Rain, rain and more rain – but that’s ok!

I think most of the UK has had rain this week.  The ground here desperately needed it.  It’s rained non stop for a good few days so all of the water butts are full.  Some of the barn guttering is blocked from downpours and things are looking a bit depressed (my chamomile is squished for example) but once the sun comes it’ll right itself.  However some of the animals are loving it:
Some not so much
 The 4 Vorwerk girls and 2 boys sought shelter in the barn, you only ever see them in here at feeding time but looks like they all fancied a trip to the hairdressers together.

After complaining about the pigs not turning the field over as much as we’d hoped – look at it now after the rain!  I’m really pleased.  These 2 will be going within the next month and they will have done a great job by then.  Once they go we will get in there and take out the roots they’ve uprooted but not eaten, maybe rake or tiller it depending how it is and then leave it until March when it’ll be planted up with potatoes then squash later in the year.  We’re also growing 2018 pigs fodder in here.

The sunflowers are now heading for 5 or 6 foot and some are really strange looking!  Pretty colours all the same.

Look at the sweetcorn!  This has flew up with the recent downpours!
This morning I was outside at 5:30 sowing seeds.  Crazy you might say but there’s method in my madness.  Firstly, my back was giving me jip and I needed to walk it off, secondly on a weekend I always seem to get distracted by other jobs like weeding and thirdly I find I get a lot more achieved when I get out of bed and get on with it straight away.  Of course I had to go to work so the only way to get everything done is get up early and crack on!  The seeds I got in were spring onion, pak choi, leeks (second cropping, winter giant 3), perpetual spinach, cauliflower autumn giant, cabbage verbote 3 (which was organic and I’d not realised).
The rain always makes the veg plot look so green so I quickly snapped a couple of shots for you to see from this morning.
Beans intercropped with spinach in this closest shot

Lavender and spuds in this view, plus the obligatory steel bin to burn stuff in!
 Chamomile is what you can see, all squashed in the middle of this pic.
Brassicas with Jerusalem artichokes below.  I wasn’t sure if these would be ok together but I am moving the artichokes to a metal bin (with holes in) one this round is done.

That’s my round up done, enjoy the weekend.

Avian Flu Silver lining and odds and sods

Like all poultry keepers, I’m sick of this avian flu for one reason or another.  I do not want to get into politics as we all have our own views on it.  However, one thing I think most of us smallholders, self sufficient and self reliant folks have in common, is the ability to make the best from a bad situation.
Although the poultry is stuck inside, they do have light, food, water and warm beds so their lives could be worse.  However for us, the food bill to feed them seems high.  Now I don’t have last year’s costs to compare this too, however my gut feeling is that it’s high and although the wild birds are no longer taking their share, I reckon the barn mice and rats are! 
We’ve known for a while about hanging your poultry feeders off the ground to deter rats and other critters, but we’ve never got round to it.  So Steven has designed a hanging feeder which we are trialling in the barn.  We have put the same amount of food in on day 1 and then day 2.  Day 1 seeing the feeder on the floor and day 2 hanging up. 

I’ll report back on how well they have done.
Once we move them back outside, we’ll hang the feeders from the trees.  Now where the birds will go when they’re outside is another discussion.  Having the over winter in the barn has opened our minds to where we will house them in 2017 as other animals come along.  I’ll do more on that another day too.
So the silver linings being that we’re trialling a new way of feeding them that we’ve not done before and we’re giving thought to the best place for the hens in 2017. 
I’ve also been making mango chutney which Dawn posted about a week or 2 ago and I’ve wanted to do it since.  It’s a lovely recipe which you can find here.  I am really pleased that the food year is already off and running.  Who says preserving is only for the summer?

I’ll be using it in a sausage recipe on Sunday when I put a spread on for my daughters 10th birthday.
The seeds are making their way up into the daylight.  It always amazes me that these dormant seeds suddenly sprout life.  The first ones of the year are extra special.

I couldn’t finish without showing you this.  On a morning, the youngest dogs come with me to the barn to run off their energy.  So when they were quiet, my senses went on high alert and I found them both happily chewing on undesirable things!  Nothing poisonous, but I’ll spare you the details.  No wonder they were quiet.

Getting the growing plans in order and on paper

Something I want to do shortly is measure what we have land wise.  I want an accurate overhead, bird’s eye view of our home.  This will allow us to step back and look at the space for the future instead of standing amongst it all and seeing it with today’s intended use.  It’s hard to stand in Chickenville and see it as potential veg plot for example, or to know if the wooded area would be big enough to turn into a pig area if we fenced it off or where the best place to put an outdoor sand arena/horse walker would be.  I’d like to get that done in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, I’m putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard again to update the 2017 growing plan.  I have started sowing some seeds at the risk of losing them.  I’ve only put aubergine and corn salad in.  This weekend I have tomatoes, cauliflower, leeks, red onions, onions, peppers and chillis to put in.  Everything that needs a high heat to germinate will go in the airing cupboard as it’s right next to the Aga chimney.  The things that need 20C and below will go in the kitchen.  Hopefully things will come up together meaning they can be moved together to the south facing windowsill before going to the heated greenhouse at some point, as they will all be in one propagator.

