Thursday, 27 July 2017

Five Acre Community Farm

Yesterday I spent a really interesting day at Five Acre Community Farm near Coventry. 
Where the shares are placed and everyone helps themselves
In wanting to expand what I do here I want to get as much training and tuition as possible so I applied to the CSA Network for some mentoring as a veg box scheme really appeals to me and having it in the model of community supported agriculture as they do in the states looks like a really interesting way of doing things. 
During the day I picked up some great tips, got to see organic growing practices on a larger scale and talk to really interesting people who are doing this day in and day out.
I had many (and I mean many) questions about how it's run, how the financing works, and what the smallest they thought I could go with it was. To provide produce for 12 months of the year is tricky just for yourself but to do it for others (who are paying) is even harder, they provide 60 full shares each week off this plot. 

Hardening off area outside the poly tunnel
It was really interesting hearing what worked for them, what people like to see each week, what they see too much of and how they like to get it - the share holders here bag their own produce from a central area. They also have some work shares as well where you can do work for some or all of your share, they were telling me they even had one guy in the past who would help maintain the tractor for his.

The one tunnel with peppers, aubergines and some cucs down the middle

Leeks being dug up and trimmed to transplant outside

Over wintered onions being dried after harvest

Tomatoes on one half of the tunnel
 It was also really interesting seeing how this all worked out int he field, I was expecting to see clean beds, but there was some quiet strong weed pressure, which I think is going to be there with organic growing. The amount of veg in the beds spoke for itself though, there was plenty of it and it all look good.
The beds had been set out to be easily worked by a tractor that they use for cultivation.
Although some quiet high weed pressure there is so much veg on this 5 acres! Here's the squash area.

Soft fruit, done as a pick your own for the CSA members that want it. Strawberries and blackcurrants
 Weed membrane was used in places and around the soft fruit it was really effective, something I'll be copying here over winter.
The plastic seems to work really well for the soft fruit and it's something I'll be trying

Dwarf ballotti beans for drying to be added to shares in the hungry gap
 Anther thing I found really interesting was how they provide a share during the hungry gap. using a mixture of stored crops (onions, squashes, roots), some dried beans as well as potted herbs. They were also experimenting with quinoa as something that could be given out during the leaner months.
Nets are used to keep some pests off, mainly on roots and on brassicas 

Green manures on fallow areas to build soil fertility
 Maintaining soil fertility with green manures was also really important to them and I got given some great ideas down this line, my use of green manures is something that really needs to improve!
Trimmed leeks just transplanted

Showing an area of netted produce, all rows are 70m long
To see a small farm in operation is always great, to see one that can pay staff a reasonable wage and be viable is even better. These guys were really passionate about what they were doing and how they were doing it and I certainly came away feeling that I could make something on a smaller scale work here for me. Lots of planning and prep will be needed!

Thanks again to Gareth, Becka and Hannah for your time yesterday! I hope I didn't ask too many questions!

I'm wondering if a mix of CSA shares as well as restaurant sales might be the way to go, that way I spread my risk and I might get interest from both sides of things. then again I might be mad to consider it at all!

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Changing The Chickens

I got 20 new chickens for the homestead on Sunday night.
These are ex commercial birds again (Hi line) from a free ranged flock where they were up for slaughter as they've become uneconomical on large scale. 

These birds have no trouble settling in as they had free range on 20 acres, although with as many as 36 thousand birds in the sheds (divided up) some never see the outside. When I've been past many, many birds are outside. Into their new pen they were straight on their perches, and acting normally. Much more settled than when I've had ex battery hens that take a few weeks to become normal chickens. 

Now before anyone says what a good thing it is I'm doing "saving birds" I'd like to state that I do this each year because, for me, it's viable. 

To house these 20 birds I first culled the 10 I had left from last year when I got home. 

These hens have, on average, 600 eggs inside them. When I get the hens they've laid, on average (again), 320 eggs over 12 months of laying. That means they've got 280 left to give and as I tend to get around 8 eggs off ten birds a day there wasn't much time left for them to still be productive, time to change the flock. 

