Thursday 27 February 2014

New Book Shelves

We're currently trying to clear out the spare room/office so that the girls can have a room each.
The trouble is I've got a lot of books up there
 We decided that the space to the left of the wood burner will become our new office type space with the computer (so when they're older we can monitor what they're on) and my reference books.
It's 1.6m wide so I decided to make some "substantial" shelves to go there. Some of the oak from my previous post got used on this, three big slabs of 250mm x 45mm timber. Not cheap but it should last a life time and it need to be big to take the weight of all the books!
It took a while on Saturday to fit, rout, sand, stain and oil them but they look pretty good when they're up and filled with books.
The top shelf is all carpentry, building and wood books.
The middle shelf is all gardening, self sufficiency, bushcraft and livestock books.
The bottom shelf is all cooking, preserving, smoking and curing books.
I think I need some more shelves!
This isn't even all of my reference books on these subjects as all the small sized ones are upstairs!
Anyone else have this problem with books?

Tuesday 25 February 2014

What Is Your Thermostat Set To?

We went to a friend’s house for tea on Saturday night and I came to the realisation that most people have their house a lot warmer than ours.
I grew up in a house with no central heating, as did my wife (a different house that is!) and as well as this I work outside most of the time so I'm not a massive fan of being too warm.
So when we got back Saturday night the temperature said the house was 15 degrees and we decided that it was fine and didn't turn the heating on, but I wonder how many would have.
Our thermostat is pretty much set to 17 degrees but even then the heating doesn't normally warm it up to that as we switch it off before it gets to temperature!
We haven't had our heating on a timer at all this year. It only goes on if we feel cold enough which hasn't been that often. We put a jumper on first, then if we're still cold we light the fire. Normally on an evening we just have the wood burning going to warm up the whole house, although I know it's been mild this year, and it's saved use a fortune in heating oil, the gauge has barely moved since October.
When I was at college doing building studies we learned that the modern house (which ours isn't) built to the current regulations doesn't need central heating but, due to market pressures, no one would build it on a large scale as people expect to buy a home with central heating.
We also learnt that the colour you a paint a room can affect the temperature you feel by one Degree Celsius. So a bathroom painted blue would feel one degree colder than a neutral colour compared to one painted a hot colour like red or orange, which would feel one degree hotter.
The standard for working out the heating requirements of a house was 18 degrees for a bedroom, 20 degrees for living areas and 22 degrees for bathrooms. This is no hard and fast rule just what we given to work out radiator sizes for each room and the averages might have changed since I was at college! I’m happiest at around 15 – 16 degrees I think, but I’ve worked in all sorts, you’ve just got to dress right.
So how hot, or cold, do you have your house and what temperature do you feel comfortable with?

Sunday 23 February 2014

The Price Of Timber

As a carpenter I have to buy a lot of timber and it's more expensive than you think.
This little lot of wood in the picture above was the best part of £300, although it is oak and planned to size for me, some for a job in the next village and some for our house.
So my message for this post is that if you have a tree that you think you could plank, make sure you do rather than cutting it for firewood. Even if you sell the timber once it's done the value will be much higher than firewood.
On a axe workshop and chainsaw milling course a few years ago
Although it seems expensive to get someone in to plank it with a mobile mill it works out to be a good investment once you've left it to dry for a few years. Also this way it can normally be milled on site and then each piece is easier to move meaning there is no need for big machinery. There are hundreds of varieties of trees that make great timber with lots of uses; like Larch for cladding or Ash for furniture, the list just goes on and on.
Has anyone else milled their own timber and gotten good results? There are no trees here that would make good timber so I'll have to keep buying mine for now!

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Supermarket Apples

My wife brought some apples from the supermarket last week as we're getting to the end of the stored apples now.
A supermarket braeburn compared to a home stored King of Pippin
 We ate Cox apples until the middle of January and then switch to the King of Pippin (at least I think it is) until now.
This apple was terrible off the tree, the skin was so tough you'd be left with it in your mouth after the flesh had gone, we even talked about grafting it over to another variety, but stored for a few months it tastes amazing. They don't look great, in fact I've had a few comments from the guys at work about my "manky" apples - until they tasted them! Then they all wanted to buy a dozen from me.
Looks a little like a wrinkly...  No don't say it!
That's why I was so disappointed when I took a bite into my shiny, juicy, crisp braeburn, expecting an amazing apple. It's certainly crisp and juicy but that's it really. The taste just isn't there, just bland nothingness.
A shame that I've got to put up with bought apples until August. This year I'll try to store even more apples (we've still got quite a few cookers left though).
Give me a bag of manky apples any day!

Monday 17 February 2014

Removing Some Old Fencing

I'm trying to get all the fencing done this winter so we'll be free to get some stock if we want to later in the year.
 The only trouble with adding new fencing (besides the cost, effort and time) is removing the old fencing. It's too wet to use a tractor on the field at the moment so I used brute force and ignorance on Saturday afternoon to remove as much as I could.
 It wasn't easy going as the hedge had grown through it in many places and a lot of it was buried with roots through it as well. I cut and pulled out as much as I could.
My main worry with leaving it in was the fact that I'm only fencing one side of this particular hedge. So if an animal gets between the two runs of wire (the old and the new) then they could get trapped and it would be difficult to get them back out, also it's just bad practise to leave it in as you can guaranty that any future work I'd do in the hedge I'd hit some old wire and blunt my tools!
Anyone else doing fencing at the moment?

Saturday 15 February 2014

Helping Daddy

I'll make the most of it while it lasts - this little girl loves helping her daddy!

