What are we doing now?

I’m still figuring out what day of the week works best for blog updates.  I think Monday’s are a good starting place as we can wrap up what we’ve done over the weekend and previous week.  Let’s trial it and see.  At the moment I’m also finding our what structure I might have, so until then, it’s a bit of everything 🙂

What are we up to right now?

Well, it is well and truly back to work and school this week, so all routine’s are resumed (some in an improved fashion) and we can all go back to knowing what day of the week it is.  I remember many years ago when Steven and I were very happy to have no routine.  How things have changed!  In a good way that is.  The fact that living on a smallholding demands routine, and more so planning, is something that is all to obvious the longer you live on one.  I bet many other people and places can relate to that too, not just smallholdings.  Running a family, working full time, being a stay at home mum, caring for people, looking after animals – it’s all so much easier if you have a routine and a plan. 

Sunday night saw me updating my files with the design of the main veg plot, and using RHS’ 4 year veg crop rotation (legumes, brassicas, potatoes, onion/roots then back to start) to plan what can go in the beds this year.  Inevitably we have beds that it doesn’t make sense to grow “that many” of something, so these will become the beds where the crops that don’t need to follow rotation will go.  Squash, the prolific and much loved (a’hem hated) courgettes, cucumbers, French and runner beans, sweetcorn and salad).

Veg plot planning

We haven’t bought any seed potatoes, spring planting onions or garlic yet.  We will probably look to do it at the end of January.  Ideally this year, we will have early, salad, main crops & lates so that we have as much coverage through the year as possible.  To be fair, our main crop from last year are still going well, despite the mice’s best attempts.
Something that has become obvious over Christmas is that Jack too needs a plan.  We give our kids jobs to do around the smallholding.  Be it looking after animals (feed and water) or clearing the table to making your own packed lunch (as much as possible) and so on.  Annie, our bullmastiff, very much appreciates all we do for her and gives us lots of cuddles in return!

This weekend we decided to cut back the apple trees in what we call the orchard.  It’s not a huge orchard, a handful of old, established fruit trees which we have rather cautiously taken one or two branches off in the winter before.  However, last year they took over but bore no fruit, so we promised ourselves we would be ruthless when it came to cutting them back for 2020 fruit.  Below is one of the cooking apple trees that has been prolific in previous years.  Fingers crossed it comes back well this year. The photo is before and I don’t have an after shot, I daren’t show you! 😉

The mice I mentioned before, the ones who ate the potatoes in the shed.  Well, Steven built that shed and we knew there wasn’t a single crack or hole in it and we couldn’t figure out how they were getting in!  Well I think the mice are rats, as we found the hole when giving the shed a clean out this weekend.  You’d think it had been done by machine looking at it, but you can see the teeth mark on it.  Bloody things.  Rat trap going down and the hole will get covered.  They get everywhere!

Speaking of shed’s, this one we bought a while ago to house poultry.  I can’t remember what it was at the time, however now it’s for chickens.  It’s getting too small though, as we had a shift around this weekend after processing 10 cockerels.  That left us 4 hens from that hatch that could go in with the other hens.  More room was needed so Steven ingeniously cut some nest box size holes out of the wall of the shed and moved the nest box from inside to outside, giving them extra space.  They roam during the day and just us this space for laying eggs and perching at night.  A great idea!  We’re going to do the same on the other side too as there’s a fair few in there now and no doubt they will all want to lay glorious eggs at the same time come spring!
 
Adding the nest box
From the inside, we will see if they need bigger holes
Some hens couldn’t resist having a sneak preview
Happily perching on the night 🙂
Another job that got done was the cleaning out of the goose pond and IBC tank that feeds it.  Both in dire need.  Unfortunately, the pond water has since dropped, so there’s a hole in the liner.  We will have to get another one as the water will be used by the geese and ducks when we set up our new area.  This is on the jobs list but not an immediate issue as the geese have alternative options and we don’t have the ducks yet. 

