Thursday, 28 November 2013

Carpeting The Garden

I don't keep on top of weeds nearly as much as I should. They have a habit of getting away from me and engulfing what would otherwise be a lovely veg patch.
In the running for the most boringly pointless picture ever - here is a picture of a bit of carpet on some weeds
So these bits of carpet they were chucking out at work have become my new weed matting. I've got loads (and from when I did the living room renovation in the summer) and it's cost nothing. Laid out over the weeds it should stop some of them growing whilst still letting water through to the ground below.
What does everyone else use for weed matting and can you think of any negatives to using leftover carpet in this way?

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Pressing Apples

On Sunday we pressed the apples that we had scratted the day before. I enjoyed the process as it was quite therapeutic and not something that could be rushed.
Here it is in pictures:

Laying out the first "hair" (dustsheets that have been washed ready for use) on top of a frame

The first cheese formed

Some of the pulp we were pressing - the red flecks were from the tom putts that we added to the mix of apples

Building up the stack. the two bars under the frame are called needles and they keep the frame sitting square until the next layer is added.

The press was fairly simple just using a 20 ton bottle jack with metal frame above - so not much could go wrong with it

The juice flowed well!

When being pressed the cheeses almost look like they've been glossed

It's amazing how thin it gets once its been pressed

We did two pressings in the end and that gave us 150 litres of apple juice

Testing the sugar content so we can work out the % of alcohol when it's finished fermenting

Dinner was a traditional Malaysian dish call mee hoon - Lovely and completely different from my normal sandwiches
We're now going to let the natural yeasts ferment the juice and the next step should be in a month or so. Trouble is I want to try the cider now!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Fox Attack

Well November hasn't gone down as my bet chicken keeping month ever!
Saturday morning I went out to feed my three lots of birds (the young lot have been moved to mum and dads as payment for corn!) only to find that the two silkies are no more. This was the only lot that I didn't shut in at night as their coop was so small and difficult to get into I thought it would be safe enough from foxes.
I guess I've learnt a lesson from that but it's a shame that they had to go that way! this were unproductive birds so they're loss isn't going to impact on egg production but I did quite like them and he was always the first to crow when I went outside.
Never mind, time to get the 12 bore and the gun lamp back out I think...

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Apple Scratting

On Saturday we started the next step in our cider making process. We crushed and chopped the apples in an electric apple scratter ready so we can press it on Sunday.
Cleaning the apples

The look good enough to eat although I wouldn't!

The electric scratter that made the job quite easy

My little helper carrying a bucket of apples with me. I'm surprised she found time between eating as many apples as she could get away with.

Waiting to be pressed
The theory of doing this over two days is that the cider has a greater flavour over one that is scratted and pressed on the same day. I think that we managed to tackle around 300kg of apples in a few hours, so not too bad going really and not long enough for my little helper to get bored!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Maternal Instinct

This little girl loves her little sister so much!

I know little boys play with guns and little girls play with dolls but we've not knowingly pushed her in that direction (she has a train set!). She just wants to do little girl things.
But I never realised that a little person under the age of two could be so caring. If Melissa starts crying she tells her mum, when we change her nappy she brings us a new one and puts the dirty one in the bin, she tries to share food with her, protects her from other toddlers, constantly checks on her, kisses her, hugs her.
It melts your heart really. We were so worried about her being jealous. What a good big sister!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Frozen Padlock

Small annoyances in life are what slowly start to drive you insane.
This little padlock is one of mine. Any morning there is the slightest frost it's frozen solid and it's a padlock I open everyday to get at my chicken feed.
 I have to bring out a jug of hot water and pour on it to get free up, but by pouring water on to it I add to the problem as then there will be water inside it to freeze the next night!
I decided to come up with the simplest solution I could think of.
A cover to keep the rain off and to offer a bit of protection from the frost in the form of half a milk carton screwed to the door. Not the prettiest solution to a problem ever but hopefully it will work and the cost is zero! I guess I can stuff it with a bit of insulation to give it even more protection from the cold.
Anyone else have tips to keep things from freezing up?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Butchers

