Summer holidays and exciting news!

We are in the midst of our summer break here. I’ve taken 2 weeks off work to catch up on the smallholding and start to prep for winter 2018.  I also have some exciting news to share with you.

The veg plot and friends:
Taking the 2 weeks off work, before the August bank holiday every year, is proving to be a really good time to have off from a smallholding point of view.  There’s so many things to harvest and preserve.  I spent the first few days weeding.  After the prolonged dry weather, then the burst of rain, the weeds have been forcing their way through and bringing their friends.  I managed to weed the potato bed, the squash bed, peas and beans, outdoor tomatoes and the roots beds.  My daughter also helped put some hay (it was too dusty for the horses, perfect for the veg patch so didn’t go to waste) under the squash to protect them from the wet soil.  

This year the plum are non existent but last year was a super year and the branches were snapping from the trees, so we aren’t surprised but it’s a shame.  The damsons are doing ok though and are almost ready.  I’ve spotted a few wild plums along the lane so we will pick them this week and use them.

Apples on the other hand are doing AMAZINGLY well this year!  This variety is Discovery, which we got from Kev over on An English Homestead and they are the nicest eaters ever, I was pleasantly surprised.  Look at the size of them!
More apples on the back trellace as cordons from Kev, doing very well too but later varieties.
 Outdoor tomatoes are loving the long, hot summer weather so far, though the muggy weather we have now is ripe for blight, so we are on blight watch daily.  I can’t recommend this variety highly enough, it’s called “Outdoor Girl”.
This is the second harvest we have had from these and there’s another couple of the same again to come.
 Every year we grow a pumpkin or large squash of some variety and this isn’t huge yet, but we’re pleased with it.  There’s a local county show we go to, for some fun competition where we will show this.  We won first place last year!
 This variety is called Sibley squash and I got the seeds from real seed.  They are supposed to keep very well through winter, becoming noticeably sweeter after New Year apparently.  The plants have been prolific this year.
 The indoor tomatoes are doing beautifully.  After a rubbish crop last year, where I didn’t even get to bottle any, I’m pleased they are coming along nicely.  I’ve never seen so many tomatoes on one vine as this variety.  The variety if Ildi.
Next year we must do more against the cabbage white butterfly.  This year seems to have been horrendous for them!  To be double sure, I intend to grow the young plants undercover and then when I plant out, put them straight under enviromesh.  It’s not cheap but apparently is worth it.
Two of my favourite summer veg, broad beans and courgettes.  Just as well as there’s loads!  Only 1 variety of courgette this year, I prefer the yellow and will stick with that each year now.   
 The kids have been brilliant during our time off and very helpful.  I’ll explain more in a moment, but here they are in my potting (or plotting as Jack calls it) shed enjoying some treats after a morning of hard graft.
 The damsons I mentioned.
 Old apple trees in the orchard, doing well this year.
On the smallholding:

We’re getting the outside jobs done.  Some nice and some not so nice.  There’s not only weeding to be done in the veg plot, but there’s plenty around the smallholding too.  Nettles are everywhere and boy are they stingers.  The car park looks more like a field, so we’ve hand weeded part of it, with the rest to be done.  We have trees to fell to give us Winter 2019 heat as they will need to season for a year or so.  We’re picking up 20 Ross Cobb day old chicks from our supplier tomorrow.  They will be slow raised to a decent weight when they will go in the freezer for 2019 chicken.  They are to be housed for the first few weeks in the poultry shed which is (hopefully) fox proof as we still have a fox issue.  
Additionally we’re picking up some Rhode Island Red day old chicks too, which will start off 2019 laying hens.  Cockerels will go to the freezer too, bar 1.
With all this in mind, we needed a processing area for when the time comes.  Ste has built this small shelter at the back of the smallholding for that purpose.  It’s great isn’t it and will last for years at a small cost to us financially.
Ryan, our female goose as some of you may remember, has decided she wants to sit on her eggs again.  The previous lot that were sat on this year didn’t hatch, so I don’t know if Neville, our gander, is performing or not.  

