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.

Slowing time down!

Well my weekly updates have turned in to a bit more monthly!  Had a few issues with uploads of photos and the fact that January has gone by in the blink of an eye!  Hence the title!
Another week, another month is upon us and another plan is forming. We’re trying to fit as much in to each day as we can as they just fly by! I’ve not been very well for the last few weeks, now I’m not telling you this for sympathy at all, but to highlight how vulnerable we are to our reliance on sooo many things. If we don’t have our health, our homes, our heat sources, supermarkets, electronics and so on, where does that leave us. I must admit it has propelled my thoughts around speeding up the process of being reliant on ourselves as much as possible.
With that in mind, these last few weekends have seen lots of work outdoors.  Sowing seeds of plants that we use regularly and that can be sown at this time of year. Kale (purple and green), tomatoes, leeks, lettuce and radish. I’ve also potted on some lavender that looks like it’s seen better days. Not sure it’ll make it.  If it does, it can be used for handmade gifts and smellies. We’ve worked on the raised beds, more on that shortly and generally started cracking on in earnest.
Above is the area in the greenhouse we are (since the photo) using as a seed bed. After this photo was taken, we filled the rest of it with home made compost (feeling quite smug about that). The wires you can see here are heated wires to give a bit of base heat to the seeds.  I like getting an early start with seeds.  That reminds me, I need to order the Alderman peas, we love those and I’d like to have a few different areas with them this year.
It’s been a bit hit and miss weather wise, we’ve not really had a winter yet but it’s been very wet, which has meant we’ve been able to get a lot of work done in the house. The little bedroom which we hadn’t touched since moving in 4 years ago is now done and I am so pleased with it! We managed to come under budget and all in all it cost us around £200! That’s for doing the walls and replacing the carpet with a beautiful wooden floor. It’s used as a dressing room for Grace and I to dry our hair in, so hard floor is easier to manage with people with long hair rather than breaking the hoover again (sorry Ste 🙂 )

We have now started the main bedroom which is a combination of the bedroom and bathroom (en suite).  As with all old houses, as soon as we started it, we knew it was going to be a big task.  We took out the fitted wardrobes as we want to make use of our own furniture that we love and have had for many years.  It’s old, classic items, we aren’t in to replacing things frequently and especially when not needed!


Once the wardrobes were removed, it pretty quickly showed the issue with the ceiling!  You may or may not be able to tell from the photos, but there is a big bevel in it!  Turns out it needed a bit of TLC and re-patching to get it level (ish) and safe again.  Ste and my Dad got to work on it really quickly and in no time at all, the repair was done and we are ready to move on.  Now for the mammoth task of stripping the wallpaper from the ceiling which is a killer on your arms.  Not looking forward to that one.
Back outside once the weather allowed and dear me, another case of where do you start initially.  With a plan, that’s where.  We are done with January’s goal of the veg plot planning of what’s going where but in order to be able to grow these things, we need a nice soil structure to work with and ease of access to the beds.
So we’ve cut a hole in the fence to make a new gate for access to another part of the veg plot.  This is ‘before’ on the top left and Ste working on it and getting the copious amounts of barrowed muck down on the top right.  We’re going for as much no dig as we can from now on, we simply don’t have the time and life is FAR TOO SHORT to keep weeding and losing every year.

 
It looked great when it was finished and a membrane finish below, to keep those pesky weeds reaching for the light.

I also wanted to share with you some life and doggy updates as I feel it’s been a while.  We have some big changes coming at the end of Feb, start of March which I will share with you then.  For now, our 3 lovely dogs are still enjoying life on the smallholding.  Annie will be having a litter of puppies all being well, later this year.  Here she is giving Buster a cuddle.
 
 And watching me do anything and everything!

Rodney spotted something in the rafters in the barn, which frustrated the life out of him!  He had to just sit and watch instead.  Before going to stand on the picnic table and feel king of his castle.
 
 The kids have loved being able to get out more. 
 
 
 
 
We’re so lucky to have all of this literally on our own land and from our own doorstep.
 
