeks old when we got them.

They are truly a fantastic breed of pig to raise based on temperament alone.  They are going to be with us until early October and then heading to the butchers as ultimately that is what we raise them for.  However there is a dual purpose to having pigs on a smallholding, especially if you need ground turning over!  

Below left is the land we started with in 2017 and then after we left it lay fallow through until 2020, shown on the right (or bottom if on mobile).  We didn’t want to run pigs on the same ground too close together in case the area became “pig sick”.  Not only did we want perfect pork, from free range, outdoor raised pigs but we also wanted the land to be used to grown on for 2021.  Manured from 2020 pigs and not a nettle in sight as they had them for their supper.

                 

As is always the case here on the smallholding, it was all fin and games deciding how to bring them home as we don’t own a trailer.  It seemed silly to use a favour (where we normally get our trailers) for 2 small piglets (weaners) so we set about adapting the car, smallholding style.

We, Ste, made a pig shelter out of an old IBC tank which we filled with straw and saw them lovely and snug.  As they got bigger he cut their entrance bigger and eventually gave them an extension.  It was so funny watching him try to convince them to use it!!  Incidentally, it’s made out of internal house doors that we got free off Facebook Marketplace.

The pigs had 2/3 of the land we have planned to grow on and during Spring and Summer 2020 we didn’t leave the other 1/3 of the land go to waste.  I spent what felt like an eternity covering it with rotted horse muck until you couldn’t see the grass any longer.

Eventually it was ready for the potatoes I’d decided to grow there.  I literally pushed the potatoes in to the muck and covered them with grass clippings and spent straw from the duck house (ok to use straight from the house unlike chicken manure).  The potatoes were fantastic and we are eating our way through them now.  
Once they were done with, we opened the, now HUGE, pigs up to work through the area, clearing any remaining potatoes we’d missed and eating any nettle roots that hadn’t died off.  As Ste took the pallets down to open the are up, the pigs naturally helped.
                         

They have done a fantastic job or turning the whole area over and I can’t wait to get growing in it for 2021!  We were thinking of putting a commercial size polytunnel there but I think on reflection we should grow in the space and see if we can manage it, before committing to such a big spend.  There’s still a little section of the ground, shown below, with some fruit trees in it.  We are taking those out once they are dormant over Winter as it’s not the right place for them.

So I hope this post has shown you why we raise pigs and in one of the next posts I will show you what meat we have filled our freezers with and how we plan to use it.  I’ll keep them separate to this one, so those of you who prefer not to know, don’t have to look.

Take care, talk to you soon, Tracy.