March’s veg plot and seed plan

It feels like it’s time for an update on what’s happening in the veg plot and growing areas, with all the talk of The Food Challenge and the general ventures we are working on…so before it’s too late, we best get on and grow some for when we’re up and running!

I do love March, Spring is on it’s way.  It kind of just pounces on your unexpectedly, even though you may have spent much of February feeling like it would never arrive.  There’s so much more daylight and time to get out and get things done.  


Personally, my time starts to transition from spending lots of time in the house cooking and preparing to being outside, preparing and growing.  It’s still a reasonably quiet time of year for gardeners (not so much smallholders as chicks and lambs start arriving!).  I start to notice that a coat, hat and scarf are too much when working outside, you can feel the sun on your clothes through the glass in the greenhouse, and if you are really lucky, when walking outside feeding the animals.


Yes there’s still frosts and sometimes even snow, but both are very pretty and give you a (very!) fresh start for the day. 


Gone by mid morning, these mornings give way to blue skies and the need for sunglasses to drive safely on the reflective roads!  Come 6pm, there’s still a short amount of daylight to be snatched before giving in to the evening. 


Before you know it, it’s 8:30pm and you’re thinking about the bed time routine before you get up and do it all again.  I love to see the shift in seasons and it’s clear we are bang smack in the middle of the Winter to Spring shift right now.

In March, the temperatures can vary dramatically, so don’t get caught out thinking there won’t be a frost, which we have done before.  In fact, only last year were the fruit trees killed off when a very late May frost killed the blossom.  I really hope that doesn’t happen this year.  With that in mind, I still am still sowing seeds with a view to keeping them protected in various forms until they can move on to their final spot.  I’m not just sowing the hardier seeds either, at the end of the day if we lose some, then we will have more to sow.  It’s all trial and error every year.

At the moment we have stagger-sown the following since 14th February:

Red and white spring onions 
Leeks
Broad beans
Peas
Kale – different varieties
Beetroot
Salad leaves
Tomatoes (a couple of testers)
Cauliflower
Red and Green cabbage
Aubergine
Different beans
Courgettes
Turnips
Sprouts
Potatoes (currently chitting)

We are seeing these seeds come through nicely.

Radish, multi sown
 Salad leaves, tomatoes
Swiss chard, beetroot, salad leaves
Turnip, radish, sunflower, Swiss chard, beetroot, salad leaves
I will continue to stagger the seeds I am sowing to have plants at different ages, to hopefully mature at different stages.  They do sometimes tend to catch up which is nature for you and can be frustrating when you get a glut despite planning not to. This year we are hoping to not only supply ourselves with ALL of our own vegetable needs, but also to do a couple of veg boxes to sell with the eggs we are selling weekly.  Another exciting challenge!
Nothing should go to waste to be fair, even if the veg boxes don’t take off, we will preserve and the chickens and pigs will have what goes over as inevitably things do.

So the seeds are in and being kept warm as needed.  The veg plot is manured/mulched and covered up to warm the soil ready for planting out.  We had the shock of our lives the other day when one of the horses managed to get through the garden gate and made her way in to the veg plot.  We fixed up the damage she did but only time will tell as to whether she has killed anything off!

In the veg garden, which is different to the veg plot, we have our polytunnel that’s 4 years old now.  Highly recommended if you’re looking for a cheaper one, this is 6x3m.  Over the last few weeks it has taken a bashing from the various storms and is starting to need some TLC so we have made some adjustments to it.  Where the zip is starting to come apart we have zipped it closed and adjusted the clips to be longer so we don’t have to keep undoing it beyond the zip.  As you can tell, that was a Ste idea!  Saved us time and money on costly repairs.  Bonus.

The polytunnel will soon be planted up with a couple of kale, radish and salad leaves to get the crops moving on quickly.  I’ll grab some photos when I do that.

Sowings over the next week or so will include tomatoes and peppers, more salad and turnips and second sowings of what’s already in.  We are getting pigs in 3 months which we also are going to grow as much food for as we can, so marrows, turnips, swede, leafy greens and so on.  It’s going to be a very busy growing season, so outside we go!! More pics to follow 🙂

The Food Challenge

This title has come from a variety of recent ideas I’ve had!  I find that happens, a little ideas forms a bigger one which grows and adapts.  It started off as a freezer challenge eating what’s in the freezer as the freezer was fit to burst.  Given its bulging sides, apparently that will take months (which is a good thing, as that was and is the point of filling it!) and then it turned in to a pantry challenge of using up the tinned and dried goods that were bought and since sat there with just a partial amount used.  Finally it’s turned in to a use up the jars in the fridge challenge.  I think they are breeding in there!  There’s 2 shelves full of bits of mustard or pickle or cranberry sauce and other items I am not too sure as to what they even are!  So combined with my weight loss challenge I’ve set myself for this year, you can see the predicament that we have a bit of a mutation of challenges going on.

