Isolation picture update….pigs, ducklings, GYO, Easter – exciting updates!

window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || []; function gtag(){dataLayer.push(arguments);} gtag(‘js’, new Date()); gtag(‘config’, ‘G-Y9GF4HGD49’);

Hello everyone! (Firstly sorry the text is so small, it won’t accept changing to larger for some reason).
Well I am busier than ever, I don’t know about everyone else?  I think a lot of people who are at home are struggling for things to do which I sympathise with greatly, I can imagine it driving them insane.  Here things are the opposite as I am working from home and the kids are being home schooled by me as Steven is still at work and will probably continue to be, given that its supplying food.  
I have been thinking about what to cover in this blog and as I’ve been undecided, it’s taking too long to get out there, so I thought I would just show you in pictures and update you with each pic.  Who doesn’t like pics after all!
I have to say, raising our own meat is so rewarding, health wise and financially!  This bird was over 2kg and has made 4 family meals for 4 hungry, chicken loving people.  The roast was Sunday, curry with shredded chicken Monday, chicken, leek and bacon pie tonight and then the carcass made stock which will make an abundance of other meals, so more than 4 really!  I do one chicken a week and every time, I can’t get over it!  I am finding I am missing having raw portions to cook from and we could always joint them but then I find it a bit of a waste, my own enemy!  
I was in the veg plot, beavering away as you do, when I literally turned round and look what was staring back at me!  We don’t normally get asparagus for another month I don’t think, regardless I am thrilled and we had some for tea last night 😀  It was DELICIOUS.

Something else we have started doing with great zest is selling eggs.  We have increased our poultry numbers significantly and now get around 40 eggs a day, which we sell.  The money we get from eggs is used to feed the poultry and the rest goes to our pot which we will use towards the 2020 goal of saving money for the whole paying your mortgage off project which we are kicking off next year.  Hugely exciting times!

Ooooh look, whilst in isolation I’m obviously needing to make 3 meals a day, which I did before really but it feels like I am doing more now.  We used to eat out once a week so maybe it’s that?  Speaking of which, we’ve taken the decision to carry on the lockdown lifestyle once it is all over as we actually enjoy it and it suits our plans and dreams very well.  Silver lining?  Anyway, I was showing you the below picture which is a quiche I made from 4 eggs, 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of cheese, spinach from the greenhouse and tomato.  It was SO nice.  I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying cooking right now.
Below is the area we had pigs a couple of years ago (it’s rested for 2 years since) and guess what?  WE HAVE PIGS again!! There’s a pic futher on but the below pic is to show you the work we have been putting in to part of the area that we have agreed to grow more (yes, more) food in.  As it’s had pigs on it, the ground shoud be great but there is a lot of grass, weeds and stones in it.  Rather than spend months trying to get it perfect, we have covered in thick mulch on the left, just out of this photo and shown below we have used weed suppressant.  Hope it works!  We have fruit bushes and potatoes in there for now.  I am planning on putting brassicas in to the mulch which is rotted horse muck as I researched and found out that anything leafy like cabbage, kale etc will do best in the muck this year.  If something needs to form, like a cauliflower head, that may not be too good.  Will try a couple though just so I know.  Really pleased with this area and now it’s to keep it up and stay on top of it.

 Two of my favourite recent photos, after a hard day’s work, we had a fire to burn through some items, which Ste being a man, loved.  I LOVE to see him stood, surveying his land and taking it all in (hopefully thinking what other jobs he can do).  The photo below that is when Grace came over to see us as by this point we were sat by the fire having a much earned drink.  She has so much love for her Dad and I love to see them having a good time together.  It makes all of the teenage tantrums easier to deal with.

We found this log which Ste has since kept to turn in to something, but look at this natural pattern.  Maybe by woodworm?  Fabulous to look at though.

Something else I have been doing is making scones every Friday or Saturday and leaving them, with a bunch of others things, out for my parents to collect.  Sadly it is no contact collection and along with a veg box from Ste’s shop, is their only source of food right now, so it is essential to them.  We do miss them hugely.  Anyway, here’s last week’s scones, done in a muffin tray.  They were bacon, cheese and chive and were so nice.  They froze great and Ste had one for breakfast this morning.  I heated it up a little in the Aga and served with butter – yum!

Ooooh the veg box, look at this.  We stopped the veg box deliveries a while back, along with the milk.  A few reasons which I am not going to delve in to now but I just wanted to share how excited I was when I got this delivery on Saturday – it is amazing and we have used everything except a few parsnips.  I will maybe do them for tea tomorrow, or freeze?

