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

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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.  

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.

Monday night preserves – Perfect pork! We did it!

Well I have to say I am proud as punch.  Only a couple of years ago, last year even, I could only think about what it would be like to raise your own meat.  This year we have managed to become self sufficient in chicken and now we can tick anything piggy off the list too.
We’ve been the proud owners of 2 large white x land race pigs since March 2017.  We bought them from a local farmer who we made friends with when we moved into the smallholding.  He supported us with advice during the life of the pigs and we are forever grateful as this year was all about finding out what it was like to raise your own pigs and whether or not it was for us.
Well guess what – it is! 
With Ste working for a large butchers, we are lucky enough that the pigs could go to the abattoir there and we knew they were in good hands.  However we don’t have a trailer yet, so what to do.  Well around here it seems that you mention it to a neighbour and they go out of the way to help you.  Seriously.  We couldn’t believe it.  Up until now we’d not met our ‘neighbour over the river’ (all neighbours here have a “over the river, across the field, on the corner type” phrase attached to their description given our location) however we were told to call him and he’d help out.  So feeling rather cheeky, that’s what I did.  Well what a lovely man (and wife too, we were to later find out).  David and Marg – they didn’t question us and just offered the use of the trailer based on the word of a mutual friend.  Now I also must say, we only met this mutual friend as a sheep of his got stuck near our land so I made sure I found the owner and returned it.  He’s obviously never forgot as he went on to help us get the trailer contact when we needed it.
Turns out, on the day the pigs were due to go, David said he’d join me and help out too – even better as I must admit I was worrying that we’d struggle to get them on safely.  We’d not had time to familiarise the pigs with the trailer as it wasn’t ours, so we hoped for a bit of luck which came in bucket loads and combined with a few shoves with of our wellies and a bucket of pig nuts – the 2 hungry pigs barged their way onto the trailer.
We were off.  I felt slightly sick but that wasn’t the fact the pigs were going, it was at the thought of something going wrong with the journey or the papers being wrong.  I shouldn’t have felt sick though, it all went just fine.
The pigs went through the motions at the abattoir and after a couple of false starts, we got them back ready for the weekend.  Ste got a photo of them at work whilst they were hanging in the big fridge.  I couldn’t wait to reap the rewards of the happy, free range life they’d lived.  We had weights of 54kg and 66kg which we are happy with this year.

We initially got the fillets and offal home.  These were frozen on the night, with the loins vac packed.

The first night we set the dining room up for Ste to butcher the sides he brought home.  He’d cut them down at work into manageable sizes.  We worked on a wooden board resting on a sanitised new shower curtain which did the job perfectly. Everything got wrapped up and the end and went in the bin – cost a couple of pounds.

He boned and rolled the spare rib half of the shoulders giving us 8 joints.  Each one was cut into sizes that will be large enough for at least 4 people right up to feeding a tribe! 

The thick end of each loin went to the bacon tray (to be dry cured for back bacon) and the thin end into medallion chops, which gave us 27 chops.  As 27 isn’t an even number, we cooked one up and tested it on the night.  Goodness me it was the nicest chop I’ve ever had (and no, I’m not just saying that).

Now, something we didn’t realise when raising these pigs is we may have given them too much space as there was very little fat on them from all the running around they did.  There was no flare fat so I couldn’t render that down, but that’s ok – I’ll take a happy life for the pigs and little fat for us.  This did mean that the bellies were very lean and thin too.  Therefore 2 went to sausage and burger meat, 1 was boned and rolled for a nice belly pork joint and the other we trialled as streaky bacon.

I decided to use Dawn’s dry cure recipe for the bacon and we are on day 2 of that now.

The bones out of the bellies and backs went to racks of ribs, so we have 8 racks which we tested one, but it was quite tough so I will slow cook next time. 

We kept one leg for a Christmas ham so that was cut and wrapped, going straight into the freezer.  The chump end of that went to steaks.  The other 3 had the hocks taken off which went into a wet cure along with the topsides and the thick flanks.  They were weighed down with a plate so they don’t bob above the surface.

That was 6 ham joints and 3 hocks.  Once these are ready I will cook all of these straight away.

We also got 6 roasting joints off the legs.  All in all, these joints will see us through the rest of the year and beyond.  We cooked one up for lunch on Sunday.