Essentially I find myself in a position where I want to step back and assess what we are trying to achieve before my head becomes too full and I give up on it all.  Do you ever get that feeling?  Sometimes it can manifest itself as feeling overwhelmed?  Life is so busy for us all and personally, I feel that without planning, things don’t always happen.

This whole Corona virus thing has got us all thinking too.  I don’t want to be in a position where we have eaten everything down to the bare minimum and end up self isolating for a period of time.  It seems there’s going to be a bit of scaremongering in the next few days, which naturally may result in people panic buying.  Given we are normally stocked up for 3 months plus with food etc, this is probably the worst time this could have happened.  We still have a good amount of food in though, so I am not worried, it’s just typical and shows it’s always good to be prepared, or have a plan A and B at least.  Anyway, I’m not spending time worrying about that until we know more.

Generally, even though we are working our way through what is in stock in the said areas, generally there’s left overs from those and I will reuse them in something else.  Eg if we roast a (raw) chicken for a Sunday lunch, I will reuse left overs in a pie and eat one for another meal, then freeze one, so the pie goes back in the freezer in a differed “state” (ie cooked chicken, not raw) to how it came out, which is fine.  

That takes me to the title of the post, The Food Challenge.  What are we trying to achieve? An organised, prepared, useable stock of short term and long term food items which are adaptable, healthy and budget friendly.  Easy right?  I will do a separate post on supermarkets and why I believe you should have a menu plan, shopping list and shop efficiently to help you lower your outgoings.  Given everything we have in stock, there’s absolutely no reason we should be maxing our grocery budget, or even coming close, for a month or two at least.  For the record, our budget it £300 a month, which is reduced from around £600 from when we first moved in 4 years ago. 

I didn’t choose my words without giving this a fair bit of thought.  

Organised:  this is a task that can be fairly quickly achieved and is tangible.  Physically organising the freezer, fridge and pantry which are they key elements in this challenge, is something I can be getting on with.  It doesn’t stop there though, once they are organised, how do they stay organised and how do we benefit from them being organised?  Keeping an inventory is key here.  That makes this task a little bit more time consuming and if you can get a helping hand to either write the list as you go through the items, or vice versa then that will save you a bit of time.  I’ll set myself aside some time to do this and report back.
Prepared:  this is a reference to a few different things.  I need to be prepared (and organised) with regards to menu planning, writing shopping lists, doing the weekly shop etc.  Also it means preparing ahead, getting up on a morning and taking tea out of the freezer, batch cooking, taking time to prepare meals ahead.
Useable stock:  what is the point of having a tub of quinoia, pearl barley, blue food colouring and eastern spices if I am never going to use them?  Over the years I have been pulled in to advertising, expensive recipes, following the ideal and impulse buying.  Not any more.  Everything we have in stock needs to be useable.  That may mean I have to be inventive with recipes, avoid others, think differently and so on.  That’s fine, bring it on.  I like the idea of having almost a capsule wardrobe pantry, does that make sense?
Short term and long term:  to me, there’s a obvious need to have fresh and non fresh items.  Dried, frozen, pickled, preserved, whatever it may be.  What is the ideal amount and what benefits can we get from both?  Time will tell.
Adaptable:  Something that will not work for us as a family is restrictions.  We eat at 6:30 on an evening, after we have done the jobs outside and caught up with each other.  Sometimes though, something happens, chickens escape, the wind has blown down a fence, the greenhouse takes longer to water and then everything gets shunted along time wise.  Tea needs to go from a 45 minute Aga time to 15 minutes.  Instead of making lasagne with the ragu, I’m going to heat the ragu and throw it on top of some quick cook spaghetti or penne with a garlic bread.  See what I mean?  I may have some dump bags (idea adapted per The Batch Lady slow cooker) that I can use as a stir fry, or to add to longer cook rice or short cook noodles.  So for my family, adaptability is key.  
Healthy:  I guess this speaks for itself.  One thing that was important to us when we moved here was moving to a more healthy lifestyle, food and drink included, where I cook as much as possible from scratch.  That doesn’t mean we won’t eat fatty food or drink red wine, far from it!  It about a balance and as long as the scales tip in favour of the healthy, I’m happy with that.
Budget friendly:  2020 is about minimising our outgoings and I can not see that ever changing.  Why would you want to spend more than you needed to?  For us, it’s to allow us to pay our mortgage off early, other people will have their reasons.  All to the same goal though. 

