Rhubarb, a birthday, bathroom and Annie :)

I am really noticing the change in daylight hours this last week. Que the panic moment where Spring is upon us and I don’t feel ready. In anticipation of this, we’re getting a nice, early starting with the seed sowing again this year. Inevitably there will be some losses but it has served me well for the last 2 years since we started on this journey.

We have now sown most varieties of tomatoes, peppers and chillis, aubergine, leeks, peas, lettuce and cucumbers.  The peas went into guttering and have been placed in the greenhouse, for when they are ready to plant out, maybe April time.  They will just slide straight into a trench from the guttering, suffering little disturbance and making life easier for me.

I’ve sown SO many tomatoes this year.  A few reasons, one as my harvest was poor last year, also to find out which varieties suit our weather here in the North East from which I will save seed and use next year.  I plan on making and preserving enough tomato sauces (be it pasta, ketchup, bottled etc) to last a family until the next tomato season and I also will sell some, be it plants to grow on, or tomatoes to eat.

Some of the tomatoes from last weekend are flying up – for those which are leggy, I will replant up to their leaves as tomatoes are happy to do this.

Below the broad bean expermiment is underway.  The Aquadulce are coming through ahead of the Bunyard’s exhibition.

Finally sweet peas are doing well (ignore the label, it’s not what is sown).  I’m really looking forward to a great display of sweet peas this year, they are lovely plants and the bees love them too.

I invested in some capiliary matting to hopefully help with the watering of all the seedlings as that is a very time consuming job once we’re underway.  Anything to make life easier!

The rhubarb that I put the black bin on is not showing at all, but this little plant here took off last year and it is looking like it will this year too!  Look at it, no forcing and it’s away already.  The growing season is here!
In doing all of the seeds, I am spending a lot of time in the potting shed and Annie has been joining me now she is allowed out.  She is turning into such a lovely dog.

Unfortunately, the fox has paid us another visit.  The 3rd now.  We have Vorwerk chickens that free range completely, meaning they sleep where they want to.  Inevitably that meant they were easy pickings and 4 of the 6 went last night.  The 2 hens that remain are now in with the other chickens and locked away on a night.

One of the reasons I am not managing to post so much is the amount we have going on at the moment.  Here’s one of our current projects.  The family bathroom.  It is one of the more dated rooms in the house so we have decided to get on with it rather than wait until the Autumn, which was the first plan.  Unfortunately, the walls and ceiling all need replacing, but at least it should be a job that we only do once.

I’m lucky Ste just gets on with it – this is how we take old baths out in this house.

I’m sure it’ll be worth it!
It’s Grace’s birthday on Wednesday, she will be 11.  This is her 3rd birthday in the house and for each one we have thrown her a little tea party.  She had a friend over, family came and we enjoyed a nice few hours together.  Look at the cake my Mam made for her – simply delicious!  Grace is a lucky girl.
I really am trying to make sure we all slow down a bit here as January has gone by in the blink of an eye and it’s a bit worrying!  We get up at 5 and don’t stop until we go to bed around 10.  Being busy is great, but not at the expense of time going by too quickly.  I’m going to see what we can do to slow the days down a bit! 

A week off work

Sorry I missed Monday night preserving last night, normal service resumes Monday coming. There’s a few reasons for this. We’ve taken a week off with the kids this week as mine are off for two weeks at this time of year, due to the way the schools schedule the PD days. Also we’re out of sync as it’s been Jack’s 7th birthday and Steven has been in hospital. So a real mix of events!

My mum made a cake for jack. We celebrated over 2 days so I made one and she made the other. A lucky boy! He had a lovely day.
Ste managed to hurt his back, so much so he was taken to hospital in an ambulance on Sunday morning. I’m pleased to report that he is ok enough to be home and up and about now. He’s been instructed to rest, which isn’t in his vocabulary but he knows he has to. He’s got an MRI to go to and exercises etc to do. As he isn’t allowed to lift anything heavy, he should be taking next week off work too under doctors orders. I’ll keep you all posted.

Today we harvested our first courgette. Now it would have been our second but the slugs got the first one! We made an omelette with onion, courgette and cheese which was the best omelette I’ve ever had. We used goose egg which I really think makes all the difference. I much prefer goose egg over duck eggs.

The pigs are turning the parcel of land over that they live on, though it’s taking them longer than I expected it to. We’re going to start looking at feeding them more home grown veg and cooked potatoes as they’re costing a fortune in hard feed. It’s all learning. They are growing rapidly and must weigh around 50kg now at 16 weeks old.

On Saturday a local village held a dog show, a fun one. We went along to show support as it’s fund raising for the local community. The kids won a second prize for best under 18 handler. It was a nice couple of hours with some lovely well behaved dogs.
My first tomato is turning red! These are an outdoor variety called Garden Pearl I think. I’d need to double check.