 Below is the small paddock.  The fenced, nettled area is where we ran the pigs on in 2017.  There is a small wooded area at the back and the rest of the paddock is currently laid to grass.  At the moment we need the grass for the sheep as the horses have the big field, but we just can’t decide what to do for the best with this area in the long run.  The pig area will be brilliant for growing in once it is clear, given the muck they produced.


In the kitchen:
The rhubarb vodka is ready, so I have decanted it into bottles and oh my it is nice.

We decided to sell our kitchen table even though I love it, as I wanted a bigger one.  We were all set until we realised we already have the perfect size table in the dining room which we never use except at Christmas. 

 With a lovely farmhouse tablecloth over it, it really suits the kitchen and is the perfect size for us.

So now we’re reevaluating what to do with the other table and the space we’ve created in the dining room (which was a snug).
The kids have been baking, but I forgot to take photos as I was playing negotiator.  Brownies, scones and millionaire shortbread!  No diets in this house for now!  The kids and Annie had plenty of cuddle time too!  

She simply is the kindest natured dog with them.  She is the perfect guard dog too, you won’t get in the house without being barked at followed by a warm welcome if we tell her it’s ok.  Can’t wish for a better dog.
I also made a tomato soup which turned out to be very bland.  Unsure what to do, the next day I made “half the garden soup” from Hugh’s River Cottage book and when it called for a kilo of toms and stock I decided to just use the tomato soup instead, plus a bit of my ‘souper mix’ from Pam Corbin’s book and goodness me, it worked out well.  
I’ve also been making slow cooker stews, pulled ham, pork and roasting chickens.  A lot will be returned to the freezer once made ready to reheat as evening meals once we are back to work.

The next plan….
So now for the exciting part.  The next plan.  It’s been forming for a year or so, but we’ve taken the time to formalise it whilst we have been off work.  Starting now and until end of May 2019, we are stockpiling a years worth of long life or non perishable goods. 
Come June 1st, we’re embarking on living off one wage and saving the other.  This will allow us to have a years worth of savings in the bank, which leads on to phase 2 of the plan, for another day.
From June 1st we will have an annual grocery budget that equates to £25 a week.  This is only for the likes of milk, butter, flour, cheese, kids lunch items.  Everything else, literally, will come from our ‘stores’ as we refer to it, the years worth of supplies we have stockpiled prior to June.
That means we also need to find an additional £1300 cash to have to hand from June 01st, which is the annual budget.  Any income after June 01st is being saved.  As we’re stockpiling, our outgoings are already going to increase so we need to have this cash as additional to what we have now.  Time to sell what we don’t need and make money where we can.
It’s all part of the lifestyle shift that we have bought in to and I can’t wait to get started.

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.

Preparing for winter….small steps

There is a cold front coming towards the end of the week so I’m making plans to ensure we don’t get caught out.  The last thing we want to be doing is walking to the wood store or topping up the outside animals’ bedding when it’s either raining or snowing, which is predicted.  According to today’s forecast on the BBC for our postcode, the temperature will drop from Thursday.
So the plan is:
  • Have all hats, scarves and gloves ready.
  • Bring wet shoes in to dry in front of the Aga.
  • Order new muck boots as mine are full of cracks – you get what you pay for.
  • Put extra straw into hens area for warmth.
  • Have horses rugs out ready to put on.
  • Top sheep hay up and move crystalyx to less poached area (unrelated to cold, but I just remembered!)
  • Keep animals water topped up constantly with spare buckets full in case pipes freeze over again.
  • Put extra food in for hens, cook pasta for bed time treat and have porridge ready to put in warm on a morning.
  • Have thick socks, thick trousers, jumpers and coat ready for Thursday morning for the morning feeds.  The last thing I want to be doing at 5:15am is hunting for warm clothes.
  • Fill the log basket.
  • Fill the coal basket.
  • Ensure enough kindling.
  • Have blankets in the room so we can cosy up as a family and if it does snow, watch it sat next to the wood burner with a hot chocolate in hand.
  • Just in case, have a sledge ready for us to have lots of fun on!
 
Planning a little further ahead I need to make sure we have enough medicine in should we need it.  We take tablets as infrequently as possible and prefer as natural a remedy as possible, but if we need to, we take it. 
 