A long pipe connected to the IBC tank, held on by yours truly, helps the water make its way to the pond
A fine specimen 😉
This post is turning in to “what has Ste done”  – I do more than just take photos honestly!  For Christmas, Ste got lots of tools that he’s now having a play about with to see what he can use them for, making lots of little things like this in the process!

 
So what have I been doing.  I managed to get a freezer inventory done of the big chest freezer and of course we had loads of things that I’d forgotten about and will shortly be making an appearance on the menu plan.  I’ve also draft menu planned a good few weeks ahead, easily once you get in to it as for example we had lasagne the other day and I won’t be adding it to the plan for another 4-6 weeks ish, as we will have other pasta dishes on “pasta day” in between, plus with it being SO calorific, it’s a once in a month or so treat.  We’re both cutting back, as is everyone no doubt, after Christmas, so this kind of rule setting helps with that too.
I’ve decided on a framework for the menu plans, which helped dramatically.  For example Monday’s is a curry night, Tuesday’s will be fish or stir fry (Sunday left overs?), Wednesday’s is pasta or rice based, Thursday’s casserole/stew, Friday is a bit of a free for all such as gammon, chops, steak (yeh right), burgers etc.  Saturday is always a fry up at lunch then family teas on knees, easy meal & Sunday for the most part it is roast at noon and soup/farmhouse bread for tea.
Thanks to my dear friend Lou (visit here), I’ve got myself a household notebook together and am getting myself in order with writing everything down.  The freezer inventory, menu plans, shopping lists, outgoings and expenses, to do lists, jobs lists, daily routine lists, veg plot planning and so on.  Just talking these things through helps.  So although there isn’t a lot to show outwardly, I’m busy busy.
This week, we have managed to save some extra pennies unexpectedly, only small amounts but every little helps, so they will be put to one side instead of being consumed in to the wider pot.  We have set ourselves a financial target of what we would like to save this year, starting from zero.  I won’t be sharing figures in that respect as it’s all relative.  %’s would be better I think.  So we are at, 0.01% 🙂 
I wanted to share with you the below picture which I stopped to take when I came in the other night, I’m so proud of the space we have created outside (Steven again!).  It looks cosy, is very practical and hopefully will add value to the smallholding if we ever move in to another chapter 😉

What a beautiful weekend

I know it’s a common thing to say, but this weekend just flew by.  We did have a busy one mind you, it was glorious weather! 
The greenhouse was difficult to keep cool and I actually lost some tomato seedlings which I’m gutted about.  They were in this heat in the propagator too, so even hotter.  I have lots more sown, but still sad when it happens.
It was a weekend of fencing again.  We have a stock fence that separates the small paddock and the field.  The field has a gate which is not linked to the small paddock and it’s become a mud bath over winter, so we’ve decided to put another gate in as an alternative route whilst that one recovers. 
Ste took part of the stock fence down, to make room for the gate.  A trip to Mole Valley (agricultural store) later and we had the wood necessary for the job.

In no time at all, Ste had dug the holes out, post crete’d in the posts and added the fence rails. 

 
We then had a chat about the stock fence which started to look tired and aged against the new post and rail section.  Our intention was to eventually replace the full thing, but not immediately.  This weekend’s task was to get the gate ready for use.
Of course, best laid plans were thrown to one side and we set about (we being Ste) and took up the stock fencing, keeping it for the pig area at a later date.  The field now looks amusing in that there is a gate in place, but an open space which you can just walk around.  We had another run to the agricultural store and got the rest of the wood needed to put a full fence up. 
 
I wasn’t sat on my haunches whilst Ste was busy with the fence.  I’ve planted up the rest of the trees in to the mini orchard and am really pleased with the results.  It’s still work in progress as there’s a lot of soft fruit to go in, but so far, so good.  We’ve the last 2 apple trees, a pear, 2 apricot, an almond and a rogue fig…the fig isn’t in the ground yet as I’m not sure what to do with him.
The grass area will eventually be removed and some replaced with culinary and medicinal herb beds.  That’s something I really want to learn a bit more about. 
 

