Day 4 – Christmas potato seed planting and rumtopf

Day 4 of my holidays has seen a beautifully sunny day here in the North East of England.  It’s still breezy though but this year has been.  I’ve never known it be so windy for so long in the past but then I suppose I’ve  not been growing fruit and veg or looking after so many animals before, that the wind impacts?
I’ve still been getting the kids up at a decent time as mine seem to suffer if they have late mornings and inevitably later nights as they can’t sleep.  The kids helped me by feeding and watering the chickens and then collecting the eggs.  What a haul from the last couple of days!

 
The kids spent the next couple of hours playing and I started off the Bachelors Jam or Rumtopf as it is referred to.  Growing up I’d remember an earthenware jar that was in my parents house but I didn’t know what it was for.  Then when I started blogging and read Patty Pan’s blog about Rumtopf and I realised what it was for.
 My Mam kindly gave me the pot when I said I was going to make some.


I added 500g blackberries from our haul last night (which was over 3kg!) along with 250g sugar and left it for an hour before adding a litre of brandy as this is what was given to me by my lovely Mam at the same time as the Rumtopf jar.

I was supposed to make a crumble at the same time but the clock was ticking and I was itching to get out in the veg plot so I left that for later and put the brambles back in the fridge to keep a few more hours. 
The bed I’d tasked myself with today was the fire pit bed.  The previous owner had burnt allsorts in it and I’m forever finding nail, hinges and the like.  I added manure to the soil along with blood, fish and bone and hoped for the best.  Well the cabbages did marvellously and I’d put off harvesting them until my 2 weeks break.
It was a mammoth task.

They were dug out and the area cleared of weeds which was back breaking but very worth it. The Christmas potato order has just arrived so I set about putting them in.  I ordered 15 tubers from crocus – 5 each of Charlotte, Duke of York and Pentalin Javelin.  These were the only ones I could find as the other online stores I either missed or didn’t sell any.

I planted them all 30cm apart and 60cm between rows as there was plenty of space to do so.  Here they are with their beds now looking like something from Halloween (picture taken from the opposite end of the bed than the earlier one).

 Here’s the bed once I finished with it.

 
I then tidied up another bed which wasn’t too bad thankfully and sowed some quick crop salad leaves and radish in a space that’s appeared there, where the first early potatoes came out.

I tested out a panoramic view, so this photo is slightly distorted but you get the idea. 

 
Soon it was time for tea and I decided to cook one of the hams we’ve had in the brine.  It’s been in since Sunday so over a week which is a bit too long but after cooking it, it was perfect!  I’ll post the recipe another time.  All of the hams will be cooked and sliced for the freezer.
 
We finished the day off with a walk to forage some bullaces (wild plums).  Someone has already raided our spot but there is a tree most people haven’t found yet, and that was full though it did require some acrobatics.  They are in the fridge now.

 
Ste also finished the stock fencing he wanted to get done.  This will deter the chickens from scratching the area where we use as a dumping ground for weeds, branches that are no good for anything, leaves etc etc.  It’ll keep the animals safe and the rubbish separate.  It means he can move on to the next part ultimately giving the poultry more space. 
 
The kids got their craft items done, the dogs are happy and I’m enjoying my time off.  All in all, a great family day together.
 

Day 3 – baking and veg plot updates

When I was at work, everyone was asking me where I am going for my fortnight off.  Of course, we enjoy a break as much as the next person but we’re not going abroad this time (we are later in the year though, I’m not averse to it).  However what I do want to use these 2 weeks for is a combination of things.  Firstly to spend plenty of time with Ste and the kids doing things that they find fun and that do not cost the earth.  Secondly to get on top of the veg plot, greenhouse and polytunnel and house chores so that when I’m back to work, it’s more of ‘maintaining’ than ‘drowning’.  Included in the house thoughts is cooking for the freezer. We do have some space left in there, not much seen as though they are all full of meat.  However I’ll make sure they are stacked well and there’s plenty of home made produce in there for go-to meals.
Today started off as always feeding the animals and checking everything is present and correct.  The dogs came with me.  They love that I am off work.  Then back in for crumpets and a cup of tea before heading out with the kids and dogs to the feed shop as we needed more layers pellets and corn.  We were back and sorted by 9:15.  The kids offered to help out for an hour by tidying their rooms with the view to spend time after lunch doing the craft things they have both been waiting for.  They did a great job so I am pleased.  Making a start on cooking for the freezer, first up was a lemon drizzle traybake a-la Mary Berry.  I had all of the ingredients in, including the lemons thankfully.  It took no time at all to prepare.  It’s a throw it all in recipe, which suits my lifestyle 100%.