I told you I had given it some thought 😂.

So over the coming days and weeks I will add updates as to where I am in The Food Challenge journey.  I will share my inventories, subsequent menu plans and shopping lists, where I shop to get them and recipes for making the meals.  Please join us on this journey, we would love to hear how these things work for you guys and learn from how you do things too.  I’m planning on doing a YouTube video or two on this for anyone who is interested – I will let you know when it’s ready.

In the mean time, I’m off to start the inventory lists, which will inevitably result in a cleaning session too!  I’ll grab some pics of before and after.

Reflections

**I couldn’t get away with wordpress so came back to blogger (apparently a lot of people don’t like blogger but better the devil you know for me).  I only did a few blogs on wordpress to be fair, which you can find here should you be interested.** 

Regardless, and despite its name, this post is about looking forward with learnings we have from the past, mulling things over, planning for 2020 and so on.

I don’t know about you but January is a time for reflection and planning for me, in that order I think.  We are just starting a new decade, we have been on the smallholding for 4 years coming up and we are thrilled to be planning our biggest year yet!  I have said that before, and do you know what, it always has been.  For one reason or another we’ve done more, learnt more or overcome more each year.  The list goes on.  This post is going to be very wordy, so I am going to throw some random cute old pics in just to break it up 🙂



The pups when we got them in 2015
Buddy 
Back in December 2015 after selling our family home, we were in limbo, literally homeless. We were  generously offered to use my Uncle’s house whilst he worked away which was a blessing.  During our time there, I gave some thought to what supermarkets to use once we moved to the smallholding as we had been an avid Aldi shopper for 5 years + by then.  Over the last 4 years we have been up and down with shopping, trialling Tesco, Aldi, home delivery, local grocers etc.  What’s interesting is that the grocery budget in 2016 is exactly what we are setting for 2020 – £300 a month and for 2020 that is a MAX each month, starting with January’s pay at the end of the month.  What I do know is that, for this year at least, with the lifestyle we are aiming for, shopping at Aldi once a week is the answer for us.
Our first hay delivery with a rather chuffed Steven
2020 for us is all about minimising our outgoings and maximising our income.  Now that doesn’t necessarily just mean financially, it could be about reducing waste all round or using what we have more appropriately, both financially, within the household and even health wise (mentl health included).  It can be applied to a multitude of areas such as spending less, earning more, not wasting food, growing AND USING your own food, using less plastic, not wasting time on things that don’t matter…. but let’s not run before we can walk.  
Over the next few blog posts I will share some thoughts on what I mean by this and how we can apply it through 2020.
Birds eye view of the house, barn and veg plot
In many ways we are so much further on than when we started in January 2016.  Our knowledge on growing our own food and raising our own meat has come on leaps and bounds.  Saying that, no matter how much you know, there’s always more to be learnt.  Steven has produced some magnificant woodwork items, been painter and decorator, handy man and maintenance man, learning things we would have only dreamt about previously.  I have taken on so many more skills in the veg plots, kitchen and research which against Steven’s list looks minimal but there’s a lot to be said for those skills.
Something I definitely want to (need to) improve on now we have growing skills is ensuring we harvest everything timely and not only that, but using it!  I am terrible for letting the courgettes grow huge and then letting them go to waste.  Not only courgettes too.  Generally, growing your own goes from a snail’s pace, impatiently waiting for the first shoot or fruit flower, to being over run with produce and not having enough tubs, jars,  freezer or shelf space to preserve it all!

Beautiful crocus flowers showing colour at the end of winter
I have mostly cooked from scratch over the 4 years, although we went through a spell of eating and drinking out far too much.  There was a bit of “we work full time so can enjoy it” conversations combined with the excitement of new neighbours who eat and drink out alot!  We’ve now all settled in to our little routines, seeing each other for events or in passing on a summer day at the pub, so that has worked out very well indeed.
Having said minimising outgoings could be other things, it obviously does gravitat around finances for this year.  Part of the reason we want to cut the spending is to try and get 6 (then 12 etc) month’s wages saved in the bank.  As noones job is as safe as houses and given we still have a (large) mortgage to pay, we need a decent income and we don’t want to be caught short if life throws a curveball.  

