Back to basics

Well!  Who knew we would be in this situation for my next blog post?  Not us that’s for sure.
I hope everyone is coping with their various situations right now.  Personally, I am home with the kids and we are almost at the end of week 2 of isolation.  I chose to pull them out of school a week before they closed and have home schooled and worked from home since then.  We are adapting, coping, winning – all of those things.  Overall this is actually a very positive experience for us all, obviously not what is going on in the outside world though.  
Ste is still going in to work with being in food production, keeping the shelves full in the farm shop for the great British public.  Over the last couple of weeks, he has been going to the supermarket as and when needed, however late this week we made the decision to stop that too.  We got the last few bits and pieces (given that’s all you can get in the supermarkets now, not a bit of toilet roll to be seen!) and we now have what we need to see us through a good few weeks and anything we don’t have we will do without assuming we cannot get a delivery slot.
With that said, I think it’s time people started thinking about getting back to basics, in my view.  Here on the smallholding, we are already quite good with that, we cook everything from scratch, grow a lot, try to reduce waste and use leftover etc.  One thing that seems to be on the up is forging; it has seen a huge spike in interest since this outbreak.  Again, it is something we already do but with a light touch I would say.  That brings me to the pictures below.  I believe this plant to be called Jack by the hedge.  It grows here in the UK from March through to September according to my research.  When the stem is crushed it has a mild smell of garlic, which is great!  We love garlic.  The whole plant is edible and can be used raw or cooked.  I would like to make some pesto but I don’t have the ingredients needed so I think it’ll be fresh pasta.  I have a recipe for nettle pasta so maybe I’ll add some of this or replace it with this completely?  A job for the weekend?  I really enjoy making pasta and at the moment, it looks like the only way we will have any once we use what we have in.

Other plants that are ready to use and have been all year round if I’m honest, are some herbs.  Here we have a bay tree in the middle, two sage plants on the left and a common mint on the right.  If you grow mint, it makes sense to grow it in a pot as it is (supposed to be) very invasive.  I haven’t seen this myself as I managed to kill some once!  Oh and at the back are 2 blueberry bushes that I am keeping in the greenhouse as I think it will mean they will come on earlier than if they were outside.  We always run the risk of frost killing them off outside, we lost one that way last year.

Another job for this weekend, or even today actually, is taking some cuttings from the Elderberry trees we have here as I would like to get a couple growing on the river bank, along with other wild food.  We use a lot of elder flowers for drinks, adding to food and for Spring/Summer kitchen vase decoration.  We then use berries for making syrup to drink as a tonic to get through the winter.  Recently too, we learnt that chickens eat them which is a big thing for us.  We are wanting to grow as much of out own animal feed as we can.  That’s something else we are learning from this whole situation right now, animal feed is harder to come by (even just from not being allowed to go out to buy it) but it is also going up in cost and we are trying to reduce costs.  We would like to be much more self reliant for animal feed.
I saw the below book on a group on Facebook the other week and checked ebay to find it available for £2 odd delivered, so I grabbed that bargain there and then.  I’m looking forward to having some down time and looking though it over the weekend.

Sticking with the war time thoughts, which is pretty much how I am feeling right now, here’s a pretty picture that always fills me happiness is the sight we see opening the egg box area of the chicken coop.

One more thing I have started doing again thanks to the situation that is ongoing, is dehydrating things.  I started with apples as we had some that were past their nice point for eating fresh.  The other option would be to freeze them as stewed apple.

Finally I can’t leave without giving you an updated picture of Rodney doing what he does when I am in the greenhouse sowing seeds and potting on.

Monday night preserving – dehydrating fruit

A quick preserving post tonight with it being Bank Holiday. We’ve had a lovely family day and are back to work tomorrow.
We recently bought a Andrew James dehydrator and have been using it to preserve different things but it’s all just trial and error for now. 

Now most of the slicing and dicing requires a thinner cut than I can achieve with a knife. Safely at least! So we decided to trial a food slicer. It was £28 from Argos and we hope it’ll be a good addition to the preserving tools we’re building up. Of course there were really expensive models of the dehydrator and food slicer but we decided to go for budget on both and see how much use we get of them. Then it’ll help us decide in the future if we ever have to replace them.
So today we’ve used it to slice fresh pineapple which it could do to a thickness of 5mm and I was very impressed with it.

We dried it out for the recommended time and it came out a treat and it’s absolutely delicious. The dehydrator takes 4 pineapples so we know this for next time they’re on offer.

We will use it for snacking on instead of biscuits and also if I need to add it to any recipes. Healthier too!
It’s not seasonal, which is what I intended to use the Monday night preserving slot for, but it’s on offer and I feel the two things go hand in hand as pineapple isn’t something I’ve managed to grow yet!! Not to mention that there are no additive or preservatives in this, which there are in the shop bought ones.
Next week i will be posting more about rhubarb. We’re fast approaching June and the season will be over shortly after that as I’ll let the plants rest and restore themselves for 2018 season! Incidentally, we’re moving the rhubarb when it is dormant later in the year, as we’ve had an idea to use some space at the front of the house.

New trailer and dehydrating

Thank you to everyone who left Grace a comment, I’ve been reading them out to her and she will reply tomorrow as she’s one busy little girl!

Steven’s Dad has had a trailer kicking about where he works for years.  It’s been at the back of a mechanic’s garage, being used as a skip for longer than he can remember.  It was used when Ste was a kid, so that’s a long time since…. 😉

Before, covered in oil and years of neglect

When we said we need a tow bar and trailer, Ste’s Dad offered to fit a tow bar and give us the trailer.  So we (Ste) have been meticulously transforming the tired old heap into a new, shiny, useful trailer.  I am ridiculously pleased with it.  We can use it for a multitude of reasons for the smallholding.  So now it’s been restored, hopefully it’ll be around for another 30 off years!

After….total cost of wood, paint, bolts was £60 but a worthwhile investment and we have wood left over (to make a nest box with)
We’ve also bought a mid range dehydrator.  I love it.  We’ve been busy trying different things and today’s session was apples, pears, bananas and mushrooms.  The plan is to have some fruit to use on breakfast cereals and have vegetables for the winter or when we’re low on things, to throw into the slow cooker.  If we don’t have it in fresh, I’d like to have it in stores.  Also, you never know what life might throw at you making it hard for you to get out, or sometimes you just can’t be bothered after a day of working on the smallholding.

Ste bought a banana slicer which I was laughing at as a silly gadget but do you know, it saved time and kept everything the same width so I take it back, it is worth the couple of quid it cost!

I love how it looks.  What a great way to spend Easter Sunday morning.

I made Easter lunch for my family and Ste’s Mam and partner.  We had roast chicken and it was lovely.  I followed it with rhubarb crumble using 1kg of rhubarb.  I really do think it is my favourite food of the season. 

I didn’t get an after photo, it didn’t last long enough!
I hope everyone is enjoying the Easter holidays?  We’re hoping to get back into the veg plot and growing areas tomorrow as there is work to be done.  It’s due to rain on the afternoon, so maybe on the morning then in the greenhouse when it rains!