A gentle start to January

We are quietly embracing January, welcoming it with open arms and understanding that we are to continue to make use of the darker evenings to reflect and plan. The candles are lit early in the evening, bringing with them a cosiness to welcome whoever visits the kitchen.

Meals are lovingly prepared using pantry staples and canned goods, supplemented with whatever can be harvested from the garden. Something that I am in awe of year on year is the abundance of crops we can still bring to the kitchen table during the colder, darker months. I sometimes reflect on how this pace of life suits me more, there is something to harvest daily should you wish but it doesn’t come in quicker than you can deal with it.

Winter gives more time to meal planning, comforting stews and soups inevitably place highly on the menu plan which I am completing weekly right now. Sitting down with a lists of what needs using, produce available from the garden and items in the freezer and pantry, I’ll ask the family if there are any meals they would like to see feature that week and I start pulling it all together. Every week I will write out on the board what meals we are having to save everyone asking. They still do though 😉

I still have the luxury of working from home, so I am enjoying that whilst it lasts. So far, the back to basics theme that we started out with is working out very well. The pace will up, I have no doubt, but January and February should be used to “plug in” and recharge, take care of yourself, reflect and plan. In our house anyway.

2022 – Back to basics

Back to basics is the theme I realised was a perfect fit for our 2022. As I lay there, unable to sleep, pondering lots of different topics that inevitably pop in to your head when you’re trying to sleep, it dawned on me that after everything we have all been through over the last 2 years or so, we have all been tried and tested and we WILL come out the other side. Our mental and physical health may have been tested, maybe even suffered a little so we need to take extra good care of ourselves in the coming months and year. For me, that means not putting too much on myself or my family, nourishing what we have and trying to live a more simple life.

Steven and I have had our own challenges in 2021, as I am sure you can relate to in your own lives and no doubt 2022 will throw a few curveballs in too. For me personally, I want to take control again and really start mindful, slow living, getting back to basics. Find the simpler way of doing things and that goes for how I think about things too, not just how we go about it.

Only growing what we will use, not setting ourselves up to fail, managing our animals and raising our food, using the whole bird and appreciating the little things. Conscious, intentional spending and not a penny on wasted commercial items is the order of the day.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be spending on things, it simply means only getting what we will make use of and add value (not monetary). I would love for you to join me to see what the year brings and tell me about your adventures too.

I would like to cook from the smallholding as much as possible whilst also educating myself on ingredients I might not have used before.

If you are more of a visual person or would just like to see the video diaries we have, you can find us on YouTube too.

Take care and all the best for a bountiful 2022

Tracy x

Post covid reality check – back to it meal plan

The 4 of us have have recently recovered from the dreaded covid. Timely, as after 18 months of working from home I am expected back in to the office 4 days a week from tomorrow. The last week or so has been a combination of shaking off the last symptoms of covid and getting ready for the next chapter.

I’ve put together a meal plan for the coming week which revolves around the slow cooker as we are also in the middle of getting the kitchen done! I literally have no counter tops other than the island in the middle of the kitchen. The garden beckons and I have the seasonal garlic and onions to be planting which I will probably do next weekend (mid October). In the meantime, I’ll check in with some short and sweet blog posts which help me stay organised. Something I cannot claim to have been over the last 18 months as I haven’t really needed to be which explains the quietness 🙂

Recipes, smallholding updates and kitchen shenanigans to follow. Take care all and it’s good to be back 🙂

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