I mentioned my parents collecting things with no contact.  It is their Wedding Anniversary today, 42 years, and this picture shows the card and gift we left outside for them to collect.  

Just because I can’t do a post without showing the dogs, here’s Rodney showing off his balancing skills and how he now likes to sit.  Annie and he have had a few disagreements lately and he tends to hang around higher up these days!  He also likes to sit and watch the pigs, how cute is that?

Ducklings!!! We have ducklings!  Am I allowed to be excited about something else!  We hatched our own and have more hatching now.  These are for eggs, meat, sales but regardless are my favourite animals!  Look at the one in the middle.

Here’s the cake my Mam made for us for Easter – how lovely and thoughtful, left on our doorstep!

More cooking – just cheese and chive scones now but I love making these!

Whoop whoop, we managed to acquire some flour!!! I am making ALL of our own bread now and will continue to, so flour is key to us.  Also we came across a large bag of mince for £12 so this is now either eaten, cooked and in the freezer or in portions.

Finally a picture of what we’re having in abundance and are selling too.  Rhubarb and eggs!  I’d love to hear your rhubarb recipes if you have any to share and I will link and share on one of my next posts.

That’s it for now everyone, take good care of yourselves and stay home if you can.  

Reflections

**I couldn’t get away with wordpress so came back to blogger (apparently a lot of people don’t like blogger but better the devil you know for me).  I only did a few blogs on wordpress to be fair, which you can find here should you be interested.** 

Regardless, and despite its name, this post is about looking forward with learnings we have from the past, mulling things over, planning for 2020 and so on.

I don’t know about you but January is a time for reflection and planning for me, in that order I think.  We are just starting a new decade, we have been on the smallholding for 4 years coming up and we are thrilled to be planning our biggest year yet!  I have said that before, and do you know what, it always has been.  For one reason or another we’ve done more, learnt more or overcome more each year.  The list goes on.  This post is going to be very wordy, so I am going to throw some random cute old pics in just to break it up 🙂



The pups when we got them in 2015
Buddy 
Back in December 2015 after selling our family home, we were in limbo, literally homeless. We were  generously offered to use my Uncle’s house whilst he worked away which was a blessing.  During our time there, I gave some thought to what supermarkets to use once we moved to the smallholding as we had been an avid Aldi shopper for 5 years + by then.  Over the last 4 years we have been up and down with shopping, trialling Tesco, Aldi, home delivery, local grocers etc.  What’s interesting is that the grocery budget in 2016 is exactly what we are setting for 2020 – £300 a month and for 2020 that is a MAX each month, starting with January’s pay at the end of the month.  What I do know is that, for this year at least, with the lifestyle we are aiming for, shopping at Aldi once a week is the answer for us.
Our first hay delivery with a rather chuffed Steven
2020 for us is all about minimising our outgoings and maximising our income.  Now that doesn’t necessarily just mean financially, it could be about reducing waste all round or using what we have more appropriately, both financially, within the household and even health wise (mentl health included).  It can be applied to a multitude of areas such as spending less, earning more, not wasting food, growing AND USING your own food, using less plastic, not wasting time on things that don’t matter…. but let’s not run before we can walk.  
Over the next few blog posts I will share some thoughts on what I mean by this and how we can apply it through 2020.
Birds eye view of the house, barn and veg plot
In many ways we are so much further on than when we started in January 2016.  Our knowledge on growing our own food and raising our own meat has come on leaps and bounds.  Saying that, no matter how much you know, there’s always more to be learnt.  Steven has produced some magnificant woodwork items, been painter and decorator, handy man and maintenance man, learning things we would have only dreamt about previously.  I have taken on so many more skills in the veg plots, kitchen and research which against Steven’s list looks minimal but there’s a lot to be said for those skills.
Something I definitely want to (need to) improve on now we have growing skills is ensuring we harvest everything timely and not only that, but using it!  I am terrible for letting the courgettes grow huge and then letting them go to waste.  Not only courgettes too.  Generally, growing your own goes from a snail’s pace, impatiently waiting for the first shoot or fruit flower, to being over run with produce and not having enough tubs, jars,  freezer or shelf space to preserve it all!

Beautiful crocus flowers showing colour at the end of winter
I have mostly cooked from scratch over the 4 years, although we went through a spell of eating and drinking out far too much.  There was a bit of “we work full time so can enjoy it” conversations combined with the excitement of new neighbours who eat and drink out alot!  We’ve now all settled in to our little routines, seeing each other for events or in passing on a summer day at the pub, so that has worked out very well indeed.
Having said minimising outgoings could be other things, it obviously does gravitat around finances for this year.  Part of the reason we want to cut the spending is to try and get 6 (then 12 etc) month’s wages saved in the bank.  As noones job is as safe as houses and given we still have a (large) mortgage to pay, we need a decent income and we don’t want to be caught short if life throws a curveball.  

