A week off work

Sorry I missed Monday night preserving last night, normal service resumes Monday coming. There’s a few reasons for this. We’ve taken a week off with the kids this week as mine are off for two weeks at this time of year, due to the way the schools schedule the PD days. Also we’re out of sync as it’s been Jack’s 7th birthday and Steven has been in hospital. So a real mix of events!

My mum made a cake for jack. We celebrated over 2 days so I made one and she made the other. A lucky boy! He had a lovely day.
Ste managed to hurt his back, so much so he was taken to hospital in an ambulance on Sunday morning. I’m pleased to report that he is ok enough to be home and up and about now. He’s been instructed to rest, which isn’t in his vocabulary but he knows he has to. He’s got an MRI to go to and exercises etc to do. As he isn’t allowed to lift anything heavy, he should be taking next week off work too under doctors orders. I’ll keep you all posted.

Today we harvested our first courgette. Now it would have been our second but the slugs got the first one! We made an omelette with onion, courgette and cheese which was the best omelette I’ve ever had. We used goose egg which I really think makes all the difference. I much prefer goose egg over duck eggs.

The pigs are turning the parcel of land over that they live on, though it’s taking them longer than I expected it to. We’re going to start looking at feeding them more home grown veg and cooked potatoes as they’re costing a fortune in hard feed. It’s all learning. They are growing rapidly and must weigh around 50kg now at 16 weeks old.

On Saturday a local village held a dog show, a fun one. We went along to show support as it’s fund raising for the local community. The kids won a second prize for best under 18 handler. It was a nice couple of hours with some lovely well behaved dogs.
My first tomato is turning red! These are an outdoor variety called Garden Pearl I think. I’d need to double check.

We’ve got some funky shaped terracotta garden pots lying around the smallholding. Ste had a great idea of using them for some of the herbs, so I’ve started doing that here.

The Swiss chard in the polytunnel is doing amazingly. The peas and beans in the polytunnel are just not worth it, nor the potatoes if I’m honest. So next year I’ll do more kale, spinach and chard in there as the kale has been decimated outside by slugs. My strawberries are doing well in there but then they all got eaten in the by ants. It’s definitely ants as I’ve caught them in the act.

This is a patty pan which are all starting to swell up now.

I’m over the moon with the amount of bees we’ve got visiting our area on a daily basis. I managed to get a snap of this little guy, looking so pretty on the broad beans.

We’ve also emptied and refilled the duck pond as the IBC tanks are full. The pond takes a full tank and with the amount of rain we’ve had and are due, we thought it was the best time to get it done. Tomorrow it’s going to be windy but dry. I need to get out and do some weeding as it’s turning into a jungle out there!

Maximising our outside space

When we were looking for a smallholding, I wanted as much land as possible.  When we moved here, initially we were pleased that we hadn’t got as much land as we’d originally set out to get.  Now, 18 months later and feeling like we have lived here forever, we’re hoping to get more land at some point.  That’s another story, but my point is, when we were looking for a place, we attended River Cottage Summer Fair where we met Tim Maddams.  A lovely chap who we got on talking to about our hopes and dreams.  He couldn’t believe the price differences in what we could buy in North East England, compared to “down South”.   We too were shocked.
We also stayed at a working farm for 2 nights, whilst we visited River Cottage and met a lovely family who we also got on talking to.  It was calving season and as we stood watching a mother give birth to twins (which I didn’t even know cows could do) the farmer was telling us that it’s a lot harder to manage 4 acres than it is 40 acres.
We looked shocked and he said, ‘land management – it is all in the land management’.  We need to make sure we rotate, rest, harrow etc etc as and when we can.  It’s easier said than done, as we don’t have the tools that farmers do, so we make do and mend.  (I rolled my field using the tyres on my fiesta for example!).
So part of what we have is the area knows as Chickenville.  Not surprisingly, this has housed our chickens since we moved in.  They’ve done a great jobs of killing the weeds and the floor is now just mud.  So these chickens have now been given part of the little paddock.
Chickenville was a dense and dark area when we bought this place.
 