 

It turned out really well so I am adding it (and the cookies I made yesterday) to my batch bake list as the kids loved it as you can see!

In the veg plot, I have a million and one things to do.  I decided the best way to go about it is one bed at a time, finish it and move on.  Sounds obvious but when you get out there it’s hard not to start something and move on before you finish as something always catches your eye and before you know it the day is over.

So today I lifted the onions from Bed 1.  These have been brilliant, great size, didn’t go to seed and every single one came up so as long as the taste isn’t too bad then we will stick with these each year.  If it’s not broken then don’t fix it.  They are Sturon an Garnet (sets).  The bed was full of weeds in between the onions, they’ve been crazy after all this rain.

However I am really pleased with the results.  They’re all drying out head down which my neighbour told me to do.  We’re due a really heavy down pour tonight so they’ll get a wash and tomorrow is supposed to be lovely so they should dry out nicely before being taken into the barn.

I also tidied up the swiss chard as it was taking over, despite us using it regularly.  I’ll definitely be growing this every year, it is so versatile. 

Also the chickens love it so they got all the of bits that I tidied up.

So that’s 2 of the beds weeded and tidied up.  Although I didn’t start on the other beds, I noticed a few squashes coming along nicely which made me very happy.  I’d missed a couple of courgettes whilst I’d been so busy at work too, so I roasted them tonight for tea.

I’m really pleased as we had a free, home raised meal tonight.  It was pork burger (with chilli) in a homemade roll, cucumber and tomatoes, roasted courgettes, red onion and pepper with steamed Athlete potatoes.  It was delicious however a talking point was I’d thought the peppers were peppers when in fact they were chillis, ooops…..Burgers aren’t something I ate until this week – but these are too nice!

I also made a couple of loaves of bread for the freezer and I will continue to so we have them ready to just take out.

We then went out bramble picking for the first time this year and got a great haul which I will preserve with tomorrow as it was a bit late tonight after a busy day.

 
Another couple of photos from today that I took as they caught my eye and I’d like them to look back on for August memories.
 

 

Monday night preserves – Perfect pork! We did it!

Well I have to say I am proud as punch.  Only a couple of years ago, last year even, I could only think about what it would be like to raise your own meat.  This year we have managed to become self sufficient in chicken and now we can tick anything piggy off the list too.
We’ve been the proud owners of 2 large white x land race pigs since March 2017.  We bought them from a local farmer who we made friends with when we moved into the smallholding.  He supported us with advice during the life of the pigs and we are forever grateful as this year was all about finding out what it was like to raise your own pigs and whether or not it was for us.
Well guess what – it is! 
With Ste working for a large butchers, we are lucky enough that the pigs could go to the abattoir there and we knew they were in good hands.  However we don’t have a trailer yet, so what to do.  Well around here it seems that you mention it to a neighbour and they go out of the way to help you.  Seriously.  We couldn’t believe it.  Up until now we’d not met our ‘neighbour over the river’ (all neighbours here have a “over the river, across the field, on the corner type” phrase attached to their description given our location) however we were told to call him and he’d help out.  So feeling rather cheeky, that’s what I did.  Well what a lovely man (and wife too, we were to later find out).  David and Marg – they didn’t question us and just offered the use of the trailer based on the word of a mutual friend.  Now I also must say, we only met this mutual friend as a sheep of his got stuck near our land so I made sure I found the owner and returned it.  He’s obviously never forgot as he went on to help us get the trailer contact when we needed it.
Turns out, on the day the pigs were due to go, David said he’d join me and help out too – even better as I must admit I was worrying that we’d struggle to get them on safely.  We’d not had time to familiarise the pigs with the trailer as it wasn’t ours, so we hoped for a bit of luck which came in bucket loads and combined with a few shoves with of our wellies and a bucket of pig nuts – the 2 hungry pigs barged their way onto the trailer.
We were off.  I felt slightly sick but that wasn’t the fact the pigs were going, it was at the thought of something going wrong with the journey or the papers being wrong.  I shouldn’t have felt sick though, it all went just fine.
The pigs went through the motions at the abattoir and after a couple of false starts, we got them back ready for the weekend.  Ste got a photo of them at work whilst they were hanging in the big fridge.  I couldn’t wait to reap the rewards of the happy, free range life they’d lived.  We had weights of 54kg and 66kg which we are happy with this year.

We initially got the fillets and offal home.  These were frozen on the night, with the loins vac packed.

