Friday, 30 June 2017

Rain, rain and more rain - but that's ok!

I think most of the UK has had rain this week.  The ground here desperately needed it.  It's rained non stop for a good few days so all of the water butts are full.  Some of the barn guttering is blocked from downpours and things are looking a bit depressed (my chamomile is squished for example) but once the sun comes it'll right itself.  However some of the animals are loving it:

Some not so much


 The 4 Vorwerk girls and 2 boys sought shelter in the barn, you only ever see them in here at feeding time but looks like they all fancied a trip to the hairdressers together.


After complaining about the pigs not turning the field over as much as we'd hoped - look at it now after the rain!  I'm really pleased.  These 2 will be going within the next month and they will have done a great job by then.  Once they go we will get in there and take out the roots they've uprooted but not eaten, maybe rake or tiller it depending how it is and then leave it until March when it'll be planted up with potatoes then squash later in the year.  We're also growing 2018 pigs fodder in here.




The sunflowers are now heading for 5 or 6 foot and some are really strange looking!  Pretty colours all the same.



Look at the sweetcorn!  This has flew up with the recent downpours!
 

This morning I was outside at 5:30 sowing seeds.  Crazy you might say but there's method in my madness.  Firstly, my back was giving me jip and I needed to walk it off, secondly on a weekend I always seem to get distracted by other jobs like weeding and thirdly I find I get a lot more achieved when I get out of bed and get on with it straight away.  Of course I had to go to work so the only way to get everything done is get up early and crack on!  The seeds I got in were spring onion, pak choi, leeks (second cropping, winter giant 3), perpetual spinach, cauliflower autumn giant, cabbage verbote 3 (which was organic and I'd not realised).

The rain always makes the veg plot look so green so I quickly snapped a couple of shots for you to see from this morning.

Beans intercropped with spinach in this closest shot


Lavender and spuds in this view, plus the obligatory steel bin to burn stuff in!


 Chamomile is what you can see, all squashed in the middle of this pic.

Brassicas with Jerusalem artichokes below.  I wasn't sure if these would be ok together but I am moving the artichokes to a metal bin (with holes in) one this round is done.


That's my round up done, enjoy the weekend.


Thursday, 29 June 2017

Shearing sheep saga but a bit of smallholding luck

For those of you who don't know, I'll admit it. We tried to shear our own sheep a weekend or two ago. We read up on it, ordered electric shears and watched lots and lots of YouTube videos, so we were totally prepared, right? Wrong!! So, so wrong.
It was due to be very hot on the Saturday onwards, so on the Friday after work we put the horses out in the fields to free up the stables, where they all had a good roll and enjoyed the sun on their backs.



We herded the sheep into the stables where we had the gear set up. Ste decided which one we were to do first and put her on her back in the correct position. She fought, she wasn't supposed to do that. We must have something wrong. So we adjusted, and she settled. Off we went. "Shoot", the shears don't glide through like they do on YouTube. We percivere and lose about 10 litres of water though sweat. After what feels like 2 hours but in reality is 20 minutes, we give up as we're stressing her and us.
We resorted to manual shears and the sheep standing on all 4 legs! She stood better that way. I think we did a grand job but turns out not haha!




We fear her friends were laughing at her, so we put a cry for help out. 


We are so lucky that a friend of ours responded that same night, only 2 hours later, she and her lovely husband turned up with clippers who know what they were doing! He does it for a living and had just finished his flock.




He did our 3 in no time and I am pleased to say we have an agreement for the next few years too!
In another stroke of luck, we had a couple of beers afterwards and they offered us their tup called Charlie for use at home before they use him on theirs!! This is amazing news for us and goes to show what a bit of friendship and luck can do for us smallholders.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Home grown tea and mini orchard update

For the last couple of week's we've been having mostly home grown teas. They mostly revolve around chicken, boiled potatoes, asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli, spinach, Swiss chard, kale and onion. I feel very happy to think that almost all of the teas are home grown.
This time of year is abundant for harvests and it certainly feels like we have to prioritise what to do as the list is ever expanding. We've been working on the mini orchard which is where the apple trees are that we bought off Kev. They're all looking really healthy so I know he will be pleased to hear that.
Our next stage was to tidy it all up. Weeds are our nemesis, as every gardener no doubt. I loathe giving time to them so we decided to work smartly and do what we can do to keep them at bay or kill them completely.


So we looked around and gave thought to what we can do cheaply and effectively. We've loads  of branches off trees piled up around the smallholding and in time these need shifting. So it dawned on us that we can use our wood chipper that we bought as part of this place killing two birds with one stone again! We started putting the branches through the chipper and have managed to produce some really great wood chip!


We took the grass out around the orchard, ground membraned it and covered it all with wood chip. I can't believe how neat and tidy, and weed free it is!  The back section is still flowers and fruit trees so in soil so weeds will still come through there but we can work with that for now.


Another job ticked off the list :)


 
 




 


Monday, 26 June 2017

Monday night preserves - rhubarb pickle, dehydrated Swiss chard, strawberry cordial and strawberry vodka 

I'm really enjoying using my Monday nights to do preserving. It's a really satisfying feeling preserving seasonal produce that we've grown right here!
I harvested some more rhubarb tonight and hardly touched what was in the plot. The plants are doing amazingly. Using Pam Corbin's book still, I make the spring (I know, it's summer) rhubarb relish. It's the first time I've made a spice bag up and as I don't have any special bags, I used my imagination. A muslin cloth with a knot tied in it. After all, that's all it needs to be right? This one contained 2 snapped cinnamon sticks, 6 cloves and a piece of bruised ginger.

