Monday 31 December 2012


My mother is notoriously difficult to buy for So this year I decided to buy her something completely different.
A grafting course.
And I couldn't let her go on it alone, that just wouldn't be right, so I booked myself a place on the course as well. We both have an interest in apple trees (well I think mine boarders on obsession) and we've always said we'd love to learn to graft our own, so I thought this course would be ideal. The only downside is we've got to wait until the 3rd of March! Still I'm sure it will soon be here.
Grafting knife
 In the meantime I decided to sharpen up my grafting knife (my mother bought this for me a few years ago as a present so hopefully I'll soon be able to use it) as there is little else I can do in this weather without fear of sinking into the mud as a permanent feature in the garden.
Water stone
I have a bit of an obsession with keeping things sharp, probably because I'm a carpenter and it makes my job much easier if every tool has an edge like a razor. But I decided to try some waters stones I bought a few years ago for this, instead of my usual oil stones.
Holding the knife at a slight angle to polish bevel onto it
 The stone worked really well, the course side altered the bevel in no time - I've kept this knife with a single bevel much like a chisel edge as I've read that's what a lot of the old time grafters used to use. Then the fine side polished a really sharp edge onto it.
Nice and sharp - cutting wood
 Once I stropped it it would cut fine shavings off a piece of wood no trouble
The cutting edge
I'm really looking forward to this course as it's something I've always wanted to learn. As a bonus it says on the course that we get to take two apple trees home with us that we've grafted, so that should add to my collection!

Friday 28 December 2012

More Books!

Everyone gave me too many presents again this year (although I'm not complaining). Normally I always get quite a few books as it's no secret that I love reading and this year was no exception.
 My mother-in-law bought me the River Cottage hand book set, with 10 books covering a large number of subjects. I've already got two out of the ten (mushrooms and hedgerow) but its good to have the whole set. What I like about them is they're not too basic, I struggle now with any general books as I find I'm just reading the same things over and over and now have to buy really specific books to learn anymore on a subject.
These have also got lots of nice recipes in the back (globe artichoke humous anyone?) and tend to cover a few plants (or herbs etc) in detail rather than just touching on every one briefly. There's also a couple of books on subjects I probgably wouldn't have brought but are nice to have like bread making and cakes.
My daughter got me (although she may have had some help with this one) the wartime farm book. We've been watching the series and really enjoying it so it's nice to have the companion book. It's always amazing what you can pick up from these old time practises and I love all the old posters and leaflets it's got printed in there, although some of them are a bit small. Should make a nice read.
What did everyone else get?

Sunday 23 December 2012

A Year Ago Today...

Was our first full day here.
It was the day after moving house, Claire was 8 months pregant, our life was in hundreds of boxes all over the house and we were both feeling shattered.
It's been a great first year here.
We've had our first child
Planted a garden
Moved some sheds
Put up some fencing
Planted some fruit trees
Cut down a couple of trees
Planted some more trees
Sold a house
Made a bigger drive
Got some chickens
Made some hay
Had a great place to work for most of the year
Got some more chickens
Created things at work I'm really proud of
Planned for next year

And most importantly spent lots of time together as a family
I've no idea what the next 12 months will bring but if they're half as good as this year then I'll be happy!
Have a good Christmas everyone!

Thursday 20 December 2012

A Little Self Reliance

We woke up on Tuesday morning and all we could smell was heating oil. The boiler was leaking.
Not great.
I didn't have time to deal with it then so I turned everything off and went to work hoping there wouldn't be a massive oil slick when I got home.
When I got back I went about finding the problem, cleaning off all the oil and then letting it leak again. I found the problem straight away, someone in the past had used a hydrolic pipe to from the filter to the boiler instead of the proper braided pipe, this had worn through and oil was starting to weep onto the floor of the boiler.
My dad picked up a new pipe for me the next day and I fitted it and had it working again that night. The pipe cost £5.01 but I'm sure if I got a plumber out it would have been over £100 to have the problem sorted, with call out fees and the like.
I can never understand how people that can't do things for themselves afford to live, that said I'm lucky this was an easy problem and one I could manage.