The first night we set the dining room up for Ste to butcher the sides he brought home.  He’d cut them down at work into manageable sizes.  We worked on a wooden board resting on a sanitised new shower curtain which did the job perfectly. Everything got wrapped up and the end and went in the bin – cost a couple of pounds.

He boned and rolled the spare rib half of the shoulders giving us 8 joints.  Each one was cut into sizes that will be large enough for at least 4 people right up to feeding a tribe! 

The thick end of each loin went to the bacon tray (to be dry cured for back bacon) and the thin end into medallion chops, which gave us 27 chops.  As 27 isn’t an even number, we cooked one up and tested it on the night.  Goodness me it was the nicest chop I’ve ever had (and no, I’m not just saying that).

Now, something we didn’t realise when raising these pigs is we may have given them too much space as there was very little fat on them from all the running around they did.  There was no flare fat so I couldn’t render that down, but that’s ok – I’ll take a happy life for the pigs and little fat for us.  This did mean that the bellies were very lean and thin too.  Therefore 2 went to sausage and burger meat, 1 was boned and rolled for a nice belly pork joint and the other we trialled as streaky bacon.

I decided to use Dawn’s dry cure recipe for the bacon and we are on day 2 of that now.

The bones out of the bellies and backs went to racks of ribs, so we have 8 racks which we tested one, but it was quite tough so I will slow cook next time. 

We kept one leg for a Christmas ham so that was cut and wrapped, going straight into the freezer.  The chump end of that went to steaks.  The other 3 had the hocks taken off which went into a wet cure along with the topsides and the thick flanks.  They were weighed down with a plate so they don’t bob above the surface.

That was 6 ham joints and 3 hocks.  Once these are ready I will cook all of these straight away.

We also got 6 roasting joints off the legs.  All in all, these joints will see us through the rest of the year and beyond.  We cooked one up for lunch on Sunday.

I roasted and cooked the bones up to make pork stock which will be frozen in portion sizes tomorrow.

Out of the trim that was left over, we had 3kg of diced pork and 8kg of minced pork, 36 burgers and 120 links of sausage.

All in all, our hands are tired and our freezers are full.  The whole family chipped in, including my visiting nephew. 

We had burgers (pork and apple) and Jack declared them the best he’d ever had.  Grace preferred the sausages (spicy ones) and we had a joint roasted on Sunday which were amazing,
So we’ve achieved a life long dream, we know exactly where our meat is coming from and to top it off, there’s no air miles on this little lot of meat.  Happy days!

Some of what’s growing and a suspicion

It’s funny as when I started sowing the seeds early in 2017, I couldn’t imagine them germinating.  Then when they germinated I couldn’t imagine them being decent size seedlings and then when I moved them to their final resting place I couldn’t imagine them filling the planting distance!  Well they grew, and filled it plus more….I did try, but I’ve planted some things too close again!
 
In the polytunnel we have a beef tomato plant to compare to growth with one in the greenhouse.  There was no noticeable difference.  There’s swiss chard, spinach and tomatillos in the below picture, all which I would recommend growing the polytunnel again.

 
The cucumbers don’t seem to be thriving in there.  The watermelon has done very well in the pot it has been in the greenhouse, so now there is a space, I’ve planted it in the polytunnel.

 
The last of the kale which did marvellously in here.  I’ve taken the rest out as the outside kale plants have caught up now.  Again, kale to get an early harvest is worth doing in the polytunnel.
I’ve put a couple of pepper plants that were later than the others in where to kale was and marigolds are blooming on the edges now.

 
My goodness the courgette and patty pans are leafing up quickly.

 
Oh der, I don’t even like cabbage as much as this would suggest I do!  Truth be told, I labelled them up wrong and thought these were caulis…..go on, have a laugh at my expense, I am!  Looks like a freeing session and coleslaw making is on the cards this weekend.  They’ve grown without any fuss though.  Durham early variety – I like no fuss plants!
 
 
A little idea I had for some of the many pumpkin seeds I had was to grow the smaller fruiting ones in containers and grow up instead of across.  These guys are coming on great due to the rain we’ve had no doubt, so this weekend they’ll be getting tied up so they don’t snap under their own weight.
 
 
 
The runner beans are also no fuss.  These are scarlet emperor variety and so pretty!  I’ve some preserving recipes waiting for these guys!  The nasturtiums are doing their job as they are covered in black flies.

Another bush that is coming on by the day is this cape gooseberry – literally growing by the day.  It might even need to go in the ground this year and not next like I was planning.

 
Another plant I couldn’t imagine taking up much room when I planted them as tiny green, flimsy leaves were the sweetcorn.  Well they sure like this soil as once they took hold, they shot up!
 
