December birthday and raspberry vodka

Sounds like a good combination right 🙂

It was my birthday yesterday and also my long day at work, however it was great fun.  I heard from people I’ve not spoken to for a while, saw my family, was lucky to receive gifts and got to taste my raspberry vodka which we started off in summer.  Oh man, it was lovely.  I’ve been having a few drinks through December to celebrate and feel festive with friends when they visit etc and now I have this, we’re taking a bottle next door with us to celebrate Christmas Day Night with our lovely neighbours.  It’ll be the perfect end to the day when I get to chill after a hectic day no doubt.

So in true Tracy style, I was given a greenhouse heater and 2 huge propagators and a thermometer for min/max and current temperatures from Steven, along with some long socks, a bottle of Baileys and other items.  How lucky am I?

I also got a personalised notebook which I just love, that I am going to use to record all of next years info around eggs, veg seeds sown, grown and harvested (weights etc, thanks Dawn!).  My lovely parents got me a new coat to do my smallholding jobs in Winter, for which this weather is far too warm to wear it yet, so I am wanting a bit more winter weather please.  I got a Bake Off apron and £60 cash which has been spent on something for the smallholding that I will do another post on.
Hugely exciting too – the farmer has confirmed the litter of piglets which we’re getting ours from is due 2nd Feb so we will take them once they are ready.  In between now and then, I need to learn all about caring for them (already done a lot) and Steven is going to get their shelter/ark sorted.
Later in the year we are hoping to get goats too but that pending what Mother goat delivers in the Spring.  More on that once it’s firmed up.
Ooh and Christmas is still firmly underway, home made cards have been made and the kids put SO much effort in to them.  They were gratefully received which I was super happy about.  We didn’t manage to do all the cards as homemade, I didn’t realise how long they will take.  That’s ok though.
Did you know, apparently, Boxing Day is the time to sow onion seeds traditionally.  Don’t ask me who’s traditions or in what country, but that’s what I was told! 
Plans for the weekend?  I’m going to put some winter lettuce in my propagators this weekend.  We also need to get the Christmas meat sorted – a goose and duck from the smallholding will be dispatched this weekend.  They have had a wonderful life and this is what they were raised for.  We know what they have eaten and have been with them from cradle to grave.  Next year I am hoping for all home raised and grown produce as the main Christmas lunch.  There are a million and one other things on the list, which I’ll post as I get round to them,  In the mean time I leave you with how my work place was decorated for me! 
Where I work – a lovely lady always makes us feel special.

More planning – this time meat

Now I appreciate not everyone wants to raise, kill and eat their own meat and in this post I am thinking more about next year and planning the meat,  Writing it down here lets my thoughts develop.  So if this isn’t for you, please take this as fair warning J  If you’re all about knowing where your meat comes from, giving animals a happy and healthy life and ensuring their dispatch is a stress free and quick as possible, then do read on.

As we won’t be self-sufficient in pork etc until November 2017 and as I am getting itchy feet I think I will ask Steven to bring home half a pig from work.  For those who don’t know, he is a butcher.  We would need to buy it from the shop of course, but I would be very interested to watch him do his thing and fill up the freezer for the coming months in 2017.  It would also aid me in my quest to be stocked up for the new year on as much as possible from day one. 
We eat a fair amount of meat.  My motto for food (and drink for that matter) is everything in moderation, which is key, but as there’s 4 of us we do get through a fair bit.  Most weekends we have people visiting and I usually feed visitors.  In 2017 I hope to have family round for Sunday dinners as we’ll have the dining room useable by then.  I would like to be able to put a roasting joint on the table every weekend and look forward to that being from our own smallholding.
I have decided (a stake in the ground was required, so I may be way off) that I would like 40 roasting birds and 40 jointing birds.  A lot right?  Well given that we have chicken a lot during the week and some weeks enjoy a roast mid-week, plus some will be given to family and that we host a lot of gatherings during the year where I put a big spread on, I think this is a reasonable amount to aim for.  I could be way off but until I try, I won’t know. 
We’ve made enquiries about getting fertilised eggs from a nearby farm for a large breed of hen. I think they are called Cornish or Ross cobs, either way, they are big.  We’ll pick 40 eggs up early in the New Year when they are available and get them straight in the incubator for dispatch early May.  The next 40 can go in later in the year for dispatching October time when the flies have died off a bit.  That should see us right with the chicken we would like.  I will need another new freezer though.
We also would like to increase the numbers of our laying hens and to ensure a good start to the year, have decided to trial some hens eggs that we’ve not bred from before.  The eggs are going into the incubator this Friday, 18th November to hatch in 21 days, meaning they will be point of lay (22 weeks) on 12th May 2017.  May 2017 is obviously getting on for half way through the year, so you see why we want to get going on that project?  The chicks will live in the warm kitchen or utility in the house and move to the barn in straw bedding when big enough.  They’ll be under heat in the garage in between those periods as winter isn’t the best time to hatch eggs out.
Obviously some of those will be cockerels so they will be our next table birds which will be dispatched as and when they are needed.