We’ve got some funky shaped terracotta garden pots lying around the smallholding. Ste had a great idea of using them for some of the herbs, so I’ve started doing that here.

The Swiss chard in the polytunnel is doing amazingly. The peas and beans in the polytunnel are just not worth it, nor the potatoes if I’m honest. So next year I’ll do more kale, spinach and chard in there as the kale has been decimated outside by slugs. My strawberries are doing well in there but then they all got eaten in the by ants. It’s definitely ants as I’ve caught them in the act.

This is a patty pan which are all starting to swell up now.

I’m over the moon with the amount of bees we’ve got visiting our area on a daily basis. I managed to get a snap of this little guy, looking so pretty on the broad beans.

We’ve also emptied and refilled the duck pond as the IBC tanks are full. The pond takes a full tank and with the amount of rain we’ve had and are due, we thought it was the best time to get it done. Tomorrow it’s going to be windy but dry. I need to get out and do some weeding as it’s turning into a jungle out there!

Family moments – Grace’s 10th birthday plus veg plot and seed updates

Grace, our daughter, will be 10 this week.  As her birthday falls on a Tuesday we offered to throw a birthday party for her on Sunday.  She invited a couple of her friends and family joined us to celebrate.
Having your birthday right after Christmas means usually you have everything you want, however there’s always something you can buy a 10 year old girl isn’t there?  She will open her gifts from us on the actual day.  She received some lovely gifts that were very thoughtful from friends and family.
So with a collection of people coming over, all with different tastes and likes, I set about thinking what I could offer food wise that was a) delicious and b) not going to break the bank.  Also I was bearing in mind that anything that wasn’t used, would be used for packed lunches the coming week.
I decided to put the following together:
Roast pork and stuffing sandwiches.
Roasties and gravy.
Pulled pork, flat bread and salad
Veg soup with wholemeal bread
Chicken korma with rice, naan, mango chutney and mint yoghurt.

I didn’t photo the hot food but it was in the 3 slow cookers on the bench behind me.

I also had on display my good friends platter that she made for the day as she’s starting a new business and wanted honest feedback on the products.  They have a Facebook page if you would care to take a look and support small UK businesses.  Their signature dipping oil was delicious so I made a bread to use as to dip.  I highly recommend it!

I made a cake for Grace:
She had a lovely time and looked very grown up.
Finally but by no means least, I have a recipe for Louise’s chocolate brownies which I am making tonight for Grace’s after school surprise tomorrow and may have to sample a few myself 🙂
What I have learnt from this weekend is that I love putting on a spread for people and making my family happy.  I’ve also learnt that no matter how well you plan, things won’t always go to plan.  No matter how well I know how to make this and that, I still need it all written down to the letter.  I got in a bit of a fluster when I realised I hadn’t put the slow cooker pork on the day before ready to heat up separately on the Sunday.  I still managed to get it done thanks to Caroline’s husband!  Otherwise, most things went ok, though I think I would like to work out what I can cook in advance, so that next time I can do more the day before.
In the veg garden this weekend:
I’ve decided to tackle one thing at a time and see it through from start to finish.  Sounds obvious but sometimes I have so many things to do that I flit between them and don’t feel like I have completed anything!  If I’m going to supply my family with all year round food, then I need to be organised and on the ball. 
Therefore after riding out on Saturday and getting the animals seen to, I set about in the veg plot.  It was a delightful day and when I looked up I saw blue sky and thought to myself, this is what it’s all about. 
I decided to work on the bed which has fruit in it.  We have 3 currants, 3 rhubarbs, 2 (3?) gooseberries, strawberries and some unruly but highly productive raspberries in here.  Now I’d like to train the raspberries to just grow along their intended path which you can see marked out with rope.  They don’t, they try to take over everyone elses patch.  The strawberries don’t like being contained either.
Firstly I put wood ash around the currant bushes. 
Then I used my new (Christmas gift) rotavator to turn over everywhere else as this is the bed I’d put the paper on to last year to suppress all of the weeds.  I know they will come back this year so I needed to prevent that.
I had invested in some membrane for another project but dashed off to get it.  I’d had an idea.
I covered the soil with more rotted muck (it really was in a sorry state when we moved in).
Then I used the membrane to cover the 2m width where the currant bushes are, leaving just enough space at the side for the rhubarb – perfect.
I’m really pleased with the end result.  In fact, I’m considering building up the edges and covering it with bark as the membrane can stay down.  I’m not sure about this yet.  It doesn’t matter too much for this year as long as the weeds don’t come through. 
Along with the blue skies we have snowdrops coming through.
This wheelbarrow was left by the previous owner and when the hens were out they liked to take dust baths in it, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the bulbs had survived!
Seeds update
The Brandywine tomatoes that I re-sowed (31st Jan) after the first lot were too leggy (expected) popped up yesterday so a week to germinate.  They’re on the South windowsill now, I made sure I caught these in time.
I’m going to replant some of the other leggy ones, which I did last year successfully and hope for the same result.
I sowed Mint, Basil and Chives on Saturday (4th Jan) along with 3 broad beans (Jubille Hysor).
I’ve also got Spring onions sown and the leeks are starting to show.
The peas that I planted in the drain pipes?  Remember them, well their indoor counterpart are coming through already.  Impatient little things 🙂
None of my peppers or chillis are through but I’ll wait – the aubergines too over 2 weeks, so there’s time. 
Next up is early carrots and more broad beans – can you believe I ran out? If anyone would like to seed swap some – I’d be happy to take a packet off you and send something over 🙂

