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.

A time to celebrate – Happy Anniversary to us.

We moved into our smallholding 1 year ago today. 

We had moved out of our family home on November 27th and into my Uncle’s house which was mostly unoccupied by him for the next 7 weeks.  It sounds nothing now, but when you are waiting for something, time drags.  Here I am now in disbelief that a year has gone by.
As most of you will know, we couldn’t be happier living where we do.  The failed sales, drop outs, useless solicitors and estate agents and the long scary journey to pick the keys up was all worth it. 
On moving day, Steven had gone with my Dad, brother in law and a friend to the lock up where our worldly belongings were, Mum was on childcare duty before and after school.  I had to drive 45 minutes to get the keys, that would be fine it the roads hadn’t flooded, the sat nav hadn’t failed and my phone gave up en route!  Literally!  I’d managed to get there ok but it took twice as long to get back and with no phone I couldn’t let people know I was safe.  It was worth it though, walking in to the new house, setting the alarm off and not knowing the code – everything fell straight in to place.
I haven’t missed our old house like I thought we would.  We have a lot of memories in that house, but they came with us and the house is now being lived in by another family.
We were meant to live here – I am sure of it.
So we moved into our little smallholding at the end of a lane, set in 4 acres of the beautiful English countryside, that sits alongside a river, standing proudly against the beautiful backdrop.  We have a barn, greenhouse and veg plot plus 2 small open barns that we utilise.
Here’s a few memories from our journey, please celebrate with us before we go feet first into 2017’s journey.
The Aga:
We would not be without one now. Simple as that.  It sounds cliché, but it is the heart of our home.  I’ve written about it many times.  You simply can’t beat Aga food.  I’m building up my Aga kitchen wear over the years.  It’s great stuff. 
We keep our bums warm on it, it dries our clothes, heats our hats and gloves, makes the dogs feel cosy, bakes amazing cakes, taught my daughter the love of cooking and provides a comforting warmth for poorly children.

The Self Sufficient Journey.
Well this has been even better than I expected.  I couldn’t wait to get going with sowing seeds.  I wanted to be producing our own food from day 1!  Then I realised there are no shortcuts and no quick returns as such.  I had planned a lot though, and I am learning from it this year and so on.

The vision hasn’t changed – on our smallholding, I want to produce as much of the food my family consumes.  How possible that is will change year by year, hopefully increasing. 
Last year we started with chickens for meat and eggs.  We put a stake in the ground and tried 2 of our Cream Legbar cockerels.  This was the first time we’d slaughtered our own birds and we weren’t overly impressed with the first one but the 2nd one was nice.  We then made friends, read blogs, researched more and discovered a new breed (to us) that we are going to use this year, Ross Cobbs.    Over the year we put 7 more cockerels in the freezer, and had countless eggs from the hens.  We sold a lot which covered the cost of the feed through Summer and Autumn. 

Our layers that we brought with us – the oldies

I didn’t keep records for these, but I am this year.  Our first egg from the hens we brought with us was a double yoker, a sign of the bountiful things to come.

Almost immediately we bought some hatching eggs and put them in the new incubator that Steven had got for Christmas.

The hatched into lovely little chicks, the first of many! 

The geese came a couple of weeks after moving in.  We’d had this planned for so long, we just needed to source some.  We found some advertised locally and made our first new smallholding friend.  A small family renting a farm in a town not farm from us.  We soon went back for ducks when we decided to get them too.  It’s good to have the right contacts.

The geese hatched their eggs with no help from us.  It was such a heart warming sight.  Mamma goose didn’t like us being there so we snapped a photo and left.

 The asparagus shot through, literally a few inches a day.  We were astounded. 

 Another goose hatched but Mamma goose didn’t want to know…..so we took him under our wing and that’s where Ryan’s story started.

We started to uncover and prepare the veg beds for planting.  We had no idea what anything was like, the soil, if anything was lurking underneath or how things would go.  We couldn’t wait!


Before
After
I managed to start leeks and tomatoes off not long after moving in.
We got the hang of growing as the year went on and had some cracking harvests.

We’ve bought 2 chest freezers, second hand and working perfectly, to house the next year’s meat and any fruit and veg that can’t be used there and then. 

We have learnt to look forward, plan ahead but more importantly, be flexible.  The weather, animals, kids, work, farmers, everything has an impact on what we do and we have to be ready to adapt at that very moment.  Self reliance is a key aspect of the new lifestyle.


Home cooking.
One of my fondest things.  Good food on the table (good, not expensive), with a family all sat round together, gives you time to bond.  It also means I need to occasionally lose the plot trying to get my son to eat his veg, but I am human so let’s move on.
I have loved putting food on the table in 2016.  I found the summer more difficult as I wanted to be outside all of the time, so I will be prepared for that in 2017.  Now we have a dining room, I’m taking over from my Mum who used to invite the family round for Sunday lunches.  I really enjoy seeing people enjoy the food I’ve made.  More importantly – it’s made from good stuff.  Don’t get me wrong, we’re not there yet, bad food slips in sometimes, but again, I’m human and such is life.
I’ve been making my own bread, using the bread maker.  The bread is amazing, I know what’s in it and I can work it around my time.  This works for me and as we know, we do what works for us.
I have tried all sorts of cakes, my first one being to repay the farmer for helping us when we moved in.  He lifted our stables from the artic lorry to our house (along the lane) and had met us only the day before. 



The stables going up
Lovely, lovely people who we’ve since made friends with and have enjoyed their company from time to time.  We stay in touch via text and look out for each other. 

