Thursday 31 October 2013

Storing Apples

I've been collecting a lot of apples lately but we can only collect what we can store. Fresh food storage at our place at the moment is relatively none existent, but my mother has a great unheated room that she keeps things like apples and potatoes in all winter.

Easy to spot fruit that's gone bad
 The cooking apples on the bottom two racks (Scotch Bridget) will even keep until April/May like this on these simple racks, whereas the Cox on top won't last that long because they will have been eaten long before that! We only bother to store prefect fruit as any blemish or damage makes the fruit rot a lot faster.

Large shelves I built for my mum to store her old apples racks on.

So this got me wondering how does everyone else store their apples over winter? I've lot's of old books that cover the subject and one day I'd love to build a proper store for apples. Storing your produce is probably as key to self sufficiency as anything and there is little point to me having so many apple trees if I can stop the fruit from rotting!

Wednesday 30 October 2013


There's not much in the way of free fruit that our little smallholding had in place when we moved here, but the one thing there is an abundance of this year is sloes!
 It's bumper year and they're hanging off the hedges like grapes. My little sister and her boyfriend came round the other day (mainly to see the new baby - not me) and I suggested we went and picked some so they could make sloe gin.
 It didn't take long to pick them, in fact I think we picked a tub full without moving more than 5ft!
I've made plenty of sloe gin and other liquors in the past but I'm not going to bother this year - we're just not very big drinkers any more (I'm not sure we ever were) so it seems daft to make something just for the sake of it (although it does make a good present).
Has anyone else got any other ideas with what to do with sloes? I made some sloe and apple jam a few years ago and that was terrible, so any ideas better than that one please!

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Oh The Shame!

I am a man of many sheds, but there has been one that lately I just open the door and chuck things into. This is my old allotment shed and I feel it has been neglected somewhat!
Open door - chuck thing in - quickly close door before it all falls out!
My mother came up to visit last week and she wanted me to put some of Ev's toys away in the shed.
I had to say there was no room.
She didn't believe me.
I got talked into opening the shed.
She was unimpressed.
I was a little ashamed.
I decided to clean it out there and then.
She was guilted into helping me.

Not much better but I can now see the floor and get into the shed!
To be fair it didn't take long and it feels so much better knowing I can get back into what used to be a really useful garden shed! Also this has given me an area to sort out and store my paints until things turn a little colder.

Monday 28 October 2013

Poor Mans Capers - The Verdict

Sometimes you read recipes that try to convince you they can taste like something else and they don't (bottle of wheat wine anyone), and sometimes, just sometimes, they nail it.
These "capers" are just that - they've nailed it. We had them with "Whores" pasta the other night and if you hadn't of told me they weren't real capers I wouldn't have known!
I'll definitely be doing these again next year and planting some extra nasturtiums so we have more to pick from.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Clamping roots

I've never clamped roots before so this is a first for me.
I thought I'd have a go on a small scale this year as next year I want to try to store enough to last us through the winter if possible (big plans brewing but more on that later).

 Just carrots and beetroot to left to try this on (Parsnips do better in the ground and are tastier if they've had a frost on them). So I pulled all I had and sorted them into two piles - perfect veg and veg that needs using sooner rather than later - as I've read that if there is any damage then it won't store well.

I layered them in plastic containers with holes in the bottom (a large plant pot in the case of the beets), on a bed of moist sand (builders sand because I'm a builder) with a layer of sand between each layer of veg. I'll store these in the garden shed now until we need them and hopefully they won't go bad!
Any tips on storing roots through the winter?

Friday 25 October 2013

Pears in syrup

This is just an experiment from something I read on the Internet (I say that far too often) so don't try this until I find out if it works or not. 
On Tuesday I preserved some of our "less nice" eating pears from a tree that I planted at my parents farm some years ago. I did this in a sugar syrup and it was relatively easy, but so much so I'm not sure if it will preserve them or not.

Picked the pears
Help picking

Peeled, quartered them and removed the core

Boiled them in a sugar syrup made up of 2 cups sugar to one water (American measure but it was an easy way).

Once they were poached I put them in some hot kilner jars (out of the oven) and then rested them upside down to check they were sealed and to sterilise the tops

Trying the goods - they tasted pretty good!