I roasted and cooked the bones up to make pork stock which will be frozen in portion sizes tomorrow.

Out of the trim that was left over, we had 3kg of diced pork and 8kg of minced pork, 36 burgers and 120 links of sausage.

All in all, our hands are tired and our freezers are full.  The whole family chipped in, including my visiting nephew. 

We had burgers (pork and apple) and Jack declared them the best he’d ever had.  Grace preferred the sausages (spicy ones) and we had a joint roasted on Sunday which were amazing,
So we’ve achieved a life long dream, we know exactly where our meat is coming from and to top it off, there’s no air miles on this little lot of meat.  Happy days!

Spring bank holiday

What beautiful weather we’ve been having, perfect growing conditions with long sunny days and dare I say it, a long wet day on Sunday! The rest of the week is looking fine so I’m hoping to see some growth on my brassicas. They’ve been shredded to skeletal remains by something! The first batch do seem to be recovering but their growth is definitely stunted and therefore I don’t think brassicas are doing as well as last year. June will be the the deciding month. I think it’s been colder this year earlier on too.

I’ve spent some great hours in the veg plot, greenhouse and polytunnel, though there’s many more hours needed in them. The weather I spoke of is great for the weeds too!

The tomatoes and peas are looking good though again, I don’t think we’ve as many peas as last year. Still time to sow some more of course and I have discovered just the spot for those.

Bush Tomatoes
Polytunnel peas
A while back I sowed some Purple Top Milan turnips in the polytunnel and they all went to seed, so I am guessing it’s too warm for them.  The pigs had them for their supper last night.

 In order to net off the fruit bushes growing alongside the rhubarb, we needed to harvest some more rhubarb which was fine as it’s had a rest since the last harvest.  Here’s Grace stood with some of the harvest and the leaves which were almost as big as her.

 I tried to thin the carrots out a bit more and when I pulled this one out I nearly died of shock.  I’ve never been able to grow carrots before! 

On Sunday we all went for a lovely, long, family walk out.

 The dogs could smell something but we couldn’t see anything.  Maybe a rabbit was just here.

We also netted the strawberries as they have shot up out of nowhere.

 As have the currants and gooseberries

Inspired, I then decided to have a wander round the veg plot taking snaps of how we’re doing.
Rhubarb and currant area

Onions with catch crops in between

The start of direct sowings coming through with quick crops interspersed.  Chamomile is closest here, to make tea with.

 I started planting up the bean bed.  This bed had the trenches dug in it a few month ago, which were filled with veg peelings.  I need to do that at the end of this year so they rot down better next year, but they will still retain the moisture in the bed which is needed.  here we have runner beans with sweet peas in the middle, and nasturtiums at the front.  This bed isn’t finished yet but only so many hours in the day.

 This is my pea and broad bean bed which I’m just not overly happy with.  I’ve put some borlotti’s in the edge too to create an archway if they grow high enough, linked to the next bed.  I’m going to sow more peas, but this bed is the most disappointing this year so far.

 Here’s the main crop potato bed which also has comfrey along the long side as I needed somewhere to put it.  Once it’s in, it’s in, so no going back now.

Comfrey

 This bed has the early potatoes at the top and the tomatoes I’ve just planted out in the bottom.  There’s a lot of conflicting information about these 2 being planted together.  I’ve gone with the risky view as I’ve tonnes more tomatoes elsewhere, so if I lose them, I need to take it on the chin.  The early potatoes are due to come up any time now but they’re a little behind due to the cold weather start again.

 Here we have my version of The Three Sisters which you can read about online.  It’s a method for planting your squash, sweetcorn and beans/peas etc together.  I’ve got sunflowers in instead with my squash and sweetcorn.  We’ll use the sunflowers for food for us and the chickens and also to sow as seeds again next year.

 A happy nasturtium flower which are also edible!  I’ve not tried one yet.

All in all we had a lovely family weekend together.  The kids are off for half term now and they are also off next week for 5 PD days as our school clumps them all together.  Ste and I have taken this week off too, so I hope to get lots sown, grown, harvested and made during this time off.


