Another year in – 2 years on.

January 2017

Weather wise January only had a few cold days but a couple of those were bitter indeed.  It was wet despite not that much rain fall so we kept the horses stabled to give the field a breather and try to prevent further damage to the grass.  We’re doing the same this year.

I started cooking from recipe books which was one of my New Year ideas for myself.  I have so many books and all of them underused.

The geese started laying eggs both Jan 2017 and Jan 2018 so I think we know that’s on the cards for each New Year hopefully!  The weren’t laying until March in 2016 so this is a nice surprise.
We laughed at my inability to grow carrots!  Something I’ve barely redeemed myself.

I took time out to add up the previous year’s bills for oil, coal, water and electricity so we could compare them to 2017’s use, just like we’ve done this year. 

I started records for everything, something I’d not done enough of in 2016.

Egg sales started in a more serious manner, starting as we meant to go on.  The income covered the poultry feed which was good considering they were all housed due to the Avian flu lockdown.

We invested in a few trees (fig, pear, almond and apricot).

The greenhouse frame went up to house some of the poultry during the lockdown.

I planned and planned the coming year’s harvest before finally getting some seeds in after waiting what felt like an age! 

Steven made his first handmade item of the year, the bottle and glass rack that he put up on the kitchen wall.

We’ve had many celebrations and get togethers with family and friends.

January 2017, Ste made 3 raised beds on the new veg area.


Started before Christmas
Finished this one in January 2017

We made our first lot of money from muck!  £25 to be precise 🙂

 The polytunnel was purchased and Ste built it so it was never going anywhere!

 
February saw more goose eggs, one was found in the bushes outside which I suspect was Ryan’s first ever egg.  We’d confirmed Ryan as a female by now!
Chomping at the bit, as soon as it was dry enough, we began tidying up the main veg plot, starting with the fruit bed on the first sunny day with blue sky of the year.
Grace enjoyed her 2nd birthday party in the house (and I hope many, many more to come).
We made the gate along side the barn to the orchard, which was the start of where poultry would end up being housed in 2017 (the gate separated animals that didn’t get on).
I started sowing seeds in earnest and loved every minute of it.

February saw the shift in weather.  The days were getting noticeably longer, so more time could be spent outside sowing seeds, doing the animals and riding out for me.
The seeds sown in January were ready to be potted on and although some were leggy as expected, they were potted deeply and grew on strongly.
The peas in the drainpipe had 100% germination which was fantastic.  I’m doing that again in 2018.
The first dandelion of the year was found, so that meant the weeds were starting!  I knew I needed to do a better job of these than I did the previous year but inevitably they still take over!
 
I made Lou’s quick and easy marmalade recipe and it was delicious!!!   We were turning into a proper smallholding and it made me feel happy.
We opened the damson vodka to sample it….
 then drank it…all (it’s nice).
I bought comfrey roots which I didn’t hold much hope for, but then they started to sprout and came on very well and in the end took over!  They could do with a place all of their own in 2018.
I got the heater in the greenhouse up and running and Ste sorted the heat bench, so we were away.  The house was full of seeds sown but the greenhouse soon caught up and I found myself making space for more and more trays of seeds.
Even though the days were getting lighter, there was still the Winter feel about the month so we found the time to watch films as a family (and the River Cottage series!) before the craziness of the summer months was upon us.

March is the month when you can begin things in earnest.  I found out in March I was given a promotion at work which I began in May and thankfully went on to enjoy every minute of it.  March saw so many seeds coming through, I’d really stayed on top of them in January and February given we had heat to bring them on in.
The comfrey finally came through which we used to make our own free plant feed saving a fortune in the long run.
We got 4.5 tonnes of top soil delivered which sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t go far!
I plated my first and second early potatoes (seems early to get them in now, but they worked well)
In March we got the pigs, 2!  They stayed in the barn as they were not a hardy outdoor breed and the nights are still cold in March.
They were a great introduction to raising our own and looking back were no trouble at all.  They require daily attention but it’s minimal and I don’t think there will be a year where we don’t have pigs now.  Old spots in 2018 I think.
We hatched out the first ducklings in March – incubating them in February and they did us very well. 
I remember in March thinking I felt unprepared as it went from being Winter to full on Spring – light before 6am until well after 6pm which helps so much with our outside life.
March also saw the first rhubarb harvest and lots of daffodils – you know Spring is here then.
In April we lost Buddy, 8th to be precise.  I couldn’t be more grateful to have had him as long as we did – I am so pleased he made it to the smallholding and got to enjoy his last days here.  He loved it!
I made nettle soup….I won’t be this year lol
By April, the tomatoes I’d sown in January were well away
however the overall tomato crop was poor.  I need to choose some varieties this year that have stood the test of time, with a couple that are new varieties.  After all, we’re going to need a boat load to fill the plans I have made!
In May we covered the cherry tree at the back of the barn to protect it from the birds.  That failed, it didn’t produce anything!  So this year, we’ll just have to be the early bird that catches the worm ourselves.
 
