Pigs, more harvests and epic fail on the redcurrant jelly

Our pigs only have 3 weeks left with us now.  They’re going to work with Ste on a Tuesday and will be coming back in a different state.  I’ve got some reading up to do as to how we want to process them so I’ll be checking out blogs on here plus my River Cottage handbook of course.
The pigs have a slap mark on their shoulder which identifies them when they go to slaughter.  It’s one of the marks the vet will look for.  Think of it as a tattoo.
The farmer thinks they will be weighing in at 65 kilos.
Look at this!  A cabbage that I thought was done for!  This is one that the birds or slugs ate and left skeletal.  What a trooper this little thing is.  There’s plenty more where he came from too.  At least these are doing well this year as the cauliflowers are non existent and the broccoli all bolted.
It might look strange, posting a photo of an onion but I grew this!  Yeah!  Really excited, no need to buy any more onions again I hope! 
Now to the carrots.  I have never ever managed togrow carrots before so imagine my excitement when I saw loads growing in my black bin!  I’ve been nursing them daily only to check on them today and discover an ant’s nest.  Well I panicked and pulled them all out.  Only to be told by my neighbour that ants are pretty clean and wouldn’t have eaten them.  He said they like light soil which this bin is.
Another thing I wanted to share with you is this little gadget that my friend has bought me, how lovely is it?  It’s a dibber for planting out and I think it is very thoughtful of her.
The dogs like it too!!
Even after living here 18+ months we’re still finding trees that we didn’t know we had.  Is this one hazelnut or acorn, does anyone know?

For my records, broad beans and first peas have done dreadfully this year!  Aren’t broad beans supposed to be amazingly easy to grow?!  We’ve had some, but not loads.
Oh and the sheep broke into the new chicken area!  Hooligans!
Also a quick update on the recurrant jelly.  It didn’t work!  That’s ok though, you win some and you lose some.  The overnight dripped juice only yielded 350ml when the recipe expected over 600ml.  We got 1.5 small jars when we expected 4 – 5 so something is amiss.  I think it’s going to set solid, so I’ll maybe try to loosen it up and add water and boil up again or if I can slice it (haha oh dear) then I’ll make gravy up adding it, then I’ll freeze the gravy. 

More where they came from though, we’ll get there!  The 2nd lot of strawberry jam was just as amazing as the first though – wahoo!

Thank you Steven

The other day Kev over on An English Homestead was talking about the wooden items he’d made for Christmas.  They were fabulous and in telling him so, I commented that my husband makes things out of wood, in his own style.  I’ve posted before about the room he built in the barn which he made into his gym, the raised beds he is in the middle of doing, the fences that he’s put up single handily, the chicken brooders, pens, duck house and sheds that he’s put together by the beg, stealing or borrowing (ok not stealing), the signs that he created when we built Chickenville, the egg holder when our hens started producing, the fireplace that we were quoted hundreds of pounds for that he made for £16 from 2nd hand wood, the tack room and many other thing. 
On the same day Kev was posted about his latest wooden goings on, Steven walked in from his garage workshop with this little beauty. 

I think we too may be moving in to making our own Christmas presents, although I wouldn’t want to wrap this.  How fabulous.  It has pride of place in the kitchen.  The sign on the front was bought for me by my Mum for Christmas…I have no ideas why ;). 
I do love seeing the creativity of people to help sustain their lives, for whatever reason and it whatever manner. 
Brilliant 🙂
Pics below of a few of the items I’ve mentioned.  It was only supposed to be a short post but I got carried away – so as the title says, thank you Steven, you’ve done us proud in our first year xx

Egg holder
Brooder in garage, we quickly upgraded.

Field fence done
Gym during planning phase

Gym after
Growing pen (ignore the vorwerks!)



Tack room
First fence that went up
Before fire place

After
Duck house framework….reclaimed
Duck house
The weather today remains milder than you would expect for January.  4.8C in the barn this morning and a bright, dry day all round.  The cold is coming though!

Christmas preparations and home raised meat for the table

I’m still chasing my tail but my head is just above water and I’m happy as Larry.  Whoever he is.

So this weekend started off with a frost on Saturday morning.  It always makes me want to stop and get a photo as frost makes everything look so pretty.

The frost mean the sheep had a bucket of hay between them which they happily munched on. 

My Mum came over and had some of my homemade jam (the few that didn’t turn mouldy!) with a wholemeal breadbun.  She sadly has a, let’s say condition for ease, where she is restricted on what she can eat.  So homemade jam is one she can have, which makes us both happy.  It is her 67th birthday today (20th), Happy Birthday Mum xxx. (I am a day late with actually publishing this post!)

I noticed my garlic and onions are starting to come through, you can just spy them in this bed poking through the soil.  The Purple Sprouting Broccoli is also in the same bed which I planted as an experiment to tell me if it’s worth doing on a bigger scale for this year.

I finally got round to making some fudge.  I’ve never made it before and followed a recipe from bbcgoodfood for white chocolate fudge.  Now I don’t like fudge myself, but Jack loves this one.  I am going to try and get another flavour made and hand them out as Christmas gifts to people when they visit or as they leave after Christmas dinner.

Yesterday I put a ham in the slow cooker and we had some for tea with pasta and a garlic sauce.  It was really nice and different to what we’ve been having, so a refreshing change.  Now I confess, I always say to myself I must do something with the stock that’s left.  Then I don’t and I wash it away, so last night, I sent Dawn a message and she told me to freeze it on ice cube trays for use another time, so I have done just that.  Why I haven’t done that before, I don’t know.  Thanks Dawn.  We got loads of lovely shredded ham off it.

