The fear of frost

If you have done any gardening, I don’t need to explain this one do I? You know exactly where I am coming from….or is it just me that has to dash outside in her nightwear to cover up plants as it suddenly “feels cold”?

Well, I got caught out. The fear of frost is real. I have lovingly tended to my first early potatoes which were planted in the greenhouse mid February and have happily romped away, growing strongly and steadily showing fresh, green foliage.

First earlies planted Feb 18th. Bags hold 2 seed potatoes, tubs 3 and the bin 4. Left to right, swift * 2, arran pilot * 4 and swift in the bin.

So when the weekend rolled round and temperatures were rising, I was too side tracked by my tomato and pepper plants surviving the cooler weather, that I distractedly followed my plan and placed the potato tubs outside, neatly along my onion bed (the one that survived the chickens getting in to the plot), gave them a water, topped them up (mounding) with rotted horse manure and went about my day.

When I woke up during the night, cold because Steven had stolen the covers, I thought about the tomato and pepper plants and happily turned over to go back to sleep, safe in the knowledge that they had an oil fired radiator and heated underpot heaters keeping them warm.

Meanwhile the poor potatoes were nithered and by the next day when I realised my mistake, they seemed want to give up the ghost. They were drooping, soft to touch, so soft, not nice soft. They actually looked like they’d dried out if you’ve ever seen a dehydrated plant that’s dropped over?

Anyway, by day 2 they were turning black on the tips which is a common symptom of being nipped by the frost.

Black on the end indicates nipped by Jack Frost

The good news is that they should recover, as long as I keep them covered if any more frosts are due that is! I’ve actually bought some heavy duty garden fleece to replace the cheaper stuff I bought. This is it if you are looking for some – I highly recommend it. Although it’s a little more expensive, it’s worth it and it can easily be made shorter with scissors but is thick enough that it won’t tear easily, which the fleece I’ve bought previously has done. I am trying to invest in longer lasting items now we are “going big” in the garden.

Every year, things will go right and things will go wrong. Some you will have been able to avoid but didn’t and some you will have tried to avoid but can’t. Don’t less it dishearten you, there will be plenty of other things that will go right 🙂

Take care, Tracy x

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.

Days spent in the vegetable plot

The nights are drawing in and we’re seeing the veg plot slow down.  This was one of our cabbage spots this year, I hope to have more cauli and purple sprouting broccoli early next year, which is just off the picture here.
I am super proud of the cabbages I’ve grown this year, there’s actually enough to last us until the Spring cabbages come through which I am thrilled about.
Yes, this picture is posed, but the man LOVES his home grown raspberries – these have never let us down, every year they are prolific.  I’m going to take some cuttings off them when I find out how!

Grace took this beautiful photo of one of the sweet pea colours we have.  Simply fabulous.

These are the long purple podded climbing beans that were a bit of a last minute addition.  In no time at all they have gone crazy and snapped the canes that I put in to support them.

Grace and Jack sometimes help out too.  Can you see Jack?

The scarlet kale below is prolific but I have a reservation!  The leaves are so curly that creepy crawlies hide in them easily and they’re a pain to clean.  I’ll see what flat leaf varieties I want to grow for next year I think.

Here’s to the last few days where the veg plot looks green and lush, before the frosts nip their leaves and the ground goes to rest for the Winter.