Come November 2017 we’ll have our own pork too.  That leaves lamb.  Our current girls will be going in with the tup in 2017 so we hope to have April 2018 lamb.  Yes, I do like to plan.  😉

A little catch up, birthdays, snow, polytunnel thoughts and 2017 potatoes!

I have broken my phone and have an old spare which doesn’t do photo’s as well but bear with me.  It also means I have to boot the laptop up to see blogs and updates (first world problems, I know).  Wednesday saw us with snow on the ground.  It was short lived and didn’t affect the roads.  It was so pretty to see everywhere white and the smallholding animals all looking around wondering what it was.  I know some people don’t like the snow, but I do and I do hope we have a white Christmas.
The kids played in it, all be it briefly, and I took what photos I could.  We call one of our chicken areas “Chickenville” and the kids wrote it out in the snow (when they were supposed to be doing their jobs 😉 ).  It’s so nice to see them enjoying it all.

Goose foot print

It was Steven’s birthday on Tuesday and despite being at work all day and needing to remove a radiator in the dining room for decorating, he seemed to enjoy it.  He sent me this photo the next day when he had time to enjoy a nice cup of coffee in his gadget that he received.

I’ve been doing more thinking ahead and keeping more notes in my notebook.  This time I have been writing down everything we have as packed lunches, with a view to ensuring I have the contents covered in our GYO plan for 2017.  For example the salads we have contain mixed leaves, spring onion/red/white, radish, cucumber, tomatoes, lots of peppers, sweetcorn, coleslaw and when we’re feeling adventurous, cous cous.  I think we can have this covered in 2017.  Also soups and quiche.
That led me on to thinking about the polytunnel again.  If I can afford one, it’ll be March/April time so we will have missed the early start, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start things elsewhere in the house and heat the greenhouse too, before moving them to the polytunnel when it’s ready.  The purpose of the polytunnel will be to extend the growing season and give me more space to allow us to be self-sufficient in vegetables throughout the year.
The salad items listed above will be mostly grown in the polytunnel although I think the sweetcorn will be half and half for pollination reasons.  In anticipation of next year, I’ve pre ordered my potatoes going for the following options (which will be delivered February):
First Earlies:  Swift (general purpose) and red duke of York (good for roasting).  These will be ready 10 weeks after planting.
Second Earlies:  British Queen (GP but excellent roasting) and Athlete which are lovely cold in salads.  These will be ready 13 weeks after planting.
Maincrop made up of early maincrop:  Carolus (GP),  Maincrop:  Blue salad (I fancy these for something different), Cara for baking and chipping and late maincrop of Sarpo Mire which can be stored until Christmas and King Edward which I think are the same.  These will be ready 20 weeks after planting.
The idea here is they all get planted at the same time and are ready to eat at different stages.  I will grow some in containers and bags but most in the ground.  We’re making a few new beds outside, 1 of which will be for the potatoes.  Having no idea how many potatoes we use and how much each plant will produce, we could be rolling in them or short for demand.  This really is an experiment.  Each order supplies apx 15 tubers (1kg).  It cost me £37 inc P&P so I will see how much we get for our money and make a note of it as next year progresses.