I’ve been wrapping gifts as often as I can.  I’m using brown paper and decorating with my own items.  I love this look.

Here is a rare photo of me and the 2 girls.  I don’t often post about the horses specifically but they offer the smallholding bountiful amounts of super manure (I was going to use a double S there but I restrained) which in turn feeds the land, which feeds us.  So they have earned the right to a photo 😉  They can be my sanity at times when I feel like I could scream.

Finally to the Christmas meat, please do not scroll down if you’re offended by the sight of birds being prepared for the table.  As you will know by now, this is our lifestyle that we’re aiming towards, so I make no apologies for it, but will always give you fair warning if there are photos as I understand that we’re not all the same.
On Sunday we dispatched a goose and a duck ready for Christmas Day.  We did 2 chickens in the summer and they were a pain to pluck, so we hung them up after dispatch, covered their heads to keep things tidy and plucked them hanging from the small barn roof.  It made the job a lot easier, though it still took a long time.  I can totally understand why hand plucked birds cost so much and doing it makes you realise even more about respecting the process and the end result.  We’re doing both birds for Christmas lunch.  The goose will be done in the Aga as per Mary Berry’s instructions and I need to look up how long to cook the duck for – I have an alternate oven which I may use for that, as I will need space in the roasting over for the veggies.

Both kids helped with plucking of the goose, they soon got bored to be fair, but I am pleased they were involved.  I do try my hardest to ensure they respect the animals and are not squeamish about being able to provide for themselves. I am really pleased with the end result.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!  How about for you?

December birthday and raspberry vodka

Sounds like a good combination right 🙂

It was my birthday yesterday and also my long day at work, however it was great fun.  I heard from people I’ve not spoken to for a while, saw my family, was lucky to receive gifts and got to taste my raspberry vodka which we started off in summer.  Oh man, it was lovely.  I’ve been having a few drinks through December to celebrate and feel festive with friends when they visit etc and now I have this, we’re taking a bottle next door with us to celebrate Christmas Day Night with our lovely neighbours.  It’ll be the perfect end to the day when I get to chill after a hectic day no doubt.

So in true Tracy style, I was given a greenhouse heater and 2 huge propagators and a thermometer for min/max and current temperatures from Steven, along with some long socks, a bottle of Baileys and other items.  How lucky am I?

I also got a personalised notebook which I just love, that I am going to use to record all of next years info around eggs, veg seeds sown, grown and harvested (weights etc, thanks Dawn!).  My lovely parents got me a new coat to do my smallholding jobs in Winter, for which this weather is far too warm to wear it yet, so I am wanting a bit more winter weather please.  I got a Bake Off apron and £60 cash which has been spent on something for the smallholding that I will do another post on.
Hugely exciting too – the farmer has confirmed the litter of piglets which we’re getting ours from is due 2nd Feb so we will take them once they are ready.  In between now and then, I need to learn all about caring for them (already done a lot) and Steven is going to get their shelter/ark sorted.
Later in the year we are hoping to get goats too but that pending what Mother goat delivers in the Spring.  More on that once it’s firmed up.
Ooh and Christmas is still firmly underway, home made cards have been made and the kids put SO much effort in to them.  They were gratefully received which I was super happy about.  We didn’t manage to do all the cards as homemade, I didn’t realise how long they will take.  That’s ok though.
Did you know, apparently, Boxing Day is the time to sow onion seeds traditionally.  Don’t ask me who’s traditions or in what country, but that’s what I was told! 
Plans for the weekend?  I’m going to put some winter lettuce in my propagators this weekend.  We also need to get the Christmas meat sorted – a goose and duck from the smallholding will be dispatched this weekend.  They have had a wonderful life and this is what they were raised for.  We know what they have eaten and have been with them from cradle to grave.  Next year I am hoping for all home raised and grown produce as the main Christmas lunch.  There are a million and one other things on the list, which I’ll post as I get round to them,  In the mean time I leave you with how my work place was decorated for me! 
Where I work – a lovely lady always makes us feel special.

Gifts from lovely people

I have been given some lovely gifts over the last week or so.  My Mam and Dad have been on holiday venturing to the southerly end of the country and stopping at lots of places here and there.  The children received some lovely t-shirts from them and Steven and I got some Red Onion Chutney (yummy and the jar is perfect for using again for a gift) and a bottle of Cornish Cider (again, the bottle will be reused!).  He’ll drink the cider in October as we’re having a dry September.
Then an unexpected trip to visit our lovely next door neighbour saw us leaving with a bottle of Damson Gin from her last year’s damsons.  Finally another lovely lady at work had too many courgettes and cucumbers so she’s passed them on.  The cucumbers will go straight in our salad and the courgettes will either freeze or be grated into a meal to up the veg content.  The gifts are lovely and we’re super lucky to have family and friends like that.
When she gave me the damson gin, my neighbour said they were going to get the last of the damsons from their tree the other night which prompted me into action and off I went to collect the damsons from our tree.  It was absolutely laden with them.  I am going to follow the recipe in the newspaper that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall used to write for, The Guardian.  He recommends it’s left for 2 years if you have the patience!  However it can be tried from 3 months onwards, so we’ll see.
I’ll do that this weekend right after taking part in the country show!  We’ve registered my pumpkin, some cooking apples, jam, chutney and a painting of my daughters.  I can’t wait.  The show is tomorrow, Saturday 17th October.  Wish me luck 🙂  I am ridiculously excited.