We also opened Chickenville to move the hens onto grass:
They loved it and we eventually moved them all onto the orchard area.  We still haven’t decided what to use the original Chickenville space for.  We had a cracking bonfire night party there though.
 
 
I also started making preserves every Monday night, or at least most Monday’s which I thoroughly loved. 
June we made elderflower cordial and I’m going to double and triple the amounts this year – I love that!  It lends itself to so many different things, we even gave it away at Christmas in hampers as we water bathed some small jar.  Beautiful and a definite keeper!  Despite it being dark, it didn’t make any difference overall – just one of those things.
We tried to shear our own sheep.  I shall leave that there.
By June the pigs had turned the land over and by gum did it rain.
Harvests were promising
The runner beans were A-MA-ZING
I missed drying Lavender in 2017, so I’ll make sure I don’t miss it this year.
We started the comfrey tea in July and I failed epically with redcurrant jelly.
 
I grew far too much cabbage!
 
The sunflowers didn’t do well either, so this year I’ll be fixing that too.
 
One courgette plant gave us the nicest courgettes you could imagine.  To think I thought we didn’t like courgettes.  They went into everything!
 
We had a lovely summer, enjoy BBQ’s, family time, time with friends and generally just taking it all in.  Life’s so busy in the summer, animals and harvests and that’s not to mention working full time.
 
With the chickens being in the orchard, any apples that fell they had!  This year I need to harvest them timely to avoid this.
We did get some for the must have crumble:
 
Onions were amazing
We managed to get a first prize at the September country fair with the pumpkin we grew.
As we moved into Autumn and Winter, we started to prepare for Christmas and the hampers we were making.  They went down well with the family and I’ve already got some ideas for 2018!
The fox came and took at least 1 of our geese in November, with a 2nd one simply disappearing in December.
 
The tup arrived in November, 5th to be precise. 
We decorated for our 2nd Christmas in the house – I love the kitchen every month of the year here.

 
We got more meat bird in November which worked out well but we won’t do that again as I don’t like keeping them inside.

 
Ste built me a new shed!

Christmas 2017 was lovely.
 
Some of us slept through it.

 
We picked Annie, our puppy Bullmastiff up on 27th December.

The horses enjoyed some outdoor time in the car park whilst the fields are closed.

So from Steve and I, we’d like to wish you all a prosperous New Year (again) as we enter our 3rd year here on the smallholding.  What on earth will this one bring?

A time to celebrate – Happy Anniversary to us.

We moved into our smallholding 1 year ago today. 