Bottled up ready to go in the cupboard - I hope they last as I made up three jars!
So that was simple but quite time consuming. I know it's not "proper" bottling but I think they should last and the website I found it on (which I can't seem to find now!) said they should last for six months like this.

Thursday 24 October 2013

"New" Greenhouse!

Six months after my 30th I finally decided what I wanted - more undercover growing space.
It was a toss up between another greenhouse or a polytunnel but as I live in an AONB (Area of Outstanding natural beauty) I thought it might go down a little better if I had another greenhouse as people seem to take an instant dislike to polytunnels.
With enough time the contents of the back of my van will form a greenhouse!
 For months now I've been souring eBay until I finally found one I wanted on Tuesday night.
12ft by 8ft, older than me but seemed like a good quality one and would easily last another of my life times.
I went to pick it up yesterday and the guy seemed really nice, in fact he said that a lot of his income was earned through this greenhouse - as he used to breed and sell butterflies!
Lots of ventilation - four roof vents and 4 louvred vents
I hope all the bits are there, he assures me they are and I've no reason to doubt him.
I'm quite pleased with the purchase. It has four roof vents and four louvred vents as well as a 12ft shelf down one side. It's made by BACO and although it's quite old you can see by the thickness of the aluminium that it wouldn't have been a cheap one when it was bought.
I need to clear the site for it (covered in nettles and compost) as well as dig a footing and lay a few courses of bricks before it goes up. Hopefully it should be ready well before spring to let me get a head start on next years growing!
What do you think? Did I make the right choice to go for a more permanent greenhouse over a small polytunnel?

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Growing Mushrooms

I don't think I've ever spent so much time in the house as I have since our second daughter was born!
So On Sunday I decided to have a quick sort out of my seeds and I found a couple of packets of mushroom spawn. They were both well out of their sell by date but I thought I had nothing to loose from trying it so I ventured outside in the rain to have a go.
A little out of date but never mind!
 The first packet was Shiitake mushrooms (careful how you write that one!) this called for a freshly cut log split in two. Cut to ten minutes later, a slightly lighter willow tree from the far hedge and a couple of well placed blows with the axe and I had all I needed!
All I did then was to spread the mushroom spawn out on the slit log and tie it back together before placing it in a plastic bag.

A split willow log - not much good for fire wood so maybe a better use for them!
Apparently this bag has to stay in a warm place for two months. Now our house is far from warm but I guess it will have to do, hidden in plane sight under the radiator in the dinning room for now until I get told to move it!
Not what I'd call hiden but never mind!
 The next batch was for chestnut button mushrooms. this called for horse muck (I had cow but I doubt it's that fussy), a plastic bag, some straw and some compost.
The second batch promises mushrooms much sooner!
 I put in a few kg of muck, a load of straw and the mushroom spawn in the bag and mixed it together before pressing it tightly down.
Adding straw

Straw and much mixed together
 I then "capped" it with compost before leaving it in the greenhouse to hopefully grow mushrooms in a few months time.
The capping of compost added for the mushrooms to grow through
I've no idea if either of these will work but it's worth a shot.
My grandfather and uncle (on my mothers side) used to grow mushrooms in the turkey houses on their farm. This was normally after Christmas as they were empty by then, turkeys being a seasonal meat, but mum said they never made much money at it so they only did it for a few years. I must quiz my uncle on it the next time I see him.
Anyone else grow mushrooms? I'd love to know the secretes to growing them on a small scale - I'll need to be able to do it if I ever want to be self sufficient! Any links or tips would be great!

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Moving Firewood

 Last Saturday, between the rain showers, I managed to get organised with the rest of our firewood.
Moving firewood the easy way
As the ground was quite dry I decided to move all the pallets of wood I split in the spring up with the tractor. There's still some to split so I stored these in a separate pallet as a job to keep me warm in the winter (all the big difficult bits unfortunately)! 
Firewood split and stored in pallets covered with a sheet
It's not the prettiest way of storing firewood but it means I can move it easily and the bottom layer won't rot on the ground. I do have the first load of wood stored in an old shed but until I can get planning to build some more buildings this is looking like my best option.
Five pallets cut and split. I'd say three of these can be burnt this year (the tree was felled last year) and two need another year to season (which I hope they will in this storage - I might drill holes in the sides of the pallet collars to let the air circulate more), I've marked them up ready and I'm already planning where more of our firewood is coming from.
Anyone else have ideas for firewood storage?