Little by little we have chopped the trees down and turned them into fire size pieces ready to keep us warm in the following year’s winter.
 
This is double depth to the wall and one of Ste’s favourite places!
So back to my original point, of using your land wisely.
This is how Chickenville looks today.  What a cracking space.  Now the chickens are out using the little paddock, we’re wondering what we could use this space for.  Time will tell, we’re not in a rush to make any mistakes.
 

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.


Looking back

Now that we’re well in to our second year here on the smallholding, I am taking the time to look back to see what we were doing this time last year, to learn from, to replicate, to reminisce and to spur me on. Running this blog is a fantastic way of doing this.
I’m ahead with my tomatoes this year, by a good 4 weeks I’d say as the flowers didn’t come until 12th May time frame.


We had the 5 goslings plus Ryan hatch and we lost 1 of them as is the nature of the beast.  This year has been cruel and we lost our only one.  The mother is still sitting on another clutch but I don’t think they will be any good as she left them when the gosling arrived and went back when it died.
As we did last year, we’ll let nature take it’s course for so long and when we feel we should, we’ll remove the eggs so she can go about her business again.  She’s been sat for the full time already and it really takes it out of mother geese as they don’t eat and drink as much as normal and seem to lose quite a lot of weight when sitting.
We have harvested rhubarb earlier in the year this year as I bought the early variety which was worth it.  I am going to get more too as it is simply divine and you can do so much with it.  I think we’re also harvesting the old rhubarb earlier too as we’ve had it all through April, so that may be down to the crazy mild Winter we’ve had of 2016 season.  It’s amazing the speed with which the rhubarb grows.  One day it’s small and unappealing and the next day it’s enormous and has you frantically searching all of the recipes for different tips and tricks.

The hard work we put into the veg bed soil last year paid off no end and the lasagne method I used on the weeds worked a treat.

One thing I learnt from last year is that the asparagus goes crazy very quickly so I am trying to stay on top of it.  We’ve already had 6 meals from it, so I plan to start to do alternative things with it shortly.

We’re continuing to have people come for the rotted horse muck, something which is worth thinking more about for next year.  Also our eggs are continuing to be a hit with people buying them.  We had a guy come for some muck at the weekend and took a 30 tray with him!  He must really like his eggs!

I do like to look back to see what we and others were doing this time last year, and I’ll be using this post for this time next year too!
Does anyone know what the below is?

Free fun

I simply had to tell you about my son’s latest adventure.  He wanted to play on his computer, which given the chance he would do all day every day.  Of course I don’t want him to do this and although I’m sad that he would choose to spend time locked in his room instead of being outside with us, I don’t blame myself for this.  Kids are kids and they’re exposed to these things if we like it or not.
So on Saturday, I decided to bribe him to come outside (rather than threaten to take his technology off him permanently 😉 ).
I made him a treasure map which basically was a walk around our smallholding.  We packed up a bag which included a flask and some fruit and a biscuit as adventurer’s need sustenance.  He took his telescope and a spare pair of socks.  Loaded up he went on his travels and I’ve never seen his face beam so much.  He had 3 tasks to do on his travels.
Find an intact leaf, look for goose/duck eggs and find a daffodil but don’t pick it yet.  He also did a tally chart of all the animals he found.  Slightly worrying, he found 4 sheep when we have 3, but let’s move on.
He completed his adventure and found his treasure was a mini egg in the greenhouse, that his Granny had bought him when they babysat the other night.  He chose to sit in the greenhouse and ate it.  Happy days.

He didn’t know I had taken this..awww
Checking off his list
Counting mole hills (he’d be there some time)
 If anyone has any other ideas for a 6 or 10 year old, free fun – I’d love to hear them :)