We're lucky to have a butchers in our little village.
But I'm very aware that this isn't the norm, and to make sure we keep a butchers in the village then I need to use it.
We never buy sausages from the supermarket - I literally can't eat them anymore, something about the texture and taste just isn't right. They're isn't much difference in money when buying sausages from the butcher, the supermarket being slightly cheaper but the quality being miles apart. I can ask my butcher where the meat comes from and it enables me to practise what I preach a little more.
Our Sunday joint - rather large for two but it should do a couple of meals in the week and our sandwiches
I understand that going on a separate trip to the butcher isn't possible for some. I do the weekly shop on a Monday night at 9 o'clock and there isn't many butchers open then! But I do think it's worth the effort of going out of your way to support your local butcher. We don't buy all our meat from there, some we still get from the supermarket, but my wife and I are both of the opinion that we'd rather eat less but better quality meat.
I've been using our butcher for a year now and they know me buy name (and I them). I ask advice and they always help me out. I brought this joint of brisket on Saturday an they were keen to make sure I cooked it right and gave me a large lump of fat to make sure it didn't dry out - It's in their interest for me to enjoy it so they make an extra effort - you can't say that about a supermarket!
Who else supports their local butcher?

Monday, 18 November 2013

We've Got Planning Permission

After many letters, meetings and misunderstandings we have finally managed to get planning permission for an extension to our house.
The left hand side of this pair of 1950 semi's is ours
I'm not even going to go into detail about the planning process as it just winds me up, but lets just say it wasn't straight forward and at times felt that it was pretty hopeless (a comment about having no access to the garden even though we own the field next door does spring to mind, but I digress).
I'm glad we did preserve with it though as now we have full permission granted (providing we get building regs passed off) to build a two storey extension on the side of our 1950's semi and a small porch on the front.
The extension will include a kitchen dinner downstairs, meaning we can turn our existing tiny kitchen into a small utility room. Upstairs we will cut our existing bathroom in half to form a corridor to the extension and a small shower room, as well as a new family bathroom and another bedroom in the extension.
The addition of the small porch will mean that when you enter into the house you won't walk straight into the stairs and it will give us somewhere to leave coats and boots.
The extension isn't going to be massive but it will make the house a much better size to bring a family up in (even giving us room for more children in the future?) but still be manageable and easy enough to heat and maintain.
As for getting it built its going to be quite a slow process, we're not going to borrow any money to do it, just as and when we can afford it. I'll be building most of it myself with help from friends and family along the way if I can rope them in. hopefully we'll get the porch build in the spring and footings in for the rest next year but watch this space to see how we get on!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Reclaimed Quarry Tile Floor

Well today I got the flooring for our new porch.
Trouble is I haven't built the porch yet!
 Still I was on a job and these quarry tiles were up for grabs so I decided to get them in advance for our future porch.
I think these reclaimed tiles will look amazing when they're cleaned up and they're very in period for our 1950's home. I love a being able to fit a floor covering like this as you know it will last forever and will be great for an area filled with muddy boots and wellies!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Holly Seedlings

I want to put some holly in my hedge when I plant it.
It's good at stopping people climbing it, gives some evergreen cover, good berries for the birds and can be used for Christmas decoration.
 But after seeing the price of it per plant I decided I better try to find my own source!
 The neighbours who I cut the tree up for (yesterdays post) have a huge old mansion that has a 4 acre garden with beautiful trees and vistas. So I asked if they had many seedlings they didn't want/need. They did, loads of them!
 After being walked round and told I could help myself I went back grabbed a tub and a spade and got digging.
I managed to get 24 in half an hour, but the roots on them aren't that amazing so I decided to plant them up in a little nursery bed in the garden and see if they grow more roots over the winter before going into the hedge.
Hopefully this should help the cost of the hedge a little bit and also give a bit of winter cover.
What other seedlings do you think I should be going after for my hedge?