Picture updates

We have had a brilliant last week which I haven’t had time to post about so for tonight I will just post pictures showing what we’ve been up to. This includes a very successful and happy party, 3 night UK break, veg plot and greenhouse updates and our first chicken ready for the table. I’ll go in to more detail over the next few days. However for tonight I’m chilling and enjoying my time off. Bliss.

Party plans amongst other things

I don’t know if I am imagining it but I think I can already see the difference in the fields from the rain.  I’m hoping for some sun after the downpours we’ve had and then maybe everything will have a growth burst.  The greenhouse has been firmly shut up to keep the heat in for the last day or two, opposed to the previous week when the doors were flung open along with every vent I could find as things were struggling in the intense heat.  Ah the lovely British weather.  I wouldn’t change it for anything!

Now speaking of the greenhouse, the tomatoes are thriving since I planted them in my well-rotted muck from my lovely horses.  However something else is growing in there too.  Mushrooms!  Lots of white rubbery ones and some tall skinny grey ones.  I said to Grace, my daughter who is 9, that I wonder if we can eat them.  Of course she looked horrified but I will find out and Steven and I will have them if they are edible.  I won’t give the kids them in case I get it wrong, but also they both hate the texture of mushrooms.

We are throwing a big party in a little over a week and I’ve been preparing like mad in between everything else.  I’m going to try and make a few homemade items in addition to the shop bought (sauces etc) to give people a literal taste of what we’re all about.  I was thinking about the following.  Breads – Onion bread, Sun dried tomato bread, Apple Cider bread and a seed bread.  Now granted, these will be made in the bread maker, but all the ingredients will be fresh and there’s obviously no dreaded e numbers in there.  As I will need to make a couple in advance, does anyone have any experience which of these breads might freeze better?

Asparagus is something else we have in abundance, so I am going to make an asparagus quiche as we have a couple of vegetarians.  Is there any other sides or BBQ food that would be doable with asparagus?

Rhubarb – the rhubarb and ginger jam that I made is happily sat in in the pantry waiting patiently to be put to good use.  I *may* use some in the sponge cake I am going to make for Jack’s birthday cake but I need to give that some thought as I’ve never used the flavour jam in cake before.  However for the BBQ if I have enough rhubarb and have time, I may do a rhubarb chutney. 

Eggs.  I’ll also do some hard boiled hen and duck eggs (if the ducks start laying again by then as the ducklings only just hatched) but I don’t think the geese are going to grace us with their eggs any more this year.  If they do I will hard boil some of those too, as I’d like to show the different eggs we have on offer here.

I’m also making frittatas to chop into small squares and serve as nibbles to pick up with a cocktail stick.  We’ve had comments off rude people before about frittatas being pauper food, so I am going to make it stand out and hold its own. 

Now I think that’s all we have edible ready at the moment and reading back, I’m really pleased with it! 

When we’re back from holiday our cockerels will be almost ready to eat so that will be our next test.  I’m not sure I am ready to be there for the slaughter, which I know I should as it’s not fair on Steven to do it on his own, but I will happily take its feathers off and watch as he gets it ready for the oven.  I will do a Sunday lunch for family and we can all have a feast to celebrate him having a happy, healthy life and in return us having a happy, family meal.

Speaking of meat, we have 6 ducklings in total now.  Isn’t that fabulous?  We have learnt from the goose mistake and have secured their water area so that they should be able to get in and out safely.  They may find it hard to get in and out of their house, so we will keep an eye on that and make any changes they need.  As much as I love the ducklings, I can’t help but let my mind wander to what sauce goes best with duck.  Come the winter, we should be getting a nice freezer full of meat (the boys) and some extra eggs from the girls once they’re old enough.

Have a lovely Bank Holiday weekend everyone 🙂