So throughout the year, when we feel a splurge coming on or the week leaves us feeling weak and can’t be bothered to make the effort, I/we will remind ourselves of why we are doing this.  To protect our future as well as live a healthier, more fulfilling life.  It’s all or nothing for these 12 months and after that, we will reassess where we are and how we want to continue, but for now, it’s full steam ahead and lock down!  That does not mean no fun, no time out, and living on bread and beans.  Far from it.  I think this year will actually being more fruitful than ever in those areas.  We shall see.
Aww jack when he was 5
Anyway, you get the drift.  We are going at this all out and I can’t wait.

  Outside is going to be the biggest income of all, fruit and veg, so we need to treat it kindly and look after it.  So where do we start:

What should we be doing outside in January to allow for the best crops?
According to RHS website:  January is the coldest month.  In January, your garden could need protecting from frosts, gale-force winds and heavy rain. Check stakes, ties, fleeces and other supports for damage and consider moving plants to sunnier positions to maximize light. Don’t forget to keep feeding the birds, food is scarce for them over winter. You can also start planning next year’s vegetable plot.

I did feed the birds some bacon fat at the weekend but this has reminded me that we need to look after them.  We have a beautiful little robin that visits the veg plot and I’d hate to think s/he went hungry!  It is on the jobs list for Saturday now.



Frosty, winter morning on the smallholding.
Since moving to the smallholding, we have added more raised veg beds, a “mini” orchard & started work on a paddock area which we are still undecided what to do with.  Last year it had pumpkins, corn and chard in.  There’s one solitary chard plant left and the rest has been turned in by the sheep.  
One thing we have an issue with here is weeds.  We are going to get on top of them before they start this year.  Don’t get me started on the nettles, they don’t seem to have died off since Autumn 2019!  One method we have adopted previously is the lasagne method which is described in much better detail that I could do here.  We use horse muck which we have in abundance and we mulch during the year with grass and leaf clippings.  As long as the weeds are suppressed, we can work with the rest.  Luckily most of our raised beds are in great condition and we grew in them straight away, it’s just the new areas or those we neglected originally (priorities & time constraints) which we struggle with soil condition and weeds on.  So minimising weeds to give us back some time is a big outside priority this year.  As Steven always says, 30 minutes a night will stay on top, we can’t leave everything to the weekend.
Asparagus bed
The asparagus bed has pretty much died back ready to be cut and mulched for the really cold weather.  It would survive without mulching, however covering it to protect it from winter, looking after the soil and give nutrients back after such a good harvest is the least we can do.  Asparagus, along with rhubarb is one of earliest crops and comes any time from May and has been prolific every year.  I can’t wait for it, not only because I was gifted an asparagus knife for my December birthday from Steven – it’s the little things!  We popped a black dustbin over a rhubarb plant that hasn’t been forced in the last 4 years to see how that works out.  Last year we forced an early variety and it was prolific.  Rhubarb is one of my favourite plants, not least because it tastes amazing in gin 😉

We can also start with repairs in the veg plot as we have recently sourced some free wood.  A few beds have dropped to bits through rot and others could do with raising a little, though we haven’t talked that through yet, so it might not be an option.  Therefore this weekend, we don’t have anywhere to be or anything to do (ie Christmas has seen us inside more than out) which can only mean one thing!  A day spent in the veg plot with a mug of hot soup to keep you warm and a full English to see you through.  Bliss! 


I shall be posting at least once a week through 2020 and I hope you continue to join us on our next chapter in this fantastic journey.  Please, if you get time, drop a comment so I know this is getting out there still.
Take care everyone and speak soon 🙂

Happy New Year – the next chapter!

Happy New Year to one and all, I hope you all enjoy whatever it is you set out to do this year.  Life is for living and I continue to try and make the most of every minute. 
Around this time, many people are reflecting on what the last year brought for them. Today I am going to focus on the plans we have for 2018. The reason is, come January 15th we will have our 2nd year moving in anniversary, which is when I will look back on 2017.
I was outside in the back garden this morning with the dogs, as we are house training Annie. I generally have to stand there a while, come rain or shine, night or day so I get plenty of time to think and plan. This year we have some big plans and I am ridiculously excited about them.