Most weekends we have had family and friends over and most of the time they are fed and watered and go away happy.

Fences.
Oh Fence!  Soon after moving in we started on fences.  We paid a contractor to put a fence along the bottom of the field.  Cows had grazed it before and they didn’t need confining as the field next to us was the farmers, who owned the cows.  Well my horses wouldn’t respect any boundaries without fences and given the river was right at the end of the field down a ditch, I didn’t fancy calling the fire brigade to rescue my horses at any point!  Steven was working full time, we had no fencing tools and it made sense for the first fence to get someone in.  It was done within a couple of days and we were very pleased.

As soon as that one was up, Steven took over the reins.  We bought an auger and the power tools needed to put the fences up.  It was just as well as it seems fencing on smallholdings is a never ending thing?!

Good boy for staying put Jake!

2016….what a year.

We’ve got used to being supplied by oil and ordering it in, having a painfully slow internet connection at times (I work from home 3 nights a week, it’s not just a Facebook moan!), going out to lock up and check on animals at all hours, put others before ourselves and taking strength from each other when days seem a bit much.
We have learnt to embrace how we see life and not to feel ashamed by it.  Wanting to grow your own, raise and slaughter your own animals, enjoy looking at a field and shovelling sh*t, seeing beauty in things others just see dirt or moan that it smell and generally living the good life, looking up at the stars just because we can and not being afraid of the dark (it’s very dark here!).

Our family has grown closer, we’ve walked, had picnics, laughed and cried.  Raised 2 healthy puppies and kept our old man Buddy going a lot longer than any of us expected.

Buddy has always loved his cuddles.

 Siblings have occasionally got on

We have some of the best views all around us.  I kid you not, there isn’t a day goes by that I am not thankful for them or some aspect of what we have.

We have managed to make new friends who helped us when we needed it….even if it was to raid their wood pile!
We love seeing new things come from old items.  Paying cash is the last option, after all, we’re trying to keep our outgoings down.

The kids have played outside, just like kids should.

We used our metal detector on our field and dug up some treasure.
 The Vorwerks watched whilst we worked.

The the second part of the self sufficient movement came along.  We bought 3 lambs and are raising them to have their own lambs in 2018, filling our freezers with lamb.

We’ve had a lot of firsts in the new house.  Halloween was fabulous and low key.
Ensure we did things as a family 
and as a couple
Saw the first snow 
Fixed things that broke, learning as we went.

 Found free wood wherever we could to keep up warm in the winter

Had a Christmas to remember 
Got on making new veg beds for the coming year 
Tried to see a silver lining when things were frustrating 
animals are usually the cause!

So all in all, we have lived, laughed and loved.  We have found out forever home – let’s carry on enjoying every minute (and forgetting the ones we don’t).

The Veg Plot

A lot of people are asking, jokingly, if we will open a market garden.  Whilst I smile back at them and laugh along at the idea of us being able to do anything like that, I really like the idea of it.  We are hoping to sell the eggs on, for eating and fertile, the muck heap can go for free to allotments and home made bread is a hit with the family already, so the thought of growing something that people might actually like to buy isn’t too far out there. Let’s get it supplying food for our table first I can hear my husband saying!

We have a rectangular shaped veg plot, sectioned off and rabbit proofed (I presume this should state as much as possible here).  Looking from google maps you can see the veg plot on the bottom middle of the picture. 

 
The beds are as follows:
Central far bed.  Soil based, obviously used by previous owner as fire pit area.  We’d like to grow in it.
Onion bed before
Onion bed after

Stood at far end of veg bed looking back on row one

Bed 1 currently has roses in.  Not sure what value they have from food production point of view (for us I mean, not the previous owners)

Bed 2.  Why only half covered?  They had spare tarpaulin so wondering if there’s a reason.

Is this asparagus?

No idea what’s in here but there is some sort of frame at the far end.

Hopefully a bed ready to use this week.  We’ve not looked underneath.

Another one that should be ready to go.

Blue arches?

I think this is just weeds now.

Might weed this and leave it to see what comes up

This is where the ash was put but it hasn’t been dug in?
The only bed DH has managed to start, which is more than I’ve done, is the onion bed.  We bought some onion sets from B&M to try and popped them all.  They take up about 2/3rds of the bed I labelled.  I am going to plant some mint around it too as apparently that’s a good companion plant.  The remaining 1/2 may be potatoes, which will also have a full bed of their own.
 
How exciting!!!!!
 
The post wouldn’t be complete without the latest animal pictures.
Not interested in getting their faces on the blog

Love this photo

The new and the old, all friends.
 

We’re in!!! We did it!!!

I can’t quite believe it!!!  We did it!!! 

I have no internet at home….home!!! We have a new home!  It is AMAZING, I am so happy there.  We all are.  We feel like we have lived there all of our lives already.  The kids love it, the dogs love it and we have the horses and chickens home too.  I am making all food from scratch and thoroughly loving the home made lifestyle.

So for today, I just wanted to let everyone know that we’re in, it went extremely smoothly, we’ve worked nonstop for the past week and that we couldn’t be happier.  Our little piece of English countryside is now outside our back door.  I have so many photos, questions, comments and stories to share.

Internet will be installed on 28th January and I will have the longest blog post to date!!!  I apologise in advance for it now J.  Thank you to everyone who has posted so far, I intend to read them all and reply to each one as soon as I get internet at home.  I feel honoured that people are interested and curious.

Take care everyone.