A productive and wet weekend

The weekend forecast had one word – wet.  We decided to make the most of the rain and go to the cinema!  We rarely do this as a family, so we took the kids to see one of the kids films that is out and then went for some tea at a near by “diner”.  A treat that was enjoyed by all.  Given that it was going to be raining or snowing for pretty much all of the weekend, I hadn’t expected to get many outdoor jobs done.  However we managed to get a lot more done than originally thought.
Ste made me a potting bench, a counter top one so I can move it around as needed.  As usual, he used wood that we had to hand and in this instance, kept a part of the house alive using an old fireplace.  It’s perfect and does the exact job I need.  So I set about to use it.  I had lots of seedlings that were getting leggy, so I pricked them out and replanted them as deep as possible, so they grow nice and strong again, like they did last year.  It is huge, the reason it looks small here is I had my glove in my hand which got caught by the camera.

Below I have kale and spinach in the left hand tray – spinach hasn’t germinated yet, if at all.  Kale shot up so I won’t sow these 2 together again.  Then aubergine and beef tomatoes in the bag.  They’re next to my indoor peas which I sowed at the same time as the ones in the greenhouse (which are just starting to germinate so a week or 2 behind these).  The tray to the right is tomatoes, different varieties and 2 or 3 of each.
I made a bold move this weekend and binned the weaker seedlings and only kept a few strong ones of each.  I felt like I was doing something wrong throwing seedlings out!

I made a start on the plastic bottles that we had saved (Ste uses them for water in his gym) and am keeping them to use as mini greenhouses/cloches for when plants are put out or maybe for direct sowings to help germinate.  I’ve cut the bottom off so canes can be put through the hole in the lid, to support the bottle from flying away.

I sowed some sprouts and some flower seeds (sweet pea, cosmos) as I’d like to do my bit for the decline in bees and welcome them to my garden.  Not the wasps though, they can b****r off 😉 
A few more broad beans went in. These are the dwarf variety “Sutton” whereas the others are “Jubilee Hysor” left over from last year.  The Sutton does not need support so I will bear that in mind when planting out and just plant in blocks instead of rows.

 My bare root comfrey arrived.  I ordered 5 from ebay and to be honest when they turned up, I wondered what on earth they were!  However after a quick chat with Dawn and an email from the seller, I filled a container with damp compost, placed the roots in and covered with a touch more compost then wet newspaper.  I’ll see where to roots grow from then plant them up when the weather warms a bit.

 Speaking of warming things up.  I was like a kid in a toy shop when Ste bought me this beauty for Christmas.  Now I know some people aren’t fond of paraffin heaters but let’s give it a try.  It was recommended by UK here we grow on one of their You Tube videos.  I got it up and running and it had it’s first night on last night.  I’m pleased to say it kept the greenhouse at 6.3C.  I also got the heat bench up and running thanks to Ste, who rewired things so there is now power in the greenhouse! 
The bench heated wire works, so I will be starting to use that over the next couple of weeks.  Between the paraffin heater and the heated bench, the seedlings should do pretty well.  Just as well, as we’re running out of window sills in the house !

One thing I was really excited about was the piquant seeds Dawn sent me when she offered them on her blog.  The seeds originally came from Dani on Eco Footprint South Africa and I shall be offering mine when they are ready too.  I think it’s a lovely way of keeping this little pepper family going.

I have decided to try and get some batch cooking done on a weekend to start giving myself an easier life for week days.  This is my first attempt and scones in a long time.  These have blackberries in from the summer.  The blackberries were past their best when we picked them, so I froze them for use over the winter in puds and things.  They turned out really well so I buttered them and froze them individually for lunches.
After a weekend out in the cold and wet (and by gum it was both), Ste and I succumbed to a sore throat each.  Grace had a bunged up nose, but she hadn’t been out in the elements, so I think it’s a bit of a cold virus too.  I made Ste and I a Hot Toddy each using the following recipe from the internet:
Hot Toddy
1 shot whisky
1 tsp honey (I had 2)
2 cloves
1/2 cinnamon stick
off the boil hot water
slice lemon
lemon juice to taste
It was lovely actually and I felt fine this morning.
After lots of family time on Saturday afternoon, we watched another film last night.  Pirates of the carribean – you can see Jack with his telescope!  It was lovely to have the chill out time together.
The dogs enjoyed it too. 
I’ve lots more to write, but that’s enough for today – I’ll update you with other goings on shortly.
Happy Monday 🙂