We now have 3 new raised beds and there are 2 more large ones and 4 smaller in the pipeline too.  We’re busy filling them with muck and I’ll be getting a top soil delivery at the end February or early March to top them up.

The plan therefore currently looks like this (I’ve no idea if the photos will work but you get the idea)

We have 18 beds of different sizes (I know some people prefer uniform, but this works for us) and I’m still deciding what will go in some.  Bed 11 (large) and 15/16 (small) aren’t spoken for.  I am growing more potatoes than some would bother with.
I can’t decide whether to put anything permanent in my new beds.  Fruit bushes or such like.  This year they will be new soil so I may use it as a tester year. 
The older strawberry patch is taking over and I have no idea how old it is.  It performed well last year, but maybe this year I will dig it out once I’ve taken the runners as I’m going to line some beds with strawberries.
Also I am super excited to be saying I will be visiting lots of your blogs to search for your tried and tested recipes.  I know there are plenty of you who have them and I’d like them ready to use when harvest comes round.  It’s such a busy time of year that all planning ahead that can be done should, then I can just concentrate on the goodies and recipes.  Also I would like to time table in when to start making the food and drink for Christmas gifts.  I don’t want to miss a thing this year!

2016 Oil, electricity, water and other bills plus a few 2017 plans

Sorry for no photos on this one, it’s more about keeping records!
In our first year in the house we’ve used 4500 litres of oil and it cost us £1402.02 plus £50.97 in additives for the oil.  There’s enough in the tank to see us until the end of Jan and maybe beyond but as we moved in on 15th Jan, this will balance out.  I shall compare usage and cost with 2017.  I do love doing things like that. 
We bought coal, which I didn’t keep a record for, so have started for 2017.  However we use wood which is free for the most part.
Electricity we used £438 and are just in credit so our monthly payment is about right.
Water was £322.
The septic tank was emptied at a cost of £145.
On top of that we have the usual bills, all of which I knew what the cost would be through the year, so could plan for those.  I am pleased that we forecasted appropriately and things came in on budget.  This year I want to decrease our use of electricity and oil, however will increase the oil savings as we’re just on par with what we saved v what we used and I can’t see the cost of oil going down.  Water is needed.  We’re on a metre and it is for the animals too.  That is what it is.  We waste very little I think.
The groceries came in on budget for the most part of the year and December went right up which I can handle but need to plan for if it is to happen again.  It was out first year celebrating in this house and I refused to scrimp on things.
Hopefully with the plans I have for veg for 2017, our grocery bill will be right down, even further in 2018 when we have more of our own meat on the table.
We’ve also spent a lot to get up and running.  That will continue this year as we continue to get set up in all areas.  2016 saw expenses on things like:  fences, wood, veg beds, an auger, hens, eggs, poultry essentials, decorating, field gates, 3 geese, 3 ducks, 3 sheep and our first cockerel Jto mention a few.  This coming year we are putting up more fencing and gates, buying 2 pigs (weaners), automating water supplies, buying more poultry housing, buying dairy goats, creating a new raised bed area and putting up a polytunnel.  That’s what we’ve already thought about, there will be SO much more comes to mind during the year as always!  Just a few things then J  I wouldn’t have it any other way.
We are hoping to make a small income from egg sales, geese and turkey at Christmas (just a few), selling surplus veg and fruit and even veg plants.  Enough to cover the cost of feed maybe?  We’ll see. 

Loving the January feeling

All too often, I hear people saying how miserable January is, it’s ages until pay day, nothing to do on dark nights, bored etc etc. I don’t fall into that category any more. I am not sure I ever did. For me, in my new life, it’s all about planning and getting organised for the coming weeks, months and years.
Over Christmas and New Year, we have had family and friends over, visited with them but ultimately loved being here in our new home. Our first Christmas here was everything and more that I hoped it would be.
Thoughts now turn to what we can get done this year. As usual my head is full to the brim with ideas and things to try.  Sometimes the ideas don’t make it to pen and paper quick enough and I lose them for a while, so if anything, this year I shall try to do better there. That is not a new year resolution by the way 😉.
Rather than start off with a long list now, I am going to do individual posts. Today is my last day off work, so I have put the kids to bed and am off to spend it with my husband before the organised chaos of the working week is resumed.
The weather is due to turn cold again here. I do enjoy a cold spell, no rain though, can’t be done with rain.
Here’s to 2017 – let’s see what we can make of this one!