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Tree Over The Footpath

Just the other day I said to our neighbouring landowner that there's a dead poplar that looks like it could fall at any time. Normally this wouldn't be such an issue but it was leaning over the public footpath so I thought it was worth mentioning.
Right over the footpath!
Then on Saturday evening I had my first proper walk round my fields in a week & I noticed this tree hanging over the stile. Not good. Not good at all. I never want anyone to get hit by a tree but least of all when it's on my land (even if the tree isn't mine!).
I popper over to see "old" Ken (who helps look after the neighbours land) and we decided to sort it out first thing in the morning.
It was a little more tricky than we would have liked, as it was hung up in the other tree and we didn't want it to land on either the stile or the fence if we could help it.
I managed to get my little John Deere 2020's loader under the main trunk to take the weight whilst Ken cut it from the stump, I then (only just mind you) managed to lift it on top of the hedge. The weight of the tree however meant that I couldn't get the back wheels to grip.
We had to try something else. I got a ladder and a long chain, climbed up and attached it to the trunk, turned the tractor round and pulled her off the hedge at a good enough speed that it would miss the stile as well! It all went to plan in the end!
Ken clearing a path for the footpath
 I decided that I might as well log the wood there and then so logged it all up and we split it 50-50.
Firewood for my efforts
Poplar isn't much good as firewood but it's better than nothing and it's cleared up the path without anyone moaning at us. I was quite pleased with my efforts for a Sunday and felt like I'd been a good neighbour again (although to a different one this time)!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Drying Clothes In Winter - A Year On

Around this time last year I fitted a kitchen maid airier to the space above our stairs and I thought I'd do a "year on" post on how useful we think it is.

With two children under the age of two and more than our fair share of sick, wee and the brown stuff, we get through a lot of washing in our house and I think I can safely say that without this we'd be lost!
It's been brilliant, it holds a full load of adult washing (baby washing needs miles of drying space as it's all so small). The heat from the fire goes straight up there from the living room and when it's going, it dries within a day. It was also really useful in the summer, if the weather was a bit touch and go you could remove the risk and hang it up in the house to dry.

Add caption
The only downside is my wife is a little clumsy so I won't let her load it (for fear of her breaking her neck down the stairs).
I'm so glad I bothered to put this in, it uses up a wasted space in the house, saves us using the tumble dryer and doesn't even look that bad - in fact it's been a talking point when people have come round! If you struggle to dry all your clothes without covering every radiator in the house then take my advice and fit one of these! (I should try to get some commission before I post this!)

Monday, 11 November 2013

Planting A Hedge - Part 1 Planning It Out

I guess I am someone that likes boundaries, I like my garden to have a fence and my fields to be separated up.
The footpath that runs across the top of our land wasn't a big issue for me, but I always knew I wanted to separate it in the first field as this is where our children are likely to play and the majority of our "free range" (or escaped) animals are likely to be. Also as this is the area that contains our sheds and shipping container I'd like it to be a little more private, although the footpath isn't heavily trafficked, everyone like to have a look at whats going on.
An ignored piece of advice
 My simple plan is to plant a hedge along this footpath to give a clear boundary. This will be fenced both sides (possibly), with a double gate right at the start (but that might have solid fronting to it and be 6ft high to protect my stuff).
I've decided to give a 12ft corridor down the path as this give me good access with a tractor to the next field and also allows it to be mechanically cut if I want it to be in the future, I know I'm loosing grazing space but the trade off for privacy is worth it (I can still run animals up their to graze it if I want anyway).
The trouble is, what hedging to plant? I've been reading the relative merits of them all, evergreen, beech, yew, native, etc. But I've decide that I'll plant a mainly Hawthorne hedge, with holly and any other native hedging plants I can find seeded down either here or at Mum and Dads.
I'm going for mainly Hawthorne as the total run of it is 42m so that will mean around 250 plants and as I'm not going through any grant schemes this way is lightest on my pocket while still giving me the results I want.
Don't know if you can see the pegs and the blue bit of string to mark the hedge or not. I've marked it a metre wide
The far end of the hedge will also have cider and crab apple trees planted every so often to make productive use of this space but not with a fruit that's too desirable to walkers!
Anyone else planted any hedging and have any tips? I'll plant it as a double row and aim for 6-7 plants a metre.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Cider Apple Picking!