Monday 21 October 2013

Raspberry And Apple Jam

I used to think making jam was a big deal.
Now it's something to be done on a Sunday night with a spare half hour! 
 Picked some of the last of the autumn raspberries on Saturday. They aren't as sweet as they were at the start of the season and they don't keep very long in the fridge. Making jam with them is a good way to preserve them and by adding a couple of apples to it makes it go a bit further (I also think that it helps with setting the jam as raspberries have low petin).
I just mixed equal quantities of fruit, weighed it, stewed it and then added just under the same amount of sugar before boiling to setting point.
This has to be one of my favorite jams, it just tastes so good!
Toying with the idea of selling my jam in the honest box - What is homemade jam worth and will people buy it?

Sunday 20 October 2013

A Big Thank You

Just a quick post to say a big heartfelt thankyou for all our lovely messages for the birth of our second daughter. My wife and I have loved reading them and it shows what a great little blogging comunity that we have!
Everyone is settling in nicely and although we haven't had huge amounts of sleep we're all happy and content!
Normal posts again later!

Friday 18 October 2013


Melissa was born just before 10 on Wednesday night, weighing 6lb 15oz
Just an hour old in this photo
 Well Considering she kept us guessing as when her birthday was going to be, when she decided it certainly happened quite fast!
just before nine o'clock my wife said her waters had broken and to phone my mum to look after our daughter. Mum would take an hour to get here so I also phoned a friend in the village who came up straight away. We left just after nine.
The hospital is around 35 minutes away (with no traffic) and although my wife told me not to rush, when she stated to swear (she never, ever swears) I knew things were getting near.
We got to the hosptial at 9.35 and although she managed to get out of the car alright by the time we'd got to reception she could barely stand. Some people rushed up to help and brought a wheelchair so I could take her to triage.
There was no time for an inspection - it was straight to the delivery room and 20 minutes later this little bundle of joy was born!
My wife was amazing and just over an hour later was walking about packing her bags ready to go down to the ward!
Ev loves her new little sister and is so gentle with her
The four of us together

Lots of love to give as a big sister!
I think we were both in shock afterwards as it all happened so fast, it almsot seems like a dream now.
Getting home it was great to have the two sisters meet for the first time, knowing that it's the start of one of the strongest friendships they're ever going to have in their life.
What a lovely little family I've got now (even if I am outnumbered!).

Wednesday 16 October 2013


Came back from work today (Tuesday) as things were starting to move in the baby department. But unfortunately it was just a false start so I decided to do a few jobs in the garden in this afternoon instead.
 Time to get my garlic in.
This is far earlier than I'd normally get round to planting it so I was quite please with myself. I didn't bother to grow any this year just gone, so it will be nice to have our own supply again as we do use it quite a bit when we've got it in the house.
A double 7ft row should produce all the garlic we'll need for a year so long as they grow well. I mixed in a bit of well rotted cow muck and got the soil to quite a good tilth before planting them to give it the best start.
At least now I'll have something growing over winter!
What kind of quantities do other people plant when trying to work out how much you'll need for a years worth?

Tuesday 15 October 2013

5 Young Birds

The five chickens we hatched out earlier this year are almost ready to go off to their new home.
I'm giving them to mum and dad to replace theirs who have stopped laying now due to old age. I dispatched these old ones on Friday - never a job I like but one that sometimes needs to be done.
These hens were hatched at the right time so they should lay through the winter. They've been housed in their ark but I've added some panels (tied with good old fashioned baler twine) to give them plenty of fresh grass. They're quite a feisty bunch and need the space. From the landing window the way I've set the panels up looks like a love heart - my wife thought I was being romantic! I didn't have the heart to tell her it's because I set it up in the dark!
Next year I'm going to work on having some spare coops to make sure when we hatch out more hens there's plenty of options on where to house them.
How does everyone else come up with temporary housing and pens for animals on a budget?

