Spring is around the corner

Over the weekend we managed to fill a 3rd bed with rotted muck thanks to the horses.  That’s 3 large beds ready for top soil at the end Feb.

I am super excited to tell you about my hot bed.  It’s not an outdoor Victorian one, it’s an internal greenhouse one.  A hot bench I think is the correct terminology.  I knew there was something there last year but we didn’t know what it was and didn’t use it, we just used the space for something else.  This year however, I’ve found out how to use it and am in the middle of preparing it for seeds.  This is what it looks like now, I’ll share it with you again when it’s ready for use.

 It’s  amains powered thermostat that heats up wires in the sand and we think we’ve finally found where the mains power runs to, only it’s not attached to anything.  We’re going to get that sorted so I can get sowing in there.  It won’t be long now.

Having said that, I’ve started the sowing season already.  Too early some will say and I know and am prepared to take the risk.
I have got a couple of each of the following in: 
Heat loving germinating seeds:  Tomatoes (different types), aubergine, peppers (hot and sweet),
Cooler germinating seeds:  cauliflower, cabbage, PSB, leeks and red onions.

I was disappointed to find out that my new propagator wouldn’t fit in the airing cupboard!  This is where I planned for the heat loving ones to go, so I need to find them a new home.  When things are ready they will be moving into the part of the greenhouse heated by the paraffin heater.

My corn salad is up, it only took a few days to germinate however the first aubergines aren’t (they went in on 14th so I won’t give up yet).  It’ll be interesting to see how the salad copes.  It’s in
a propagator in the kitchen next to the window.

I’ve also decided not to get the polytunnel that I was going to get this year.  Instead, as a compromise, I’m getting a smaller, green one.  Now a lot of people don’t like these and say we’re throwing money away as they don’t last etc.  However for us, it’s the right decision.  If and when it breaks, the framework will be used elsewhere.  If it doesn’t break, great.  As long as it sees me through this year and some of next, I’m happy.
I’ll be putting the first early potatoes into bags and also a bed in the polytunnel and then outside when the weather allows.  They aren’t chitting yet, a job for tonight maybe.  Again it’ll be interesting to see how it extends the season for us.
Spring is definitely on it’s way.  Just temperamental February to get through yet.  I have still not managed to get my hands on to any Seville oranges, despite going to the shops much more than I care to!  What’s everyone else up to in January?

Trying new things

Part of the journey we’re on is learning to cook more things from scratch.  Now I already make things from scratch but when I sat and thought about it properly (usually when I am in the shower!) I realised there is a lot more to do.  I already knew this, I just hadn’t actively thought about it.
Not only is it making things from scratch but finding new, hopefully cheaper ways of doing things.
So last night saw me trial out homemade garlic bread.  It turned out very nice, even it meant we were later than normal eating supper.

Grace thought it best to get a photo for the blog
I also put a couple of potatoes in the slow cooker, wrapped in foil, ready for Ste’s packed lunch today.  he said they tasted fine but looked awful as their skin had taken on a discoloured, dark tinge.  As long as they taste ok in my book, that’s fine 🙂

On writing this, I realise I’ve not tagged anything as slow cooker before.  Now that’s something I need to rectify as the slow cooker (or indeed simmering over) should be my friend given that I work full time and run this place…

Planning the coming year’s harvest including freebies

I love freebies.  I’ve just been given these seeds from my lovely Dad who has given up his allotment and asked if he can help out on mine through the year. 

I have taken delivery of some fruit trees.  Sadly, I had to pay for these :).  There’s a pear, fig tree, almond and apricot.  At the moment they are all in temporary containers in the greenhouse.  Their names from the website are:

Large Fig Tree ‘Brown Turkey’ 1ft Tall in a 2LPot.Ready to Fruit, Sweet Taste
Apricot Bergeron Tree 4-5ft Tall, Self-fertile Sweet & Tasty Orange Flesh
Conference Pear Tree 4-5ft Tall, Self-Fertile & Heavy Cropper, Ready to Fruit
Large 4-5ft Sweet Almond Tree ‘Robijn’,Ready To Fruit, Nice Pink Flowers.
Thanks for the website recommendation, Dawn.
I don’t know where they will stay permanently, but they’re all small enough to be in pots for now.
 Last year we had tonnes of currants (black, red and white) and we used them all.  Cordial is on the menu this year, but I need to find out how to store it long term, I have in my head that it doesn’t freeze but I don’t know if that’s true.  Elderflower was my son’s favourite and a beautiful taste of spring in a glass, with the promises of the great things to come.
This is the fruit cage we have made that in currently being changed into temporary chicken housing.  It’ll do a great job over the soft fruit come summer.

I must get round to pruning the raspberries but I really don’t know if they are summer or autumn fruiting as they fruited the whole way through!  So I am worried about killing them off or stunting their harvest. Same for the currants for their pruning.
We have cut the asparagus ferns down and top dressed with horse muck that’s been rotting away.  Asparagus was one, maybe the, first foods we harvested in 2016.  I look forward to that.  It took me by surprise last year with the amount we could harvest.  I may sell some this year if there’s too much for us.  I’ve also found some nice recipes so we don’t tire of it.
I shall soon be forcing some rhubarb too.  Just one plant I think.  Rhubarb is one of my favourites.
I started preparing for sowing this weekend.  Maybe too early I know, but that’s part of the experiment.  I’ll soon start the onions, leeks, tomatoes, peppers, chillis, broad beans, salad leaves, spinach and cauliflowers.  I am only doing a few of each (she says).  Also I am going to get my strawberry plants that I took from runners under cover to see what happens.  This is it, we’re off on the 2017 road to self-sufficiency!
A harvest of a different kind now… the chicks we hatched early December have been moved outside into the big barn.
First time they have seen big chickens!
They have heat there still but plenty more space now as they’d outgrown the brooder. I am not sure what will go in the brooder next. Steven made a heat lamp from a mixing bowl, heat lamp bulb and some mesh (to stop them burning themselves on it).  I was super impressed and a fraction of the cost were we to have bought it in the shop.
It was a very foggy day all day today with the temperatures barely getting above freezing.  The greenhouse door was frozen closed with the frost that developed overnight.  We use the tap in there for the water for the horses.  It soon thawed out.  This was taken when I was riding out this morning.  It was lovely.

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.