Monday 17 December 2012

Apple Trees Have Arrived

My apple trees arrived last week. Now I'm sure it will be obvious to anyone who reads my blogs that I wasn't ready for them.
My delivery - 27 trees in here
 I had planned just to heel them in. Trouble was the ground was frozen solid. I needed a plan B - I heeled them in in the greenhouse. It's not heated but the ground was still soft so it should keep their roots safe. These trees aren't as big as some I've bought in the past but they all look healthy and as I'm planting them as cordons I want to keep their growth quite small so it might be an advantage.
Heeled in in the green house
Now I've got to prepare their plot, put in three posts with straining wire, and plant them all, should keep me busy for a while - a job over the christmas break I think!

Sunday 9 December 2012

Ex Caged Birds A Couple Of Months On

Well it's not quite a couple of months but I'm really pleased with how well they're doing.
We did loose two in the first week when it dropped really cold but other than that they've been fine, they've even been laying in this cold snap we've been having! We've been having around 3 a eggs a day off nine birds and in this weather I don't think that's too bad!

I've put these pictures on so long as no one comments on how messy my garden is!
They're also doing a great job of getting rid of the weeds for me.
Some happy chickens.

Saturday 1 December 2012

More Orchard Purning

I spent today on my parents farm covering for dads store man who's off. As I was there for the day I took the time to prune the orchard that I planted around 8 years ago on my parents farm.

A small mixed orchard I planted around 8 years ago on my parents farm
Before we brought our little smallholding I never thought I'd be able to afford any land of my own so I planted this small mixed orchard so we'd have a good selection of fruit every Autumn. It also meant  I could enjoy growing fruit trees on a slightly larger scale than in my back garden. I've now got the start of my own orchard but I'm still going to make sure this one is productive for my parents (and for us until my trees start producing!).
Before - Lots of branches crossing over

After - The centre is much more open.
The old saying is that I should be able to throw my hat through the middle of the tree
 I used a "silky" type saw for the pruning today. I was mainly looking to lift the canopy of some of the trees (by removing lower branches) and to open the centres to let light in as well as removing any branches that cover each other.
Not a lollipop tree in site!

Bit of a bigger pile of brash than when I did my orchard!
These trees seem to becoming on quite well and some of them already have a great "goblet" shape to them. I had quite a pile of branches after an hour of pruning.
Anyone else been working on their fruit trees yet this season?

Sunday 25 November 2012

Pruning My New Orchard

The leaves have fallen and it feels a lot more like winter than it does autumn. I decided this weekend (in a break in the rain) to prune my orchard I planted earlier this year.
 Although there's 23 trees in there so far it didn't take long as all the trees are so young. I basically looked at each tree for disease or damage first.
Woolly Aphid damage on a plum tree - can look a lot like canker
Unfortunately I found some woolly aphid damage on a Victoria plum tree that I had transplanted over from my old allotment. This can easily be mistaken for canker but I could see the little buggers in there! I decided to cut away the affected wood as the tree is still young and I can train a new branch to replace it rather than having it grow weak. I also know that you're not really meant to prune stone fruit this time of year as it can encourage sliver leaf but as it was damage I decided to do it anyway.
A bottom branch removed
 Once I removed that I then looked at the trees for shape and removed any branches that I thought were too low (I'm not talking many here as they haven't got many to take!) and then looked at the top of the tree and made sure they didn't have too many heading straight up, reducing or removing them if there was too many - this was only really in some of the two year old trees I bought. I'm aiming to have "polo" trees eventually - trees with a hole in the middle or goblet trees as people like to cal them.
Cutting back a straight climbing leader
Out of 23 trees I didn't even have a handful of twigs at the end but at least I'm starting how I mean to go on. Those fruit tree pruning course I did at Pershore college a few years ago were worth every penny.
Next weekend I'm going to tackle a mixed orchard I planted at my parents farm around 8 years ago, it's just starting to be really fruitful (if you'll excuse the pun) and I've been pruning the trees every year to produce the maximum amount of fruit.
Anyone else got plans with fruit this winter - I'm really looking forward to my 22 different sorts of apple trees being delivered.