They’re in with some pumpkins which are just thugs.  They at sprawling wherever they want without a care in the world.  I love it!

Controversially I am growing tomatoes and potatoes in the same bed.  Now this goes against some recommendations but on a website I use for a lot of research, it said to grow them together for a number of reasons, so I am trying it outside.  I’ve taken up the second early potatoes which I am really pleased with and will definitely use next year (British Queen) and I’ve planted tomatoes (and peppers) in their place. 

There is still one row of spuds to come up and the back section is sunflowers and more tomatoes with catch crop of spinach in there.

 
The sunflowers are reaching amazing heights – I’m in for sizing guide – I’m 5’6 (and a half 😉 )

 
Considering how many tomato plants I have, I’m not getting anywhere near the amount in the greenhouse that I thought I would.  Disappointing results here so far.  I’ve had a couple of kilos but I have loads of plants!  Still the best thing you will taste though.
 
 
 
Now something that isn’t doing too well.  My broad beans have done dreadfully this year.  At first I thought it was just one of those things and maybe the new beds with rotted muck in were too rich for them.  Then I noticed other beds doing it but again, they’d had muck added at some point.  I’ve made this picture larger so you can look above the nasturtiums and see the curl on the leaf.  The beans are all knarled and shrivelled too.  I asked about and the consensus was weed killer which I said it can’t be as we don’t use it.
 
The my sunflowers, which were reaching for the skies with bright yellow blooms, started to die.  One down right died overnight.  Weird I thought, definitely something wrong with the soil.  I was gutted.  Steven not so much as after last years broad bean harvest he didn’t want to see another one again :D.

 
The leaves have done the same as the broad beans, shrivelled and died after being 100% healthy.
Hmm….I walked round my plots and started to wonder.  Is it possible that we’ve had drift from the farmer’s pesticide?  Last year I got caught out when they sprayed and it knocked me so ill that I needed to go to bed.  Are my sunflowers and beans suffering the same fate?  Does anyone know what else it could be?
Black fly for the beans, would they make the leaves curl?
 
The peas that I have sown in the same soil are sprouting up and the farmer won’t be spraying now I don’t think (harvest),so hopefully we will have some late peas too.
 
I’ve lots more to share, but I’ll do that another day.  Happy Friday!

Pigs, more harvests and epic fail on the redcurrant jelly

Our pigs only have 3 weeks left with us now.  They’re going to work with Ste on a Tuesday and will be coming back in a different state.  I’ve got some reading up to do as to how we want to process them so I’ll be checking out blogs on here plus my River Cottage handbook of course.
The pigs have a slap mark on their shoulder which identifies them when they go to slaughter.  It’s one of the marks the vet will look for.  Think of it as a tattoo.
The farmer thinks they will be weighing in at 65 kilos.
Look at this!  A cabbage that I thought was done for!  This is one that the birds or slugs ate and left skeletal.  What a trooper this little thing is.  There’s plenty more where he came from too.  At least these are doing well this year as the cauliflowers are non existent and the broccoli all bolted.
It might look strange, posting a photo of an onion but I grew this!  Yeah!  Really excited, no need to buy any more onions again I hope! 
Now to the carrots.  I have never ever managed togrow carrots before so imagine my excitement when I saw loads growing in my black bin!  I’ve been nursing them daily only to check on them today and discover an ant’s nest.  Well I panicked and pulled them all out.  Only to be told by my neighbour that ants are pretty clean and wouldn’t have eaten them.  He said they like light soil which this bin is.
Another thing I wanted to share with you is this little gadget that my friend has bought me, how lovely is it?  It’s a dibber for planting out and I think it is very thoughtful of her.
The dogs like it too!!
Even after living here 18+ months we’re still finding trees that we didn’t know we had.  Is this one hazelnut or acorn, does anyone know?

For my records, broad beans and first peas have done dreadfully this year!  Aren’t broad beans supposed to be amazingly easy to grow?!  We’ve had some, but not loads.
Oh and the sheep broke into the new chicken area!  Hooligans!
Also a quick update on the recurrant jelly.  It didn’t work!  That’s ok though, you win some and you lose some.  The overnight dripped juice only yielded 350ml when the recipe expected over 600ml.  We got 1.5 small jars when we expected 4 – 5 so something is amiss.  I think it’s going to set solid, so I’ll maybe try to loosen it up and add water and boil up again or if I can slice it (haha oh dear) then I’ll make gravy up adding it, then I’ll freeze the gravy. 

More where they came from though, we’ll get there!  The 2nd lot of strawberry jam was just as amazing as the first though – wahoo!