Also I have to time it right when the large chickens farms are changing their flocks.

I got these birds for very little so it also means I've not had to invest any money compared to buying in hybrid pullets at £8 - £10 a bird where they have to lay a lot of eggs before they've paid for themselves, or hatching out my own and waiting the 21 weeks before they start to lay. 

This week I'm going to show you my new chicken pens I've designed to house these birds, I'm really pleased with them, each house 10 birds, easy to make, easily moved on to fresh grass each day and cost under £120. 

Who else has ex commercial birds?

Do you cull your old hens to make sure you stay productive?

Friday, 21 July 2017

Slow Cooked Mutton

Earlier in the year we had a ewe killed. 
The price for cull ewes was rubbish at the time and in all my years of keeping sheep I'd never tried mutton and I quite fancied giving it a try. Mutton is a popular meat all round the world, just in the UK we seem to think that sheep should only be eaten as lamb. 

The ewe was three years old, fairly big and as you'd expect, had a good layer of fat on her. Mutton has a well placed reputation for being fatty, all this means is you need to be careful in how you cook it. 
Talking to friend we decided to make a rub for the meat and cook it long, slow and low. Making the rub in the recipe above (my mate had to come over as I didn't have many of the ingredients!), we then covered the meat, scored the fat and set it in a low oven (160) uncovered for a little while then covered with some water in the tray until the fat started to come out. 
After an hour or so I lifted it up onto a rack on the tray to continue cooking (still covered), this bit is essential because I wanted the fat to cook out of the meat. 

The joint was in the oven for a little under five hours and was cooked to perfection (if I do say myself). I did brown it off a bit at the end by cooking with no cover. 

as you can see the half inch layer of fat in the bottom of the pan shows that this is the right way to cook it! 
The meat just fell off the bone.
I served it chopped up on some rice with steamed french beans (french beans with everything at the moment!), it was beautiful. So tender and so full of flavour. 

Who else likes to eat mutton? 

How do you cook the big joints?

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Another Preppers Paradise - Farm To Sit Out The End Of The World?

I've no intentions of ever moving from this place but sometimes I stumble on an interesting property and just have to share it with you guys.
What about this for another Preppers Paradise
I say it's a little harder to get to than the last one, as this one has a causeway you can cross at low tide. but from the Orkney Islands! 

It also comes with 40 acres of land and although not in what I'd call "prime" growing area, I'm sure you could support your own family on an area like this, with sheep or goats as a main meat source as well.
It has a range of out buildings and some breath taking views as well as a seal colony!
I'd imagine to make it work you'd need to make the farm earn it's keep but also have something you could do from home (writting, workshop work, etc) that would pay in the quiet times, I'd imagine (although I might be wrong) that jobs might be hard to come by out there.

Certainly an interesting property and not badly priced with offers over £300K, maybe someones dream property, I know my wife would hate it! 

What do you think? 
Your type of property? 
Too remote?
Somewhere to watch out the end of the world?

Wednesday, 19 July 2017


The most common question I'm asked is how do I fit so much in when I've got the kids full time?
Simple, they do it with me when they can.
Last night I got the sheep in to check them over. It's proper fly strike weather and the sheep were twitching enough to get me worried. 
Turns out they were absolutely fine, not a maggot in sight but it pays to be careful in this weather. 
The girls weren't going to stay inside, not when there's chance of a ride on the quad bike (the boy was napping and mum was home).
My younger daughter won't leave the bike if she can help it, she comes for the round up and beeps the horn whilst my eldest mans the pen and helps me funnel them in.  
waiting for another go on the bike
We always go for a ride after we've finished, just a quick blast round the field with one child shouting faster and the other saying to slow down!  

Not sure how old they should be before I get them their own motor bikes! I know I was always a little crazy on them! 

Who else can remember being a kid and going on the back or front of a motor bike or quad? I certainly can! 
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