We had moved out of our family home on November 27th and into my Uncle’s house which was mostly unoccupied by him for the next 7 weeks.  It sounds nothing now, but when you are waiting for something, time drags.  Here I am now in disbelief that a year has gone by.
As most of you will know, we couldn’t be happier living where we do.  The failed sales, drop outs, useless solicitors and estate agents and the long scary journey to pick the keys up was all worth it. 
On moving day, Steven had gone with my Dad, brother in law and a friend to the lock up where our worldly belongings were, Mum was on childcare duty before and after school.  I had to drive 45 minutes to get the keys, that would be fine it the roads hadn’t flooded, the sat nav hadn’t failed and my phone gave up en route!  Literally!  I’d managed to get there ok but it took twice as long to get back and with no phone I couldn’t let people know I was safe.  It was worth it though, walking in to the new house, setting the alarm off and not knowing the code – everything fell straight in to place.
I haven’t missed our old house like I thought we would.  We have a lot of memories in that house, but they came with us and the house is now being lived in by another family.
We were meant to live here – I am sure of it.
So we moved into our little smallholding at the end of a lane, set in 4 acres of the beautiful English countryside, that sits alongside a river, standing proudly against the beautiful backdrop.  We have a barn, greenhouse and veg plot plus 2 small open barns that we utilise.
Here’s a few memories from our journey, please celebrate with us before we go feet first into 2017’s journey.
The Aga:
We would not be without one now. Simple as that.  It sounds cliché, but it is the heart of our home.  I’ve written about it many times.  You simply can’t beat Aga food.  I’m building up my Aga kitchen wear over the years.  It’s great stuff. 
We keep our bums warm on it, it dries our clothes, heats our hats and gloves, makes the dogs feel cosy, bakes amazing cakes, taught my daughter the love of cooking and provides a comforting warmth for poorly children.

The Self Sufficient Journey.
Well this has been even better than I expected.  I couldn’t wait to get going with sowing seeds.  I wanted to be producing our own food from day 1!  Then I realised there are no shortcuts and no quick returns as such.  I had planned a lot though, and I am learning from it this year and so on.

The vision hasn’t changed – on our smallholding, I want to produce as much of the food my family consumes.  How possible that is will change year by year, hopefully increasing. 
Last year we started with chickens for meat and eggs.  We put a stake in the ground and tried 2 of our Cream Legbar cockerels.  This was the first time we’d slaughtered our own birds and we weren’t overly impressed with the first one but the 2nd one was nice.  We then made friends, read blogs, researched more and discovered a new breed (to us) that we are going to use this year, Ross Cobbs.    Over the year we put 7 more cockerels in the freezer, and had countless eggs from the hens.  We sold a lot which covered the cost of the feed through Summer and Autumn. 

Our layers that we brought with us – the oldies

I didn’t keep records for these, but I am this year.  Our first egg from the hens we brought with us was a double yoker, a sign of the bountiful things to come.

Almost immediately we bought some hatching eggs and put them in the new incubator that Steven had got for Christmas.

The hatched into lovely little chicks, the first of many! 

The geese came a couple of weeks after moving in.  We’d had this planned for so long, we just needed to source some.  We found some advertised locally and made our first new smallholding friend.  A small family renting a farm in a town not farm from us.  We soon went back for ducks when we decided to get them too.  It’s good to have the right contacts.

The geese hatched their eggs with no help from us.  It was such a heart warming sight.  Mamma goose didn’t like us being there so we snapped a photo and left.

 The asparagus shot through, literally a few inches a day.  We were astounded. 

 Another goose hatched but Mamma goose didn’t want to know…..so we took him under our wing and that’s where Ryan’s story started.

We started to uncover and prepare the veg beds for planting.  We had no idea what anything was like, the soil, if anything was lurking underneath or how things would go.  We couldn’t wait!


Before
After
I managed to start leeks and tomatoes off not long after moving in.
We got the hang of growing as the year went on and had some cracking harvests.

We’ve bought 2 chest freezers, second hand and working perfectly, to house the next year’s meat and any fruit and veg that can’t be used there and then. 

We have learnt to look forward, plan ahead but more importantly, be flexible.  The weather, animals, kids, work, farmers, everything has an impact on what we do and we have to be ready to adapt at that very moment.  Self reliance is a key aspect of the new lifestyle.


Home cooking.
One of my fondest things.  Good food on the table (good, not expensive), with a family all sat round together, gives you time to bond.  It also means I need to occasionally lose the plot trying to get my son to eat his veg, but I am human so let’s move on.
I have loved putting food on the table in 2016.  I found the summer more difficult as I wanted to be outside all of the time, so I will be prepared for that in 2017.  Now we have a dining room, I’m taking over from my Mum who used to invite the family round for Sunday lunches.  I really enjoy seeing people enjoy the food I’ve made.  More importantly – it’s made from good stuff.  Don’t get me wrong, we’re not there yet, bad food slips in sometimes, but again, I’m human and such is life.
I’ve been making my own bread, using the bread maker.  The bread is amazing, I know what’s in it and I can work it around my time.  This works for me and as we know, we do what works for us.
I have tried all sorts of cakes, my first one being to repay the farmer for helping us when we moved in.  He lifted our stables from the artic lorry to our house (along the lane) and had met us only the day before. 