I got invited to come and pick some cider apples at a friends smallholding if I wanted to learn about cider making. My friends dad has a great wealth of knowledge in cider making and has done it for many years, so I thought he might be a good man to learn from - plus he's got a lot of cider apple trees!
It took Ev a little while to get into the swing of things!
 So Sunday morning Ev and me wrapped up warm and headed to the top end of our village for a bit of apple picking. We weren't going for huge numbers, just enough to make a few barrel fulls of cider.
Brians dad leading the way

Brian ready to get picking

Shake the tree!

Tom Putt

The little tractor took them all away
In the end we filled the little trailer behind the tractor with mainly three varieities of apple - Argile Grise, Dabinett and then just one bag of Tom Putt for a bit of acidity. An enjoyable morning walking round like conasurs trying different apples. Ev survived quite well out in the cold, just kept eating apples - I think she ate a lot more than she put into the buckets and I've no idea how she did it because some of them tasted bloody awful!
The plan is to leave these apples for a few weeks before we scrat and press them towards the end of November - I'm looking forward to it!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Central Heating On For The First Time This Season

Well last night I got talked into putting the central heating on for the first time this season.
More to see if the boiler still works after having the last six months or so off (I think it might be older than me) and also to heat the parts of the house that the wood burning stove can't reach - The bathroom is not a room you want to hang about in after your shower at the moment!

The wood burning stove has been great so far this season and saved us loads in heating as it really takes the chill off the house, some days my wife has had it running all day and you can really tell the difference. It has been mild this autumn so that's helped with heating costs and we all wrap up warm before going for the heating - well I write this in a T shirt but apparently I'm not normal!
Everyone else fired up their central heating?

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Little Game Trail

Sometimes you walk past something a hundred times before you notice it. Like this little game trail.
 It's from mice/rats and it leads to where one batch of chickens feed and then back under a shed.
 I thought I'd been good and kept all my poison bate stations topped up. After talking to my dad, he says that they won't eat it if it's gone stale. So on Sunday I cleaned them all out and rebated them with fresh poison.
Stale poison
I'm in two minds about this type of pest control. I don't like to poison anything, I worry about how it affects the food chain (many years ago we almost lost a dog who had eaten too many mice that had been poisoned). The only other option I can think of is to get a farm cat, but I love my song birds (although I think the sparrow hawk has had most of those this year) so it's tricky to find a balance.
What does everyone else do when it comes to controlling mice and rats (and a quick note to Hippo before his suggestion - I don't think snakes would do very well here as it's too wet!)?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Rootstocks Ordered

Well last Sunday night I ordered 140 rootstocks for grafting fruit trees this spring.
A couple of last years grafts ready to be planted
This is a bit of an investment but I'm hoping to turn this into a small cottage industry in a few years or at least a hobby that covers it's costs.
I ordered Apple, Pear, Plum and Cherry rootstocks, so now I'll be on the look out for scion wood over winter to grow interesting and heritage varieties of fruit. I also ordered some apricot scion wood so that should test me.
Anyone else planing on doing any grafting this coming spring?

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The View

I never thought, even with all our saving and working hard, that we'd ever be able to own a little bit of land and a house with a view as good as this one.
When I open the curtains in the morning, seeing this just makes me happy. I am a lucky man to have everything I want in life!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Sticky Bloody Labels!

Some labels just peal off after a short soak in warm water, leaving nothing behind.
Some, however, need to heated and reduced back down to sand and then remade into a glass jar to remove that sticky residue that's covering half the jar.
Is it wrong that with really tricky jars I just put them in recycling instead of getting frustrated trying to remove a label that's harder than an engraving? Either that or any secret tips or short cuts to success?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Tetris Style Shelves & A Bit Of Self Promotion!

I had a really fun project to make last week so I thought I'd do a bit of shameless self promotion and post it on here to show you guys as well.
 It's a shelving unit/display stand for a customer that's made up of tetris shaped pieces that's completely interchangeable - so if you get bored of the layout you can just change it all about!

Quite a labour intensive project but surprisingly cheap on materials for the size of it.
I do enjoy the different challenges that being a carpenter brings and this has to be one of my favourite projects I've done so far.
If you want to read more about it and see a few more pictures check out my other blog!
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