A no spend January?

Welcome to February folks! The last month that I identify as full on Winter. The days are lengthening in light and if you look closely, you might just see a spring in people’s step. Just a hint of a skip every now and then, we don’t want to commit too much yet, but it’s on its way. A month where gardener’s can start to sow those early seeds, snowdrops are happily dancing their merry tune and yet there is plenty of time for more hearty stews and soups. There’s plenty of mileage in the comfort food yet.

For me, January is a month to plan, reflect, recharge and be kind to yourself. I don’t know why, but I seem to have felt the cold in in my bones a lot more this Winter.

We have enjoyed hot food from the Aga and cosy nights by the log burner fire. We also have an oil heated electric radiator that we move around the house as needed, so we have our ways of keeping warm.

January went by in a flash. If January goes by that quickly, then imagine how the rest of the year will go. So for me, I am sitting back, planning ahead and reflecting on what we have.

We haven’t been to the supermarket once through January. Our supplies have had their preliminary test and I am not to panic when I see things being used. It’s a natural reaction after spending so long building them up. Some things we have a very good supply of, dried goods, tinned tomatoes and baked beans are examples whereas others were to see us through the month of January and into February alone. Our milk, butter and cheese was frozen at the back end of December and we’re just using our last bottle of semi skimmed fresh milk. We do have UHT which we like, so that’s being pulled off the shelves for this week.

We will have managed 8 weeks without shopping, when I go this coming weekend, which I am very pleased with. We have ran out of some things and I have developed some interesting substitutions. Think rhubarb syrup in your chinese instead of honey with soy sauce. No one noticed which I’m not sure is a compliment or not!

So we move in to February. Enjoy the quieter days whilst you have them as soon enough, Spring will be wakening and the days will be buzzing with life and I don’t know about you, but I will be left wondering how I can squeeze a few more hours in to my day as they just aren’t long enough, in a good way 😉

2021!! We’re off.

We have so many plans for this year that I don’t know where to start! Lots of things are going on here on the smallholding at the moment, the year is off to a flying start.

It was my 40th just before Christmas and I was so fortunate to receive a Presto pressure canner from Steven. For those that don’t know, pressure canning is an established way of preserving food, making it shelf stable for many years to come (by the book it’s only 18 months but like jams and water bathing, we will be using as long as it looks and smells ok!). I’ve already done a trial run to get it set up and then followed up with a chicken stock. You can see how the unboxing and trail run went on YouTube if you’re thinking of going down this route yourself.

Now, you may have guess, we are really trying to make a go of creating our own YouTube channel which will be a video version of the blog! I suppose that is where the word vlog comes from! So if you are interested and able, please would you subscribe to our channel – it’s totally free and helps us in the long run. We would like to get to 1000 subscribers for YouTube to take us seriously and we are slowly building up!

I’ve also posted about the grocery challenge we are working on. We have filled our freezers and cupboards and have £950 in the pot for groceries this year. How long can we make it last! When the money is gone, it’s gone!

It won’t be replacing the blog, just working in conjunction with it!

Right now, I’m sat with the garden plan on my knee and figuring out how we will grow enough to feed ourselves this year and also put a years worth of veg in the freezer and shelves. There’s no stopping us!

Goodbye November, hello Jack Frost!

Can you believe November has been and gone? I can’t. December is a busy ole’ month here, I’m sure it is for you too. It’s actually my 40th birthday coming up and I’ve been so lucky to have been gifted a Mulberry bush. It’s in my greenhouse where I hope it stays safe over the winter. Any tips welcome? I know Tricia from Tarragon and Thyme said she lost hers, I hope the same doesn’t happen to this one. I love the idea of it growing with me, something to look back on and say I received it for my 40th, I’m soft like that!

This one is from Victoriana nurseries – I’ll keep you posted on how it fairs.

This weekend saw our first proper frost of the Autumn. It was beautiful, the air was so still and calming. It was a great start to the day until I went to check on the quail and found we’d lost yet another to predators. The perils of smallholding life, a constant battle to protect your young from predators, be it quail or cabbages! We won’t be beaten!

As is customary, we went to check on the animal’s water and the field water had frozen over. As is also customary, Jack enjoyed breaking it up to ensure the sheep could get a drink.

We had a little check on the mint that we moved to the garden in a big pot and it seems to be doing very well. I’m wanting to start making my own mint tea and dehydrating some. I’m not sure it’s the best time of year to do it, or if it even matters for mint. I’ll do a bit of research and give it a go.

Steven is working alternate Saturday’s now, so we are settling in to that new routine. He’s home mid afternoon so it’s not too bad although it obviously means he has less time for jobs around the smallholding. Not an issue at this time of the year and who knows what next year will bring, so we will watch this space! It does mean the kids and I are doing more together on the Saturday which I love. This weekend we made some paperchains and homemade Christmas decorations. Never too early in our house.

Annie was a little underwhelmed by it all and slept through 😉

So, goodbye November, it was a short one! Here’s to mince pies and bailey’s coffee December. Take care everyone!

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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