Thursday 13 February 2014

Last Years Onions

Hung up in the shed, the onions have lasted well.
I've just brought the last bunch into the house this weekend.
Suspended from a hook by their plaits (good practise with two young girls (the plaiting - not suspending them from their plaits!)) I doubt they would have lasted so long if this winter hadn't been so mild. The shed isn't insulated so when it gets really cold so does everything in there (although it does give a bit of protection). I made sure I checked them regularly so any that are starting to deteriorate got used up first and they were above the chicken corn so I could see them everyday.
I know I'm always asking questions about how to store food, but what method works best for storing onions? I know some fellow bloggers will have a lot of onions left that will store for a good while yet and I plan to plant a lot more this year do storage will be key.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Dairy Free Carrot Cake

My wife has been working her way through our big bag of carrots that we got given.
This is good for me as it means one thing - cake!
Poor quality photo sorry - but it tastes amazing!
She's been playing with the recipe and I'd say its as near to perfect as it's going to get:

175g light muscovado sugar
175ml vegetable oil
3 eggs, beaten
175g self raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
3 large carrots, grated
200g raisins
good splash of orange juice

Mix the sugar, oil and eggs together,
Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices,
Add orange juice, carrots and raisins,
Stir well and put into a greased/lined tin,
Bake at 180 degrees c for 45 minutes or until cooked.

Makes a lovely moist cake. You could add walnuts to the mixture if you wanted (we haven't got any at the moment) and you could make an icing to go on top. We decided not to have icing because otherwise our little girl just eats that and leaves the cake, whereas with no icing she eats the cake like it's the last one she's ever going to have!

Sunday 9 February 2014

Egg Numbers Improving

Although we're still not getting huge numbers of eggs the numbers do seem to be improving.
Thanks to anyone who left advice when I asked about stopping an egg eater.
Regular egg collection by my wife and two little "helpers" have helped the most I think (and it's not been easy for her in all this mud and wet with two little ones). But I've also made sure there is plenty of extra bedding and added a grit feeder as well as mixing it in their food.
I've not seen any wet, eggy patches in the nest boxes in a long time so, without wanting to use a pun, maybe we've cracked it!
Thanks again for all your help and advice.
Blogging is such a good tool for a homestead! Real advice from people who are living it is hard to beat!

Thursday 6 February 2014

Hybrid Willow For Logs?

The last couple of years I've been planting a few trees in the corner of our "large" 2 acre field with the view to making this into a little coppice for firewood and somewhere for the kids to make dens when they're older.
In this little corner there is about 30 native trees, cherry, hazel, sweet chestnut, cherry, etc. But in my fencing frenzy of the last month or so (I'm going to draw up a plan so everyone will know what area I'm on about when I talk about it) I've sectioned off a long strip about 10m wide and 80m long (approx) down the one field to make this coppice area bigger, now needing hundreds of trees.
The trouble is what to plant.
I want to be able to coppice this on a short rotation if possible and divide it up into sections that will be coppiced each year.
My Potential plan for the coppice area (a very rough plan)
I've been reading about hybrid willow and it seems to be the fastest growing tree about that coppices well and is relatively good for firewood and charcoal making. The beauty of growing it like that is the logs only ever reach about 4" in diameter so there is no splitting required.
What I want to know is has anyone else had any experience of growing hybrid willow for logs and what does it burn like on a high efficiency wood stove? Or should I go for slower growing native trees like sweet chestnut and hazel?

Tuesday 4 February 2014

George's Shallots

The last few weeks I've been working with an old carpenter, George, on the roof in the rain. He's 70 and I guess I've known him for over ten years now. When I first met him he taught me how to skin a rabbit, prepare an eel, pickle a walnut- all I had to do was bring them into work an he's cook them up for lunch or show me the best way to eat them. It was quite a laugh looking back on it and I think he certainly helped fuel the fire that I had for doing all the things I love doing now.
I lost contact with him for 8 years so it's been nice to be working with him again and our conversations are pretty much what they used to be - gardening, or food related! We've been talking a lot about what we think is the best thing to grow in the garden and one of the things that came out on the top of George's list was his shallots.
He has no idea of the variety but says they grow well every year and he stores them for two years with very few problems. Then he asked if I'd like to grow them! Well it would be rude to turn him down...
So although it's a little late to be planting these, I'm sure they wouldn't have done much better in the ground over this wet winter and they should soon catch up if we have a good spring. This might be one more vegetable that I can be self sufficient in (we rarely buy them as they're too expensive anyway). I'll save enough to plant each year, eat the rest and hopefully they'll bridge the gap when we have no onions.
How well does everyone else do with shallots and do you think they'll help with the bigger picture of trying to be self sufficient?

Sunday 2 February 2014

Book Review- Ray Mears My Outdoor Life

I've been a fan of Ray Mears ever since my brother and I watched his first program on the TV. Since then both my brother and I have had a keen interest in bushcraft and survival skills, we've even spent a week in the Scottish highlands to put our skills into practise!
So when I saw he's written an autobiography I added to my Christmas list and then promptly forgot that I had! On Christmas morning I was pleased as anything to see this in my pile of presents and started reading it that day.
The book is quietly written and it really reads as if its his voice in your head, softly and quite understated. The pace is quite slow and at times some of the dialogue feels a little "clunky" but it doesn't distract from what is otherwise a really enjoyable read.
He's had an amazing life and has worked hard to seize any opportunity he could which would help him learn more bushcraft skills and this pursuit has taken him all over the world.
 I knew little about this otherwise private man before reading this book, so it's nice to see what makes him tick and the adventures that formed him like driving across Africa, or helping the police hunt Raoul Moat. I do feel that he may have written this book a little too soon and some parts (where he deals with loss and bereavement) the wounds are still quite fresh and this shows in his writing.
I enjoyed this book but I'd say it's only really one for fans of his work, hopefully he'll write another book in 20 years time and have many more stories to tell.
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