So throughout the year, when we feel a splurge coming on or the week leaves us feeling weak and can’t be bothered to make the effort, I/we will remind ourselves of why we are doing this.  To protect our future as well as live a healthier, more fulfilling life.  It’s all or nothing for these 12 months and after that, we will reassess where we are and how we want to continue, but for now, it’s full steam ahead and lock down!  That does not mean no fun, no time out, and living on bread and beans.  Far from it.  I think this year will actually being more fruitful than ever in those areas.  We shall see.
Aww jack when he was 5
Anyway, you get the drift.  We are going at this all out and I can’t wait.

  Outside is going to be the biggest income of all, fruit and veg, so we need to treat it kindly and look after it.  So where do we start:

What should we be doing outside in January to allow for the best crops?
According to RHS website:  January is the coldest month.  In January, your garden could need protecting from frosts, gale-force winds and heavy rain. Check stakes, ties, fleeces and other supports for damage and consider moving plants to sunnier positions to maximize light. Don’t forget to keep feeding the birds, food is scarce for them over winter. You can also start planning next year’s vegetable plot.

I did feed the birds some bacon fat at the weekend but this has reminded me that we need to look after them.  We have a beautiful little robin that visits the veg plot and I’d hate to think s/he went hungry!  It is on the jobs list for Saturday now.



Frosty, winter morning on the smallholding.
Since moving to the smallholding, we have added more raised veg beds, a “mini” orchard & started work on a paddock area which we are still undecided what to do with.  Last year it had pumpkins, corn and chard in.  There’s one solitary chard plant left and the rest has been turned in by the sheep.  
One thing we have an issue with here is weeds.  We are going to get on top of them before they start this year.  Don’t get me started on the nettles, they don’t seem to have died off since Autumn 2019!  One method we have adopted previously is the lasagne method which is described in much better detail that I could do here.  We use horse muck which we have in abundance and we mulch during the year with grass and leaf clippings.  As long as the weeds are suppressed, we can work with the rest.  Luckily most of our raised beds are in great condition and we grew in them straight away, it’s just the new areas or those we neglected originally (priorities & time constraints) which we struggle with soil condition and weeds on.  So minimising weeds to give us back some time is a big outside priority this year.  As Steven always says, 30 minutes a night will stay on top, we can’t leave everything to the weekend.
Asparagus bed
The asparagus bed has pretty much died back ready to be cut and mulched for the really cold weather.  It would survive without mulching, however covering it to protect it from winter, looking after the soil and give nutrients back after such a good harvest is the least we can do.  Asparagus, along with rhubarb is one of earliest crops and comes any time from May and has been prolific every year.  I can’t wait for it, not only because I was gifted an asparagus knife for my December birthday from Steven – it’s the little things!  We popped a black dustbin over a rhubarb plant that hasn’t been forced in the last 4 years to see how that works out.  Last year we forced an early variety and it was prolific.  Rhubarb is one of my favourite plants, not least because it tastes amazing in gin 😉

We can also start with repairs in the veg plot as we have recently sourced some free wood.  A few beds have dropped to bits through rot and others could do with raising a little, though we haven’t talked that through yet, so it might not be an option.  Therefore this weekend, we don’t have anywhere to be or anything to do (ie Christmas has seen us inside more than out) which can only mean one thing!  A day spent in the veg plot with a mug of hot soup to keep you warm and a full English to see you through.  Bliss! 


I shall be posting at least once a week through 2020 and I hope you continue to join us on our next chapter in this fantastic journey.  Please, if you get time, drop a comment so I know this is getting out there still.
Take care everyone and speak soon 🙂

Monday night preserves – Asparagus in oil 

On Monday nights I aim to preserve something that is in season throughout the growing season. This is to allow us to prolong the growing season and try our fruit and veg in a variety of ways.
Tonight I was going to do asparagus and also leathers. However the asparagus was such a faff on that I am keeping the leathers for another night.
We cut the asparagus that has flew up since we had the rain just a couple of days ago and I set about trimming them to fit the jar size stated in the recipe. 500ml. There was my first mistake, my jar is more short and fat than tall and slim (sounds familiar 😂) so I had to trim the asparagus a lot shorter than I would have liked. I kept the cut offs to make a soup or such.
I boiled vinegar and water then set aside and kept warm. The asparagus I charred in the frying pan as I don’t have a griddle and plunged into the vinegar and water whilst I chopped 2 shallots. Placing the shallots and a tsp of peppercorns in the sterilised short, fat jar I set about fishing the asparagus out of the vinegar. This in itself was a task as I didn’t want to pour it out. Then you’re supposed to stand the asparagus up in the jar. This takes patience and I was losing mine.
Once it is stood up, in a fashion, I put 75ml of lemon juice in and topped up with olive oil and added some home grown herbs.
 