Friday 23 November 2012

Drying Clothes In Winter

I think every winter most families struggle to find enough drying space to hang all their laundry. We certainly do, and with a 10 month old baby this year hasn't got any easier! All round our house the radiators are covered in clothes, which in turn doesn't help the heat spread through the house, clothes "horses" that take up space (something we haven't got huge amounts of) and we don't want to use the tumble dryer if we can help it.
Radiators covered in clothes
 I came across a solution the other day when taking to a friend about space saving devices and he mentioned the kitchen maid type airer. Why I hadn't thought of this before is beyond me, especially as my mother has always used one and loves it (memories of trying to jump up and knock off socks in the morning before going to school come to mind).
Trouble is our house has normal height ceilings (not the 14ft ones in my mothers house) so there was only one place I could think to put it, the useless space above the stairs.
I had thought about putting in a high level cupboard in this space, accessible from one of the bedrooms, but that would involve a lot of work and encourage us to store more junk. Modern houses now include this space into a bedroom, normally by having a large shelve and the underside slopping with the stairs maintaining headroom.
A big empty space
 Fitting the airer was much easier than I antiscipated, luckily for me there was a ceiling joist running straight down the line where I wanted to attach the pulleys, giving me a perfectly sound fixing without having to go into the loft and add noggins.
New Airer fitted

It's not as hard as it looks to load up with washing
It didn't take me long to put up (the joys of benig a carpenter) and it's given us drying space for another load of washing, right at the top of the house, and as heat rises I'm hoping it should prove a good place for our clothes to dry.
Anyone else got any tips for drying clothes in the colder months?

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Mud, Glorious Mud!

 Well not so Glorious really. The mud around my chicken pens and garden is becoming a real pain in the bum. I hate having to walk through it twice a day to feed the birds and leave my muddy boots in our tiny litttle hallway. I've put down wood chip but it soon becomes part of the mud, and I've put down straw but that does much the same, what to do?
I have come up with one solution, but t'ts going to involve a bit of effort (mind you all good things do!). It involves around a hundred 2ft x 2ft slabs I've been given (bargain). I've got to pick them up and bring them home first and they need a good wash off as they're quite black at the moment, but they should cover a large area.
I'm thinking of a path down the veg garden and fruit garden and some paths to the chicken pen and feed shed. I'll probably just lay them on soil for now as I'm not sure where everything is going to stay at the moment, but it should go a long way to reducing the amount of mud around the place. I should even have some left over to maybe make a patio for the spring when my little girl should be out and about.
The slbas are quite a large long term project - Anyone else got any ideas for reducing mud in this wet year that is a bit quicker?

Sunday 4 November 2012

Keeping Warm

The nights are really drawing in now and things are starting to get a little cold. You can already tell the difference having insulation in the loft and walls is making to our little house though.
I don't mind the cold too much though - not like my wife anyway! I guess it's because I work outside everyday and I grew up working and playing outdoors more than most. When I lived at my parents farm they didn't even have central heating or double glazing (they installed both shortly after I left). The curtains in my room would blow with the wind and freeze up on the inside. I'd just put another jumper on though, knowing how to dress is half the battle.

Our open fire - We now have a second fire guard around it as well to prevent a crawling baby!

Heating our house at the moment we're trying not to use the oil central heating too much, although with a young baby our house is definitely kept warmer than it used to be when it was just the two of us. I'm trying to use the open fire as much as possible, being a carpenter I'm never short of wood to start the fire with and my tree surgeon of a brother keeps me stocked with logs. But the open fire doesn't give off much heat, most of it goes up the chimney, but it does warm the living room and makes it feel cosy. I'd like to fit a log burner at some point but I think I'd have to completely remodel the living room to fit one in and extending the house should really be our first job.
Having an open fire made me realise how out of practise I was at lighting fires, I've been on quite a few survival courses ad grew up being a borderline pyromaniac, I've started fire with friction using a bow, used fire steels and a battery with iron wool but I forgot the most important skill with something like this - practise! Now I up on my practise and limit myself to starting the fire with one match and I might even remove that luxury soon!
Mind you I'm much better than my wife - I've brought her some fire lighters so she at leasts stands a chance of getting a fire going!
How do you light your fires?

Monday 22 October 2012

Excaged Birds Outside For The First Time

Just some pictures of our excaged birds enjoying the outside for the first time!
A friendly hen

More feathers on a bird in Tescos!

Excuse the ripped trousers!
They all seem pretty friendly. The hen in the first picture won't leave me alone when I'm in the garden. My little girl loves them as well, and kept making "BOK" noises at them!
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