Getting the balance of what self sufficient means to us – the balance

I’ve been thinking more and more about self sufficiency and how it applies to us, or rather how we apply us to it. There are some very strong views out there on it, but I’m just throwing some thoughts out there which aren’t getting down to the nitty gritty just yet so please bear with me.
I’ve had a little thought, which many people have had before however for us personally, it will help us on the road to being less reliant on supermarkets and more reliant on ourselves.  Thinking ahead to 2017, we’re not going to start having home grown items available on January 1st even though I’ve been planting through Autumn/Winter to make sure some things are available as early as possible.  I plan on tweaking my 2017 growing plan (as much as my experience and knowledge allows me) to ensure once we start producing food in 2017, we don’t stop.  I’m researching all of the time and learning so much through the experience of others via blogs too.  Making notes along the way to ensure I remember the following year what to do and what not to do.
With these thoughts running through my head, the other thing niggling at me is having to go to Tesco (or wherever) for household items.  I’d like to reduce the amount we go.  So I’ve started making a list of things we need such as toilet roll, soap, shampoo etc and the list was ever expanding.  Then I made a list of non-perishable (or very long life) foods that we have such as tinned tuna, cereal etc.  I appreciate people will say, you could make your own soap and shampoo and you could poo in the woods (ok I’m exaggerating) but we need to do what works for us on our self-sufficient journey.  We both work full time, meaning that I need clothes that I can wear in the office – that’s the kind of balance I’m talking about.  So whilst we’re mindful about those areas and we certainly only spend what we need to there, I’m going to focus on the food and wellbeing. 
I mentioned cereal amongst the other things, this is something I could make at home, yes.  Granola and muesli, so that’s one thing I am going to change.  I can’t make coco pops though.  The kids aren’t allowed them a lot, but they do enjoy them when they are.  So I will buy those in.  However the kids don’t eat enough eggs (for my liking , given how many chickens we have) so they can have those more.  We are getting pigs in March, so maybe by November 2017 ish, we’ll be self-sufficient in pork/ham/bacon/sausages etc. We’re not buying a cow though, so I will still buy beef as I enjoy beef.  We might get one in a year or two though, who knows.  We don’t have goats or dairy cows, so I will buy milk – that’s something we use a lot of.  I can freeze it if I buy it in bulk.  We have some chicken in the freezer of our own but it won’t last long.  We should have our home grown chickens ready early April 2017 so from then on, I shouldn’t need to buy more chicken.
This is a snippet of the thoughts I am having for 2017’s budget and lifestyle.  Can you imagine how full my head is right now J  I’m off to think more about how we can shop less and grow more. 

Thinking of next year (again)

I haven’t been on everyone’s blogs for a day or two but I will catch up this weekend and am looking forward to it. 
This week has gone by quickly, looking back.  My mind has been wandering into next year again thinking of the things I’d like to get done on the smallholding.  There’s the easy sounding, but more than likely a pain in the butt jobs of putting automatic drinkers into the fields and stables, maybe even the poultry and the preparing for the pigs. 
Starting the incubator in February, we need to get our table bird stocks up and have decided on a specific breed to cross with our big cockerel to hopefully produce some nice big birds. 
I’m hoping to have a poly tunnel by April time frame and that means agreeing on the area it is going to live but we think we’ve decided.  Preparing the ground for the poly tunnel won’t be an overnight task (if we put it where I think we will). 
We hope to really get to grips with heading in the right direction for being self sufficient in veg at least.  Eating seasonally will be on my mind all year.
If we don’t manage to this year, next year we need to put some sort of hard standing at the field gate entrance as it has turned to a quagmire already.  There’s more fencing to go up for the horses and stock fencing to keep the sheep in.  There’s gates to make to keep the ducks and geese separate (the geese beat the ducks up sometimes) instead of the pallets we have resting there at the moment.
Inside the house, I’d like to get the kids bedrooms done as my daughter at least, will be too old to enjoy the kids side of it in a year or two when she turns towards the dreaded teenage years.
Hopefully next year something will present itself in offering us more land too.  I’ll work on that by inviting all of the neighbours round at Christmas and cracking open the mulled wine!
These are my rambling thoughts for the day, not a great post for you guys as readers, for which I apologise, but useful for me.  At least you all can keep tabs on my progress 😉
Have a lovely weekend all.

This is the goose shed!  The sheep are inspecting it….

See the difference?  The horses are on the left side and this is only after a couple of days.  The right side is resting.

The hard standing would need to be on both sides of the gate I think