The bag was placed with 500g sugar, 100ml of both cider vinegar and water and placed over a gentle heat to dissolve the sugar. Then taken off the heat for 20 mins to allow it to diffuse.
Then the chopped rhubarb and raisins go in and it was simmered for 30 mins.

Then piled into sterilised jars. Again, I've used some of the smaller jars that are for Christmas hampers. The other 2 full jars will be kept into the depth of winter when we need a bit of summer happiness.

I also put some blanched Swiss chard (1 minute) in the dehydrator as I want to make some green powder. Basically vitamins and minerals in a jar which I can sneak in to food that the kids won't notice but it'll also add flavour.


We've also popped some of the millions of strawberries we have into some vodka with a bit of sugar (200g per litre of vodka for my reference). There's a bit for us to test and again, some for Christmas hampers.

Finally, earlier this week, we made some strawberry cordial. I brought the strawberries and water to the boil, crushed them a bit then added to sugar to the cooking remix, left them overnight (500g strawberries to 400g sugar and 500ml water). The sugar needed a little heating through again to dissolve and the strawberries were crushed a bit more with a masher. We strained it overnight again and poured into sterilised bottles. So easy! It's delicious. Ste prefers this one however the elderflower still has the edge for me.

I am going to get my thinking cap on for next week as so many things are ready to harvest and I don't want to miss capturing any! I hope someone finds these preserving nights helpful, even if it is just to provoke thoughts about seasonal eating and knowing where our food comes from.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Goslings round 2!

On Friday night we enjoyed our neighbours company for the whole night, so we didn't get any extra work done on the smallholding but we did have a lovely night of food and drink.
That meant we had to be up and at 'em early doors on Saturday as we try to make the most of every minute of the weekend. The veg garden (we call the new bit this, the older part we refer to as the veg plot) needed tidying up as it's still got grass in between the beds until we get it all complete. So we took the lawnmower in and gave it a quick trim.

When we opened up on the morning, Neville (male goose) didn't come out, which is unusual. So we took a sneaky peak inside and spotted these:
I was over the moon because if you remember, she hatched one a couple of months ago and the poor thing died. The amazing Mama goose hatched 5 goslings this time and she has been a brilliant mother so far. They were hatched 24th June 2017 just for my reference.
We've continued to harvest strawberries and are up to 9kg now! just as well we have plans for them all isn't it?

The tomatoes are coming along great and are supplying us with enough to have with salads once a day, but nothing yet to preserve.

However we did have a disaster. I somehow managed to leave the greenhouse door open, without a net on. I have to have a net to stop the chickens getting in. So yes, you guessed it, my prize beefsteak tomato eaten, but only half, the chickens didn't have the decency to finish it off!!
We dispatched a couple of ducks this weekend so that's the start of the freezers getting full of home raised meat to go with the veg. Also we were offered a free freezer which is brilliant! Laying out hands on things like this really helps the pennies take care of themselves.
Finally we have some cherries almost ready to harvest. The key now will be holding our nerve long enough for them to ripen but not long enough to allow the birds to strip them bare which they can do in a day! The tree we've netted is not ready yet.

We also have spent pretty much all weekend on the little orchard we have. There's some great work going on there which I will share with you mid week. Hopefully this post makes sense, it's late and I'm waiting to lock up (once the light has gone after 10:30) so if it doesn't, I can be forgiven 😉

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

We're good for vegetables but what about the meat?

At the end of last year, as is the norm for us, our minds turned to what we want to try in the coming year. In 2016 we'd tried our own chickens as table birds and they were just not worth it. The meat didn't even go round a family Sunday lunch which is no good to us. So after some investigations, we decided to try and find some Ross Cobbs.
Well, turns out they are like hens teeth for the smallholder to get. They are sold as day old chicks but in their thousands!! A sale of 20 to 40 chicks was laughed at! So we tried to get the fertile eggs, again, no luck for the small scale person.
Then Dawn got some as day olds in Wales and she said she'd try and sort us out with eggs if she managed to get hers up and laying, though she has them for table birds like we wanted to. Such a kind offer and we still kept on looking.
We knew a local ish farm shop sells the finished table bird (for £40 I might add!!!) so we went in and got talking with the owner. As luck would have it, he orders in Ross Cobbs every 3 weeks to raise for his shop.  He said we could buy some off him! Perfect, a little bit of luck goes a long way!
So off we went on his next order and picked up 20 day old chicks. We put them straight under the heat and brought them on in the barn for a while.
Last weekend we managed to get them outside. We're hoping to process them for the freezer in another 5 week maybe but that's guess work at the moment.  As they won't be around that long, we (Ste) made a temporary enclosure for them which they seemed to like.  I hope everyone is ready for a but of bare flesh on a Friday afternoon, if not, look away now.  I know, I'm lucky :)

Today they are in their 5th week and are growing rapidly. We're trying hard to make sure they don't put that much weight on that they can't hold their own weight. All they do is eat!!

 
 Grace brought them all from the barn to their new place and being lazy, they were more than happy just to sit on her! 
 Hopefully outside life will have them growing healthily.
Happy Friday everyone :)