Monday 14 October 2013

New Fire

Well it's getting colder so the last couple of nights we've had the wood burning stove going and we're impressed.
It gets up to temperature easily, lights easily and really heats up the room. Most nights we're only burning around three small logs and that's giving us heat from 7 till 11, on the open fire we would have burned a whole basket full of wood and received 10% of the heat!
We've not had the central heating on yet and with the use of this stove it should help us keep it off for a little while yet!
Who else is keeping the central heating off for as long as possible?

Sunday 13 October 2013

Apple Day

I didn't go to work yesterday, instead we decided to go to the apple day being held in the village.
Large display of apples
 It made for a nice couple of hours during the afternoon. We walked the mile there and back to try to encourage the baby to make an appearance but still no joy!
There was a nice display of apples, with some local varieties that I hadn't heard of (and now need to add to my collection!).
Interesting varieties
 There was also apple juicing and some Morris dancers who always give an event like this a nice atmosphere.
Apple juicing in action

Walking there and back to try to "encourage" the baby to make an appearance!
We got back home just in time for the heavens to open so we also managed to stay dry!

Saturday 12 October 2013

Chicken Feed

Yesterday I picked up some more corn from my fathers farm to supplement my chicken feed. I tend to mix wheat with layers pellets about half and half. They don't lay quite as much as they would on just pellets but I think it makes the eggs taste slightly better and it keeps the cost down of the feed.
My feed mix - 50/50 layers pellets and wheat
I know some recommend that you only feed the wheat in the afternoon but I don't get back until late evening so I find mixing like this works quite well (I also chuck in some grit as well for good measure).
Feed storage - I prefer metal bins for feed but so far the plastic one has been fine
 While I was there a friend I work with sometimes was also picking up feed for his racing pigeons. He was picking up completely different grains to me. His winter feed was going to consist of barley and oil seed rape along with some other grains as the racing mix is too expensive to use over the winter.

Wheat from the farm
Most of my chickens have access to grass and dirt along with weeds and other things I chuck them so they can supplement their feed a little bit. But I was wondering, with the price of layers pellets going up every year, if you were going to make a complete chicken feed up from scratch (and potentially grow it) was would it need to contain? I have ready access to wheat, barley, oats and oil seed rape, what else would I need and what mix would I use? Would they need anything doing to them (rolling, cleaning, etc?)
Does anyone else supplement their chicken feed or make their own up from scratch? And how effective do you think it is?
(Oh yeah and still no baby!)

Wednesday 9 October 2013


Well today is the due day and so far no sign of the new baby.
As for my wife, I think she's about ready to have it now!
She not taking it as easy as some might in her condition, mind you with our little girl it's hard to take it easy while she's around!
Yesterday I got sent the picture above along with the lines "Don't buy any potatoes on your way home, just dug up 20kg."
Nine months pregnant and still digging potatoes - think I married the right girl!
Maybe I'll make here some raspberry leaf tea or a hot curry!

Monday 7 October 2013

Seed Saving

After work tonight, my little girl and I went to collect seeds in the veg garden from some of the flowers that I grew this year. 
There's three main flowers I grow, these are nasturtiums, marigolds and sunflowers (all have an ediable element but look pretty). Saving seeds from nasturtiums and marigolds is easy, even my 21 month old could manage that, but when I've tried to dry a sunflower head for seed in the past they've always gone mouldy.
I was wondering if anyone had any tips on collecting/harvesting sunflower seeds and drying them so they could be used for planting next year or just stored for cooking and eating?

Sunday 6 October 2013

Globe Artichoke For Tea!

We had some friends over for tea tonight, but earlier in the day I sent them a text asking if they like artichokes. I got a good reply so I went out and harvested all the big ones.
These are the artichokes from two plants grown from seed this year
We then used my large preserving saucepan to cook them in (as it was the only pan big enough), boiled 'till they were tender. We then sat round the table scraping our teeth down fat ends on the leaves and eating the hearts at the base of the flowers. We were somehow left with more waste than what we started with, as each flower was deconstructed to it's basic parts and chucked in a bowl.
I think it's the effort and faff that goes with eating globe artichokes that I enjoy almost as much as their delicate taste. They're always a talking point and although it's something I'll only eat a couple of times a year I genuinely love eating them (the little girl enjoyed a few mouthfuls as well).
I also love how they look in the garden, all big and proud. A good and easy to grow veg if you've got the space.
Who else loves these space hungry thistles?
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