In the meantime, I know this list can be seen as totally over the top, so here’s a picture of the dogs all chilling together to relax us all J

It was nearly 9C in the barn this morning.  Far too mild for this time of the year.  It’s turned out to be a bright day and the rain that was forecast didn’t really arrive.

Bringing home the harvests….and a rosette

I am so very proud to say I managed to snag 3rd prize for my pumpkin in the local show at the weekend.  It was a fantastic event and there are some very serious competitors out there.  We entered a jam, chutney, apples and a painting, none of which registered, making my pumpkin rosette even more worth it!  It’s now proudly hanging off one of the beams in my kitchen.  The pumpkin is now waiting for October when it will be proudly carved ready for the Halloween party we’re putting on for the kids and neighbours.  The other pumpkins are still on the plant in the veg plot.

I’ve been working away thinking about what I can plant now to harvest before the winter and also on my 2017 veg plot plan.  I have a first draft here though it may well be changed.  The crops are where they are due to what’s been planted this year and rotating.  The Plot 1/2/3/4 refer to what can be grown with each other.  I took the info from the gardenfocused website which I’m finding really useful.

This weekend I managed to sow spinach, corn salad, pak choi and my daughter kindly sowed radish.  I’m recording what I’m sowing in my spreadsheet and book and will not what harvest we get etc for using the information next year.

Preparing for winter.

When we moved in, we set up a housekeeping account which we use for any house related income and outgoings.  One of the unknowns that I try to budget for is heating oil.  Each month we put away £125, ready to fill the tank when we need to.  It also pays for our coal.  The amount we have left in the tank, we’re hoping, will last us until the end of August and then the money we’ve saved will buy us 1000 litres of oil and also another car full of coal.  This is the start of our preparing for winter. 

We have log burners which we use as a heating source for the main house, but they aren’t linked to the central heating system so they only warm the room they’re in, plus a bit of escape heat into the corridors.  Our heating in the new house isn’t great, it merely takes the chill off and given that our house is 100’s of years old, it’s glacial inside during Winter, so taking the chill off simply brings it up to a zero temperature opposed to a positive temperature (or so it feels like).  Therefore I begrudge putting the heating on as I don’t think we’re benefitting enough from the amount of oil we’re using.  We do however have the Aga which is on constantly and heats the kitchen so it is lovely and toasty.  We’ve taken the decision not to turn it off for the summer.  We use the two plates on the top to dry a multitude of clothes, boil the kettle and keep it warm, toast our bread, cook our eggs, plus use the main ovens for all of our meals.  At present, with oil prices being so low when we last bought oil in January, this wasn’t a difficult decision to make, however if oil prices go back up to their sky high 50p+ a litre then we would switch it off over the summer.  Maybe.

Another expense of the Aga is to get it serviced twice a year.  Now I don’t know if this is overkill, but that’s what we were advised.  It’s an old solid fuel conversion which now runs on the oil and it’s circa 45 years old so I want to take good care of it.  The service is £80 a time *gulp*.

In other planning ahead news, we’re having a housewarming party now the main jobs are done and the weather is being kinder to us.  We’re combining this with my son’s 6thbirthday which has resulted in catering for around 100 guests!  I am really looking forward to it but by the same token must plan, plan, plan.  I’ve been good and accepted all help where it’s been offered, from bringing food & drink, to coming to help set up the night before and also an offer of a gazeebo to be prepared for the weather, umbrellas, tables for food and so on.  We have some lovely, helpful friends which we would struggle without, so thumbs up for them!

Throwing a party means that this month’s grocery budget will be stretched out to cater for everything, however I think we can do it and I love a good challenge (plus it’s ‘Bring your own boose’ so that expense is gone straight away!).

Finally for today, dare I say this, once we’ve had the party, I shall be planning for Christmas.  Now don’t shoot me, I love Christmas.  However this year is obviously hugely important as it’s our first Christmas in the new home.  We’re inviting all of our family over who want to come and I’ll do a traditional Christmas lunch for everyone, play games, have family time, drink mulled wine and generally enjoy how blessed we are.  I would like December to be full of Christmas cheer and that does not include stressing over cards, gifts and food.  I would like to do a get together/open house for the neighbours and some close friends but I need to think about how I’d manage that to keep numbers down, where do you draw the line!?