Can you ever have enough apple trees and a blog award.

No is the answer!  We are the proud owners of 12 new apple trees of the following varieties:
Fiesta
Howgate Wonder (cooking)
Discovery
Ellstons Orange
May queen
Bakers delicious
Winston
Scotch Bridgett (cooking)
Bramley (cooking)
Red Windsor
Winter banana
Cookers are labelled, remainder are eating apples which will produce at different times of season.
Kev from An English Homestead sells them and we can’t praise him highly enough.  Excellent prices, brilliantly packaged and a wealth of information. 
It was a big job to fit into a Saturday, as there was a lot of clearing to get on with before we could plant them.  You may remember the front fence coming down, not a year after it went up (oops)?  Well that was the start of the mini orchard.
The area along the trellis was cleared except the huge plant in the middle.  Everything is being rehomed that was there.

 We rotavatored the patch and cleared it of debris, weeds and odds and sods.

 The Ste set about digging holes around 60-80cm apart so we can grow these trees as cordons.  They will be pruned when needed in the summer (next year Kev?) to restrict their growth.

 A total of 10 went in at these close intervals along the back row.  We have 2 left to go in, 1 of which is going in right about where Rodney is sniffing in the photo below!

This grass area will house other fruit and nut trees, all I need is chocolate and I might be on to something 😉
I’m really pleased with them and how they went in.  We followed instructions online, loosely.  A bucket or 2 of rotted muck went in with each of them along with a bamboo stick at 45 degree angle.  They will look great.  One is coming in to blossom already!
Finally, I’m really pleased to say my little blog won an award for “best smallholding blog” from Walton Blog awards.  There were only 13 nominations but I’m really pleased and would like to thank anyone that voted 🙂

Sheep move and a bit of sad news

After more hard work from Steven we moved the sheep to their next grazing spot which has lots of grass and trees for them to chomp down on. Of course only time will tell if it’s secure enough for them as they are quite the escape artists. They do come back for the buckets if food we offer them though so at least we have a plan b if we see them running up the lane!
I also bagged a load of cooking and eating apples today which I am really pleased with. I made a tester stewed apple which was lovely so I think I will do a big pot and then freeze individually but also save some whole apples to see how long they will last.
We were lucky enough to be invited to Sunday lunch today so I haven’t had to make our own which was nice.  However that was the softener to the hard task of dispatching a duck. It was in pain and had something wrong with her that we couldn’t put right.
Remember I mentioned were moving in to the time of the year where we need to be on top of the muck heap and keep it as low as possible? Well thanks to freecycle we now have a few regulars who come and make a big dent in it literally! I’m also nearly ready to fill the rest of my beds with it too. I didn’t get in the veg plot today but there’s not too much left to do so I will try and plan it in this week.
Also I’ve moved the dogs’ beds back in to the kitchen in front of the Aga. They’ve been living in the utility on a night through the summer but Buddy is looking so thin (his condition) so I feel they are better where the Aga is for him to sit in front of if he prefers. The puppies will no doubt lay on the kitchen seats instead. Cheeky.

Loving September’s free food

Isn’t September a bountiful month?  I’d never really given it much thought or appreciated it quite so much until now, living where we do and doing what we love.  We’ve just harvested a basket full of plums, lovely and ripe straight from our own tree.  There’s a tonne more but the wasps were quite vicious, so note to self, put jam pots out next year to capture the little blighters.  We managed to get a good harvest of blackberries after going back to our old hunting ground (the ones round here never came to fruition), a good many windfall apples, though I’m leaving picking the Bramley’s until later in the month, a tub of damsons and some eating apples.  Many of these things we can’t take any credit for, nature did it all itself – as Louise said in her blog, don’t you just love free food?
So there’s going to be River Cottage ‘Glutney’ recipe on the go, plum jelly, Asian plum sauce and of course the traditional crumbles, plum and apple etc.  As we have the new freezer ready to use, it would be criminal not to. 
Does anyone have a plum cordial recipe they swear by?  If you do, please share, thank you in advance.