It looks nice and now needs to sit for 6 weeks before we could use it. It’ll keep for 4 months in the pantry and then once open will last another 6 weeks. So in theory we could wait until winter to use these up, which will be a nice treat.
Although it was a faff on, it’s done now and looking back, it wouldn’t be as hard the second time. Incidentally, the oil it’s preserved in wkill be used for cooking once the asparagus is used. It is however fairly expensive unless you have olive oil and cider vinegar in bulk.

Bank holiday plans.

Our surrounding farms are in full swing.  They have their cattle out in the fields, who were obviously really interested in something, so much so they lined up in a semi-circle for it.
The currant bushes are laden!  I am really excited as I can’t wait to make those delicious cordials again that we made last year.  I’ll be stocking up on them this year though, to preserve rather than use right away.
We’ve been eating asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli a few times a week.  So far we’ve had it whole and in stir fries and it’s delicious.  I’ve got a load of PSB in for 2018 as it’s a lovely crop to have and fills the gap when waiting for the next years crops and finishing the last of the leeks and so on.  It takes almost a full year to harvest, so it’s in a separate bed near the fruit trees.  Time will tell if it’s any good there.

This coming weekend is a bank holiday and we’re spending some of it with friends and the rest of it in the veg plots and paddocks.  The pigs will hopefully be moving to their new accommodation on Sunday.  We’re out Saturday otherwise we’d do it before and if they escape, we need to be on site for it.  We’ll be home Sunday and Monday as normal, so that seems sensible.
In the veg areas I want to get some more plants out but I’m hesitant after this week’s frosts.  I also need to get a lot of things potted on and some more sown to ensure successional sowing.  I’ll give the ones that are out already a feed and some pellets for the slugs (no hedgehogs can get in, it’s rabbit proofed for those who worry).
I’ll be checking on the fruit and nut trees that we have recently planted but I won’t need to water them as we’ve had rain, snow and sleet in parts.  Shot lived but enough to water them.
The main crop potatoes are showing through so I will earth them up and cover them in the ongoing battle with the chickens.
I am also going to try and get something done with the field that I flattened.  I used my fiesta, as in my car.  I asked the farmers, tried to pay people and looked online.  No one could help, so I used my initiative.  I knocked myself sick going backwards and forwards, but the job’s done.  Now I need to get the grass seed sown.  Obviously the ground is flat and hard, so I need to get my thinking cap on.  I have basic tools only!
I’ve been weeding as often as I can, to try and stay on top of it so they don’t take a hold.  The weeds get thrown onto the pile of ‘scrap but useful’ items we keep behind the barn and the chickens see to it.  They love scratching round in them.
A busy weekend planned.  It’s all too much for Rodney and Buster.

Thank you and harvests have started!

Thank you to everyone who commented on Buddy.   I really did take comfort from your words. 
Here’s the puppies happily sharing a bed in front of the Aga which is there new sleeping place.
So far this year, we’ve had 2 pickings of rhubarb.  One lot was froze for the freezer and dehydrated.  Another lot was used to make rhubarb Bellini (cocktail) per The River Cottage Yearbook which is my bible at the moment.
Here you go Cottontail Farm – as requested 🙂

We harvested our first salad leaves.  Ste said it looks a sparse harvest, but salad leaves I shall just take enough for that meal, as they are at their best when just picked.  These are oriental ones and were lovely, as far as salad leaves go!

 We had them with some radish which I seem to have arranged in size order for the photo!

Remember the big green thing in the rhubarb?  Well thanks to Amy and DC who commented and told me it was a rhubarb flower, this mammoth thing has now been removed.  There was also one on another rhubarb too. 
 

 Guess what?  The PSB is coming through too.  Literally appeared over a couple of days.  This was sown in August 2016 and takes up to a year to mature according to Monty Don but these are a quicker cropping if I recall, so hopefully we’ll be having some soon with a melted blue vinny sauce….yum.

The asparagus is also starting to show so in a few days we will harvest this too!  Things are really starting to take off. 
The elderberry flowers are showing, next month we will be making Jack’s favourite cordial with the flowers.

 I’m also going to make some rhubarb cordial and vodka with my next pickings.  The vodka is the start of the Christmas hampers, which I’ll do more on nearer the time 😉