 
Above is the view from the kitchen window on one of the light frosty mornings we have had.  I will never ever tire of this view.
Another thing I have taken great pride in lately is how well Grace is coming on with her cooking and household skills.  Jack will follow suit but as he’s 3 years younger, he is at a different skillset right now.  Still, they both are involved in the household discussions, budget reviews (boring but essential), cooking and meal planning etc.  Grace helped me make croutons for the freezer when the breadbuns were too stale.
 

I also made, well, tried to make a jelly from gooseberries and cherries.  It didn’t set, so we now have a kind of cordial, come syrup!  It won’t get wasted, but we will need to be inventive I think!



Finally for today, we have a big birthday rapidly approaching on Friday – Grace will be 13!!! So there’s a cake to make and good times to be had!  Which ties in nicely with my post title, how the hell do we slow time down!!  All thoughts welcome 🙂 

I hope your January was a happy one.  We had a great time and feel in a great place to be starting February.  If it wasn’t, I wish you a happier February.  Take care bloggers.

Preparing for winter….small steps

There is a cold front coming towards the end of the week so I’m making plans to ensure we don’t get caught out.  The last thing we want to be doing is walking to the wood store or topping up the outside animals’ bedding when it’s either raining or snowing, which is predicted.  According to today’s forecast on the BBC for our postcode, the temperature will drop from Thursday.
So the plan is:
  • Have all hats, scarves and gloves ready.
  • Bring wet shoes in to dry in front of the Aga.
  • Order new muck boots as mine are full of cracks – you get what you pay for.
  • Put extra straw into hens area for warmth.
  • Have horses rugs out ready to put on.
  • Top sheep hay up and move crystalyx to less poached area (unrelated to cold, but I just remembered!)
  • Keep animals water topped up constantly with spare buckets full in case pipes freeze over again.
  • Put extra food in for hens, cook pasta for bed time treat and have porridge ready to put in warm on a morning.
  • Have thick socks, thick trousers, jumpers and coat ready for Thursday morning for the morning feeds.  The last thing I want to be doing at 5:15am is hunting for warm clothes.
  • Fill the log basket.
  • Fill the coal basket.
  • Ensure enough kindling.
  • Have blankets in the room so we can cosy up as a family and if it does snow, watch it sat next to the wood burner with a hot chocolate in hand.
  • Just in case, have a sledge ready for us to have lots of fun on!
 
Planning a little further ahead I need to make sure we have enough medicine in should we need it.  We take tablets as infrequently as possible and prefer as natural a remedy as possible, but if we need to, we take it. 
 
In the meantime, I know this list can be seen as totally over the top, so here’s a picture of the dogs all chilling together to relax us all J

It was nearly 9C in the barn this morning.  Far too mild for this time of the year.  It’s turned out to be a bright day and the rain that was forecast didn’t really arrive.

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.

Growing update

I must have the world’s easiest to look after pumpkin/squash.  It’s growing and I’m just watching from the sidelines.  I did put some straw underneath in an effort to stop it rotting.  If it’s as big as I think it is going to be then I might enter it into a country show as I’d love to do that. 
Here are 2 other pumpkin /quash plants that I am growing.  The pumpkin is tiny but so cute!  Can you say that about a veg?  The other squash is trying to rival my big one and is growing well.
We also have some borlotti beans growing.  I’ve never had these before but apparently they dry well ready for winter stews so I will do that.
I was given a courgette by a lovely lady that I sell eggs to.  It’s huge and will be added to a lot of meals probably in grated form as it’s not one of my favourite vegetables (yet!) but that maybe as I’ve had lots of supermarket courgettes up to now.
This weekend, we have family visiting but no other plans so I will get into the plot and turn over a few beds and get some winter seeds down.  The Grow your own magazine I signed up for (thanks to Louise’s blog Welsh Dreams Now Reality) have 2 packets of seeds with their latest issue.  Land cress and spring onion, so both are being sown this weekend.
I rarely get a picture of all 3 dogs together but as I looked out of the kitchen window the other night, here they were all mulling their thoughts over together so I managed to get a quick photo before the puppies found something else to run off and investigate.