Firstly we need to look even further forward, to 2020, which is when we hope Ste can run this place full time. What does that mean? We’re still working it out, but it will pull in a small profit to give us the pocket money we need to ‘live off’. To do this we need to know exactly how much we spend and on what, so I know how much money we need to just live. To a degree, we already know. However I need details. So the idea this year is to make a note of every penny spent on groceries and food. Groceries includes household items such as washing up liquid, soap, shampoo etc. I am still working out how I’ll report back on this on the blog. Maybe totals weekly or monthly.  Food also includes any money we spend on eating out/takeaways/eating on days out etc.
To keep food and household bills down, we will have to continue to think differently. We grow a lot of fruit and veg already and that’s going to take off even more this year.

Secondly, to help with that take off, in March/April, we’re buying a polytunnel which is going where the pigs were last year. We will plant directly into the ground in there as it’ll be perfectly manured thanks to the pigs. It’s going to be a big polytunnel, an investment, so we need to plan, plan, plan and get busy! I am also researching which company to use for the purchase.

Thirdly we’re getting more pigs around the same time as the polytunnel. We plan on getting 3 pigs, a traditional breed which we won’t breed from this year, but hope to sell the meat off 1 to back pay for the keep of the other 2.

Fourthly, also at a similar time (wow, we’re going to be busy) we are hoping to have April fools day lambs. Or there abouts! The tup has been with our girls for two cycles now, and is still here. We plan on getting them scanned in February I think it is, to see what’s what.  Sorry to those who don’t agree, however the pigs and lambs will all be for meat/sale.

Fifthly (that doesn’t sound right), we are going to have a separate fund for 2 new bathrooms.  This again is something that is a long term investment. It’ll keep the house in good condition and sort out a damp/mould problem we have in our bathroom. That won’t be until after the summer that we do that as we need to save first and I think we have enough on in March/April and May!

Finally, we don’t know when this one will happen, but Ste is going to convert one of our small outbuildings (or find something suitable) to turn into a workshop which he desperately needs and will be a must for when he works from home and runs this place full time.

So this is the start of my planning posts, sorry there’s been a lack of photos.  I’ll put some below as there’s always a cute puppy one to be had!  As we start to put these plans in actions, I’ll of course keep the blog updated.

In the mean time, I’m sowing seeds and looking for potato recommendations (maincrop for north east planting that are good storers anyone?) which I will post about this week. 

Have a lovely New Year’s Day evening.  After going to feed the horses now, we shall be mostly sitting down as I have caught the lurgy (cold/throat/chest) that is doing the rounds and need to recharge.

What’s your plan b?

On Friday we were due a delivery of oil which would see us through the worst of the winter. I received a text and an email to say there was to be a delay in getting it. Now that was very unusual.  Typically I’d let the oil go lower than we normally would, so we were desperate for it come Friday. That was a mistake which I won’t repeat!
I rang up BoilerJuice which is where we place our orders through and they informed me there’s no oil for delivery in the north east of England at the moment. Not just where I am, but the north and north east! Apparently there’s a problem with the ships docking due to bad weather conditions. Now I don’t know where they dock, but we’ve not had any conditions that we haven’t seen before. The lady on the phone told me it was unprecedented. It all sounds a bit off to me, but it didn’t change the fact that we had no oil.
I went out and switched the main supply from the tank off and then the AGA. Boy that’s sad to do. Luckily I had a day off work on Friday so I set about getting the wood burner going ready for the kids coming in and checked the electric oven was working (we never use it except at Christmas!). It was. However I have never used the emersion heater for the water (normally ran off oil) so I had to guess as to how to switch it on. Not hard, you press the button, but when you don’t know if it’s the right button, it’s a bit tense! These are all costs I wouldn’t normally endure and I do think overall will be more expensive that the oil would cost me to provide the same service.
Anyway, we have log upon logs so I know we could stay warm, but the coal was low. This wasn’t like me, I am normally super organised and typically this series of events was going from bad to worse! Ste managed to source some coal on Saturday fairly quickly.
So we still have no oil, but are stocked up on coal. We’ve dug out the oil filled radiators and put them on in the kids bedrooms as the house is truly bitter, we’re at -5 here tonight. I kids you not that I am sleeping in a hat my nana knit me! The next problem is, the electricity is going off for 6 hours this week, it’s making me wonder what we’d do next if the cooker and emersion were to be out of action for a while. Would you be prepared for the worst? I know I didn’t feel it, but I’m going to make sure we’re ready for the next time.


We actually don’t have snow here today, I think we’re the only place in the country! These are a couple of days old now. The landscape is changing so much as we move deeper into winter.