The stables going up
Lovely, lovely people who we’ve since made friends with and have enjoyed their company from time to time.  We stay in touch via text and look out for each other. 

Most weekends we have had family and friends over and most of the time they are fed and watered and go away happy.

Fences.
Oh Fence!  Soon after moving in we started on fences.  We paid a contractor to put a fence along the bottom of the field.  Cows had grazed it before and they didn’t need confining as the field next to us was the farmers, who owned the cows.  Well my horses wouldn’t respect any boundaries without fences and given the river was right at the end of the field down a ditch, I didn’t fancy calling the fire brigade to rescue my horses at any point!  Steven was working full time, we had no fencing tools and it made sense for the first fence to get someone in.  It was done within a couple of days and we were very pleased.

As soon as that one was up, Steven took over the reins.  We bought an auger and the power tools needed to put the fences up.  It was just as well as it seems fencing on smallholdings is a never ending thing?!

Good boy for staying put Jake!

2016….what a year.

We’ve got used to being supplied by oil and ordering it in, having a painfully slow internet connection at times (I work from home 3 nights a week, it’s not just a Facebook moan!), going out to lock up and check on animals at all hours, put others before ourselves and taking strength from each other when days seem a bit much.
We have learnt to embrace how we see life and not to feel ashamed by it.  Wanting to grow your own, raise and slaughter your own animals, enjoy looking at a field and shovelling sh*t, seeing beauty in things others just see dirt or moan that it smell and generally living the good life, looking up at the stars just because we can and not being afraid of the dark (it’s very dark here!).

Our family has grown closer, we’ve walked, had picnics, laughed and cried.  Raised 2 healthy puppies and kept our old man Buddy going a lot longer than any of us expected.

Buddy has always loved his cuddles.

 Siblings have occasionally got on

We have some of the best views all around us.  I kid you not, there isn’t a day goes by that I am not thankful for them or some aspect of what we have.

We have managed to make new friends who helped us when we needed it….even if it was to raid their wood pile!
We love seeing new things come from old items.  Paying cash is the last option, after all, we’re trying to keep our outgoings down.

The kids have played outside, just like kids should.

We used our metal detector on our field and dug up some treasure.
 The Vorwerks watched whilst we worked.

The the second part of the self sufficient movement came along.  We bought 3 lambs and are raising them to have their own lambs in 2018, filling our freezers with lamb.

We’ve had a lot of firsts in the new house.  Halloween was fabulous and low key.
Ensure we did things as a family 
and as a couple
Saw the first snow 
Fixed things that broke, learning as we went.

 Found free wood wherever we could to keep up warm in the winter

Had a Christmas to remember 
Got on making new veg beds for the coming year 
Tried to see a silver lining when things were frustrating 
animals are usually the cause!

So all in all, we have lived, laughed and loved.  We have found out forever home – let’s carry on enjoying every minute (and forgetting the ones we don’t).

Wild plum jam

I’m still on holiday which is why I am MIA and we’re having a lovely time. I wanted to quickly share with you that the wild plums we found have made the most delicious jam. This is a large kilner jar which lasts our family of 4 a few weeks before its empty and I’ll fill it back up with more yummy preserves. This one’s going straight in the fridge and the other 2 that I made (I didn’t want to make a lot as I have a bad experience with plum jam before, many moons ago) are going into stores for winter.
It’s still very warm here though we’ve had a few days of torrential rain. Assuming we get some sun now, the rain was welcome as the fields were so dry.
Yesterday was Steven and my 11 year wedding anniversary. He took me out for a lovely meal at a pub called the george and dragon at Heighington which I would happily recommend. My parents looked after the kids and my uncle and aunty came over to see us all too. It was lovely to catch up and look what my parents bought for ‘us’ for our anniversary. The Aga baking and roasting trays I have been eying up. Spoilt rotten we were as they bought us some stag cushions too and a bottle of wine! It was like Christmas. We’re very lucky.
Normal blog service will be resumed later this week, I hope everyone who reads this is well. 😊